Perfect Muffin Tin Popovers

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Popovers are magical. Golden-crisp outside, airy and delicately egg-y inside, these savory treats soar into towers from a thin, leavener-free batter. They also have the power to lure groggy teenagers out of bed on a Monday morning. Amazing!  

I used to think I couldn’t make worthy popovers without a special popover pan. (Many recipes say it’s OK to make them in muffin tins, but to expect a lower rise and denser texture.) So I bought the pan. It did make beautiful, lofty popovers, but I always struggled to get them out of the pan – no matter how much butter I used to grease the cups. Plus, I’m not a fan of single-use kitchen tools that clog drawers and cupboards. Thus began my quest for a simple popover recipe that would produce beautiful results in a regular ol’ muffin tin – and le voilà

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Mini Chocolate Zucchini Muffins


It’s a well-known fact (just ask Oprah) that eating more vegetables is the key to a healthier diet. (We won’t talk about the specter of lectins here. Long live the tomato!) Vegetables = fiber and vitamins with fewer calories. Ergo, by stuffing a ton of zucchini into these cute little chocolate-laced muffins, you get a healthy yet tasty treat. WINNER! Maybe even the next “Too Good to Be Healthy” winner? Let me know what you think. PS – If it seems like I’ve gone link crazy, blame it on theSkimmContinue reading

Craving: Chocolate Chex Crunch

Chocolate Chex Mix Buddies

Maybe you’ve heard of this chocolatey-peanut-buttery snack mix as “Puppy Chow” or “Muddy Buddies” – but I think those are terrible names! So maybe “Chocolate Chex Crunch” isn’t very creative, but at least it’s descriptive (and a little more appetizing). Easier to make than Rice Krispies Treats, this Chex™ cereal recipe should be in every chocolate lover’s repertoire. Truth be told, I can’t stop eating the stuff – to the point where my kids have started to hide the container from me (“for my own good”). I use good-quality Ghirardelli semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, so the addition of vanilla (per the Chex recipe) isn’t really necessary. You can find the original recipe on the back of Chex cereals, or my version below. Continue reading

Pumped Up Cheddar Olive Balls

Spicy cheddar olive balls

Don’t let your Game Day appetizers fall flat! These spicy, cheesy olive balls are pumped full of flavor and go great with beer or cocktails. This retro recipe is all over the internet (and in several of my cookbooks), though usually it calls for paprika instead of cayenne pepper. Boring! Also, all of the recipes I looked at failed to mention the key step of drying the olives before wrapping in the cheese dough. If your olives are wet, your dough will get slimy and sticky. You do not want sticky balls! Continue reading

Better-than-Baked-Brie Bites


There’s a lot to love about a good baked brie – golden puff pastry wrapped around a wheel of creamy cheese and a secret sweet surprise (jam, brown sugar, nuts, etc.), where the cheese and jam meld together and ooze out of the flaky crust when you first cut into it. That’s Baked Brie’s brief moment of glory, though, so you’d better eat fast. When the cheese cools, the once-elegant pastry/cheese package turns into a congealed blob, with soggy dough that contributes little more than calories. Your party guests deserve better!  Continue reading

The Best Black Bean Salsa

Best black bean salad

Well – at least I think it’s the best. Love yourself, love your salsa. This salad/salsa/dip/side is in heavy rotation in our house from Cinco de Mayo to the end of tomato season.  If using as a salsa/dip, we like Tostitos Scoops for obvious “scoopability” reasons.

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Do NOT Make These Cookies

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. These cookies are highly addictive, and almost impossible to resist when fresh out of the oven. If you ignore my advice and make them anyway, at least don’t do so on an empty stomach.

My daughter Leah would do almost anything for these cookies – which are crisp on the outside, chewy inside, and bursting with Hershey’s Mini Kisses, pecans and toffee bits. If I were the manipulative type I could bake my way to mommy nirvana – beds made, clothes put away, piano practiced, maybe even cat litter scooped! But of course that would be wrong. I make the kids cookies to show how much I love them. But wait – that’s wrong too! Or is it?

Since these cookies are best the same day they’re baked, I usually only bake one sheet pan (12 cookies or 2 servings – kidding!) at a time. I freeze the rest of the dough balls in a Ziploc bag for easy, fresh-baked treats (or bribes) whenever the need arises. (Freeze on a small baking sheet in a single layer first, then transfer to a bag when firm.)

Best-Ever Chocolate Toffee Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 2 large eggs (ideally at room temperature)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (taste a few first to make sure they haven’t turned rancid)
  • 1 package Heath Toffee Bits (in the baking aisle)
  • 1 package Hershey’s Mini Kisses (in the baking aisle)

Heat oven to 300ºF. (The low temperature is key.) Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Each baking sheet should hold 12 cookies.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add softened butter and both sugars. Beat (“cream”) until well combined.

Add eggs (crack into a separate bowl so no shell bits get into the batter) and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

With mixer off, sprinkle baking soda and salt over butter/egg mixture, then add the flour. Mix on lowest speed to prevent flour from flying all over the kitchen. Slowly increase mixer speed just until flour is fully incorporated.

Then add pecans, toffee bits (extra credit for making your own Almond Toffee!) and Hershey’s Mini Kisses. Even the most powerful mixer will groan a little at all this. Finish mixing by hand if necessary.

Using a small ice cream scooper or a spoon, form walnut-sized balls. (Gather all inner strength to resist OD’ing on dough.) Place on baking sheet a few inches apart.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (depending on how hot your oven runs or whether the dough balls were frozen); cookies should pale/just barely browned. If using two baking sheets, rotate halfway through baking. Slide parchment sheet with cookies onto a counter to cool slightly and firm up.  (I don’t bother with a cooling rack for these cookies – they usually disappear well before they’ve cooled all the way.)

Makes approximately 36 cookies, but we’re usually too busy devouring them to get an accurate count.

Fiesta Empanadas

Why is it that everything tastes better wrapped in dough? Take, for example, the lowly hotdog. Wrapped in puff pastry or even crescent rolls from a tube, it metamorphosizes into Pigs in a Blanket. (Also known as, “the first hors d’oeuvres to disappear from every party.”) My well-bred mother-in-law, who once called my second-hand dining set “disreputable” (and I guess I can see her point – it’s definitely more shabby than chic), established the ritual of serving Pigs in a Blanket on silver trays at every family event. But wait – I’m getting off track. Today’s post is about another pastry-wrapped treat – one perfect for Cinco de Mayo fiestas this weekend: Empanadas!

From the Spanish word for “wrapped in bread”, empanadas can be sweet or savory, baked or fried. My favorites are these baked Turkey Poblano creations, which I make in miniature size for appetizers or a larger size for a meal. The kids love them plain, but for me they’re not complete without Cilantro Lime Sauce for dipping. (Yes – yet another application for this versatile sauce, which one of these days I should figure out how to bottle and sell. That would be one way to get new dining room furniture.)

Cilantro Lime Sauce

The turkey filling is simple to make, and it can be made days ahead or even frozen until you’re ready to assemble the empanadas.  If you can find frozen empanada wrappers, just let them thaw and get ready to stuff.

If you can’t find them, you can use frozen puff pastry, pie dough, or this recipe below – which is stretchy and forgiving. The assembly goes fairly quickly, once you get the hang of it. (Just don’t overstuff or you’ll get oozage.) I like to freeze unbaked mini empanadas for almost-instant appetizers – great for any time you have extra Cilantro Lime sauce to use up.  (An almost weekly occurrence around here.)

Mini Turkey Poblano Empanadas

  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped (optional, but worth the effort; see this link for roasting how-to)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Approx. 1 cup salsa verde (Xochitl®  Brand, if possible)
  • Pinch (1/4 teaspoon) sugar
  • 4 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel (lower fat cream cheese)
  • 2 packages (10 per package) frozen empanada wrappers, thawed, or 1 package puff pastry, or 1 batch empanada dough (recipe below)
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame seeds

To a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onion. Sauté 2-3 minutes until softened.

Add turkey, salt and cumin and cook until no longer pink. (Breaking up turkey clumps with a wooden spoon, as if making tacos.)

Add garlic and sauté another minute.  (Garlic can taste bitter if burned, so I add it towards the end of the cooking to be safe. Check out this cool garlic pressing trick: if you leave the clove “wrapped” in its papery skin, you can pull it out after pressing and no little bits get stuck in the holes.)

Back to the empanadas:

Stir in poblanos, salsa verde and sugar (which helps balance the heat and round out the flavors) and bring to a boil to reduce some of the liquid.

Remove from heat. Stir in cream cheese and taste for seasoning; add another pinch of kosher salt or sugar if you feel it needs more flavor.  Allow mixture to cool before filling empanadas.

(This looks yellow because of the lighting.)

Empanada Dough (makes about 40 4-inch empanadas)

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl combine flour and salt. Add water and oil all at once and stir to combine.

The dough should come together but not feel sticky. Add a little extra flour if necessary. The dough may not look pretty, but this is OK.

Assembling Empanadas

Heat oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

For appetizer-size using premade empanada wrappers or dough, cut out 3” circles with a biscuit cutter or empty can.  Gather excess dough and roll flat with rolling pin. Cut out additional circles until all dough is used.

If using homemade dough, shape into walnut-sized balls. (You should get about 40.) With a rolling pin, roll dough flat into 3”- 4” circles.

Spoon cooled filling into the centers of the dough circles. As a rough guide, use a heaping teaspoonful (the ice cream eating kind of spoon, not measuring kind) of filling for 2 ½ -3” circles or a heaping tablespoon for 4” circles.  I try to get in as much filling as I can, though I often pay the price with messy-looking empanadas that burst open while baking. Just be sure to leave a ½”+ margin around the entire edge of the circle.

If you’re using cut-out circles, you will seal them using beaten egg and a fork crimp.  Beat one egg and brush along the edges/margins. Fold the circle in half and press edges together to seal. Set onto prepared baking sheet and crimp edges with a fork.

If you’re rolling out homemade dough balls, you can seal with a “twisted rope” closure instead of the egg and fork method. Fold the dough over the filling to make a ½-circle and press to seal edges.  Starting at the top, fold dough up and over in a twisting motion, until all edges are sealed. Tuck the end of the twist under the empanada and place on baking sheet.

No one will care if the twisty rope edges aren’t perfect.

Freeze any unused filling or spoon it into taco shells.

Just before baking, beat 1 egg (or use what was left from sealing ) and brush onto tops of empanadas.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake at 400ºF for 12-20 minutes (depending on type of dough used, size of empanadas and whether they were frozen), until golden brown.

Serve with Cilantro Lime sauce  (or any other salsa) for dipping.  Good piping hot, warm, room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

Noodle Nests

Who doesn’t love a festive dessert? Better yet – who doesn’t love a festive dessert that requires no baking, comes together in minutes and keeps the kids from fighting for a blissful 10 minutes?

Enter Noodle Nests – salty-sweet little nests made from chow mein noodles and white chocolate chips. I didn’t invent this recipe, but maybe I’m the first one to fill the nests with pastel “M&M’s”® candies? (I swear I’m no longer on the Mars payroll, but – ahem – perhaps I should be?)

The great thing about no-bake treats like these is that you can get right to the fun part – decorating.  You can use anything you like to fill the nests – we opted for Peanut “M&M’s”® (because I couldn’t find any Almond) and JellyBelly jellybeans. Speckled malted milk eggs work well, or for a Martha-chic natural look you could go with unwrapped solid chocolate eggs (i.e., Hershey’s or Dove®).

Noodle Nests

  • 1 10-oz package white chocolate chips
  • 1 Tablespoon (splash) vegetable oil
  • 5 oz. (1 canister) chow mein noodles
  • Candy eggs

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium microwaveable bowl, add white chocolate chips and vegetable oil. Microwave on high in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until chips have melted and mixture is smooth. (These Trader Joe’s chips took about 1 minute total.) 

Add chow mein noodles and stir gently to coat.

Drop mixture by the spoonful onto parchment-lined baking sheets to form nests. If there is any white chocolate mixture left in the bowl, drop that onto the center of the nests to help the candies adhere.

Decorate the nests with candy eggs. Place baking sheets with completed nests in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to solidify. Store in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 18 nests.

Chocolate Buns

At the Thomas Jefferson School Science Fair earlier this week, students had the opportunity to make their own “Gak” – or polymer made from Elmer’s glue and Borax. It’s fun to play with for a while, until it ends up stuck to the car floor or buried at the bottom of a backpack.  At least with homemade bread dough and these magic chocolate buns, you get to play with your dough and eat it, too.  For a fun activity and tasty snack all in one, kids can help form the dough balls and stuff them with chocolate chips.  (Easy enough for a 7-year-old – see below.) Or for a special breakfast or brunch item, you could make the dough and form the buns the night before; in the morning, just bake for 20 minutes and serve hot and oozy.

Usually I make the dough for these buns in a bread machine – fast and foolproof. Just dump all the ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) into the bread machine bowl, set to “Dough” cycle and walk away. After about 90 minutes, the dough’s ready to form into balls or be refrigerated until ready to use.  Since not everyone has a bread machine lying around, this morning I tried making the dough with an electric mixer and dough hook. It took a little more “active time”, but the results were just as good. And for a fully unplugged and highly therapeutic version, you could mix and knead the dough entirely by hand, using the week’s frustrations to power the process. (Trying to get blue Gak out of beige carpeting comes to mind.)

Chocolate Buns

  • 1 Recipe multi-purpose Bread Dough (below)
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips (approx. ½ package)

Multi-purpose Bread Dough

  • ½ cup warm water (approx. 110-120ºF, like bathwater)
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • 1 package yeast (preferably RapidRise)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened or melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (not kosher)
  • 3 ¾ cups flour

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