Valentine Sparkling Wine Cake

valentine sparkling wine cakevalentine sparkling wine cakevalentine sparkling wine cake

For the cake

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 cup sparkling wine

  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

  • 1/4 cup canola oil

  • 5 cold eggs

  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract (or vanilla bean; 1 bean = 2 tsp. extract)

Preheat oven to 350°. Oil and flour a bundt pan and set aside. In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together sparkling wine and sour cream. Finally, in a third, large bowl, beat sugar, melted butter, and oil with a mixer until well blended. Beat in each egg one at a time and add the vanilla. Beat on medium-high for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Slowly add the flour and wine mixture to the sugar mixture and beat until well blended. Bake 50 to 55 minutes.

For the sparkling wine glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar

  • 1 tbsp. sparkling wine (or until the icing is a “drizzling” consistency)

Add a small amount of sparkling wine to the powdered sugar until it reaches a “drizzling” consistency and pour over the top of the completely cooled cake. You’re done!

This cake is so delicious, the sparkling wine makes it taste wonderfully fruity but gives it a flavor you can’t quite put your finger on why you love it so much–isn’t that perfection for Valentines? I try and make it every year for February 14th and I somehow found time to squeeze it in this week so I hope you enjoy!

**if you’re looking for some cute, last minute ideas for V-day, check out this DIY valentines paper topiary, these placecards, and these felt roses done three ways. Last year they were all a huge hit!!**

original recipe via BH&G Feb. 2010

– <3 A.

Spicy Sweet Potato Winter Salad

spicy sweet potato winter saladspicy sweet potato winter salad spicy sweet potato winter saladwinter saladFor the salad:

  • 1 yam and 1 sweet potato
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 shallot
  • large handful of mint
  • 1 large red pepper

Cut the sweet potato and yam into small cubes and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet covered in parchment for 30 minutes on 400°. Cut the shallot into very thin slivers and combine with chopped pepper and mint leaves **if you despise mint, exchange it with another herb, cilantro or basil would taste great as well** When the potato and yam are finished cooking, allow to cool slightly and then combine with the rest of the ingredients. Serve cold or warm.

for the vinaigrette

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Combine the lemon and orange juice, whisk in the olive oil, add to the salad and you’re done! January is the month of attempting to be healthy and getting your Christmas-cookie-tummy feeling slightly more clean and fresh so I’ve been on the lookout for some interesting new “winter salads” that aren’t just a mound of lettuce leaves. This one is super fast and easy and can even be served over rice which is what I ended up doing. Plus, sweet potatoes are such an underused wonder, they really deserve another chance and combined with some winter citrus, this is one of my new faves.

 recipe inspired via

– <3 A. 

Christmas Cocktails and a Holly Ice Bowl

christmas cocktails ice bowlchristmas cocktailschristmas ice bowlchristmas cocktailsI wonder when “are you ready?” entered everyone’s vocabulary around Christmas. Besides Merry Christmas that’s the line I hear the most in December and it seriously instantly stresses me out. As soon as I hear it I have to think, am I ready? I thought I was but maybe not since they asked. They’re right, I could probably do more…maybe they’re being sarcastic because they can’t imagine anyone NOT being ready by now…or, or, maybe they’re being sarcastic because they can’t imagine anyone ACTUALLY being ready so early. I can’t stand that question. I really can’t.

I could stand a Christmas cocktail though. Check out this recipe for a Martha Stewart-style cranberry cocktail with red wine, maple syrup, vanilla bean, pink peppercorns and lemon zest! I also thought this recipe looked yummy if you like sweet drinks, and finally this guy looked pretty simple.

For the ice bowl, place holly leaves in a large bowl and then place a smaller bowl inside of it. Fill up the gap with water (the size of your inner and outer bowl and the gap it creates will determine the size of your bowl) and allow to freeze for at least 24 hours depending on how thick your bowl is. Getting the inner bowl to stay put is a bit tricky. I ended up taking some thin wire and wiring it into place as well as placing a weight into the center of the inner bowl. When you’re ready to use it, run a little warm water over the outside of the bowl if it isn’t popping out immediately. Serve ice in it or put a tea light in the middle. **if you do serve ice, keep in mind holly is poisonous so if you want to be super careful, put a piece of parchment down into the center of the bowl before you place ice into it. This will also keep the ice cubes from sticking to the ice bowl** 

I’ll admit, I’m not ready, not really. But not because I have a million things to do—even though I do–but I’m not ready for December to fly by so quickly and honestly with Thanksgiving being so late I think 2013 is kind of jipping us all a bit. That just means Christmas music and twinkle lights may have to extend a little bit further into January while I ease into the terrible beauty of a new year– sipping my pink peppercorn and cranberry cocktail perhaps.

– <3 A. 

Spiced Cranberry Shortbread with Fudge Sauce

spiced cranberry shortbreadspiced cranberry shortbread christmas cookiesspiced cranberry shortbreadspiced cranberry shortbreadspiced cranberry shortbread with fudge saucespiced cranberry shortbreadIf you’re looking for a new twist on Christmas cookies, these are pretty wonderful: Shortbread spiced with crushed red pepper infused cranberries or tart cherries, and put together with cream cheese whipped filling and a fudge sauce drizzled over the top. So, so good. It’s a three-part recipe that looks intense but actually only takes about 45 min. to prep. The fudge sauce and whipped filling can even be made a little ahead of time if you’re pressed for time:

For the shortbread

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (or cherries)
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  1. Combine cranberries and red pepper, cover in boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes to infuse the berries with the spice. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch, salt and baking powder. Add butter and the soaked cranberries. Pulse until the dough clumps and then remove from processor. **if you don’t have a food processor, cut in the butter with two knifes moving criss-cross around the mixture until it begins to clump, it will still be very dry-looking**
  2. Press dough into a square-shape on a piece of parchment. Place another sheet of parchment over the dough and roll until you have a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. **If the dough is not clumping, press the dough back into a ball and chill in the refrigerator for 5 or so minutes. Repeat as many times as you need while rolling out the dough.** 
  3. Cut the dough into rectangles or circles to eventually form the top and bottom of a “sandwich.”
  4. Keeping the parchment on the bottom of the dough, place this sheet onto a cookie sheet and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes at 325 degrees or until lightly golden.

For the filling

  • 12 cup whipping cream
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  1. Combine whipping cream, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat with a mixer until stiff peaks form.
  2. Spread onto the flat side of one, cooled, shortbread cookie. Top with another cookie to make a sandwich.

For the fudge sauce

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate
  1. Combine cream and syrup and cook over medium-high until hot
  2. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Allow to cool and thicken before dipping the shortbread cookies into the sauce.

This recipe as it is yields about 18 sandwiches. I ended up halving the recipe because you kind of need to eat everything the recipe makes in one day or else the shortbread will start to soften, especially with the whipped topping inside, so only make as many as you think you can consume before the day is done…if that means sitting up late to finish off the 18th sandwich, then go for the full recipe! But if you’re not that ambitious, halving it makes plenty.

original recipe via Better homes and gardens Nov. 2009

– <3 A. 


Caramel Apple Tart

caramel apple tartcaramel apple tartcaramel apple tartcaramel apple tart I’m on the hunt for new twists on Thanksgiving traditions. There’s a strange place between when a family has little ones to instruct in traditions, and when the little ones grow up but haven’t quite begun new traditions. That place is where experiments can happen, and that’s where my family is right now: Trying new recipes, new twists, not changing too much of course because my sentimental heart would splinter into a million pieces if it wasn’t held together by familiarity, but a little change is fun, exciting, sometimes a flop, but always interesting. We’re all old enough to have our traditions firmly planted, loved, and ready to spring back out at a moment’s notice of sentimentality, but we’re also ready to explore new territories and make new stories to say “remember when we tried…” regardless of how that sentence is finished: “oh yeah! Let’s do it again,” or, “oh yeahhh, never, never again.”

I tried this recipe for an apple tart with homemade caramel sauce as an alternative to apple pie. It was lighter than a usual pie, but because the apples were open-faced while they were being cooked instead of under a comforter of dough, the apples dried out a bit. Drizzle it with caramel though and it was pretty delicious. If you’re a fan of apple pie but kinda peel off the crust as you eat, the tart is perfection: thinner crust, more apples, and coated with caramel to finish. There was plenty of caramel left over too for coffee, or rolls, or…

I’m so excited to show you my idea for a Thanksgiving centerpiece, it’s pretty much free and absolutely gorgeous, just wait!

-<3 A. 

Chocolate-Brandy Soaked Apple Strudel

chocolate brandy soaked apple strudel

Phyllo dough is a strange and wonderous thing. It’s a huge pain, pre-cooked looks like you should never ingest it, but post-baked: yum, yum, yummmyyyyy. If you’ve ever worked with phyllo you’ll know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, it’s sort of like baking with really bad, really thin toilet paper. When it turns out right though, it’s such a nice change from heavy, thick crusts: This strudel got wrapped in 9 layers of phyllo sheets and I can proudly say I ripped not a single sheet. It was the first time I was patient enough to let the dough thaw instead of rip it to shreds from it’s frozen roll, trying to force it into some recipe I left myself 20 minutes to prepare instead of the required 2 hours. This time though, I took my time, let the sheets thaw, left them under plastic and a damp towel to keep them from cracking while I worked, and carefully added sheet by sheet, layering in butter and sugared nuts in between each layer and it turned out fantastic.

chocolate brandy sauce

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tbls. brandy
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Boil juice in saucepan until it reduces to 1/2 cup (about 6 min.). Remove from heat, add chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Whisk until melted then stir in brandy and vanilla. Cover and chill until ready to use.

**this is pretty much my new favorite chocolate sauce, who knew brandy was so awesome??**

strudel filling

  • 1 cup plus 2 tbls. apple juice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 whole star anise (or 1 tsp. ground cloves)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 2 cups apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tbls. cornstarch

Mix juice, wine, anise (or cloves) and cinnamon in a new saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add bean (or extract). Simmer and remove from head, let stand 10 minutes. Add cherries and cover and simmer until fruit is plump. Remove anise, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Mix in apples and sugar until apples are tender and liquid is reduced to about 3 tbls. (this took about 50 minutes for me). Mix in cornstarch to the filling and stir over heat until it thickens and boils (about 3 to 4 minutes. Cool, cover, and chill.


  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts (toasted, husked)
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tbls. sugar (white)
  • 9 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large baking sheet and set aside. Blend nuts, graham cracker, and sugar together in a processor until the mixture is finely ground. On a dry kitchen towel, place a sheet of parchment and then 1 phyllo sheet. Cover remaining phyllo with another piece of parchment and a damp towel overtop that (to keep the thawed phyllo from drying out and cracking). Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with another sheet and brush this one with butter PLUS sprinkle the second one with the nut mixture. Repeat this process with 6 more phyllo sheets, buttering in between each sheet but only sprinkling the nut mixture every two sheets. Top with one last phyllo sheet, brush with butter and then spoon filling on top of the sheets starting 2 inches from one long side and 2 and 1/2 inches from each short side. Then, fold over each short side and starting at the long side closest to the filling, start rolling up the strudel. Put the log seam-down on the buttered baking sheet. Finally, brush with butter and bake until golden brown. I baked mine for 25 minutes and then covered the log with a piece of foil and baked it for another 10 because the crust was getting too brown but I wanted the inside to cook and it turned out perfect:

chocolate brandy soaked apple strudelchocolate brandy soaked apple strudelchocolate brandy soaked strudelA few Novembers ago, i started getting a little tired of apple pie. Sometimes a big ‘ol slice just kinda makes you sick after a similarly huge meal, but apples have to be eaten in the fall and this lovely little strudel log is my new apple-baby this year I think. It’s got so many more flavors than normal apple pie…plus, it has chocolate, brandy, fruit, spices, and perfectly, perfectly layered phyllo sheets that crunched and flaked like I’d been phyllo sheetin’ for years. It’s going in the recipe box for sure.

– <3 A.  

Spicy Pumpkin Butter

spicy pumpkin butteringredients

  •  4 cups pumpkin puree (two 15 oz. cans)
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts) for garnish.

**If you don’t want the butter spicy, just don’t add the cayenne pepper. It’s a nice balance to the sweet though so you could also dial it back to 1/4 tsp. if you want a more subtle spice. Also, if you’re not a maple syrup fan, add honey instead!**

Combine all ingredients except the nuts in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook uncovered for 25 minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool. The original recipe said the butter can be ladled into jars/freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch space at the top and kept in the refrigerator for a week or the freezer up to 6 months! This recipe gave me an entire quart of butter, but if you got the teeny little jars, it would be such a good hostess gift for the holidays along with a loaf of bread. Plus, it only takes about 5 minutes to dump all the ingredients together and 25 minutes to cook. A one-pot wonder is a pretty fabulous find because even with all my best intentions, drinking pumpkin lattes and watching You’ve Got Mail for the 1000th time sounds way better than a day spent baking.

spicy pumpkin butterspicy pumpkin butterspicy pumpkin butter

I’m thinking of trying it next on some scones, or maybe pancakes, or a muffin, or…you get the idea, yes?

Happy Friday everyone! This weekend I’m helping put the flowers together for a wedding and studying for midterms…quite the combination that I’m not really sure how it came about but at least it’s the weekend! Coffee and late night pumpkin butter runs are on the cue I think.

original recipe from BH&G magazine

– <3 A. 

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

spiced pumpkin soupingredients

  1. Melt butter in a large pot and then add potatoes, onions, and garlic. Cook for about 8 minutes.
  2. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low, cooking until potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes).
  3. Stir in pumpkin and add spices (salt, pepper, nutmeg, coriander, cayenne pepper).
  4. Increase heat to med-high, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat again and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add cream and heat through.
  6. Serve hot with croutons on the side so they don’t get soggy!

spiced pumpkin soupspiced pumpkin soup

 Confession: I made this soup back in August. It was 100 degrees and I sat in front of a fan in my shorts and t-shirt to taste-test it for you guys…that’s how much I love all of you! I knew life was about to get crazy-busy this Fall and I didn’t want all my busy-ness to interrupt or downgrade the worthiness of my posts so I got organized towards the end of the summer, outlined a posting-schedule with topics and ideas and went post-crazy: lining up and laying out what I wanted to share for the upcoming months. I know a lot of bloggers talk about creating a calendar for your posts, and they’re right…planning that far ahead is nice…but it’s also a little scary! By mid-August I was beginning to stress at what I had scheduled in November, thinking the three interim months had already zoomed by since I had already brainstormed and wrote out my weekly posts. In some ways I’m glad I did think ahead, you would have seen a whole lot of nothing many weeks if I hadn’t, but I’m thinking I’ll bring a little bit of some last-minute spontaneity back, sometimes planning the future too much makes you forget to live in the present.

Back to that soup though…I loved it in August and I love it even more now that I can enjoy it fan-less! I put in the whole 1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper and it was a bit spicy so if you cough with a sprinkle of pepper, probably toned the cayenne down to 1/4 tsp. Also, when I made this the first time I used 2 potatoes but the general consensus was that everyone wanted it “chunkier” so I would maybe add three and cut the pieces slightly bigger, but, it’s totally up to you! The pumpkin is subtle, not sweet at all, and with the homemade croutons sprinkled on top it’s perfectionnnnnnn.

– <3 A. 


Handmade Peach Frozen Yogurt

handmade peach frozen yogurthandmade peach frozen yogurthandmade peach frozen yogurthandmade peach frozen yogurt

  1. Blend three and a half cups frozen peaches (coarsely chopped) and a half cup plain yogurt (I used greek yogurt) in a blender or food processor. **I had to add the peaches a little bit at a time to get the blender to blend it up until smooth, a food processor might work better** 
  2. Mix together superfine baking sugar and the lemon juice and then pour slowly into the peach-yogurt blend.
  3. Freeze until almost solid **I let mine sit overnight because in typical recipe-test fashion I started this about 30 minutes before bedtime but a few hours would work too if you start it at a reasonable time of day!** and then serve!

Oh my goodness you guys, this stuff is bomb. Handmade frozen yogurt in three steps with four ingredients without an ice cream machine?? Who knew. It’s September and fruit is kinda on the decline but peaches are still in season and Cali is still not really ready for Fall weather so frozen yogurt isn’t too strange to make. Besides, even if it is a bit chilly wherever you are, this stuff is just so peachy good, it’s worth the goosebumps.

– <3 A. 

A Truffle Accident

sorbet truffles

Doesn’t a truffle accident sound like the best sort of accident? That’s completely what this was actually: I became entranced by a recipe that was supposed to make dark chocolate sorbet. It called for an ice cream machine, which I don’t have, but there were also directions for bakers sans-such-machine so I gave it a go. When I got to the part where I was supposed to stick it in the freezer and let it begin to form into a sorbet, I was overcome by an irresistible Augustus Gloop moment and plunged my hand in the pot. The consistency was truffle perfection and was, in the end, the most beautiful truffle accident:


  • 4.5 oz. water
  • 2 oz. extra-fine baking sugar
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate (add more if mixture isn’t thick enough with 6 oz.)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. coffee or vanilla extract (optional)
  • toppings (coconut or nuts)


  • Slowly bring the water and sugar to a boil and stir to ensure all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the burner and mix in the chocolate. I used about 6 to 7 ounces but you sort of have to eyeball it until the mix stops looking watery and runny and starts looking like smooth chocolate. **I also used 70% cocoa dark chocolate**
  • Add the salt and the optional extract. **I couldn’t taste the extract too strongly so if I made it again I might add 2 tsp. worth if you really want that additional flavor**
  • Take the pot off the burner and allow to cool just slightly. Stir contents.
  • Then comes the fun messy part!


  • Take a small bit of the chocolate and roll it in the palm of your other hand to form a ball **this is the trickiest part, if the chocolate cools too much, it will start to harden and won’t roll well so work fast! If it gets too sticky and hard to work with, turn the burner on low and warm the chocolate up a little bit again **
  • Roll the truffle-balls in whatever topping you desire, I used coconut for some and walnuts for the others.

truffle sorbetcoconut sorbet truffles

I kept mine in the freezer until ready to serve and then served them on a piece of parchment to help reduce the sticky factor. These truffles are the only ones I’ve seen that don’t use globs of butter and cream so another bonus…they’re healthy! (?) sorta, but hey, its a truffle. 

recipe inspired via

– <3 A.