strawberries with balsamic vinegar

So we’ve been away for a little while.  Two months, to be exact.  Tending to other things.  Our hearts, our souls, our peace-of-mind, our new (to us) cottage in Northern Michigan where we’ll happily watch the weather in the desert on our smartphones and say, “Oh, how good it is to be here in Northern Michigan.”

With two months of projects, including a white picket fence, I’ve been otherwise occupied with gardening, and beach walks and campfires.  The simple pleasures of life.  With that said, and with summer berries in abundance, I bring you another simple pleasure.  Some of the best and most simple pleasures of summer: strawberries and balsamic.  And vanilla ice cream.  Moomers, of course.

This is so easy to make and is so incredibly delicious, you’ll never want to put anything else on your vanilla ice cream, again.  Guaranteed.  Enjoy!!





Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar (recipe courtesy Traverse Magazine, June 2012)


  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1/8 cup light brown sugar
  • Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Bring vinegar, granulated sugar and lemon juice to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Simmer until syrup is reduced by half. Cool.
  3. Toss berries and brown sugar in a bowl.
  4. Pour vinegar syrup over berries, add fresh black pepper to taste.
  5. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.




***Cook’s Notes:  Use the very best balsamic vinegar you can afford…which is true no matter what you’re making.

baked blueberry clafoutis

Since our decision to kick cable t.v., to the curb, there’s a lot less television-watching in our house.  We’re down to NetFlix and about 25 channels, twelve of which are in Spanish and of no use to anybody.  The other twelve or so are home shopping (still not useful), local affiliates (mainstream programming not my taste), and PBS.  So, I’m watching a lot of PBS.  And, hey, I’m a member, so no guilt trips, please.

One of the shows we see…well, I see pretty regularly as my partner-in-crime is snoozing away on the other half of the couch, is a great gardening show called Growing a Greener World.  One of the best things about it is the cooking segment at the end of each show.  Chef Nathan Lyon (Tweet him @chefnathanlyon – he even tweets back), always seems to be cooking up something fresh and easy-to-prepare with nutritious ingredients you don’t have to hunt down at a specialty store.  It’s nothing over-the-top.  Just healthy, simple fare you can throw together for a weeknight meal for your family, and always a little unique to impress your guests.  I don’t own his cookbook, but I’m definitely going to get it given the rave reviews I’ve gotten with his recipes, so far.

This one was from an episode we watched last night.  Again, I watched, hubby dozed.  I’d made a traditional cherry clafoutis at my mom’s one summer a number of years ago.  It was delicious.  How could it not be delicious?  It’s full of eggs and a tiny bit of sugar and fresh fruit.  And, it’s fun to say!  What I discovered after baking this one; blueberry, is the French are particular about their clafoutis.  It’s apparently only a clafoutis if it’s cherry.  If you bastardize it, as the French would undoubtedly claim, by baking it with blueberries, or any other fruit, it’s considered a flaugnarde – not nearly as fun to say, but equally yummy.  They’re not too sweet, since there’s really not much sugar compared to other desserts, and have a wonderful texture – more like a custardy-tart, since you use a minimal amount of flour to bind all the egg and creamy loveliness together.  The texture is creamy, a very thick custard, and melts in your mouth.  The berries hold their shape nicely, so there’s good texture in the fruit, as well.  Call it what you will: clafoutis or flaugnarde, it’s good eats!

Serve it warm, dusted with powdered sugar or a little heavy cream.  Personally, I found it just as delicious served cold.  Personal preference.  Enjoy!




Baked Blueberry Clafoutis

Recipe Courtesy: Nathan Lyon, Growing A Greener World, Episode 116


  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsp granulated sugar, separated
  • 5 whole eggs, large
  • 1 cup half and half, or whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pint blueberries (12 oz)
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F
  2. In a medium, oven safe, non-stick sauté pan, combine the butter with 2 Tbsp granulated sugar and place over medium heat. (Be careful not to let butter brown).
  3. Meanwhile whisk the eggs plus the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar on high speed until tripled in volume and pale yellow in color (about 5 minutes). Then, by hand, gradually whisk in the half and half or milk, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt, and flour until just incorporated. It should look light and foamy at this point.
  4. Pour this mixture into the hot pan, top with the blueberries, then transfer into the oven. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top, and the Clafoutis has puffed up.
  5. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cutting board. Slice, and serve with the optional powdered sugar.




***Baker’s Notes:  Don’t try to skimp too much on the calories with low-fat or skim milk.  Your end product will be watery and unsatisfying.  At the very least, I’d say 2% milk, but whole milk or half and half are truly best.  I used the full pint of berries and, even though I love blueberries, I thought it was a lot of berries.  I might experiment with 8 ounces next time.  Mine baked for 24 minutes and I actually spun it under the broiler for a few minutes to give the top a more golden appearance.

nutella swirl pound cake

My local grocer had Nutella on sale the other day.  I stocked up.

Fortuitously, I also re-acquainted myself with this recipe while looking through some older pins on my Pinterest board.  At that very moment I was thinking, “I’ve got so many pins on this board I’ll never find anything to bake.”  And, then?  There it was.  Nutella Swirl Pound Cake.  And me having just stocked up on Nutella, and all.  It seemed like the only sensible thing to do.

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I have to admit I was sort of happy to be baking this by myself, because I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such creamy batter.  So delicious, I couldn’t imagine having to share the bowl with…anyone.  The yellow batter is spectacular.  Amazingly delicious.  I’m not sure why I was so moved by it other than the fact there was not a hint of granulated sugar to be felt on the tongue.  Truly the smoothest batter.  Ever.  Now add a couple of layers of Nutella and, well, there are no words!!

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Dip your knife or spatula in and swirl.  Make sure you do a good job of this.  I don’t think I swirled enough and my cake ended up a little bottom-heavy with Nutella.  Pop it in the oven and commence to bowl-licking.  Then, once it’s baked and cooled, pour yourself a tall glass of milk and enjoy a little slice of Nutella Nirvana.  Good stuff.  Good stuff.  Enjoy!


Nutella Swirl Pound Cake (recipe adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes, Taunton Press, 2009)


  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup)  unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 13-ounce jar Nutella (see Baker’s Notes, below)


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 seconds longer.
  3. Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan, then spread half of the Nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not over mix.
  4. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut the cake into slices and serve.


nutellaswirl©zouptonuts***Baker’s Notes:  I don’t know what the original recipe said in terms of the amount of Nutella, but the adapted version I found over at Food & Wine suggested using the entire jar of Nutella (13 oz).  I love Nutella, but I have to say it’s overkill in this recipe.  It’s just too heavy and wet.  Half the jar would have been more than sufficient to create just what the recipe title suggests:  a swirl of Nutella.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious, but given the quantity of Nutella, I’d have renamed it just plain old Nutella Pound Cake.  That said, it was really good.  The cake was moist and creamy and difficult to resist.  I’d definitely make it again with the mentioned adjustments.

eggnog cheesecake bars

The strangest thing about this recipe is that I’m neither a fan of eggnog, nor cheesecake.  It’s not that I’m completely repulsed by either one of them, I just don’t eat or drink them.  I’d be hard pressed to find cheesecake on a dessert menu and be even remotely tempted.  During the holidays, I’d much rather drink mulled wine than eggnog.  Maybe it’s their names:  cake made of cheese?  Nog made of eggs?  I don’t know.  They both generally fly under my radar and I don’t feel less for rarely, if ever, experiencing either.

So, why, you ask, Eggnog Cheesecake Bars?  Good question!  I guess the answer comes down to basics:  I fell for a pretty picture in a recipe!  The ingredient list may contain things I don’t normally eat, but paired with good photography…well, anything is possible.  Luckily, the pretty picture and the finished product went hand in hand because we were going to dinner at a friend’s house and I’d offered to bring dessert.  Nothing like trying something new only hours before you’re expected to show up with something edible!  But these were delicious.  The recipe calls for sprinkling with nutmeg (classic eggnog topping), but I opted for some grated chocolate, instead.  Either would be great.

Take that from someone who doesn’t care for cheesecake…or eggnog.  Enjoy!!


Eggnog Cheesecake Bars


  • 1 stick butter, unsalted
  • 2 c crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs (I used Chocolate Teddy Grahams)
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 c eggnog
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • nutmeg to sprinkle on top


Mix 1 stick of melted butter with 2 cups crushed chocolate graham crumbs. Press into a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 8 min at 350°.


Combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, eggnog, and eggs  and mix well.  Add chocolate chips.  Pour over crust and spread evenly.

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes.

Cool completely and sprinkle with nutmeg before serving.



snickerdoodle bundt cake

We Lutherans love a good pot-luck.  Or, so I’m told.  Personally, most of what’s served in church basements can be pretty sub-par eats, at best. Obviously, the food is secondary.  The pot-lock?  Well…it’s more about the camaraderie, I’m certain; the closeness, the companionship…the reality you won’t have dishes to do after dinner!!

When I show up at the church pot-luck dinner, not only are the other diners happy for my companionship and closeness (come on, could that ever be in question?), they’re also very excited about this cake.  It’s pretty much the only time I bake it.  This time, though, I had invited a friend and her two daughters for dinner.  Her husband had traveled pretty extensively during the month of February and the “single mom” syndrome was setting in.  I figured she could use a home cooked meal  that didn’t involve her stepping foot in the kitchen.  This cake was dessert for my friend and her two daughters.  I sent them home with full bellies and a to-go bag full of leftover cake.  There were smiles all around.

I think one of my favorite things about this cake – aside from the fact the Snickerdoodle cookie is the center of many wonderful childhood memories – is the way the outside bakes into a crispy, sugary shell.  Beyond that, the inside is soft and moist, with a swirl of more cinnamon sugar.  One slice is all I’ll allow myself lest I completely lose my senses. True!  Now go forth and bake.  If you happen to swing through a good old-fashioned Lutheran pot-luck, I guarantee there will be some happy church ladies.  Enjoy!

snickerdoodle bundt cake

2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c white sugar (granulated)

Combine these ingredients in a small bowl, mix well and set aside.

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 c unsalted butter, at room temp
1 c white sugar
1 c light brown sugar
3 eggs, room temp
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c sour cream, at room temp


Pre-heat oven to 325. Generously spray a 9″ bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray. Be particular about coating all the indentations in the pan, as well as the center tube. Dust the entire inside of the bundt pan with the sugar/cinnamon mixture. You’ll probably only need about 1/4 cup of sugar, but you’ll want to make sure the pan is evenly coated – including the center tube. Save the remaining mixture and set everything aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Beat just the butter for 1 minute on medium speed. Add the white sugar and mix for about another 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and the blade and add the brown sugar. Mix for about 2 minutes or until the batter looks light brown and uniform in color.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating each for 1 minute. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well.

Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Add remaining batter to the pan and sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before inverting cake on to a wire rack to cool completely.

spiced slow-cooker applesauce

Fall is a very tenuous season here in the desert.  Mostly it feels like an extension of summer.  Please note we were still in the triple digits even two weeks ago, and high 90s all last week.  This is the first week since, oh, February probably, where we’ve had a day that didn’t even make it into the 80s.  Halleluia!!!

So I can’t let what little fall we actually have slip by without making applesauce.  I love this recipe.  It’s a complete no-brainer: toss it in the crockpot and let it go.  The house smells amazing while the apples stew and I can go about my day without a care in the world.  Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but you know what I mean.  Enjoy!

Spiced Slow Cooker Applesauce
  • 8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used a combination of Gala and Fuji, but use what you like)
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/4 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker, set to low, cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours.  If necessary, mash apples to desired consistency.  Let cool and serve.
Kitchen Notes: The original recipe called for twice the brown sugar.  I found that way too sweet.  I knocked it in half and, honestly, you could probably do away with the sugar altogether depending on what kind of apples you’re using.

pumpkin spice bread

It’s baaaaa-aaaack!  Pumpkin!  Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin-spiced lattes, pumpkin soup, you name it.  It’s fall.  It’s pumpkin season.  And I’m a fan!

I started out down the path of pumpkin bread after I received a recipe in my inbox from Real Simple which, in turn, sent me a-Googling every yummy looking pumpkin bread I could find.  Believe me, there are piles and piles of them.  But what struck me about the Real Simple recipe was the inclusion of molasses in the ingredient list.

For whatever reason, I ended up not using that particular recipe (although, I will), and chose this one, instead.  It is FANTASTIC and delicious and addicting and irresistible and I don’t even know what more to say.  I should tell you, though, I made two slight alterations.  First, I halved the recipe.  Because what on earth am I going to do with TWO loaves of pumpkin bread?  Of course I could have popped it in the freezer for later, but I don’t think anything is quite the same after its been frozen.  You just can’t ever recapture “warm from the oven.”

The other thing I did, because I didn’t think the original recipe had nearly enough “spice,” was to substitute half of the vegetable oil with molasses a la the Real Simple version.  Now we’re talkin’ spice bread.  It was amazing.  So much so, I had to give some of it away….reluctantly, but it had to be done.

This bread is moist and dense and perfect for the season.  Enjoy it plain, or slather on a little apple butter.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Bread


  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (or, 1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 cup molasses)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 (16 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil and eggs. Add pumpkin and mix well. Combine dry ingredients; add to the pumpkin mixture alternately with water. Pour into two greased 9-in. x 5-in. x 3-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 60-65 minutes or until bread tests done. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack; cool completely.

lemonicious lemon bars

The lemon trees around the neighborhood are heavy-laden with ripe fruit.  I’m not fortunate enough to have a lemon tree (4 oranges, 2 grapefruit), but there are plenty of trees along public walkways in which the fruit dangles nicely within reach.  Gather ye lemons while ye may, I say.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of pulling a fresh lemon from a tree, you’re missing out on one of the greatest olfactory experiences ever! They literally ooze the scent of lemon as soon as you touch them. I hesitate to wash my hands after touching one because the smell of fresh lemon is so delicious.

Which takes me to these wonderfully lemon-y lemon bars.  The recipe popped up in my inbox the other day from Real Simple.  At first I thought they might be better suited as a summertime treat, but with all these lemons practically falling into my hands, I decided to give them a try.  Citrus is actually a sort of cross-seasonal flavor to me.  If nothing else, it’s a great palate cleanser after a good meal and the perfect way to leave a light, refreshing flavor in your mouth.  So, never mind the winter (if you happen to be somewhere cold and blustery), these are wonderful any time of year; a bright burst of lemon with a comforting shortbread crust.  Enjoy!

Lemon Bars


  • Crust:
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Filling:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with the cooking spray. Line the pan with 2 crisscrossed pieces of parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides; spray the parchment with the cooking spray.
  2. Make the crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, granulated sugar, and salt; pulse until fine crumbs form. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake until pale golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, granulated sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, flour, cream, and salt.
  4. When the crust is baked, rewhisk the lemon mixture and pour onto the hot crust. Bake until just set, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, then refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
  5. Holding both sides of the paper overhang, lift the cake out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board, and cut into 24 rectangles (6 rows by 4 rows). Store the bars covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Dust with the confectioners’ sugar before serving.

cranberry cake

If there is another seasonal ingredient I’m equally addicted to fond of, it’s cranberries.  In a lot of ways they’re like pumpkin because they’re really versatile; from cranberry soup to candied cranberries, salad toppers, cookies, stuffings and breads.  They’re just all around delicious with one problem: you can only buy them about 3 months a year.  After that, you just have to sit on your hands and wait. And wait!  And wait!!  Until, as Garrett McCord over at Vanilla Garlic (where I found this recipe) says, you finally see them re-appear in grocery stores and find yourself  screaming expletives of elation.

I made this cake once last year and everyone loved it.  The tangy, tartness of the cranberries is the perfect complement to what would otherwise be a really sweet cake.  The original recipe says to bake it in either a 9×13″ or a 10″ springform.  I used the springform and found the finished product to be a little too dense for my taste, so I’ll make a note to bake it in the 9×13″ pan next time.  Because there will be a next time.  And a next time after that, and after that, and after that.   Enjoy! 

Cranberry Cake  (recipe courtesy Vanilla Garlic)
makes 1 9×13 or 1 10″ springform cake


  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut in to chunks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp Kirsch (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups cranberries (1 bag)


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 10″ springform pan.

2. Beat eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes; the eggs will increase in volume quite a bit, streaming into ribbons when you lift the beaters. They will also turn pale yellow.

3. Add butter and extracts and beat for 2 minutes. Add the milk and salt and mix for another 30 seconds.

4. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan.

5. Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9×13, or a little over an hour for the springform. You may need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

chocolate zucchini cake

In my humble opinion, everything is better with chocolate.  And that includes fruits, and vegetables, and fruits that are sometimes mistaken for vegetables.  You see, I’ve been on a bit of a zucchini kick lately.  A summer fruit of the mistaken-for-a-vegetable variety kick, and I’ve been using them in salads and baked on flatbread (recipe to come), and last week, in the form of a cake.  I like zucchini bread well enough, but bread doesn’t have the same cache in my house as cake.  Bread is bread.  You don’t feel that pang of guilty pleasure eating bread. Try offering a piece of bread as dessert.  Uh uh.  Not gonna cut it.  But cake?  Cake is dessert.  Cake is just a bit mysterious in all its lovely, sweet, airy, delicious goodness. 

And this was a mysterious cake, indeed.  Well, the zucchini part, anyway, because there was no way a certain five year old was going to eat chocolate cake if she had any inkling there was zucchini in it.  So, I kinda sorta left that little tidbit of information out when I sliced and served her a warm piece not long from the oven.  Shhhh…don’t tell.  She’ll never know.  And neither will you.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake


  • 1/2 c (1 stick), unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c low fat sour cream
  • 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 medium zucchini, peeled and shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips


 Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream the butter in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and oil and beat until blended.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl.  Add to the creamed mixture in thirds, folding in between each third, and mix well.  Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the center springs back when touched.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  Slice into squares and serve each square with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.