Sunday, August 31, 2014

Clara Diesslin's Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Clara Diesslin -- my father's sweet, hardworking mother, farm wife, and much loved grandmother -- was known as Grandma, or Grandma Gus, to many.  She was, as were many of her generation, a skilled baker (along with many other talents). Whenever we went to the farm to visit the first thing I did was run to the kitchen to check out the cookie jar; it was always filled with soft, buttery, thick, large, crumbly sugar cookies.  She also made hot cross buns for Easter that I adored, and baked her own bread, served with her own churned butter.

Grandma and me, circa 1959?

I have several of her recipes but this one, her hot milk sponge cake, is the one I use the most.  It's quick, easy, and so good served so many ways. It's also unlike any cake recipe I've ever seen, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't unique to her.  It's probably been lost as people stopped baking cakes from scratch in favor of cake mixes.  This is nearly as easy as a cake mix and one of only a very few cakes that I really like.

My favorite reason for baking it is as the support for garden-fresh strawberries instead of the more traditional biscuit-type shortcake, but I've topped it with many kinds of fruits and sometimes ice cream.  Until this weekend, however, I never thought to top it with blueberries. I have blueberries in my freezer given to me by a friend and was trying to think of a good dessert for some of them. I was watching a recent episode of "Chopped" on Food Network.   Voila!  Instant inspiration! and super-easy dessert. I would love to take credit for the blueberry topping recipe idea but I owe it to a contestant on television.


  • 4 eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 c. unbleached flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 t. vanilla


Beat eggs until light-colored.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat well.  Add milk which has been heated with the butter (do not boil).  Beat.  Add dry ingredients and beat. Pour into greased 9x13 pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Serve plain, with fruit, with ice cream, or use your imagination!


My favorite variation is to make it with almond extract.  That's what I did this time, to tie in with the blueberry topping.  Also, it can be easily cut in half and baked in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan (adjust baking time slightly).  I've also used whole wheat pastry flour and really like the flavor that adds.  


  • blueberries (about 2 c.)
  • maple syrup (maybe 1/4 c.)
  • almond extract (1 t or less)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt, if desired

Sometimes I'm not good about measuring ingredients. This is one of those times.  So do it to taste, using my measurements as a starting point.  Throw it all in a saucepan, heat it lightly, remove from heat and let it cool or serve it warm.  When serving, drizzle on plenty of the juice so it can soak into the cake a bit.  Add whipped cream for a bit of decadence.  

The salt and pepper were my additions, to balance the sweetness a bit.  The almond extract is excellent with blueberries (thanks, Chopped!).  

In this photo you can see how sponge cake gets its name.  Lots of airy pockets to help that topping soak in!

Any cake that makes it through over 40 years in my recipe box definitely makes me want to cook, eat, dance, love!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Roasted Rosemary Nuts

Perfect snack with your favorite summer beverage:  spicy-sweet-salty-herby nuts.

I saw the original recipe from Farm Cafe in Portland, Oregon when I was still living there. I tried it but something didn't quite work for me (or I did something wrong, who knows).  I kept the recipe because I was convinced I would like it but it's been in my files, ignored, for nearly 10 years.  

I dusted it off recently and was inspired to make them again, with some revisions from the original recipe.  I used almonds instead of hazelnuts -- the latter aren't as available here as in the Northwest, and aren't as inexpensive.  I changed the method a bit but kept all other ingredients as listed.  Here, then, is what I did.


  • 2 c. almonds
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 3 T. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 T. kosher salt
  • 5 dashes hot pepper sauce 

Slowly heat sugar, salt, hot sauce, and a tablespoon of water in a pan over low heat.  Stir constantly until sugar is melted and very warm, adding another tablespoon of water if needed, but keep it minimal.  Give the heat a chance to melt the sugar; if you add too much water it will be too liquid-y.  

Stir in nuts and rosemary; transfer to pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper, keeping nuts in a single layer.  Bake at 325 for 15 minutes, stirring every 4-5 minutes. Keep a close eye the oven as the nuts can brown quickly.  Remove from oven and transfer quickly to a clean sheet of parchment paper.  Cool completely and break apart; store in airtight container.


These are yummy -- a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and herb.  I halved the recipe but didn't reduce the hot sauce and still can barely detect it so next time I'll increase it just a little.

Use only the minimum amount of water you can get away with or your nuts may turn out more sticky-gooey than nicely glazed. 

I picked up the sheet of parchment paper from the baking pan to toss when I realized the leftover glaze was coming off in flaky bits.  I saved all this sweet rosemary goodness to add to salads... and may think of some other uses as well!

I don't remember what I didn't like about these the first time I tried  making them but I'm hooked now! They make me want to cook, eat, dance, love!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Plain and Simple

Sometimes food is so succulent, so juicy, so full of flavor, that it needs no embellishment or cooking; it just needs to be enjoyed.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spinach Pesto and Beyond

After several years of just feeling so-so about spinach (I used to love it, but then, I used to grow my own and got spoiled; yes, homegrown is noticeably better), I found myself eating a lot of spinach this spring.  Always looking for new recipes, I found several for spinach pesto and decided to give it a try.  Most of the recipes you'll find on line are very similar.  Here's my version:


Ingredients, per serving:

  • 1/2 c. loosely packed spinach
  • 2 T. toasted walnuts, lightly chopped
  • 1 T. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 t. lemon juice
  • 1-2 T. extra virgin olive oil


If you've made pesto before, you know the routine.  In your food processor, pulse to blend the spinach, nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, and lemon juice.  While running processor, drizzle in the olive oil to get the consistency you want.


I love this.  The flavors are bright and fresh without being overpowering.  Put on warm pasta, spread on bread for your favorite sandwich (try a sourdough grilled mozzarella cheese sandwich with a thin layer of pesto and some sliced tomato), add to a little sour cream for a dip, or try whatever appeals to you.

I like this much better than basil pesto, and I feel like a traitor for saying that because I love basil.  But for whatever reason, I just don't care that much for basil pesto.  Once or twice a year I love it but that's it.  Sorry, basil pesto lovers!  

I used walnuts but you can use whatever you like.  Toasting them adds another layer of flavor.

I've kept this for over a week with no discoloration (like with basil pesto) and it still tasted good.  I wouldn't keep it much longer than that; it can also be frozen in ice cube trays like basil pesto.

In looking for ways to use spinach pesto, I ran across several similar recipes for a spinach pesto salad.  I modified what I found slightly and made this:


Ingredients (per serving):
  • 2 T. spinach pesto
  • 2 ounces pasta of choice
  • 3-4 cherry tomatoes
  • shaved parmesan
  • 2 T. chopped green onion

  • 1 T. pesto
  • 1 T. sour cream
  • 1 T. mayo
  • pepper
  • dash lemon juice
  • spinach or lettuce of choice


Cook pasta al dente; drain and put in bowl with 2 T. pesto.  Mix well. Chill.

Make dressing:  combine sour cream, pesto, mayo, pepper.  Use lemon juice to thin dressing a bit (you can also add milk).  Bring pasta out and dress; toss with green onions.

To serve, put a layer of lettuce or spinach in a bowl or on a plate; top with pasta, cherry tomatoes, and shaved parmesan.

Serve with bread or crackers, if desired.


The more I ate this the more I liked it.  If you want to make this ahead, don't add the lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and shaved parmesan until just before serving to keep all flavors as fresh as possible.  You could also add mozzarella cheese, black olives, mushrooms.  I think next time I'll make it without the spinach but it was a good addition. 

However you make it, don't forget to cook, eat, dance, love!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blueberry Tart

Holiday weekends often find me playing in the kitchen. This weekend is no exception.  Here's a recipe I found last summer and am enjoying again this weekend.  It's quick and easy.


  • one sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • about 1/4 c. jam of choice -- I used peach but blackberry would be good
  • about 8 ounces of blueberries
  • cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.  Unfold puff pastry and cut in half for two rectangles; place on baking sheet.  Score each rectangle about 1/3" from edge to create a rim. Spread thinly with jam; sprinkle with cinnamon and top with blueberries.  Bake about 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden.

Serve warm or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.


This is a very light dessert, perfect for summer evenings, blueberries soaking a little into the flaky crust with a bit of sweetness from the jam.  I think a little lemon zest on top of the jam would be a good addition.  Other spices could be used in addition to/instead of the cinnamon (fresh ginger or cardamom comes to mind).  I will also use a few more more blueberries next time, but there's lots of blueberry tang in every bite already.  

Cook, eat, dance, love!