Mascarpone-Champagne Fruit Salad

My client told me her family loves figs. Since this is not exactly fig season and I was making the dish a couple days before Thanksgiving I decided to use dried Figs. Instead of throwing them in the Fruit Salad with the risk of the figs looking like dried up sad lil’ nuggets floating in a mass of lovely fresh fruit, I decided to soak them in Port Wine.

After their little fig-gy bath, I made the Port more syrupy with sugar and then candied the Cranberries with the Port. To balance out the robust character of the Port soaked fruit I decided to lighten the mood. I was drawn to pears as “tis their season” but felt they would brown up so fast it would be ridiculous. Unless of coarse they were poached… in something fantastic… something like Champagne. After poaching and slicing those lovelies I felt a need to continue using the poaching liquid and the image of a syrup-y Champagne Sauce made creamy with Mascarpone flooded my mind and the sauce for the Fruit Salad was set. Of course, poaching the pears was best with a Vanilla Bean which I then dissected and added into the creamy fruit salad “dressing”. It’s freckled character adding to the romantic indulgence of what is simply a bowl of seasonal fruit.

Mascarpone-Champagne Fruit Salad

with Champagne Poached Pears and Port-Soaked Figs

1 cup dried figs

1 ½ cups port

½ cup sugar

½ cup cranberries

3 oranges

½ cup sugar

2 lg pears (fairly firm, not too ripe)

1 bottle Champagne

1 vanilla bean (optional)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup grapes

4 tangerines

1 cup pomegranate seeds*


½ cup fresh mint, torn into pieces (optional)

½ cup lemon stilton, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)

½ cup walnuts, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)

Trim the tips of the figs. Add to a small saucepan and pour in the port. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 5-8 minutes, until they are just softened. Remove figs. Add in the ½ cup sugar and dissolve. Add in the cranberries and simmer for 15 minutes until the cranberries become “candy”. Remove cranberries. Halve the figs and add back into the port syrup while preparing the remaining items.

Optional Step, if you desire Candied Orange Peels: With a vegetable peeler, peel off the orange rind into thin slices. Cutting some slices into your desired shape if necessary (such as thinner long strips like I did). Place the orange peels in a small saucepan and bring up to a boil. Drain off the water and repeat boiling the peels and draining at least two more times until the peels are tender. Add in 1 cup of sugar into the sauce with about 1 cup of water. Add in the peels, bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the syrup for at least 1 hour. Cut off the white membranes of the orange, halve and then cut into slices. Place in salad bowl.

Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler. Halve the pears, with a small scoop, remove the center seeds (I use a melon baller- but a teaspoon works), remove the stem and the base until the pear is “clean” with no extras. Cut each half into about 4-6 slices. Place all the slices in a tall sided skillet or saucepan and pour the champagne on top. Toss in the vanilla bean if using. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat. Allow to simmer about 10-15 minutes until the pear slices are tender, but not mushy. Overripe pears will actually turn brown- not pretty. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and cool. Add the ½ cup sugar to the champagne and bring up to simmer. Reduce the syrup down to about ¾ cup. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the vanilla bean. Slit on end of the vanilla and with the back of the knife, scrape along the bean until the sandy-fine seeds, ball up. Stir the seeds into the champagne-syrup while it comes up to a simmer. Remove the champagne syrup from the heat and melt in the mascarpone cheese, stirring until it becomes a creamy, smooth thick sauce.

Cut the pears into 3-4 1-inch pieces. Toss with the mascarpone-champagne sauce. Combine the remaining fruit in a salad bowl, the candied cranberries, grapes, mandarin slices, orange slices, pomegranates, and the drained soaked figs (the port sauce can be used for another use later). Toss altogether with the mascarpone-champagne sauce, the mint leaves, and candied orange peels. Garnish with the lemon-stilton and walnuts. Enjoy!


Gingerbread & Pumpkin Mousse Trifle

Tis the season for delicious gluttony! I love the Holidays and the fact that is a time for extravagant dishes.

This year settling on the perfect holiday dessert seemed nearly impossible, so we combined many of our seasonal favorites. Gingerbread is simply classic and I am always looking for an excuse to make the spicy cake. But denying chocolate during the Holidays seemed a sin onto itself therefore we decided on a Chocolate-Gingerbread Cake made with Coffee-- the hodgepodge of flavors were made more delightful with the bittersweetness.

Trifles for me are often born of slight baking disasters in desperate need of transformation. One memorable cake-to-trifle experiment was after the disappointing results of a Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Kahlua Cake. I can’t remember the details, my brain was fuzzy after the heavenly impact of spooning up the layered cake crumbles with whipped cream.

My attraction to making a Gingerbread Trifle came after watching Paula Deen whip up an interesting concoction. I am partial to more natural, albeit not as speedy as Paula might like her ingredients. I am happy to cheat a bit as I did by using Organic Canned Pumpkin in the Fluffy Pumpkin Mouse that was layered in between pieces of the cake. The final touches included Candied Orange Peel and Candied Ginger—you can purchase or make both of these. I made the Candied Orange Peels, while I didn't make the Candied Ginger, David Lebovitz has a great recipe I am planning to try next time.

After it was all done, I realized my sweet tooth was aching a bit. To balance out the intense sugar I layered the Mousse and Cake with an unsweetened, barely touched with vanilla bean whipped cream.


words can barely say. Most of our guests ate in serene silence—

Take that fruitcake.

Chocolate & Coffee Gingerbread Cake

Shift together the dry ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ginger
Pinch each: Cloves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg

Melt together the “wet” ingredients:

1/3 cup chocolate chips, melted

2 sticks of butter

1 cup hot coffee

¾ cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses

4 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a shallow baking dish (we used a 9 x 13) by rubbing the bottom and sides with butter and dusting with cocoa powder. If you don’t have cocoa powder, flour works fine.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Melt the chocolate chips and butter together. Mix in the hot coffee. Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar & molasses. Cool slightly to ensure the eggs will not scramble in the chocolate. While whisking the chocolate mixture, slowly add the eggs until incorporated. Shift in the dry ingredients, folding after each addition, take care not to over mix.

Pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan until you are ready to assemble the trifle.

Pumpkin Mousse

1 package unflavored gelatin

1 ½ tbls cold water

3 large egg yolks

½ cup sugar

15 ounce can pumpkin (or if you are less of a cheater than I am: 1 ½ cups cooked & pureed pumpkin will work also)

Pinch each: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, and Nutmeg

4 cups heavy cream, chilled

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Take a double boiler or a metal bowl that fits on top of a saucepan (that’s what we use!). Combine the cold water and gelatin in the top boiler pot/bowl. Allow to thicken for 1-2 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar into the gelatin mixture over the boiling water until a thermometer reads 160F. Remove the egg mixture and whisk until cooled and thick. Whisk in the pumpkin and spices, cool.

Beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in half of the pumpkin-custard, until smooth and an even color. Add the vanilla bean paste to the other half of the whipped cream.

The grand finale….

Layer the Trifle:

Take about 2 handfuls of the cake and gently crumble it into a Trifle or other glass bowl. The layer needs to be even, about 1-2 inches high. Dollop in the Pumpkin Mousse until there is an even layer. Crumble on more cake, dollop on the Vanilla-Cream, more cake, more mousse, more cake, more cream….. until the bowl is filled to the brim with goodness.

We filled the bowl and ended up with leftovers of all three.

Somehow I don't remember either of us complaining about that.

Let me know your favorite Trifle combos.

I am terribly excited to use and abuse my Trifle privileges….

Indulge me.


Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Maple Dressing

A few weeks ago we attended the Naming Ceremony of our friends’ brand new beautiful baby on a gorgeous sunny day in October. She was officially given her name at the bank of Clear Creek in Golden—how appropriate since her sweet name is Brook. We were all asked to give a blessing to baby Brook and without hesitation I bestowed on her the love of food and cooking. The celebration was followed by a beautiful spread of dishes in their backyard. I brought a salad to share and now would love to share it with you. I dedicate this recipe to baby Brook, as her day was my inspiration and may she always adore the food the seasons bring to us.

My focus for this dish is on the delights of the end of summer and the beginning of fall’s harvests. Roasted bell peppers & green beans remind us of summer. The pomegranates & roasted pumpkin seeds are to celebrate autumn.

To make this salad, I would recommend prepping all of the roasted vegetables the night before and allow them to cool overnight. Layer and dress the salad just before serving. Whole Foods and other groceries seem to be supplying us with ready to eat pomegranates, but if you would like to take the time to deseed the jeweled fruit yourself there are directions below. See my previous blog for directions on roasting pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Maple Salad

4-6 servings

Roast the pumpkin and prep the veggies first (night before is ideal):

1 lb pumpkin, deseed, rinse and reserve the pumpkin seeds

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tbls olive oil, divided

2 large yellow or orange bell peppers, cut into 1-2 inch chunks

1 lb green beans

For the Dressing:

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tbls maple syrup

1 tbls apple cider vinegar or balsamic

1/4 cup olive oil or pumpkin seed oil

4 cups baby spinach

4 cups spring greens

1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds*

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or 1 small pomegranate** see note about deseeding a pomegranate

4-6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled slightly (or more to taste!)

Best to prep the vegetables several hours before to allow them to cool, I make them the night before.

Preheat the oven to 425. Peel and chunk the pumpkin into 1-2 inch cubes. Spread the chunks on a large roasting pan. Sprinkle with the seasonings, salt and 1 tbls of olive oil. Toss lightly to evenly coat. Place in the oven and roast for 15-25 minutes until the chunks are slightly golden and tender. Remove and cool.

Toss the bell peppers and green beans with the remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Spread out on a roasting pan and roast for 12-18 minutes until golden and tender.

To make the dressing:

Place the pumpkin seeds through the vinegar in the blender. Blend until the seeds are smooth. Slowly drizzle in the oil in a steady stream to emulsify the dressing.

For the Salad:

Layer the salad in a large salad bowl. Start with a few cups of the spinach and spring greens. Top with the roasted bell peppers, roasted green beans, pomegranate seeds, and roasted pumpkin chunks. Crumble on part of the goat cheese, sprinkle on pumpkin seeds, and drizzle on the maple dressing. Continue layering until all of the ingredients are utilized. Be sure to have enough pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, and dressing to top the final layer.

*See my blog on Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
**For Deseeding a Pomegranate:

Be sure to wear an apron or clothes you do not mind getting splashed with red staining juice. I am typically a mess when I do this so please be advised! Take a large pomegranate and cut down the middle in half. Work over a bowl of water and gently pull apart the flesh of the pomegranate, shake out the seeds and allow to drop to the bottom of the bowl of water. The excess membranes will float to the top. Once all of the seeds have been removed, scoop off the floaters. Drain off the water and enjoy your yummy pomegranate seed jewels.


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pepitas or Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

One of the healthiest treats during the holidays are simple to make and come out your pumpkin or other winter squash when you are making pies, pumpkin salad, or of course carving a jack-o-lantern during Halloween. Fortunately, they are simple to make and can be flavored any way you may like.

Every time I roast pumpkin seeds it is rather thrown together and everything is quite un-exact, mainly because my pumpkins are all various sizes. Also, I constantly change my spice combination depending on my mood or the dish they will be served with.

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

1-3 cups of pumpkin seeds (flesh removed)

1-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (olive, coconut, or even melted butter)

1-3 tablespoons of your favorite spices

1-2 tsp salt

Making sure your pumpkin seeds are clean and dry is essential. Start by rinsing the seeds in a bowl of water and rub them between your hands to remove any threads of flesh that are still clinging on. Next, dump them in a colander and shake off the liquid. I usually let them drain for a few minutes. Then spread them out on a tray or plate to continue drying. Typically, I am carving a pumpkin or cooking something so I ignore the seeds for quite a while. When the seeds are relatively dry, they are ready to be cooked. You can also rub them between a kitchen towel to absorb off any excess moisture.

Preheat the oven to 325. Spread them on a baking sheet and toss them with the oil and spices. Bake for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan about every 5-10 minutes. Continue heating until the pumpkin seeds are to your preferred level of crunchiness. Remove the pan from the oven, if the seeds are perfect take them off of the pan quickly as they will continue to cook a bit more on the hot pan. If they need a bit more time allow them to cool on the pan.

Enjoy sprinkled on salads, in a beautiful package for a gift, or in trail mix!

Wikipedia has a few additional fun facts about Pepitas.


Chicken Parmesan Puttanesca

When asked my favorite dish to make I find myself suddenly stumped… as if being asked to name your favorite family member…
and you know who you are... ;)

If my hubby is standing near he will quickly proclaim Chicken Parmesan Puttanesca with such authority that I almost believe him.

Chicken Parmesan has an interesting reputation of being heavy, cheese-laden poultry. While this is hardly a fat-free dish I find myself modifying and adapting it to suit a particular need. Adding Whole Wheat breadcrumbs or even Flax Meal works well, but for Chic Parm (as we affectionately nick named it) I most enjoy serving it at a dinner party, mainly because it is so simple to make ahead.

Puttanesca sauce of course can be made with various degrees of spiciness or briny dipped olives and capers. I actually hold out the anchovies because they are controversial with many dinner guests and the flavor is seldom missed. Puttanesca means “ladies of the night” and there are several translations as to what it really means. For me it simply means easy… and delicious.

For prep ahead, make the chicken, breaded, crispy golden, and store it separate. Next make the sauce as far ahead as you like, allowing the flavors to absorb and embrace each other fully.

Assembly is swift, layering the sauce with the chicken breasts and finishing the baking in the oven. Dinner is served as easy as a casserole and as beautiful as fine-dining.

Buon Appetito!

Chicken Parmesan Puttanesca

For the Chicken:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (the halves), trimmed and ready
pinch of salt and pepper to taste
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese (no green cans)
2 eggs, beaten

For the Sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1- 24 ounce can Roasted & Crushed Tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
½ to 1 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste
½ cup sliced green and kalamata olives
¼ cup capers
1 tbls balsamic vinegar

½ cup parsley and/or basil, roughly chopped

To Prepare the Chicken:
Place a chicken breast in between two pieces of plastic wrap or slip into a large plastic Ziploc bag. Determine the thinnest part of the chicken- this is as thin as you want to go. Pound evenly with a mallet or a heavy, smooth bottomed frying pan until it is an even thickness. Repeat with the remaining three chicken breasts.

Toss together the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on a plate. Place the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl. Unwrap the chicken breast holding the chicken in one hand and dip into the beaten eggs. Shake off the excess egg and gently lay in the pile of crumbs. With your dry, clean hand scoop the crumbs on top and press in gently. Flip over, scoop and press in the crumbs again. Place the crumbed-chicken breasts on a tray.

Next, Make the Sauce:
Warm a saucepan over medium-high heat, drizzle in the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, toss in the onion chunks and sauté lightly until slightly golden, pour in the crushed tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer for a few more minutes. To finish, add in half of the olives and half of the capers. Splash in the vinegar. Taste! Adjust seasonings if necessary.

To Sear the Chicken:
Place a skillet (cast-iron is great for this!) over medium-high heat, once it is hot drizzle in 1 tsp olive oil or if you have an oil mister, spray the pan well. Sear the chicken breasts on each side for about 3-5 minutes, until golden. They don’t need to be cooked all the way through, because they will be finished in the oven.

The dish is now ready to put together. Preheat the oven to 375. If desired, cut each breast in half on a diaganol since 1 breast is about 2 servings. Place the breast in the pan and dollop about 1/3 cup of sauce on top. Lay the next piece overlapping slightly. Add another 1/3 cup dollop of sauce. Continue until all of the chicken is laid down. Drizzle any remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining olives and capers on top. If you have additional parmesan, sprinkle this on top as well. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 15-25 minutes until the chicken is hot and the sauce is steamy.

If making this dish ahead: Chill the sauce and the chicken separately. Repeat the final directions with the ingredients cold. Bake the cold dish for 35-45 minutes.

8 servings

I look forward to hearing about your Chic Parm variations... please post your favorites!