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



Filed under Fruit & Nuts

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!)


Filed under Entrées

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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Filed under Candy, Crackers, Chips & Snacks, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Breads, Breakfast

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

Texas Toffee Queen Dark Chocolate Toffee

My mom visited last week and we went on a whirlwind tour of favorite markets — Whole Foods, Market Street, Trader Joe’s and finally, Central Market.  (Karen, you should have been here!)  The highlight of the outing was meeting the Texas Toffee Queen, Nancy Lalumia, offering samples of her handmade toffee at Central Market.  We had already tried Nancy’s Dark Chocolate Espresso Toffee, and I was anxious to try some other flavors.  The milk chocolate toffee was a traditional classic with smooth chocolate atop buttery toffee with a perfect consistency.  Dark Chocolate Salted Jalapeño was a winner in Zest Fest’s “Zesty Sweets, Candy & Chocolate” Category and we definitely agreed with the judges’ decision!  If you have followed our blog for long, you know I have a weakness for chocolate combined with salt or peppery heat.  Having all three combined knocked me out!  I knew I would probably be the only one in the house who would truly love the spicy treat, so I selected the decadent dark chocolate toffee to share.

Texas Toffee Queen Dk Chocolate

It was such a pleasure to meet Nancy and hear first-hand her passion for making toffee.  We shared a laugh at the thought of toffee being “healthy”, but Nancy has developed her recipes to be “healthier”.  Choosing all-natural ingredients, like real butter, is the first healthy step.  Rather than simply having a light dusting of finely chopped nuts sprinkled across the top of her toffee, Nancy balances a generous measure of freshly roasted almonds with sugar in the toffee base.  Corn syrup is the normal binding agent used in toffee, but Nancy uses the absolute minimum amount necessary.  The result is a delicious, nutty toffee base that avoids the “sugar bomb” effect of some toffees.  Finally, Nancy finishes her toffee with the finest quality chocolate, and additional chopped almonds.  Since dark chocolate has antioxidants that may prevent heart disease, and  may help lower blood pressure, it’s another healthy choice (in moderation, as I keep reminding myself).  Texas Toffee Queen’s candy is easy to love and hard to resist!

Where to buy Texas Toffee Queen Dark Chocolate Toffee

(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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Cooking for Two

Cooking during the workweek is always a challenge for me, but cooking for two during the Monday through Friday blitz has a special measure of trials , especially if I don’t plan ahead.  Casseroles often yield more than we care to eat as leftovers, and some don’t freeze so well after baking.  Working late or extra-heavy traffic often means having dinner out if I haven’t done any preparation in advance.  Since Sunday afternoon was cool and rainy (almost unheard of for July in Texas), it seemed like a good opportunity to spend a little prep time in the kitchen.  After a few hours of work, I had stored several meals in the freezer that will help keep mealtime chaos at bay.

Spaghetti Sauce with Grandad’s Gravy

It is easy enough to make a quick pasta dish with Grandad’s Gravy at the end of the day, but add your choice of ground beef, turkey or Italian sausage with a little simmer time, and you will have a really hearty meat sauce that is sure to please.  I browned a mixture of ground beef and sweet Italian sausage with diced onion and green pepper, drained off the fat, then added a jar of Grandad’s Gravy.  After simmering it over very low heat for about 90 minutes, it smelled better than my own homemade recipe.  I divided the sauce evenly between two vacuum sealer bags and chalked up two easy meals for the freezer inventory.  Can’t wait to have some!



J-Meatloaf seasoning is just about the easiest way ever to make a savory meatloaf.  There’s no need to chop onions and peppers, and it isn’t necessary to pull a half-dozen spice and condiment bottles off the shelf.  Just mix meat, an egg, bread crumbs and J-Meatloaf, and you are done.  I like to mix and form the meatloaf, then wrap and freeze it.


Thaw the frozen meatloaf for one to two days in the refrigerator, then roast it in a 350° oven for about an hour, or until done.  I usually use a pound of ground meat, which serves two for dinner, with leftovers for lunch (like meatloaf sandwiches).  Yum!  I put two ready-to-go meat loaves in the freezer today.

Mango-Lime Salsa Chicken

After we had this spicy slow cooker meal recently, I knew it would be in our menu rotation on a regular basis.  I used 6 frozen chicken breasts and one jar of Cherith Valley Gardens Mango-Lime Salsa.  This was probably the easiest preparation of the day.  I placed the chicken in the crockpot, poured the salsa over it, and started the slow cooker on low for eight hours.


When done, I put two breasts in a vacuum sealer bag, along with some of the salsa.  Although the recipe on the post linked above directs that heavy cream be stirred into the salsa, I’ll do that when I reheat the chicken and salsa for a meal.  Score three more meals for future hectic weeknights.

I also put a pot of our favorite red beans on to cook for the meatless meals we try to have at least once a week.  We will no doubt be enjoying our red beans and rice with freshly baked sweet and spicy cornbread made with Cherith Valley Gardens Hot ‘n Spicy Corn Relish.


As time permits, I’ll be adding to my freezer inventory of quick-to-complete meals.  By watching for market specials on meat and seafood and keeping gourmet food products on hand for easy preparation, we can have delicious meals on the table in a hurry, at a fraction of restaurant prices.  Win-win!

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Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing

DSC01562Karen and I are ranch dip fans going way back to Friday night sleepovers during junior and senior high, when ranch dressing on tortilla chips was our snack of choice.  I’ve haven’t eaten a lot of ranch dressing or dip in the past several years because I just got a little tired of the taste.  That all changed when I brought Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing home from Central Market.  This ranch dip has a tastebud popping blend of spices and jalapeños that blew me away.  The “slow burn” was evident, with the initial creamy ranch flavor slowly igniting into a tasty jalapeño burn with lots of interesting flavor notes in between.  It was love at first bite, but it didn’t stop there.  I literally could not stay away from the jar.  I started feeling a little guilty about my tortilla chip intake, so I switched to eating my new addiction as a salad dressing.  Talk about waking up a plate of greens!  I added sliced grilled chicken breast with maybe just a few more tortilla chips, crushed, on top of the greens, and it was a restaurant-worthy salad.  The bottom of the jar came way before I was ready.

Kevin and Jill Lewis are the masters behind the magic of this delicious dip and dressing.  As former restaurateurs, they were experts on chile peppers, and started their journey to the gourmet food business by gifting friends and family with Salsa con Habanero made from their home garden bounty.  As demand grew, the couple decided their products were commercially appealing and in 1994, they launched Austin Slow Burn. The company now offers a variety of salsas, jams, jellies, marinades and a very interesting product named “Fire Dust’d P-nut But’r”.  All of the products are award-winners.

I’m not going too far out on a limb by declaring right now that Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing is going to be one of my favorite  foods of the year, probably forever.    It is amazing stuff!

Where to buy Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing

(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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Filed under Dips & Spreads