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My favorite carrot cake had a perfect 1:1 ratio of cake to frosting. That explains why it was my favorite. Rich, dense, moist and flavorful, it was perfection. However, I quickly realized that that much frosting had to be overcompensating for something. That's what fat, sugar, and salt does anyway, right? It adds flavor to the flavorless. So when it came time for me to make my own rendition of this classic cake, I aimed for flavor and moistness in the cake itself, with the frosting as an added bonus. The addition of pumpkin and butternut squash create an earthier flavor and richer texture, plus the addition of classic pumpkin pie spices (ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc) turned up the volume on this autumnal dessert. It ends up becoming the Great Pumpkin Cake, so be sure to have at least a dozen friends around to try it. Enjoy!

Spiced Pumpkin Cake:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shelled pecans, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup of finely grated carrots
1 cup grated butternut squash
1 cup of canned, pureed pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. With a mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and pale. Gradually add the sugars and beat for a few minutes, until the batter is thick. Add the oil in a steady stream and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and pumpkin alternatively and beat on low just until incorporated. Add the veg, pecans, and coconut and mix just to combine. Evenly divide the batter between three greased cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 -10 minutes invert the cakes onto the wire rack and let them cool completely before frosting.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting


3 cups unsalted butter, softened
16 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
pinch of salt
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons canned pureed pumpkin
2-3 cups sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
7-8 halved pecans


Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer until light and a little fluffy, add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until combined. Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt, zest and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar and pumpkin puree alternatively. Turn the mixer on a low speed so it doesn't blow out everywhere.

On a cake platter, place one layer of the cake. Working from the center outward, smooth about a half inch of frosting. Add the second layer, repeat. On the third layer, add a large deal of frosting and working outward push the frosting over the edge, covering the sides. Continue smoothing the frosting until the entire cake is covered. Grab a handful of coconut and gently press into the sides. Continue until the entire cake is covered. Decorate the top with pecans and enjoy!

Classic Almond Biscotti

4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups of flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar


Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Preheat the oven at 375 F. Mix together the butter and sugar until they form moist crumbs, clumping together. Add the 3 eggs and mix together until light in color and the mixture forms ribbons when you lift the whisk out of the batter. Add the vanilla and  mix well. Then, add the dry ingredients in batches of about a 1/2 cup at a time. Mix on low until just blended. Add the chopped almonds and mix until just blended.

On a cookie sheet with a silicon pad or parchment paper, place the mixture (which is now a very thick dough). Heavily flour your hands and form the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches high, and 3 inches wide. It may take up the entire length of the cookie sheet. Brush the beaten egg over the log, then cover with the sliced almonds. Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cut the loaf into 1/2 inch slices. Place the slices on the cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, flipping once. If the biscotti appear too moist in the center, put them back in the oven for an extra 5 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

Tina's English Toffee:

For me, this toffee is the epitome of the Christmas Season (we start badgering Tina to cook it the day after Thanksgiving), and something I look forward to nibbling on every year. Nothing is more depressing than reaching for my family's toffee tin and finding it empty, like a dead Christmas tree in the gutter. So please cook up this toffee until your kitchen is heavy with the scent of butter, sugar, and the holiday spirit.


1 pound unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing the pans)
2 cups white sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups milk chocolate, chopped
2 cups finely chopped toasted almonds


Melt the butter, sugar, water and salt over a low flame, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat up to medium. Meanwhile, grease two cooking pans with butter. After 15-20 minutes, the mixture has reached 305 F. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla, stirring to incorporate. Be careful not to burn yourself or the mixture, but if you do, and I have, run your hand under room temperature water (never cold or hot water) to subside the pain. Immediately take the hot toffee and pour into two greased cooking pans and smooth until evenly coated and about 1/8 or 1/4 inch thick. Put the pans into the fridge to let the toffee cool (this will take several hours, or leave the toffee in over night, uncovered).

Once the toffee has cooled, remove it from the refrigerator and carefully loosen the pieces (you can do this by hand or with a knife). If it cracks, it's not a big deal.

Melt the two types of chocolate over a double boiler, stirring to combine. Once the chocolate has melted, use a spatula to coat one side of the toffee, and then immediately sprinkle heavily with the chopped toasted almonds. This must be done immediately because the cold toffee can cause the chocolate to harden before the almonds can stick. Put the toffee back in the fridge to cool the chocolate. Once it has hardened (it takes about an hour), flip and coat the other side with the chocolate and almonds. You will probably have chocolate and almonds left over, which you can use for more toffee. Let the toffee cool in the fridge until hardened again. When it's ready, take the toffee out, and using your hands crack it into irregular pieces. Bag them or stick them in a tin for your own enjoyment.

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Hachiya persimmons can be culinary head scratchers.  They're mild in flavor, a regional specialty, and have the most delicate texture.  Imagine a water-balloon filled with chocolate pudding that will burst if you so much as sneeze in its direction, that is a ripe hachiya persimmon.  Gorgeous to look at, persimmons were meant for still-lifes.  Even the trees possess drama, with waxy large leaves that turn a rich auburn as the season shifts toward winter. But like many things this beautiful, they seem otherwise useless. You don't just bite into a gooey hachiya persimmon, and even the crunchy fuyu persimmon can be uninspiring on its own. What to do...

Fuyus are wonderful sliced up in a salad or on a cheese board paired with something sweet and mild (imagine burrata or goat cheese), and the more I thought about the squishy hachiya, the more it reminded me of one of my favorite baking ingredients: applesauce.  Unassuming but subtly delicious, applesauce adds moisture and sweetness to baked goods and is a staple in vegan cakes and pastries. I took applesauce cake as a jumping off point, and created a spiced persimmon cake.  Dense and rich, it's perfect served with a hot cup of coffee on a fall afternoon. Finally, my persimmon conundrum resolved!

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2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups persimmon pulp
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (plus more for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in persimmon pulp. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup powdered sugar


Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer until light and a little fluffy, add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until combined. Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on a low speed so it doesn't blow out everywhere. Spread on the cake and coat the edges with chopped walnuts. Top with cinnamon.

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Braised Chicken with Garlic, Fennel, and Walnuts 
For 4
1 3 1/2-pound whole chicken, each cut into 8 pieces
1/2 head of garlic, cloves separated (about 10), peeled and sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 very large fresh thyme sprigs
Salt and Pepper
1 cup white wine
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup walnut halves

Trim excess fat off chicken. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly smash garlic cloves just to flatten slightly and remove the paper.

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add chicken and cook until brown on all sides, about 12 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to plate. Add fennel and onion to the pot. Stir until barely golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add wine and thyme; bring to boil. Return chicken to pot and add the broth and walnuts (the broth should not quite cover the chicken). Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through. about 20-30 minutes. Remove the chicken, turn the heat up to medium high, and reduce the liquid by half. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste. 

Transfer chicken to platter and drizzle sauce over. 

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Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad
5 cups quinoa, cooked (1 cup uncooked)
1 cup medium red bell pepper, diced
1 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 cup cucumber, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 limes, juiced
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup parsley
Salt and Pepper

In a pot, cover the quinoa with 4 cups of room temp water and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Turn down to a simmer, cover,  and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until you can see the germ in the quinoa.  In small bowl, combine the lime juice, garlic, red onion, oil, and some salt and pepper.  Add all of the ingredients to thequinoa and dress with the red onion mixture.  Add salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste. 

Roasted Cauliflower with Salsa Verde
2 large cauliflower heads
5 tomatillos
1 poblano chili
4 garlic cloves
Hot Sauce
A handful of cilantro
1/4 cup grated parm
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Pre heat oven to 425 F. Clean the cauliflower and slice into halves. Break off the florets, slicing the big ones in half. Coat with olive oil (2 tablespoons-1/4 cup, depending on how much cauliflower you have) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven for about 15 minutes, shake the pieces around, flipping them, and roast for another 10. You should think, "Oh crap I burnt it," when you pull them out. But try it, the more caramelized and crispy the better. Meanwhile, peel and broil the tomatillos for about 5-10 minutes, or until charred and juicy. Char the poblano over an open flame, then scrape off the skin and deseed it. Chop it roughly and pop it, the tomatillos, the garlic, cilantro, and hot sauce in a food processor. Pulse it and taste for season. Drizzle it over the cauliflower and top off with grated parm. Enjoy!

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Cheese Platter: Playing with texture and flavor combinations
Aged gouda
Sliced figs
Whole grain mustard
Your favorite nuts

Plate your favorite combination and serve with plenty of bread and crackers.

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The easiest of easy dinner party recipes.

4 espresso shots (use instant espresso if fresh espresso isn't an option)
4 scoops of ice cream
4 tablespoons chopped bittersweet chocolate

Put a scoop of ice cream in a bowl, top with one shot of espresso and a tablespoon of chopped bittersweet chocolate. Enjoy before it melts!

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I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm sort of over caprese. Shhh shhh shhh shhh. I know. I KNOW. Crazy talk. But it's true. My threshold for caprese was met, I have full caprese saturation.  During the summer, and what has become that typical Los Angeles post-summer phase where it's in the 80s through November, caprese is my answer to anything. Tomatoes are at their peak in flavor and texture, basil is growing like mad, and the combination with milky mozzarella is always delicious.  But always delicious can get a bit boring, and in an attempt to avoid a desert island scenario where I only eat caprese, I decided to mix it up.  

Sumac, a Turkish spice, gives the eggplant a tart kick, and when combined with cumin and chili powder, this basic salad of tomatoes, basil, and feta takes a decidedly middle eastern and delicious turn.  

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For 4-6

3 cups tomatoes, wedged or chopped into 2 inch sections
1 garlic clove, minced
2 small eggplant (net 2 cups)
1 teaspoon sumac (or lemon zest if you can't find it)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili
salt and pepper
1 pita, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 cup feta, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Slice the eggplant into 1 inch thick slices.  Drizzle with half of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, sumac, chili and cumin.  Drizzle the pita with the remaining olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Cook both in the oven for 15 minutes.  Flip the eggplant and cook for another 10 minutes until the pita is golden brown and the eggplant is tender.

Chop the eggplant into 1 inch sections and add to the tomatoes. Add the herbs, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic, and sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper.  Stir to combine and then add the pita and feta, stirring a couple of times to combine.

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Considering I was born and raised in California, I am most definitely not a southerner.  But this doesn't stop me from loving Southern food.  On today's episode of Food For Thought, I try out my favorite Southern recipes, some classic and some with a twist.

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Garlic Grits with Sauteed Shrimp

Grits, just like polenta or oatmeal, have a bad reputation of little flavor and mushy texture.  But the grits I'm used to eating are creamy, rich, and pure delicious comfort.  For mine, I like to load them up with garlic and sour cream and serve them with shrimp sauteed with creole-inspired spices.  For a full creole experience, you can use your favorite spice blend or mix together garlic, onion, black and red pepper, oregano, thyme.  I kept mine simple with a touch or oregano and cayenne pepper.

1 3/4 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup coarse ground grits (I used Bob's Red Mill Grits. Cornmeal or polenta will also work)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sour cream

1 lb medium shrimp
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth and milk to a boil. Add the garlic and slowly stir in the grits. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, stirring frequently, until the grits are tender, 15 minutes. You will have to babysit it. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. If it gets gummy or sets up, add a little milk and stir it in.

Meanwhile, in a pan over medium heat, add the olive oil. While that heats up, sprinkle the shrimp with the spices and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Saute the shrimp until just pink on both sides (about 5 minutes total).  Serve on top of or with the grits. Garnish with parsley. 

Sour Cream Chive Biscuits

Biscuits are a classic southern staple, and to make yours as mile high as possible, mix the dough together right before baking and use ice cold butter for the flakiest texture.  I love these savory biscuits with a touch of honey and butter, still warm from the oven.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, cold and cubed
2/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chives, snipped

Pre heat to 450 F

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl. Drop in the butter and use your fingers to casually mix it in with the dry ingredients. Don’t over mix.  There should still be a few lumps of butter, the size of peas, or even a little bigger. Two minutes or less of mixing should do it. Next add the sour cream and chives. Stir it up into a soft dough. Form the dough into a soft ball. Get a piece of waxed paper and lay it on your counter. Sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of flour. Place the dough ball on the flour and knead it about 5 to 10 times. Flatten out the dough with a rolling pin or your hands so it is about 3/4″ thick. Cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter, or the rim of a clean cup or can.  Lay the biscuits onto a baking sheet and bake them at 450° for  10-15 minutes, depending on their size. Makes about a dozen medium sized biscuits. Brush with melted butter before serving.

Bacon Chicory Salad

Chicory is a bitter green typically served cooked in butter or sautéed, but for my spin on this classic southern ingredient, I found inspiration from the bitter green salads so popular in LA.  Dandelion greens, arugula, frisée, radicchio, or any other green with a bite are wonderful contrasts to sweet bacon, pungent blue cheese, and toasted walnuts in this salad.  Paired with rich and savory southern style cooking, this bright salad balances out the meal.

1 lb chicory greens, arugula, frisée, or radicchio (any bitter greens) 
4 oz bacon, diced
2 oz blue cheese
1/4 cup walnut halves

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until just crisp.  Mix together the vinaigrette and combine with the bacon and chicory.  Sprinkle in the cheese and walnuts.

Classic Pecan Pralines

Melt in your mouth pralines (prah-lines if you're from the south) are the perfect way to end a meal.  I add a touch of bourbon to mine, but otherwise, this is a pretty simple take on a classic recipe.

1 cup pecans
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Bourbon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake until lightly toasted (about 5 minutes).  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Fit a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a candy thermometer. Over high heat, cook the cream, butter, salt and brown sugar to 240 degrees (soft ball). If necessary, stir once to help dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15 seconds. CAREFULLY stir in the vanilla, bourbon, and toasted pecans. (It might spit and sputter) Stir until the mixture looks creamy and slightly thickened. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet. Cool for 20 minutes.

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