RSS Feed

Tag Archives: chocolate

Peanut Butter Monkey Ice Cream

Posted on

This sweet summer treat is the brainchild of my brilliant five-year-old, who is perpetually dreaming up new recipe ideas. Of course, the fact that he speaks the words and I immediately get cooking has provided some serious reinforcement of this behavior. If you dream it, I will make it. I don’t think a soul at the table was disappointed after Liam recently suggested I make a batch of chocolate peanut butter pudding. In fact, as he sat at the table of guests enjoying the luscious, still-warm pudding, he suggested that everyone should thank him for coming up with such a great idea. Actually most of Liam’s recent recipe ideas have had something to do with peanut butter and chocolate. I told you, he’s a brilliant kid.

With three kids in the family, we go through a good deal of ice cream once the summer heat hits. Catching the elusive ice cream man has become a mission of epic proportions. In the five years that we’ve lived here, we’ve caught the ice cream man once. Once. And this is not for lack of effort. I’m beginning to feel like that kid in Better Off Dead who justs wants his two dollars, as my ice cream man races down my road with the speed of the mailman in Funny Farm. My life has become an ’80s movie.

Unable to rely on the local ice cream man, we’re resorted to purchasing our ice cream at the grocery store or making our own. Making your ice cream at home is not a money-saving endeavor. The cost of the cream and other ingredients will run you just as much as picking up a half-gallon container of your favorite brand. But, there are few pleasures in life as ridiculously decadent as a spoonful of homemade ice cream straight out of the ice cream maker. That’s when it’s best folks; fresh frozen, still slightly soft, and oh-so-satisfying. Don’t wait. Just dive in.

The addition of a fresh, pureed banana to this creamy peanut butter ice cream is the inspired genius of my son. He tried to back out of the banana idea moments after suggesting it, but I was too committed to the idea at that point. He later agreed that his initial instinct was right on target. Mini chocolate chips, fresh bits of banana, and salty peanuts complete this fantastic ice cream treat.

Peanut Butter Monkey Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 banana (pureed)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 banana, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts, coarse chopped

Directions

Prepare your ice cream maker according to your maker’s instructions.

In a saucepan over medium/medium-low heat, combine the cream, milk, pureed banana, sugar, and peanut butter, whisking frequently, just until the sugar dissolves and the peanut butter has melted. Cool for a few minutes at room temperature, then refrigerate for a couple hours until the mixture is completely chilled. Once the mixture is cold, pour it into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your maker’s instructions. Once the ice cream has reached the consistency of soft-serve, add the chopped banana, chocolate chips, and peanuts. Freeze in the ice cream maker for a few minutes longer.

Cannoli Ice Cream

Posted on

I’ve been working on another post (for a super yummy Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad), but this recipe gets an instant pass to cut to the front of the line. I made this ice cream yesterday afternoon and I just can’t wait another second longer to share it with you… Cannoli ice cream with mini chocolate chips and fresh candied orange peel.

Need I say more?

Last year, during the peak of strawberry season, I made one of my favorite homemade ice creams. It was an absolutely luscious strawberry cheesecake ice cream, made with fresh-picked berries. That was some seriously crave-worthy ice cream. It was actually the memory of that ice cream which inspired this recipe. I was sitting outside on an exceptionally hot afternoon day-dreaming of that delicious strawberry cheesecake ice cream, which led me to consider…what other desserts can I turn into ice cream? Cannolis were one of the first ideas which popped into my mind. And I figured that if I could make a cheesecake flavored ice cream with sour cream mixed into it, why couldn’t I make a cannoli ice cream with ricotta cheese as a main ingredient?

Turns out that ricotta cheese lends itself amazing well towards creating a rich and decadently creamy ice cream. I have to admit, there was a point in time, a few minutes before the ice cream had finished it’s run through the ice cream maker, when I snuck a spoon into the machine to taste a bit of the not-quite-frozen mixture. It was the consistency of soft-serve ice cream at that point and the texture of the ricotta was still evident. Mouth-watering. It took every ounce of my self-control not to eat the whole batch right out of the still-churning machine.

This recipe is super-simple to put together, though you’ll need to make the candied orange peel a little ahead of time. Trust me, it’s worth the small effort. I’d initially considered listing the candied orange peel as an optional ingredient, but that would’ve been a major mistake. The flavor and the texture of the candied peel contribute so much to this ice cream, it would be a major loss to omit it.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, this may well be the recipe to make it worth buying one. I love this ice cream so much, that I actually looked into the cost of ice cream makers to see if I could offer one as a giveaway, but I just can’t pocket the personal expense at this time. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) Hey Cuisinart…want to offer one of my readers an ice cream maker??

In the mean time, if you love cannolis, buy, beg, or borrow yourself an ice cream maker and give this recipe a whirl!

Cannoli Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Candied orange peel from one orange, chopped (Recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • Prepared cannoli shells, for garnish

Directions

Prepare your ice cream maker according to your maker’s instructions.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the cream and the sugar, stirring frequently, just until the sugar dissolves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill until completely cooled. Combine the cream/sugar mixture with the ricotta and cinnamon. Mix in the candied orange peel and chocolate chips. Transfer the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Serve with a piece of prepared cannoli shell.

Candied Orange Peel

Ingredients

  • 1 orange
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Bring a fresh pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel again. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Combine the sugar with the water in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add the orange peel. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the peels are tender and slightly translucent. Carefully strain. (The mixture will be extremely hot, so use caution.)

When cool enough to handle, arrange the peel on a drying rack to continue cooling.

St. Patty’s Day Round-up

Posted on

Parenthood has a way of constantly making you feel brand new. I mean, I’ve got three kids. We’ve been doing this whole parenting thing for almost five years now and in some ways, we feel like old hands at it. We know our kids and have a good enough understanding of child development to know what to anticipate as our children work through the daily challenges and joys of childhood. Our hearts pound with pride as they take those first steps, say that first sweet word, and cut that first little tooth. And we hold our breaths with anxiety when one of our little ones is not well. But, for the most part, we know what to expect and we know how to react.

And then something completely unexpected happens. Rationally, I know that parenthood is full of unexpected surprises, but sometimes they just sneak up on you. Like when I glanced over at my almost five-year-old and noticed that one of his bottom teeth was loose. And I panicked. Panicked as if blood were pouring from his ears. It’s just a loose tooth; a normal part of being a kid. But I never saw it coming. Not yet, at least.

So, I did what any mildly irrational parent would do and called the dentist to make an emergency appointment. Somebody do something! My kid has a slightly wiggly tooth! Of course, the trip to the dentist confirmed that it is totally normally for my little guy to have wiggly teeth. His adult teeth are just working their way up. Adult teeth??? But, he’s my baby! Guess it’s almost time for me to put on some tooth fairy wings.

And now we’re just waiting for that first tooth to come out. I stopped by the bank today and picked up a handful of gold dollar coins to leave under his pillow when the time comes. The tooth fairy always left me silver dollars, which I collected like treasure. But since the gold dollar coins are the best I can find, they’ll do the trick. In fact, I suspect the gold coins may be even more intriguing to my little men for their likeness to pirate treasure and a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

Speaking of leprechauns, we’re all very excited for St. Patty’s Day around here. My sister and brother-in-law will be visiting for the weekend and we’ll be spending the day with friends. To celebrate our bursting Irish spirit, I made a batch of my World’s Simplest Fudgey BrowniesThen, I spread a thick layer of dark chocolate frosting on top and decorated with a handful of Lucky Charms marshmallows. They definitely brought some smiles to my rowdy bunch of leprechauns, though I suspect they’ll be disappointed to discover the marshmallow shortage in their snack cereal.

If you’re looking for some other ideas for St. Patty’s Day fare, check out these previously posted Gourmand Mom recipes:

Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage

Grasshopper Pie

Irish Soda Bread

Reuben Quesadillas

Corned Beef and Cabbage Egg Rolls

Classic Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

Guinness-Braised Beef

Low-Carb Cottage Pie

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Leap Day Monkey Breads

The interior springs, which prevent the unusually heavy dishwasher door from recklessly crashing to the floor, busted the other day. The repair man has assessed the damage and the necessary parts have been ordered. In the mean time, we’re fondly referring to the dishwasher as “toddler crusher”, which certainly kicks up the level of excitement in the kitchen. Because being in the kitchen should always feel a little like Thunderdome, shouldn’t it?

Aside from the added thrill of crashing appliance doors (thank you, LG), we are all buzzing with excitement around here today, because it’s Leap Day…and if we learned anything from last week’s episode of 30 Rock, you can do anything you want on Leap Day, because nothing counts. (Buh-bye diet!) Being as I learn most of life’s important lessons from Thursday nights’ TV line-up, we’re going to celebrate Leap Day as it ought to be celebrated.

Which means we’re going to wear mismatching socks, forget about chores, and eat ice cream sundaes for dinner. I might even buy that Mercedes E320 I’ve always wanted. And I’m totally going to bathe myself in salted caramel. Because it’s an extra day and you can spend it however you want. In an ideal world, I’d actually spend my extra day taking one very long nap in a warm, quiet sensory deprivation chamber. But since I still need to take care of my children…even on Leap Day…we’re going to go the recklessly over-indulgent and silly behavior route for the day.

In between our ice cream sundaes, we’ll eat monkey bread…because it has a funny name that I don’t understand and it’s just really, really yummy. It makes me happy. Monkey bread, though an old familiar to many, is pretty new to me. I made (and tasted) my first monkey bread for my super bowl party (aka the DeLine family super bowl massacre). I fell in love. Big time. It was a pepperoni pizza monkey bread, with gooey mozzarella cheese and bits of spicy pepperoni scattered between buttery, garlicky bits of pizza dough. But, the thing I loved most of all were the infinite possibilities.

You can make monkey bread with any number of flavors. Use whatever sort of dough floats your boat. Stuff the little balls of dough with anything your heart desires. Roll the balls in any coating. Go savory. Go sweet. Go crazy. It’s monkey bread! This time, I made two types of monkey bread. The first (your dinner course, if you will) is a buffalo chicken pizza monkey bread…gooey balls of pizza dough stuffed with spicy chunks of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and bleu cheese which are then rolled in a buttery wing sauce. Dip ’em in bleu cheese dressing…holy yum!

The boys enjoyed my second variation; s’mores monkey bread. We stuffed the chunks of pizza dough with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, then rolled them in a sugary graham cracker crumb mix. The final result is oozing with s’mores flavor. For an even more decadent treat, dip the warm chunks into hot fudge or some sticky marshmallow fluff!

Go ahead, indulge. All foods are 0 calories on Leap Day. Google it.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 cup chicken, cooked and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot sauce, divided
  • Bleu Cheese Dressing, for dipping

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the hot sauce over the chicken and toss to coat. Mix the remaining hot sauce in with the melted butter. (If desired, add additional hot sauce for a spicier result.) Set aside. Pull off small chunks of the pizza dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a little chunk of the chicken and a pinch or two of both cheeses in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the butter/hot sauce mixture to coat, then place it in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Scatter any remaining crumbled bleu cheese over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm with bleu cheesing dressing and/or additional hot sauce.

S’mores Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 40-50 mini marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 full-sheet graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Stir the graham crackers crumbs and sugar together. Pull off small chunks of the dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a mini marshmallow and several mini chocolate chips in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the melted butter, then roll the ball in the graham cracker crumbs. Place the ball in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Sprinkle any remaining mini chocolate chips over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm. Dip in hot fudge or marshmallow fluff, if desired.

No diet report today. It’s Leap Day. Diets don’t matter on Leap Day!

Lobster Pot Pie

Traveling with my three siblings and I must surely have been a nightmare for my parents. We didn’t have the modern technology which exists today to keep kids occupied on car rides…no Nintendo DS, no portable DVD players, no iPads. Just the four of us in the backseat, bored out of our minds, trying to stay occupied by playing alphabet games with license plates and billboards. Inevitably, we’d become bored with these games and spend the remainder of the trip arguing about who was looking out whose window and irritating our parents with Are we there yets.

As a parent, I have no such problem. When we upsized our vehicle a few years ago, to accommodate our growing family, we made the wise choice in getting a vehicle equipped with a second row DVD player. The best feature, from our perspective, are the wireless headphones, which enable the kids to listen to their endless Ghostbusters marathon (important business around here) while my husband and I listen to gory audiobooks about the zombie apocalypse and other such serious matter. Everyone is happy, except perhaps the baby who is still rear-facing, sadly staring at the back of the seat.

With these headphones, my kids are practically silent in the car. I talk to them. They are unresponsive. I point out cool things along our drive. I get nothing. I tell their favorite jokes (which at the time consists of just shouting bananapants). Not even the slightest giggle.

The only time we encounter a problem is if someone forgets to grab their headphones before we hit the road. Like yesterday. When we got in the car to drive the half-mile (literally) to the grocery store. It all happened so fast.

I need my headphones.

Don’t worry, we’ll be there in 30 seconds.

I don’t have my headphones.

I know…but it’s ok. There’s the grocery store.

But, I can’t hear the ghostbusters.

It’s ok. We’re already in the parking lot.

But. I. Can’t. Hear. Peter. Venkman!!!

By the time we’d reached the store, my three year old was in the middle of a full tantrum. He refused to get out of the car. Negotiations were had before proceeding with our grocery trip. Note to self: Make sure everyone has their headphones before pulling out of the driveway. Or suffer the consequences.

Since the baby has managed to make himself virtually unbabysittable, through his refusal to take a bottle and his terribly unpredictable sleep patterns, going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day was not a viable option for my husband and I. Luckily, I like to cook. So I made us these delicious lobster pot pies. A creamy filling made with fresh lobster, sweet corn, and gourmet mushrooms gets wrapped up in a tender puff pastry shell. The sauce is made from a store-bought seafood stock, which is then simmered with shallots, garlic, madeira wine, tarragon, and the lobster shells until it’s reduced by half and layered with flavor. (Simmering any store-bought stock with veggies and other ingredients is a super simple way to enrich its flavor.) This comforting pot pie makes an elegant option for a quiet date-night at home.

Lobster Pot Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 lobster tails
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted (for drizzling the lobster)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup madeira wine
  • 1 quart seafood stock
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups mixed gourmet mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels, cooked (defrosted frozen corn would work fine)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted

Directions

To prepare the lobster: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the tops of the lobster shell down the middle. Loosen the meat inside the shell, then pull it out so it sits atop the shell. Place the lobster tails in a baking dish and drizzle with melted butter. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the lobster reaches 145 degrees. Remove from the oven and cool. Remove the lobster meat from the shells and cut into small pieces. Save the shells.

To prepare the enriched seafood broth: Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook for a few minutes. Add the madeira wine to the pan. Then, add the seafood stock, lobster shells, and tarragon. Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain the broth. Discard the lobster shells, garlic, and shallots. You should be left with 2 cups of broth. (If you have less than 2 cups, add a little water. If you have more than 2 cups, simmer until only 2 cups remain.)

To prepare the lobster pie filling: Wipe out the pot you used for the broth. Then, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 7-10 minutes, until tender and a bit golden. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms. Stir to coat. Cook for a minute or two while stirring. Gradually add the warm broth the pan, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, until the liquid thickens, similar to a gravy. Add the heavy cream and continue simmering for another 3 minutes or so. Add the corn and lobster. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Allow to cool at room temperature until warm or refrigerate until using.

To prepare the pot pies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray two mini pie pans with non-stick spray. Slightly roll out each of the puff pastry sheets, so they are about 1/8″ thick. Cut the pastry into squares, big enough to fit the pie pan. (Once inserted, the pastry should come up to all edges, with four larger corners that will be folded over the top.) Press the pastry into the pie pans. Fill each pie with a generous scoop of the filling. Fold over the four pastry corners and gently press together in the center. Place the prepared pies on a baking sheet. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the filling is piping hot and the crust is golden brown and fully-cooked.

Makes 2 Individual Pot Pies

And for dessert…my World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies, cut into heart shapes, and served on a bed of raspberry coulis.

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

I’m going to become an Irish step-dancer. Stop laughing… I’m serious. Well, that’s assuming I can find a dance teacher to take on this 35-year-old mess of incoordination, with zero dance experience, but a whole lot of passion.

It’s just always been one of those things for me. I regret never having done it as a child. Years ago, I told my husband that if we ever had a girl, I’d be signing her up for lessons as soon as she could walk, so I could live vicariously through her. He was smart enough not to argue with me on that plan. But since it seems we’re destined to create a big brood of boys (and they’re much more interested in busting ghosts than dancing), it looks like I’m gonna need to live this dream for myself. Probably best that I fulfill my own dreams anyway, rather than pushing them on my kids, huh?

I’ve contacted a few local Irish dance schools and have yet to find anyone offering adult beginners classes at a time and location I can get to, but I’ve not given up hope yet. This middle age mom is ready to show Michael Flatley who the real lord (rather, lady) of the dance is. Stay tuned…

We had a lovely Valentine’s Day around here, filled with enough delicious goodies to throw me off my diet for at least the rest of this week. Oh, but it was worth it. So worth it. I surprised my loves with this special breakfast, which had everyone oohing and ahhing with each bite. For a weekday breakfast, it’s surprisingly easy to pull off. Simply prepare the ‘sandwiches’ the night before, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. This will actually help firm up the Nutella, which will make the sandwiches easier to dip in the morn. You can cut the sandwiches into any shape or not cut them at all…though the scraps make a really nice snack with a glass of red wine…just sayin’.

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Ingredients

For the French Toast:

  • 8 slices white bread
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4-6 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
For the Raspberry Coulis:
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of nutella. (Fight the urge to spread it too thick.) Place the sliced strawberries on four slices of the bread, then place each of the remaining four bread slices on top to make four nutella-strawberry sandwiches. If desired, use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches into creative shapes. If preparing ahead of time, wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Eat the scraps.

Lightly beat the eggs with the milk and salt. Melt a bit of the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Dip both sides of each sandwich into the egg mixture. Place the dipped sandwiches in the hot pan and cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. The nutella will become warm and melty. (It’s easier to carefully flip the sandwiches using a fork and your hands, rather than a spatula.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

For the raspberry coulis, puree the raspberries with the sugar. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Diet  Update: Avoiding the scale like the plague this week and enjoying my valentine’s day chocolates. Will be back on track next week…promise!

Almond Joy Pie (for your Valentines)

For almost as long as the internet has existed, my father has sent a daily message to his mom, my sisters, my brother, and I. Each message begins simply, Good Morning Mom, Girls, and Guy. The messages share the details of his day to day events; a note about the weather, stories of his daily LIRR commute, or tales of the ‘Russian babe’ at the barbershop. What is unique is the way my dad weaves these everyday happenings into special stories which are simultaneously comical and meaningful.

Take this recent excerpt about clothes shopping and color-blindness:

When I opened the package that arrived last night, I discovered I’d ordered Sea Lavender. I will I admit that I didn’t actually know what color lavender is, but I thought it was blue. In truth, it’s the color of the sky on the horizon just before sunrise, actually more pink than blue. I wish I’d known this sooner, because not only would I probably not have ordered the shirt, I wouldn’t have described the sky in earlier blogs as ‘salmon’. I was never comfortable using a fish to describe such a beautiful sight.

At any rate, I hate sending stuff back and I’m wearing my new lavender shirt as I write. I’m thinking about getting a pinkie ring and maybe some kind of piercing.

And sometimes, his messages take us by surprise, filling us with uncertainty about our father’s mental state. Like when he wrote this message about his fellow LIRR passengers:

There were medieval people on the train with me on the way in this morning. Peasants, actually. There was a large, florid faced innkeeper with thinning blond hair sleeping with his chin on his chest and a small, bald palleted monk with a fish face snoring in a single-seated nook reserved for handicapped people. He would jostle back and forth between the walls as the train moved, but he never woke up. His snoring made him sound like he was choking.

Followed the next day by this message:

I took some heat yesterday for my revelation about seeing medieval characters in people’s faces. I guess this might as well be a good time to reveal that I also see animals is some faces. You know, weasels, squirrels, rabbits, horses, sheep, wolves and sometimes, fish. Might as well get it all on the table so we don’t have to deal with it again, right?

PS – I think I saw one of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men on the platform at Hicksville on the way by.

Clearly my father had been rereading Pillars of the Earth, again.

Weather is another common theme in my dad’s messages. Weather, in general, is one of my dad’s most favorite topics. He watches the weather channel like some people follow sports. And occasionally, we’ll get a story about the weather in his daily message, often involving Murphy’s law and umbrellas. Or something like this note on a chilly day:

Hoarfrost! Huh!?! Yep, you heard it right. I know it’s not a word you hear in polite company anymore, but I gotta’ call it the way I see it. There was no sunrise on the platform this morning. Instead, I was surrounded by fog and hoarfrost. If you look it up, you’ll find that ‘hoarfrost’ is defined as “white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when radiation losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air”. Hoarfrost.

So, why is it that, as I stood in the icy fog waiting for train, I hesitated blurting out, “Hey, look at that there hoarfrost!”? Of course, I knew the answer. It was because, Mary, the little, 4’10” , short-haired woman, who waits for the train with me every morning, would have grabbed me by the ear lobe, dragged me down to the ticket office, and demanded that I have my mouth washed out with soap. I guess ‘hoarfrost‘ is just another victim of guilt by association.

And then there are the stories involving food. Like me, my dad likes to write about food; his lunch at the deli, stories of grilling in the snow, or tales of the adventures involved in clearing out the basement chest freezer. I’d like to believe that I acquired my interest in writing from my dad, right along with my shiny brown hair, bad eyesight, and love for corned beef hash…

Anyway, early yesterday morning, as I was setting myself up to actually accomplish something during the day, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I turned to see a very large lady eating a fried egg sandwich on a roll. She had a large Styrofoam resting on the ledge outside my window and she stood facing me as she chomped on her sandwich. Nose to nose, we couldn’t have been much more than three feet apart, but it was apparent that, while she was uncomfortably visible to me, I was not visible to her. I wanted to tell her, “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.

We shared breakfast together, every little bite, for about five minutes before she left. If I had been hungry before her visit, I was not when she left. Mercifully, I was spared any of the eating sounds although I could hear them clearly in my mind. (sigh)

And sometimes my dad’s messages are so filled with love and so poignant, that I find myself simultaneously laughing and crying. Like when he shared this simple memory from my childhood, from a time not long after we’d lost our mother to breast cancer:

Daaaadeeeee, I want a drink of waaaaater.

I can still hear the mellifluous call in syncopated unison from the upstairs bedroom of the small Cape Cod in Valley Stream. I would dutifully trudge up the single flight of stairs and deliver water to the three little girls who were my life. I’d get my hugs and ‘butterfly kisses’ and leave them to sleep peacefully.

I’ve come to understand that the call for water was really a call for security. They needed the peace in knowing I was there for them.

I always felt sorry for the times I let myself become annoyed at this evening ritual, but I feel sorrier still that those days are gone.

Now, my beautiful little girls are all beautiful brides and will someday gladly carry water to their own children.

I hope they sing the way you did.

My dad makes me smile everyday. And sometimes we cry too. But these daily messages keep us all connected, no matter how far separated we are. Eventually, the email list for these messages became longer, as my aunts, uncles, and cousins joined in. Soon family friends were on board too. Once the back and forth responses starting overflowing in each of our e-mail inboxes, it was decided that the daily message should be moved to a message board, which is where it sits today. And every Monday through Friday, we all log on to connect with each other. What a beautiful thing!

And here’s the best part…when I sent my Dad a message to see if he’d be ok with me sharing a few bits of his writing with all of you, his response was, They’re to you; they’re yours!  – Love ya!  ~Daddo 

My dad’s the best!

Valentine’s Day is typically a holiday celebrated between significant others, but it is impossible for me to think of Valentine’s Day without thinking about my dad, the man who has been my Valentine for all of my 35 years. My father taught my siblings and I about love and family, in the way he loves us and in the way he continues to hold an unending love for those we lost too soon.

And so, on Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate my love for my five special valentines; my husband, my three little men, and my dad. For my husband, I’ll be making lobster pot pie in a puff pastry shell and filet mignon with caramelized onions and gorgonzola. For my boys, heart-shaped nutella-stuffed french toast with raspberry syrup and berry red smoothies. And in honor of my dad, this Almond Joy Pie. Daddo, I’d send you a slice, if I could. You think one of those padded envelopes might work?? Maybe I should wait until the next time we visit…

It’s always fun to celebrate your sweeties with something sweet and I’m certain this pie would fill your loved ones with coconutty joy! It starts with a homemade chocolate cookie crust, which is then coated in a creamy milk chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a layer of sliced almonds. An irresistible coconut custard fills the pie. Skip the box of candy and make this instead…it’ll save all that time and wasted chocolates trying to find the coconut filled ones.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!  

Almond Joy Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 chocolate cookie pie crust (store-bought or homemade)*
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, divided

For the Custard:

  • 3 cups milk (skim milk will work fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
*Click HERE for the procedure for a homemade crust, though to be honest, in this case, it’s more cost effective and just as tasty to buy a prepared cookie crust. (In my stores, the ingredients to make your own cost twice as much as the prepared crust.)

Directions

To prepare the milk chocolate ganache: Bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Pour the cream over 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. The chips should melt by the heat of the cream, but if necessary, microwave the mixture for 10-15 seconds, then continue stirring until smooth. Pour the ganache into the pie shell. Scatter about half of the sliced almonds over the ganache. Refrigerate to set the ganache. Prepare the custard while the ganache cools.

To make 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. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken (it should only take a few minutes), reduce the heat to low. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle to avoid scrambling the eggs. (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 mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut.

Allow the custard to cool at room temperature, stirring frequently, until it’s just barely warm. Pour the custard over the cooled ganache in the pie crust and refrigerate until the custard is completely cool and set, about 2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/3 cup of chocolate chips in the microwave (a few seconds at a time, stirring often) or over a double boiler. Spoon the melted chocolate into a plastic baggie. Cut off a small tip of one of the corners of the baggie, then drizzle the chocolate over the pie. Garnish with the remaining sliced almonds.

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I love my children with all of my heart and every ounce of my soul. I really do. But, some days, I swear they’re going to land me in the looney bin.

Take the baby, for example, who is certain he’s signed up for the exclusive, all-inclusive, deluxe mommy package, which features uninterrupted day and night snuggle time. He’s been filing his very vocal complaints with customer service every time I place him down to wrap a gift or bake a cookie.

Then there’s my oldest. He’s four (and a half) now. And he’s bursting with Christmas spirit and big ideas involving my Christmas decorations and the pile of trash I just finished gathering. He’s like an eager elf with a sledgehammer and glue.

But, it’s my three-year-old who is going to sign the papers at the crazy house. This funny little fellow aptly took on the role of middle-child long before there was a baby to make it official. He is cute as a button and silly as a goose, but boy does he have a flair for the dramatics! He’s got a propensity for tantrums even on his best days and when he’s not feeling well…well, just be thankful you don’t need to be around him when he’s sick. He was sick last week, just in time for the Christmas rush…a little virus which led to a double ear infection, which caused a few miserable, feverish days. It put a bit of a kink in my carefully crafted schedule leading up to Christmas. But, such is life with a family. You take the challenges with the rewards and be thankful when the challenges are only as major as an ear infection and a few tantrums. He’s better now and back at school today, which means I can resume my elfing at double speed.

I’m about to run down to the grocery store now to start gathering provisions for Christmas entertaining. But first I have to share these cookies with you. I decided I needed to add some last minute chocolate chip cookies to this year’s collection, but I didn’t want the standard tollhouse cookie. I wanted something flat and chewy, with big chunks of chocolate and dried cherries. I thought that if I eliminated the baking soda, the cookies would stay flatter. A batch of those cookies proved me wrong. Turns out that the key to flatter cookies is a higher proportion of butter to the other ingredients. So, I reduced the flour, increased the sugar, and played around with the size and baking temperature until I came up with the perfect, flat and chewy chocolate chip cookie.

Trust me, Santa likes his chocolate chip cookies like this!

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped

Directions

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Then, beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and dried cherries. Refrigerate for about an hour. (You can skip the refrigeration, but the dough will be much more manageable after a bit of chilling.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll the dough into balls, just under an inch in diameter. (Refrigerate remaining dough between batces.) Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake on the middle rack for 11-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge and Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

There’s less than a week until Christmas! Is anyone else absolutely buzzing with excitement? I mean, literally trembling with anticipation??? Or maybe that’s just the result of the extra caffeine I’ve been pumping into my system to give me enough Santa power to get everything accomplished in time.

I hesitate to admit it, but I may have taken on too much this time. I’m absolutely spinning in my to-do list. My kitchen looks like Pamplona post bull run. My guest room (which needs to be houseguest-ready by Wednesday), looks like Santa’s workshop in the 11th hour. There’s glitter permanently embedded in the baby’s scalp (you know that stuff never comes off) from the place-setting ornaments I decided to make for each of my sixteen Christmas dinner guests. And there’s still a googly eye hot-glued to my wrist from the small army of candy cane reindeer my sons and I prepared for their little schoolmates. Oh, and though I’ve been baking faster than the Keebler elves, I don’t think I’ve made enough to pass out to all of the people on my list.

It’s too late to turn back now. Onward we go.

I’ve been tossing around a few stories I’d hoped to pair with this post, stories about Christmas trees, wish lists, and snakes in my bathtub. Yes, snakes in my bathtub! But, I fear I may never get this posted if I don’t just get right to it! So, let’s just do this.

They say variety is the spice of life. Well, same goes for cookie platters. The key to a great cookie platter is variety of flavors, textures, and color. So, in addition to the standard mix of baked oatmeal chocolate chip craisin cookies, vanilla cherry drops, and sand tarts, I like to include a few other non-cookie type goodies…like chocolate dipped dried fruits or pretzels, truffles, and fudge. Like this simple and delicious tutti frutti chocolate fudge or kid-friendly crispy peanut butter snowballs!

If you’ve got even a little space left on your holiday to-do list, go ahead and pencil these in!

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup fruitcake mix (finely chopped, mixed candied fruits), divided

Directions

Lightly butter two 8×8 inch baking dishes or one 13×9 baking dish. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a full boil. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low if the mixture bubbles up too vigorously. Remove from heat. Stir in the marshmallows and chocolate chips until melted. Stir in 3/4 cup of the candied fruit. Pour the fudge into the baking dish(es). Sprinkle the remaining candied fruit on top. Cool completely at room temperature. Then, refrigerate until firm. Remove the fudge from the baking dish and cut into small squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Makes 4 pounds

Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

Ingredients

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup crisped rice cereal (Rice Krispies)
  • 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, and rice cereal until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Roll the balls in the shredded coconut to adhere. Store in a cool place until serving or adding to cookie platters.

Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

I hosted a little cookie exchange this weekend. It was really just an excuse to engage in a bit of holiday cheer with a few of my best girl friends…as if we needed an excuse! We drank pomegranate champagne cocktails and warm mugs of mulled wine as we laughed by the light of the Christmas tree. Then we loaded up our trays with the assortment of delicious cookies and homemade bread before saying good night. I love the holiday season exactly for such festive gatherings.

Our evening was as educational as it was fun. We learned such things as:

  • When offering your guests mulled wine, it helps to say the word “mulled” slowly and clearly, so your guests do not believe you are offering them some sort of fancy French mold wine.
  • Carrots are not only delicious, but also an excellent source of small talk.
  • If your boot gets stuck on your foot as you pass through airport security, you will need to sit in the naughty passenger area until the boot can be pried from your foot. (Try to appear as if you’re ok with this situation.)
  • Alec Baldwin likes Word with Friends and Wegmans. And we still like Alec Baldwin.

I made a few snacks for my cookie party, including some spinach-gorgonzola triangles (think spanakopita, made with gorgonzola cheese instead of feta) and these cranberry meatballs. They’re inspired by a recipe I spotted in an advertisement for Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray’s recipe calls for a combination of jellied cranberry sauce and chili sauce over frozen cocktail meatballs. It reminds me of the sweet and sour meatballs which my mom used to make with a combination of grape jelly and ketchup. It was one of her standard dishes to bring to potlucks and they were surprisingly delicious. You’d never have guessed the sauce was made from jelly and ketchup, of all things!

I knew there was something to this cranberry meatball idea. So, I made a few little tweaks to raise the homemade factor in the recipe and to kick up the flavor with a bit of chipotle heat. The result is sweet, savory, spicy, and surprisingly delicious. These tasty little meatballs are going to make a prompt reappearance on my Christmas Eve menu!

Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

For the sauce:

  • 2 cans jellied cranberry sauce
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle in adobo)

Directions

To prepare the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ground turkey, onions, eggs, bread crumbs, salt and pepper until well-blended. Form into 1″ balls. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet which has been lightly rubbed with oil. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.

To prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. (Use one chipotle pepper for mild/medium heat or two chipotle peppers for medium-hot.) Use a fork to smash up the cranberry sauce. Stir and cook for about 5-7 minutes until a sauce forms. Remove the sauce from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the mixture using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor. Pour the sauce over the cooked meatballs.

Meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated or frozen until use.

To reheat: Reheat the meatballs in a foil-covered baking dish in a 350 degrees oven, until the meatballs are heated through, about 25-30 minutes (frozen meatballs will take longer). Periodically stir the meatballs as they reheat. Alternately, the meatballs and sauce can be reheated in a saucepan over medium-low heat or in a slow-cooker.

Makes about 60 cocktail-sized meatballs

Tis the season for festive cocktails, like pomegranate champagne cocktails and mulled wine.

For the pomegranate champagne cocktails: Place a few pomegranate arils (the bright red seeds) into the bottom of a champagne glass. Pour a splash of pomegranate juice over the arils. Fill the glass with champagne. The arils sparkle like floating gems and are really fun to pop in your mouth as you enjoy your festive cocktail.

For the mulled wine: Mulled wine is warm, spiced and flavored wine…sort of a warm sangria. It’s typically made with red wine. The flavors and spices can vary. I combined 1.5 liters of Merlot with 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup of pomegranate juice, and two cinnamon sticks. Then, cut one navel orange in half. Squeeze the juice into the mixture, then place the orange halves into the liquid. Slowly warm the mixture to a very gentle simmer. Allow to gently simmer for about 20 minutes. Do not boil. Serve warm. You can prepare the wine on the stovetop in a saucepan or use a slow cooker.

Secrets of An Avon Beauty Boss

Achieving Beautiful Dreams with Avon

The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

%d bloggers like this: