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Quick and Easy Plum Tarte

9 Mar

I’ve mentioned previously why I think of Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, as my kitchen fairy godmother–basically it’s because her recipes are quick, easy, and delicious. What better combination is there?

Anna Pump, who once worked with Garten and now owns the wonderful bakery, Loaves and Fishes, creates wonderful food following Garten’s no-fuss philosophy. Lucky me, Trusty’s mom and dad always stop by Loaves and Fishes when they go out to the Hamptons and bring us one of Pump’s amazing Plum Tartes…which I promptly eat in one sitting.

Unable to track Pump’s recipe down, I’ve devised my own, inspired by hers–it’s quick and easy to prepare (partially because I buy the crust, frozen)–and not to brag, but this tarte tastes as good as the original! Hope you enjoy!


  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 pounds of firm, ripe Plums
  • 1/2 cup of creme de cassis liqueur (this is the secret ingredient!)
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Pit and slice the plums into wedges.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the plum slices together with the sugar, cassis, and the squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Let the fruit sit in the bowl for about 10 minutes; it will begin to macerate.
  4. Pour the plums into a frozen pie crust (or, extra points if you prepare your own!)

    Nothing wrong with taking a little shortcut...

  5. Arrange the slices so they are skin-side down. If you are entertaining, you can arrange the plums in a “flower” pattern by beginning at the outside and working your way in. Or, just go with an organic arrangement–it’ll taste just as good.

    Go with a fancy pants flower pattern...

    ...or take the no-fuss route (just make sure the plum wedges are skin-side down).

  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the the crust is lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature–enjoy!

    Sweet, juicy, and so easy to make!

Sweet and Spicy Chai Hot Chocolate

21 Nov

Can’t decide between a rich hot chocolate and a comforting chai tea? Try a Chai Hot Chocolate! My Trusty Sidekick came up with the idea inspired by one of my favorite chocolate bars, Dagoba’s Chai Chocolate.  It’s warm and sweet with the slightly spicy kick of ginger–like a mellow version of a Mexican hot chocolate.  This is my new favorite drink for a cold night–hope you enjoy!


  • 4 cups low-fat (1%) milk (or any milk of your choice)
  • 1 bar of Dagoba Chai Chocolate bar
  • Directions:

    • Coarsely chop up the chocolate bar and add it to the milk. Heat over a low heat and stir until the chocolate melts into the milk.
    Note: If you don’t have access to Dagoba chocolate bars, make your own Chai Chocolate mix. Add 3/4 cup of chocolate chips to 4 cups of milk, and stir on low heat until the chocolate melts. Then, add 2-3 chai tea bags to the hot milk, and allow it to seep for 3-5 minutes. 

    A Light Rice Pudding You’ll Love

    19 Oct

    Looking for a lighter dessert that will still satisfy your sweet tooth? Here’s a recipe for a light rice pudding you’ll love. Even though there are no eggs or butter included, the evaporated skim milk keeps the rice nice and creamy. A little bit of brown sugar keeps the dessert sweet while plump yellow raisins and dried cherries add fantastic texture. Serve with just a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg and a drizzle of honey and you have a comforting, healthy dessert that’s perfect for a crisp fall day.

    Serves 4


    • 1 cup rice (for best results, use short grain or medium grain rice–long grain rice will not work)
    • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
    • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated skim milk
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
    • 1/2 cup milk (I like to use soy milk to add a bit of nuttiness, but you can choose your type of milk depending on how “Light” you want your rice pudding to be.)
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
    • 1/2 cup dried cherries
    • 1/2 cup of yellow raisins
    • a drizzle of honey, to taste
    • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (or nutmeg, if you prefer), to taste

    Give the rice a chance to soak up all the liquid. It will ensure a creamy, satisfying dessert, even without eggs or butter.


    1. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 2 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Add rice and cook until tender, stirring frequently. When the rice is cooked all the water should be absorbed.
    2. Add the evaporated milk, orange zest, and brown sugar to the pot of cooked rice; cover and cook for 10 minutes.
    3. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes or until the rice is very creamy and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
    4. Stir in the milk, vanilla and almond extracts and remove the rice from heat.
    5. While the rice is cooling to room temperature, boil an extra 1/4 cup of water and pour it into a mug. Add the yellow raisins to the water and stir, then let them sit for 5-10 minutes. This will plump up the raisins and bring out their sweetness.
    6. When the rice is at room temperature, stir in the dried cherries and the plumped up raisins and refrigerate for 2 hours or until chilled.
    7. When you serve up your rice pudding, add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg to each serving and drizzle with honey for a great presentation.
    8. Enjoy!

    Mmm. Look how plump those yellow raisins are.

    Note: Yellow raisins are my favorite, but one of the best things about this dessert is that you can get creative and customize the “add-ins.” Try shredded coconut and pineapple, or go for fresh strawberries and blueberries. You could also toast some almond slices and sprinkle them on top. Once I tried adding a spoonful of fresh pomegranate seeds–the pop of juice against the creamy rice made a great flavor/texture combination.

    Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise from NYC’s Famous Dessert Truck!

    26 Aug

    Spotting it there, parked at the curb, was a little like spotting a celebrity. Since finding out about the Dessert Truck, New York City’s cult foodie favorite, on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay I’ve been wishing and hoping for the chance to see if their chocolate bread pudding tastes as magical in real life as it looks on tv.

    If you haven’t heard of the Dessert Truck, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Amazing idea, right? In my opinion, the truck’s founders, Jerome Chang (formerly the pastry sous chef at Le Cirque), and Columbia business school student Chris Chen, are scholars and gentlemen for making gourmet desserts mobile. Remember the warm fuzzy feeling you felt as a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing that Santa was out there somewhere in his sleigh, beginning to make his deliveries? That’s sort of how I think of the Dessert Truck, somewhere out there in New York City, bringing delicious $6 desserts to those lucky girls and boys who happen to be walking by.

    If you don't have room in your tummy when you happen upon the Dessert Truck, you can get it to-go, like I did!

    Tonight, that lucky girl was ME! I ordered DT’s famous chocolate bread pudding topped with bacon crème anglaise (if you don’t like bacon, you can get it with vanilla crème anglaise).


    I thought that the bacon crème anglaise was pretty subtly flavored–it didn’t taste like pork, per say, just extra salty. It made me wish the chocolate flavor of the bread pudding was a little more intense–sweeter, maybe even a bit on the bitter side–in order to adequately play off the salty crème anglaise.

    For presentation purposes, I flipped my pudding upside on a plate.

    The pudding was extremely smooth and custardy. I know from watching the Dessert Truck’s Throwdown episode that they soak their bread pudding overnight to make the bread extra rich and creamy–when you take a bite, you can definitely taste and feel this–the pudding truly has a soft, pudding-y mouth feel.

    I actually wish that the texture was a little more bready–I couldn’t tell the difference between the egg custard and the pieces of bread, and I actually like being able to distinguish between the two. Speaking of the pudding’s egg custard, there was a lot of it–too much. Check out this side view of the bread pudding–you can see that the Dessert Truck doesn’t use much bread–most of it (the entire top layer) was actually only egg custard, without any pieces of bread.  Bread pudding is supposed to be just that–bread pudding–so I have to say that I enjoyed the inside center best, where there was the best bread + custard ratio.

    I hope that the Dessert Truck isn't skimping on bread to save some dough.

    So, what’s my final review? I have to say I was a little disappointed with my Dessert Truck experience. But, you can’t ever give up on Santa, and I won’t give up my faith in the Dessert Truck. That said, if you feel the way I do about bread pudding I’d definitely recommend trying something else–maybe their molten chocolate cake with sea salted pistachios. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

    Until next time, Dessert Truck. Until next time.

    Just because I was a tad disappointed doesn't mean my bread pudding didn't disappear...

    A Fancypants Dessert without any Fuss: Trifle with Berries, Pound Cake, and Pastry Cream

    7 Aug

    Hello, thick and rich pastry cream, moist pound cake, and sweet berries. Let’s be friends.

    This dessert tastes as lovely as it looks, which makes it perfect for entertaining. Plus, it’s easy and fun to make! The beautiful artistry of the trifles in this post is thanks to my second cousin, Arianna, an amazingly talented chef going on 10. Thanks, Ari! Cooking with you was an even better treat than this delicious trifle.

    Trifle with Berries, Pound Cake, and Pastry Cream


    • 2 loaves of Pound Cake (you can make these, or buy)
    • Raspberry Jam (I prefer seedless)
    • 4-6 cups of Blueberries
    • 4-6 cups of Raspberries (or Strawberries, if you prefer)
    • 2-3 cups of Pastry Cream
      • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
      • 6 large egg yolks
      • 2/3 cup sugar
      • 1/3 cup cornstarch
      • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
    • 2-3 cups of Whipped Cream
      • 2 1/4 cups of Heavy Whipping Cream
      • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
      • 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar

    Don't forget to wash your berries!

    Instructions: Pastry Cream

    1. In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.
    2. Transfer remaining 1 3/4 cups milk to heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink to bottom. Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.
    3. Whisk hot milk mixture, then gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture. Return to saucepan over moderate heat and cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.
    4. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface.
    5. Chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 3 days.)
    Instructions: Whipped Cream
    1. For best results, put your whisk and mixing bowl into the freezer about 15 minutes before you’re ready to begin, so they’re chilled when you whip up your cream.
    2. In your ice cold bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.
    Instructions: Assembly
    1. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and slowly fold in the whipping cream. This will incorporate air into your custard to make it nice and light.

      Mmmmm pastry cream + whipped cream = heroin I mean heaven.

    2. Slice your pound cake loaves in half lengthwise (as though you were going to make a layer cake).
    3. Spread raspberry jam on the pound cake pieces, then cut them into squares.

      If you need to make your jam more spreadable try putting a few spoonfuls into the microwave to melt it a bit.

    4. Using either a large glass trifle dish or individual glass dishes (we used wine goblets), begin the layering process by putting pastry cream on the bottom. On top of the pastry cream place a layer of pound cake squares. On top of the pound cake place a layer of blueberries and raspberries. Repeat the layering process, beginning again with the pastry cream.

      Aren't these beautiful? Wine or water goblets make for great individual-sized trifles.

    5. If you’re cooking with an artist, like Ari, use berries to create a fun design on the very top.

      Ari used the berries to make the faces of our two family dogs, Sam and Finnegan. Look closely and you can spot the ears hanging down on the sides of each smiling face.

      Not a bad likeness, right?

    6. Put the trifle into the fridge to chill–letting the layers sit (30 minutes to a few hours, if possible) allows all the flavors to meld together.
    7. Final step: Enjoy!

    Mint always makes a great garnish.

    Pig Out on Vanilla-Coconut Bread Pudding–and here’s the Secret Ingredient: Soymilk

    15 Jul

    Lately I’ve been experimenting with soy milk. It has more protein than milk, and less sugar (if you use unsweetened). But, how does it stand up to milk when used for baking?

    I tried substituting soymilk for buttermilk in my favorite bread pudding recipe (if you don’t care for soymilk, the recipe works beautifully with the original ingredient), and I think that with the soymilk, it will still satisfy any bread pudding purist–it’s maybe even a little better.

    Like crème brûlée, the pudding cooks in a water bath. The custard comes out smooth, creamy, and for me tastes a little richer than it would be with the buttermilk. My only guess is that this is due to the extra protein in the soy, but I’m not sure. If you have the answer, please leave a comment and let us know!

    Vanilla-Coconut Bread Pudding


    • 3 large eggs
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • 2 cups soymilk (I use Silk unsweetened)
    • 2½ half and half
    • 2 vanilla bean pods
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
    • 9 bread slices, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch pieces (this should come to about 6 generous cups)
    • ground cinnamon

    Approx. 8 servings


    1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish.
    2. De-crust bread. Cut it into 1-inch pieces.
    3. Whisk eggs, yolks, and sugar to blend in large bowl. Mix in soymilk, half and half, vanilla and coconut extract.
    4. Using a chef’s knife, split the vanilla beans in half, lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with the blade. Collect the seeds and add them to the mix.
    5. Add bread to the mixture; let stand for 5 minutes.
    6. Transfer bread mixture to prepared dish and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
    7. Place the baking dish in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to reach 1 inch up the sides of the baking dish.
    8. Bake until pudding is firm in center but still pale in color, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool slightly.
    9. Serve warm or cold. Ready, set, pig out!

    To Brûlée or not to Brûlée: Chocolate Pôts de Crème

    12 Jul

    There’s nothing like your own personal dessert.  Especially if it’s your own rich, thick, chocolatey, creamy personal dessert.

    This recipe yields 6 servings in individual “pôts,” or ramekins, so it works great for a dinner party. Or, let’s be honest, it also works great if you like having a week’s worth of personal-portion desserts in the fridge, like I do. The preparation time is only 15 minutes, so it’s a snap to do on a Sunday night. Once you’re ready to enjoy you can add a brown sugar brûlée crust–or not. It’s an indulgent, delicious dessert either way.

    Crisp on top and creamy underneath. So good.

    Individual Chocolate Pôts de Crème


    • 3 squares (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate
    • 2 ½ cups milk*
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • ¼ cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    *What kind of milk should you use? It’s up to you. The richer the milk, the richer the custard will be.


    1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Arrange six 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups in roasting pan (I used a 14″ by 10″, but whatever works, works).

      6 ramekins means one for monday, one for tuesday, wednesday...

    2. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat chocolate and ¼ milk over low heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted. Then, remove saucepan from heat.
    3. In another small sauce pan, heat remaining 2¼ cups milk over medium-high heat until you bring the milk to boiling. Remove this saucepan from heat and stir it into the chocolate mixture until it is incorporated.
    4. In a large bowl, use a wire whisk or fork to beat together the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until blended. Slowly whisk in chocolate mixture until well combined.
    5. Pour or ladle the mixture evenly into ramekins  that are arranged in roasting pan.
    6. Carefully pour boiling water into roasting pan until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place the roasting pan into the oven.
    7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the custard comes out clean. Transfer ramekins to wire rack to cool. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, until well chilled.

    Mmm. When the custard is cooked you'll see small air bubbles on the surface. Don't worry if it jiggles a little when you remove it from the oven. The custard will set in the fridge and once it's chilled the consistency will be similar to crème brûlée.

    Notes: This recipe is super easy. There are only two things you want to be careful about:

    • When you incorporate the eggs, sugar, and vanilla mixture with the hot chocolate milk, add the liquid slowly while you whisk vigorously to  make sure the temperature of the egg mixture changes evenly. Adding the hot liquid to the egg mixture too quickly will cook the eggs and create chocolate scrambled eggs.
    • Make sure the hot water is half-way up the side of the ramekins when you pour the water into the roasting pot–if there’s not enough water surrounding the ramekins the custard won’t come out soft or smooth. This is because the proteins in the eggs are very heat sensitive. The hot water bath (snobby French cooks call it a Bain-Marie) actually protects the custard from too much direct heat.

    Mocha Pôts de Crème: If you like the combination of chocolate and coffee, I’ve made this dessert in the past using Starbuck’s refrigerated/bottled Frappuccinos instead of regular milk. I’m not a black coffee drinker, so the extra sugar in the Frappuccino is a good thing for me. But, if you’re looking for a stronger coffee flavor, follow the recipe above, but heat the 2 ¼ cups of milk to boiling with 1 tablespoon of instant coffee powder. Then bake, cool, and chill as directed.

    If you ask me, a chef's torch is worth the investment. You can find them on Amazon for about $24.

    Chocolate Crème Brûlée: Follow the recipe above for chocolate pôts de crème. After the custards have chilled, cover the top with granulated brown sugar–I use one packet of Brown Sugar in the Raw that I keep around for coffee for each ramekin. Use a chef’s torch to brown the sugar, creating a  shiny, crisp brûlée crust. If you don’t have a chef’s torch, put the ramekins on a cookie sheet, and place the sheet under your broiler rack at the closest position to the heat source. Broil the ramekins for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sugar melts.

    Once you Brûlée the custard, you can refrigerate until ready to serve, as long as you serve within 4 hours, or else the brown sugar topping will lose its crispness.

    Chewy Chocolate-Macadamia-Date Rock Cookies

    5 Jul

    Rather than go to the gym, I decided to bake today. Fantastic idea, am I right?

    In an effort to compromise, I thought I would try to bake something “healthy.” My Grandma Mather had an amazing recipe for Rock cookies–a type of cookie that’s usually loaded with nuts, dried fruits, and oats–that fit the bill perfectly. I contributed additional nutritional value to the recipe by adding semi-sweet dark chocolate chips (don’t give me that look–they have antioxidants).

    Note: Unlike the description given by the name, “Rock cookies,” these cookies are soft and chewy.

    Chocolate Macadamia Date Rock Cookies


    • 2 cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 cup rolled oats
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
    • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup apple butter
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
    • 3/4 cups dates, roughly chopped


    1. Preheat oven to 375°. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.
    2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

    3. Now for the wet ingredients. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in brown sugar, apple butter, eggs, and vanilla.
    4. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined.

    chopped dates give the chocolate chips a run for their money as the star ingredient in this recipe

    5. Now add the “rock” ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips, chopped macadamia nuts and the dates.
    6. Important: Return dough to bowl, cover and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes to an hour.

    dough should be a bit stiff after 30 minutes of refrigeration. As the cookies bake in the over the chilled butter will heat up, producing steam that will keep the cookies nice and moist.

    7. Onto two baking sheets, drop dough by rounded soup-spoonfuls about 1 inch apart.

    8. Bake 13–15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking, until bottoms of cookies are golden brown. Immediately transfer cookies to racks to cool.

    This recipe will make about 3 dozen cookies. If you store them in an airtight container they should stay soft and chewy for up to 1 week.

    Enjoy with a cold glass of milk!

    yum! Who needs exercise? I'd much rather have rock cookies than buns of steel