Cooking, Crafting, Creating, Living

Cream of Butternut Squash Soup with Tomato December 21, 2011

This simple, delicious soup is the perfect pairing of sweet butternut sauce and tangy grape tomatoes.  


1 whole Butternut Squash

1 small Sweet Onion (diced)

3 cloves Garlic

2 Celery Stalks (chopped)

2 large Carrots (chopped)

2 tbls butter

1 1/2 cups Golden Cooking Wine

1 tbls. grated Ginger

1 tbls chopped fresh Basil

1 tbls chopped fresh Parsley

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 cup heavy cream

Combine carrots, onion, celery and garlic in a large soup pan with butter.  Begin to saute until onions are softened, being careful not to brown.  Ad cooking wine and squash and cook until squash is tender.

Add basil and parsley.

Transfer soup to blender and puree until smooth.

Return to pan and add heavy cream, ginger, salt and pepper.

Bring to a slow boil over medium high heat.  Cook an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool and serve.


I’m Thankful For CHEESECAKE!!! November 22, 2011

Filed under: Recipes,Uncategorized — berkshiregirl @ 2:40 pm
Tags: , ,

I know, I know this is a duplicate recipe.  But who doesn’t love cheesecake!!!

Amanda’s New York Style Cheesecake

(It’s in the oven, check back soon for a photograph.)

Crust –

  • 1 1/2 cups original almond biscotti (crumbled)

  • 1/2 cup ground raw almonds

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup salted butter (melted)

  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)

Filling –

  • 4 8oz Packages Philly Cream Cheese (room temp)

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 3 tbls. flour

  • 5 large eggs (room temp)

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tbls. lemon zest

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Topping –

  • 1 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 3 tbls granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 tbls. lemon zest (optional)

Start by combining biscotti, almonds, brown sugar, almond extract, and butter in a medium mixing bowl.  Make sure that butter is fully incorporated into crumbs.  Transfer to 9″ springform pan and press into bottom and about 1″ up sides of pan.  Refrigerate.

Next, in a large mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, flour and sugar.  Mix until smooth.  (I don’t have a stand mixer or electric mixer so all of this is done “by hand”  I use a wooden spoon and a bit of brute force, but manage to make a very smooth cake. ) Now add eggs, one at a time, stirring each in completely.  Add heavy cream and extracts and stir until incorporated.  Pour over refrigerated crust and place in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes lower oven temperature to 250 degrees and continue to bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove cheesecake from oven.  Cake should be firm on the sides and only slightly “wabbly” in the center.  Set on wire rack while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla.  Spread topping over cake and bake and additional 15 minutes at 250 degrees.


Baked Brie with Cranberry Orange-Ginger Relish

You can make this tart ruby-red relish up to three days ahead of the feast.

Cranberry Orange Relish


  • Zest and juice of 1 orange + fruit of second orange set aside
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 cups fresh cranberry
  • 1 tbls fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or almonds


In a medium saucepan, heat 1/2 cup water with the orange zest, orange juice, sugar and salt over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes.  In a food processor chop cranberries and pecans (coarse).  Stir in the cranberries and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries soften and sauce has thickened slightly, about 7 minutes.  Sweeten to taste with more sugar.  Let sauce cool and stir in the fruit of the second orange and chopped ginger.

Serving suggestions:

Serve chilled over baked brie, garnish with pecan halves or slivered almonds and orange slices.

Baked Brie


  • Round Brie (Presidents Brand works great)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Unwrap Brie.  With hand held grater, gently remove outer most rind so only a thin layer remains.  Be careful not to remove too much.  Rinse under cool water.  Pat dry.  Place on baking sheet with wax paper.  Bake 10-15 minutes until softened.

Serve with cranberry relish and hard crusted bread.


What the FUDGE!!! November 21, 2011

Seriously the BEST melt in your mouth PB fudge you’ve every tasted!!!


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2  cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3  cups confectioners’ sugar


  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar and milk. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter, honey and vanilla.  Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar. Beat until smooth.  Pour onto a flat cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Chill until firm and cut into squares.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, Sans Gluten March 27, 2011

Since we’ve gone wheat/gluten free I’ve been experimenting more with baking.  Once I realized just how many gluten free flour options there are out there I was determined to find the right combination of flours for some of my favorite recipes.  On top of the list, Banana Bread.

Now since I’ve started eating baked goods without wheat I’ve come to realize that even the taste of regular white flour is bitter and unappealing.  A simple combination of Tapioca flour, white or brown rice flour, almond flour and teff flour has more flavor and substance.

Grocery shopping has been much more interesting since going gluten free.  I’ve found things in my market that I never would have taken the time to notice before.  For example the international section where I normally would cruise through, grab my rice wine and soy sauce, I’ve discovered German feldkamp bread, available in pumpernickel, whole wheat, sunflower and more.
I’m trying new things and loving it!  However this proves painful not only to my grocery budget, but to my cupboards as well.  $229 dollars later I found myself stuffing at least 6 different flour/flour mixes into my pantry.  Not to mention the staples of gluten free cooking, xanthan gum and corn meal.  So when life lands you a flourish of gluten free flour, what do you do?  You Bake!

Yummy Chocolate Chip Maple Banana Bread – Gluten Free

3 large ripe bananas

1/2 cup olive oil

3 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light)

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose gluten free flour mix

1 cup white rice flour

1/2 cup teff flour

2 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Peel and mash bananas in a large mixing bowl.  I use a potato masher.  Cream together bananas, olive oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla and syrup until well incorporated.

Slowly sift in flour, xanthan gum and baking powder, mixing constantly.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Transfer mixture to two(2) 4″x8″ bread pans, or muffin pans.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Drizzle 1/4 cup pure maple syrup over hot bread/muffins.

Remove from pan and serve.


STEAK by popular demand February 13, 2011

The PERFECT Pan Seared Steak

I’m a snob when it comes to steak.  It has to be juicy, tender, medium rare and charred to a crisp.  If you asked me last summer how I liked my steak, I would have told you grilled, or not at all.  We’re a carnivorous family and eat steak at least once a week, and this winter has made it impossible to grill outdoors.  So I needed a solution.

We have a George Foreman Grill, that leaves the meat chewy and lacking in the flavor department.  I tried broiling, same results.   Finally I looked to the internet, desperate for something, anything, that would make my steak taste like STEAK.

What I found was a video, Good Eats: Steak Your Claim.  The host, I believe his name is Alton Brown, is like the Bill Nye of cooking.  Entertaining to watch and you can really learn something.


Finally a method of cooking steak that is SIMPLE and tastes great.

So I broke out the old cast iron frying pan, and let me just state that I have been cooking with it every day since.

I knew I wanted a nice thick cut of steak.  I think the first time I made it I had used a nice sirloin that was very lean and marbled and about 1 1/2″ thick.  I always tenderize my steak by repeatedly stabbing it with a fork on both sides.  My mom teases that what I’m doing is overkill, literally, but my steak always comes out tender and juicy.  Then, just like the video says I sprinkled sea salt on both sides and poured on some cooking oil.  I also found that cracked black pepper is a nice addition, but will make for a zesty sauce if used.

I was just experimenting, throwing things together on a whim.  I knew we were going to serve mashed potatoes and green beans, so I knew I wanted some kind of gravy/sauce and I also figured caramelized onions would be a tasty garnish.

So I started by caramelizing the onions, about two medium sweet onions, in the cast iron pan.  I then transferred them to a bowl and brought the pan up to temperature over high heat.  Then the steak went in, about 4 minutes on each side and then 4 addition minutes in the oven at 500 degrees cooked it to a perfect medium rare.

A GREAT TRICK I learned while researching pan seared steak, to tell if your steak is done, make a fist.  That’s right, take your hand, with fingers tucked into your palm, and squeeze.  The meaty part right below your thumb will be your tool, squeezing as hard as you can, press on that area with your other hand, it’s very hard with a lot of resistance.  That is what “well-done” feels like.  Then try squeezing just a little, this is “medium-rare”, firm with a little resistance.  And not squeezing at all, just holding a fist, this is “rare”, very soft, not much resistance.

When the steak was done, I melted butter over the top, and put it on a plate under aluminum foil to rest.  We have a wood stove that makes a great place to keep food warm, or you can just cover with foil and let it sit.

There was a bit of juice in the pan, and I added a little more water to bring up any flavor that was cooked on,  then I strained the liquid from the onions I caramelized into the pan and added about two cups of white cooking wine.  I had read about wine reductions and wine sauces and decided to give it a try.  Usually red wine is paired with steak, but white was what I had on hand.  I’ve since made this sauce with both red and white wine and I do prefer the flavor of the white.  The wine reduces and thickens the sauce just enough to give it substance and the onions give it such a wonderful flavor.  My husband thinks I should bottle it.

I was so pleased with the results of this method it is my new favorite way to prepare steak.  I’m torn between grilling the meat, or savoring the juices in the pan.  And still trying to come up with a way to combine the best of both for summer cooking.

So here it is.

Simply STEAK!

and…. Mandy’s SUPER DUPER SWEET AND TANGY, (not so secret anymore) STEAK SAUCE

Seasoned cast iron pan

1 1/2 lbs. Steak (I like sirloin or new york strip)

2 tbls. Olive Oil

Coarse Sea Salt

Butter for melting

2 med. Sweet Onions (sliced)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cups white cooking wine

Optional: Cracked black pepper, mushrooms*

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees









Set steak on plate or platter and coat with sea salt and olive oil.  Let rest.


Caramelize Onions over medium heat so as not to scorch.









Begin by slowly caramelizing the onions with two tbls. butter in the cast iron pan over medium heat.  Cook until softened.  Add brown sugar and cook an additional 2 minutes.   Remove from pan and set aside.


Add brown sugar for sweeter onions and more sauce.









Bring pan temperature up over high heat.  Add steak to pan and allow to cook 4 minutes per side.  Flipping only once.


Top steak with 1 tsp butter and place in preheated oven for an additional 4 minutes.  Remove from oven and test if it is done.


Remove steak from pan and place on a warmed plate.  Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest at least 5 minutes while you prepare the sauce.










Place pan back on stove top over medium high heat.  Pour 1/2 cup water into pan and allow to lift any cooked on flavor from the meat.  Strain liquid from caramelized onions into pan and add white wine.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Cook over medium high heat 10 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by half.


Remove foil from steak and pour any juices into sauce.  Cut steak into 1/2″ strips, cutting against the grain.  Pour additional escaped juice into sauce.











Cook sauce over medium heat another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, add 2 tbls. butter.  Serve.

*Mushrooms can be added to sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking if desired.


Slowly cream butter into sauce









This steak pairs great with buttermilk mashed potatoes and green beans, steak fries and spinach or a rich salad of spring greens topped with peppers, red onions, goat cheese, caramelized onions and apple spears



The Third Day of Christmas Crafts – Pine Wreath December 16, 2010

This simple Pine Wreath is made from 4 pine boughs, a metal ring, florist’s wire, pine cones, and assorted other trimmings.  I always trim the bottom branches from our Christmas tree to use for wreaths and other craft projects.

This wreath is a bit thinner than I normally like them, but I didn’t have as many boughs as I needed to make it fuller.  You can decide how full you want your wreath to be.  This one is on a 14″ ring and I used three full boughs.  Now that it is decorated I may go back and add a center ring of additional boughs, or vine.

First, choose your pine boughs and wire the largest branches together.

Start bending each bough into an arch.  You’ll want to choose to bend it in the natural direction the branch curves or it may snap.

Once you have “trained” an arch into each of the boughs, then you can decide how best to attach them together.  Always attach the fullest part of the first bough to the thinnest of the second to give you even thickness all around.

Now you can start to attach the boughs to the wire ring.  I like the wavy rings because the wire doesn’t tend to slip around as much.  I simply take the whole wire spool and wrap the wreath in a spiral of wire until it is secure.

Depending on the ring and bough size, you may have thin spots in your wreath.  Just attach a second bough, or filler branch and wrap with wire, stopping once your wreath reaches the desired fullness.

You can also decide how tight you want to wrap each bough.  Work with the natural shape of the branches.

Once your wreath has reached its desired fullness, or you run out of boughs, you can start to decorate.  I used dried pine cones, ribbon, bells, and various other branches and berries for trimmings.

Wrap the trimmings to the wreath the same way you wrapped the boughs, taking care with the pine cones not to wrap them too tight.  I coil the wire around the stem of the cone for more stability.

Finally, tie on ribbon, or attach bows.

Use an over the door wreath holder, or fashion a hook from florist wire.

Use to decorate Indoors or Outdoors.