Thursday, September 30, 2010

Boozy Lollicakes

Cakes brought home for my kids
My cousin Jessica is hip. Yesterday’s blog from New York blogger Small Bites chronicles the recent trendiness of boozy desserts.  (Thanks for the reTweet TspBasil!).  And what dessert generally gets the instant attention of lots (over 150) hungry guests? Wedding cake. Over the weekend, I attended Jessica’s wedding in Denver and her wedding cake hit the trendiness meter on two points:  Boozy cake and a cake of individual portions, i.e., the small plate thing that makes a diner/guest feel special.

Inside of a strawberry Lollicake
 Here’s what she served: Lollicakes!  Specifically, they were Guiness stout doused dark chocolate cake with Bailey's cream cheese frosting.  How's that for boozy?!

Individual Lollicakes are fresh cake crumbs mixed with creamy frosting all inside an adorable candy shell. The best part:  The Lollicakes were the classy centerpiece of dining tables. So we all got to indulge in them before dinner. And that makes a dinner occasion just a little more special...when adults get to eat dessert before dinner just like the kids!

By the way, my cousin also chose a Mexican fiesta theme for her wedding feast! The delicious buffet included cheese empanadas, beef and bean burritos, make-your-own-tacos and lots of pickled jalapenos!  Maybe she's ahead of another trend!

My niece eating dessert before dinner

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pixy Stix Fountain of Youth

Chocolate-covered Caramel Corn
 Yesterday we discovered the Fountain of Youth. It’s in the next town over, in Riverside, it’s…(drum roll, please)…Aunt Diana’s Candy Makers.

We know it’s the source of a food that will help you live ‘forever’ because we took the kids to sing ‘Happy 90th Birthday’ to a sweet elderly lady from church yesterday. And she told us she’s eaten Aunt Diana’s chocolates regularly for the last 37 years of her life. (It was established in 1973.) If fact, while she was pontificating about being 90, we were interrupted by her friend who brought over her favorite Aunt Diana’s peanut butter fudge.

Chocolate Fangs
Upon leaving, we sped to Aunt Diana’s. We emerged from the cozy, Halloween-decorated shop with chocolate-covered caramel corn (salty, sweetness enrobed in rich milk chocolate), chocolate vampire fangs, a gum cigar and Pixy Stix.  Soon, I’ll be returning to the old fashioned candy counter for chocolate- covered peanut butter pretzels, chocolate-covered apricots and homemade butter toffee topped with chocolate – all in the name of lengthening my life expectancy, of course. 
Eating a Pixy Stix is tricky

The Pixy Stix were for our little girls. My husband and I were curious to see how they’d like a quirky candy we loved as children. Plus, small 6-inch straws of powdered artificial flavor seemed the appropriate amount of sugar for a 2 year old right before lunch.

Pixy Stix & PB Sandwich
But, neither my 5-year old, nor the 2-year old got it…the whole sprinkle-powder-on-your-tongue- thing was too complex.   Then, my husband remembered the Pixie Stick sandwich scene in the movie The Breakfast Club.  We set the girls up with bread and peanut butter and they had great fun sprinkling the powder over their peanut butter sandwiches – really not a bad lunch if you wash it all down with milk.  But if you remember, Ally Sheedy had a Pixy Stix AND Cap’n Crunch sandwich, washed down with Coke.  We didn’t tell the girls about the cereal/Coke part of the lunch.  However, if you care to try it, I found a legit YumSugar recipe.  And here's the clip to make all moms who pack lunches shudder:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This last week was the second week of kindergarten for my 5 year-old.  Whew!  We made it!  I think it was crazier than the first week of school.  Thus I've been remiss in providing the requested Chocolate Zucchini Cake recipe to a reader.  Let's hope you still have lots of zucchini hanging around.  I do.  And this recipe from dear old cook I once knew is worth making again and again.  It freezes beautifully; just refrigerate it first and then lay plastic wrap directly on the frosting top and freeze in any container for no more than about 6 weeks.  (Laying plastic wrap on it keeps it from getting freezer burned.) 

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Cream together:
1/2 c butter
1/2 c oil
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
In a separate bowl, whisk together:
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
4 Tbsp cocoa powder
Combine liquid and dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
Fold in:
2 c grated zucchini
1/2 c buttermilk
Pour into 9x13' pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Bring to a boil:
1/2 c butter
2 Tbsp cocoa
3 Tbsp milk
Stir in:
1/3 - 1/2 pound powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pour onto cake immediately.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pear Caramel Surprise

The flavor combo of pear and caramel is glorious. In fact I was just talking to my mom on the phone about it last night. She’s on vacation in Washington and stumbled upon a small little chocolate shop and was offered a sample taste of a rich pear caramel sauce. Upon swooning when she tasted it, she told the owner of the shop that it reminded her of a sauce made near her home in Montana, King’s Cupboard Pear Cinnamon Caramel Sauce from Red Lodge. The owners response surprised Mom, the sauce was in fact the same sauce from King’s Cupboard that the Washington chocolate shop found to be so delicious and high-quality that they bottled it and sold it under their own label!

Similarly, today in my own kitchen, I was surprised to discover a swooningly delicious pear caramel sauce from a rather astonishing source.

You may remember that I mentioned a Pear Grumble in my list of to-make pear recipes. I was fascinated by the name “grumble”; I’ve heard of fruit slumps and bettys and of course, cobblers and crisps. I was also intrigued by the recipe directions which described mixing up a cobbler-like dough and then folding in the pears, followed by pouring boiling water and melted butter and brown sugar over the whole grumble. Amazingly, I found the recipe in a children’s fairy tale book that I happened to pick up for my five-year-old. She loves fairy tales from around the world and she enjoys cooking. The book combined both her loves: Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters; tales retold by Jane Yolena and recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Recipes accompany each of the delightful stories in the book. The grumble story was The Magic Pear Tree tells the story of a wandering poor Chinese priest who asks for a simple pear from a miserly farmer. The farmer refuses, but the priest is finally given a pear by a town guard. The priest eats the pear and then with the seeds proceeds to grow a magical pear tree and then distributes the fruit to townspeople. The greedy farmer is left with nothing.

She refused to wear a shirt today
My two-year old did an amazing job of dicing the pears with her kid’s knife after I peeled, cored and sliced them. While she took eons to dice, I mixed up the recipe which I adapted to include nutty whole wheat flour, more pears and spice, and less sugar and butter.

The recipe is actually entitled “Magic Pear Grumble.” And not only does it magically produce golden brown bready tufts atop thick syrupy spiced pears (thanks to the ‘magic’ ingredient of the hot water poured on top before baking,) but the amazing buttery pear caramel produced around the edges of this Grumble is cause enough alone to run to your kitchen and start creating some fairy tale magic. (Make certain YOU get an edge piece!)

Magic Pear Grumble (Adapted from recipe by Heidi E.Y. Stemple)
2/3 c white flour
1/3 c whole wheat flour                                
2/3 c sugar (scant)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c milk (fat-free is fine)
6 ripe pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
3 1/2 tblsp butter, cut in chunks
3/4 c boiling water
1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  In large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
3.  Add milk and whisk until smooth.  Batter will be thick.
4.  Fold in pears.
5.  Pour batter into ungreased baking dish.
6.  Place brown sugar and butter in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over; stir until melted.
7.  Pour hot water mixture over batter in baking dish.  Do not mix.
8.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Do not overbake, grumble will be syrupy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Good Housekeeping Not-Approved

I love to try out new recipes. When I cook for my family, I retrieve recipes from a variety of sources: Favorites include Cooking Light magazine or Meal Makeover Moms for their healthy but yummy and fun-to-try selections; and for especially seasonal cooking in the summer and fall from our weekly farmer’s market bounty, I go to Relish Magazine. When I entertain, I also have favorite recipe receptacles – but I match the source to the character of the guests. For foodie friends, I go to: Epicurious or Food52 for trendy, conversation-starting fare; for relatives from the Michigan or Montana country: Tried-and-true Mark Bittman or Betty Crocker or the spiral-bound community/church cookbooks fit the bill; and for new friends (or for folks yet-unknown whom my husband invites over after church,) I have a stack of recipes-to-try that are a little modern but “triple-tested with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” I assume they have mass-appeal and they are from Good Housekeeping magazine. Well, unfortunately, today, Good Housekeeping failed me.

Leftovers- actually quite delicious!
My husband invited four fresh young undergrad students home for lunch after church today. (He met them on Wednesday but forgot to tell me they were coming over for lunch today until last night.) No worries – I’d planned to make Chilled Corn & Bacon Soup for dinner tonight anyway, so I just rushed around before church to prepare it a couple hours early. We had lots of fresh corn in the house and we always have bacon.

So around noon, as the young scholars were sitting in the other room chatting with my husband and daughters, I was struck with a bit of horror while dishing up the soup. I had known that “chilled” soup was possibly a stretch for college students – but it was a Good Housekeeping recipe – tested to appeal to the masses, right? However, the appearance of the cold soup may have escaped the Good Housekeeping testers. You see, there are two sorts of guests for whom you should probably not serve any soup with the look of, well, throw-up: College students and mothers of preschoolers. (This was especially top of mind since my 2 ½ year-old threw up on her dress not FIVE minutes before we were supposed to walk out the door to church this morning. In true inexplicable two-year-old fashion, she was fine 10 minutes after her mishap. We were late for church.)

Well, as the poor co-eds sat down to our table, I announced the menu: Warm sourdough bread with our own Ginger Pear Preserves, lettuce salad with red peppers and chick peas and home-made basil vinaigrette, and Chilled Corn & Bacon Soup. Silence.

In the end, I surmised that two of the dear guests liked it (seriously!) One guy was just really hungry and ate the soup and lots of bread. And one poor invitee choked down as much as was polite to do in the home of a strangers. My own little girl was familiar with her mother’s cooking style and her mother’s fondness for chilled soups this past summer; she asked for a second helping. Her father promptly emptied his soup into her bowl. (By the way, here is a recent success in the cold soup department, with my families' own seal of approval: Chilled Thai Squash Soup.)

I feel badly for the person who finds themself in a situation in which they feel obligated to eat something they detest, especially when the detested item came from my kitchen. So luckily, I served large pieces of dense chocolate cake for dessert. I did not tell my guests it was Chocolate Zucchini Cake. They ate every bite.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sweet Ginger Pear Preserves

The other day, I invited myself over to the friend of a friend of a friend’s house (actually the son of our neighbor) to pick pears off their tree. They were happy to have us use the fruit. The tree was nothing short of majestic. It was heavily loaded with green and golden D’Anjou pears and it was gigantic, as a result of the rich compost pile at its base. This bumpy compost pile, however, made stabilizing a ladder very tricky. Still, the girls had fun climbing up and down the ladder and plucking pears off the tree.

In the end, we had about 3 bushels! How glorious to be able to have copious amounts of pears to cook and eat. On my list of To-Make Recipes: Pear Cake, Pear Slump, Pear Chutney. And we’ve just finished canning Ginger Pear Preserves.

My 2 ½ year old daughter was most interested in helping with this preserving project. I didn’t plan to peel the pears – only core them – but my little girl was eager to help, so I handed her a fairly blunt peeler. I figured she couldn’t hurt herself too much; no more than riding her sister’s Razor scooter in bare feet, which she also insists on doing daily. Sometimes there are tears, but they never last. She’s tough. Case-in-point: The good amount of blood she drew from her finger after handling the peeler and a pear for about five minutes. She was fine after kisses and a Hello Kitty band-aid.

Eventually…the Ginger Pear Preserves turned out perfect; thick and rich, caramely and gingery – but not overpowering with sweet limey ginger. Disappointingly, the recipe made only about 3 cups, instead of the specified 7!  I even padded the amount of pears and started with about 6 1/2 cups. (I may have boiled/reduced it too long - yet I turned the heat off when it reached the specified gel stage.) Since I didn’t peel the pears, I used the immersion blender just a little at the end of cooking to avoid big chunks of skin. The result was just right: Smooth with just a few chunks of fruit for texture. MMmmm, can’t wait to slather the preserves on my toast this winter! By then, my two-year old will be three and probably past her sweet klutzy stage. Sigh.