Hugh Mercer Apothecary & Red Wine Cupcakes


We spent some of our visit to Belle Grove Plantation in nearby Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is a hub of history, given its importance as a port town during Colonial times and location halfway between both Civil War capitals.

On Caroline Street sits an eighteenth-century building, restored by Preservation Virginia, which houses a reconstruction of the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.


In the middle of the 18th century, Dr. Mercer fled Scotland and traveled to Pennsylvania. He moved to Fredericksburg on the advice of George Washington whom he met during the French and Indian War. Washington encouraged him to practice medicine and operate a pharmacy in the Virgina town.


For the next 15 years, Dr. Mercer did just that. The medicines and treatments of the time are now on display in this first-person, interactive museum.


Tours are led by Dr. Mercer’s assistants who are dressed in period clothing and stay in period character. They explain the combinations of herbs, extracts, and barks used to cure patients.


In the surgery room, guests learn how toothaches were treated, broken limbs were mended, and patients were bled. Live leeches are the stars of the tour and ensured my gratitude for 20th century medicine!

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I loved learning that many Colonial era medicines are in present-day kitchens


and, while some were fashioned into pills, others were mixed and taken with wine.

But the Hugh Mercery Apothecary wasn’t the only Colonial site that left an impression on me during our time in Fredericksburg. Just down Caroline Street is Colonial Cupcakes,

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an ingenious shop where you get to choose your cake, icing, and extras; they customize your cupcake while you wait in their cozy living room.

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Seemed to me that cupcakes would be just as good a medicine-delivery method as wine. Or, better yet? Red wine cupcakes!


Click Here To Print This Recipe.


For the Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups red wine
  • Cinnamon

For the Frosting

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons red wine


For the Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with 24 liners; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In the stand of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla and beat.
  • Alternate addition of dry ingredients and wine, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing until just incorporated.


  • Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cake with cinnamon.


For the Frosting

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and creamy.
  • Slowly add sugar; beat until incorporated.
  • Add vanilla and wine.
  • Mix on medium high for 3-5 minutes or until desired consistency is reached.


Yields 24 cupcakes. This recipe was adapted from


Publican Quality Meats & Chocolate Hazelnut Soufflé


It’s Center City Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, a time when 100 downtown restaurants offer a three-course, $35 dinner menu, and that reminds me of a recent visit to Chicago.  My last trip to the Windy City fell during the 5th annual Chicago Chef Week, prix-fixe dining at 75 of the city’s top culinary destinations, and I couldn’t resist taking part in the $22 lunch menu!

Choosing where to go was a challenge until I saw that the list included Publican Quality Meats, owned by James Beard Outstanding Chef Semifinalist Paul Kahan and visited by Anthony Bourdain on his Chicago layover. It also happened to be in the meatpacking district, an area of Chicago I hadn’t yet visited, so I set off on the mile walk from where I was staying in the Loop


to the meatpacking district.

[Under-researched traveler alert!] I was fully expecting Chicago’s meatpacking district to look like New York City’s — a hip, thriving neighborhood buzzing with bars, restaurants, and people. But while I was picturing this…

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I got this…


a fully-functioning area with commercial meat sellers and very few visitors…well, until I got inside Publican Quality Meats, that is!

Each table of this warm, charming neighborhood cafe and shop was filled


with people eager to buy something from the butcher shop,


procure a treat from the bakery and gourmet market,


or settle in for a nice lunch from their seasonal menu.


For my first course, I ordered the beet and faro salad with roasted butternut squash, frisee, pecans, farmers cheese, and an orange brown butter vinaigrette.


I love when chefs let the ingredients speak for themselves. This dish was well balanced and each bite made my palate more and more excited for my second course — “Return of the Gyro”.


A braised pork belly, raita, escalavida, and pea shoots sandwich with calabrian chili vinaigrette on griddled flatbread,


each bite was better than the last. The pork belly was cooked perfectly and the sandwich was a fabulous mix of flavors and textures. At this point, you can imagine how excited I was for dessert!

For dessert, I was served a Hazelnut Paris-Brest, a classic French dessert that resembles a bicycle wheel


and was, well, disappointing. After such exquisite first and second courses, I found it a bit dry and lacking depth.

Now, I’m far from a James Beard semi-finalist, but I would have much preferred a different delicate French dessert with hazelnut, a Chocolate Hazelnut Soufflé! Soufflé should be served right out of the oven and, since guests order all courses up front, would be a great choice for a Restaurant Week or Chef Week…or your next dinner party!


Click Here To Print This Recipe.


  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat to 375 degrees. Butter 8 ramekins or 1 soufflé dish, dust with cocoa powder, and place on baking sheet. Set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine Frangelico, espresso powder, and vanilla, stirring until the espresso powder is dissolved. Add sugar and cocoa powder; stir to combine.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat milk until steaming.
  • Meanwhile, melt butter and oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook over medium-low heat, whisking, until the mixture is the consistency of thick batter, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, one at a time, until incorporated. Whisk in the Frangelico-cocoa mixture.


  • In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add salt. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until shiny and stiff, but not dry.
  • Using a rubber spatula, stir one-third of whites into batter mixture. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites just until evenly distributed. Spoon the batter into the prepared dish(es).

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  • Bake until puffed and top cracks, 15-20 minutes for individual ramekins, 35-40 minutes for large soufflé. Serve immediately as soufflé will deflate upon removing from oven.

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Serving Suggestions: Pair with vanilla ice cream or gelato and drizzled Nutella.


This recipe was adapted from Eating Well’s Kahlua & Chocolate Souffle recipe.

First on the First: Pickled Peaches


If Peter Piper had picked a peck of pickled peaches, I would have been much more intrigued. This month’s First on the First challenge was pickles and, while I love traditional cucumber pickles, I wanted to create something that would lend itself better to sweet treats. And it turned out to be a great success!

Turning your nose up or giving me the side eye? Think of pickled peaches like infused peaches to release that wrinkle in your nose or skeptical look! After a week of soaking with bourbon, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, citrus, and ginger,


this summer fruit is sophisticated and versatile.


Click Here to Print This Recipe.


  • 4 ripe but firm peaches
  • Zest of 1 orange, cut into strips
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, slivered
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla


  • Peel peaches and cut into wedges.
  • Pack peach slices, strips of orange zest, cinnamon sticks, and ginger into 4 Ball jars; set aside.
  • In a sauce pan, simmer water, vinegar, sugars, bourbon, and vanilla until sugar dissolves.
  • Cool liquid mixture slightly; pour over fruit, covering fruit and filling jar to the top.
  • Place lids on jars, cool jars to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Serving Suggestions:

These pickled peaches can be enjoyed right out of the jar,


over Belgian waffles and vanilla ice cream,


or pureed in green tea-coconut popsicles!


(For the popsicle recipe, which can be used with any pureed fruit, visit and “like” the Suitcases & Sweets Facebook page.)

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