Cakes and Cupcakes · Chocolate · Dessert · Main Dish · Pasta · Recipes

a ghoulish halloween feast

I’ve been under the weather lately.  When I plan a party, I usually PLAN at party.  This time I just didn’t feel up to the task.  So…Sunshine and I went to breakfast on the day of our party, armed with cookbooks for ideas and came up with a plan.  After breakfast I went shopping for everything I needed.  I got home just after 1:00pm, which didn’t leave me much time.  I was like that crazy guy that got kicked off of Top Chef Just Desserts,  racing around the kitchen and running through the house. I got everything done in time for the party.
I just screwed up the frosting for the cupcakes, so sorry Jon, Nicci, Sunshine, Veronica, Joey, Michael, Thom, Laura, Mackenzie and Steven.  I fixed them today, if anyone wants to give them a try.  Sunshine ate an improved cupcake and said “that’s more like it”.  Nicci made a delicious pumpkin trifle, and Veronica and Michael made their famous caramel popcorn, so we did not go without dessert!

Nicci and Jon came as us!  So hilarious.

Steven was scary!  He did an amazing job painting our faces too.

Nerd alert!  Mackenzie and Laura…

Thom, the rat catcher.  Day late and a dollar short, Thom.  You look fabulous though!  Why are you hiding behind Sunshine?  No wait, that’s Jon!

Veronica the pirate, and Joey as Mario!  All I can say is OMG.

Michael and his strap on banana suit.  Don’t ask.  Hey look!  There’s Santa!

I stuffed peppadew peppers as part of our antipasto.  I mixed goat cheese with a little cream to thin the cheese to a spreadable consistency, basil chiffonade, salt and pepper.

Laura had a good time making the balsamic “caviar”.  What a nerd.  Well, she dressed up as one anyway.  Thom said she looked more like a Natzi Helga.  Whatever.  She will always be a little caviar nerd to me.

Thom had a good time prepping the tomatoes and flinging the cheese onto the plate.

Here’s the final plate, tomatoes, basil oil, and burrata adorned with balsamic “caviar”.

I made a marinara sauce and meatballs to serve over rigatoni for dinner.  Here are the recipes:

Marinara Sauce

  • 6-28 ounce cans whole San Marzano tomatoes, crush by hand or quick pulse in a blender
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed by hand
  • 1 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil to a large stock pot, add the pancetta and cook until browned and crisp.  Add the onion, and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, then add the garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute more.  Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for a couple of hours.  Add fresh basil and blend with an emersion blender.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • olive oil for frying

Combine ground meat, parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and water.  Shape into balls.  Heat oil in a 12″ skillet.  Add meatballs, be careful not to overcrowd the pan.  Cook thoroughly on each side, until deep golden brown.  Drain on paper bags lined with paper towels.

Candy Bar Cupcakes

These recipes are from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts cookbook.  This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.  I will make these again, and the next time I’ll follow the recipe!

Brown Sugar Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup whole milk

Caramel Sauce

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Peanut Butter Frosting

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup (5 ounces) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter


  • 1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts
  • Fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

To make cupcakes: sift dry ingredients.  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape sides of bowl as needed.  Add vanilla.  On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions, and the milk in 2 additions, alternating.  Combine for 15 seconds after each addition, or until just combined.  Divide evenly in among the paper lined muffin pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and insert comes out clean.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from muffin pan and cool completely.

To make the caramel sauce:  Combine water, lemon juice, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.  Place over high heat and cover.  Cook for 2 minutes, or until mixture comes to a boil.  Remove lid and continue to cook until the color changes to a dark amber, about 7-1o minutes.  Remove pan from heat.  Whisk in butter until incorporated.  Slowly whisk in cream.  Add salt and vanilla.  Once cool, fill a squeeze bottle with pointed tip.

Inject the cupcakes once cooled with caramel sauce by puncturing the center of the cakes with squeeze bottle tip.

To make the frosting: Add chocolate to a bowl.  Heat cream until bubbles form, pour over chocolate.    Stir until smooth.  Add peanut butter, stir until well incorporated.  Let mixture cool.  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter for 1 minute, until light and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar, salt, whole milk, vanilla and lemon juice, and continue to beat on high speed for 5 minutes.  Add chocolate and peanut butter mixture to the buttercream frosting.  Place in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, pipe onto cupcakes.  Sprinkle with peanuts and fleur de sel.

Crazy fire show.

Bacon · Chocolate · Dessert · Recipes

bacon for dessert

I’m usually pretty open to trying new flavor combinations, but when Silvia said she HAD to have the Maple-Pecan Sundaes with Candied Bacon for her birthday dessert from a recent issue of Bon Appetit, I was a bit skeptical.  Maple syrup, candied ginger, candied bacon…who comes up with this stuff?  Turns out it was actually another surprisingly delicious treat! We made the vanilla ice cream old school style, with the big ice cream maker you surround with ice and rock salt.  I have a super simple vanilla ice cream recipe that’s so good.   It’s just that my ice cream maker is electric, and very noisy, so we shut the door while it was churning and forgot about it.  My ice cream turned out a little too icy for my taste.  I have to make this again for Silvia, this time with the perfect ice cream.  Check out the recipes below, with a few tweaks of course.

So I got cocky, and decided to try another bacon-laden dessert.  This time I tried Dulce de Leche, Coconut and Chocolate Chip Magic Bars from the Food & Wine website.  This was a big hit with Sunshine.  It really tasted more like a candy bar, so decadent!!  You don’t need much!  The recipe called for browning the butter first to give the crust a nutty flavor, but it got lost when you put the whole dessert together.  I like the idea though, and will probably try in a dessert that would showcase the flavor of the brown butter.  Sunshine and I went to breakfast the day I planned to make this.  He ordered a side of pepper bacon that was so good we decided to take another order home with us for this recipe.  It saved our house from  smelling like bacon grease for hours, and saved me a little time in the kitchen too.   I used milk chocolate chips instead of the semi sweet chips called for, and used raw almonds instead of roasted almonds, all preferred by Sunshine.  Check out the recipe below.

Maple-Pecan Sundaes with Candied Bacon

  • 6 bacon slices
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 12 ounces pure maple syrup, grade B
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line baking sheet with foil, and lay bacon slices on top.  Sprinkle half of the brown sugar on top.  Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.  Continue backing until deep golden brown, about 12 minutes longer.  Cool.  Cut into 1/4″ dice.

Combine maple syrup and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to simmer until sauce is reduce and thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, remove cinnamon sticks, add lemon juice and ginger.  Let stand at room temperature.  Stir in pecans and bacon just before serving on top of ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whipping cream

Scald milk.  Remove from heat and add sugar and salt, stir to dissolve.    Add vanilla and whipping cream and chill.  This recipe makes 2 quarts.  I double the recipe for my big ice cream maker.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the directions.

Dulce de Leche, Coconut and Chocolate Chip Magic Bars

  • 6 ounces butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces bacon
  • 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 12 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
  • 16 ounce jar dulce de leche
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 9″ x 13″ pan with parchment, coat with vegetable oil cooking spray.

Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and egg yolk together in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle.  Add flour and salt, mix until a wet crumb consistency is formed.  Press crumbs into the baking pan, and bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Combine dulce de leche and condensed milk.  Pour over top of crust.  Combine bacon, coconut, chocolate chips and almonds, and press into the dolce de leche.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm, about an hour.  Remove from pan, peel off paper and cut into squares.

Warning.  This could happen to you too.  It must have been the candied bacon…. or was it the wine?  Hmm.

Main Dish · Pasta · Recipes

A quick bolognese

Finally!!  We haven’t seen Stephanie and Peter in such a long time!  They were off to Italy, and  then we were off to Cabo..and now we’re home.  They came to dinner last night, bearing gifts from their travels.  They brought us an amazing bottle of wine from Sienna, chosen especially to celebrate our anniversary… and some beautiful pasta from Harry’s Bar in Venice.

We enjoyed a little tomato bruschetta while preparing our quick bolognese.  I used the last of our San Marzano tomatoes off the vine in our garden.  I will so miss our summer tomato bounty.  It’s time to rework the vegetable garden.  Maybe I’ll grow carrots for the winter, and maybe some romanesco broccoli, fennel and lettuce.  Yeah, that sounds good.

I’ve been using this recipe from Food & Wine for years.  The original recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage, but Sunshine likes it spicy.  The bolognese is great with polenta too.  Here’s my version with a few adjustments.

Quick Bolognese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds spicy italian pork sausage
  • 2 carrots, small dice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 bunch italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk or cream
  • freshly grated parmegiano-reggiano

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over moderately high heat.  Remove sausage from casing, and add to the pan, cooking until no longer pink.  Spoon off most of the fat.  Add carrots, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.  Add wine and let simmer for 3 minutes.  Add chicken stock, tomatoes and thyme.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Uncover, add parsley and milk, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Serve over pasta or polenta, sprinkle with parmegiano-reggiano.

The Cipriani pappardelle is made with kamut, an ancient relative of modern durum wheat.  The pasta is very thin and delicate.  Delicious!!!!!!!

Greg Schroeder, owner of Amazing Grapes Wine Store

Greg says…

I’d go with a juicy Malbec like the 2009 Budini from Argentina.   Very perfumed with aromas of ripe black cherries and some sweet oak. Full, fleshy, and jammy in the mouth with loads of ripe and spicy red and black fruits. Great structure with loads of ripe, fleshy tannins, and a long, long finish. Wow!

Recipes · Soup · Vegetarian

cannellini bean soup

Sometimes I like spending all day in the kitchen.  Sometimes a plan doesn’t work out the way you think it will.

I got my CSA box full of greens, and assumed most of them would work well in a cannellini bean soup.  I was wrong.  I didn’t know what most of the greens were, and as it turned out, most were too bitter and over powered the flavors in the soup.  So I just fished out most of the greens and ended up with delicious soup anyway, a little less green than originally planned.

You can make this with canned beans and chicken or vegetable broth from a box, or water.  This soup would probably take a whopping 20 minutes to cook.  But I really wanted freshly cooked beans, and happened to have bones from a roasted chicken in the freezer, so mine took a bit more time.

Cannellini bean soup

  • 1 pound dried cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Fresh oregano, minced
  • 2 leeks, halved, 1/2″ thick slice (use white part only)
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 28 ounce can whole san marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • Rind of parmigianno-reggiano
  • Chicken stock, or vegetable stock, or water
  • Fresh greens of your choice (I’ll stick with spinach next time)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Soak beans overnight, covered.  The next day, rinse and drain beans.  Add enough water to cover beans by 1″ in a crockpot, and cook on the low setting until just tender.  This took about 4 hours for me, but it will depend on how fresh your beans are.

Heat olive oil in a deep pan.  Saute garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes until fragant.  Add leeks, oregano, celery and carrots and saute for 5 minutes longer.  Add hand crushed tomatoes, broth, beans and parmigianno-reggiano rind, and continue to cook for 15 minutes.  Add chopped spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove rind from soup.  Serve with a snow flurry of parmesan.

I made my chicken stock by covering the chicken carcass with water.  Add a quartered onion (skin on), a couple of carrots, halved, pepper corns, bay leaf, and carrot tops or Italian parsley.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.  I usually use my crock pot.

Paige is ready for Halloween, thanks to Grandma Sherry.  Are you?

Appetizers and Snacks · Pizza · Recipes · Vegetarian

Mom needs a snack for the car

My Mom cracks me up. She can find her way blind folded to any shopping mall, but when it comes to driving 10 minutes up the street to her friends house, well, that’s another story. That 1o minute drive turns into 4o minutes and then requires an escort after 10 calls. Then there’s the GPS. The damn GPS always tells you to turn in a half mile. NOW HOW ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH IS SHE SUPPOSED TO KNOW HOW FAR A HALF MILE IS??? And the GPS lady is so mean! Just because my Mom isn’t really listening to her, doesn’t mean she has to yell at her! Anyway, it’s times like this when you need a snack.   So this one’s for you Mom, just in the off chance you get lost again.

Here’s Mom!  She loves NYC.  This is a photo from her visit to see her grandson, Jason.  Luckily she didn’t have to drive in NYC, there’s taxis for that.

Zucchini, Red Onion and Herbed Goat Cheese Flatbread

  • 1 prepared pizza dough
  • 1/2 red onion, thin slice
  • 1 zucchini, thin slice
  • 8 ounce log of goat cheese
  • 1/4 buttermilk
  • handful of basil leaves, chiffonade
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll out the pizza dough to fit the sheet pan.  Combine goat cheese with buttermilk to create a spreadable consistency.  Add basil, salt and pepper to the goat cheese mixture.  Spread half of the goat cheese mixture on half of the pizza dough.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of parmesan cheese.  Using the parchment paper as a guide, fold the pizza dough in half lengthwise.  Spread the top with then remaining goat cheese mixture.  Place zucchini in a row along the right and left sides, and the onion in a row down the center.  Sprinkle with more parmesan.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Notice all the wine.  Greg and Silvia picked up a few bottles for us at Amazing Grapes, their wine store in Rancho Santa Margarita.  Go check it out.  They have a really cool wine bar.

Cocktails · Recipes · Travel

Tequila Martini at Edith’s

I love margaritas, but the tequila martini at Edith’s in Cabo San Lucas is genius.  I ordered the tequila and lime martini,  and Sunshine got the grapefruit and tequila martini.  Mine was better, sorry Sunshine.  You still look pretty happy.

Tequila and Lime Martini

  • 1 jigger of your favorite tequila (every last one of mine at Edith’s was made with Clase Azul Reposado)
  • 1/4 jigger lime juice
  • 1/4 jigger agave nectar

Fill a martini shaker with ice, add the tequila, lime and agave nectar, and shake it!  I’m telling you, it’s really good!

Edith is one cool chick.  She started out at the restaurant previously known as Esthela’s by the Sea at the age of 15 as a waitress.  She now owns the restaurant and named it Edith’s in 1994.  We had a nice chat with her.

We’ve arrived to Edith’s!

Tequila case at Edith’s.  Sunshine was pretty excited about the endless supply and variety.

We love the table side service at Edith’s.  That’s my Mexican coffee with ice cream!  I love fire.  Fire, tequila, kahlua and ice cream.  Come on.


Nick-San in Cabo San Lucas

The last time we were in Cabo San Lucas was 5 years ago.  Too long to stay away.  Nick-San was recommended to use back then, we had dinner there and loved it.  We were definitely looking forward to going back on this trip.  We went to Nick-San the second night we were in Cabo, and had such a great dinner.  It’s definitely not your run of the mill sushi.  All of the sauces are unique and inventive.  We met Jorge at the end of our first night there.  We wanted to try more sushi, but were too full.  Jorge told us he would take care of us the next time we came, starting with half plates so that we could really get a good sampling of all of the amazing sushi.

Jorge is awesome.  He totally hooked us up with some amazing sushi.  He’s a chef at Nic-San and makes all of the sauces.  He also likes to work the front of the house.  Here are some of the amazing dishes we had.

Tuna tostada.  Pacific Ocean yellowfin tuna, served on a rice cracker, with avocado, habanero-infused red onion and sesame seeds.
Sashimi Cilantro.  Sea bass seared with olive oil and green tea salt, served with cilantro sauce and a ribbon of spicy chile oil and sliced avocado.

Clear Lobster Roll.  Lobster tempura inside mixed greens, avocado, mango and cilantro, wrapped in soy bean paper and servd on a mustard sauce with curry oil sauce.

Tuna Black and White Sashimi.  Tuna filet seared with olive oil, black and white sesame seeds, chopped red onion , chives and ponzu sauce.

Seabass.  I don’t even know what was in this one, but I do remember it being spectacular.   The sake and kirin ichiban beer was awesome too.  Can’t wait to go back to Cabo for a little more Nick-San!  And we’ll be looking for Jorge.