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Category Archives: Desserts

Candy Corn Krispie Pops

I had the coolest adventure this past weekend, at an event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council in upstate NY. I pet a baby cow. I drank wine. I ate cheese. Mmmmcheese. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts so I can tell you all about it. I’ll even be hosting my first ever giveaway in conjunction with this dairy adventure!! I’m really pretty excited about it all!

In the mean time, I wanted to share this straightforward and adorable idea for a fun Halloween treat. These candy corn krispie pops almost never happened, as a series of wild events ensued in their making, beginning with the microwave dramatically giving up the ghost in a plume of stinky gray smoke as I was trying to melt the candy for coating these pops. That was just the beginning. I won’t go into the rest.

Suffice it to say, my life set a series of obstacles between starting and finishing these sweet pops. My end result lacks a bit of the finesse they may have had if I weren’t simultaneously jumping hurdles as I made them. But they’re too darn cute not to share. Yours will look nicer than mine!

Line a small baking sheet or baking dish with wax paper or parchment paper. Prepare rice krispie treats by melting 3 tablespoons butter and 4 cups of mini marshmallows in a large pan over low heat, stirring until melted. Turn off the heat, then stir in 6 cups of rice krispies cereal. Press the mixture into the baking dish in an even layer.

Once cool, cut the rice krispie treats into triangles. You can make them any size you wish, but smaller is easier to dip.

Try not to eat them all…yet.

Insert lollipop sticks into the bottom of the triangles. Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two.

Melt about 3 cups of yellow candy melts in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth. Dip the entire pops in the yellow candy melts. Cool until hardened. Then, melt about 2 cups of orange candy melts and dip the top 2/3 of the pops. Cool until hardened. Then, dip the final 1/3 in white candy melts.

A piece of styrofoam is handy for arranging the pops in an upright position as the candy hardens.

Finished pops can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days or in the refrigerator for several days. Take them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving so they soften up a bit.

A Few Other Spooky Treat Ideas for Halloween…

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Chocolate Covered Spiders

Bloody Molten Lava Cakes

Wormy Apple Pops

Caramel Apple Tartlets

I had a little mommy meltdown yesterday. It was very unpretty…crying, rocking, gasping for the air which seemed to be sucked from the room. And over what? I don’t even know. Nothing even worth writing about. Stupid, every day, normal stuff…just too much of it. Fighting with an uncooperative vacuum while trying to banish the tumbleweeds of dog hair from our living room was the little thing that sent me over the edge. So silly. And yet in the moment it felt like the world was caving in on me. To an objective observer, I probably looked pretty ridiculous, throwing myself down onto the ground and mumbling under my breath as I cried, while my inner voice tried to coach myself to pull it together and act like a grown-up. But for me the feeling was crushing. Sometimes day-to-day life is just overwhelming.

Sadly, the kids witnessed my little meltdown, and I can only imagine how scary and unsettling that must have been for them. In the moment, rational mommy (as compared to crazy lump of tears mommy) told them I loved them and explained that I was just stressed and needed to cool down for a minute. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get that minute of serenity in a house with three young boys. Eventually, I stopped fighting with the vacuum, collapsed against one of the toy boxes and closed my eyes for a second.

And then the most beautiful thing happened. I opened my eyes and my precious 17 month old was sitting in front of me, completely silent. He sat facing me, knees bent, feet together, so that his entire little body was nestled within my own bent legs. And he just smiled. Silently, calmly smiled. I kissed his forehead. He smiled and leaned forward to rest his head against my chest. He stayed like that for what felt like a perfect eternity. I inhaled his sweet baby hair as I felt my heart rate slowly returning to normal. Eventually he turned around so that he was leaning against me, holding my hand as it rested on his little belly. And he stayed like that until his daddy arrived home from work. He greeted his daddy, then returned to sit by my broken side, smushed up against me with a perfect grin on his face. He was like a tiny, precious bomb defuser.

Such perfect, simple love…and trust. He saw me torn apart and irrational. If it were me, I would have run from that crazy woman. But he came straight to me. As close as he could get to me. Confident that his presence would fix me. How in the world did I get so lucky??

These drool-worthy caramel apple tartlets are bursting with flavors as uncomplicated and confident as my sweet little man’s love. We baked them using fresh-picked apples from our favorite local orchard. Though the apple crops up here were hit hard by an early spring bloom followed by a bloom-killing frost, the kids got every bit of fun out of filling buckets of unusually small apples. I made these tartlets using store-bought puff pastry and caramel sauce for time-saving convenience. The end result is still dripping in homemade yumminess.

Focus on Technique – Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a rich and flakey pastry made by repeatedly folding and rolling generous quantities of butter into the dough, resulting in puffy, delicate layers when baked. It’s a manageable and fun thing to make at home (and will totally wow your guests), but takes a few hours of repeatedly rolling and chilling to be made properly. When ease is the name of the game, store-bought puff pastry provides great results with great convenience. It can be used to make decadent savory appetizers, like warm pastry-wrapped brie or sweet treats like these caramel apple tartlets. Check your grocery store’s frozen section, near the frozen pie shells for boxes of puff pastry sheets. Always defrost the sheets according the package directions and lightly sprinkle your clean work surface with flour before rolling.

Easy Caramel Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 2 large apples (or 4 teeny-tiny ones), very thinly sliced
  • 4-5 tablespoons caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with a bit of flour to prevent sticking, then roll the sheet of puff pastry into a square, about 12″ wide. Cut the square into four 6″ squares. Place the squares on the prepared baking sheet. Spread about 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce into the center of each pastry. Arrange a layer of thinly sliced apples on top of the caramel. Then, pull each of the four corners over the apples, slightly twisting each point so that the corners meet in a sort of pinwheel design revealing four pockets of the caramel and apples. Gently press the points together with your fingers to hold them together. Brush each pastry with some of the egg white. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Enjoy hot out of the oven or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Individual Tartlets

Pumpkin Pie Frozen Custard

Our weather is forecast to hit 69 degrees tomorrow. It will probably be the last ‘warm’ day for a long while, as winter is already breathing its frosty breath down our necks. In the meantime we’ll appreciate whatever remaining moderate weather we have left. It won’t be long before we’re slicing cinnamon-spiced pumpkin pies at our Thanksgiving tables. But right now I’m still desperately trying to hold onto whatever remains of the warm season before we plunge into the winter abyss.

So, I thought, why not marry the autumny flavors of  pumpkin pie with my favorite warm weather treat…ice cream?? What more perfect way could there be to acknowledge what may well be the last day we can go without our winter coats, than with a rich and creamy pumpkin pie frozen custard, flavored with vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, and a generous dose of cinnamon. Your ice cream maker will thank you for giving it one last whirl before it’s tucked away for the season.

Frozen custard differs from ice cream in that it contains egg yolks. The egg yolks add an extra creaminess to the frozen treat. The following recipe would also work well without the eggs, so if you or a loved one have an egg allergy, just omit them and call it ice cream. The half-and-half will contribute a good amount of creaminess, but you can substitute light cream or heavy cream for an even richer result.

Focus on Technique – Tempering Eggs

Tempering eggs is a process by which egg yolks are gradually brought up to a higher temperature, by very slowing incorporating hot liquid. This is done to prevent the eggs from scrambling when they are incorporated into hot liquid…cause who wants to eat custard with the texture of scrambled eggs, right??? Tempering the egg yolks helps them to maintain a smooth, silky consistency. Egg yolks may be tempered for use in custards, puddings, sauces, or souffles.

To temper egg yolks, start by lightly beating the eggs with a fork. Then, take some of your hot liquid and very gradually, starting with just a few drips at a time, incorporate some of the hot liquid into the eggs, whisking constantly. After the first few drips, you can increase to a slow stream. Continue incorporating the hot liquid until the egg mixture is about the same temperature as the mixture you will be adding it to. Then, you can safely add the egg mixture to the remaining hot liquid and bring to a gentle simmer for a couple minutes to ensure the yolks are cooked.

Pumpkin Pie Frozen Custard

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2  cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Directions

Combine the milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently. Once the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 3/4 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle. Gradually whisk the tempered egg mixture into the remaining mixture in the pot. Bring to a very gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool for several minutes at room temperature, then refrigerate until completely chilled. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your maker’s instructions.

October Pumpkin Round-Up

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It’s a chilly October morning here in Syracuse. And I’ve got pumpkin on my mind.

Our first pumpkin has been sitting on our front steps since our little ninja party last weekend. It has the face of a ninja painted on it. Ninja pumpkin will be joined by other pumpkins in the next few weeks and our kitchen will take on the sweet and fragrant aroma of some of our favorite pumpkin recipes…of that I am certain.

Focus on Technique –  Pumpkin Puree

Preparing fresh pumpkin is a manageable process, which can be done in a number of ways. Small ‘pie’ pumpkins tend to produce the sweetest pumpkin flavor. Many people prefer to remove the skin, chop the pumpkin into chunks, boil the pieces until tender, then puree. My preferred strategy is to simply cut the pumpkin open, remove the seeds, roast the pumpkins until tender, then scoop out the smooth pumpkin and puree. It involves less tedious chopping than with the boiling method and produces a better end result, in my opinion. You can see my complete step-by-step photo guide HERE .

If you’re not up for preparing your own puree, canned pumpkin provides a convenient alternative. Most canned pumpkin puree is prepared without additional salt, sweeteners, or preservatives, but check the cans just in case.

Check out this round-up of previously posted pumpkin recipes and keep an eye out for a few new pumpkin recipes, coming up soon!

Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Autumn Harvest Buns

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Fried Pumpkin Wontons

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

Fettucine with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce  

Rice Krispie Treat ‘Sushi’

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I’m just about ready to put this chat about ninja parties to bed. (I’ve got a recipe for some really delicious and very un-ninjalike Moroccan lamb meatballs in a minted apricot glaze coming up soon.) But before we bid farewell to ninjas, I wanted to share a quick photo guide for making the rice krispie treat ‘sushi’ which we served as part of our dessert spread. It’s super easy and insanely cute. The hardest part was peeling those darn fruit roll-ups off the wrapper.

You can find lots of variations of this sort of thing all over the web. Here’s how I did it…

You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice krispies cereal
  • A baking sheet
  • Wax paper
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • A few long, soft candies (like twizzlers, gummi worms, or sour straws)
  • Fruit roll-ups (green would be most realistic looking, but might be difficult to find)
  • Swedish fish candies

Step 1: Melt the butter in a large pan over low heat. Add the marshmallows. Stir until melted. Remove from heat, then stir in the rice krispies.

Step 2: Arrange a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet. Spray the wax paper with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer the rice krispie treat mixture to the baking sheet. Spray your hands with the cooking spray, then press the rice krispies into a thin (less than 1/2″) even layer.

Step 3: Arrange a few fruit roll-ups (the ‘nori’) on top of the rice krispie treats.

Step 4: Place a couple of the long candies on top of the fruit roll-ups. I used sour straws. Multi-colored Twizzlers or gummi worms would also work well.

Step 5: Lift up the edge of the wax paper and begin to roll the rice krispie treats around the fruit roll-ups and candy. Use the wax paper to help squeeze and tighten the roll.

Step 6: Once you’ve achieved a small ‘California Roll’ size, use a knife to cut the roll from the remaining rice krispie treats. Slice into pieces. Roll in colored sugar ‘roe’, if desired.

Repeat to make additional ‘California rolls’. Alternately, you can roll the candy within the rice krispie treats, but reserve the fruit roll-ups to wrap around the outside of the roll prior to slicing in pieces.

To make ‘nigiri sushi’: Using your hands, mold portions of the rice krispie treats into small oblong clumps. Place a swedish fish on top. Use thin strips of fruit roll-ups to wrap around the rice and fish.

Serve with a bowl of chocolate syrup ‘soy sauce’.

Praline Banana Splits

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I’m going to disappear for a couple weeks. Not completely vanish, but I’m going to take a little break off of new posts. There are a few things around this blog that require a bit of housekeeping, namely the Recipe Collection and Gallery pages, which I haven’t updated in nearly two years. Eek! So, I’m going to spend a little time focusing on cleaning up a few things around the site that have been nagging at me before resuming new posts.

Before I vanish, I wanted to leave you with something delicious. Mouth-watering inspiration came to me in the form of National Banana Split Day, which will take place on August 25. My twist on a banana split includes one-ingredient banana “ice cream”, caramelized banana halves, and a decadent pecan praline sauce. Yeah…bananas and praline. Yum. 

You may have run across fancy banana ice cream makers out there, but no specialized tool is required to make this perfectly creamy banana confection. A regular food processor or a good blender will do the trick! And since our “ice cream” is made with pure naturally-sweetened, naturally fat-free banana, you can afford to have a little more fun with the toppings, like this pecan praline sauce. Once you try this sauce, you’re going to want to pour it over everything. In fact, I plan to make a second batch to drizzle over my husband’s birthday cheesecake. Best yet, made with fat-free milk, it’s a lighter version than many cream-laden praline sauce recipes, with no sacrifice to the crave-worthy end result.

Enjoy, folks! I’ll be back with you soon and in the mean time, keep an eye around the site for updates!

Praline Banana Splits

Ingredients

For the Praline Sauce*

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/6 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk (fat-free works well)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt

For the Caramelized Bananas

  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

For the Banana “Ice Cream”

  • 3 medium or 4 small bananas, sliced and well-frozen

Directions

For the Praline Sauce: Stir the cornstarch and salt into the milk. Set aside. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the pecans and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the brown sugar, until it begins to soften and melt. Whisk the milk mixture into the pecan mixture. Raise the heat back to medium. Continue whisking until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

For the Caramelized Bananas: Combine the butter and brown sugar in a pan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, place the banana halves in the pan, cut-side down. Gently move the bananas in the pan so that the cut-side becomes coated with the butter and sugar. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until the cut-side develops a golden brown crust. Remove from the pan and cool slightly. Cut each banana half into half crosswise.

For the Banana Ice Cream: Place the frozen bananas pieces into a food processor or blender. Begin by pulsing the slices until they are mostly broken up. Then, continue blending the mixture until it’s smooth and creamy like ice cream.

To Assemble the Banana Splits: Place a large scoop of the banana ice cream in each bowl. Arrange two of the bananas pieces on the sides. Top with a tablespoon or two of the warm praline sauce. Garnish with additional pecans, if desired.

Makes 2 generous banana split sundaes

Recipe for the Praline Sauce adapted from the EatingWell recipe found HERE.

Strawberry Banana Bread

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Back in what feels like another lifetime, I was a second grade teacher. One portion of our daily routine included an activity we called Writers’ Workshop. It was a time of the day devoted towards writing, where my students could work independently or collaboratively on various forms of written expression. While they worked, I’d meet with individual students to help walk them through the editing process, while weaving lessons about writing technique, language, and grammar into our little discussions. Some students worked on personal narratives, others on poetry, and others on persuasive writing.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #1 – with freeze-dried strawberries

And then there was the group of boys who’d formed a rock band and spent their time during writers’ workshop writing song lyrics. Now, this rock band was no casual arrangement. Though not a one of them played a musical instrument, they took the idea of their band quite seriously. These boys waited all day to work on their writing. They put careful thought into their choice of words and worked cooperatively to fine tune their performance. I was feeling like a pretty awesome teacher for being able to get my students so actively engaged in the writing process and so motivated to develop their writing skills. And that’s right about went things went sour with the band.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #2 – with strawberry glaze swirl on the top

You see, ‘Diego’ kicked ‘Joshua’ out of the band. It had something to do with not fully committing to his dance moves. Seriously. Joshua was crushed. ‘Willis’ tried to remain neutral, but it was clear that he was also  unimpressed by Joshua’s moves. I intervened and brought peace back to the band long enough for them to perform the song they’d been working so hard at.

It went something like this…

Oh, when am I gonna be a man?

I wanna be a man!

I’m gonna get a wallet.

I’m gonna go to the gym.

Ooo, when am I gonna be a man?

It was sort of a rap song. And clearly very revealing about a second grader’s perspective on what makes a man…gym memberships and wallets. Of course.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #3 – invisible strawberry glaze swirl throughout the bread

I was reminded of this memory when I walked into my living room to find my 5 year old giving my 3 year old lessons on how to be a man. They were as serious about these lessons as my former students were about their rock band. The lessons involved such behaviors as hopping on one foot, not crying, and toasting blueberry waffles. All very important man behaviors, for sure.

Kids are funny. They’re constantly trying to make sense of their little worlds and every so often, they give us a peak into the carnival of their little brains. Like this morning, on our walk back from the grocery store, when we passed an empty bottle on the side of the road.

That’s weird, commented my 5 year old.

I bet it was a man sitting by the road singing a song who left it there, replied my 3 year old. (A hobo with a handkerchief on a stick, perhaps?)

What was he singing, I asked.

Yankee Doodle, replied my 5 year old confidently.

No, my 3 year old adamantly intervened. I think he was singing Nowhere Man. 

I will bake five dozen cookies for any hobo with a bindle, singing Nowhere Man, on Blueberry Lane.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #4 – with fresh strawberry puree and dried strawberries

But we hadn’t gone to the grocery store to buy cookie ingredients. We were picking up fresh strawberries and bananas for this Strawberry Banana Bread. This recipe is the result of not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. (We’ve been eating a lot of banana bread around here.) Every batch was delicious in its own right. But, it wasn’t until the fourth batch that I nailed what I’d been trying to accomplish.

Doesn’t seem like making a loaf of strawberry banana bread should be such an issue, right? But here’s the problem…when baked, strawberries become undesirably mushy. So, in my first attempt, I tried incorporating freeze-dried strawberries to conquer the mushy dilemma. The result was acceptable. The freeze-dried strawberries rehydrated during baking, but there wasn’t enough strawberry flavor throughout the loaf. So, on attempts two and three, I made a strawberry glaze, which I attempted to swirl throughout the loaf using two different techniques. But, the banana bread was too dense to produce my intended result. Both of those loaves came out fantastically sweet and moist with a lovely caramelized crust, but I still wasn’t satisfied. On my final attempt, I had the epiphany that I could puree fresh strawberries to replace all of the water and part of the vegetable oil in my normal banana bread recipe. This had the double effect of dispersing the sweet strawberry flavor throughout the bread as well as slightly lightening the recipe. Chopped dried strawberries lend additional strawberry flavor and a nice variety of texture to the loaf.

Strawberries and bananas are a classic flavor combination. And they’ve never been better combined than in this twist on banana bread. This is more than just a banana bread with a few strawberries mixed in. This bread pays equal homage to both the strawberries and the bananas. Definitely worth the four attempts it took to come around to this recipe!

Strawberry Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pureed strawberries
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup dried strawberries, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the vegetable oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until well combined. Add the mashed banana and dried strawberries. Stir until well blended. Pour the banana bread mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60-70 minutes.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocoflan

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I lied to you a little, about the whole not needing a wine rack because we drink our wine too fast. That statement is mostly true. We buy our regular wine in the big 1.5 liter bottles. It’s sold two for twenty bucks and it’s pretty darn tasty for that price. We are not wine snobs, as you can tell. I mean, we appreciate a fine wine, but we’ll gladly drink the cheap stuff too, as long as it doesn’t taste like grape juice mixed with well vodka. We pick up a few of those big bottles each week and we drink them promptly. Wine storage isn’t really a concern for us.

But we do actually have a small collection of wine in our wine cellar…errr, I mean the basement storage room, right next to the bins of Christmas decorations and miscellaneous crafting supplies. There are probably ten or so bottles down there; mostly wines we were given as gifts, a few mementos from our wedding, and some we picked up on wine tours. For the most part, they are white wines, which are spared from drinking due to our preference for red and the fact that they live unchilled in our basement.

There was a bottle of red down there. Was. I hadn’t forgotten about it. Many a night, I’ve thought about that bottle of wine. We bought it on a wine tour in Virginia, one weekend that we spent at this great little spa hotel. The concierge paired us with another couple and we shared a limo as we toured some the area’s wineries. We tasted several wines that day, including one with an aroma of tobacco that one of our new wine tour friends described as smelling of Colonial Williamsburg. Oddly, we all knew exactly what she meant. None of us purchased that wine. But we also tasted a delicious red called Ameritage Reserve at Pearmund Cellars; a blend of their best malbec, petite verdot and cabernet sauvignon. We were told it would be an ideal wine for aging. So we bought it and we aged it…for 9 years. We probably would have aged it forever if I hadn’t reminded my husband of its existence last night.

But, we were about to start the final episode of Downton Abbey’s second season and we’d exhausted our big bottle of cheapo red. We’d already watched two episodes that evening and were feeling quite regal by that point, as if we were destined for a life of fine wine. We do have a bottle of red, I heard myself say. Well, crack it open, was my husband’s response. And then we cracked open the bottle of 9 year old red. The cork practically crumbled as I pulled it from our precious aged wine. We traded in our standard drinking tumblers for actual wine glasses and took a sip. It was beautiful. It tasted as elegant as the halls of Downton Abbey. I may or may not have spoken with an English accent for the remainder of the evening.

It’s going to be hard to go back to drinking our budget wine this evening.

That wine was a special treat. No regrets.

I’ve got a treat for you too. Sometime in the weeks before our little Mexican fiesta, I picked up a Better Homes and Gardens magazine which featured all Mexican recipes. As I was flipping through the mag, I came across a recipe for a minted cake with a layer of dulce de leche flan on the top. Honestly, the combination of mint and dulce de leche did nothing to excite my taste buds, but in the description of this recipe, it mentioned something called chocoflan. Chocolate cake and creamy, caramelly flan??  Yup. I could get behind that idea. I found a recipe for chocoflan on the Food Network website and made it for my fiesta.

As far as baking goes, this is a pretty cool cake to make. The flan mixture gets poured over the cake mixture and sometime during the baking, the cake rises to the top, while the flan gently cooks in the bottom of the bundt pan. I followed the original recipe exactly as written, as I often do when I’m baking something unfamiliar. Baking is a much more exact process than cooking, so it’s a bit more important not to play around too much with ingredients and procedures until you have a better sense of what you’re working with. So, when the recipe instructed me to ‘giggle a little’, I giggled as told, even though I’m guessing the actual intention was to jiggle the cake.

The end result is delicious and show-stoppingly gorgeous. The cake is rich and dense, almost like a brownie. The flan is as decadent and satisfying as that aged wine; a perfect complement to the chocolatey cake. Though perfect as is, I toyed around with the recipe on my second attempt, substituting creamy melted peanut butter and warm fudge sauce for the dulce de leche in the original recipe. A handful of peanut butter chips, added to the cake batter, spreads peanut buttery flavor throughout the rich dessert.

This cake doesn’t really fall in line with my desire to lose a few pounds, but man is it worth the splurge! Just cut yourself a really, really skinny slice!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocoflan

Adapted from Marcela Valladolid’s Chocoflan

 Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 10 tablespoons butter, softened (plus additional butter for pan)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter chips

For the Flan

  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Garnish

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup prepared fudge sauce, warmed
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rub the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan with butter to prevent sticking.

To prepare the cake: Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat for another minute. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder. Beat a third of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk, followed by another third of the flour mixture, then the remaining buttermilk, and ending with the remaining flour mixture. Stir in the peanut butter chips. Spread the cake mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the prepared bundt pan.

To prepare the flan: Combine all flan ingredients in a blender and blend until well-combined. Pour the flan mixture over the cake batter. (Don’t worry if the cake batter mixes a bit with the flan. They will separate during baking.)

Cover the bundt pan with foil. Place the bundt pan inside a larger roasting pan or large skillet. Carefully fill the roasting pan or skillet with about an inch or so of hot water. (The hot water bath will help the flan custard to cook gently.)

Place the pan on the middle oven rack and bake for about 90 minutes*, until the top of the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Carefully remove the pan from the oven, remove the bundt pan from the water bath, and cool for at least an hour at room temperature. Then, give the bundt pan a little jiggle to ensure the cake and flan are loosened. Place a large serving plate over the top and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

To garnish, drizzle the top of the cake with the melted fudge sauce and peanut butter. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts.

*The original recipe calls for a cooking length of one hour, but it actually takes a good 90 minutes, as I’ve noted in my adaptation of the recipe.

Water bath set-up

Simple S’mores Pudding Cups

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In bizarrely timely fashion, a friend of mine posted this quote, just as I was drafting this post, How much of this stuff has anything to do with who you are now and who you are becoming? Words to purge by…

I yearn for the simple life, a life with minimal clutter and limited complications. Just an uncluttered life focused on family, friends, and enjoying this beautiful world. But sometimes it seems practically impossible to achieve this state of uncomplicated living. We seem to accumulate stuff at twice the rate I can use it, gift it, donate it or trash it. And, my goodness, do kids come along with a lot of accessories…even after you’ve said no to the wipe warmers, diaper genies, bottle sterilizers, sleep positioners, and the tap-dancing monkeys that Babies R Us told you were newborn essentials. Honestly, I don’t even need bottles. I don’t need a swing or a special baby food maker. Heck, we barely used the baby’s crib for the first year of his life. Just give me my baby, a few onesies, a soft blanket, and a ridiculous quantity of baby wipes. (I’m not sure I could live without baby wipes.)

But kids amass stuff no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Puzzles and action figures and five million tiny legos. And little plastic toys from happy meals and musical instruments and samurai castles. And cars and books and stuffed toys and train sets. And a toy kitchen, a toy workbench, and something called bonkazonks. And coloring books, sticker collections, broken crayons, and cowboy hats.

And I’m also to blame for our accumulation of stuff. Because I need matching dishes and glasses. And I needed a sombrero for my Mexican fiesta (which will now live in the basement just in case I want to throw another fiesta). And we couldn’t possibly have had a lemonade stand without a proper lemonade dispenser. And my life wouldn’t be complete without those little metal nest candleholders and turquoise birdie candles. It all seemed so important at the time, but now it achieves nothing besides making me feel claustrophobic in my own home.

I don’t even want to think about the paperwork we collect. Bills and important forms and certificates. A million pages of important paper to file and save, just in case. Just in case.

And then the sasquatch ate mommy and daddy…

How in the world did complicated and cluttered become the norm of our existence? It takes actual effort to not accumulate stuff and not to feed into the expectations we’ve grown to have about what we need. Certainly, those brightly colored, beautifully photographed magazines from Pottery Barn and Anthropologie aren’t doing anything to help limit my stuff accumulation. I know, I know…waa, waa, waa, I have too much stuff. Talk about a first world problem! Believe me, I don’t take it for granted.

I just think that our well-intentioned culture has a tendency to overcomplicate life to the point of chaos. I want to simplify. Let go of clutter. Live in an environment of minimalistic zen. Focus on what’s important. And so this is the summer of the purge! I’m moving from room to room and closet to closet to eliminate the clutter. We’ll hold a garage sale to sell what we can, then donate the rest. Goodbye handheld carpet cleaner I’ve never used. Goodbye racks and racks of dvds we will probably never watch. Goodbye duplicate copies #2, #3, and #4 of The Giving Tree. I love you, but we only need one of you. Goodbye all three 50 Shades of Grey books. You weren’t worth the time it took to read you. May you live happily in someone else’s home. And goodbye wine rack. I drink my wine way too fast to ever put you to use.

My minimalistic impulses carry over into my feelings about food. I like simple fresh flavors, short ingredient lists, and uncomplicated preparation methods. I’m totally intrigued by the whole arena of molecular gastronomy…gelification, spherification, foamification and whatnot(ification). I want to eat that food and marvel over the cleverness of the chef. But my personal approach to food is much simpler. No fancy tools, no futuristic techniques…just a sharp knife, a few simple tools, and a good set of pots and pans. It’s really all you need.

A few nights ago, my husband and the boys pitched a tent in the backyard for a summer campout. They built a fire and we roasted marshmallows, which we layered with chocolate and graham crackers for a classic s’mores treat. The boys entertained us with campfire songs and spooky stories involving mommy and daddy getting eaten by a sasquatch. And then they snuggled up in the tent and slept the night away. It was an idealistic evening. It’s the simple things in life, isn’t it?

But a few days earlier in the week, the boys had a craving for s’mores. So I came up with these little individual s’mores pudding cups…for those nights when you don’t have a marshmallow roastin’ fire roaring in the backyard. Rich, homemade chocolate pudding gets layered with mini marshmallows and crumbled graham crackers. Nothing fancy, but what a crowd-pleaser! Simple pleasures.

Simple S’mores Pudding Cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 3 graham cracker sheets, crushed

Directions

Sprinkle about half of the graham cracker crumbs and half of the marshmallows onto the bottom of six individual serving bowls or glasses. Reserve the remaining crumbs and marshmallows.

In a saucepan, mix together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt. Whisk in the milk, stirring until combined. Continue whisking over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, continue cooking for another minute or two. Be careful to whisk into the corners and along the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until fully melted. Carefully pour the hot pudding over the marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs. While the pudding is still hot, scatter the remaining marshmallows over the top and sprinkle with the remaining graham cracker crumbs. Refrigerate until chilled.

Serves 6 

Individual Red, White, and Blue Trifles

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The fact that the Fourth of July falls right smack in the middle of peak berry season seems almost too good to be true. Right around the time when many of us are scrambling to come up with the perfect patriotic red, white, and blue dessert for our Independence Day barbecues, the sweetest strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are arriving in the grocery store, fresh picked from local berry farms. It’s no wonder that so many 4th of July desserts feature berries. It’s patriotic kismet.

And this dessert is no different. But it’s more than just seasonal festive colors. These red, white, and blue fresh berry and vanilla custard trifles are addictively delicious. Seriously, I should admit that I made two batches since I just wasn’t satisfied with the photos I’d gotten from the first batch. I ate most of that first batch. I shared a little with the kids, but I made quick work of the rest…and I barely regret it either. I’m going to try to save the second batch for tomorrow’s festivities, but I’m not making any promises.

Traditionally, trifles are made with layers of fruit, spongecake, custard and whipped cream, arranged in a large glass bowl to display the beautiful layers. My version is made in perfect individual portions, arranged in jam jars for a unique presentation. In some variations of trifle, the fruit is suspended in gelatin. In mine, a bit of sugar and some instant pectin (commonly used in making jams and jellies), create a sweet thickened glaze around the fresh berries. Layers of crushed vanilla wafers, creamy vanilla custard, and sweet whipped cream complete the perfectly portioned dessert. Be sure to stick your spoon straight down to the bottom with every bite to get a little bit of every layer.

How will you be spending your 4th of July??

Individual Red, White, and Blue Trifles

Ingredients

  • 20 vanilla wafer cookies, crushed
  • 1 cup blueberries

For the Berry ‘Jam’

  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 17-gram package instant pectin*

For the Vanilla Custard

  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
*Look for pectin wherever your grocery store carries their jarring supplies for jams and jellies.

Directions

For the Custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Then, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Allow to cool at room temperature, whisking occasionally, until no longer hot. Then, transfer the mixture to a bowl or large measuring cup. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the Berry Jam: Combine the strawberries, raspberries, sugar, and pectin. Stir for about 3 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the other components.

For the Whipped Cream: Beat the heavy cream and sugar for several minutes until quite thick.

To Assemble the Trifles: Spoon about 1/6 portion of the berry jam into the bottom of each serving glass. (8-ounce jam jars work perfectly.) Sprinkle about 1/6 of the crushed cookies on top of the jam. Spoon or pipe about 1/6 of the custard on top of the cookie layer. Top the custard layer with a layer of blueberries. Spoon 1/6 of the whipped cream onto each blueberry layer. Garnish with a additional berries, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

Makes 6 Servings

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