Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

Due to popular demand, I’m sharing the recipe I used to make the turtle thumbprint cookies because they involve chocolate, caramel, and pecans and therefore must be shared with the world to spread joy and peace on earth, and because some days you’re willing to go the extra mile as plain old chocolate chip just won’t do.

This recipe was passed on to me by my mother in law, in a book full of handwritten recipes that I treasure and call upon every Christmas.

However, it must be said that the recipe is not hers originally, and she does not quite remember the source, though she suspects Better Homes & Gardens might have been involved. So whoever the original source is, we send our gratitude.

On to the cookies!

Here’s what you need:

1 egg
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
16 Werther’s chewy caramels (Be sure you get the chewy ones! I learned from personal experience the hard ones will attempt to knock out your teeth if you put them in these cookies.)
3 T whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (although I used dark chocolate because I love dark chocolate)
1 tsp shortening

Here’s what you do:

Separate the egg; place yolk and white in separate bowls. Cover and chill egg white until needed. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat well. Beat in egg yolk, milk, and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat well. Wrap the cookie dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350*F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, heat and stir the caramels, vanilla, and whipping cream over low heat until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Slightly beat the reserved egg white (I just whipped mine with a fork until it frothed a bit). Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in egg white, then in pecans to coat. Place the balls 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Using the back of a 1/2 tsp round measuring spoon, make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are firm. If the cookie centers puff during baking (and they probably will) re-press with measuring spoon. Spoon the melted caramel mixture into the indentations of the cookies using a teaspoon. If necessary, reheat the caramel mixture to keep it spoonable. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool.

In another saucepan, heat and stir the chocolate pieces and shortening over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly. Drizzle chocolate mixture over tops of cookies using a fork and a quick back and forth motion as the chocolate drips. Let stand until set.

The recipe says it makes 36 cookies. I guess my 1-inch balls are larger than their 1-inch balls, as I came out with 26.

Enjoy!

Pear Crisp

Pears make for amazing desserts in the fall. Sweet and grainy, they blend so well with a multitude of other flavors: spices, raisins, bananas, caramel, nuts, creams. This pear crisp has the wherewithal to combine all of the above. And since we had an early Thanksgiving this year, I can vouch for its propriety in topping off a Thanksgiving dinner.

So I initially got the inspiration for this dish from the Pioneer Woman’s pear crisp, which I was all set out to make – until I got a good look at the actual recipe. Lord. Ree, I love you, but I think you’re trying to kill us all. Death by sugar. The ratio for her filling? Two-thirds a cup of sugar to four pears. Just for the filling. That’s not even including the topping. Good God. We may all want to meet our maker at some point, but not yet.

So, if you, like me, prefer your kidneys, pancreas and heart in functioning condition, you might want to cut back on the sugar a smidge. And by smidge, I mean I cut the 2/3 cup down for 4 pears to about a tablespoon for 8 pears. And I can guarantee that it’s still plenty sweet.

Here’s what I did. This makes two 9 – inch pie pans full of pear crispy goodness.

For the filling:

8 ripe pears (Buy them ahead of time, so they won’t be too green. I had about 4 large ones and 4 small ones, but there’s no real need for precision about this)
a sprinkle of salt (about a 1/4 teaspoon worth)
a sprinkle of sugar (about a tablespoon worth)
a squeeze of lemon

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup loose brown sugar
generous 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
generous 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped (I actually probably used more like 3/4 cup)
1 cup butter, melted (which you could probably cut back by a 1/4 cup)
a sprinkle of nutmeg to taste
a sprinkle of ground ginger to taste

1. Chop the pears into small chunks and place in a baking dish or two. Sprinkle a little salt over them. Then sprinkle some sugar. Squeeze a little lemon for freshness. Let sit as you prepare the rest.

2. For the topping, mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, pecans, and butter. Spoon over the top of the pears. Then sprinkle some nutmeg and ginger over it all. I used about a pinch of each per dish.

3. I prepared this and let it sit in the butter and sugar and lemon while all the other food finished cooking and even after we started to eat. I put it in the oven just after everyone really tucked into the food. Bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then move it to the top rack and bake for about 10 minutes more. By the time everyone’s ready for dessert, this baby will be done baking and have started to cool, but still will be nice and warm and buttery.

4. Serve with ice cream. I went to town on the Haagen-Daas and bought a pint of: rum raisin, bananas foster (!), and vanilla swiss almond. All three make excellent complements for the pear crisp. Have you all tried the bananas foster yet? It’s a limited edition and it is SO GOOD.

Et voila! You have dessert.

apricot almond pancakes (vegan friendly!)

This recipe was born out of a deep-in-the-bones need for pancakes. But I’m kind of picky about pancakes. I have a tendency to get bored with them halfway through – and even more quickly if they’re large, fat, and plain, the way they’re served in most restaurants. (Is anybody else the same way or is it just me?) So my go-to recipe involves small silver-dollar sized pancakes with lots of cinnamon and vanilla. But today, I wanted something with a little more oomph. And I got through to the very end of the recipe and realized I didn’t have a single egg in the house. So a quick Google search for egg substitute plus inspiration from a clafouti I made last month and I present to you:

Apricot Almond Pancakes

Here’s what you’ll need (serves 2):
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk (to make it vegan friendly, I’d recommend using almond milk)
3/4 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
5 tablespoons water
apricot preserves
fresh fruit to serve (berries, apricot, peaches…summer is lovely, isn’t it?)

Here’s what you do:

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Whisk the wet ingredients together: milk, lemon juice, vanilla & almond extracts, and oil. Mix the ground flax seed and 3 tablespoons water together and add to the wet ingredients. Put the wet mixture into the dry mixture, add 2 tablespoons water to thin a little bit, and mix well.

3. Get a griddle up to medium heat with cooking spray or canola oil. A trick I learned from an ex-boyfriends’ mom: pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, then pour about 4-inch sized dollops of the pancake mixture. I love this because it gives the pancakes crispy edges and they’re not too big. Plus I prefer smaller pancakes. But to each her own; make them however big or small you like. When the pancakes start bubbling in the middle, flip them over. Cook for another minute or so until done.

4. When the pancakes are done, put a couple of heaping teaspoons of the apricot preserves in a microwaveable bowl. Nuke for about 30-40 seconds to make it runny like syrup. Pour over the pancakes and serve with fresh fruit. Sliced almonds and powdered sugar would also go well.

Nutty, fresh, light…and probably about as healthy as a pancake can get.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you!

chocolate raspberry liqueur brownies

I made my mom brownies for Mother’s Day which was a good idea and all, except that I gave them all to her and didn’t leave any for myself me and Toby. Really, I tell ya’, it was a problem. So Monday night rolled around and I was really jonesing for brownies. But not just any brownie. I had raspberries in the fridge and I was darn certain those raspberries just needed to be in those brownies (and in my belly).

Plus, there’s kind of just no stopping me once I get a craving. It’s like there’s this monster inside me, who lies dormant most of the time, and everyone thinks I’m all quiet and shy like. But then I’ll get a craving and all of a sudden it’s like RAWWRR! And then, pretty much everyone has to get out of my way until the monster has been satiated.

Anyway. So chocolate. And raspberries. I was on a mission.

I went on yet another internet search for a good brownie recipe. (I’ve tried a few and they’ve been okay, but nothing to really clap my hands, jump up and down and giggle in manic glee over.) And I found one that touted itself as the ULTIMATE BROWNIE. (But then, have you noticed? A lot of people claim they have the ULTIMATE BROWNIE. I’m unconvinced.) I’m going to say I think this was a damn good brownie. And I figure everyone has their own notion of what the ultimate brownie looks like, ranging on the spectrum from cakey to fudgey. This one falls probably closer to cakey. But the liqueur makes it yummy moist.

And hello? Chocolate + raspberries + liqueur?

All right then.

So I found a recipe that satisfied the criteria of 1) only has ingredients I already had in my cupboard. Because, you know, it was like 8 o’clock at night and I wasn’t really going to make a trip to my grocer, and 2) actually looked like it’d make a pretty good brownie. But I didn’t have quite all the ingredients they wanted, so I had to improvise. (As in the recipe called for 8 1-oz squares of unsweetened chocolate and I had 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips. So I had to cut the recipe in 3/4. That’s always fun. Especially when you’re as awesome at math as I am. NOT.

Don’t worry; there’s still plenty of brownie at the end. And that was Monday and this is now Friday, so we’re just going to pray I remember exactly what I did, m’kay?

Here’s what you need (I’m pretty sure)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. butter
4 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
handful of fresh raspberries
about 1/3 – 1/2 cup of Chambord Liqueur

Here’s what you do:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

2. Put butter and chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Nuke for about a minute and a half. Check and stir. If it needs more nuking, microwave it in 30 second intervals until fully melted. Stir vigorously to blend chocolate and butter. Blend about 1/3 of a cup of the Chambord into the chocolate mixture. (Now don’t shoot me, but I think it was about 1/3 – 1/2 of a cup. I just poured in a bunch – about a tablespoon or two at a time – and had no qualms about doing taste tests until the chocolate-raspberry balance just tasted good to me. Then when I mixed it in later with the flour, etc. I realized the raspberry taste wasn’t strong enough again so I had to add more. Which made it too liquidy. So I tossed in a little bit more flour. So these measurements are approximate, but I think they’re all right.) Set aside.

3. In another bowl (or a stand mixer if you have one), beat eggs, sugars, cocoa, and vanilla at high speed for 10 minutes. Yes, the recipe actually said 10 minutes – hence the joy of a stand mixer. I don’t have a stand mixer. So I stood there diligently mixing. For about 3 minutes. Then I got bored (and really wanted brownies already!) so I stopped. The brownies clearly survived and my kitchen didn’t explode in a fiery ball of sin (although, that might have been fun too…), so I say mix until you’re done mixing. It’ll be all right.

4. Blend in the chocolate mixture, flour and salt until everything is mixed up nicely. Add the raspberries and pour into the prepared pan. Bake about 30-40 minutes (don’t overbake it!). Check with a toothpick for doneness then set out to cool. Brownies are always best if they’re just a smidge underdone because they bake a little more as they cool.

I cut mine into 16  (about 2 x 3 inch) brownies. If you’re on Weight Watchers and counting points, it makes about 346 brownies. :)

jalapeno poppers

No $20 grill rack needed.I have a love affair with kitchen gadgets and doohickery. (Ironic I should say that after yesterday’s post, no? But it’s true.) I love tools that I can use to create yummy cakes and pies. And I especially love items that I can use for a myriad of things: like my panini press. It does not just press paninis, it also grills meat and vegetables, and is a godsend in a small apartment when you don’t have an actual grill. So the other day, I was browsing the new items at Sur la Table, just because it’s fun to look, when I came across this: a grill rack for jalapeno poppers. Oh, and corer. For 20 bucks. Now, forgive me, but WHO needs a $20 grill rack for jalapeno poppers?! Does it stuff them for you too? No. Does it do the dishes for you afterward? No. It’s just gonna take up space until the once or twice a year you pull it out from the very back of the cabinet, behind the sort-of broken coffee pot, and under that dish you don’t really like, to make poppers. I have a grill rack for jalapeno poppers. It’s called a muffin tin. That serves a dual function of making muffins like my pumpkin muffins filled with cream cheese. Oh, right, and the corer. I have a corer too. It’s called a paring knife (a.k.a. “the little pointy one”).

All mustered up with self-righteous indignation, I, who have never before in my life made jalapeno poppers, set out to prove it. Well, or I just started daydreaming about jalapeno poppers and then had to make them to satisfy my craving.

Here’s what you need:
I {think} I might actually have all the ingredients in here. Knock on wood.For the stuffing: whipped cream cheese, garlic powder, lime juice, cheddar cheese, tomato, and onion. Jalapenos. Bacon to wrap and cilantro garnish optional. (Ok the bacon’s not really optional. I just like to try to accommodate my vegetarian friends.)

For about 10 poppers, I used:
10 jalapenos
2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
a dash of garlic powder
a few splashes of lime juice
about 1/3 lb. cheddar cheese
1/2 a tomato
a few slices of onion
2-3 sprigs of cilantro
5 slices of bacon

I should specify: I used Weight Watchers whipped cream cheese. It’s not nearly as fat as regular, but it still tastes really good (not like fat-free philly…bleah). And whipped cream cheese is easier to mix and spread.

Oh yeah. And be very sure to get jalapenos. Not the extra-large serranos that are lurking surreptitiously right next to the jalapenos, ready to attack the unsuspecting customer. You know, unless you like pain. Me? I choose life.

Here’s what you do:
Don't forget to wash your hands.1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tops off of the jalapenos, and with a small knife, scrape out the seeds from the inside. Be very careful doing this. Don’t be in a rush or you could accidentally cut yourself. And cut plus chili seeds plus lime juice = no bueno. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything. Also be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap afterward because the oils from the chillies transfer everywhere and 5 hours later you could rub your eye and then get a mighty burn in your eyeball and then you’ll run around and curse down the house crying. Again, not that I would know from experience. Just sayin’.

So when you’ve done them all, they should look like this:
so I left some seeds in there...oh well.And look! What’s that? It’s a muffin tin!

2. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, garlic powder, and lime juice. Go ahead, give it a taste. You know you want to. I know it doesn’t look like it’ll be enough for the peppers, but I chose pretty darn large peppers, and it was just enough for them. With a butter knife, take a small dab of the cream cheese mix and put it into the peppers until each of them has some of the cream cheese.

If you want, you could take evil hot chili powder from hell:
Ooh that stuff is hot!and sprinkle it into one of the poppers for a *surprise* popper. And then subtly arrange it later so it ends up where your husband will be the one to eat it and find the surprise. Not that I would ever do such a thing. {evil grin} Just don’t make it TOO hot. Because what goes in must come out.

Fire in the hole!

Just sayin’.

Then, cut the cheddar cheese into little sticks and stuff the sticks into the peppers too. Cut the bacon slices in half, cross-wise. Wrap the peppers with the bacon pieces and use a toothpick to hold it together. So they should look like this:
Don't forget to wash your hands!See how the muffin tin keeps them elevated so the stuffing doesn’t run out? Uh huh, tha’s right.

3. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. The bacon should be cooked and the peppers turn soft and a duller shade of green. But while the peppers are baking, you can chop up the tomato and onion, mix in a tiny smidge of garlic powder, lime juice, and cilantro to make a mini pico de gallo.

4. When the peppers are done baking, let them cool for a few minutes. Then stuff a tiny bit of the pico de gallo into them. Serve fresh with cilantro garnish.

Oh, and look! No $20 grill rack needed. (Plus some of the cheese oozes out onto the muffin tin and then you have crispy baked cheese. No one will know if you scrape that up and snack on it.)

I tried to come up with a literary name to call these little guys, but I’m unfortunately just not up on my Chicano Studies literature. And everything I could think of along those veins just sounded more like a racial slur. The best I could come up with was calling it “Cheesy Popper and the Half-Baked Pig”, with a hat tip to my favorite book of all time. {smirk} Buuuut, I didn’t. You’re welcome. So they’re just plain ol’ “jalapeno poppers”.

quinoa a la quixote

Except it's kinda the opposite of quixotic. Oh well.Do you ever just get tired of your staples? I do. I get bored SO easily. And that is sometimes a problem because we do eat a lot of rice. I switch up the main part of our dinners with a lot of variety. But unless I’m making something like pasta for dinner, our evening meals usually involve a serving of rice – usually brown rice. Sometimes I feel like I would love to mix it up and have a rice pilaf or a risotto, but when I look at the nutrition labels I practically chuck the boxes back at the shelves in the grocery aisle and run away in horror. (Not that that stops me from eating it in restaurants. Because in restaurants there are no nutrition labels and I can pretend it’s not that unhealthy. Just like when I tell myself ice cream is a good source of calcium. And that second glass of red wine is really just doubling the benefits to my heart.)

But then I thought about the possibility of using other alternatives that are healthier than rice. I initially wanted bulgur, but bulgur is really hard to find in this town. Unless you want to go to the co-op. But our co-op is kind of far from me, and I really didn’t feel like going out on a trek for just one ingredient because, hey, I’m lazy efficient. So I decided to go with quinoa. Pronounced kinwa, quinoa is kind of a grain, but it’s high in protein, fiber, magnesium and iron, but lower in carbs than rice and it’s gluten-free.

So. I give you my veggie-rich pilaf alternative!

Here’s what you need:
Fuuuuuudge! I forgot the mustard. Dammit. AND the lemon juice. FML.
Quinoa, broth (any kind will do), olive oil, garlic powder, carrot, zucchini, scallions, flax seeds, chili powder, dijon mustard, lemon juice, (salt optional). And of course, I forgot to put the dijon mustard and lemon juice in the photo because I always manage to forget an ingredient or two to include in the photo. That’s what happens when I post too long after I’ve made the dish. But too late now. It’s Saturday night, all the good light is gone, and my hubby’s waiting on me for us to go out. So this’ll just have to make do.

::sigh::

ANYWAY.

To serve two:
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup broth (you can use any kind: vegetable, mushroom, chicken, etc.)
2 tsp olive oil
2-3 dashes of garlic powder
2 tsp lemon juice
1 carrot (or about 1/2 cup, minced)
1-2 zucchini (or about 1 cup, minced)
1 scallion, chopped
1 tsp flax seeds (gives a nice added nutty flavor and is a good source of your omega-3s and fiber)
1 tsp dijon mustard
pinch of salt (optional)
hint of chili powder (if you like a little spice in your life)

Here’s what you do:
1. Cut up the carrot and zucchini into tiny little minced pieces. Chop the scallion.

2. Wash the quinoa. It cooks basically just like rice. If you have a rice cooker, this becomes SO EASY. But if you don’t, you can cook it stove-top. Put the quinoa into the rice cooker or pot. Add broth of your choice. (Water is fine too, but broth adds more flavor.) Add olive oil, garlic powder, carrots, zucchini, flax seeds, dijon mustard, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

3. Cook as per directions on the quinoa box. Again, if you have a rice cooker, it cooks just like rice. If you’re doing it stove-top, you’ll probably need to bring it to a boil, then simmer, covered, just until the broth is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).

4. Serve topped with chopped scallions and a hint of chili powder.

And it’s quite yummy! Even my hippie-grain-skeptic of a hubby enjoyed it because the broth adds a richness to the nutty flavor and the mustard adds a hint of spice that’s a little more complex than just chilies. Anyway, it’s nice for when you just want to switch things up. I served it with spice-rubbed grilled chicken and a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and all the flavors complemented each other quite nicely. Great for a simple mid-week meal.

And I title this after Don Quixote. Because why? ‘Cuz Quixote and quinoa both begin with q-u-i, that’s why. ‘Cuz with all the health benefits and ease of cooking, it really is nothing like quixotic. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. But whatevs.
Look at that ass!

scarlet letter cake

You have no idea what sin lies inside.You may recall last week I set out to make strawberry rhubarb cobbler, but alas was thwarted in the quest for rhubarb, and so we made a scrumptious blackberry cobbler instead. Well, what do you know, but I go to do my weekly grocery shopping and lo and behold, bright red stalks of rhubarb sit innocently in the produce section like I hadn’t just spent hours scrounging around for them just the week before. Punk rhubarb.

Well, I couldn’t just let them sit there being all punk like that. So I bought a bunch. And by a bunch, I might mean 4 pounds. And 2 pounds of fresh strawberries.

I foresee a lot of strawberry-rhubarb dishes in the near future.

But the whole cobbler idea seemed a bit stale, seeing as how I’d just made a fat dish of it last week. So what could I do with all these strawberries and rhubarb?

I took a vote, and me, myself, and I made a unanimous decision to go for cake. I had visions of chocolate cake with a strawberry rhubarb filling, slathered in butter cream frosting. Something that looks like this:

Yes, you are in my dreams.If you’re gonna’ dream, might as well dream big, right?

Right. So here’s what you need:

Almost all of the ingredients anyway...For the cake: 2 cups sugar, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup butter, 8 tablespoons cocoa (I know Nesquick is pictured, but use Hershey’s cocoa if you can. I did…but didn’t keep the box for the photo.), 1 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, juice of 1 small lemon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 eggs beaten, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

For the filling: 3 cups strawberries cut in quarters, 1 1/2 cups rhubarb cut in 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 of a large stalk), 1/2 cup sugar, and about 1/4-1/2 cup of water.

For the frosting: 1 pound powdered sugar, 1/2 stick of butter, 8 oz. cream cheese, and 2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract.

(Note: If you buy a pound of strawberries, you’ll have extra for garnish.)

Did you notice? At least this time, I included the berries in the photos!
Except for the lemon.Of course, I’m still missing cream cheese, the Hershey’s cocoa, and a lemon.

Forethought and planning. I don’t have it.

Anyway, here’s what you do:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start with the cake batter. Mix the sugar, flour, and baking soda in a large bowl and set aside. Combine the butter, cocoa, and water in a saucepan; bring almost to a boil, but do not boil. Pour over sugar mixture and mix well. Add milk, vanilla, eggs, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the fresh squeezed lemon juice and mix well. Grease two 8-inch cake pans, and split the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

2. While the cake is baking, prepare the fruit filling. In a saucepan, put the strawberries, rhubarb and sugar. Add a little bit of water, just enough to keep the fruit from burning as you heat the fruit on medium heat. Add more water as necessary, but no more than 1/2 a cup. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, stirring continuously, until you have a thick liquid and the fruit has all dissolved. Take off heat and let cool.

3. When the cakes have cooled completely, slice the rounded top off of one of the cakes and discard (Or eat, covered with jam. Not saying I would do such a thing. But then, I’m pretty sure throwing good cake away into the trash is bad for the environment). And here is my little secret: sprinkle or squeeze the remaining lemon juice delicately around the open top of the cake you just beheaded lopped off you just cut. Then spread the strawberry rhubarb filling on it. This adds a little hint of citrus and helps make the cake nice and moist. Then what I did was sliced about 4 strawberries nice and thin and littered the slices on top of the filling. Then I put the second cake on top, rounded side up.

4. Mix the frosting ingredients until they’re all smooth. Then with a butter knife, slather it all over the cake. You’ll most likely end up with a wee bit too much frosting, so feel free to go to town as much as you like. I suppose you could calculate 3/4 of the recipe and that’d probably be about perfect. Or you could just have extra frosting that you could use on something else (like dolloped on strawberry rhubarb waffles…). It’s really good frosting.

5. Garnish with the rest of your strawberries. A sprig of mint would look nice too, if you have it.

And this is what the final product looks like:
And oh my was it good!
See right there, all that chocolatey-goodness with that yum-yum strawberry rhubarb filling just oozing out?
Cake monster!Ohhh yeahhh. That’s what I was dreaming about.

Though I should warn you, that filling is slippery, so serve with care. I suppose I might have added some gelatin or something to make it less slippery. But all that pure flavor was just too good to mess with.

You might be wondering why it’s called Scarlet Letter cake. The hubby suggested when I make up my own recipes I should give them a name. I decided to let literature be my inspiration. And all that dark chocolate brown, luscious red, trimmed in stark white called to mind The Scarlet Letter.
Oh Hester......you sly vixen.

And the taste… the chocolate and strawberries call to mind passion; a passion simultaneously sinful in nature, yet innocent at first blush. Not too sweet and rich, or heady like a ganache…just light, moist and fleeting, with the hint of citrus to add an element of surprise. An element of je ne sais quoi, like the draw of a sexy man just at the edge of your reach.

This is a cake for dessert in bed. For weekend getaways and summer flings.

I told you I can wax poetic about dessert.It’s a cake for love.

(Fleeting, cuz that’s how fast you’ll eat it.)

blackberry cobbler

NOM NOM NOM.My sister-in-law and I (egad…that sounds so formal…can I just call ya V here?) do enjoy getting together on occasion to do some cooking and baking together. And, well, since she was raised in the South and I was born there, we do enjoy having a good ol’ comfort throwback to our Southern roots. Like Southern fried chicken. Which we had with risotto and a green bean salad. Oh my it did us good. I’m sensing this burgeoning tradition of ours will always involve either Thai food or Southern food. And dessert.

On this occasion, we made blackberry cobbler.

Ok, well we set out to make strawberry rhubarb cobbler, but there was nary a barb of rhu to be found. So we got blackberries instead. But when we got home and pulled out the recipes, the one that was for blackberries called for 3 1/2 cups of sugar…and while I like dessert I do also like my kidneys and pancreas to function. Also it didn’t call for a topping (other than 1 1/2 cups of sugar). I do like my cobblers to have a topping. The one that was for strawberries and rhubarb didn’t seem to call for enough cooking of the fruit, though it did have a topping. But when we saw the flour-to-yummy-goodness ratio, we saw it we more like a pie crust topping. Clearly sub-par.

So we winged it, stealing ideas from both recipes and coming up with our own.

This is what you’ll need:
Oh sh*t we et all the berries!2 sticks of butter, 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 2 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 cups milk, 36 oz. of blackberries (or other fruit like blueberries or raspberries, cherries, etc.)

Note: the blackberries are not pictured in the photo above. That’s a ’cause of we ate them all.

For the topping:

The ginger was a good addition. Did I say that yet?4 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

The ginger addition was inspired, let me tell you.

When you’ve assembled all your goods, set your oven to 325 degrees. Then melt the butter in an 11 x 14 pan. We stuck ours in the oven while it pre-heated and we busied ourselves with drinking beer prepping the rest of it. (Ok, well first step was wash your berries. But you knew that, right?)

Mix the flour, baking powder, 2 cups of sugar (notice a substantial reduction from 3 1/2 cups and the finished product was plenty sweet), and milk. (Truth be told, even the 2 sticks of butter might be a smidge much. I’d say a stick and half would probably do ya just as good…but then V might just slap me for such blasphemy.)

Drop mixture into melted butter (do not stir). Spread the berries over the batter. This is such a beautiful sight. I do wish I had thought to take a photo of it. The berries just melt into the batter. Bloop. Bloop.

To make the topping, just mix the brown sugar, spices and salt together, then sprinkle on top of the cobbler. Did I mention the ginger was a good idea?

Then bake at 325. Ours took about an hour and 15 minutes. And came out looking like this:
Oh my word, I could eat the hell out of you...And we served ours warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Because, you know, such things should be done right proper.

Like so:
I know it's the same picture twice. Just reiterating my point.See how the ice cream just oozes joy like rain down the blackberries? Yes, I wax poetic over food. Don’t you?

Did I mention this recipe was so easy it was practically criminal? Because, oh yes. It was EASY.

simple stir fry

simplestirfryMy second year of college my friends and I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment together…and for the first time in our lives, were responsible for feeding ourselves. I had grown up helping my mom cook and I could follow recipes well enough, but other than baking, let’s just say my repertoire in the kitchen didn’t extend much past sandwiches and fried eggs.

So I started experimenting and came up with a sort of modified version of a Thai stir-fry. Similar to ones I’ve seen or helped my mom make, though I don’t think I’ve seen this particular one anywhere else but my own kitchen. It was easy to make, really forgiving. There’s plenty of room for swapping out ingredients and trying different ones. And so tasty it’s still a solid fall back meal that has satisfied roommates, boyfriends, and now even husband 11 years later. So much so, when I taste it now, it tastes like nostalgia.

What you’ll need:
Chicken or tofu (for two people I use 1 breast, but use however much looks satisfying; like I said, really forgiving)
1 bell pepper (though I use 2 halves, each a different color)
Onion (about 1/3…or whatever looks like a good amount to you)
Shitake mushrooms (3-5)
Bean sprouts (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves
Canola oil
Maggi sauce
Rice vinegar
Oyster sauce (optional)
Dried red pepper (to taste)

If you haven’t seen those sauces before, here’s what they look like:
simplestirfrystuff
The oyster sauce is totally optional, so this dish can be totally vegan-friendly.

Here’s what you do:

1. Slice chicken or tofu into bite-size strips. Slice bell pepper, onion, and mushrooms. Mince garlic.

2. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add garlic. When garlic becomes fragrant, add chicken or tofu and mushrooms. Add about 6-8 splashes of Maggi sauce. Stir-fry until browned. Add bell pepper. Splash about 3-4 splashes of oyster sauce and 5-6 splashes of rice vinegar. When the bell pepper starts to soften and chicken or tofu looks nearly cooked, add the onion.  Stir-fry to mix.

3. Do a little taste test. If it’s too salty add a little more vinegar. If it’s too sour add a little more Maggi. If it seems on the bland side, add more of both. Don’t worry overmuch if it’s a little intense; the extra flavor goes well with rice. Of course…if you were REALLY sauce-happy, you could probably just drain some of it off. Once you’ve gotten the right balance to your taste, add dried red pepper to taste. In the last minute of cooking, throw in a handful of bean sprouts. Don’t overcook them. You want them to still be crunchy when you serve them.

And voila! Serve with rice. If you want to impress your dinner companions, you can garnish it with some chopped green onion and bean sprouts on the side.

It’s a great way to get a good balance of protein and veggies and, served with brown rice, you get your fiber and carbs. It might even be kid-friendly too. I remember I used to eat my veggies when I was a kid primarily because of my mom’s stir-fries. They’re harder to avoid when they’re all mixed in, and covered in a yummy sauce they become much more palatable.

If you’re not a fan of these particular veggies, give this a go with just chicken and shredded cabbage. In that case, all you need is the Maggi and rice vinegar for the sauce, and you’ll want to err a little more on the side of the vinegar.

Update: after originally posting this, I came across the 365 recipe swap hosted by Simply Modern Mom, so I’m linking up. Check it out! Looks like lots of great recipe ideas!

Over-used Recipes Swap

spice-rubbed cornish hens with cranberry-date chutney

cornishhensUsually when I have guests over for dinner, I cook Thai food, which requires about 10-20 minutes of preparation, 10 minutes of a flurry of arm-flailing effort, and then voila! it’s served, and you have to eat it right away. But I’m starting to discover the glory of baking food, which requires you start a little earlier perhaps, but then for the hour or so the food is baking, you can do other things. Like hide the socks, jackets, books, and other bits of evidence that your home is not quite a Martha Stewart home. And light candles. And freshen up your makeup. And have a glass of wine. So you don’t look like a sweaty, disgruntled host who can’t even greet the guests as they walk in the door because you’re busy producing four different dishes at once.

I realize I may be the only one who is just now figuring this out.

But I’m truly excited to find ways to look like a gourmet chef, when really it takes little effort. And that’s where this dish comes in! Because cornish game hens for dinner? Who does that? Sounds decadent right? Turns out it’s super easy, cheaper than lamb or fish (at least in these parts), and pretty much guaranteed to impress your guests.

This is where I’m digressing to tell you about this cookbook I found that I. AM. IN. LOVE. WITH. It’s called Eating Well In Season: The Farmer’s Market Cookbook, by Jessie Price, et al. I’d been looking for a cookbook organized by seasons so I could take better advantage of things available at the local farmer’s market and food co-op, and I came across this one. It’s fabulous because most recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients, the recipes themselves are fairly simple, there’s lots of gorgeous photos (and really, it’s all about the photos in a cookbook, isn’t it?), and everything we’ve tried is REALLY GOOD. (And no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement. Just me all by my onesie saying this book kicks cookbook bootie.)

Anyway, so this recipe actually came from the Spring section, because it calls for rhubarb. I couldn’t find rhubarb, but what I did have was leftover cranberries, and I figured, they’re sweet-tart too, so it should be all good. And oh my, it was. And cranberries make this the perfect holiday dinner.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Ok, so here are the ingredients you need (for 8 servings; the pictures you’ll see are what I did for 4 servings).

For the hens:
1 orange
4 Cornish game hens
1 T light brown sugar
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t ground pepper

For the chutney:
1/3 c cider vinegar
1/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 T minced fresh ginger
1/4 t ground cinnamon
2 c fresh cranberries (I mashed them a little with a mortar and pestle)
1/2 c pitted dates, chopped

So Step 1, play with wash your hens.
cornishhens_danceAhem. Actually, the cookbook says the first step is to preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then take a vegetable peeler and remove a 2-inch strip of zest from the orange, cut the orange in half, squeeze juice out of one half and cute the remaining half into 4 wedges. Place two tablespoons of juice and the strip of zest in a medium saucepan for Step 4. Tuck an orange wedge into the cavity of each game hen. Sprinkle the remaining orange juice over the hens and place each breast side up in a large roasting pan, leaving space between them. (Although I cut the recipe in half for there were only 4 of us at dinner, I did use the whole orange and just put two wedges in each bird. Figured it couldn’t hurt. And actually I think it helped keep them extra moist.)

Step 2:
Stir 1 tablespoon brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Rub the mixture over the hens and tie the legs together with kitchen string. I didn’t have kitchen string, so I just used toothpicks like so:
cornishhens_bake

Step 3:
Roast the hens until the juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 hour. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Step 4: While the hens are roasting, you can prepare the chutney. Add vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon to the orange juice and zest in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and dates, increase heat to medium-high and return to a boil.
cornishhens_boilReduce heat to low and simmer gently until the cranberries are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Just before serving, remove orange zest. (I had a little left over orange juice, which I reserved until it was time to serve the chutney. By the time the hens had roasted the chutney had gotten a little dry, so I stirred in a little bit of orange juice just to liven it up a bit upon serving.)

Step 5: To serve, remove string (or toothpicks) and slice each hen in half lengthwise using a large, heavy knife. You can remove the skins for a healthier meal. You can see I didn’t because it’s juicier and yummier with the skins on.
cornishhens_hens

Serve each portion with 1/4 cup of the chutney.
cornishhens_chutneyI put mine on a bed of lettuce and served the chutney with a sprig of mint to decorate.

This dish is really wonderful for when you have guests or for any special meal because game hens do seem decadent. And I think the cranberries give it that extra special holiday touch. My vote? ♥♥♥♥

———————————————–
Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

After trying this baby out, it quickly became a go-to meal.
Over-used Recipes Swap

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