Ferries, Fudge and Flowers

I don’t often post about my travels, but last month I took a little trip up to Mackinac Island with one of my good friends for a “ladies weekend.” Okay, I find that term a little cheesy, but basically, the Dude didn’t want to go, so one of my girlfriends and I went! If you have never been there or heard of it for that matter, it’s a beautiful little island on Lake Huron, right at the Straits of Mackinaw that lead into Lake Michigan. So, it’s pretty far north from where I live, about 5-1/2 hours away.

What is so special about Mackinac? There are no cars! Everything is done by horse, bike, or with your own two feet. You really do feel like you’ve gone back in time. And, if you’ve ever seen the Christopher Reeve movie, Somewhere in Time, you’ll be experiencing the island of Mackinac.

Frankly, I don’t think there is anything better than arriving at your travel destination by boat. After driving for 5-1/2 hours, that 20-minute ferry ride to the island really sets the mood for your trip.

Our view as we arrived at the island.

Our view as we arrived at the island.

The lighthouse protecting the harbor

The lighthouse protecting the harbor.

As soon as you leave the dock you come face to face with all things Victorian and it is charming. Horse and buggies wait to take you to your hotel. Your bags are taken directly from the boat by porters to your hotel so you don’t have to cart everything with you — even better! Take a walk around the main street before you head to your hotel. There are so many cute shops, and you can’t leave Mackinac without some of their famous fudge. You can watch them make it while you pick up gifts for friends and family. If you bring your kids, good luck getting them out of the fudge shops!

My friend and I stayed at the Mission Point Resort, which is on the south-east side of the island. On the ride there the view was spectacular even though it was a bit overcast. Lake Huron  on our right, and beautiful Victorian homes with amazing gardens on our left.

The resort is really lovely, with an old world lodge feel to it, and the staff couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. The rooms are cozy and we had a gorgeous view of the lake from our room. There are several restaurants on the property, but we ate most of the time at the Round Island Bar and Grill. It had beautiful views of the lake and the resort’s huge lawn with Adirondack chairs scattered about. The food was terrific too. Homemade soups, great salads, and a kick ass breakfast bar with made to order omelets, biscuits and gravy, fresh fruits, roasted potatoes… I could go on and on about it.

Lunchtime view from the terrace of the Round Island Bar and Grill at Mission Point Resort.

Lunchtime view from the terrace of the Round Island Bar and Grill at Mission Point Resort.

It was spectacular on our last day on the island, so we dined alfresco on their beautiful terrace. Seriously, Mackinac Island is a fantastic getaway spring, summer, or fall.  They do close down for the winter, as travel to the island becomes difficult with rough weather and a frozen lake! Great for families, girls weekends, hiking/biking excursions, or a romantic retreat. I am bringing the Dude up here for a little romance the next time!

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My Favorite Time of Year!

In our house, we are gearing up for one of my absolute favorite holidays, Halloween! Every year The Dude and I host a party which we call Brew-O-Ween. Food, an occasional costume, and BEER! Lots and lots of beer. This event is where The Dude brings out all of his most recent home-brewed libations for everyone to taste, rate, and enjoy.

This is the point when I start getting out the boxes of decorations and begin planning the party menu. Our friends run the gamut from carnivores, vegetarians, gluten-free — which means we need a pretty diverse menu.

But the most important food item during Halloween? Cookies!  My favorite cookie recipe is for butter cookies. They take a bit of work, but they are so worth it.

Now, this cookie recipe was handed down from my grandmother to my mom, and then to me. Now you have it too! Typically I make these cookies at Christmas, but my sister-in-law, who knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday, sent me some adorable cookie cutters. Witches hat, ghost, bat, and pumpkin. I just had to make these for the party.

Love these adorable cookie cutters!

Love these adorable cookie cutters!

Butter Cookies

  • 2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Beat together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to butter mixture in four or five increments. You’ll be able to use a heavy-duty mixer for a part of the mixing, but eventually you are going to have to get your hands in the dough to mix the last of the flour. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Roll out the dough and cut into shapes. Bake at 425 degrees F for 5-7 minutes on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Watch them as they burn easily. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate with royal icing. I use the recipe found on the powdered meringue package, which you can find in most baking aisles. Let cookies dry completely and store loosely in cookie tins.

Cookies are iced! I admit I'm not the best cookie decorator, but this was fun to do!

Cookies are iced! I admit I’m not the best cookie decorator, but this was fun to do!

Here is what I love about these cookies. Buttery and not too sweet. Let the icing bring the sweetness to the party. These take a bit of work but are well worth the effort. You can always make the cookies ahead of time and store in a cookie tin until you are ready to ice them. Decorating cookies was something that my mom always let my sister and I do during the holidays. It’s a fun way to include the kids in the kitchen and let them get creative.

Have fun and enjoy these cookies with a big glass of milk. You’ll feel like a kid again!

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Super Easy Almond Cake

Italians love nuts! Hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds are right up there on my hit parade. Today, I am going to share with you one of the easiest cake recipes around. All you need is a food processor to whip this simple cake up in a matter of minutes. Pop it in the oven for 35-40 minutes and you have dessert. Moist. Nutty. Buttery. Swoon. Since it is summer and the height of berry season here in the Midwest, I also made a fresh blackberry sauce to accompany this great cake. Happy summer eating!

Almond Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8″ cake pan with butter and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.375 ounces) unblanched or blanched whole almonds
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.875 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla or almond extract
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and slightly softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

In the bowl of your food processor, add the almonds, sugar, salt and vanilla or almond extract. Pulse until the almonds are a fine meal consistency. Add butter and eggs. Process until mixed completely. Add the flour and baking powder. Pulse until just combined.

Transfer cake mixture to the prepared pan. Tap pan on counter top to make sure there are no air bubbles and that the mixture is evenly distributed. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Hot and golden out of the oven

Hot and golden out of the oven

Cool in the pan on a wire rack. When cool, run a knife around the edge of the cake pan and invert on a plate. Slice and serve with either powdered sugar, or a fruit compote or sauce. I took a pint of blackberries, 1/4 cup of sugar and heated on top of the stove until the berries released their liquid. Then add about 1/2 tsp of cornstarch to help thicken. Remove from heat. I then ran the berry mixture through a sieve to get rid of the seeds. Voila! Blackberry sauce. Best part. The cake is so sweet and the sauce has a hint of tartness. A perfect combo for the end of a summer meal!

Come here gorgeous!

Come here gorgeous!

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Embrace your inner vegetarian!

Hi friends. Yes, I’ve been away for a while. I’m finishing up my bachelors degree and working full time, so cooking and blogging have taken a back seat to just about everything else in my life! The Dude has been a wonderful, supportive husband who has handled the majority of cooking and cleaning while allowing me to babble on about the feminist voice in Salman Rushdie’s novels and whether or not I’m going to be able to test out of college algebra (the bane of my existence).

This weekend we are having our annual Spring Beer Fling where the Dude’s beers will be taking center stage. After the guest list, there is nothing more important than what food we are going to serve. Over a month ago I decided to stop eating beef and pork. I’m working towards dropping chicken and turkey, but for now they are still in my food line up. The Dude had dropped all meat from his diet. We are still eating dairy, eggs and fish. I’m not sure how that defines us, but I know we are not vegan!

The problem is, we haven’t gotten very creative about our food. I find myself thinking, “Well, there is pasta, or stir fried vegetables with rice, or tuna salad sandwiches, or salad.” Not necessarily things I want to serve at a party! The Dude and I were talking about veggie burgers just a couple of days ago, and he was bemoaning the fact that most of the pre-made burgers taste like cardboard, and I have to agree with him. Ah, but the universe was looking out for us because the next day I received my weekly e-mail from Saveur magazine. What were they talking about? Veggie Burgers! So I decided to adapt one of their recipes (because I always have to make it my own) and made mini-burgers. I plan on serving these lovely little bites as appetizers with various garnishes. Here is the recipe, and just know you can make these as full size burgers too!


Diva’s Awesome Veggie Delight Burger

  • 1 celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 1 can Garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained(14-15 oz)
  • 1/4 cup Tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 dashes hot sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (flat/Italian is best)
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil for sauteing

In a small pan heat 2 tsp olive oil. Saute the celery, onion and garlic for four minutes or until soft. Put in large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor add garbanzo beans, brown rice, and Tahini. Pulse 10 times or until chopped well but not liquified. Add the bean and brown rice mixture to the sauteed vegetables. Add paprika, hot sauce and chopped parsley and combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper or additional spices as needed. Add egg to mixture and mix well.

Divide the mixture into 24 small balls (I use a mini ice cream scoop), place on a cookie sheet or plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and flatten the balls into little patties. Saute in a hot pan with olive oil until golden brown and crisp. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve warm or room temperature with your favorite garnishes — feta, tomato, cucumber/yogurt sauce. Yum!

Side note: You can form these and freeze until ready to cook. Let thaw in the refrigerator.

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The Mount Everest of Pastries

It’s time. I’ve put it off long enough! Yes, it’s time for me to try my hand at making homemade croissants. I have visions of flaky, golden brown, crispy layered, buttery croissants hot out of my oven. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, but thought that I wouldn’t be able to master the technique. But my motto is “be fearless in the kitchen,” so it’s time to strap on an apron, heat up the oven, and give it a go! Armed with the recipe and directions used by Julia Child, I feel like I can climb and conquer this culinary mountain. I hope… I think… Okay, cross your fingers and jump in the kitchen with me!

A side note my friends. The most important part of making croissants is time and patience. You will need lots of time to let the dough rest and rise. The process took me two days. However, I promise it is totally worth it.

Croissants (from the cookbook Baking with Julia)

The Dough:

  • 1 oz. compressed (fresh) yeast
  • 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (approximately) whole milk

Put the yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and one cup milk into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the machine on the lowest speed, mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until a soft, moist dough forms on the hook. If the dough is too dry, add more milk, one tablespoon at a time until you have the consistency you need. You shouldn’t need more 3 tablespoons of additional milk.

Once the hook has picked up all the flour, set the mixer to its highest speed and work the dough until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, and close to the consistency of soft butter, about 4 minutes. Side note: Your mixer is going to get a workout so be prepared. A hand mixer is not going to have the power – you need a stand mixer.

Remove the dough from the mixer, wrap it in plastic, and put the packet in a plastic bag, leaving a little room for expansion. Keep the dough at room temperature for 30 minutes to give the gluten a chance to relax, then refrigerate the dough for 8 hours or overnight.

The dough after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

The dough after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

The Butter:

  • 4-1/2 sticks (1 pound 2 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour

Attach the paddle to your mixer and beat the butter and flour on the highest speed until smooth and the same consistency as the croissant dough, about 2 minutes. Scrape the butter mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and give it a few slaps to get the air out of it. Mold into an oval 5 to 6 inches long and 1 inch thick. Wrap tightly, and refrigerate until needed. At this point the dough and butter can be frozen; defrost overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding with the recipe.

Place the croissant dough on a generously floured large work surface (marble is ideal) and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using a long rolling-pin, roll the dough into an oval approximately 10 inches wide and 17 inches long. Brush the excess flour off of the dough. Center the oval of chilled butter across the oval of dough and fold the top and bottom of the dough over the butter to make a tidy package. Gently and evenly stretch the folded layers of dough out to the sides and press the edges down firmly with your fingertips to create a neatly sealed rectangle.

How about a big slab of butter to make everything better?

How about a big slab of butter to make everything better?

HERE COMES THE FUN PART! If you have a French rolling-pin (one without handles), now’s the time to use it. Hold one side of the dough steady with your hand and strike the other side gently but firmly with the rolling-pin to distribute the butter evenly. As you hit the dough you’ll see the butter moving out to the sides and into the crevices. Strike the other side of the dough in the same way. After pounding you should have a 1 inch thick rectangle about 14 inches long and 6 inches wide. Note: At this point I did cut off the ends to even up the rectangle.

Rolling pin at the ready!

Rolling pin at the ready!

Keeping the work surface and top of the dough well floured, roll out the dough. Make sure your dough is still well chilled. Roll the dough into a rectangle 24 to 26 inches long by 14 inches wide, with a long side facing you. You’ll want to be able to roll the dough from two directions – the length and width of the dough. Brush off the excess flour and working from the left to right sides, fold the dough in thirds, as you would a brochure, so that you have a package  that is about 8 inches wide by 14 inches long. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic and chill for 2 hours.

Dough has been folded in thirds and is ready to return to the refrigerator.

Dough has been folded in thirds and is ready to return to the refrigerator.

The dough needs two more turns. For the second turn, repeat the directions above,  but place the dough so the 14 inch side runs from left to right. (You’ve given the dough a quarter turn.)

For the third turn, start again with a 14 inch side running from your left to your right. Roll the dough into the 24 to 26 inches long by 14 inches wide slab of dough. This time, fold the left and right sides of the dough into the center, leaving a little space in the center, and then fold one side over the other as though you were closing a book. This is the famous double turn, also known as “the wallet.”

The final turn and fold into "the wallet."

The final turn and fold into “the wallet.”

Brush off the excess flour, wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours. At this point you can roll and cut for croissants. The dough can be frozen at this point for up to one month. Thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Rolling and cutting the dough – Generously flour your work surface. Position the dough so that it resembles a book with the spine to your left and the opening to your right. For easy handling, cut the dough in half horizontally. Wrap and chill the other half, or freeze if you don’t plan to use all the dough.  Flour the dough and roll it to a rectangle 20 to 24 inches long and 15 to 18 inches wide.

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife cut the rectangle of dough horizontally to make two long strips. Cut the triangles in the dough with a 3 to 4 inch base. This is done most easily by making a diagonal cut on the left hand side to get the pattern started; save the uneven pieces of dough. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Triangles of pastry dough ready to be shaped.

Triangles of pastry dough ready to be shaped.

I also made a few chocolate croissants - just because!

I also made a few chocolate croissants – just because!

Shaping the croissants – take a triangle and hold it at the base and pull the point of the triangle to stretch the dough until it’s almost twice the original length. Place the triangle, point towards you, at arm’s distance on the work surface. Pull off a little piece of the scrap dough and mold it into a small football shape. Center it on the wide top part of the triangle. This will help make the “belly” of the croissant plump. Fold about 1/2 inch of the wide end over itself and press the ends down once to secure. With your palms and fingers positioned over the flattened ends of the croissant and the heels of your hands flat on the work surface, roll the croissant towards you. The point of the croissant should end underneath the finished croissant. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and leaving space for the dough to triple in size.

Ready to roll into the perfect crescent shape.

Ready to roll into the perfect crescent shape.

Glaze the croissants with a beaten egg and brush on with a pastry brush. Leave the croissant at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to rise.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the croissants again with the egg wash and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet and rotate it. Put it back in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes until the croissants are deeply bronzed. Cool on racks. Do not eat them right out of the oven – tempting as it is – since they have to set.

I am so darned proud of these! Not too shabby for a first run. They are flaky crisp, and oh so buttery.

I am so darned proud of these! Not too shabby for a first run. They are flaky, crisp, and oh so buttery.

Croissants are best eaten the day they are made. If you must keep them you can freeze them, wrapped air tight. Thaw the croissants overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature (still wrapped) and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes.

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Biscuits for Breakfast


Looking for something fast and easy that will leave your guests thinking you slaved away for hours and are a culinary genius? Of course you do! And knowing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this recipe will get you on your way to owning the title of Best Baker!

Homemade biscuits, hot out of the oven are one of my favorite, comforting breakfast foods. You can dress them up with homemade sausage gravy, or you can opt for simplicity and add butter and honey or jam. Add a cup of coffee and you are set for the morning. Best thing about this recipe, you will most likely have everything available in the pantry, so no early morning trips to the store with sleepy eyes and no make-up!

A couple of things to remember when making biscuits.

  • Your hands will get messy – but it’s totally worth it – trust me.
  • Don’t overwork the dough or you will end up with tough biscuits.
  • Keep a little extra flour on hand to make cleaning off your hands and keeping the dough malleable and easy to work with. But don’t overdo it on the extra flour or you’ll end up with…. tough biscuits!

Okay, let’s make biscuits.

Baking Powder Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little extra for dusting work surfaces and cleaning sticky hands)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp  salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (cold)
  • 1 cup milk (skim, whole, 2% – whatever is on hand)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt with a fork. Add the cold shortening to the flour mixture. With your fingers (use one hand to keep one clean for adding ingredients or scratching your nose), begin blending the flour and shortening mixture until you have crumbles of shortening in the flour. You aren’t looking for uniformity here. There will be some larger pieces of shortening – that’s okay. Just make sure you have blended the two elements together. Don’t overwork.

Add your milk to the flour/shortening mix. With a wooden spoon, mix the two together until the mix is incorporated. It will be sticky! Work the dough with your hand to make sure everything is incorporated and then dump the bowl on to a lightly floured work surface. If you have a piece of marble even better, but any clean floured surface will do.

Now that the dough is on your work surface, knead the dough with both hands. DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH MORE THAN 10-12 TIMES. Seriously, otherwise you will have tough biscuits.

Pat the dough out into a circle about 1/2 – 1 inch thick. Using a 2 inch or larger (depending on how hungry your guests are) biscuit cutter, cut out the dough and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Reform the left over dough and cut again until you’ve used all the dough. Make sure the biscuits are touching each other. You will end up with 6 – 12 biscuits depending on the size cutter you use.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown. Side note – your kitchen will smell like heaven and bring back a million memories of sitting in your grandma’s kitchen on an early fall morning. Bliss!

Serve hot with your favorite jams, jelly or honey. You’ll never get rid of your house guests when you serve these at breakfast or brunch.


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The Four P’s

I was bored today. I shouldn’t have been really. I worked on a quilt (it’s looking awesome and I’ll show it to you when I’ve finished), and I supervised The Dude tearing out our front porch. We’re replacing the porch and putting a new front door on the house too.

Anyway…. I was bored today and I wasn’t sure what I was going to put together from the kitchen. I found a ton of fresh peppers, pancetta, and I had a bag of potatoes. I also had some Grana Padano cheese too. Get where I’m going here? The Four P’s! I decided to put them all together in a casserole. It’s so yummy. The Dude says it’s in my top FIVE! Wow! Pancetta layered with sautéed sweet peppers in extra virgin olive oil, then topped with thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, bread crumbs and Grana Padano cheese. The sweet peppers mixed with the savory pancetta, creamy potatoes and the hit of salty Grana Padano… ah, I’m in love! Join me for this delightfully easy, layered casserole. You can serve it with a grilled steak or do what we did. Just have the casserole!

Here’s the recipe.

Look at these awesome peppers!

Look at these awesome peppers!

Four Ps Casserole

  • 5 large peppers, sliced (I used a mix of red, yellow and orange peppers.)
  • 8 oz pancetta, sliced paper-thin
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin (I used a mandolin to get even slices)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shaved Grana Padano cheese (or parmesan)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large hot skillet, add olive oil. When the oil heats up, toss in the peppers and saute until they begin to soften and get a bit of golden brown around the edges. While the peppers are sauteing, add your garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer peppers to a bowl.

Using a 9 x 11 baking dish, line the bottom with a thin layer of the pancetta. Add a layer of the sautéed peppers. Add a layer of thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle half of the dried bread crumbs and half of the cheese. Repeat a layer of pancetta, peppers, potatoes, and finish with the rest of the bread crumbs and cheese.

Layer of pancetta.

Layer of pancetta.









Layer of potatoes with bread crumbs and Grana Padano.

Layer of potatoes with bread crumbs and Grana Padano.










Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Turn on the broiler, uncover the dish, and place under the broiler until browned on top. Let rest for five minutes and serve.

Yum!!!! And that wine? So terrific with this dish. The slight fruitiness of the wine offsets the earthiness of the dish.

Yum!!!! And that wine? So terrific with this dish. The slight fruitiness of the wine offsets the earthiness of the dish.









This dish is awesome with a great Zinfandel wine. I love, Bogle’s Old Vine Zinfandel.

Can you make this vegetarian? Sure can! Just leave out the pancetta and you are good to go.

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