Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Miniature versions of just about anything are universally accepted as the ultimate in cuteness. Puppies? Yup. Babies? Them too. These miniature pie bites are no exception to the rule. 

But the real question at hand for Miss Menu is, how does size affect taste? Is the proportion of crust-to-filling acceptable? Can a mini-pie hold a candle to a traditional wedge sliced from a 9-inch pie plate?

The original version of these miniature pies over at Crepes of Wrath (love the name) called for a blueberry filling. While I’m a fool for blueberries in my everyday life, blueberry pie does not rate at the top of list of fruit favorites. I remembered achieving a certain degree of success a few years back when I served a free-form, rustic tart stuffed with nectarines and raspberries. Something about that particular combination is my idea of the perfect mixture of texture and flavors. So, I decided to tweak this recipe for a recent celebratory picnic – but feel free to tweak it right back.

Now, here’s a note on a few things I didn’t do that I’d advise that you do do.

  1. I didn’t serve with homemade vanilla ice cream. You really should. Or maybe homemade cinnamon ice cream, eh? And certainly nobody shall call the dessert police if you use Edy’s as a stand-in.
  2. I didn’t use arrowroot powder. I knew I should. Cornstarch works, but lends a slight chalkiness of texture and muddiness of flavor, to my taste buds, at least.
  3. I didn’t roll my crust thin enough. I also didn’t use a proper biscuit cutter. I let nostalgia get the best of me, perhaps, and used the vintage juice glass that my mom used to use to cut biscuits when I was a kid. But with such a tiny bite, you’d be wise to use a properly sized cutter – no bigger than 2 inches across – and roll it thinly to produce the appropriate ratio of filling to crust.

Now, even when you roll the crust to just the right width, this is still going to be a bit more crust-heavy than your traditional pie. Lucky for this girl, I’m a crust fanatic. The recipe I used was one that mixes butter and Crisco to be both buttery AND flaky – but feel free to use your own all-butter crust, if you’re a butter purist. I’d trust this Smitten Kitchen recipe.

Peach-Raspberry Pie Bites

Serves 24.

For the Pie Crust:
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
2/3 cup shortening, cold
2/3 cup ice water, plus more as needed
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar, chilled
2 tablespoons room temperature butter
1 egg yolk, for the egg wash
1 tablespoon water
1-2 tablespoons additional sugar 

For the Filling:

½ pint raspberries
2 ripe peaches, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1/3 cup sugar

Food Processor Method: Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Add cold butter and shortening, pulsing to combine until fat is pea-sized. Mix together cold water with vinegar and add to mixture, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing between each addition until a dough forms. You probably won’t use all of the liquid.


Pastry Cutter Method: Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add cold butter and shortening, using a pastry cutter or two forks to blend fat into dry ingredients until pea-sized clumps form. Mix together cold water with vinegar and add to mixture, one tablespoon at a time, turning dough with forks and incorporating liquid into the mixture until a dough forms. You probably won’t use all of the liquid.


Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a ball. Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (but only if you have a really cool fridge – two to three hours is more likely). I made mine the night ahead.


Mix the fruit together in a large bowl and sprinkle with sugar and arrowroot powder. Stir well to combine and set aside.

When dough is chilled,

Remove dough from fridge and divide into two halves. Place one half back in fridge. Roll the remaining half nice and thin, about 1/8 inch thick, between two sheets of waxed paper. Cut 24 rounds from the dough. Keep in mind that you might not be able to get 24 rounds on the first roll-out – you might have to collect your scraps, stick them in the fridge for a few minutes and then re-roll to eke out all 24 rounds.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray your mini cupcake tin with non-stick cooking spray. Tuck a round of dough into each of the 24 cups. Shmear each round with room temperature butter (I used a pastry brush, but a spoon would also suffice). This will help prevent the crust from becoming too soggy. Place the cupcake tin in the freezer while you roll out the remaining dough and, once again, cut out 24 rounds.


Remove tin from freezer and spoon a heaping tablespoon-full of fruit mixture into each cup. Top with another round of dough and pinch to seal the edges. Make three slits in top of crust. Whisk together egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Using a pastry brush, spread the wash lightly on top of each pie, then sprinkle with sugar.

And finally,

Bake for about 20 minutes, until crust starts to brown just a bit around the edges. Allow pies to cool in tins on a cooling rack before loosening around the edges with a butter knife and popping them out. Don’t forget to serve with ice cream!


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I promised you a Hazelnut Tiramisu, and a Hazelnut Tiramisu I will deliver.

But first, a few words on a subject of great angst for Miss Menu: Coffee.coffee

As someone who loves to eat, enjoys lingering over a good meal and has a general obsession with all topics of gastronomic interest, acquaintances often jump to the understandable, but totally bogus, assumption that I have something of a sophisticated palate. Some even go so far as to guess that I’m an arbiter of good taste: one who lives for truffle season, only eats food within a five-mile radius of her dwelling and makes her own wine in her spare time. While I may be enthusiastic and willing to experiment when it comes to food, if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s sophisticated. I don’t turn up my nose at fast food, and I might venture to admit that I would, in fact, be caught dead at an Applebee’s (probably ordering the laughably-sized appetizer platter smorgasbord, in fact).

So it’s all the more vexing and, yes, a little bit embarrassing when I have to ‘fess up, add insult to injury and admit that I just don’t like coffee. I love the concept of coffee – the social aspect of meeting at the coffee house for good conversation, the post-dinner ritual of ending a meal in a coffee-induced haze. Heck, I even enjoy the smell of it. But a tall cup of jo – even with loads of cream and a scourge of sugar – is just not my cup of tea.

Enter tiramisu. This intensely-espresso-flavored dessert did not make its way onto my taste buds’ radar for years due to obvious reasons. But it’s such a ubiquitous dessert that, a couple of years ago, I decided to make a concerted effort to learn to like it. And, in doing so, I had my fingers crossed that this sweet treat might help ease me into a healthy relationship with coffee. In other words, I had high hopes that tiramisu would be the gateway drug to turning me into a highly caffeinated and fully functioning member of society. The kind of girl who can waltz into any Starbucks and order with brisk authority, instead of ashamedly mumbling my request for a blueberry scone and a fruit smoothie. You know, a grown up.

tiramisu filling

The results? A mixed bag. I am now successfully obsessed with tiramisu, while simultaneously moderately repelled by a cup of coffee. My sister even tried to train my taste buds by feeding me bites of tiramisu (Edo’s Squid tiramisu, no less) followed by straight sips of espresso. And I choked down a few sips before crying uncle. But the only semi-adult coffee drink that I can handle is the Frappucino. So, now what I’m left with is a palate that is most thoroughly obsessed with tiramisu. And a wallet left significantly weaker by $5 Frappucinos.

Whether or not this caffeinated journey has left me better off is hard to say. Actually, scratch that. It’s pretty easy to say that this journey has added a pound or two to my figure while subtracting more than a few dollars from my bank account. But I’ve had a lot of fun along the way. Most recently, I experimented with creating a tiramisu for a crowd of 50 to end my mother’s surprise birthday bash. As a veteran tiramisu taste tester but a virgin tiramisu maker, research and testing were the keys to sweet success for this particular event. I loved the idea of bring out a colossal tray of tiramisu to feed 50, practically staggering under the weight of the behemoth dessert.

tiramisu dipping

My first attempt that I tested on coworkers was a bit lackluster. The bite of liquor was too weak while the dusting of bittersweet chocolate on top was far too strong. But I put these lessons learned to good use in the final version which, I just have to say, was fairly mind-blowing, thanks to a joint effort with Sister Menu! The recipe is relatively simple, but with lots of steps that must be carefully timed. And when you’re quadrupling the recipe below for a crowd of 50, that doesn’t make things easier, so two sets of hands are highly recommended.

Now, a word on supplies: I found it hugely helpful to borrow a legitimate double boiler to prepare this recipe. For those not in-the-know, a double boiler is a set of two pans, one smaller than the other. The smaller pan fits into the larger pan without touching the bottom, the idea being that you simmer water in the larger pan and heat ingredients in the smaller pan over the simmering water.

Many recipes call for a raw-yolk component, but since I wasn’t familiar with the eating habits and preferences for this particular group of 50, I decided to play it safe by cooking the eggs fully in a sweet and smooth custard beforehand. To do this requires a gentle, slow and consistent heat that, in Miss Menu’s opinion, only a double boiler can properly provide. True, you can fashion your own device by propping a small bowl into a larger one, but the convenience of an official double boiler is huge. So, being short on storage space, I borrowed one for this recipe. I also had to borrow a huge (fantastic red enamel) serving dish to live out my vision of one staggeringly large dish of tiramisu – but for the recipe below, an 8×8 glass pan will work just fine.

This particular version is inspired by my far-off-mentor in all things kitchen-related, Nigella, in her most recent cookbook, Nigella Kitchen. As a certified hazelnut-fanatic, I could not resist this twist on the classic dessert.

hazelnut tiramisu

Hazelnut Tiramisu

For Filling

  • 5 large egg yolks (discard or save egg whites for another use)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Frangelico hazelnut-flavored liqueur
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 12-14 ounces mascarpone, at room temperature

For Assembly

  • 1 cup espresso, cooled (or 6 tablespoons espresso powder dissolved in a cup of boiling water)
  • 1 cup Frangelico hazelnut-flavored liqueur
  • 24-30 ladyfinger cookies
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, VERY finely chopped
  • 2 ounces toasted hazelnuts, VERY finely chopped

In the larger bowl of the double boiler, bring an inch or two of water to a simmer. In the smaller of the two bowls of the double boiler, combine the egg yolks with sugar and mix with an electric mixer until well combined, thick and yellow, about 2 minutes. Add in Frangelico and set over the simmering water. Whisk fairly constantly for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. (Now would be a good time to cool the espresso, if you haven’t already done so!)

Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream and vanilla with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. It helps to place the bowl in the freezer before hand, and to remove the cream from the refrigerator at the very last minute, to help the cream along in the soft-peaks-process. Set aside.

Place the softened, room temperature mascarpone in a very large bowl. Fold in the whipped cream and the cooled egg mixture. Taste and sigh with rapture. This stuff is good, and could be consumed in vast quantities by itself.

Pour the cooled espresso and the remaining Frangelico in a low, shallow dish like a pie plate. One-by-one, quickly dip each ladyfinger in the espresso mixture, giving it a fast flip – speed is of the essence here. If you let the ladyfingers linger too long in the liquid, they’ll disintegrate in a flash, so you want to be sure that they absorb as much of the espresso/Frangelico flavor as possible without reaching that fall-apart-consistency.

Layer half of the semi-soaked ladyfingers tightly (overlapping if necessary) in an 8×8 dish. Cover with half of the filling mixture and spread. Top with another layer of tightly packed, semi-soaked ladyfingers and the second and final layer of the filling mixture. Using a very light hand, sprinkle with hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate to barely cover. Refrigerate.

You’ll want to let this sit in the refrigerator a good 4 or 5 hours, at the very least, to let the flavors meld together. Remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.

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When the Menu Family realized that a very noteworthy birthday was fast-approaching for our matriarch, we got together to determine the best way to celebrate in style.

Now, my mom threw birthday parties too numerous to count for the three of us Menu kids when we were growing up. And more recently, she’s hosted just bunches of family dinner parties to celebrate our respective births. This is a woman only too deserving of a throw-down good time at her very own birthday bash.

The Logistics
Surprise was the way to go – she’d have put up too many objections, otherwise. We wanted an event that would be fun, casual and filled with good friends and good food. We’d need a space large enough to accommodate a big group of family friends, so we decided to rent a banquet room at our local neighborhood pool. This would be a huge group effort, made possible with the help of the whole family and several amazing friends who served as on-site helpers!

Theme & Decor
Sunflowers set the color scheme and, subsequently, the general feel and theme of the party. Since the space already had a casual vibe going, we decided to play it up by wrapping the nine 6-foot banquet tables in rolls of brown paper. Center pieces were mason jars wrapped in raffia and filled with miniature sunflowers. Flatware was wrapped in bright orange napkins and tied with a miniature flower pom pom fashioned from brightly colored tissue paper and secured with floral wire (à la Martha Stewart). We topped the dessert and appetizer tables with graphic yellow, brown and blue tablecloths, with more sunflower arrangements and a huge hurricane lamp filled with sunny lemons. More tissue paper pom poms, plus pictures of mom and the family, and loads of bright yellow balloons, finished off the space.

Handmade tissue paper pom poms stood in for napkin rings while raffia-wrapped mason jars served as vases on the paper-wrapped tables.

We decorated the mantle with oversized tissue paper pom poms - plus plenty of photos of the guest of honor, secured to strings of twine with clothespins.

Most Importantly, The Menu
For me, cheerful sunflowers and tables wrapped up in brown paper with raffia-wrapped mason jars screams one thing, and one thing only: rustic Italian. Which is oh-so-fortunate for a certain menu-maker who just happens to love preparing Italian for a crowd! In search of a menu that would be appealing to varied palates, unfussy and, well, just tasty, I settled (after much hemming and hawing) on the following mix. With a guest list of 50, I had to do a good amount of guesstimating on quantities. I must admit that I ran a bit short on a couple of side dishes – see the notes below for some thoughts on quantities for a crowd.


  • Manchego, Peppadew & Prosciutto Bites (was spot-on with 100 bites)
    I’m a fool for the tang of a peppadew, and absolutely crazy about bite-sized appetizers on sticks (witness the Monster Bite). This particular combination was a natural marriage of those two particular obsessions. And it turns out that the pairing of peppadew peppers with nutty manchego and irresistibly salty prosciutto – thinly sliced – is a huge crowd-pleaser. We skewered each bite on a bamboo toothpick, situating a small chunk of cheesy goodness inside the pepper and wrapping the whole shebang in a shred of prosciutto. Since the prosciutto is used so sparingly, you really don’t need to purchase much – 1/4 pound, thinly sliced, would have been plenty for the 100 bites I made (as opposed to the full pound that I foolishly purchased!), combined with about a pound of cubed manchego and several jars worth of peppers. Now, if you’re at home preparing these for a smaller crowd, I can’t help but think that they’d benefit from a quick turn on the grill to lend some crispiness to the prosciutto – but they do pretty well on their own at room temperature, too!
  • Basil Dip with Fresh Veggies (I doubled this recipe, but should have left it alone to adequately feed 50. Several bell peppers, one bunch of celery, about a pound of baby carrots and a few pints of cherry tomatoes are good for dipping.)
    My idea of the perfect summer app, I first conceived of this particular dip for a friend’s birthday shindig last August. It pulls together in a snap, has loads of flavor and is eminently adaptable to whatever herbs you might have on hand. Plus, leftovers make for a terrific sandwich spread.
  • Roasted Grape Tomato Bruschetta (I prepared 80 toasts, and that seemed to be a pretty good quantity.)
    With my main courses already a bit heavy on the meat-factor, I wanted to keep my appetizers fairly vegetarian-friendly. I love this particular dish because the preparation is so painless – just roast grape tomatoes, with plenty of oil, salt and pepper, at a super-high temperature until they absolutely burst. I like to add a bit of sugar to the mix for a touch of sweetness, too. The tomato mixture can be heaped on toasty slices of baguette and served at room temperature – another requirement for all three of my appetizer choices.

Peppadew-Prosciutto-Manchego Bites, Basil Dip & Roasted Grape Tomato Bruschetta.

The Mains

  • Miss Menu’s Lasagna Bolognese for a Crowd (Three 9×12 casseroles was plenty.)
    Someday,  I’m going to have to branch out beyond this traditional favorite. But today was not the day. I can’t tell you enough just how much I love this recipe for an utterly traditional lasagna. I must admit to being something of a recipe-hopper: why repeat the same dish time after time when you can experiment with something new? But the results of this particular combination and preparation of ingredients are just so darn pleasing that I couldn’t pass it up.
  • Eggplant Parmigiana (I only prepared two 9×12 casseroles, but three would have been more appropriate.)
    My eggplant obsession is already all too well chronicled, but this particular version was a new venture for me. As a confessed eggplant parmigiana addict, I wanted this dish to be spot-on. So I conducted a trial run, creating one version with eggplant that was breaded then baked and layered with fresh mozarella, and one version in which I breaded then fried the eggplant before layering it with regular shredded mozzarella. The results were mixed to say the least. I liked the flavor of the fried eggplant, and the crunch of the baked. I liked the heft of the fresh mozzarella, and the meltability-factor of the shredded. So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds. It’s admittedly a labor-intensive dish – but one that’s well worth the effort. See the full recipe below.
  • Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage, Broccoletti & Ricotta (I mixed four pounds of pasta with three pounds of sausage, but could have downgraded to 2-3 pounds of pasta and 2-3 pounds of sausage.)
    Sister Menu, I must admit, saved the day on this particular dish. Being a budget-minded girl, I had purchased a mixture of sweet and spicy sausage from the grocery store for this classic pasta mixture. But when my sister arrived to help with cooking, she insisted on replacing the sub-par sausage with some high-end product from Belmont Butchery. It’s a good thing, too. The sausage was the star of this particular dish, which combined toothsome orecchiette with roasted broccoletti, the aforementioned sweet-and-spicy sausage, a binder of ricotta and plenty of crushed red pepper for kick.
  • Caprese Salad (We used four pounds of mozzarella with seven or eight tomatoes, but five pounds of cheese and nine or 10 tomatoes would have been more appropriate.)
    I know, I know, caprese salad in June is not the best use of tomatoes ever envisioned. But I couldn’t resist offering a huge platter of fresh mozzarella, thick-sliced tomatoes and shredded basil for our guests. Tom Leonard’s, a local Richmond grocery store, makes some of the best frezh mozz I’ve ever tasted. It’s super salty and rich and worth the special 20-minute drive west for a special purchase. We arranged alternating slices on a pretty platter before sprinkling with roughly chopped basil, a drizzle of oil and a healthy pinch or two of salt.
  • Roasted Veggies (I’d recommend at least seven or eight quartered onions, four bunches of asparagus, four or five bell peppers chopped into large chunks and six or seven summer squash.)
    Instead of a traditional salad, we decided to roast up loads of veggies: onions, peppers, zucchini and asparagus all went into the mix. I definitely did not take into consideration ahead of a time how intensive a project it would be to roast enough vegetables to feed 50 people in my little oven.

Setting the stage for the buffet-style Italian feast. Mangia!

The Sweets

  • Hazelnut Tiramisu – Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh. This is getting its own special post. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to make a stop by your local American Boys’ Club (perhaps more familiarly known as the ABC store) for a bottle of Frangelico to have on hand so you can run to your kitchen and throw together this dreamy dessert as soon as you read this to-be-written post!
  • Strawberry Trifle – A coffee-and-liqueur-free alternative for the world’s cutest niece and nephew, and all those (crazy people) who are not inclined to try (my new favorite) tiramisu.

Here’s the sure-fire recipe for some delicioso eggplant parmigiana. Other recipes are either linked or described above!

One of the most beautiful sites these eyes have seen: eggplants frying in preparation for the Eggplant Parmigiana.

Eggplant Parmigiana
Makes 1 9×12 casserole, enough to serve 12-15.

2 small- to mid-sized eggplants
2 28-ounce cans San Marzano whole tomatoes in sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 large handful basil, about 1 cup chopped and loosely packed
1 cup flour
3 ounces shredded parmesan
4 eggs
4 ounces shredded mozzarella
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
8 slices white bread
Vegetable oil
Salt & pepper

  • Slice eggplants thinly and evenly, about ¼ inch thick, leaving the skin on. Place slices in a colander or on a baking rack placed over the sink, and salt liberally. Let sit for 30 minutes, then press between layers of paper towel.
  • Meanwhile, prepare sauce. Purée San Marzano tomatoes in food processor until slightly chunky. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Dice onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried oregano. Mix in tomato mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in basil and sugar, plus salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Now for the eggplant layers: one baked, one fried. Mix flour with 1 teaspoon salt in a large, sealable plastic bag. Beat eggs in a pie plate or large shallow dish. Pulse bread in food processor to a fine crumb; mix with 1 ounce shredded parmesan and plenty of salt and pepper in another pie plate.
  • For the baked layer: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Toss half of the dried eggplant slices, 5-6 at a time, in the bag of flour. Shake to rid of excess flour. Dip them in egg, then dredge thoroughly in crumb mixture; set on cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices after 15 minutes.
  • For the fried layer: Repeat the process above with the remaining half of the eggplant slices, tossing 5-6 slices at a time in the bag of flour, followed by a dip in the egg bath and the crumb mixture. Set aside on another platter or cookie sheet. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan, about ¼ inch deep – you’ll know it’s hot enough when you flick a drop of water on it and it pops and sizzles. Fry the eggplant in batches, being sure not to overcrowd the pan and refreshing the oil as needed between batches. It will take one or two minutes per side – you’re looking for a golden brown crust. Place fried eggplant on racks lined with paper towels.
  • Once all the eggplant is baked or fried and the sauce prepared, start assembling. Keep the oven heated at 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with non-stick cooking spray, and pour 1 heaping cup of sauce into the pan and spread to cover. Cover sauce with the layer of fried eggplant, fitting the slices tightly together and overlapping as needed. Sprinkle with the fresh mozzarella. Cover liberally with a heaping cup of tomato sauce. Layer slices of baked eggplant in the same manner as above. Dot with some sauce, about half a cup, and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella and remaining Parmesan. You’ll have some leftover sauce for serving with the casserole.
  • Tent the casserole dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 5-8 minutes, until browned and crispy. Eat hot or allow to cool completely before wrapping in plastic wrap and foil and freezing for up to three months.

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Miss Menu is happy to report that her lack of recent blogging has been due to the fact that she’s been too busy doing actual cooking! So, let’s get right down to business with the final – and favorite – installment of the holiday cooking recap: sweet endings.

Caramel Walnut Chocolate Tart
I’ve long been tempted by the allure of the dessert tart due to one simple fact: the tart is perfectly pretty. Aesthetics aside, though, I couldn’t resist the call of this Chocolate, Caramel and Walnut Tart. I’m typically pretty intimidated by any recipe that calls for making caramel – but in reality, it’s super simple and doesn’t even require a candy thermometer. The end result is intensely rich, so make plans to serve small slices alongside a slightly-more-than-healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream. I successfully substituted agave syrup for honey in the recipe, and relied on this tart crust recipe, which doesn’t call for par-baking the crust.

Pressing the crust into the tart pan.


Caramel bubbles away on the stovetop.



Homemade Oreos
I’m a fool for homemade versions of popular store-bought desserts, and oreos are certainly no exception! In this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I reduced the amount of confectioner’s sugar in the filling by 1/2 cup – and the result rings true to the not-too-sweet, slightly granular filling of the original Oreo. The finished product is delightfully reminiscent of a whoopie pie.

Gingersnap Palmiers
The palmier, to me, is the perfect blend of impressive and easy. By relying on store-bought, high-quality puff pastry dough, these lovely, buttery cookies – also known as elephant ears for their distinctive shape – are a snap to prepare while making a stellar presentation. Martha Stewart takes things up a notch by adding molasses and spicy ginger to the mix in her gingersnap palmier recipe. Next time I make them, I might add some finely chopped crystalized ginger to the spice mixture to give even more flavorful oomph to these crispy cookies.


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Holiday season is already keeping the Menu family busy with menu research, menu planning and menu experimenting. Here’s a quick look at some recent recipe-testing that produced nothing less than stellar results. These are definitely two for the “keeper” files.

This Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette is something special. I prepared the recipe for an office Thanksgiving party, our second annual potluck featuring those foods for which we’re most thankful. This changes on a daily basis for Miss Menu – one day I’m utterly thankful for Honey Bunches of Oats, the next day it’s steak and red wine. But no matter what, I’m always thankful for fall flavors and a pastry crust.

This savory galette was the perfect offering. I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that produces an amazing crust that is equal parts buttery and crispy. Roasted butternut squash, plenty of fontina (I baked some extra into the crust), caramelized onions and a healthy helping of fresh sage make this a meal to remember. This savory open-faced pie makes a perfect, rich vegetarian entrée for the holidays.

Oven-ready pastry with yummy fall filling!


The finished product, golden crust and all.

The galette is a bit time intensive – mixing the crust, letting it sit in the fridge, preparing the filling and then baking the two together – but the process pales in comparison to the prep time involved in my next keeper recipe.

Now, I didn’t personally make this unbelievable Chocolate Malt Cake. But a certain Mother Menu spent over a week preparing the layers of brownie-like cake, crispy malted milk crumbs and fudge-and-marshmallow filling that make up this behemoth dessert. If you’re looking for a “wow” finish to a meal, you can stop your search here. Featured in a recent issue of Bon Appetit, this recipe comes from the kitchen of David Chang – he of Momofuku Restaurant fame. It’s a little bit messy, totally gooey and utterly delicious.

Toasty marshmallows top this monumental dessert.


Gooey, drippy, chocolatey goodness.

So that’s how I’ve been keeping myself busy as of late – baking a bit, eating a lot and planning even more!

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Everything’s Coming Up Pumpkin

Every year at this time, Miss Menu gets a bad case of pumpkin cravings. Last year, they manifested themselves in the form of 16 pumpkin whoopie pies. This year I continued the sweet treat trend.

The more decadent of my two pumpkin encounters was the result (as are so many of Miss Menu’s cooking adventures) of a small but fateful mistake. I intended to amp up the volume of Gourmet’s Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with the addition of a generous handful of milk chocolate chips. The cake baking was going perfectly according to plan. The batter whipped up quickly and rose beautifully in the pan. More importantly, it unmolded perfectly. And then I looked and saw the still-full bag of chips sitting sadly next to my plain pumpkin bundt cake.

Determined to put some chocolate flavor into my pumpkin dessert, a quick frosting came to the rescue! The end result is reminiscent of a cakey pumpkin doughnut with chocolate frosting. In other words, totally addictive. And totally breakfast-appropriate.

Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Gourmet recipe on Epicurious.com

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin 
  • 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for coating pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bundt pan generously, then dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.

Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks) and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is smooth.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert cake onto serving plate.

While cake is cooling, whisk together buttermilk and confectioners sugar until smooth. Melt two tablespoons butter and chocolate chips together in glass bowl in microwave or on stove top. Add chocolate mixture to buttermilk glaze, stirring quickly to combine until no lumps remain. Place parchment or wax paper under edges of cake to catch excess icing. Pour icing generously over warm cake and remove paper.


My next pumpkin option is certainly on the healthier side. And I’ll admit, it’s hard to compete, taste-wise, with the Pumpkin Chocolate Bundt Cake. But if you’re looking for a lightly sweet treat that pairs well with tea or coffee, look no further than the Pumpkin Scookie. This low-fat confection combines pumpkin, oatmeal and pecan in a cookie-scone hybrid that is the perfect mid-morning snack. Based on my research, I do believe it’s based on a Weight Watchers recipe.

Low-Fat Pumpkin Oatmeal Scookies

  • 1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin
  • 2 egg whites, whipped just until very soft peaks are barely forming
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin and egg whites, folding together. In a separate bowl combine sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, oats and pecans. Mix ingredients together very well until moistened.

Drop cookies by tablespoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart.  Flatten them out with the bottom of a glass before baking (feel free to sprinkle with a bit of sugar, salt or cinnamon for extra “oomph”). Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and slightly craggy peaks form.

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Piece of Cake

Miss Menu has a special place in her heart for pound cake. From chocolate to marble and everything in between, there’s something about the dense, supremely moist crumb that is hugely comforting and insanely satisfying. Not to mention delish. Plus, aesthetically speaking, a cake is just beautiful to behold!

When researching dessert options for our late summer picnic, my mind immediately wandered to the belle of the August ball, the peach. A traditional pie was the logical choice, but since I was already serving the tomato-corn pie for lunch, I needed to look outside of the pie plate for dessert.

And thus, from my obsession with peaches and pound cakes, this Peach Pound Cake came to fruition.

I borrowed inspiration from the new-to-me blog Annie’s Eats, where I discovered what I now refer to as “The Best Pound Cake Baking Tip in the World.” Traditionally when making a pound cake, I butter the pan and dust with flour to prevent the cake from sticking to the pan. But thanks to Annie’s Eats, I’m a convert to dusting with sugar instead of flour. The sugar truly promotes the perfect popping from the pan! And you’re left with a delicate, crispy cake crust, a perfect partner to the soft crumb inside.

I loved this particular recipe so much that I made it again just a week later so I could freeze the cake to take on next week’s beach vacay! It might just be my new fave sweet treat.

If you don’t serve this cake alongside some ice cream (peach, cinnamon or vanilla are all acceptable options), you’re just plain crazy. The ice cream elevates this dessert to a truly special indulgence.

Peach Pound Cake
To be served with vanilla ice cream, homemade if possible.

  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 ½ cups sugar, plus more (1/4 cup or so) for dusting
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 medium-sized fresh, ripe peaches
  • ½ tsp. salt

Peel peaches: Bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl. Slice a small x in the skin at the bottom of each peach. Place peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds before placing them in the ice bath to cool. Once cool, peel and dice peaches. Gently toss in a dry bowl with 1/4 cup flour. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using 2 tablespoons butter, generously grease a bundt pan and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Gently shake out excess sugar, making sure that the entire of the inside of the pan is well coated in a lovely, sugary crust.

Using a standing or hand-held mixer, beat together the 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter and 2 1/2 cups sugar. Cream together for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing in one at a time. Add sour cream and vanilla, continuing to mix until blended. Gradually add the 2 3/4 cup remaining flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until well combined. Gently fold in peaches.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. The top will be light golden brown but will still shiver a bit when poked gently. Remove from oven and allow to cool, in the pan, on a rack for 20-30 minutes. Invert pan onto a plate and remove pan to unmold your golden-brown cake!

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