Saturday, February 23, 2013


I love the buttery, sweet, rich taste of pecans, especially local East Carolina pecans.  Last year was not a good year for pecans in our region, and here's hoping that 2013 will yield a better crop.  Use whatever pecans you can get for these outstanding cupcakes.  I promise you won't be sorry.  The cupcake is ultra-tender and light, studded with those wonderful pecans that have been sauteed in butter first.  Salted Caramel Frosting is the perfect topping for these, of course garnished with more pecans.

Make the salted caramel sauce first.  It can be made several days ahead.  Make the frosting before the cupcakes so it can be refrigerated to set up.  This is one dessert you will make again and again.

Butter Pecan Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
Rating:  10 out of 10

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, room temperature
1-2 tsp. sour cream or heavy whipping cream

In medium bowl, beat butter till light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape bottom and sides of bowl; gradually add sugar and beat till smooth and creamy.  Add salted caramel sauce and cream on low speed until incorporated. Increase speed gradually to high and beat till frosting is light and smooth, about 2 minutes.  Refrigerate frosting at least 1/2 hour, or longer.  (Can be made the day before.)

3 tsp. unsalted butter for pecans + 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter for cupcakes, softened
1/2 cup chopped or broken pecans
1-1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour (not self-rising)*
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1-1/2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice), room temperature

*You may use cake flour or any low-protein flour in place of White Lily all-purpose flour.

Heat oven to 350F.  Cut 3 tsp. butter into small pieces; add to pecans in oven-proof dish.  Bake, stirring after butter melts, 5-7 minutes, or till pecans are nicely toasted and butter is absorbed.  Cool.  Line muffin tin with 12 paper liners; spray insides with nonstick cooking spray for easy release of cupcakes.  Whisk flour; lightly spoon and level to measure, then sift twice into medium bowl with baking powder and soda.

In bowl of stand mixer, combine sugar, salt and 1 stick butter.  Beat at medium speed 5 minutes, till light and fluffy, scraping sides and bottom of bowl as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, adding vanilla with last egg and beating till yellow disappears after each addition.  Using lowest speed of mixer, add flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour and adding nuts with last addition of flour.  Stir batter with spatula, briefly, to be sure everything is mixed well.  Fill muffin cups with about 1/4 cup batter.  Bake 15-17 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack completely before frosting.  If desired, garnish frosted cupcakes with additional chopped pecans.  Yield:  12 cupcakes

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Salted caramel has a deliciously almost-burnt taste that tones down the sweetness and makes it totally addictive.  It's easy to make and there are tons of ways to use it.  It makes wonderful frosting for cakes or cupcakes and is great drizzled over muffins, frosting, ice cream or even waffles.  It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Before you start making the caramel, be sure all the ingredients are ready, because once started, you have to give it your close attention so it doesn't burn.

Salted Caramel Sauce
Adapted from
Rating:  10 out of 10

1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Heat sugar over medium-high heat in 1 to 1-1/2 quart heavy saucepan or saute pan.  When sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar.  It will clump up, but keep whisking.  It will continue to melt.  When the sugar is melted, stop whisking and instead swirl the pan to move the sugar around.  Continue cooking sugar until it is completely melted and reaches a deep amber color.  Carefully whisk in the butter, whisking till melted.  The caramel may clump at the sides.  Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream.  Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth.  Whisk in salt.  Let sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then pour into a pint mason jar and cool to room temperature.  Yield:  about 1-1/2 cups

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Think all-beef meatloaf has to be boring, tough and dry?  Think again.  This recipe, adapted from America's Test Kitchen, proves that beef meatloaf can be light, moist, tender and full of flavor.  There are a lot of ingredients, but if you take the time to make this, I'm sure you'll agree that it's the best meatloaf ever.  Each ingredient is important to the finished product, so don't leave anything out.

All-Beef Glazed Meatloaf
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, January/February 2006
Rating:  10 out of 10

Meat Loaf: 
1-1/2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated on small holes of box grater (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery rib
1/2 tsp. minced or grated garlic
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. tomato juice
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. unflavored powdered gelatin (the secret ingredient to mimic veal)
1-1/2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce  1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup crushed saltine crackers  1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves
Scant 1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher coarse salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 lb. ground sirloin
1/2 lb. ground chuck

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375F.  Spread cheese on plate and place in freezer until ready to use.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil.  Next, fold a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil to form a 10 x 6” rectangle.  Center the foil on a metal cooling rack and poke holes in the foil with a skewer about 1/2” apart.  (This will let drippings go through so the meat loaf doesn’t get soggy from sitting in the drippings.)  Place the foil-lined rack over the rimmed baking sheet that you lined with tinfoil.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat butter in small skillet over medium-high heat until foaming; add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6-8 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme and paprika and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low and add tomato juice.  Cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from pan, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Transfer mixture to small bowl and set aside to cool.

Whisk broth and egg in medium bowl until combined; sprinkle with gelatin and let stand 5 minutes.  Stir in soy sauce, mustard, saltines, parsley, salt, pepper and cooled onion mixture.  Crumble frozen cheese to coarse powder and sprinkle over mixture.  Add ground beef; mix gently with hands until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.  Transfer meat to foil rectangle and shape into loaf.  Smooth top and edges of meat loaf with moistened spatula.  Bake about 1 hour, till an instant-read thermometer registers 135-140F.  Remove from oven and spread with half the glaze.  Turn broiler on high; place meatloaf under broiler about 5 minutes, till glaze bubbles and begins to brown at edges.  Remove from oven, spread with remaining glaze, return to broiler to cook an additional 5 minutes.  Cool about 15 minutes before slicing.
Glaze:  (You can substitute 3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 Tbsp. cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar

While meat loaf cooks, combine ingredients in saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Flounder by itself is not particularly filling, but when you stuff it with crab meat, it has more of a stick-to-your-ribs quality.  Both the flounder and the crab meat are pretty easy to find in New Bern.  B&J's on Route 70 is where we go to find the freshest flounder and crab meat.  B&J's steams and picks fresh-caught crabs, and both the founder and crab meat are locally caught.  It's always best to go through the crab meat again before using it because it's so easy to miss shell fragments and cartilage.

Fresh dill can be found at Wal-Mart and Harris Teeter.  Harris Teeter's is a smaller package and a tad less expensive. If you're a senior you'll get an extra 5% on Thursdays.

This dish is especially welcome during our short-lived winter here in East Carolina.  It gives a reason to turn the oven on.  Throw some potatoes in the oven 30-40 minutes before the fish, and while you're at it, roast some veggies that have been tossed with olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  You'll have a complete dinner.  If the veggies get done too soon, not to worry.  They're always delicious room temperature.

Crab-Stuffed Flounder with Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce
Rating 9 out of 10

Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce
2 Tbsp. Duke or Hellmann's light mayo
3 Tbsp. plain yogurt* 
Scant 1/8 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1-1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp. capers, drained
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
Scant pinch each: fine sea salt and white pepper

*If you use nonfat Greek yogurt, you will have to thin with water.

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.  If necessary, thin with water.  Refrigerate till needed.

Crab-Stuffed Flounder Fillets
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced fresh onion
2 Tbsp. minced roasted red pepper
2 Tbsp. Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. Duke or Hellmann's Light mayo
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice + 1 tsp. for tops
1/4 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 drop Worcestershire sauce
1/2 lb. lump crab meat, picked over for cartilage and shell fragments
4 fresh flounder fillets, skinned on both sides
About 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt (or to taste) + 1/8 tsp. for tops
About 1/8 tsp. white pepper (or to taste)
2-3 tsp. unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

In small fry pan, saute onion and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat, about 2-3 minutes.  Do not brown.  Remove from heat; stir in breadcrumbs, mayo, 1 tsp. lemon juice, Old Bay, pepper and Worcestershire; set aside to cool.  When cool, lightly fold in crab meat, taking care not to break up lumps. Refrigerate till needed.

Heat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with tinfoil; spray with nonstick cooking spray.  (Alternately, you can line a baking sheet with parchment paper or with the new tinfoil that has parchment on one side.)  Pat fish fillets dry with clean paper towel; lightly salt and pepper on one side only.  Place desired amount of filling onto one end of each piece; roll up starting with filled end.  Place seam side down on prepared pan; sprinkle with 1 tsp. lemon juice and about 1/8 tsp. salt. Dot with butter.  Bake about 20 minutes, or till fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.  Serve with Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce.  Yield 4 servings

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


What could be more Southern than poundcake?  And this one will make Southerners smile:  The top of an orange-flavored poundcake is studded with broken pecans, a succulent orange glaze is brushed over the  warm cake, then the cooled cake is thinly frosted with chocolate ganache and topped with whole pecans.  Serve plain or with ice cream, whipped sweetened heavy cream or creme fraiche for a decadent, delicious dessert.

For a successful cake, instructions should be followed exactly.  It may seem like a lot of trouble to whisk the flour first, then sift it twice, but that's how you get a smooth batter that rises beautifully and produces a delicate, soft-textured cake.  Believe me when I say that this cake is worth the extra trouble.

Other great poundcake recipes:
Orange-Glazed Pecan Sour Cream Poundcake with Chocolate Ganache
Sour Cream-Rum-Pecan Poundcake with Chocolate Ganache
Elvis Presley's Favorite Poundcake

Orange-Pecan Poundcake with Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

1-1/2 tsp. unsalted butter, soft, for pan bottom + 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) soft for cake
1 cup broken or chopped pecans + 8-10 whole pecans to decorate top**
1-3/4 cups + 2 Tbsp. King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour*
1 tsp. baking powder
3-ounce pkg. Neufchatel or regular cream cheese, room temperature soft
3/4 tsp. Diamond Kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla powder.)
1 Tbsp. orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec
5 large eggs, room temperature
3 Tbsp. milk

*Though optional, toasting the pecans brings out a deeper flavor that enhances the cake.
**Whisk flour, then lightly spoon and level to measure.  You may substitute Gold Medal or Pillsbury unbleached all-purpose flour, if desired.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
3 Tbsp. orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec
1/2 tsp. orange extract

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

MAKE THE CAKE:  Adjust oven rack to center position.  Heat oven to 325F.  Butter a 9-cup Bundt pan with 1-1/2 tsp. soft butter and sprinkle bottom of pan with 1 cup broken or chopped pecans.  Sift flour and baking powder twice and set aside.

In bowl of standing mixer, using paddle attachment and medium speed, beat together butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar, zests, extract and liqueur for about 5 minutes, till well combined and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat on medium speed after each addition till eggs are incorporated. (Mixture may curdle, but will come back together.)  Beat on high speed 3 minutes.  Stir in milk on lowest speed, then gradually add flour mixture on low speed, mixing just till combined.  Batter will be smooth and thick, but still pourable.  Pour and scrape batter into prepared pan, being careful not to displace pecans.

Bake 50-60 minutes, till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs, or an instant-read thermometer registers 200F.  Cool cake 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling -- nuts will now be on top.

Brush warm cake with glaze.  When cake is thoroughly cooled, carefully pour warm ganache over top.  Decorate top with whole pecans.

MAKE THE GLAZE:  While cake is baking, in saucepan, boil butter, sugar, zest and liqueur about 5 minutes till syrupy.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 tsp. orange extract.

MAKE THE GANACHE:  When cake is almost cool, in saucepan, boil cream.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate till mixture comes together and is smooth.

TIP:  How long it takes to bring ingredients to room temperature depends on the temperature of your room. If your room is 70F or above, plan on 1/2 to 1 hour.  If it's below 70F, it could take as long as 2 hours.