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Chocolate-raspberry bars

These chocolate-raspberry bars  are love at first bite.  The chocolate and raspberry flavors are a match made in heaven. They are as easy to make as brownies but the raspberry-liqueur flavored ganache frosting makes them luxurious enough for a Valentine’s Day dessert.  The cake ingredients also includes raspberry jam, so if you are making them for children you can certainly leave out the raspberry liqueur without losing the special chocolate-raspberry flavor.  You can skip the frosting altogether and serve them simply with a dusting of confectioners sugar.

This recipe is definitely a keeper.  I have been making it as a thank you gift or for celebrations ever since I first came across it in the December 1993 “Food and Wine” magazine in 1993.

Chocolate-raspberry bars

Chocolate-raspberry bars


  • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
  • 2 sticks (8 oz.) plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. raspberry-flavored liqueur such as Chambord (optional)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam


  1. Place 3/4 cup of the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the cream and 2 tsp. of the butter and bring to a boil. Pour the cream/butter mixture over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds. Then whisk until completely smooth. Whisk in 1/2 tsp. of vanilla and the raspberry liqueur. Let cool, then refrigerator until chilled to a spreadable consistency, about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Place remaining 1/2 cup chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate melts. Remove from heat.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the remaining 8 oz. (two sticks) of butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1/4 cup of the jam until well blended. Beat in the melted chocolate and the remaining 1/2 tsp. vanilla. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients in two batches. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20nto 25 minutes until a cake tester or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake will still seem a little squidgy. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
  6. When the cake has cooled completely, spread the ganache frosting over the cake using a large metal offset spatula. Refrigerate for one hour.
  7. Cut into 1 1/2 inch bars and serve.

Thyme Shortbread Cocktail Cookies

I have a confession.  Although I bake a lot I don’t really have a sweet tooth.  Salt is what I crave, especially anything that combines sweet and salty flavors.   These savory thyme shortbread “cocktail cookies” fit the bill.  They dress up a cheese plate and will be a perfect New Year’s Eve nibble with a glass of bubbles. I packaged them up in pretty Christmas cookie boxes and gave them to holiday party hosts this year. I credit  legendary baker and cookbook author Dodie Greenspan for creating the term “cocktail cookies” for her latest book “Dorie’s Cookies.”

Thyme Shortbread Cocktail Cookies

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Yield: 3 dozen

Thyme Shortbread Cocktail Cookies


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped, fresh thyme leaves


  1. Whisk flour, cornmeal and salt together in a small bowl.
  2. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar.
  3. Add egg yolks and chopped thyme leaves.
  4. Add dry ingredients and mix just until dough holds together.
  5. Roll dough into two logs about two inches in diameter. It will be a very crumbly, so you will have to shape them into logs with your hands. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill until firm, about an hour.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. When logs are chilled. Slice into 1/4 inch thick disks.
  8. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake until edges start to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch them carefully because they will bake quickly.
  9. Remove from oven, let cool on a wire rack.


You can substitute other chopped herbs for the thyme.


Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas

I enjoy the weekend after Thanksgiving more than the day itself. On Thanksgiving Day, I made several trips up and down three flights of stairs and did so much lifting and carrying that my body felt like I had spent the day at the gym instead of the kitchen.  It’s one way to burn calories I guess.    This weekend, I have more time to, relax, spend time with friends and family, binge watch the “Mystery Marathon” on my local PBS station and, of course, eat leftovers.

If you find yourself with extra canned pumpkin, try making these tender pumpkin scones.  The don’t take long to make and will impress weekend houseguests. As a bonus, your kitchen will be fragrant with the autumn spices that flavor the dough.  Serve them at a holiday brunch or split them in half for mini turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches after bargain shopping.  Note: Pepitas are the green kernels of pumpkin seeds.  You can buy them ready hulled.

If you like this recipe, please share it.  If you make it, let me know how it turned out.

Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 scones

Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas


  • Caramelized pepitas:
  • 1/4 cup (15 g) pepitas
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Scones:
  • 2 cups (260 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup (15 g) toasted pepitas, walnuts, or pecans
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) canned pure pumpkin
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Egg Wash:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. whole milk


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C.)
  2. For the caramelized pepitas:
  3. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Stir in the sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar turns a reddish brown.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup (15 g) pepitas to coat with the caramel.
  6. Spread out the caramelized pepitas on a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  8. Scone dough:
  9. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  11. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour and spice mixture with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers until it looks like coarse bread crumbs.
  12. Stir in the dried cranberries and toasted pepitas or nuts.
  13. In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, pumpkin and vanilla. Add this wet mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together.
  14. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough gently with floured hands. Pat it into a circle about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) thick and 7 inches (18 cm) diameter.
  15. Cut the circle in half, then into quarters. Cut each quarter into two triangles to make 8 dough triangles. Place the triangles on the baking sheet.
  16. Whisk together the egg and milk to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the dough triangles with the egg wash. Sprinkle each triangle with caramelized pepitas.
  17. Place the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.




Barm Brack (Irish Halloween Bread)

Barm Brack is an Irish Halloween bread containing fruit and spices.

Barm Brack is an Irish bread eaten at Halloween. Fortune-telling charms such as a ring or coin are baked in the bread.

Barm Brack is a fruit bread made with yeast and spices eaten in Ireland around Halloween.  Barm is an old word for yeast and brack comes from breac, the Irish word for spotted., Warm autumn spices make it just the thing with a hot cup of tea on a raw October afternoon.  Toasted for breakfast, it’s a richer version of cinnamon raisin toast.

The bread’s popularity at Halloween is due to fortune-telling charms baked in the bread — a ring means marriage, a coin wealth, cloth poverty.  There is great excitement when someone finds the ring in their slice of brack.  Fortune-telling games were an essential part of Irish Halloween traditions because of the old pagan belief that the veil between this life and the next became thin at this time of the year.   The holiday has its roots in a Celtic harvest celebration that marked the end of the year and honored the dead. The Catholic Church turned the three day festival into a Christian holiday, All Saints’ or Hallows’ Day on November 1 and All Soul’s Day on November 2.  October 31 thus became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. Irish and Scots immigrants brought their holiday to America.  The more ghoulish American version of the holiday has returned to Europe in recent years.  For more about the origins of Halloween, read Edyth Preet’s story in Irish America magazine.

This recipe is adapted from Rachel Allen’s “Irish Family Food”.  I used homemade pumpkin pie spice for a brighter flavor, but you can certainly substitute the store bought spice mix.  My version also includes another American fall flavor — dried cranberries.

Not that it’s ever “safe” to bake tokens in bread, but If you plan to include a charm, be sure it is first well washed in hot soapy water and wrapped in a piece of parchment paper or cheesecloth so it’s easily identified and not accidentally swallowed.

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1 2/3 cups (225 g) white bread flour

2 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (see note for homemade spice mix)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. (25 g) unsalted butter

1 (1/4 oz. or 7 g) package of fast-acting yeast

1/4 cup (50 g) superfine (caster) sugar

2/3 cup (150 ml) whole milk, lukewarm

1 egg beaten

1 1/2 cups (200 g) mixed dried fruit such as golden raisins (sultanas), raisins, cranberries, and currants.

1 oz. (25 g) chopped mixed orange and lemon peel (I had to buy them separately at my supermarket and mix them)


Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 by 5 inch (23 by 13 cm) loaf pan.

Sift the flour, spice and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter, yeast and sugar.  Beat together by hand or in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.

Warm the milk until lukewarm, then add to the flour mixture with the beaten egg. Mix until the dough comes together.  Knead in the stand mixer using the dough hook attachment for 5 minutes or tip out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 8 minutes.  Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and knead for another 2 minutes.   If using charms, add them here.

Put the dough into the prepared tin, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius).

Remove the kitchen towel, place loaf in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until deep golden brown.  Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf, if it comes out clean, the bread is baked through.  If not, bake for another few minutes.   When it is ready, loosen the sides of the loaf from the tin using a spatula.  Tip it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Slice the loaf and serve it fresh or toasted with plenty of butter.

Note: To make homemade pumpkin pie spice, mix together 3 tbsp. ground cinnamon, 2 tbsp. ground ginger, 2 tsps. freshly ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice and 1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves.  You will only need 2 tbsp. for the brack, save the rest in an airtight container for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.






Irish Scones

These are the famous Irish scones I bring to work every year at St. Patrick’s Day.  They go so fast, that coworkers have been known to wait at the elevators for my arrival to be sure they snag one. These light as air scones are a far cry from the heavy, dry and glazed versions sold at a popular coffee chain.

My Auntie Anna from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, generously shared this recipe with me. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it, for instance using plain, whole milk yogurt instead of buttermilk for a lighter dough.   I also play around with adding ingredients to  the dough such as sultanas (golden raisins), dried cranberries and orange peel in the winter, apple and cinnamon walnut in the autumn or cheese and onion for cocktail parties.  Feel free to experiment with your favorite flavors, the recipe lends itself to creativity.   Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish Scones

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 17 minutes

Yield: 2 dozen scones

Irish Scones


  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda sieved
  • 1/3 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) butter chilled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.
  4. Add the egg.
  5. Fold in the yogurt. At this point add dried fruit or other ingredients if using.
  6. Using an ice-cream scoop, scoop out the scone dough and place on greased baking sheets.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and the baking sheets and let cool on a wire rack.
  9. Serve with butter and jam.

If you like this recipe, please share it.

Holiday gift from the kitchen, spiced pecans

Spiced pecans are my signature holiday food gift.

Spiced pecans are my signature holiday food gift.


Spiced pecans have become my signature holiday party food gift.  Crunchy, salty and sweet with a touch of heat, they are an irresistible cocktail snack.  They also add personality to a cheese plate or a simple green salad.

A homemade food gift is more personal and saves money, and who doesn’t want to save money at this time of the year?   I buy the pecans at a warehouse club and package them in repurposed mason or jam jars decorated with a bit of Christmas ribbon or a sprig of fresh holly or rosemary from the garden.

If you like this recipe, please share it.

Spiced Pecans


  • 2 cups unsalted pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's (icing) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne or ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, cover the pecans with water. Transfer to a sieve and shake out water.
  2. 2. In another bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, cayenne or cinnamon and salt. Add the pecans and toss. Transfer to a sieve and shake off the excess coating.
  3. 3. Arrange the pecans on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the sugar carmelizes and the nuts are golden. Let cool and package in decorated mason or jam jars.


Victoria Sandwich

Victoria Sponge

My dad’s birthday is June 18 and Father’s Day usually falls close by, if not on his actual birthday.  He loves cakes and sweets and misses Irish cakes.  This year, for his birthday/Father’s Day I decided to make him a Victoria Sandwich —  an old fashioned cake that I don’t think I’ve made since I was 13 or 14. It’s a very light sponge with a filling of fresh cream and jam (my school recipe calls for a chocolate buttercream filling which I remember being good.)  It used to be the classic afternoon tea cake.  Since I made it as a young teen, you know it’s not a complicated recipe.

Although I wrote down the ingredients,  I did not write down the steps involved in actually making the cake and for some mind-boggling reason we were instructed to use margarine —  this was in Ireland, a country awash in possibly the best butter in the world. I definitely wanted a recipe that used butter and needed to confirm that I remembered how to make the cake. And, since June is strawberry season, I also wanted to include fresh berries with the jam.

I found this recipe for Victoria Sponge using butter and fresh strawberries on Irish chef Kevin Dundon’s website.  He included it in his “Back to Basics” cooking series that airs on PBS.  As I’ve noted before, organic cream makes a big difference in the flavor of cream cakes. It’s even a different color than standard whipping cream — more yellow.  Yes, it is more expensive, but how often do you eat cream cakes?   They are meant to be a treat. This is how it turned out.  As my neighbor commented “not shabby” for a cake I haven’t made since I was a young teenager.  I won’t wait that long to make it again, maybe with raspberries next month.  Happy birthday dad!

This is the recipe for Victoria Sandwich I wrote in the back of my secondary school cookery book when I was 13.

This is the recipe for Victoria Sandwich I wrote in the back of my secondary school cookery book when I was 13.

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Hidden Treasures at Printer’s Row Lit Fest


Used cookbooks I found at the Printer's Row Litfest.

Used cookbooks I found at the Printer’s Row Litfest.

If you go to the annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest  in Chicago this weekend I recommend spending some time at the many used book stalls.   They’re a treasure trove for lovers of vintage cookbooks.  Several years ago I found “A Taste of Ireland in Food and in Pictures” by the esteemed  Irish food writer Theodora FitzGibbon, ( Food writing was the least of her accomplishments. Read her biography “A Taste for Love.”) published by Pan in 1970.   Three years ago — on my birthday — I did one last search through a stack of used books before leaving the festival.  I nearly fell over when among the dog-eared and stained volumes I discovered  the 1959 paperback edition of the James Beard Cookbook and saw that it had been autographed by the great man himself.

James Beard autograph

James Beard autograph

I felt like the universe had given me a birthday gift.  Both of these vintage cookbooks have become indispensable in my  growing collection.  I can’t wait to see what I find this year.

Irish Wine – Who’d Have Drunk It?

Concannon Vineyards

Concannon Vineyards

Last week, my friends Dolores and Dan invited me to their house for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of beef and Guinness stew.  When I told Dolores that I had brought an “Irish” wine for the dinner, she looked at me as if I had two heads.  Even to my Irish friends, the idea of Irish wine seems like a joke.  Not many of them know that one of the first families of California wine making is descended from an Irish immigrant.  I had just read about pioneering winemaker James Concannon on the Daily Sip blog.   What a great story. He was born in the Aran Islands on St. Patrick’s Day, 1847, and, like many young Irishmen, left Ireland at 18 in search of adventure and better opportunities.  He made his way to Mexico and California and was engaged in all kinds of business endeavors.  In 1883, he purchased a property in the Livermore Valley, California, initially to make communion wine for the Catholic Church. Four generations later, the Concannon family is still producing wine at that same vineyard and is very proud of its Irish heritage.  In 2012, John Concannon produced an Irish whiskey aged in Concannon Petite Sirah casks as a tribute to his great grandfather.

When President Ronald Reagan — a former Governor of California — visited the birthplace of his parents in 1984, he presented a Methuselah (6 liter bottle) of Concannon Reserve Petite Sirah 1979 vintage to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald as an official gift from the United States.  I doubt that James Concannon could ever have imagined that one day his family’s wine would be presented to the Prime Minister of an independent Ireland by an Irish American President of the United States.

I love this story so much and since Concannon is close enough to my own surname, I think Concannon Vineyards is going to be my new “house” wine.

For more information about the history of Concannon family, their wines and family recipes go to the Concannon Vineyard web site.

(For a fascinating history of Irish winemakers around the world, read “A Kingdom of Wine” by Ted Murphy published by the Ireland Fund Winegeese Society.)

Irish Fish Chowder

This is the perfect warming bowl after you get home cold and hungry from the St. Patrick’s Day parade.   The genius thing is it only takes about 20 minutes to make and is filling enough for dinner.

I recently saw Irish chef Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House in Wexford on TV making the fish chowder they serve in the hotel.  It looked so easy and delicious that I couldn’t wait to make my own version. In Chicago, we don’t have the same selection of fish that they have in Ireland, so I improvised using the wild fish my local supermarket had available.  I even threw in half a can of wild Alaskan salmon that I was leftover from lunch.  What makes this chowder Irish is the smoked salmon, but  other than that, feel free to use any other fish and seafood available to you.  I have converted everything into American measurements.

Nil geal an gaire ach san ait a mbionn an biadh — laughter is brightest were the food is best.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

If you like this recipe, please share it.  If you make it, please come back and comment and let me know how you made it your own.


Irish Fish Chowder

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 serving

Serving Size: one bowl

Irish Fish Chowder


  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 small leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 2 medium red potatoes peeled and cubed
  • 2 oz. smoked salmon, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fish or seafood stock (I used Swanson's seafood stock in a box)
  • 1/4 lb. sockeye salmon, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed.
  • 1/4 pound cod, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed
  • 1/4 pound haddock, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed
  • 6 Key West shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tbsp. chopped, fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt and pepper


  1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add leek, onion, carrot, potato and smoked salmon. Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables soften
  3. Pour in the wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half.
  4. Add the fish or seafood stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then add the fresh fish and shellfish.
  5. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the tarragon, cream, salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Serve in bowls with fresh bread and butter