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Conversation Heart Cupcakes

My husband’s 30th birthday is coming up this weekend. I was reminiscing about past birthdays in anticipation of this one and I thought I would share what I did for him a few years ago.  There was a short period when I had to fill in and be the pastry department at work.  I was leaving the house at hours previously unknown to me and I was not going to see Patrick at all on his birthday.  I decided to make conversation heart cupcakes so that they could cheerfully greet him that morning in my absence.  These would, of course, be the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day party or even as a treat in a loved one’s lunch box. It’s a creative and yummy way to say “I love You.”



1 box of Cake Mix, your favorite flavor (look, these cupcakes are somewhat labor intensive in the decorating department, there is no need to go overboard and make a cake from scratch unless you have several hours to kill).

Eggs, as specified on box of Cake Mix

Oil, as specified on box of Cake Mix

Water, as specified on box of Cake Mix


1/2 cup Butter, softened

4 cups Powdered Sugar

2 teaspoon Vanilla

4 tablespoons Milk

4 pack of Food Coloring


4 ounces White Chocolate Chips

Special Equipment:

Silicone Heart Shaped Cupcake “Pan” (such as one sold by Wilton at craft stores)

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Orange Glazed Cedar Plank Salmon

Cedar plank grilling is one of my favorite methods of salmon preparation.  I first encountered it at a little restaurant I worked for in Michigan years ago.  We had dozens of cedar planks soaking in a bucket and the scent when they hit the flames was intoxicating. Since that summer if there is a cedar plank salmon on the menu chances are good that’s what I’m ordering.  Up until recently I was reticent to try cooking salmon this way at home, but since we moved into a house and have a full sized grill at our disposal this is no longer a restaurant only treat.  This easy to execute recipe is courtesy of Gina Knox founder of Fire and Flavor.


4 (6 ounce) Salmon filets, skin removed

3 tablespoons Pure Maple Syrup

3 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar

1 tablespoon Orange Zest

Salt and Pepper

1 tablespoon Sesame Seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon Chives, minced

Special Equipment Needed: 1 large or 4 small Cedar Planks

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The cool days and cold night of autumn bring apples into season.  There are a multitude of ways to use apples in your cooking at this time of year from pies to cider.  One particularly easy way to cook with apples is to make applesauce.  It is much easier than one might think, and in fact makes you wonder why one would ever purchase store bought applesauce  again.


4 apples (I used 2 MacIntosh and 2 Braeburn)

1 Stick Cinnamon plus ground cinnamon to taste

1/4 Nutmeg Kernel or 1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

3 Cardamom Pods

1 Star Anise

1 3/4  cup Apple Cider

Brown Sugar to taste

1/4 teaspoon Salt

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Madras curry powder is filled with the warmth of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves, along a host of other spices.  This soup pairs the subtle heat of the curry with the savory fall flavors of butternut squash and crisp, tart apple.  Top that off with a touch of sweetness and you have a fabulous fall soup that’s just a little bit out of the ordinary.


2 cups Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed

1 cup Granny Smith Apple, peeled, seeded, and cubed

2/3 cup diced Yellow Onion

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 cups Chicken Stock

1/2 to 1 tablespoon Madras Curry Powder (the amount depends on how potent you want your soup)

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated Ginger Root

2 tablespoons real Maple Syrup

1 tablespoon Butter

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 tablespoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

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It’s just one of those days…

I believe the adage goes “You want to make God laugh?  Tell him about your plans.”  There have been a lot of changes and uncertainties in my life recently.  Some are good, some are bad, and most are completely beyond my control.  For me this a a recipe for sleepless nights, high emotion, and introspection.  It’s hard for a control freak to just go with the flow, and while I can tell myself a million cliches about closing doors and opening windows and things that are meant to be, it’s just not always that easy to take a step back and breath.  This is where comfort food comes in.  I am not the type of person who eats when upset, on the contrary I tend not to eat when I am upset, but once I am convinced to eat (either by a concerned loved one or sheer biological need) there are just certain foods that make it a little bit better.  Luckily they are generally high in calories which makes up for the not eating part of the equation.  Things that I find to be particularly good when I am feeling down include tomato basil soup (cream based, of course), macaroni and cheese, chai tea, and chocolate.  I find it amazing how food can play a role in transforming a mood and lifting your spirit.  It’s a fabulous profession to be in where you can have such an immediate affect on the people you serve.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Cumberland Sauce

Cumberland Sauce is a great condiment to use in the Fall.  It goes well with almost any cold meat from turkey to pork loin.  It’s a great way to jazz up your holiday party left overs or even to add some interest to your holiday party meat and cheese platter (warning: it does not pair well with parmesan style cheeses, it does, however, go well with a bleu such as Maytag).

Cumberland Sauce

Cumberland Sauce with Smoked Duck and Bleu Cheese


2 Oranges

1 Lemon

1 medium Shallot

1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil

6 1/4 teaspoon of finely minced Ginger

1/2 cup of Ruby Port

6 oz Red Current Jelly

2 teaspoons Coleman’s English Mustard

1 teaspoon Salt

1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

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Harvest Festival Cookies


Harvest Festival Cookies


1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup of crisco (you can use all butter if you so desire)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup tightly packed brown sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

2 cups of rolled oats (not quick oats)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 cup pecan pieces (you could substitute walnuts for a more earthy taste)

3/4 cup craisins

1/2 cup brandy or bourbon (such as Jack Daniels), optional.

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