30 October, 2015  |   Comment

Helen Jane’s Apple Crisp Sipper

My first apartment.
Winter in Wisconsin.

(This is me back in the mid-nineties, all film camera and apple crisp.)
Helen Jane, mid nineties

During a particularly brutal winter, in those early grown-up years, I learned to bake apple crisp.

The ingredients?
Inexpensive staples.
The outcome?
Warm and loving.

Now that I’m in sunny Napa Valley, November temperatures can reach the nineties. So when I’m craving something cold and cozy, spiced and sweet, fresh yet comforting, I make this Apple Crisp Sipper.

Turns out, this autumn-inspired cocktail is the perfect pre-Thanksgiving cocktail. Pair with gently spiced nuts to keep guests cheerful when the turkey roasts.

Helen Jane's Apple Crisp Sipper recipe

2 ounces apple juice
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce amaretto
2 ounces rum
2 ounces hard apple cider

Add the first four ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into an pre-iced old-fashioned glass. Fill the rest of the glass with hard apple cider. Garnish with a cinnamon-sugar crusted apple slices if you’re feeling ambitious or a cinnamon stick if you’re not.

Helen Jane's Apple Crisp Sipper recipe

Three cheers for cozy, icy drinks!

27 October, 2015  |   Comment

Halloween week snack recipe: Puffy Apple Pancake


After we eat this snack, our fingers are sticky. Sometimes we use a knife and fork, but that’s just when Pops is watching. This is our late night, Halloween week, under the covers snack.

We sip our hot tea or hot apple cider or bourbon and we watch Charlie Brown Halloweenand call each other “Blockhead”

“Hey! We don’t talk to each other like that.”
“Blockhead,” someone whispers under the blanket and we giggle some more.

We lick our fingers and (don’t tell Pops) wipe them on the blanket.
Then we cuddle under that blanket some more.


This snack that we make, it’s delicious and a little decadent and you probably have all the ingredients in your house right now. I found it in the The New Best Recipe cookbook that is really the only one I need these days.

To serve, cut it into slender old-lady slices or fat, sticky kid-fingered slices. I’m not going to judge.


2 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 apples, peeled and sliced thin
Powdered sugar for sprinkling
Maple syrup for drizzling

Preheat oven to 500°.
Take your blender out and put it on the counter.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in an oven-proof, non-stick skillet that’s about 10 inches wide.

Add the apples to the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the apples like you’re the gosh darned Halloween snack fairy you are. Cook and stir for 8 minutes, or until apples are slightly browned.

Since you’re a multi-tasker, you’re ALSO going to make the batter while the apples cook.

While the apples are sizzling, put eggs, half and half, vanilla, salt and sugar in your blender. Give it a whirl, for about 15 seconds or until it’s all mixed. Add the flour and blitz for another 30 seconds or so. Then just stop.

In between blender blitzing, check in on and stir your apples. Make sure they’re not burning. Take out a big cutting board so you don’t have to do it when you’re holding a hot skillet.

When the apples are done a’sizzling, pour the batter around the periphery of the pan, finishing the batter in the middle of the pan.

Turn the oven down to 425°.

Put the pan in the preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes, or until the batter puffs up around the apples all golden and warm.


With mitts and welding gloves, remove pan carefully from oven. Then, with a heatproof spatula, loosen the pancake from the pan. Flip the pancake onto a large cutting board.


We slice it in pizza triangles, and then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(But you could get crazy with little squares, or rectangles even.)
Pour maple syrup on it if you’re feeling extra-decadent.

Sleepytime tea makes a good pairing. Or hot apple cider. Or hot apple cider and bourbon. It’s Halloween week, after all.


12 August, 2015  |   1 Comment

Repost: For dinner tonight, make this Eighties Stuffed Chicken Breast recipe

I posted this recipe a few years ago, but it’s so good, I’m dusting it off again. Also, because we’re having it tonight for dinner and I’d just like to have it easy to access.Sun dried tomato and feta stuffed chicken breasts

One of the perks of being a dissatisfied child of the 1980’s was the development of a rich fantasy life.

My fantasy life included dreaming of my life as a Baby Boom Keaton, a thirtysomething striver.

The oldest 10 year old in the universe, I dreamed of a career in advertising, of arguments with my handsome bearded husband and dinner parties where everyone told the truth.
(P.S. Go me!)

Thirtysomething cast photo. I never saw the show but I was obsessed with the lifestyle.

Some of the most exciting parts of all that dreaming included the introduction of sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese as mainstream ingredients. Add them to bagels! Add them to your mixed green salads! They’re exotic! They’re for yuppies!

Eager to jump on culinary trends, this was one of the first dishes I made on my own.

80’s Stuffed Chicken Recipe

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cups bread crumbs
2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup of sun dried tomatoes, chopped small
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Pound the chicken breasts to a uniform 1/2 inch thickness. Salt and pepper them on the inside with 1/2 the pepper and 1/2 the salt (1/2 tsp, 1/2 tsp). Fold in half and put on a cookie sheet, set in the fridge while you make the stuffing.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter and the olive oil over medium high heat until they start to bubble, add the chopped onion and stir through – keep stirring for about 3 minutes, or until the onions start to become translucent.

Add bread crumbs, stir through.
Add the garlic, stir through.
Add the sun dried tomatoes, stir through.
Add the salt, oregano and red pepper flakes and stir those through too.

When the bread crumbs are a nice toasty brown color (about 5 minutes), turn off the heat and let mixture cool for about 15 minutes. Then stir through the shredded Parmesan cheese and the crumbled Feta cheese.

Take the chicken breasts out of the fridge. Unfold each breast, put about 3/4 cup of the stuffing mixture into the middle, and then fold the rest of the breast over the top of the stuffing. Put back in the fridge.

Wash out the pan you made the stuffing in (any extra stuffing is yours, by the way)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Over medium-high heat, melt the other 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in the large, clean sauté pan.

Remove as many chicken breasts from the baking sheet that fit comfortably in the saute pan and put them in the sauté pan.

Closeup view of 80's Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Brown the stuffed chicken on each side, being careful not to spill too much stuffing out of the folded breast. It’s a little bit of a messy process, but it’s worth it.

Clean off the baking sheet and cover it with foil.

When the chicken breasts are browned, put them on the baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes.

After I put the chicken breasts in the oven, I heat up water to cook the angel hair pasta I serve alongside. (And now I have The Angel Song in my head. Thanks Great White.)

We served 80s Stuffed Chicken Breasts with this Girard Sauvignon Blanc. But I bet a light red would have also done the trick.
2012 Girard Sauvignon Blanc

My handsome bearded husband put on the Diana Krall Pandora Station, because there’s something about lady jazz that screams sophisticated eighties dinner party.

Truly, a testimony to knowing what you want out of life.

Pinot, no, you can’t have any.
Pinot wants to get some food. Nope. Nuh uh.

Happy 80’s Stuffed Chicken Day!
80's Stuffed Chicken Recipe

26 January, 2015  |   3 Comments

Recipe for Whole 30 HJ Burgers

One of January’s challenges is keeping on the Whole 30 while feeding the rest of my family.
They love me, but they will not participate in any such thing.

It’s totally cool.
I get to eat burgers like these.

We get around the meals with food like Whole 30 HJ Burgers. I eat these meat patties wrapped in butter lettuce with onions, bacon and mayo. They eat these burgers with delicious hamburger buns and Zesties. We’re all happy.

Ingredients for HJ Whole 30 BurgersIngredients
1 pound hamburger
1/2 pound pork sausage
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp seasoning salt
1 tsp kosher salt


Mix the garlic salt, seasoning salt, kosher salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Crack and beat the egg in another small bowl until blended.
Cut 12 pieces of wax paper into pieces roughly 8×8 inches square.

Wash your hands.

Unwrap the meat onto a large cutting board.
Squish the meat together, add the garlic salt and pepper and seasoning salt and the egg.
Continue to smoosh together with your hands.
Create a shape unlike any found in nature and laugh and weep at the same time.

Scoop into snowball sized balls. I can make 10 of them.
How many can you make?

Squish meat balls to a thickness somewhere between 1/2 and 1 inch.

Stack the hamburgers in between the pieces of wax paper.

Put the hamburgers in the refrigerator while you pull the rest of the fixins together — wash the lettuce (dry it too), slice tomato and onions, frizzle the bacon.

Heat a cast iron skillet (we use this griddle from Lodge) over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.

Cook each burger for about 3 minutes per side. You can do this on any flat pan-like surface.

For the rest of my family, I add the cheese after I flip the burgers.

For me, I go cheeseless.
It’s a sacrifice I make for one month, every year.

Then we toast the buns that I won’t eat and I serve the burgers with all the fixins.

So, what are you eating by the end of January? Any new foods in your rotation? Any tips for lettuce wrap burgers? Tell me these things.

20 August, 2014  |   3 Comments

Wine Wednesday: Make This Wine Cake Recipe

Today, today I need some wine cake.
I think you might too.

Nora Lea wants the wine cake, but she can't have the wine cake

This buttery, dense yellow cake is a Napa Valley bake sale staple. It uses a yellow cake mix, but tastes so much more complex.

You don’t need fancy white wine for this — Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc is my go to wine for this recipe (it was $3.99).  I’d recommend staying away from something with any oakiness — or anything too floral.

Cake ingredients
1 box yellow cake mix
1 three and a half ounce box instant vanilla pudding
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Glaze Ingredients
1 stick butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine

Assemble your ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease and flour a 10″ Bundt pan.

Combine the yellow cake mix,
box of instant vanilla pudding,
white wine,
vegetable oil and
all four eggs in a large bowl and
beat with a well-muscled arm or an electric mixer.

Pour the batter into your choice of pan.

There is wine cake batter in the bundt pan.

Put the cake pan in the 350 oven for 45-50 minutes.

Check out the side of this wine cake.

About 15 minutes before the cake is done (at the 30 minute mark), make the glaze.
Stir the butter with the water, sugar and white wine over medium heat and let simmer for roughly 10 minutes. Stir frequently.
Pour a buttery, burney glaze over the cake.

Be careful, for it is sugar and it will hurt you badly if it gets on your skin.
Remove from heat. Set aside.

Remove the cake or cupcakes from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

After the cake’s cool, poke holes in the bottom (top) of the cake.

Pour 1/2 of the glaze into and around the holes. Give the cake a little time to fully absorb the glaze.

Invert the cake onto a serving dish and drizzle the rest of the glaze on the top of the cake.

We used unsweetened whipped cream for the topping – because the cake is pretty sweet with that glaze, but we wanted a pretty white top.

Then you can bring it to bocce. Or bowling. Or church. Or to a community center where people might appreciate your expertise. Or that next city council meeting. Or that peaceful protest against the militarization of our police departments. Bring this cake to that.

It’s also handsome husband approved.

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