There are a lot of sweet and salty combos hitting store shelves and bakeries these days. When it comes to this trendy combo, on the top in my list you will find salted caramel cupcakes from More in Chicago and the simpler things, like kettle corn. I have been wanting to try my hand at salted caramels for some time, and it finally happened.

Salted Caramels

Salted Caramels

I can not post the recipe for the caramels here. The original recipe, is a family recipe that came from one of my good friend’s late grandmother. However, any well rated recipe from Cooks Illistrated, or even Epicurious, should do the trick. Just add 2 teaspoons of Fleur de Sel as you are cooking it, and then sprinkle some more over the top as they cool. Just make sure to use very good quality salt. Also, don’t take the mix past 140 degrees if you want a chewy consistency.


There is more than berries to this. A hint of lemon in the ricotta mixture adds just a little edge, and enough tartness to create a great flavor contrast. If you have a great dough recipe, and time, definitely go for it in this recipe. I opted for the pre-made variety which is actually pretty good.

Ricotta Berry Tart

Ricotta Berry Tart

For the crust simply unroll Pillsbury pre-made pie dough (red box), onto a 9″ tart pan. With your fingers press along the fluted sides of the pan removing and discarding any excess. Bake blind, according to package directions, and set aside.

While the crust bakes, and cools, prepare the filling.

1 pint of strawberries, sliced
2 TB simple syrum
1 cup blueberries
1 cup part skim ricotta
3/4 cup sugar
2 TB fresh lemon juice
2 egg yolks, beaten

1. Toss berries with the simple syrup and refrigerate.
2. In a medium bowl stir together the ricotta cheese, sugar, lemon juice and eggs.
3. Pour ricotta mixture onto the baked shell. Wait till the shell has cooled off to room temperature before pouring the ricotta mixture.
4. Bake in a 350 oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes.
5. Arrange the berries and refrigerate for an hour prior to serving.

Ricotta Berry Tart2

If you subscribe Gourmet magazine, and have already perused this month’s issue, then you may have seen this recipe.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

This cake took no time to prepare. Some of the online reviews indicate that the cake “came apart” when it was time to take it out of the pan. I didn’t have any trouble, but I was sure to spray the pans with Baker’s Joy. I am not really a fan of the butter and flour of molds before baking routine. Also, I made mine in miniature cheesecake pans. These are the perfect size for two or three people, and I wanted to freeze a couple to see how they hold up.

I plan on making this with frozen berries, likes some of the online reviewers did, and perhaps peaches later this summer. One other change I plan on making is using cake flour. I prefer the texture of a cake made with cake flour versus all-purpose.

This weekend’s menu included ribs, home made barbeque sauce, and even paella. And to finish it up…. sweet, salty, smooth crunchiness.

Creme Brulee Tarts

Creme Brulee Tarts

1 sheet Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations
3 eggs plus 1 egg white
1/3 cup + 3 TB sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean, split, inside scraped

1. Heat oven to 400. Roll out dough on a flat surface. Cut out 6 – 3 inch circles* and press against the inside of a muffin tin or miniature brioche tarts. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool off for 5 minutes. Brush with egg white, return to the oven for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, place in a cooling rack, and after 5 minutes remove from the molds.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks. Set aside.
3. In a medium sauce pan, bring the whipping cream, 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla bean and pod to a slow simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
4. Remove cream mixture and add 1/4 cup to the egg mixture. Add in a slow stream while whisking. This process is called tempering and allows the egg mixture to reach the temperature of the cream without cooking the egg.
5. Now add the egg/cream mixture, to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture, and return to the stove.
6. Continue stirring until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, or it reaches 160 degrees.
7. Pour the egg mixture in the tart shells baked on step 1. Let them cool off to room temperature, and then put in the fridge for at least one hour.
8. Sprinkle the top of the tarts with sugar, and place under the hot broiler for a few minutes, or caramelize using a small torch.

* Anything from a large biscuit cutter to a glass will do the trick to cut these circles. This time I used small ramekins.

I had really planned on a healthy recipe to ring in the New Year on the blog.  And I have that recipe, but the excitement of Sticky Toffee Pudding is taking precedence.

The plan was to make this last Sunday, as we were entertaining some friends from out of town.  The menu changed, this morning I still had dates mocking me; and well, I just had to take care of that.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The recipe is from Epicurious and can be found here.  I did make a couple of adjustments as I wanted a gooey consistency.  I cut back to 3/4 cups of flour, and added an additional 1/4 cup of dates and 1/4 cup of cream to the mixture.  Do notice that although not listed on the ingredients list, the recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Something about the season brings out the desire to bake, even on those of us, self-proclaimed non-bakers. I spent eight hours in the kitchen baking and the results were D-lish. I change up what I make every year, primarily because I love to try new things. The recipes below came from different sources as outlined next to each recipe. Something tells me I am not done for the season though. Lots of ingredients in the pantry, and plenty of rainy days in the forecast.

2008 Holiday Bakeoff

2008 Holiday Bakeoff

  • Lemon Bars – Friend’s grandmother recipe. One thing I love about this recipe, is that is not overly tart, like many lemon bars I have tried.
  • Butterscotch Caramels – Friend’s grandmother recipe. These are addictive! So I managed to overcook the caramel and they are a little harder than I would have wanted. Still, they melt in your mouth.
  • Pumpkin Biscotti – My original recipe. If you stopped by my booth at the Zionsville Farmer’s Market in 2005 or 2006, you have tasted these!
  • Lazy Rugelach – My original recipe. The name says it all. I substituted pie dough in place of the home made dough that the traditional recipes call for. Then filled them with cherry preserves and chocolate.
  • Almond and Cranberry Pinwheels – My original recipe – Another pie dough creation. Filled with almond pastry filling, cranberries, cinnamon, and sliced almonds…. yum!
  • Pomegranate Orange Mini Bundt Cakes – My original recipe. These are super moist and crumbly. Hard to stop at one!
  • Russian Tea Cakes – My original recipe. Filled with raspberry jam and almond pastry filling this time; but the filling possibilities are endless.
  • Shortbread – recipe.  Just bake them for 12-15 minutes instead of the 20 recommended in the recipe.
  • Almond Clouds – Recipe from a fellow blogger. These look like Mexican wedding cookies; however, the cookie itself is not super sweet, so the dusting of powdered sugar is just a perfect ending.

Somewhat traditional, but with a twist! Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes; however the pie goes out the window on this one. I know, many of you are cringing right now. I am not a pie confectioner (I know you have read that before, and actually I have a great post about pies coming soon, so stay tuned) and really pie is not my thing, but ice cream is. For some reason (read: my family), I have never gotten to make this menu just as listed below. I figured I would post it and perhaps live vicariously by anyone who decides to give it a whirl. So here it goes:

  • Creamy Pumpkin Soup
  • Scalloped Sweet Potatoes – I just wish I could find true yams in Indiana, ugh!
  • Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing
  • Roasted Turkey – we brine our turkey in a dark beer and apple cider concoction that produces the moistest and most flavorful meat. Can’t take credit for this, its an Emeril’s original.
  • White Cheddar and Pancetta Drop Biscuits
  • Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients ~ serves 10
4 TB butter, divided
1 cup chopped onions
1 TB dry thyme
2 TB rice flour
1/2 cup milk
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups milk

1. In a large stock pot, melt two tablespoons of butter and add the onions. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they soften up. Add thyme and cook for two more minutes.
2. Add the remaining butter and flour to form a paste. Add milk and continue to stir until the mixture starts to thicken.
3. Add the chicken broth and continue to stir till combined.
4. Stir in pumpkin till combined, and continue to cook covered and over low heat for 20 minutes.
6. Let the soup cool off and puree in small batches using the food processor or blender.
5. Return to a stock pot, stir in milk till heated through and serve.

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients ~serves 8

4 TB butter
6 cups of yellow onion, sliced thin
2 TB sugar
2 cups heavy cream
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TB orange zest
4 lbs sweet potatoes, sliced thin
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
½ cup Japanese style bread crumbs
1 cup white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a skillet, melt the butter and cook the onion till softened. Add the sugar and cook until they start to caramelize.
3. In the meantime, in a sauce pan, bring the cream to a simmer, add the cinnamon stick and orange zest. Cover, turn the burner off and set aside for 20 – 30 minutes.
4, Butter an 11×14 baking dish and add a layer of the sweet potato slices. Add a layer of the onion mixture and then half of the cream mixture. Repeat the layering process.
5. Mix together the toasted pecans, bread crumbs and shredded white cheddar. Cover the top layer of sweet potatoes with the cheese mixture.
6. Bake covered, at 350 for 45 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing ~ I have never been a fan of cooking the dressing inside the turkey, something about not being able to control the moisture. To keep the turkey from drying, I simply brine it and place some cut up apples in the cavity. But back to dressing. This recipe has taken different forms over the years. I first created it for a client who needed a vegetarian dressing for Thanksgiving and from there it just went a couple of different directions; including a wild rice version that I just served at a dinner party this past weekend.

Ingredients ~ serves 10 – 12
2 cups wild rice, cooked according to package directions, using broth instead of water
3 TB butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fennel
1 TB fresh thyme
1 TB fresh sage
2 granny smith apples, peeled and cut in small cubes
2 red pears, cut in small cubes
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 TB chopped Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups dry bread cubes, preferably from a day old Italian loaf
2 cup vegetable broth

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the onions. Cook for a 2 minutes, add the celery and fennel and continue cooking till they begin to soften.
2. Add the herbs, pears and apples and cook for an additional 10 minutes in low to medium heat.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine the rice with the apple/onion mixture. Once these ingredients are well combined, add walnuts, cranberries and parsley.
4. Add the bread cubes and combine. Now add the broth in batches combining well with every addition. The purpose is for the bread to soak up the moisture without making the dressing too runny.
5. Bake on a 5 quart, deep baking dish, covered, for 45 minutes at 350.

Roasted Turkey – I am a traditionalist in that I prefer to roast the turkey, I yet have to make an attempt at deep frying a turkey. That does not mean that I am not looking forward to trying it one day. Maybe one of these years I will work up the courage to stand out in the freezing cold and set up shop for the fried turkey experiment. In the meantime, a few simple steps will continue to yield the perfect bird.

  • Start off the roasting process and bake in a really hot oven, 400 degrees, for the first 15 minutes.
  • Bring the temperature down to 325 and cook covered for 90% of the remaining roasting time.
  • Start breast side down, and turn only once, when is time to cover to allow for the breast side to brown.
  • Brush several times during the roasting process with a mixture of butter and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.
  • Stuff the cavity of the bird with a few cut up apples, I prefer to cook the dressing separately.
  • Lay the bird on a layer of celery and scatter cut up onions on the bottom of the pan.
  • Add chicken broth several time during the roasting process to continue to create steam around the foil tented turkey.

Seasoning – none! At least not in the way that most people think. I have been brining turkeys for clients, and our own holidays for several years. I started with a simple mixture of salt and water, until I came across this brine from chef Emeril Lagasse. I use it on turkeys, turkey breasts, and even chicken.

Emeril’s Brine:
2 quarts apple cider
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 tablespoon juniper berries
4 bay leaves
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
4 quarts dark beer

Mix all of the above ingredients and submerge the turkey in this mixture for 24 hours, in the refrigerator. I do ours in a bucket that we purchased a few years ago and is reserved for this use. You could also use a large cooler, and cover the turkey with ice that is still in a bag and won’t leak out, or inside a large oven bag.

Now, just a little more insight on the brining process and how it works. Brining allows for two key processes to develop; both of them resulting in added moisture. First, salt helps break down the protein structure that supports the contracting filaments, partially dissolving them. Second, and more importantly, the interaction between the salt and the protein results in larger water holding capacity in the muscle cells; which then absorb the water from the brine, increasing the water weight by 10% or more. When cooked the meat still loses about 20% of its weight in moisture, but this loss is counterbalanced by the brine. Hence, the moisture lost is only half of what it would have been without the brining process.

I will now get out of my brining soap box, and move on to biscuits!

White Cheddar and Pancetta Drop Biscuits ~ This has got to be the easiest recipe in this menu. All you have to do is prepare biscuit mix and add three more ingredients before baking. These are drop biscuits, no need to cut them in specific sizes or go through an elaborate process with the dough.

1/2 lbs pancetta, diced small
3 TB finely diced shallots
2 cups of bisquick mix
Buttermilk – add whatever amount the box indicates for 2 cups of mix and use buttermilk instead of water
1/2 cup white cheddar

1. In a skillet cook pancetta and shallots till the pancetta has rendered its fat and starts to brown. Set aside.
2. Prepare the biscuit mix according to package directions.
3. Fold in pancetta mix and white cheddar until incorporated.
4. Drop by tablespoons onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.
5. Bake in the oven according to package directions in the biscuit mix.

Pumpkin Pie Gelato ~ I have finally determined the perfect ratio of milk/eggs/cream for this recipe. Took a few tries, and my husband very much enjoyed the recipe development process. Why is it gelato and not ice cream? It is all about the fat content in the milk (3 to 5 % for gelato). Now on to the next step, which is working with mix-ins. So look for that recipe later on this holiday season.

One thing that will make this recipe much much better is refrigerating the custard mixture overnight and finishing in the ice cream maker the next day. Also, an extra sprinkle of pumpkin spice is a nice finish when serving.

Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Ingredients ~ makes 6 servings
3 cups low fat milk, 2 % works well
2 cups whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
1 cup of sugar
4 egg yolks
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 TB pumpkin spice

1. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape its pulp.
2. In a deep sauce pan, bring the milk, cream, vanilla pulp and vanilla bean to a simmer; just until you see the edges of the liquid starting to bubble up or the mixture reaches 170F in a candy thermometer. Set aside to cool.
2. Mix the eggs and sugar using a hand mixer for 3 – 5 minutes.
3. Discard the vanilla bean. Begin adding the milk and cream mixture to the sugar and egg mixture 1/2 cup at a time.
4. Fold in the pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice.
5. Return to the saucepan and cook in low heat for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
6. Cool completely, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
7. Process mixture in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
8. Transfer to a container with a tight lid and freeze.