Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Delicate Blend of Soft-Spoken & Sweet

This drink is inspired by the very first friend I met in Phoenix: Katie Davis.  We’ve shared many fond memories over the years, from high school outings, to trips to Europe, to good old movie nights.  She just got a job in New York City and moved there in time for New Years.  This toast is dedicated to her.  Best of luck, Katie and Tristan, as you explore an exciting and fresh chapter in your lives!  Happy New Years, everyone!

1 oz. Elderflower liqueur, like St. Germain
Raspberries, to garnish

Pour the Elderflower liqueur into a tall flute and fill the rest of the glass with Champagne.  Add raspberries for color and decoration.  Share with someone special.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Baking with the Kids

The week before Christmas, Sean and I visited his family in Ohio.  While we were there, we made several batches of cookies with his niece and nephews.  We had such a good time that I couldn’t help but post the pictures here with the recipe we used from Hershey.  I hope you’ve all had a Merry Christmas and that your baking adventures have been as fun as mine. 

48 Hershey’s Kisses
½ C. Shortening
¾ C. Peanut butter
1/3 C. Granulated sugar
1/3 C. Packed light brown sugar
1 Egg
2 T. Milk
1 t. Vanilla
1-1/2 C. All-purpose flour
1 t. Baking soda
½ t. salt
Granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375.  Remove wrappers from chocolates.

Beat shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl until well blended.  Add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well.  Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture. 

Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet. 

Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Immediately press a chocolate into the center of each cookie.  The cookie will crack around the edges.  Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.  Cool completely. 

Friday, December 16, 2011


These truffles will change your world, knock your socks off twice and convince you that chocolate may indeed be better than sex, just this once.  Need I say more?


7 oz. of your favorite milk chocolate, chopped
6 oz. heavy cream
Pinch of salt
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
Crushed nuts, candy cane pieces, white chocolate, to adorn

In a double boiler, heat the milk chocolate and cream, stirring until smooth and incorporated.  Add the salt and stir to combine.  Allow to cool to room temperature and place the mixture in the refrigerator to set overnight. 

Take the refrigerated mixture and scoop out small spoonfuls, rolling them into balls with your hands.  Place them on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer.  You will need to work quickly because they will begin to melt.  If the mixture becomes too soft to work with, place it in the refrigerator for several minutes.  Once you have made all of the balls, set the cookie sheet in the freezer so they firm up. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, melt the semisweet chocolate chips until smooth and manageable and set aside.  Organize and prepare your toppings. 

Remove the balls from the freezer and carefully dip them into the melted chocolate and place them back on the parchment paper.  The semisweet chocolate will begin to harden and the balls themselves will stay soft on the inside.  Sprinkle them with you’re your favorite toppings and place them back in the fridge until you are ready to serve.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Salted Caramel Cocoa

My European soul mate, Charlotte, introduced me to this scrumptious cocoa.  On a freezing day in Albi, France, I rode my bike through sleet and rain to get to Charlotte's flat in the city center.  When I arrived, soaked to the bone, she served me this delicious concoction.  I've added salted caramel, but it's just as satiating without it.  C’est vraiment le TOP! 

3.5 oz. milk chocolate bar
Sea salt, ground
Salted Caramel sauce, recipe follows
2 C. Whole milk
Whipping Cream
Espresso (when needed)

In a saucepan, bring the whole milk to a steam.  Do not let it boil.  Add the chocolate bar and melt until the mixture is truly milk chocolate.  Add 1-2 T. of caramel sauce and whisk into the mixture.  Pour into your favorite mug and top with whipped cream.  Drizzle with caramel sauce for show.  Sprinkle sea salt on top to garnish. 

*For the salted caramel sauce, I use the Joy of Cooking recipe and add salt. 

¼ C. Water
1 C. Sugar
½ C. butter, in cubes
½ C. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla
6 pinches of salt (about ½ t.)

Dissolve 1 C. of sugar in ¼ C. water.  Bring to a boil and allow it to cook to dark amber.  Add the butter and stir to combine.  Add the heavy cream and thoroughly combine.  Add vanilla and salt to taste.  The caramel sauce is thin until it sits, so allow it to cool before drizzling over the cocoa.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Popcorn with Truffle Oil & Parmesan

There once was a brilliant speakeasy-style piano bar in Flagstaff, Arizona.  It was owned by two culinary geniuses that disappeared in the blink of an eye.  This recipe is inspired by them, wherever they may be.  If you're looking for a trendy new snack for movie night, try this delicately flavored popcorn with your favorite cocktail.  Thank you Paola and Brian for all the good memories.

1 packet of microwave popcorn
2 T. white truffle oil
½ C. grated, fresh Parmesan cheese

Pop the corn according to package instructions, being careful not to burn it.  When it is ready, drizzle with truffle oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Toss to incorporate. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Sylaska: Intellectual Introspection

Some time ago, I had the idea to create a “how I see you” drink.  This is the first of several special drink recipes, inspired by my closest friends.  This first one is inspired by my dear friend Kateryna who is witty and well-versed, loyal, loving and accomplished and who probably knows me better than I know myself.  This drink is sweet and tart with an amaretto finish. 

Love you, K.

1 part Disaronno
2 parts Sour Mix
1 t. Vanilla
Raspberry, to garnish

In a small, round glass, mix the Disaronno and Sour Mix over ice.  Float the vanilla on top and garnish with raspberry.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

French Silk Pie

This is one of my favorite desserts, hands down.  I remember always thinking the slices you’d get at the diner were too small – I always wanted a second.  So, I decided to learn to make it myself.  This is the result.  It is smooth and rich and sweet and salty and amazingly decadent.  And, you probably have all the ingredients to make it right now! 

1 C. butter
1 1/2 C. sugar
4 eggs
1 t. vanilla
6 T. cocoa powder
3/4 t. salt
Pie crust
Whipped cream and melted chocolate, to garnish

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.  When light and fluffy, add 1 egg at a time and beat for 5 minutes after each egg.  *It's important to beat each egg for 5 full minutes so that the pie will set.  After the fourth egg, add the vanilla and cocoa powder.  Taste and season with up to 3/4 t. salt – it really develops the chocolate’s flavor.  Pour the mixture into a baked and cooled pie crust and place in the refrigerator.  Allow pie to set for 3 hours and then garnish with melted chocolate and whipped cream.  

Happy Thanksgiving! Sweet Potatoes

Every Thanksgiving, my dad is our chef.  I never interfere with the staples because they’re so good and if we didn’t have them, it wouldn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. This year, I’ll be contributing two dishes:  Sweet Potatoes and French Silk Pie.  What dish do you make every year that you can’t live without?  Please share them down below!

A long time ago, a friend’s friend delivered Thanksgiving leftovers to my apartment.  My friend Kateryna and I raved over his sweet potatoes.  He never surrendered the recipe, so I’ve recreated it here.  These potatoes are soft and creamy with a crunchy walnut strudel topping. 

10 sweet potatoes, cleaned but not peeled
¾ C. flour
½ C. oats
1 ½ C. packed brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
¾ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 C. cold butter, divided
1 egg
2 C. walnuts (or pecans), chopped

Preheat oven to 400.  With a fork, prick each cleaned sweet potato and place on large baking sheet.  Bake for 50 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.  (You could also microwave them for about 12 minutes on high).  Remove them from the oven and allow to cool.  Lower oven’s temperature to 350.  Slice each potato in half, lengthwise and place in an oven-safe dish.  Make crosshatch cuts in each potato. 

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Add the butter and work it into the mixture with your fingers until it is the size of peas.  Add the egg and cut it into the mixture with a knife and fork, until thoroughly combined.  Add the walnuts and toss to combine. 

Spread the leftover butter over the potatoes, allowing butter to melt into the crosshatches.  Spoon some of the strudel mixture on each potato and bake for 30 minutes until the topping is crunchy and golden brown.  These potatoes are great warm or at room temperature.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sue's Chili

My good friend Sue made this chili for me a long time ago when I was feeling under the weather.  It hit the spot then and it's tasted just as great ever since.  This chili is sweet and hearty and comforting.  It is a staple at my Halloween and Super Bowl parties and my go-to when I just want to curl up under a blanket on a winter afternoon.  This weekend, I made it for my weekly Amazing Race get-together and it was a hit.  Thank you Sue, for sharing! 

*Thank you to my friend Ruth for the cornbread in this picture.  

2 lbs. ground beef
3 onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cans stewed tomato
4 cans beans (I use Black, Northern, & Kidney)
1+ T. sugar
1 T. salt
Pepper, to taste
1 T. chili powder
1+ T. Worcester sauce
1/2 C. chili sauce

Brown the beef and onions in a large pot.  Add the stewed tomatoes and beans.  Bring to a simmer.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer.  Cook at least one hour, or all day.  Season to taste with extra sugar and Worcester sauce.  Serve with cheddar cheese and cornbread. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


One of the best memories I have comes from my time studying in France.  Thanks to my friend Maddie, I met an incredibly generous French family named Anglais.  To prove just how small the world really is, Maddie met the famille Anglais while they were on summer holiday in the southwest United States.  They had stopped for lunch in Flagstaff, Arizona, at a restaurant where Maddie worked.  Because she spoke a bit of French, she was designated as their server.  Through struggling to take their order, Maddie learned that this family was not only half the world away from home, but that they actually lived in the INCREDIBLY small town of Albi – the same town where we’d be for our semester abroad!  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

When we arrived in France, the Anglais family invited Maddie and me to their home, an invitation we eagerly and nervously accepted.  I still remember our first car ride to their house – a terrifying drive, chased by dogs, over a river and through the woods, up a winding mountainside, to their family farm.  Despite their name, they didn’t speak a word of English, so that first meeting was filled mostly with nods of feigned comprehension and uncomfortable smiles.  Needless to say, Maddie and I learned quite a bit of our French from them. 

We had many great adventures with the Anglais family, ranging from picking wild asparagus to arguing over parts of speech. Our ultimate experience, however, was an invitation to “lunch.”  Little did we know, that lunch actually meant a 7-course meal.  Ann, the mother and a talented cook, prepared salad with grapefruit and foie gras, veal in tomato sauce, rice with veggies and tuna, among many other delicious concoctions.  Each time we finished second helpings of one dish, another was placed before us.  And I’ll admit, we ate it all!  By the end of the meal, all Maddie and I wanted to do was roll home and fall into bed for a well-deserved nap. 

But nooooooooo!  After lunch, the family asked if we’d like to see a ruined temple nearby.  Maddie and I caught each other’s eyes across the table and hesitantly and groggily acquiesced.  We drove for an hour – yes an HOUR – until we pulled off to the side of the road beneath a big hill.  We got out of the car and slowly gazed up the hill to an itsy-bitsy temple at the top.  Maddie and I nodded and smiled and told them how nice it was.  We turned to get back in the car, but everyone started to climb the hill.  We looked at each other in disbelief.  They wanted to go all the way to the top of that hill, after the huge lunch we had eaten and with the food coma we had acquired!  

Of course we did climb the hill, explored the ancient temple and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  It was a singularly incredible experience with wonderful people and a scrumptious table of food.  I wish I could have adventures like this one everyday. 

I was able to cook several times with Ann, and she even gave me a copy of her favorite cookbook, La Cuisine de Ducasse par Sophie, (, which I use when I’m feeling particularly confident. 

I’m a big fan of the Disney & Pixar film Ratatouille, so I was thrilled when Ann served it at her feast.  Ratatouille is a French peasant dish that originated in the Occitan region of France.  It’s versatile and hearty and can be served as a side dish or appetizer, but I eat it as a meal.  Serve it hot or at room temperature with crusty bread and Parmesan shavings.  It only gets better with time, so cook it the day before you serve it. 

Olive oil
1 Onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium eggplant,
1 yellow zucchini,
1 green zucchini
5 tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Herbs de Provence
Fresh parsley, basil and Parmesan shavings, to garnish

Chop the eggplant, zucchini and tomato into small chunks and set them aside. 

In a large heavy bottom pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add onions and sauté until they start to sweat.  Season with salt and pepper and dried herbs.  Add the garlic and toss until fragrant.  Add the eggplant and zucchini and season with salt and pepper and herbs again.   Drizzle with more olive oil.  Once the eggplant and zucchini have softened, add the tomatoes, with their juice.  Season once more and stir to incorporate. 

Allow the ratatouille to cook over medium low heat.  If the mixture becomes gelatinous, add some water.  Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, basil and shavings of Parmesan. 

*If I have the time, I will cook each vegetable separately for more distinct flavors and then combine them at the end.  If  I don’t have the time, I cook them together and it still tastes great. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Crab Cups

I could probably eat Chinese food every day for the rest of my life and be completely happy.  There’s something so satisfying to me about pot stickers, crispy wantons and the whole spectrum of veggies, sauces, meats and stir-fries.  One of my favorite Chinese-American appetizers is the crab puff.  I made countless attempts to recreate them at home and this recipe is my perfected result.  My crab cups are sweet and tangy and baked instead of fried.  

8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. imitation crab, chopped into fine pieces
2 green onions, whites only, finely diced
2 t. Sugar
2 t. rice wine vinegar
Cooking spray
Wonton Wrappers

Preheat oven to 350.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, crab and green onion.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and rice wine vinegar and stir until sugar has almost dissolved.  Add the sweet vinegar to the crab mixture.  Combine. 

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and press a wonton wrapper into each impression.  Place a spoonful of the crab mixture to each wrapper and bake until the wanton tips are golden brown.  Serve them with sweet and sour sauce.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Caramelized Onion Dip

I thought long and hard about what recipe should be shared first.  I wanted something simple but remarkable.  Caramelized Onion Dip is just that.  It’s easy and impressive and the onions do all the work.  Be sure to cook them low and slow until they are amber brown.  This thorough caramelization will give you the most flavor and the best dip.  Make this dip several hours ahead of time so the flavors can marry.

1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 C. mayonnaise
1/2 C. sour cream
1 t. paprika
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt & pepper

Sauté the onion in 1 T olive oil or butter on very low heat until the onions are an amber brown.  This thorough caramelization will give you the most flavor and the best dip.  Remove onion from heat and allow to cool.  Mix together, mayonnaise, sour cream, paprika and cayenne.  Add the onions and mix to thoroughly combine.  Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.  Serve with plain kettle chips or crackers.  

***Thank you for the feedback on the cayenne - I normally make this recipe on the spicy side, but it can be a bit overwhelming.  Season to taste.  

Bienvenue et Bon Appétit!

Welcome to Natural Sugar!  I’m excited to finally launch this site and start sharing my collection of recipes!  These recipes have been inspired by many of the talented people in my life and perfected to create approachable, impressive and delicious food.

To me, food is more than that stuff you eat 3 times a day.  It is meant to enhance life.  Remember the last time you had a craving for something and when you finally ate it!  Remember how satiating it was to sink your teeth into that one thing you had wanted all day?  That’s how food should be all the time!  Scrumptious.  Delectable. Even orgasmic. 

Now, I don’t know too many people who can afford to satisfy every craving they have, so the recipes featured here will be varied.  There will be simple ones with modest budgets and ingredients, and pricey ones for special occasions. (Who can live without splurging once in awhile?)  But each recipe will indubitably satisfy your hunger and impress your taste buds.  

In addition to the recipes displayed on this site, there will be stories.  One of my favorite things about food is how it brings people together.  Have you ever cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberries for just yourself?  I didn’t think so.  Just as Thanksgiving dinner is best when it’s enjoyed by a group of your closest family and friends, food is best when it’s shared with others.  Natural Sugar will include some of my best memories, adventures and experiences, each revolving around food and friends.

I hope that from this collection of recipes, you will take away some helpful hints, create amazing food and memories and find that impressive cooking is actually not as difficult as it may seem.