Tag Archives: California Gourmet Foods

Easy Sausage Brunch Casserole

One of my two sisters (both excellent cooks) brought this delicious casserole to a baby shower our family hosted years ago.  It  has since become a go-to dish for holiday breakfasts and relaxed company brunches.  I love it because it can be made ahead and baked just before serving, but also because you can create your own variations with different flavored sausages, cheese varieties, and even breads.  My current favorite uses Rumiano Organic Pepper Jack Cheese.  There’s something very satisfying about choosing Rumiano’s Certified Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Kosher, ARumiano Pepper Jackmerican Humane Certified cheeses.  There is even more satisfaction in eating this super creamy Monterey Jack cheese spiked with red and green jalapeño peppers.  It makes a mean turkey and pepper jack panini, elevates a cheese and cracker snack to an art form, and is wonderful in recipes.

Sausage Brunch Casserole

  • Six slices of bread, cubed
  • 1 pound ground pork sausage
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, sautéed in butter
  • 8 ounces Rumiano Organic Pepper Jack Cheese, grated
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish or prepare with nonstick spray.  Brown sausage in a large skillet and drain well.  Spread cubed bread in the bottom of the casserole dish, spread sausage over the bread, and top with mushrooms.  Grate the cheese and spread over the other ingredients.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk eggs together and add the remaining ingredients.  Mix well, then pour over the sausage mixture.  Bake for 30 minutes and serve.

Preparation tips:

Almost any kind of bread works well in the casserole.  I have used white, wheat, sourdough, and gluten-free breads with great success.

Use canned or freshly sautéed mushrooms.  I like to keep sautéed mushrooms in 1/2 cup portions frozen and ready to pop into recipes.  If you choose canned mushroom, drain off the liquid.

After assembling the casserole, you can cover and refrigerate it overnight.  You may need to add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

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We became fans of Rumiano cheeses when we tried their Garlic Jack Cheese several years ago.  We love their family history, their socially conscious business model, and most of all, their great-tasting cheeses!

Where to buy Rumiano Organic Pepper Jack Cheese:

  • Buy from the artisan
  • 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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Double Mocha Brownies

As I may have confessed before, I do not make brownies from scratch because Ghirardelli’s mixes are just so good.  I can have brownie mix from box to oven in less than five minutes with stellar results, but I never stop looking for interesting variations on plain brownies.  Enter Kahlúa with a sponsored post on allrecipes.com for Kahlúa brownies, which immediately went on my must-have list.  Just because I could, I amped up the mocha flavor ever so slightly by adding a little espresso powder.  If you are a mocha fan, you will totally love these fast and fantastic brownies.

Double Mocha Brownies

  • 1 – Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix (You could also use Ghirardelli’s Triple Fudge Brownie Mix.  I usually buy whichever flavor Costco has on hand.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup Kahlúa
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly coat a 9″ x 9″ pan with non-stick spray.  Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl and spread evenly in the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 minutes.  (Do not over bake!)  As soon as brownies are out of the oven, cover lightly with foil to keep the edges from hardening.  Cool completely before cutting in 16 brownies.  Store in an airtight container.

Note:  This recipe calls for different measures of oil and water than the back-of-the-box instructions.  It works very well as written above!

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The Frosting Queens Crowned Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Our quest for fantastic foods more often than not leads us to the market’s dessert aisle because for many of us, dessert is really the main course.  I have to admit to making my share of cakes from mixes with canned frosting in the past, but it has been years since I used one of the national brand packaged cake mixes or ready-to-spread frostings.  Sure, we are trying to stay away from so many preservatives, but we have also come to crave homemade taste that usually doesn’t come from grocery store mixes.  Nevertheless, my dessert radar went up when I saw The Frosting Queens’ all natural, ready-to-use frostings on Central Market’s “More, Please” blog. “All natural” was the hook for me, but I wondered how a shelf-stable container of frosting could maintain high quality taste and texture.  After trying the Crowned Caramel Buttercream Frosting, I’m pleased to report The Frosting Queens have successfully cracked that code.  The experiment started with an almond cupcake recipe stashed in my “must try” file of electronic recipe clippings.  Of course, it was necessary to taste-test the frosting before slathering it on the cupcakes, and this is where things almost went awry.  The frosting was so creamy and caramel-y I could have eaten the entire bag.  A tiny taste led to a teaspoonful, maybe two.  Fortunately, I summoned up enough self-control to frost the cupcakes and get them to their destination.

Almond Cupcakes with Crowned Caramel Buttercream Frosting

(Slightly adapted from http://www.allrecipes.com)

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Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 12 cupcake cups with paper liners.  Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, thoroughly cream together the sugar and butter.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined, then stir in the extracts.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, in several additions.  Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 full.

IMG_0441Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.   Cool cupcakes completely on a wire rack, then frost with The Frosting Queens Crowned Caramel Buttercream Frosting.

The self-professed frosting queens are sisters, Angela and Annette, who grew up baking for family gatherings.  Their love for children inspired themed family birthday parties, and to keep the kids happy and healthy, the sisters developed their ready-to-use frostings in four flavors:  Velvety Vanilla, Charmed Chocolate, Striking Strawberry, and Crowned Caramel.  They are made with real butter, contain all natural ingredients, and are gluten-free.  The frostings are available online, and it would be great to have several on the pantry shelf when the baking urge strikes.  We love Crowned Caramel, and Charmed Chocolate might just be the next flavor we try.  The Frosting Queens Buttercream Frostings will give your cake or cupcakes the royal treatment!

Where to buy The Frosting Queens Crowned Caramel Buttercream Frosting

(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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Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes are not high on my list of favorite foods; in fact, they don’t even make the list.  It is mostly a texture issue, because once processed in any way, tomatoes rocket pretty close to the top of my savory food favorite list.   I remember well the first time I tasted sun dried tomatoes.  I was having dinner in San Antonio with my brother and sister-in-law at a local restaurant they frequented.  My fusilli pasta dish featured extra virgin olive oil, black olives, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes.  It was simple, light and so delicious.  For me, the sweet sun dried tomatoes were the star.  As you may know, the drying process enhances the natural sugars in vegetables, and tomatoes develop a delightfully chewy texture.

Bella Sun Luci

I’ve used dry-packed and oil-packed sun dried tomatoes and I much prefer the latter.  For one, I don’t have to allow time for reconstitution of the dry-packed  tomatoes because, really, I seem to never have extra time.  I also love including some of the tomato infused olive oil in recipes for additional flavor.  I’ve become somewhat addicted to Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes, but happily, this is a healthy addiction.  Sun dried tomatoes have approximately twelve times the lycopene of raw tomatoes.  Lycopene fights free radicals, potentially protecting against heart disease, digestive disorders, and certain cancers. The Bella Sun Luci brand is owned by Mooney Farms, a family owned farming operation that began primarily as a kiwi farm.  They added sun dried tomatoes to their product line sold at local California farmers’ markets, and they quickly became the family’s signature product.  Today, three generations of the Mooney family maintain their commitment to quality products celebrating Mediterranean-style cuisine.

Catfish might not be your go-to ingredient for a Mediterranean dish, but a creamy topping of mayo, butter, parmesan cheese and sun dried tomatoes sends this traditionally deep-fried southern favorite on a Tuscan vacation.  With a prep time of less than 20 minutes from oven to table, it has become part of our regular weeknight menu rotation, and it is so tasty.  Quick, easy and delicious – hallmarks of a successful recipe at our house!

Catfish Tuscany

  • 2 (6-8) ounce catfish fillets
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup Bella San Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes, diced
 Preheat broiler to 500 degrees. Coat a broiling pan with nonstick cooking spray. Brush both sides of fillets with lemon juice, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place fillets flat side up on prepared pan.  In a small bowl, mix Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise, and sun dried tomatoes. Broil fish about 4 inches from heat for 6 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and turn fillets over. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over each fillet. Broil an additional 4 to 6 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Slightly adapted from http://www.allrecipes.com
Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes
I’ve seen Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes in markets around town, including Costco, where I buy a very large jar.  If you can’t find them in your area, Mooney Farm’s website offers online ordering, including some neat gift baskets.  Add a delicious and healthy Mediterranean twist to your menu!

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Sconza Lemoncello Almonds

Here’s another “no way you can eat just one” Sconza Candy!    Sconza’s gourmet Dark Chocolate Raisins rocked our world and their Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans are just some kind of wonderful.  Lemoncello Almonds have been on my list to try for a couple of months now, and having tasted them, I’m sorry I waited so long.

DSC01517Almonds are my second favorite nut, after pecans; white chocolate is my second favorite chocolate, behind dark chocolate; and lemon is my second favorite citrus flavor, just a smidge lower than orange.  This candy is no second fiddle, though.  Toasted almonds are swathed in sweet, creamy white chocolate, then covered with a delicate lemon-flavored candy shell.   Yum!

Not only are Lemoncello Almonds tasty, they are also very pretty!  With their bright lemon shells, they would be perfect for spring luncheons, bridal or baby showers, or Easter celebrations.  The third generation of Sconza candy-makers created these treats to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their parents, so they would be right at home at your special occasions.  Don’t wait for a party to enjoy them, though!  The Sconza Family’s promise to craft only the highest quality candies has been fulfilled in every flavor we have tried.

P.S. to the Sconza Family – What do you think about a candy made with my absolute favorite flavors:  Dark Chocolate Orange Pecans?  I’m available for taste-testing!

Where to buy Sconza Lemoncello Almonds

 

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Sconza Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans

I didn’t drink coffee until I was well into my adult years.  There wasn’t a specific reason I didn’t drink it; it just never interested me very much.  Although the aroma of coffee was always so tempting, I couldn’t imagine the taste living up to the scent.  When I finally decided to become a coffee drinker, I had to ease into it.  Adding some hot chocolate mix to the coffee seemed like the ticket because it erased any hint of bitterness and added a touch of sweetness.  I eventually weaned myself off the hot chocolate blend by switching to more traditional cream and sugar, but by then, I was hooked on the flavor of mocha.

Sconza Dark Chocolate Raisins were a real wow find last year.  The plump, juicy raisins covered with smooth, dark chocolate border on addictive. Could Sconza Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans live up to that taste experience?  Oh yes, they could!  The 70% cacao qualifies the DSC01445chocolate for health food status, right?  The “international blend” beans are coffee made deliciously crunchy.  Together, they fall into the “betcha can’t eat just one” category.  Allen agreed, and we are competitively eating our way to the bottom of the bag!

Third generation members of the Sconza family are carrying on the proud tradition begun by Vincenzo and Maria Sconza in 1939.  The candies that started as a San Francisco neighborhood favorite now are widely available across the country.  The variety of fruits, nuts, and flavors could keep you tasting chocolate all year.  Groovy Candies is the online source for Sconza’s products.  Try these great candies and espresso yourself!

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Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

When we shared Greenlee’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread last month, a reader posted a comment requesting a recipe for Greenlee’s French toast that had been misplaced.  I did a little online sleuthing, but couldn’t find a recipe that specifically called for Greenlee’s bread.  So many fans of this delicious cinnamon raisin bread raved about using it in French toast that I just had to try it, so I started a recipe search.  When the French toast recipe starts with a bread as sweet and rich as Greenlee’s, the batter should complement its flavor without adding too much additional sugar.  The bread is also very moist, so keeping the slices intact during the battering and cooking process presented a challenge.  An allrecipes selection, which I adapted slightly, seemed like a good option for a special Saturday morning breakfast.

Greenlee’s Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

Place flour in a medium mixing bowl and slowly whisk in the milk.  Add the other ingredients, except the bread, and whisk until blended and smooth.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat with about a teaspoon of vegetable oil.  Pour the batter in a 9″ x 13″ pan and soak 4 slices of bread for about 30 seconds on each side.  (Note:  the bread will be very soft, so handle carefully to avoid breaking the slices.)  Place bread in hot skillet and cook until it is crisp and golden, then flip carefully and cook the second side.   Repeat the battering and cooking process with the remaining bread, adding more oil to the skillet as necessary.

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This recipe obviously makes French toast for a crowd, so I made one-third of it for two people.  If you are making the recipe as written, keep the toast warm in a 200° oven until you are ready to serve it.  You can dust it with confectioner’s sugar or serve it with the syrup of your choice.  I think this recipe really works with such a moist bread.  The flour gives the batter a little body and crisps up the French toast nicely.  Adding a little more cinnamon to the batter layers the flavor, and we thought it was fine without any additional sugar.

Allen gave it his whole-hearted approval by telling me I could make Greenlee’s Cinnamon Raisin French Toast anytime!

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Mediterranean Foccacia

The term “artisan” has been bandied about a lot lately and applied to quite a few products that just aren’t.  While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is an artisan food and what is not, we can probably all agree that anything coming from a mega-food producer isn’t a real artisan food item.  Karen and I had several discussions about a good definition of “artisan food” when we talked about starting this blog.  We liked something like this:  a food product made in small batches, often made by hand or with traditional methods, that may command a premium price because of its exceptional taste and quality.

DSC01305The three generations of family bakers at the Glendale, California Kermanig Bakery are clearly artisans.  Using old world recipes, they have been making bread by hand for more than half a century and their Mediterranean Foccacia breads are outrageously good.  Really.  We recently sampled three flavors: tomato and mushroom, spinach and cheese, and rustic olive.  Our favorite?  All three, with maybe the slightest leaning toward rustic olive!  The bread is light and tender, but crisps up delicately when warmed.  The toppings are superbly seasoned and generous, and although they are common pizza garnishes, the texture of the bread distinguishes it from traditional pizza.  It would make a great appetizer, a tasty soup or salad partner, or even a light entrée.  The foccacia is super-quick to prepare.  We brushed it with olive oil, then warmed it for 5 or 6 minutes in the oven.  It was perfect!  The breads can be refrigerated, or frozen for longer storage.

We found these delicious breads at a Costco event, and as soon as we walked out of Costco, I wished that we had bought enough to fill our freezer.  Or maybe had bought a new freezer dedicated solely to Kermanig’s Mediterranean Foccacia!  Fortunately, we can order from Kermanig’s website until they come back to town.  This is a treat not to be missed!

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

IMG_0344This unassuming aluminum tray contains one of the most decadent desserts I have ever eaten.  Two of them arrived on our doorstep along with two jars of toffee sauce just before Christmas, courtesy of Karen.  She and I are both sticky toffee pudding fans.  If you aren’t familiar with this treat, it is an extremely moist and light cake made with dates, then smothered in toffee sauce.  It is as incredibly rich as it sounds.  Sticky toffee pudding is a traditional English dessert that has found an enthusiastic fan base in America.

The English Pudding Co. was founded in 1998 by Simon Johns, whose family is well known for its sticky toffee pudding sold in England’s Lake District.  Simon spent 16 years working and training in restaurants and hotels in England, Canada, America and Asia. He has received rave reviews on his mother’s sticky toffee pudding recipe.  The dessert requires a little assembly when it arrives.  The toffee sauce is warmed in the microwave for just a few seconds until it is soft enough to spread over the cake in the aluminum pan.  This helps keep the cake moist until it is served.  I tasted the toffee sauce after it was warm, and it was a miracle any made it to the cake! YUM!  The cake can then be refrigerated for four weeks or frozen for six months.  (I can’t imagine any way this would last in our refrigerator for four weeks.)   Serving is a snap.  Just slice the cake and heat in the microwave until the cake is warm and the toffee sauce is puddled on the plate, about 20 seconds.

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This dessert is “scrape the plate” good.  Sticky toffee pudding is traditionally served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but it pretty awesome solo. The only thing that would have made it more enjoyable would have been if Karen had been here to taste it with us!  There’s another pudding cake in the freezer, so maybe we can share that one–if she hurries!  XO, Karen.  This was an awesome treat!

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Lemon Sugar Cookies

I knew I would be making sugar cookies around Christmas time, and I also knew I was going to find a new recipe this year.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good recipe; it was just too much of a good thing.  The full recipe yields more than 12 dozen cookies.  Talk about a baking marathon!  Obviously, I could half, or even quarter, the recipe, but it was also time for a change of texture.  Instead of my usual crisp sugar cookies, I was craving some chewy ones.  allrecipes.com is my go-to source for recipe browsing, and I quickly found a recipe for lemon sugar cookies.  This pantry-friendly recipe does not require lemon juice or zest, so it had potential as a recipe box staple that didn’t require a grocery store run for fresh lemons.

Sonoma Lemon ExtractSeveral weeks ago, I shared how much we loved Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”.  Its mellow intensity gave a simple custard incredible vanilla flavor.   On the heels of that discovery, I had picked up a bottle of Sonoma Syrup Co. Lemon Extract, and now there was an opportunity to try it.  This small-batch extract is made from California lemons using a cold-process method that produces more complex flavor.  Its aroma was less harsh than that of another brand of lemon extract I had in the pantry, and it definitely had a more complex bouquet than the national brand.  I was hopeful for the same successful outcome as Sonoma Syrup Co. vanilla extract had produced.  Reviewers of the lemon sugar cookie recipe frequently suggested increasing the amount of lemon extract, and the recipe below reflects that change.

Lemon Sugar Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter (use the real stuff!)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Sonoma Syrup Co. Lemon Extract
  • 2 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg, corn syrup, and lemon extract.   Stir in flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Cover dough, and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.  Preheat oven to 325°.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Roll chilled dough into walnut-sized balls.  Roll balls in remaining  sugar, and place on the prepared cookie sheet  Bake 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until very slightly golden brown.  Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to complete the cooling process.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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The corn syrup gave the cookies a satisfying, chewy texture.  The lemon extract performed as expected, yielding cookies with an intense, yet mellow lemon  flavor.  It was late afternoon when the last cookie sheet came out of the oven, so enjoying a cup of tea and a warm cookie seemed to be in order.  Now, if the dish fairy had just washed the cookie sheets while I was relaxing, it would have been perfect!

Using great ingredients in your cooking and baking makes for great taste.  Karen Campion, Sonoma Syrup Co.’s founder,  has created a stellar line of products that capture the flavors of the Sonoma area.  Make Sonoma Syrup Co. your resource for artisanal extracts, simple syrups and bar mixers, breakfast syrups, and cheese accompaniments.

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