Pistachio-Chai Muffins

It’s a family tradition – every Saturday we get our caffeine fixes.  Super strong coffee from Philz – for the husband; non-fat spicy chai from Bello – for me.  Two cups. You know, kids should not be drinking that stuff anyways.

Every Saturday Lil’ Jem and I step on a warpath fighting over MY cup of chai.  I burn my mouth trying to chug up as much as I can before sharing it with the tireless almost-3-year-old nagger.

Non-fat spicy chai tea latte, thank you very much!

Yes, that photo posted last month, and its caption were not a joke.  We are both addicted!  This stuff is SO good!

So, of course I was super excited when I saw this recipe in my favorite Cooking Light!   

These are only 192 calories, and great for breakfast with some yogurt, or coffee, or chai, and they stay fresh pretty well!  Keep in an airtight container for a couple days, or wrap individually in plastic; place in a zip-top bag, and freeze.  They will keep for  month in the freezer.  To thaw, leave them at room temperature or re-heat.

I skipped the sugar glaze from the original recipe, and they were still delicious – airy, and moist, very light, and flavorful!

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  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 chai blend tea bags, opened
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbs water

Yields 12 muffins


Preheat oven to 375⁰ F (190⁰ C).  Place 12 muffin-cup liners into the muffin cups, spray them with cooking spray.

In a large bowl whisk the first 6 ingredients, set aside.

In a separate bowl combine buttermilk, butter, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, and the egg.

Make a well in a center of the flour mixture and pour the buttermilk mixture in it.  Stir just until moist.  Leaving a few lumps will actually make the muffins fluffier.

Divide batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups.  Sprinkle the nuts over it.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

The original recipe also uses a simple glaze: combine 1/2 tsp vanilla, powdered sugar, and 1 tbs water, stirring, util smooth.  Drizzle over the muffins.

Five-Seed Bread

The brother-in-law nicknamed me Carb Queen, and it wasn’t from watching me cook… Yes! I love carbs! I speak carbs! And I surely don’t hesitate to indulge on most things carb…  in large… well, VERY large quantities.  

For the last two months our family have been getting high on this delicious bread.  The basic recipe comes from my favorite Tartine; the idea comes from this lovely bakery in Santa Rosa that brings their amazing 5-seed sourdough to San Francisco farmers markets every week.

Luckily for my family, we are still not at the point where we can consume the whole loaf in one sitting… or even in two… and sometimes in three…  It keeps very well.  In any case, I usually slice half of the loaf, place it in zip-top bag, and freeze for up to one month.  

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  • 1/2 cup flax seeds
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, roasted
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted
  • 2 tbs sesame seeds
  • 1 tbs poppy seeds
  • 2 recipe Basic Country dough

Yields 2 loafs


Pour boiling water over the flax seeds and let soak for about 30 minutes.

After the 1st rest of the dough, add salt but don’t add water.  Pour the flax seed mixture over (it will be gooey, do not drain the water).  Add all other seeds.  Squeeze the seeds into the dough with your fingers to completely incorporate or use your mixer.

Follow the Basic Country recipe for proofing.

After the raising is done, separate the dough into balls.

Follow the basic recipe for shaping and baking.

If baking one loaf at a time, after the 1st loaf is done, reheat the oven to 500⁰ F (260⁰ F).  Warm up the Dutch oven in there for about 10 minutes before starting the second loaf.

P.S. Stacie, if you are reading this, I took the pictures above this afternoon, outside, no artificial light used…  That’s what you abandoned!  Come back!  It feels empty here without Iowans!  Or better talk my man into bringing us closer to MidWest!  Please ;-)

Cheesy Chicken

Attention!  A reward is offered to anyone who can convince my son that there’s more to food than pasta! 

While we are waiting for that miracle to happen, my family is being stuffed with carbs almost every other day.  Jem likes them hot, plane, with lots of butter.  We try to add some color to our plates.

Here is an excellent make-ahead recipe – crunchy and cheesy outside and juicy inside, very well complimented by a serving of gemelli. Calorie heaven!

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  • 1 cup bread crumbs*
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 6  boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted


Mix together bread crumbs, cheeses, and pepper.  Dip chicken pieces in melted butter, then in cheese mixture.  At this point I like to freeze extras for future use (wrap each bundle in plastic, and place in freezer bags).


Thaw completely.

Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F (175⁰ C).

Place chicken in large, shallow baking dish

Bake uncovered for 1 hr, until chicken is crispy.

Yields 6 servings.

Serve over your favorite pasta with your favorite tomato sauce!

* Unless you can find real bread crumbs without additives, or you are making your own, try Japanese bread crumbs “Panco”, the ingredients are much less scary looking than generic grocery store horrors, and they do provide an extra crunch


The price of my favorite Whole Foods cake, Tiramisu, has been raised again.  (No wonder they call that awful place “Whole Paycheck”…).  So, for my husband’s birthday I decided to bake my own to make the budget and not hesitate about the portion sizes.

I tried to take a photo of the cake before it was destroyed maliciously… alas, this is all I was left to work with…

Instead of lady fingers I baked a huge pound cake, adopted from Allrecipes method.  The filling came from my beloved Williams-Sonoma Italian Favorites.

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  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk


  • 3 cups (750 g) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ½ cups (185 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup Marsala
  • ¾ cup cold heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup espresso
  • ½ cup Kahlua


  •  Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting




Preheat oven to 325⁰ F (165⁰ C). Spray a tube pan with canola oil. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at time, making sure each eggs completely incorporates before adding another one. Add the vanilla extract. Gently mix in flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 90 minutes. When cake begins to pull away from the side of the pan it is done. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before assembling tiramisu.



Using electric mixer, beat together the mascarpone cheese, 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, and the Marsala until well incorporated.  Add the cream and beat until fluffy, about 1 min. Set aside.

Add remaining confectioners’ sugar (1/2 cup) to espresso and beat until sugar dissolves. Make sure this syrup is cool before using it.

Cut the pound cake into 1/2 – 1/3 inch (6-9 mm) thick slices.

Assemble layers in a large dish.  Mine was 13x9x2.5 inches (33x23x6 cm).

First, arrange the cake slices in a single layer to cover the bottom completely, trimming to fit as needed.

Brush half of the sugar syrup over the cake slices.  Brush half of the Kahlua over the cake slices.

Coat with half of the cheese mixture.

Repeat the cake/syrup/Kahlua/Cheese layers.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm up to 2 days.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift cocoa powder over the top just before serving.


Buon appetito!



Garlic Rosemary Pork Shoulder

For my husband’s birthday dinner I tried to mix healthy vegetable dishes with vile butter/carb plates.  With all the health hype the most popular items, naturally, were dill biscuits, casserole, and mashed potatoes.  Of course stuffing ourselves with the Evil Mother-In-Law Corn dish didn’t make us feel guilty at all, since healthy greens (in form of bean salad and plain steamed broccoli) were dutifully added to the plates!  See full menu here.

I used to try to show off with elaborate meals when I just got interested in cooking. Having kids dramatically changed my ambitions.  Now I find the simplest recipes more and more delicious appealing. I wonder why?..

Pork shoulder is almost ideal.  It requires minimal effort during the preparation and produces the awesomest results!

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  • 1 bone-in pork shoulder with skin
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6 stems rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste or your favorite meat seasoning /I LOVE  Goya Adobo – it’s a perfect blend of garlic, oregano, black pepper, and turmeric/


Don’t ask me why, but some people like crispy pork skin.  This recipe accommodates their weird tastes by higher heat in the beginning of baking and open lid and higher temperature in the end.  Otherwise, the secret of softest, most flavorful pork is in long low-temperature baking…

Generously season meat with salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning.  With a knife poke holes in the shoulder about 1 inch apart from each other.  Stuff the holes with garlic cloves and rosemary stems.  At this point the meat could be refrigerated for 24 hours, or you could bake it right away.

Preheat the oven to 425⁰ F (220⁰ C).

Position the pork shoulder in the baking pot (Dutch oven or turkey baking dish work great) skin up.

Bake at 425⁰ F for 30 min.  Cover with a lid or foil.  Lower temperature to 325⁰ F (160⁰ C).  Bake 30-40 minutes per pound.  During the last half hour of baking remove the lid and raise temperature to 350⁰ F  (175⁰ C) to crisp the skin.

Check the temperature with instant-read thermometer.  It should be at least 160⁰ F (71⁰ C).

Carve by removing the skin first.

Diet cosmo anyone?

A couple weeks ago my husband met the most adorable mix of Chihuahua and Shih Tzu…  and for two weeks he (the husband) has been making the saddest puppy face begging me “I want Scruffy”.  “My Birthday is coming”… “Scruffy Scruffy Scruffy”… Anyone who met a whiny 5-year-old knows the drill.

So, instead I gave him another thing he’s been asking about but I refused to deliver… A huge party!  All the neighbors and friends made their way to our kitchen, and you could not hear yourself talking how loud and fun it was.  

Here is the Russian way to party: eat as much as you can, wash it all down with vodka, sing and dance.  Repeat as many times as you can + 5.  Now, I know it’s mission impossible to make Americans do the singing and dancing; so we just focused on eating and drinking.

The guests started gathering about an hour before the dinner to find snacks waiting on the table: cheese and salami, freshly baked bread, nuts, grapes, and olives.

 A separate stand was set for a self-service bar.  My BFF Alma helped making this amazing hibiscus cosmopolitan.  I found the recipe in a magazine long ago, and wanted to try it ever since (from Jennifer Trainer’s “Caribbean Cocktails”).  On the plus side, Alma also pointed out that in her native Mexico, hibiscus tea is a famous diet drink (like green tea here).  Now, how could you possibly stop drinking this delicious cosmo after discovering that!?

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INGREDIENTS:For hibiscus tea:

  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
  • 1/3 cup super fine sugar

For cosmopolitan:

  • 1 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/3 cup of super fine sugar
  • Lemon juice from 3 lemons
  • Lime juice from 6 limes
  • 3 tbs fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
  • Ice cubes


The tea could be made in advance and kept in the fridge.  Pour boiling water over the tea and let brew for about 1 hour.  Strain and discard the flowers. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Whisk all cosmopolitan ingredients till sugar is dissolved.

Transfer mixture to an ice-filled cocktail shaker, and shake well; strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a twisted orange peel.

By the way, apparently it’s super easy to make a curl with an orange peel.  Just cut a straight line out and roll it with your fingers into a spring.  Who would have guessed, but it will stay this way!


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