Inspired & Spirited Birthday Dessert

all warm and melted Bill dug in before I could light the candle

all warm and melted Bill dug in to his sticky toffee pudding cake before I could light the candle

It was a good week celebrating Bill’s birthday with lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, The Whip Tavern, followed by dinner with Caitlin and Sam the day after. I was pretty certain what Bill wanted for his birthday dinner, but thought I’d ask anyway. Sure enough, “shrimp ‘n grits” followed by “sticky toffee pudding cake”.

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

The thought of shrimp n’ grits always brings me back to Charleston, SC. It was there that Bill and I last got to spend time with William. Just a few short days catching up and hanging out enjoying a little southern comfort. We also heard all about his future scout sniper training before we hugged and said good-bye.

very proud

very proud

Those days with Will are among our most priceless and I know this week Bill was missing that birthday phone call from his best buddy. He is working through his grief in his own quiet way and hopefully believing that Will is with us all the time, at least, in spirit.

first pheasant

first pheasant

And that spirit inspires me to create this dessert to celebrate Bill in a sweet way. Not a fan of dates? Sticky Toffee Pudding will change your mind, I guarantee!

Dark Muscovado sugar has a fine, moist texture with a high molasses content that blends well with strong coffee. I use the India Tree brand from Mauritius. Brandy plays well with both the dates and the coffee adding that spirited touch I love so much.

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

Inspired & Spirited Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

8 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1 cup very hot strong coffee

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, room temperature


1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray (10) 1-cup ramekins with non-stick baking spray. Place dates in a bowl, pour coffee and brandy over dates; let soak 15 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add lemon zest and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add half the flour mixture beating until combined. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Scoop batter into ramekins filling about ¾ full; place on a baking sheet. Bake until cakes are puffed and spring back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, for sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and brandy in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove cakes from oven. With a wooden skewer poke holes in cakes. Spoon half of hot sauce over cake (1 ½ tablespoons per cake) and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*Note: dark brown sugar can be used in place of muscovado

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

Open Blue Cobia Challenge It’s Delicious


miso marinated and grilled cobia with pickled cucumbers and gingered tomato sauce

You all know how I love a recipe challenge, so when Open Blue put out the call to bloggers to create recipes using cobia I was like, what? Cobia? What the heck is Cobia? Well it turns out my husband, the fisherman, knew all about cobia. He is so smart.cobia

After a study of Open Blue’s web site I learned quite a bit about sustainable open ocean aquaculture and the omega 3 health benefits of cobia, but mostly I was excited to try a fish described as “the new white meat” with a firm moist texture perfect for grilling. Luckily, the fish monger over at Wegman’s clued me in to be at the store on Friday at 1 pm to have first dibs on the new shipment. The fish is so fresh that it can even be eaten raw.

Hope you will give my Asian marinated and grilled version of cobia a try. The recipe is inspired by my just picked garden cucumbers and tomatoes. Fresh from the deep blue ocean waters paired with fresh from the garden just seems right.

Miso Marinated Cobia with Gingered Tomato Sauce and Pickled Cucumber

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pickled Cucumbers

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into ¼-inch slices

1/4-cup water

1/2-cup white vinegar

1/3-cup sugar

1-teaspoon kosher salt

4 ice cubes

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into ¼-inch slices

Miso Marinated Cobio

¼-cup sugar

¼-cup white miso paste

¼-cup sake

2-tablespoons mirin

1-tablespoon vegetable oil

2-teaspoons soy sauce

1 large clove garlic, minced

4 Open Blue Cobia filets (4 to 6 ounces each)

Gingered Tomato Sauce

1-tablespoon olive oil

1 -teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1-teaspoon sesame oil

6 plum tomatoes, halved, seeded, chopped


Fresh cilantro leaves

Toasted sesame seeds, optional

For pickled cucumbers: Bring water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot mixture into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in ice cubes until melted. Add cucumbers to pickling liquid; let stand at least 30 minutes. Chill until ready to serve.

For marinade, whisk sugar, miso, sake, mirin, vegetable oil, soy sauce and garlic until smooth; reserve 3 tablespoons. Pour remaining marinade over cobia in a zippered plastic bag; seal bag squeezing out as much air as possible. Marinate cobia for 30 minutes or as long as overnight. Meanwhile, prepare gingered tomato sauce. In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add ginger, sesame oil and reserved marinade; stir for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened.

Heat grill to high heat. Remove cobia from marinade (discard marinade); pat fish dry with paper towel. On lightly greased grill, cook Cobia for 2 minutes or until dark grill marks form and fish releases easily. Turn cobia, reduce heat to medium, and continue grilling 6 to 8 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. To serve: arrange some cucumbers over center of each serving plate. Top with a fish filet. Spoon gingered tomato sauce over top of fish. Garnish with cilantro and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serves 4.

Note: to cook indoors fish can be browned under the broiler and then roasted in the oven at 400F.

A New Caprese! It’s the Jam

life on the deck is delicious

life on the deck is delicious with burrata, toasted fennel tomato jam and other assorted goodies

Here is a summery spin on Will’s all-time favorite caprese salad. He loved fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and fragrant hand-shredded Italian basil with a drizzle of quality extra-virgin olive oil and the occasional splash of balsamic syrup. Along with a crusty baguette the boy was happy to feast on what he considered one of the world’s best appetizers…..after fried calamari. He had such good taste.

one of my favorites of Will & Cait

one of my favorites of Will & Cait

But you know me. There has to be a new caprese in town. And this one is the jam. Toasted fennel tomato jam….ahhh! Wait till you taste it. With its combination of fresh herbs and spices it might remind you just for a second of your favorite Italian sausage or sweet pizza sauce. It’s the perfect recipe when the garden is overflowing with fresh ripe plum tomatoes or with a beautiful meaty mix of heirlooms from your favorite farmer’s market.

toasted fennel tomato jam

toasted fennel tomato jam

If you only ever make one recipe from my blog this is the one. The jam will last at least 3 weeks refrigerated (honey and vinegar and salt are natural preservatives), but if you are into canning then up to a year if you seal and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

delicious all year long

delicious all year long

Eating this in the winter would certainly make it feel like summer all over again. It makes a great sandwich spread (think BLT or grilled cheese) and perfect with fresh mozzarella or  burrata, basil and crackers. How about on a burger? Oh, yeah!

a new caprese

a new caprese

Toasted Fennel Tomato Jam

34-cup honey

4 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into 12-inch dice, (14 cups, diced)

14-cup apple cider vinegar

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground

12 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

12 tsp. smoked paprika

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In large non-reactive saucepan, cook the honey over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, for 6 minutes or until it darkens slightly in color. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar, salt, fennel, pepper and smoked paprika, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a loose jam consistency, about 2 hours. You will have about 4 cups of jam. Stir in basil. Pour into heat-proof containers. Chill. Makes 4 cups.

And if you like it spicy add a bit of crushed red pepper flakes

fresh oregano on top

fresh oregano on top