Autumn Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting

When the weather cools down and there is a chill in the air I begin craving homemade spice cake. The house smells wonderful while this cake is baking. It is moist and flavorful and the caramel frosting is divinely creamy and smooth. Be sure to cool the caramel before adding the powdered sugar for the frosting. The cake recipe is adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

Autumn Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 large eggs, separated
2 c. cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
pinch of freshly ground cardamom
pinch of kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease a 9×13 metal pan, then line with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl beat brown sugar and butter together until mixed. Slowly add oil and beat until smooth. Add vanilla, then egg yolks one at a time, and beat until creamy. In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture alternately with buttermilk. Remove the mixing bowl from the mixer and, in a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.

Caramel Frosting
1 c. unsalted butter
1 c. packed light brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1-2 drops vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

Combine butter, brown sugar, and salt in a 1-quart saucepan on medium high heat. Whisk often while the butter and sugar melts. When the caramel is almost to the boiling point add evaporated milk and bring to the boil, whisking constantly. Let boil for half a minute or so. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Whisk for 2 minutes, then add the vanilla. Let cool, whisking occasionally (it should take about 30 minutes). Sift the powdered sugar slowly over the cooled caramel, whisking constantly to avoid lumps in the frosting. Spread over cooled spice cake. Serves 10-12.


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Oven Roasted Chicken Cutlets

My son loves oven roasted chicken cutlets and he requests them often for dinner. He and I enjoy making them together. I like to use boneless skinless chicken thighs because they stay moist and are more flavorful than the breast meat. I usually make 15-20 cutlets at a time. That gives us plenty for our meal plus extras for lunch or snacking the next day.

Oven Roasted Chicken Cutlets
15 boneless skinless chicken thighs
onion powder
garlic powder
4 large eggs
2-3 c. Progresso or Vigo brand Italian-style breadcrumbs
olive oil (not extra virgin)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken thighs on two half-sheet baking pans. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top of each pan of chicken. Using a kitchen mallet pound the cutlets out thinner to about -1/2-3/4 inch thickness. Remove the plastic wrap. Sprinkle cutlets with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Turn the cutlets over and sprinkle with seasonings. Crack 4 eggs into an 8×8 square inch pan or pie plate. Beat with a fork to scramble. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Measure out two cups of breadcrumbs and pour into a second dish. Dip each cutlet into the eggs allowing excess to drip off, then in breadcrumbs, turning the cutlets over in the crumbs to make sure they are well-coated. Add more breadcrumbs as needed to coat all the cutlets. Wipe out the half sheet pans with paper towels to clean them. Then coat pans with a bit of olive oil to keep cutlets from sticking. Place breaded cutlets back onto the two oiled half sheet pans. Drizzle a little olive oil – maybe a teaspoon or so over each cutlet. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the cutlets over, also rotate the pans. Continue baking another 15-20 minutes until cutlets are golden brown and cooked through. I usually take a fork to the thickest cutlets and make sure the meat is cooked and not at all pink. Remove to a serving platter. Serves 4-6 generously.

Breaded cutlets before roasting

Oven roasted chicken cutlets


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Middle Eastern Potato Garlic Dip and Toasted Herb Lavash

I have mentioned in a previous post that for dinner we will occasionally have Middle Eastern dips with fresh pita or this herb lavash. It is one of my children’s favorite meals, mostly because they love this garlicky potato dip. The original recipe for the dip was given to me by my sister-in-law Lisa, who learned how to make it from her Lebanese neighbors. They serve it to accompany chicken kebabs. I adapted it slightly by adding za’atar to the potatoes. I buy lavash (a flat bread) from a Middle Eastern grocery store, then broil it with spices for a more flavorful and crisp cracker-like bread.

Middle Eastern Potato Garlic Dip
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed (4-1/2 cups)
4 large cloves garlic, crushed through a garlic press
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. za’atar spice, plus extra for garnish

Fill a 5-quart pot full of cold water and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Add cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil and boil over medium high heat for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes in a colander, then return them to the pot and place the pot on low heat to dry out the potatoes for about 3 minutes. Pour potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add garlic, oil, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Mix until it blends like mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Remove bowl from the mixer and fold in za’atar. Pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle additional za’atar as a garnish. Serves 4-6.

Toasted Herb Lavash
1 piece of square lavash or 1/2 large oval lavash
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2-3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
3/4 tsp. ground sumac

Preheat broiler on low setting. Place piece of lavash on a half-sheet baking pan. Brush bread with the olive oil, then sprinkle the bread with kosher salt, thyme, oregano, and, lastly, the sumac. Broil for 1 minute or longer until the edges are a bit crispy and the bread is sizzling in the middle. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly. The bread with get more crisp and cracker-like as it cools.

Note: You can buy za’atar in Middle Eastern markets but I prefer to make my own. Here are the two recipes I use.

Recipe #1:
1/2 c. ground sumac
1/2 c. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. kosher salt

Recipe #2:
1/2 c. ground sumac
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried Greek oregano
1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. kosher salt



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Spiced Peach Mousse

My daughter requests this spiced peach mousse often during the late summer season. I have been making it for some time but realized I had never posted the recipe. It takes about 10 minutes to put together and is a lovely fresh dessert.

Spiced Peach Mousse
4 medium peaches, peeled and chopped
1/2 c. granulated vanilla sugar or more to taste
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
a pinch of fine salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg plus extra to garnish
1-3/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

In a food processor combine peaches and vanilla sugar and pulse until you get a fairly smooth purée. Add orange juice, 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pulse until well mixed. Set aside. In a mixing bowl beat cream with 1/4 c. granulated sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Taste and see if it is sweet enough to your liking. Adjust the sugar if needed. Then continue beating until cream is stiff. Pour the fruit purée into a large bowl. Gently fold the whipped cream into the fruit purée. Pour into a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 2-4 hours. Garnish with some freshly grated nutmeg. Serves 6.


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Eggplant Parmesan

We have an abundance of eggplant this year. It is one of my favorite vegetables and, even though we prepare it a number of ways, I am partial to breading and frying it. My Aunt Fran makes the best eggplant Parmesan I have ever eaten. I have stood beside her and watched her cook it, taking notes as she went along. She thinks there is nothing to it, but she has the right touch. Part of the touch may be that, during the summer months, she breads and fries garden-fresh eggplant in regular olive oil, not extra virgin. She drains it on a paper towel, then places it in a single layer on a plastic wrap-lined baking sheet and then freezes it. Once the slices are frozen she puts the individual slices in plastic bags and keeps them frozen until she needs them for a meal. Her eggplant is a must-have for the family Christmas Eve dinner. I am approaching the wonderful flavor of Aunt Fran’s eggplant with this recipe. She does not use mozzarella, only pecorino Romano cheese, but I like a bit of mozzarella on mine. My husband grows Japanese Kamo eggplant that are round, dark purple, and have a very creamy consistency. This has become my favorite variety for eggplant Parmesan. Slice it rather thick – at least 1/4 inch. You don’t need to cook the eggplant all the way through. Just fry it until golden on each side. It will continue cooking in the oven with the sauce and cheese.

Aunt Fran’s Tomato Sauce for Eggplant
2-4 Tbsp. olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (8 oz.) cans Hunts or Del Monte tomato sauce
salt and pepper
fresh basil

In a saucepan heat oil on medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add canned sauce, salt, pepper and basil to taste. Cover and simmer 30-40 minutes.

Eggplant Parmesan
2 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 c. Progresso Italian style breadcrumbs
mozzarella cheese (optional)

In a bowl combine eggs with a little salt and pepper and 1-2 Tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese. Beat with a fork until well mixed. In a separate bowl combine breadcrumbs and 1-2 Tbsp. Pecorino Romano cheese. Mix well. Dip eggplant slices in egg, allowing the excess egg to drip off, then dip eggplant into breadcrumbs, coating well on both sides. Heat olive oil in a frying pan to about 325 degrees. Fry eggplant slices for 2-3 minutes until golden, then turn over and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until the other side is equally golden. Remove eggplant from oil, allowing excess to drip off. Drain on paper towels. Spoon some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Add a layer of eggplant. Spoon a bit more sauce over the eggplant, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. (At this point I put a little mozzarella on top of the eggplant but Aunt Fran does not.) Continue layering until the eggplant is used up. Bake in a 350-degree oven, uncovered, until the cheese is melted. It should take about 15 minutes. Serves 6.



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Potato and Green Bean Salad

The green beans in the garden are finished producing, but I found some lovely beans last week at our local farmer’s market and made this southern Italian potato and green bean salad. There are many recipes for this type of salad, and you can make it year round, but we like to prepare it with fresh local produce that makes it exceptionally good. An easy way to prepare this salad is to bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt and beans and cook until beans are tender, remove them with a slotted spoon, then use the same water to cook the potatoes. This method saves on water and clean-up.

Potato and Green Bean Salad
3/4 lb. green beans, trimmed
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 6 cubes
1/4 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
a sprinkle of garlic powder
A sprinkle of onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 -1/2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

1 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch of sugar

Begin by bringing a 5-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of kosher salt and the green beans and boil for 7 minutes until tender. Remove beans with a slotted spoon and run under cold water, saving the boiling bean water for the potatoes. Drain the beans and dry on paper towels. Add quartered potatoes to the boiling water and boil for 20 minutes until a fork can penetrate the potato. Don’t overcook the potatoes. Drain potatoes into a colander. In a bowl combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth. Place green beans in a large serving bowl, then add onion slices and pour one quarter of the dressing over the beans. Toss. Place the warm potatoes on top of the beans and season with a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Drizzle about 1/2 c. dressing over potatoes. Toss. You will have leftover dressing. Sprinkle with oregano and parsley. Toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Can be served warm or cold. Serves 6.


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Spiced Plum Fruit Leather

I have a friend with a beautiful old Satsuma plum tree and each year, when the fruit is ripe, she invites me to come pick. This year the tree was loaded with very sweet plums. I picked enough for a batch of plum jelly and had plenty left for this spiced plum fruit leather. Using brown sugar and honey helps keep the leather soft and gives it floral and caramel overtones. For the best spice flavor grind your whole spices fresh. The quantities I am giving below are based on 50 sweet Satsuma plums that are small to medium size. You can use Santa Rosa plums or Italian prune plums. Adjust the sweetener and spices according to your taste. I have found the easiest method for pitting fresh plums, if they are very ripe, is just to squeeze them over a bowl and the flesh falls off around the pit. If the plums are less ripe, cut the fruit in half and use a melon baller to scoop out the pit. Be sure to include the skin in the leather.

Spiced Plum Fruit Leather
3-1/2 cups plum purée (from about 50 small or medium pitted plums)
3/4 c. honey
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. freshly ground cardamom

In a food processor purée the plums until fairly smooth. (You need 3-1/2 c. plum purée for the leather.) Add honey, brown sugar, and orange juice. Pulse until smooth. Add the spices and pulse again to distribute evenly throughout the purée. Line three dehydrator trays with cut-to-fit parchment paper. Pour plum purée into trays to 1/4 inch thickness. Spread with a spatula to even out. Turn the machine on and let dehydrate for 8 hours or until dry. Cut with a pair of scissors into squares and roll them up. Place in a ziplock bag and store in the freezer.

Note: We have an enclosed porch so we sometimes will fill one plastic wrap-lined half sheet pan plus one quarter sheet pan with purée. Tent it with cheesecloth and let sit on the porch for 3-4 days until dry. An alternative method is oven drying at 170 degrees for 10-12 hours until tacky but not hard.




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Brown Sugar Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

Brown sugar creme fraiche ice cream is a new flavor we started making this year. It is a bit tangy and a great accompaniment to late summer fruit crisps and cobblers. I make my own creme fraiche but feel free to use store bought.

Creme Fraiche
2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. buttermilk

Combine cream and buttermilk in a pint jar. Stir to mix. Screw on lid and let sit out on the kitchen counter 24-36 hours until thick. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Brown Sugar Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
1 large egg
pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
4 oz. cream cheese
1 c. creme fraiche
2 c. heavy cream

In a blender place egg and blend 1-2 minutes until lemon colored and foamy. Add salt, vanilla and brown sugar. Blend until well mixed. Add cream cheese and creme fraiche. Blend until smooth. Add heavy cream and blend until smooth and thick. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1 quart.


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My Favorite Peach Cobbler

I want to share one last peach recipe before the season ends. As you can see from previous posts, I love fresh peaches and one of my favorite ways to use them is in peach cobbler. I know there are many peach cobbler recipes out there, but this one, adapted from Sunset Magazine, is our family favorite. You can easily double the recipe to feed a crowd.

My Favorite Peach Cobbler
6 c. peeled and sliced peaches
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. minute tapioca
1/2 tsp. orange zest
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 drops of almond emulsion or extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of kosher salt

Biscuit Topping
1 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4-1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 c. cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 c. heavy cream

For the Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9×13 pan. In a large bowl combine all filling ingredients and mix well. Let sit 15 minutes for the tapioca to soften, then pour into prepared pan.

For the Biscuit Topping: In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Cut in butter and blend until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir in cream with a fork. Let mixture sit 2-3 minutes until cream is absorbed (it will be thick and sticky). Use your hands to break it into small pieces and place on top of fruit mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes, turning halfway through baking, until filling is bubbly in the center and biscuit topping is golden. Serves 6-8.

Cobbler before baking

Cobbler after baking

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Cucumber Tzatziki

Tzatziki (Greek yogurt sauce) is one of my favorite dips. During the summer months I will make it with locally grown fresh cucumbers. I use English cucumbers the rest of the year. This would be a good appetizer served with fresh pita bread, pita chips or lavash for a Labor Day get together. This recipe is adapted from Joanne Weir.

Cucumber Tzatziki
1 (24 oz.) container whole milk plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2-3/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. finely chopped mint
3 Tbsp. finely chopped dill
1 Tbsp. finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

Spoon yogurt into a large bowl. Add cucumber, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and sugar. Stir well. Fold in fresh herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Cover with plastic wrap and chill one hour before serving. Serves 6-8.


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