Archive | February, 2012

Brown Sugar Hot Fudge

26 Feb

Another winner from Christopher’s lovely mom.

“I got this recipe from Auntie Joan years and years ago. I had always used white sugar, but then I found out that Darlane used brown sugar in hers, so I switched.”

~Sharon Rager (neé Svendsen)

Thank goodness for Darlane, my mother-in-law’s best friend, and her brown sugar wisdom.

I’d choose brown sugar over the white, bleached stuff any day (just don’t tell my mother-in-law). I bake it into shortbread; I throw it into cake recipes for a super moist effect; and, now I will forever use brown sugar for this addicting hot fudge.  Only chocolate haters will shy away from this one.

I promised this recipe earlier, when I posted the Buttermilk Pound Cake recipe on Valentine’s Day; and, when I heard that I might have some University of La Verne visitors this weekend, I knew I had the perfect excuse to indulge.

Lucie, Phuong, and Walter are three of the most outstanding students I met while working at the University of La Verne. I was an international student advisor for just over a year at my alma mater, but I suppose the fact that these three wonderful people drove over bearing gifts of fizzies and food (Belgian beer and international food!) is telling of the some of the friendships forged.

These Vietnamese spring rolls came with a citrus-lemon grass sauce and a peanut sauce.

Lucie and Walter contributed Colombian empanadas from Sabor Latino Grill in Montclair, CA.

This could have been a perfect Academy Awards party– too bad our television doesn’t tune into ABC– yes, this is a true story, and, yes, this is as pathetic as it gets. But, at the very least, we were able to enjoy a satisfying lunch before my friends left to find a decent TV set.

Earlier, though, my little boy had been excited to help with the beloved hot fudge recipe from Grammy. So, while Chris grocery shopped, Atticus and I “slaved” over the stove.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter over low heat.

Pour in the brown sugar-milk mixture. Keep on low heat.

Easy: Get a three-year old with a serious sweet tooth to help you stir, stir, stir. (The fudge is only warm at this point.)

Brown Sugar Hot Fudge


2 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate
1/4 c Organic unsalted butter
1/2 c Evaporated milk
2 c Organic brown sugar
1/2 tsp Pure vanilla extract
pinch salt

In a mixing bowl, stir together sugar, milk, and salt. Set aside.

In medium a saucepan, over low heat, melt together chocolate squares and butter.

Slowly pour sugar mixture into saucepan. Simmer and stir constantly until fudge is no longer grainy.

Add vanilla.

Enjoy over your favorite ice cream.

Happy eating!


King Cake and Rosemary-Sage-Garlic Bread

21 Feb

(You’ll have to scroll waaay down for the Rosemary-Sage-Garlic bread entry)

Working with yeast can be frustrating. It is definitely time-consuming. And, ultimately, it should be wonderfully rewarding. Honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a piece of fresh-baked, heaven?

This Sunday, our kitchen was overrun with labels featuring semolina, all-purpose, active, and other such descriptions. I worked hard, but I had so much fun. It was as if I were in the dark room again, transfixed by the ritualistic process and reaping the rewards as images came to life right before my eyes. I will always look back on those days in the photo lab with nostalgia and idealism; however, I believe I have found a worthy substitute in the kitchen– baking yeast breads!

Atticus was so excited to watch the dough "grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until it got gigantic, enormous!"

My co-worker, Chrissy D’Amico is originally from New Orleans, and she is my inspiration for the first recipe. You may or may not know that tomorrow is Mardi Gras. It just so happens we are also celebrating two birthdays in our office with a pot luck. (Yes, well, you might groan, but hold off on that for now.) It wasn’t the first time we had talked about King Cake. Chrissy had explained that in New Orleans people eat King Cake on Mardi Gras, although it is originally eaten on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany, much like the Rosca de Reyes is in Spanish and Latin American traditions.

And so, I decided to attempt a King Cake. I had never before tried to bake or eat one. She suggested a Food Network recipe. As usual,  I read that recipe, then obsessively looked around for more until I found a satisfying combination. My recipe most closely resembles the Southern Living Magazine’s King Cake recipe.

Southern Living Magazine’s King Cake

I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream for the bread; added 1/3 cup light cream cheese and orange rind to the filling;  substituted lemon rind for the yellow decorating sugar; and used a far less sweet cream cheese frosting for the glaze.

Like anything else, you can and should make this bread your own. Here is how it went for me:

Raw sugar and organic cinnamon for the filling

Orange rind for the cream cheese filling

I don’t usually advocate it, but punching can be fun.

King cake dough "before" and "after" rising

Punch the dough

 I think the process is rewarding enough, but I am strange that way.

Roll out to a 10-inch with, and as long as it can possibly go

 Any filling will do. Make it your own. Some people opt to use fruit fillings. Others use pecans.

Thin layer of cream cheese, orange rind, topped with cinnamon and sugar

Roll the dough and join both ends to form a giant ring. Don't forget to hide an almond, bean, or plastic baby at the bottom.

If you find the baby (or bean, as the case may be), you should throw the next party.

Rosemary-Sage-Garlic Bread

This yeast bread recipe is from a recent blog discovery– Alexandra’s Kitchen recently featured Rosemary Semolina Bread with Sea Salt from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery. The pictures in Alexandra’s blog are excellent and decidedly far too tempting.

I followed the recipe pretty well. I did, however, add roasted garlic cloves and shredded sage. Oh, and I brushed an egg wash with a sprinkling of water right before putting the bread in the oven, and repeated every five minutes during baking.

Just in case you are wondering– we could not stop eating this! Not one of us.

Roasted garlic to mix into the dough

One last thing– I made two very decent-sized coiled loaves. I don’t own a baking pan that would house either her original intention nor her actual execution of the shape.

This recipe calls for two different flours– all-purpose and semolina (or pasta) flour.

Pour the yeasty, bubbly, all-purpose batch into the grainy semolina mix.

I loved Alexandra's coil shape so much that I made two!

Happy baking and, as always, happy eating!

Emergency Heart Day Dessert: Buttermilk Pound Cake Muffins

15 Feb

We almost had an emergency on our hands yesterday.

Atticus, Christopher, and I (along with about three-quarters of the population, apparently) have been battling this mystery cold and flu for a few weeks now. Although Atticus and I are still functioning normally, Christopher has had the hardest time. I know that it’s because he does too much for us. He washes dishes, does the laundry, takes the little guy to school, and indulges my every whim. Oh, my. I’m started to feel kind of guilty.

I felt even worse when I received a phone call from Christopher on Valentine’s Day informing me that he was in the emergency room, under doctor’s orders. Without going into too much detail, I am relieved to report that an appendectomy scare turned out to be unfounded.

Basically, my multi-tasking husband has been ordered to rest and recover.

And, so I tried to take care of him the best way I know– I cooked and I baked.

I had had Mixed Bean and Lentil Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash on my mind anyhow, but now I needed  to think of a quick, comforting dessert. Something fool-proof. I remembered the batch of Brown Sugar Hot Fudge that I had prepared earlier with my mother-in-law’s treasured family recipe, so I swung by the market to pick up vanilla ice cream (Haagen-Dazs has a great five-ingredient ice cream, aptly named Five) and organic flour for my favorite pound cake recipe (also courtesy of my mother-in-law).

Brown Sugar Hot Fudge!

Usually, I’ll bake this perfect pound cake in a bundt pan, but that takes nearly one hour, so I decided to try something different to speed up the process– individual Buttermilk Pound Cake muffins! I got the idea when I spotted a box of so-called tulip baking cups in red, pink, and white.

Buttermilk Pound Cake

"Daddy, tell me a story." Atticus is simultaneously enjoying a muffin at the table and a story from Chris.


2 c sugar ( I use raw unrefined sugar with great results)
1 c butter, room temperature
3 eggs

3 c cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

1 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream sugar, butter and eggs.
Slowly add flour mixture (with salt and soda), alternating with buttermilk about three (3) times, beginning and ending with flour.
Add flavor extracts.
Pour batter into muffin pan lined with tulip baking cups, almost to the top of the tin. The extra length on the baking cups should prevent spillage.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Under-baked is best with this recipe!

Pound Cake Muffins in Tulip Cups

If you use the traditional bundt pan for this recipe, be sure to grease or butter the pan liberally, dust with flour, and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Use a flour sifter or sieve to 'dust.'

May your days be filled with friendship, peace, and enough food to keep you going. Happy eating!
~ Isela, Christopher, and Atticus

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Pesto Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Parmesan Linguine

10 Feb

Consider the carrot.
Humble? Maybe.

Now, coat it with little of that pesto and roast it for a few minutes.
Okay, now turn it over and roast it for  a few more.
What do you think?
Well, I happen to think that the result is sort of glamorous.

I’m always amazed at how incredible any vegetable tastes when it’s prepared this way. Dense, sweet, and, if done to my taste, a little smoky.

Last night, when my co-worker and friend, Joy Ahn, mentioned her dinner plans at home, she planted the seed.

When I opened the front door, Chris had a pot of boiling water going for pasta. But, I was on a mission. We shut the burner off for a while as I washed and prepared the squash and carrots. I quickly skimmed my trusty Betty Crocker and saw the simplest recipe for pesto roasted vegetables. We always keep a jar of the green paste handy. Also, a little more carb intake didn’t sound so unappealing either! So, linguine and roasted vegetables it was.

Pesto Roasted Vegetables and Linguine


1/4 C pesto, prepared
2-3 medium summer squash, cut lengthwise (1/2″ thick)*
6-8 small/medium carrots, cut lengthwise (1/2″ thick)**
12 oz. package linguine pasta
water for pasta
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1-2 T Parmesan, grated
salt and pepper to taste


Bring water for pasta to a rolling boil.

Set oven to Broil.
Toss pesto and veggies in a medium bowl.
Place veggies, cut sides down, on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.
Broil with tops 4 to 6 inches from heat about 5 minutes or until skins begins to blister.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta as directed.

Turn vegetables; brush with any remaining pesto from mixing bowl.
Broil an additional 6 to 7 minutes, until vegetables are light brown.
Cool slightly.

Toss olive oil and pasta. Add Parmesan and lemon juice. Sprinkle pepper and salt if desired.
Cut vegetables into 2-inch pieces and add to pasta. Serve warm.

*I find that summer squash has too much water content to really do well when roasted. An easy trick (that also works with eggplant) is to cut the vegetable as directed, salt generously, and let sit for 20 minutes. You will start to see water come to the surface after only 5 minutes. Rinse to remove salt with cool water. Pat dry. Now continue as directed in the recipe above.

** I specify that the vegetables should be cut to a 1/2″ thickness, so that all vegetables are evenly roasted and done at the same time. Experiment with bell peppers, eggplant, and more. I even made Brussels sprouts with pesto for lunch. Have fun!

Roasted Brussels sprouts cut in half and coated in pesto

See You at the Market

8 Feb

“The market is fun, isn’t it?”
Atticus’ nod was barely perceptible. Perhaps he would have answered the nice lady, but he was seriously concentrating on eating that delicious, juicy tangelo without getting any of it on his mustard-colored shirt– a task that proved unsuccessful.

Saturday morning was the first time I felt like going out in almost a week.
I coaxed Christopher into making my first outing a trip to the farmer’s market. Atticus didn’t need much convincing. The little guy was quarantined just as long as I had been, and he certainly wasn’t about to protest going anywhere on a sunny February day.

If you have concerns about pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, go ahead and ask the vendors about them. These strawberries are grown in Fountain Valley and are a variety that gives fruit year round in So Cal.

After our first trip to the Irvine Farmer’s Market nearly two weeks ago, Chris and I agreed that we just had to head back for a closer inspection. It’s one of the best we have visited, and the other plus is that it’s in our new neighborhood! Okay, so maybe I get a little more excited about the market than other people, but maybe the images below can help put things in perspective. I’ve included a few tips that I hope you’ll find helpful.

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Did you notice the picture of the beets? I am always on the hunt for beets at farmer’s markets because that’s where I tend to find ones with the firm, green leaves and bright red stems. Although Swiss chard still remains dear to my tummy, last year  a college friend of mine and founder of Cuatro Caminos Collective, Eddie Casarez, introduced me to a new world of nutritious and delicious possibilities with beet greens. That’s right, that part of the beet that your mom threw away before steaming those red roots is not really meant to end up in the compost pile.

A favorite: beet greens!

Beet greens pack quite a nutritional punch. They are delicious simply sautéed in a little olive oil. Throw in a sliced garlic clove and a dash of black pepper, and you’ve got yourself a perfect side dish. Sometimes, I’ll even add ribbons of beet greens to a pasta sauce, quinoa, or even a Quiche.

Another stand-out was the tangelo. And, it’s not all about that sensational color either. The citrus-sampling station was packed with an impressive variety of grapefruit, blood oranges, clementines, and the like, but it was hard not to notice the three-year old take bite after bite of tangelos.

A twenty- or thirty- something blond in a ball cap called out to his lady companion, “He really seems to like those. What are they?”

I wonder just how many pounds Atticus helped sell that day.
In what I took to be either an act of kindness or gratitude, the vendor suggested that we pick out the firm and cool tangelos. He assured those would be sweeter and juicier than others. Sufficed to say, we will be back this Saturday. Our supply at home didn’t make it past Wednesday morning.

I hope to see you at the market!

Irvine Farmer’s Market at the University Center
Campus Drive and Bridge Road
Irvine, CA 92612
Saturdays 8am – 12pm

Albondigas with Roasted Butternut Squash

3 Feb

Chop, chop, chop. Peppermint, onions, and tomatoes.

Specks of thyme, sage, freshly ground pepper, cumin, and oregano on brightly colored Butternut Squash

I only have the slightest inkling of guilt that my first post is not vegetarian. Most will be.

Albondigas are probably the fondest memory I have of my maternal grandmother and her kitchen. Sure, Papa Chuy’s Chocomilk banana shake was more fun, but the aromas streaming from the pot during one of these meatball soup sessions have permeated my soul for all time. I always wished Mama Chuy would invite me to help her, but that was not her style, so I contented myself with watching.

Over the years, I’ve added my own twists; and, in the more recent years, I’ve decided that I can’t go wrong as long as I use the freshest herbs and the most seasonal of vegetables.

It’s no secret to all those closest to me that I’ve been sick for almost a week now, confined to my comfortable apartment because doc thinks I’m contagious up until precisely today. Cue mom! She came over with a couple of pounds of organic ground turkey and a bundle of pilfered peppermint from some neighborhood or other.

This recipe calls for a lot of tomato during the non-tomato season. I refuse to buy tomatoes out of season– except for those certain heirloom varieties that still miraculously give fruit to us So Cal folk. But, for the most part, I’m happy to use canned whole peeled tomatoes, picked at the optimal point of ripeness and nutrition.

During the off-season, use canned tomatoes

Almost as an afterthought, I added the roasted butternut squash from a couple of nights ago. I am convinced that roasting is the only way to prepare winter squash. Dense, nutty, smoky, flavorful.

Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper-- 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Slice into thin slivers for much faster roasting, but if you choose this method, remember to turn every 7 minutes, so the flesh does not stick to the tray.

Ingredients for meatballs:

1.5 or 2 lbs organic ground turkey
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 stalks green onions, finely chopped (use all parts, except the very root)
3 T long or short-grain rice
1 or 2 T peppermint leaves, finely chopped
1 T oregano, fresh or dried
2 slightly drained whole peeled tomatoes OR 1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for stock:

1 T favorite cooking oil (I use olive)
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
rest of the bunch of green onions, finely chopped
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes (minus the ones used in the meatballs), roughly chopped
OR 8-10 ripe tomatoes, quartered
3 C water, can vary depending on your thickness preference
4-5 C assorted veggies, cubed (in this case 1/4 B. squash, carrots, red potatoes)
1 sprig rosemary
4-5 sprigs thyme
5 leaves sage, finely chopped
pinch of cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of star anise, ground
peel of 1 small lemon, grated
salt and black pepper, to taste

For this soup, I am liberal with the salt.

From our patio, cupboard, and fridge (all organic!)


Place ground turkey, plus the rest of the ingredients for the meatballs, in a medium bowl. Mix with a fork until incorporated, but do not over mix. Cover and refrigerate.

Set a large stock pot over medium heat. Heat oil. Stir fry celery and onions until celery is translucent. Add tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add water. Mix in all herbs and spices. Taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary.  Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium low heat, and start to drop in the meatball mixture one rounded tablespoon at time. When all meatballs float to the top of the pot, add uncooked vegetables. At this point, you can again check for seasoning. The turkey should be cooked through when it rises, but now we are waiting for the rice to get tender and the uncooked veggies to be just cooked enough.

I added the roasted butternut squash by scooping it out with a spoon and dropping it into the soup, but I don’t see any reason why uncooked, cubed squash could not be substituted, as long as it is added with the other uncooked veggies earlier.

So, that’s that. You can make a meal out of this by serving with toasted sourdough baguette slices or the traditional rolled up yellow corn tortillas.

Happy eating!

Start Sharing the Sugar and the Sage

2 Feb


Whether you’re a long time friend or a new on-looker, you have, for at least a brief internet moment, decided to join us on our adventure to discovering and uncovering the joys of seasonal cooking, baking, and roasting.

This is our family project, and it represents our commitment to writing up recipes, kitchen tips, beverage preferences, and farmer’s market trips. It’s also a place to share our love of art– and, yes, that’s oftentimes comes in food and Belgian beverage form.

Happy eating!


Isela Peña-Rager
(with Christopher and Atticus in tow)