Slow Cooker Browned Beef Stew


This is a super easy way to have a hot and savory dinner on the table fast. I took another 10 minutes to make some Bisquick biscuits to top it off.  This recipe makes 4-6 hearty servings.


2 1/2 pounds cubed beef stew meat

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can Campbell’s Golden Mushroom Soup

8 ounces water

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/2 pound baby carrots

1 small onion, sliced

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste


Place cubed beef in ziploc bag, and toss with flour. Place in heated saucepan with olive oil and brown beef evenly on each side – approximately 10 minutes.

Add beef, soup, water, onion, carrots and potatoes to crockpot. Cook on “high” for 5 1/2 hours.  Stir in wine and remaining ingredients and cook an additional 30 minutes.

Notes: Make sure you buy “golden mushroom” soup and not cream of mushroom soup. I found some nice rainbow baby heirloom carrots and they added a colorful touch to the dish. You can use any hearty red wine  – I used Barbera but pretty much any red wine will work. If you have port, that is even better…

mushroom souprainbow carrots

Mini Pumpkin Custards

mini pumpkin custards

These little treats are a great substitute for pumpkin pie – and with only 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein – you don’t have to save them for a special meal like Thanksgiving.

adapted from Very Best Baking


3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin

1 can (12 ounces) Evaporated Fat Free Milk

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and dry ingredients. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour evenly into 6 ounce ramekins and place on baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until soft-set (knife inserted into ramekin comes out almost clean). Cool on wire rack for two hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel, if desired. pumpkincustards

Dark Chocolate Dipped Madelines


The idea for this recipe came from Starbucks -they discontinued my favorite chocolate dipped madeleines and now just have the plain ones. Then I found this amazing product – Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers – that made this recipe even easier to make.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup sugar

4 ounces Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 degrees if using a dark metallic nonstick madeleine pan). Melt butter in microwave. Let cool for 5 minutes then brush butter lightly into each madeleine plaque. Let remaining butter cool another 5-10 minutes until just warm. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Combine egg, lemon peel, vanilla bean paste, almond extract and sugar and beat for 15-20 seconds at medium speed. Stir into flour mixture and beat a few seconds more. Add reserved butter and mix thoroughly until just combined. (do not over mix) Spoon into molds of pan, dividing equally (each mold should be a little more than half full) Bake 12-14 minutes until just golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes, then unmold and transfer to wire rack to cool thoroughly. Melt chocolate in a glass Pyrex measuring cup in microwave. Dip each madeleine in glass cup and set on wax paper to dry. These are best served the same day, or you can store in airtight container an additional day or two.

Gooey Butter Cake – a St. Louis original!

Gooey Butter Close Up

This weekend the hubs and I are invited to a friend’s Octoberfest party and of course everyone is supposed to bring German food to share.  We both have some German ancestors, but I rarely, if ever, cook German food. So I was wracking my brain to think of German dishes as I was browsing recipes on my laptop while sitting in front of the television watching baseball – then inspiration hit. Watching my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, made me think of all of the uniquely St. Louis foods I remember eating growing up. My favorite was an awesomely decadent treat called Gooey Butter Cake.

Like most urban legends, there are several different versions of how it was created and each probably has some element of truth to it. This is how Wikipedia describes it: Gooey butter cake is a type of cake traditionally made in the American Midwest city of St. Louis. Gooey butter cake is a flat and dense cake made with wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, typically near an inch tall, and dusted with powdered sugar. While sweet and rich, it is somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct variants of the gooey butter: a bakers’ gooey butter and a cream cheese and a yellow cake mix variant. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of butter and flour. John Hoffman was the owner of the bakery where the mistake was made. The real story is there are two types of butter “smears” used in a bakery: a gooey butter and a deep butter. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for things like Danish rolls and stollens. The gooey butter was smeared across the surface, then the item was placed in coconut, hazelnuts, peanuts, crumbs or whatever was desired so they would stick to the product. Hoffman hired a new baker that was supposed to make deep butter cakes, but got the two butter smears mixed up. The mistake wasn’t caught until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them up. This was around the time of the Great Depression so that was another reason to be thrifty. The new type of cake sold so well, Hoffman kept producing them and soon, so did the other bakers around St. Louis. Today, the best place in St. Louis to buy it is here…

exterior Gooey Louie

This is Gooey Louie’s…yes an ENTIRE STORE dedicated to Gooey Butter Cake!

Tthey sell about 10 different variations in addition to the original favorites are Chocolate Chip and “Hwy 40: Driving Me Nuts”.


The version I make is the “shortcut” version with yellow cake mix but honestly I have made it from scratch and with cake mix and the taste is almost identical. Try it and you can call yourself a St. Louisan for a day…then tell me if you can stop at just one piece!

Susan’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake


1 box yellow cake mix

3 large eggs, divided

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or good quality vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 by 9 inch or 9 by 11 inch baking pan with nonstick flour based spray.  In a medium sized bowl, combine yellow cake mix, 1 egg and melted butter. Press into pan with your fingers, making a crust up the sides. It should look like this:


Use an electric mixer to blend cream cheese, 2 beaten eggs and 2 cups powdeded sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Pour into pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until edges are browned. Dust with remaining powdered sugar after cake has cooled. Serve at room temperature. Store in airtight cake safe at room temperature. We are off to the party – hope the Butterkuchen is a hit!


Awesome Artisan Bread

Originally posted on Berries and Cocoa:


This bread is amazing. I have been making it for several years – and it always comes out great. This is truly the easiest to make, best tasting and cheapest (less than a dollar a loaf) bread you will ever make – and when I say easy – you might not want to tell your friends and family how really easy it is to make or they will expect you to make it ALL the time! There are only four ingredients and while it does take some planning, it is easy even for the novice baker. This bread is easy to prepare but you need to do it the night before you want to serve it as there is a long “resting” time – that is what makes this bread taste so great!  This recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread, available on


5  3/4 cups…

View original 389 more words

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Choc Chip

Today is the first day it seems like fall – maybe because it is the first day in months I can remember it not being at least 90 degrees. Also, it is raining today – yay! (for most of you this might not be such a cause for celebration – but this is our first fall rain and we are in year three of a major drought in northern California) If you notice that your fruits and veggies are a bit pricier – that’s because this is where the majority of vegetables and nuts are grown in the US – and we have had a bone dry summer with several major wildfires. My hubby and I are wondering how all of this draught and smoke are affecting the wine grapes…..but that is a story for another blog post. In the fall I dig out all of my pumpkin recipes and pretty much go pumpkin crazy. I don’t think about the stuff any other time of year – but the first cool day and I start to is the proof:


This was what I brought home from my first trip to Trader Joe’s from last fall. I know….but those of you who are hard core foodies will totally get it. So for the next month or so, I will be sharing my favorite recipes from Pumpkinville. First up are these amazing muffins – low in fat, high in flavor. Grab one out the door in the morning with your cup of coffee, or keep them on hand for pop by guests. Super easy to make, and you can double the recipe if you are expecting a crowd for brunch.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 can solid pack pumpkin (my favorite is Trader Joe’s Organic but you can use any brand)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli..and no, they aren’t paying me to say that. i just love their chocolate!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12 inch standard size cupcake tin with baking cups. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in medium bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs and 1 1/4 cups sugar. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide batter among muffin cups , each will be about 3/4 full. Stir together last tablespoon of sugar and teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle equally over each muffin. Bake until puffed and golden brown and wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack five minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature.


More pumpkin treats to follow….

Ghirardelli Chocolate Toffee Brownies


Brownies…who doesn’t love brownies? No one in this house – they are one of the most requested desserts. As much as I love cooking and baking, I have used the box mix more often than not. They are super easy to make and always taste great. Sometimes I even hide the box and pretend I made them from scratch. There is definitely a difference between the box and from scratch and making them from scratch is worth the time. I have been experimenting with different recipes and this is the current favorite. It is the perfect combination of cakey vs fudgy brownies – if you want them even cakier you can add in another egg. If you aren’t a toffee fan, you can substitute chocolate chips or walnuts if you like.

The secret to this whole deal is using a very good quality chocolate…this is the one I use:


Ghirardelli 60% cacao…I love baking with this! Ever since my visit to the factory in San Francisco in 1985, I have been hooked on this brand.  Another good quality baking chocolate to try is Scharffen Berger. Trader Joe’s is really good too….


2 bars (7ounces) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate baking bar

1/2 cup plus one tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or good vanilla extract

1/2 cup Heath English Toffee bits

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper over hangs by a few inches.

Melt chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool. If you don’t have a double boiler, place in microwave safe dish and microwave on half power in 30 second increments, stirring after each time. Stir until thoroughly blended, let cool for 5 minutes.

In a seperate bowl, add eggs and beat slightly, then stir in sugars, eggs, vanilla and Heath bits. Stir until well blended. Add chocolate mixture and and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Pour mixture into pan and spread evenly, smoothing top. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool. When cooled, lift brownies out of pan using the overhanging parchment paper. Cut into squares and watch them disappear!


*Inspired by a recipe on the website “Bake or Break”