National S’mores Day

It’s almost the eleventh hour of National S’mores Day, but not too late to reminisce about the awesome s’mores we made with Mother Rucker’s Cinnamon Cookie Brittle!


Check out Mother Rucker’s delicious treats!

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Robert Rothschild Farms Chocolate Caramel & Sea Salt Sauce

IMG_0878This post is overdue because Robert Rothschild Farms Chocolate Caramel & Sea Salt Sauce is way too good not to share.  My brother told me how much his family enjoyed it over ice cream, and while we completely agreed, I kept waiting for a great recipe inspiration that would really do it justice.  It finally came to me — cream puffs topped with Chocolate Caramel & Sea Salt Sauce.  That should work!

I started with a cream puff recipe from my vintage Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.  “New” is relative in this case, as this was my first cookbook and has been my go-to resource for cooking basics for many years.  The recipe is easy, but you need to be patient and beat the batter long enough to insure it will puff when baked.

Cream Puffs

  • 1/2 cup butter (the recipe says “or margarine”, but no)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (always King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour in our house)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

Melt butter in 1 cup boiling water.  Add flour and salt all at once; stir vigorously.  Cook and store until mixture forms a ball that doesn’t separate.  Remove from heat; cool slightly.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each until smooth.  Drop by heaping tablespoons 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 400° until golden brown and puffy, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven; split.  Cool on rack.  Makes 10.

I always use my mom’s vanilla custard recipe for the cream filling.


To assemble the cream puffs, heat the Chocolate Caramel & Sea Salt sauce in the microwave.  Place the bottom of a cream puff on a plate and fill with about 2 tablespoons of custard.  Place the top of the cream puff on the custard, and drizzle with the chocolate sauce.

I wasn’t surprised at the delighted response to the cream puffs.  The chocolate sauce took them from good to great, with its dark chocolate, creamy caramel and salty bite.  If you have followed our blog for any amount of time, you know my affinity for sweet and salty foods, so this is really easy to love.

Cream puff with Chocolate caramel sea salt sauce

We already knew the Rothschild Family does savory sauces well, because their horseradish sauce has earned a reserved space in our refrigerator door.  The Chocolate Caramel & Sea Salt Sauce also posted a win in the dessert category at our house!

Where to buy Robert Rothschild Farms Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Sauce

    • Buy from the artisan
    • Buy from Amazon
    • Find a store  (Note: “Find a store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products. Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock. If not, ask them to carry it!)



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Pretzel Pete Gourmet Pretzel Nuggets

Was your first thought, “ho-hum, the grocery aisles are full of pretzels”?  That was kind of my reaction when I saw  Pretzel Pete Gourmet Pretzel Nuggets on the shelf, but I did a double-take when I saw the “spicy-hot!” logo and realized they were sour cream & habanero flavored.  Wow!  I picked up a box, and also bought a box of honey mustard flavor since Allen is not always a fan of super spicy foods. Pretzel Pete I poured myself a cold drink (a fire extinguisher, if needed) and prepared for taste-testing.  I was pretty excited to see the pretzels were made from sourdough, which is my favorite bread.  Ever.   The first bite was awesome!   The pretzel is softer than most, but has a very hearty crunch.  The sourdough flavor is yummy, yet the seasoning is definitely the star.  Fiery habanero flavor is balanced nicely with cool sour cream.  Allen wandered in while I was enjoying my snack,  and before I could warn him about the spice factor, he had popped a pretzel nugget in his mouth.  Surprisingly, he loved it, so the heat is not overwhelming for those who can’t tolerate as much.  We immediately broke out the honey mustard flavor to try and found them to be really different from the national brands.  Flavor permeates each bite, and isn’t overwhelmed by salt. Karl Brown, President of the family company that makes Pretzel Pete Gourmet Pretzel Nuggets, was kind enough to share the unique process that makes the pretzels so great.  They are made in single “slow” batches, and soaked in  seasonings.  Karl said other companies’ pretzel products are simply sprayed with seasoning as they move along a conveyer belt, a method he described as a “20-second shower”.  By contrast, Pretzel Pete nuggets get a “4-minute bath” in seasonings.  So no wonder the pretzels are so flavorful!  The pretzels all have complementary seasonings:  honey and mustard, sour cream and habanero, garlic and parmesan cheese (gotta find these!), and cheddar and ale.  The pretzels are baked to a softer finish than most, giving them a very distinctive texture. Pretzel Pete sounds like a character straight out of the old west, but the company is located in Pennsylvania.  The customer testimonial page on the company’s website shows the world-wide reach of this snack.  People from Germany, Australia, all over the United States, and some of our military heroes in Afghanistan wrote to say how much they love Pretzel Pete Gourmet Pretzel Nuggets.   We heartily agree! Like many artisan foods, finding Pretzel Pete products might be a challenge, but so worth the effort!  They are most often found in gourmet food and specialty stores, but the most reliable source is the company’s website. Where to buy Pretzel Pete Gourmet Pretzel Nuggets


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Belmont Artisan Butter Toffee Gourmet Peanuts

This post almost didn’t happen because we ate practically all of  the subject matter before realizing the container was nearly empty!  “Addictive” might be an overstatement of the attraction power of certain foods, but sometimes you just have to go with it.  This is one of those times.  Allen is the peanut lover at our house and when I brought home this can of Belmont Artisan Butter Toffee Gourmet Peanuts, I expected he would enjoy them solo.  Wrong.  I opened the can, tasted a couple of the toffee-covered peanuts and fell in love with their rich, buttery crunch.

Belmont Peanuts come from the Virginia family farm owned by Bob and Patsy Marks.  Bob and his brother, Mike, are farmers who grow peanuts, cotton, soybeans, corn, and watermelons in the heart of Virginia peanut country.  Patsy grew up on her father’s peanut farm, so these folks know peanuts.  In 1993, Bob and Patsy decided to share their quality peanuts through a mail-order business started in the basement of their home.  Patsy worked the business around the farm’s schedule and being a full-time mom.  Their children were pressed into service to help maintain the crops when things got really busy,  and son, Robert, is still active in the operation.  In 2004, David Peck joined the Marks family business, bringing peanut cooking skills he began learning as a very small boy.  Demand for the family’s products quickly required more space, and a move was made from the basement to a larger facility on the farm.

These peanuts are so awesome in part because of the Marks family’s  environmentally sound farming practices.  They alsoBelmont Peanuts use the same small-batch cooking methods David learned as a child.  If a hand-cooked batch doesn’t turn out just right, it goes in the trash.  Under the watchful eyes of Bob, Patsy, Robert, and David, quality is absolutely under control from the peanut field to your snack bowl! Belmont offers a variety of flavors, which you can order direct from the farm.

Where to buy Belmont Artisan Butter Toffee Gourmet Peanuts



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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

My mom started teaching me to cook at an early age, and one of the first desserts I learned to prepare was pineapple-upside down cake.  It is one of my favorite comfort foods to this day.  I’ve always followed Mom’s recipe faithfully until today, when I decided to make things a little more decadent, and hopefully, a little more delicious.

Mom and I share a love for rum-flavored desserts.  Rum raisin ice cream, black-bottom pie, rum cake — you get the idea.    She relies on rum extract, while I prefer the 80 proof version for cooking.  I thought a little rum and some coconut might convert our tried-and-true upside-down cake recipe to a tropical treat, and exchanging the original recipe’s vegetable shortening for real butter was a no-brainer in my upgrade strategy.  It has only been in recent years that I’ve come to realize all flours are not created equal, and now King Arthur flour has become part of the recipe.  One thing was consistent with family tradition- this cake bakes best in a cast-iron skillet.  No mere cake pan can deliver the pineapple-butter-brown sugar topping with the same wonderful caramelized texture.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

  • 1-8 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained with juice reserved
  • 1-8 ounce can pineapple chunks, drained with juice reserved
  • 1 tablespoon rum (I used light rum)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Lightly grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.  Drain pineapple, reserving the juice.  Add rum to the pineapple juice, and if necessary, enough water to make 2/3 cup liquid.  Add 3 tablespoons of crushed pineapple to the juice.

On the stove top, melt 1/4 cup butter in the prepared skillet over medium low heat, then stir in the  brown sugar and the remaining crushed pineapple.  Spread evenly in skillet, then place pineapple chunks in the skillet, spacing them evenly.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of coconut.  In a mixing bowl, cream 1/3 cup butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg, and mix until thoroughly blended.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry mixture alternately with pineapple juice mixture, mixing well after each addition.  Add 1/2 cup coconut and mix thoroughly.  Spoon batter over the pineapple mixture in skillet.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tests done.  While the cake is still hot, carefully turn it out of the skillet onto a serving platter.


I’ve never made this cake when a little of the topping didn’t stick to the skillet, so be prepared to make a few repairs once you have plated the cake.  It is best served warm, and is equally delicious on the second day after a brief microwave reheat.


There’s a check mark in the “WIN” column for this experiment.  The butter and rum added more flavor depth and moistness to the cake, while the coconut in the topping and batter made it satisfyingly tropical.  King Arthur Flour always plays a key role in my baking success.  This American employee-owned company mills high-quality flours from 100% American-grown non-GMO wheat.  If you have been following our blog for very long, you know I use it with confidence in all my baking.

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Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit

I’m over winter, completely done with cold weather, and hope not to see ice on my driveway again.  I’ve worn more heavy sweaters in the last two months than I have in the previous ten years.  With sleet and possible snow in the forecast, it seemed like a good day for chili.

IMG_0819Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit has been the foundation of my chili-making for years, but I didn’t know the historical significance of the recipe and its creator until very recently.  Homer Thomas Wilson (Wick) Fowler was born in East Texas, close to the town Karen and I call home.  After joining the Dallas Morning News in 1943, he became the first Texas reporter to go overseas in World War II.  He followed General Patton into Germany, and was one of the first journalists to enter Hiroshima after it was bombed.  Wick was known for his friendly, outgoing personality, and was in demand as a speaker after the war.  While continuing his news career, he started his own chili company and was one of the first competitors at the famed Terlingua chili cook-off.  He resumed the role of news correspondent during the Vietnam war, and with several cases of his chili mix on hand, established the Da Nang Branch of the Chili Appreciation Society International.  He accompanied H. Ross Perot to Vietnam in 1970 to seek the release of American prisoners of war.   Wick traveled the world recording history, but he is better known for his role in the culinary history of Texas.

The best thing about Wick’s kit is that there are seven individual seasoning packets, so it is easy to adjust the recipe to individual tastes.  I’ve tinkered with the standard recipe and here is the version that is a winner at our house:


  • Brown 2 pounds of chili meat or lean ground beef and drain fat
  • Add 1 – 8 ounce can of tomato sauce and 2 cans of water
  • Add 1 – 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Add the salt, paprika, cumin/oregano, onion/garlic, and ground chili peppers seasoning packets
  • Add as much or as little of the red pepper seasoning packet as you like (I normally use 1/4 to 1/2 of the packet)
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • I do not use the masa seasoning packet

Although the recipe on the box recommends simmering the mixture for about 30 minutes, the flavors are more developed if slowly simmered for about 90 minutes.  Alternatively, the chili mixture can be transferred into a slow cooker, and simmered on low heat for 4 hours.

Honestly, we would have enjoyed an 80° sunny day, but our warm and spicy chili with Fritos® and freshly shredded cheese made today’s cold and dreary weather a little more bearable.

Chili bowl

Where to buy Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit

(Note:  “Find a store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products.  Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock.  If not, ask them to carry it!)


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Wild Ophelia Chocolate

Katrina Markoff ‘s nickname, Wild Ophelia, was inspired by her childhood experiments with unusual ingredients and chocolate at her family’s fruit stand.  She carried her passion and creativity into her career, founding Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and she is recognized as a visionary chocolatier for her fusion of high-quality chocolate and exotic ingredients.  Katrina’s second company, Wild Ophelia, partners with other food artisans in developing upscale, distinctly American, chocolate candies.  Wild Ophelia chocolates are made with all-natural ingredients, are manufactured with 100% renewable energy, and are packaged in 100% recycled materials.  Along with the company’s commitment to producing high-quality chocolate in an environmentally responsible manner, Wild Ophelia’s mission is to educate Americans about their food sources and encourage them to really appreciate their food.

Because I’m crazy for sweet and savory combinations, we sampled Wild Ophelia All-Natural Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips Dark Chocolate Bar, which pairs Wild Ophelia’s 70% cocoa content confection with Billy Goat Chip Company’s BBQ Chips for a warm, spicy, dark chocolate treat.


Billy Goat BBQ Potato Chips were born in the first gastropub in St. Louis.  The restaurant’s chips became so popular that commercial production was practically demanded.  The handmade chips are made from thinly-sliced potatoes dusted with Billy Goat Chip Company’s Kicker seasoning.

We love Wild Ophelia’s mission to build cooperation among American food artisans, and the great-tasting result of the partnership with Billy Goat Chip Company.  The complex flavor combination of chocolate, potato chips, and BBQ spices makes the last bite as interesting as the first.  Join Wild Ophelia’s “American road trip through chocolate”!

Where to buy Wild Ophelia Chocolates

Where to buy Billy Goat Chip Company Smokehouse BBQ Chips

(Note:  “Find a Store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products.  Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock.  If not, ask them to carry it!)

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Happy New Year!

2014 got off to a great start with a family gathering at our house for brunch.  With a few make-ahead recipes and some of our favorite gourmet foods, preparation was a breeze.  A sausage, egg, and cheese casserole along with a hash brown casserole were the hearty centerpieces of the buffet.  As expected, RoRo’s handmade Cinn-A-Rolls quickly disappeared.


Our good friends at Cherith Valley Gardens provided new inspiration for our traditional “lucky” dish.  Their recipe combines black-eyed peas, CVG’s Hot ‘n Spicy Corn Relish, onion, tomato (which I omitted today), and fresh cilantro to make a tasty partner for tortilla chips.  Yum!


We love Henning’s Natural Chipotle Cheddar Cheese and Cheddar Cheese Curds, so we were excited to add Henning’s Natural Garlic and Dill White Cheddar to the buffet.  The Henning Family recommends this flavorful cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches and a burger topper, but we thoroughly enjoyed it solo.  (Garlic dill cheeseburgers will be on the menu this month!)


When I saw Roth Moody Blue cheese in the deli case, I bought it on name alone.  I love my classic rock almost as much as I love cheese!  The small batch cheese made with local Wisconsin milk is smoked over fruit wood, adding sultry notes to this creamy blue.  Our first new gourmet food tasting of 2014 received 100% “thumbs up” from the blue cheese lovers present.


No brunch would be complete without coffee and mimosas, but we have also been enjoying coffee liqueur-spiked hot chocolate this winter.  You might just forget about coffee shop hot chocolate once you try this!

IMG_0811Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

  • 4 cups half and half
  • 3/4 cup Ghirardelli Premium Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate Flavor
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur (we like Kahlua)
  • whipped cream
  • caramel topping
  • coarse Kosher or sea salt

Mix half and half, hot chocolate mix and espresso powder in a medium saucepan.  Whisk until well blended over medium heat just until it boils.  Remove from heat and stir in coffee liqueur.  Divide among 4 mugs.  Top with whipped cream, drizzle with caramel topping and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.    (Note:  the hot chocolate mixture without toppings keeps well in the refrigerator overnight.)

Happy New Year to all who share our love for gourmet foods and best wishes to the talented artisans who delight us with their creations.  May you prosper in 2014!

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Filed under Breads, Breakfast, Cheese, Salsas & Relishes

Mom’s Sunday Waffles Revisited

I’ve been slowly entering my extensive collection of handwritten recipes into my newest app obsession, Paprika.  This neat little app stores recipes, schedules meals on a weekly calendar, and builds a grocery list with an easy and clean user interface.  It also syncs across my computer and mobile devices, so family meal planning information is always close at hand.  Enough said…check it out.

As I enter old family recipes into Paprika, I look critically at ingredients and cooking methods with an eye toward improvements and updates.  I’ve made my mom’s waffles hundreds of times over the years, but when I started entering the recipe, it suddenly dawned on me to replace the vegetable oil with melted butter.  What an upgrade!  The waffles are lighter, fluffier and of course, buttery.  How could I not share the new, improved version with you?

Mom’s Sunday Waffles

Place eggs, milk, and butter in a medium bowl and blend with a whisk or hand mixer.  Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together, and add to liquid ingredients.  Whisk until well blended.  Bake according to the instructions for your waffle maker.


One thing hasn’t changed about our favorite Sunday morning breakfast; we always enjoy our waffles with Steen’s 100% Cane Syrup.  It is a boldly delicious, pure product without additives or preservatives.

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Immaculate Baking Co. Supremes Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ice cream sandwiches have been near the top of my “crave” list recently.  Immaculate Baking Co. Supremes Chocolate Chunk Cookies were on sale, so I knew it was time to indulge.  Immaculate Baking Co. has become one of our staples for convenience baking items.  Their Blueberry Scones are a regular breakfast treat, and we are seriously addicted to Gingerbread Spice Cookies.   The Supremes Chocolate Chunk Cookies are quick to bake and impossible to resist, with chunks of milk and semi-sweet chocolate in an all-natural, preservative-free, sugar and butter-rich dough.  With the Cream Cheese Ice Cream recipe we used in our Peach Pecan Amaretto Cheesecake Shooters, super-rich ice cream sandwiches are ridiculously easy, but that could be our secret.

Make the ice cream first, and freeze it in a shallow dish until very firm.  My dish was 10″ square, which made 9 sandwiches.  While the ice cream is in the freezer, bake 2 packages of Supremes Chocolate Chunk Cookies and cool them completely on a wire rack.  (You will have leftover cookies, which is never a problem.)  When you are ready to assemble the ice cream sandwiches, you will need to work quickly using a biscuit cutter or glass just about the same size as the cookies, and small plastic bags or plastic wrap.

IMG_0636Place 9 cookies upside down on a flat surface.  Cut an ice cream circle using the biscuit cutter or glass.  Carefully remove the ice cream and place one circle on the first upside down cookie.  Immediately top with a second cookie and very gently press together.  Wrap the ice cream sandwich and pop it in the freezer.  Repeat until all sandwiches have been assembled.  You will need a spatula or spoon to rework the ice cream in order to cut the circles.  I waited a couple of hours until the ice cream was firmly frozen again, then transferred all the sandwiches to a freezer bag for storage.

Friends, ice cream sandwiches will never show up in a list of healthy foods,  but these are healthIER  because there are no preservatives or “unnatural” ingredients in the cookies or ice cream.   The hands-on preparation time was probably less than an hour, thanks to a head start on the cookies provided by Immaculate Baking Co.  Could you make the process even easier with purchased ice cream?  You bet, but I promise you’ll be missing out if you don’t try the cream cheese ice cream.  These ice cream sandwiches were the best ever.

Check out Immaculate Baking Co.’s full line of all-natural, organic, and gluten-free products, as well as their commitment to children’s causes and folk artists.  You will become fans!

Where to buy Immaculate Baking Co. Supremes Chocolate Chunk Cookies

(Note:  “Find a store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products.  Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock.  If not, ask them to carry it!)


Filed under Cookies