Door County, the sweets edition

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With a tween daughter at home, I’ve given lots of thought to friendships: how they’re made, how fragile they can be, what makes a good one, and so on. While I didn’t especially enjoy those middle school years myself (though … Continue reading

going to the dark side and the tour

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So. Welcome to another week here at food for fun. Please help yourself to a chilled, creamy beverage while I explain what we’re up to today. This week kicks off a bit differently than others as I’m responding to a … Continue reading

soy brownies and rum?

Spring break is so over. A week of r& r at the in-laws–complete with far more DIY marshmallows consumed than recommended–was lovely, but this week it’s back to that real world and all its ensuing insanity. Cue the crazy.

Which put me at the intersection of Nothing Prepared and No New Ideas when time came to write this week’s post. So I’ll fall back on a now time-honored tradition of repeating myself, visiting my work elsewhere in the blogsphere.

Another month, another post at Minnesota Soyfoods Real Story Blog: Brownies anyone? (no worries–neither tofu nor actual soybeans were used)

We also play a game here at food for fun called “Find a Cocktail Recipe.” Enter part deux of this post…

Immediately upon opening the liquor cabinet, out fell a small paperback volume I don’t remember seeing before.

vintage 1940

vintage 1970

Famous Rum Drinks of the Virgin Islands is all of 32 pages and was penned by a Ms Dea Murray as a collection of drinks from “famous hotels, restaurants & bars.” Drowning in red, brown, gold, and harvest orange glory, it could only be a garage sale find. Yet its appearance rang no bells.

That said, it fell out of my liquor cabinet–reason enough to thumb through. Bluebeard’s Wench called for blue curaco, which is not on my shelf. Same story Hurricane Buster. Old Fashioned Voodoo would be mine if only I had guava juice. Swashbuckler called for Champagne and Coco Loco requires the purchase of coconut cream. Clearly I need a better pantry for this book.

wpid-mntsdcardPhoto-Editor2014-03-19-20.32.06.jpg.jpgFortunately, Rum Swizzle met me where I was at. Out came the rum, sweet vermouth, lemon, bitters, and fresh nutmeg. Though not a big fan of rum, I like what it stands for: warm sand and sun, island breezes, tropical tunes.

The resulting sipper was bracingly tart and could’ve stood a bit more sweet, but it won me over by being both assertive and classy. A newly purchased thrift-store cocktail glass made the project even more fun.

sS what if it's only 33°F outside? I have rum in my cocktail.

So what if it’s only 33°F outside? I have rum in my cocktail.

Our winter may not be over quite yet, but the mercury climbs slowly and surely a tropical rum cocktail can help push things in the right direction. So here’s to seeing the backside of winter. Here’s to garage sale finds–remembered or no. And here’s to the busy-ness of life. May it all be great fun as often as it can. Cheers!

food geek chocolate cake

The hardest part of monthly guest posts at Blog of Funny Names is coming up with that funny name. Committing to a food-related name helps narrow the field, but I’m never sure where to look for a name that is fun, fresh, interesting, relevant, and unique enough to be considered “funny.”

Googling always saves the day, but I still need a direction in which to head. This month I got that direction from a small inner voice whispering, “molecular gastronomy.” [While hearing small voices might qualify me for professional help, your reading this might qualify you for the same so we’re in this together. Stay with me? Please?]

So. Searching “molecular gastronomy” was exactly what I needed to do and we all benefit because 1) I found an amazing man named Hervé This, whom I now admire greatly and 2) I thought I’d try a bit of kitcheny science over here as well.

Those kitcheny science results are as laughable as they are delicious and we’ll move on to them as soon as I can convince you to hop over and learn a bit more about Hervé. Click here, then please return for a doozy of a chocolate cake experiment.

***

Back for cake? Very good, then. Learning about Monsieur This inspired me to find a recipe I remembered seeing on Foodography, a favorite Cooking Channel show. Self-proclaimed food nerd Jeff Potter demonstrated a microwave chocolate cake leavened only by N2O gasses in the cream whipper that dispensed the batter.

Long a cream whipper fan, I’ve used mine only to whip cream and branching out sounded like fun. A cake leavened with nitrous oxide instead of chemicals–kitchen science indeed.

ready to rock

ready to rock

Though the recipe threw me a bit: Four ounces chocolate, four eggs, plus smaller amounts of flour and sugar. This sounded like multiple servings, but best I could understand, it all went into one glass. Mention of only filling the “pan” two-thirds full should have been my clue, but after studying the recipe closely, I saw no mention of anything more than one serving. I filled that mug to the top. (also added a dollop of marshmallow fluff after half-filling with batter per recipe suggestion)

batter in place

batter in place

halfway

halfway

fluff!

fluff!

ready for the microwave

ready for the microwave

The first 30 seconds in the microwave didn’t “bake” the batter through, so I added four more 30-second intervals. And by the first minute, the batter was up and over the side of the mug. For sure this recipe is meant to serve four and shame on me for not getting that.

no words for this

no words for this

Just the same, this offers opportunity to turn disaster into triumph. (It’s a game I often play called, “I meant to do it this way.”) The cake turned out nicely on a platter, a bit of gooeyness on the top (now the bottom) adding to its charm. Dusting with powdered sugar, as advised, crowned it in glory and it was happily ever after.

A side of ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and it's restaurant worthy.

Add a side of ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and it’s restaurant worthy.

No question the batter was meant to be divided evenly among four glasses. Though the numbers divide in half easily enough, making two servings an option as well.

While this was fun, and meeting Hervé was worth any amount of kitchen mess, my next microwave cake will be of the chemically leavened mug variety. Fortunately, another Liz–of Tip Top Shape–has me covered with her funfetti version.

I raise my future mug of Liz’s Funfetti Mug Cake to you all for spending time with me here and over at Blog of Funny Names. I look forward already to our next food adventure.

hot chocolate blogging x 2

Last week’s marshmallows (black cherry whisky! rum!) have been joined by Rumchata marshmallows and they all scream for hot cocoa. Because it’s been a busy week with lots of food prep leading up to a presentation, I’m plumb (or plum?) tuckered and will fall back on work already done for this week’s post.

Hot cocoa made an appearance over at this month’s Funny Names in Food Post. Hoping you’ll click over for a read about San Fransisco’s most famous (and funnily-named) chocolatier, even if just because I use the word “dude” in the title.

The hot cocoa bell was also rung for this month’s Minnesota Soybean post, where I feature a recipe for a DIY chocolate syrup that was written up here over a year ago. Love the stuff so much that I’m never without a jar in my refrigerator and I’d strongly recommend you make yourself a batch as well. Too simple not to.

Speaking of Minnesota Soybean, these are the folks that had me cooking and baking crazy-like for a presentation I did at their annual growers’ meeting. In the interest of offering healthy foods to balance out all the sweets we’ve been enjoying of late, I’ll bring my soyfoods stories–and recipes–next week. For now, here’s a picture of the spread.

tofu, edamame, soynuts, oh my!

tofu, edamame, soynuts, oh my!

Would love to see you back here next week for more on tofu “egg” salad, green onions scones, pumpkin soynut granola, green tea edamame, and edamame chile hummus. Just writing that sentence made me feel healthy. Imagine how awesome we’ll feel once the recipes are out there. Until then, let’s add a few more ‘mallows to our hot chocolates and enjoy!

DIY fun-size candy, a surprise guest, and a cocktail

A recent link on a friend’s facebook page combined two favorites: kitchen DIY and candy. Healthier versions of peanut butter cups, milk duds, peanut m&ms, crunch bars, butterfingers (personal fave), tootsie rolls, twix, etc could all be mine if I followed these recipes.

On closer inspection, I saw that some of these recipes didn’t truly resemble what they were supposed to mimic (though they’re probably still delish) and many called for ingredients that might take a bit of hunting down (puffed quinoa? Wasa 7-grain crackers?). My criteria of almost duplicating the original (chocolate-coated chickpeas passing for malted milk balls sounds intriguing, but not for Halloween) and having everything on hand (sadly, the crunch bars were out) narrowed it down to 3 Musketeers bars–my winner.

Though it wasn’t a win, really. My digital thermometer was on the fritz and the two meat thermometers I dug from the bottom of my drawer didn’t read high enough. The outcome was overcooked fluff and undercooked nougat (this makes more sense when you look at the recipe) and bars that just didn’t hold together. It being Halloween and all, I’ll show you the blobs that formed when I tried to coat the base in chocolate.

now THIS is scary

now THIS is scary

at least it won't ooze out of the pan

at least it won’t ooze out of the pan

I know, right? But if you’ve been here before, you know I still went forward. Spreading the fluff/nougat base in a well-greased pan, I then covered it with the melted chocolate.

Freezing it gave best results, though too much time at room temperature makes it overly soft. Flavorwise? Not bad! They come close to the real 3 Musketeers bar. So much so that too large of a piece (or too many small pieces) makes your teeth hurt.

Knowing that, I’ll cut myself a sliver and wait for my little goblins to get home from school and start the Halloween madness. *sits down in a comfy chair, puts her feet up, slowly brings DIY candy up for a bite*

DIY 3 Musketeers bars, sort of

DIY 3 Musketeers bars, sort of

*there’s a REALLY loud knock at the door* Liz !! Liz !!! Knock knock !!!

Liz: Who could that be? It’s a bit early for trick-or-treaters. And the girls won’t be home from school for another hour. But I recognize that voice. It sounds like amb*laughing* Ok, I’ll bite. Who’s there?

amb: Orange!!

Liz: Orange who?

amb: Orange you glad it’s Halloween ?!?!

*amb comes in* Trick or treat Liz !!! Oh my, this is exciting; I haven’t been to your house in ages. Everything looks great. And is that … do I smell … chocolate ?!? Oh my goodness, you spoil me. And all my readers. It’s cool that they’re here too, right? We took our shoes off at the door and everything.

Liz: Give me some time here, amb. I’m still recovering from your knock-knock joke. And you seem especially excited today. Chocolate on your chin–have you been eating candy bars already? *shakes head* But yes, of course, bring your lovely self and your lovely readers in. The more the merrier and I just happen to have this batch of super-sweet, super-indulgent homemade candy. Have some!

amb: We have food and movies! I brought entertainment. I figured it was the least I could do, since you’re providing the goodies. The perfect film to go with our completely over the top, so-bad-for-us-they’re-amazing snacks: the 1993 cult classic “Hocus Pocus”. Before he got Zac Efron to sing in “High School Musical”, Kenny Ortega convinced Bette Midler to wear some really, really bad make up in “Hocus Pocus”. Seriously. It’s so bad. I can’t look directly at Bette’s teeth; they’re terrifying.

eek!

eek!

I purposely picked this movie because I thought I could handle the scare-quotient, and now I’m feeling really nervous here on your couch. Hey, do you think Dave would come over if we called him? To protect me? And be all tall and strong and supportive and … wait, what movie are we watching, again?

Liz: Hocus. Pocus. Remember? That movie where Sarah Jessica Parker plays a witch who enchants boys by batting her eyelashes and … *amb is still all dreamy on the couch* er, never mind. Bad example. Ok. “Hocus Pocus” is that movie where a trio of witches are resurrected from the grave on All Hallow’s Eve and have one night to create the potion that will allow them to suck out children’s souls and stay young and beautiful forever … you ok amb? You’re looking a little pale.

amb: *shivering* Do you ever notice, Liz, how stories that are supposedly for children so often turn out to be completely gruesome? I mean, nobody took “Hocus Pocus” seriously when it came out–they were too distracted by the costumes and the cheesy dialogue and those teeth. But when you think about it, the slaughtering of innocent children just to maintain an outward appearance of youth and vitality is pretty serious stuff. I think it really speaks to the lack of respect that we seem to have, as a society, for our elders, and to the universal fear of becoming irrelevant.

Liz: Your geek glasses have come out, I see. But you’re right amb, when you look past the surface there are some heavy themes in this movie for sure. Maybe too heavy for a Halloween party, don’t you think? Can we focus on one of the lighter elements of the film? Potions? I’ve been toying with the idea of an adult version of a liquid candy bar, so combined a few of my favorite sweet spirits to arrive at this dandy of a cocktail.

sugar overload

sugar overload

amb: Yes, please. Let’s end with the cocktail. More sugar, that’s what I need! And Dave. More sugar, and Dave, and maybe a nice, romantic movie that doesn’t have dark overtones of grimness and death. Can we feature a musical next time, Liz?

Liz: Sounds like a great idea to me, amb. Maybe we should get together on a more regular basis for movie-and-snack discussions. You bring the movie, I’ll provide the snacks? We clearly have a winning combination watching Hocus Pocus while chewing our way through these gooey candy bars and sipping our Candy Bar Cocktails. You bring your Words Become Superfluous friends and I’ll invite food for fun folk and we’ll celebrate the silver screen and sensational snacks.

amb: Another yes from me! Let’s get on that–after this spooky-fun Halloween party, of course. When you get back to your kitchen, start looking for recipes while showtunes play in the background to get inspired. Hey, they’re dimming the lights for the movie. Happy Halloween everybody! And thanks for letting us crash, Liz.

Liz: Always happy to have you and your amazing readers over. Come back anytime! To close, will offer the recipe for the wicked candy cocktail we’re serving. A very sugary cheers to all!

Happy Halloween from amb and Liz :-D

Happy Halloween from amb and Liz 😀

Candy Bar Cocktail

  • 1 ounce Irish cream liqueur
  • 1 ounce dark crème de cacao
  • 1 ounce half-and-half
  • 1/2 ounce white crème de cacao
  • 1/2 ounce Tuaca or vanilla vodka
  • 1/2 ounce brandy
  • Chocolate sprinkles

In shaker filled with ice, combine all ingredients except for sprinkles. Shake well. Use small amount of cocktail to wet rim of glass; press glass into sprinkles on plate. Strain cocktail into glass.

another funny name in food and how the cookie crumbles

Because last summer’s family camping trip went far better than expected, my husband and I committed to doing it again. We stayed closer to home this year, hitting Duluth for a few days, then traveling north to camp at one of the mind-blowingly gorgeous state parks on Minnesota’s North Shore. I’d taken a page (literally, I tore out a page) from our local paper’s Taste section featuring dining musts in Duluth, so with a car crammed with kids, camping gear, and plenty of food, we hit the highway.

Great fun (and food) followed and I’d hoped to post a recap this week. But re-entry has been tough, so instead I’ll simply ask you to (please) hop over to the latest Funny Names in Food installment for the story of sweet treats.

Though don’t think I’d leave you without at least a little bit more. I offer another story here, this one of crazily crafted cake pops.

cookie "cake" pops

cookie “cake” pops

A recent batch of chocolate raspberry cookies impressed me greatly and I added the two dozen or so that were left to our stash of camping food. They were soft cookies, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when they crumbled into cookie dust during transport. (Ziploc bags only provide so much cushion.) I briefly considered throwing the lot, but remembered the spendy chocolate and fresh berries they contained. Surely there was a use for them.

And there was: cake pops! A cup or so of leftover chocolate frosting waiting for me at home was just enough to moisten the cookie crumbs. The mixture was then formed into balls, dipped in melted chocolate that had been thinned with coconut oil, and rolled in sprinkles and sugars. While not “pretty” à la Martha Stewart, they’re cute in their own rough and tumble way. And more importantly, they taste phenomenal. Combining cookie crumbs, homemade buttercream frosting, and melted chocolate could never be anything but knock-your-socks-off dreamy.

I’ll sign off now as I imagine you need to find some cookies to crumble so you have an excuse to make cake pops. Please return next week as we’ll be showing Food for Fun: The Camping Edition. 🙂

best laid plans or a ding-dong trifle and d@mn chocolate ice cream

With my oldest daughter’s birthday on its way, I got in gear to bake an amazing cake. (There was that pony cake to match, if not top.) And because she loves chocolate, I also wanted to make her a batch of brilliant chocolate ice cream. But…

diner fare and the inspiration for the cake roll

diner fare and the inspiration for the cake roll

After enjoying a Swiss-roll type of cake at a local diner, we knew we’d found  the perfect treat for her big day.

A quick internet search for “homemade chocolate ding-dong” (Can hardly type this with a straight face, but that’s the snack cake I thought I was going for. My Hostess-savvy husband has since pointed out that ding-dongs are not cake rolls. Just the same, the name stuck.) brought me to Smitten Kitchen’s Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll. I could do this.

Turns out I couldn’t. The fact that there was no flour in the cake should have concerned me, but I figured SK knew what she was doing (and I’m sure she did–her cake roll turned out quite nicely) so jumped in.

My mistake was taking the cake out of the oven too soon; it was overly moist and stuck to the dish towel. But, I was trying to follow SK’s advice to not overbake lest it become too dry for rolling. Not ready to admit defeat (I had six eggs and six ounces good chocolate already invested), I set it aside to deal with later.

so not was I was going for

so not was I was going for

Next up was the ice cream, so I turned to trusty Humphry Slocombe for their Here’s Your D@mn Chocolate recipe. Intriguing! Though I was making this for an 11-year-old, I loved the name and had been eying the recipe since buying the book. (HS claims they had no intention of making flavors as mundane and ordinary as chocolate, but when their customers wouldn’t let up about it, they developed this rich, velvety chocolate ice cream and gave it an in-your-face name. You can read Attempts in Domesticity’s post for more on their Here’s Your D@mn Strawberry Ice Cream.)

This ice cream was a tough gig. First step was melting sugar into caramel, then adding water (though I subbed in coffee), cream, and milk before tempering with egg yolks and adding shots of cocoa powder and a final blast of dark chocolate. Lots of muscle was involved when my caramel hardened and I had to cook and stir, cook and stir to melt it down again. But I don’t go down easily in the kitchen and was proud to emerge victorious. The resulting custard was dreamy and dark, and I chilled it overnight.

churning the dark chocolate custard

churning the dark chocolate custard

Humphry S had described this ice cream as being pudding-like, so I wasn’t surprised at the thick custard that greeted me the next morning. But I was surprised when it didn’t freeze while churning. After a half-hour or so, I took matters into my own hands and set the canister in an ice-water bath and beat it with a hand mixer. The dark brown chocolate gradually lightened as it filled with air and when it was light enough to overflow the canister, I transferred it to another container for freezing.

look at how much lighter it is!

a lot lighter

Back to that cake: Rolling didn’t seem an option, so I did what any self-respecting failed cake baker would do: I made a trifle. Into a lovely glass bowl went layers of crumbled moist (flourless) chocolate cake, sweetened whipped cream, sprinkles of cacao nibs, and a killer chocolate ganache. Birthday cake? Not really. But we stuck a candle in it and called it good.

pre-candle

pre-candle

The birthday trifle certainly didn’t need a rich ice cream to accompany, but I’d gone to the trouble of making that d@mn stuff, so serve it up we did. More frozen chocolate mousse than ice cream, it was light, ethereal, and almost otherworldly. If I made it again, I’d serve it solo and let folks enjoy it for the rich and creamy and deeply flavored chocolate treat that it is.

Did my daughter enjoy her birthday desserts? Sure. Though it seemed over the top, especially on a weekday evening when dinner was slotted between an afternoon playdate and evening tennis lessons. This may have been an instance when a simple cake and store-bought ice cream would have been sufficient.

over the top birthday treats!

over the top birthday treats!

But homemade trifle and creamy-rich chocolate ice cream should be celebrated and I don’t regret the time and effort that went into making either. It was a bit more of a battle than I’m used to, but a kitchen challenge is a call to action and backing down was never an option. Happy Birthday, my dear Clare. May you dodge the bullet of inheriting your mother’s crazy-obsessed food DNA.

foodforfun’s guide to irreverent cookie wisdom

Mentioned here before is my delight at meeting like-minded folk in the blogging community. Often, these bloggers write about food, but just as often I’ve enjoyed learning about nonfood topics from experts in other fields. Movies and TV, humor and travel. I’ve even (unwittingly) picked up a bit of sports trivia. (Still looking for a music blog–please recommend!)

Then there’s the “fiction” blog, which took a bit of getting used to. But Fannie Cranium and her adventures pulled me in. Stand-alone “chapters,” each post recounts an episode in (mostly) fictional Fannie’s life. The first paragraph on the About page welcomes readers “to Fannie’s world where she explores the adventures of married life, on the intersection between “I Love Lucy” Way and “Erma Bombeck” Avenue.” This has to be good, right? Even better, Fannie’s stories are authored by a talented (and soon to be famous, I’m sure of it 😉 ) writer who has an eye for detail and a way with words.

And here’s the food connection (you knew there had to be one, didn’t you?): One of Fannie’s stories involved a plate of mint-chocolate chip cookies. I sent off a comment (jokingly) asking for the cookie recipe and darned if author Tracy didn’t send me her cookie recipe! Talk about a class act.

So with many thanks to Tracy–and an urging to you all to check out her fun-to-read stories, which follow the life of Fannie Cranium, husband Richard, friends Bunny and Clarissa, and other assorted and colorful characters–I bring you Mint Decadence Cookies.

Mint Decadence Cookies à la Fannie Cranium

Mint Decadence Cookies à la Fannie Cranium

Mind you, I made changes along the way, but what food blogger worth his or her (chocolate) salt wouldn’t? For starters, instead of grating a large Hershey bar, I gathered leftover chocolate Easter bunnies (about 14 ounces worth) and chopped them into chunks. Also, wanting to apply some of the “irreverent wisdom” found in Tracy’s blog, I tried to get more mileage out of the cookie dough by treating each baking sheet a bit differently.

The first batch was rolled in powdered sugar before baking, the second sprinkled with vanilla salt, and the third with chocolate salt. At this point I was down about two-thirds of the dough and my eyes happened upon a bottle of rum sitting on the counter (you can’t enjoy that Derby Day mint julep without rum, folks). Before I knew it, a splash or so (thinking about 1/4 cup) of rum went into the leftover dough, as did about 3 tablespoons baking cocoa to balance out the extra liquid. These cookies were sprinkled with either vanilla or chocolate salt, then dusted with powdered sugar as soon as they emerged from the oven.

rolled in powdered sugar prebake

rolled in powdered sugar prebake

sprinkled with chocolate or vanilla salt before baking

sprinkled with chocolate or vanilla salt before baking

rum in the batter, dusted with powdered sugar after baking

rum in the batter, dusted with powdered sugar after baking

No matter how they were topped, the cookies were deep, dark, and yum. The mint flavor wasn’t so much a wallop as it was a subtle backnote rendering these cookies Decadent with a capital D. I imagine Fannie and Richard Cranium would approve and I’m hoping Tracy does too. So here’s to friends made while hanging out in the blogosphere. I thank you all for your reads and likes and comments. May you always enjoy chocolate decadence as you continue to write and read about your favorite topics.

Mint Decadence Cookies

1 (10-ounce) bag mint-flavored chips
1 (12-ounce) bag chocolate chips
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 giant Hershey’s candy bar, grated (I used 14 or so ounces chopped assorted chocolates)

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheets.

In top of double-boiler set over simmering water, melt 3/4 cup each mint chips and chocolate chips over hot, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In large bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla; beat until creamy. Stir in melted chips and eggs; beat well. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in grated chocolate bar and remaining mint and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until just set. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 60 cookies.

blogging with friends and secret-ingredient cupcakes

We’re shaking things up a bit here at food for fun today as I’ve invited a friend to drop by. Amb is an awesome and amazing blogger and though I’ve yet to determine exactly what her blog is about, I do know I enjoy reading it every weekday morning and it never fails to make me smile.

Amb recently asked me to help her with a project after we found we work quite well together. You’ll need background, so will send you over to her blog for that. Please do come back here to finish the story, but no rush. I’ll wait. If you’ve already been to amb’s, feel free to visit the following link to review the foods of the 1970s while you wait. (Don’t be confused–it’ll all make sense after everyone has been to amb’s.)

*     *     *

Everyone back? Ready to finish our tale? Hungry? I’m sure amb will be here shortly. Did you enjoy her superfluous blog? As mentioned earlier, it always makes me smile 🙂

Speaking of smiling, I’ll warn you that amb can get a little, um, excitable. But her heart’s in the right place and if you just let her be amb, you’ll learn a thing or two about what really matters in life. She even posts the occasional food piece! Oh, here she comes now…

amb: *sound of door slamming, feet pounding* Hi Liz! I’m so excited to be here!! I’m here, and I’m starving. All this talk about how Argo gave audiences thrills in the movie theatres this year is making me thrill for a little snack of my own. I brought some friends over from Words Become Superfluous. Can they have a snack too? *amb pauses for breath* Sorry Liz, I think I regressed to my 10-year-old self for a minute there. Your young daughters would not be impressed with me! What I meant was, thanks so much for inviting us over. You have a lovely blog. May I please have something to drink with my snack? Do you have any of your famous fruit-infused water?

Liz: I do indeed have something to share. Our earlier discussion (thanks again for the invite to WBS, btw–had a blast) gave me a great idea for an Argo-licious snack. Ta-da!

the Argo-licious snack

the Argo-licious snack

amb: uhh, Liz? I can’t believe I’m questioning anything to do with free chocolate, but …. what’s the connection to Argo?

Liz: You’re the one that got me thinking on this. Argo had layers–we saw Ben in his brown shirt with its pointy collar, but he was more than just Ben in an outdated polyester suit. He was CIA. We saw what looked to be a group of Hollywood movie folk scouting for location, but digging deeper you find U.S. embassy staff running from the enemy. These people all had secrets. These cupcakes have secrets, too.

cupcakes with secrets

cupcakes with secrets

amb: *looks around a bit uncertainly* Um, I know you mean well, Liz. And I just love your blog with all the crazy-fun food, really I do. But this one leans a little more to crazy than it does fun. *voice down to a hushed whisper* I brought people with me and you want me to tell them that your cupcakes have Secrets? This is a bit wackadoo, even for me.

Liz: Sorry, amb. *shrugs and smiles* Sorry folks. I could have been clearer. These fudgy chocolate cupcakes have a secret ingredient. Crazy as it may seem, these cupcakes contain condensed tomato soup! I remember enjoying these sweet treats years ago, but couldn’t find the original recipe, so even its origins are of a mysterious and top-secret nature. But one thing that’s not top-secret is that they’re really very good and no one would identify the tomato soup without having been told first.

amb: Alright! I get it! So the perfect snack to have while you’re watching Argo is …

Liz:  Classified Top-Secret Ingredient Cupcakes 🙂 Recipe follows and I hope you enjoy. Many thanks to amb and friends for coming over. And congrats again to Mimi. (If you’re unsure who Mimi is, start over and follow the link back to amb’s. 😉 ) I’d love to have you over again, amb. We should do this again.

amb: Sounds like a plan, Liz! We’ll have to cook up another project again soon! Bye, food for fun readers! Bye, Liz!

Liz: So there you have it: My fun friend amb and a recipe for chocolate cupcakes. Am glad you dropped by for this Special Edition of food for fun and look forward to seeing you again.

Classified and Top-Secret

Classified and Top-Secret

Classified Top-Secret Ingredient Cupcakes

Icing is optional, but if you do go that route, these pair well with cinnamon-spiked cream cheese frosting.

  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In medium bowl, stir together soup and baking soda.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. In mixing bowl, beat together butter and granulated and brown sugars with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until blended. Alternately beat in soup and flour mixtures just until flour is incorporated. Stir in chips just until mixed. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Bake cupcakes 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean and tops spring back when touched. Remove from pans to wire rack to cool. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. Makes 18 cupcakes.

whip it, whip it good: cheese soufflé and chocolate mousse

Happy Chocolate Mousse Day! This greeting changed the course of my day and here’s how: I was minding my own business editing recipes just after lunch when Chocolate Mousse Day was announced via My Sweet Addiction‘s latest blog post. Easily distracted when it comes to such things as chocolate mousse, I clicked over and learned that April 3 was indeed officially National Chocolate Mousse Day. Brilliant! To celebrate a classic dessert like chocolate mousse with its own day just seemed right. After putting the thrilling news up on deLizious’s facebook page, I returned to work, reasoning that my client may not see National Chocolate Mousse Day as an excuse to extend my deadline.

Fast-forward to supper and I was thinking pork chops. A search for said chops turned up empty (they’re in the freezer somewhere, I’m sure of it), so eggs were next on my list. But how to prepare? The chocolate mousse I’d been envisioning all day became my cooking muse as I pictured whipping lots of air into eggs to make a soufflé. It was an unusual path for the cooking muse to take me as it’s been a decade since I’d made a soufflé. But the idea took hold and I gamely found a recipe (from Richard Sax and Marie Simmons’ most excellent Lighter, Quicker, Better) and hit the kitchen.

whipping egg whites for the soufflé with vintage rotary

whipping egg whites for the soufflé with vintage rotary

The recipe called for more steps than I usually take in evening meal prep, but I knew the steps were there for a reason so went ahead and made the wax-paper collar for the soufflé dish and boiled water for a water bath. I came up short in the ingredient department: my cream of tartar container was empty (yes, sadly I really do have a container for cream of tartar) and I messed up with the eggs using one yolk instead of two. In the end, I was happy with what went into the oven and looked forward to impressing my girls with a lofty soufflé.

broccoli florets sprinkled on top before baking

broccoli florets sprinkled on top before baking

Alas, the wax-paper collar was a waste of time as my soufflé did not reach the impressive heights I had hoped for. But it was still pretty, airy, savory, and made a fine entree. I’ll wait for a more successful attempt to share the recipe as the result couldn’t be what the authors intended.

this soufflé did not rise to great heights

not rising to great heights

soufflé plated up

soufflé plated up

After the soufflé had gone into the oven, that mousse was still on my mind. When googling National Chocolate Mousse Day (research was needed to establish credibility, yes?), I’d found Melissa Clark’s recipe, which called for just chocolate and water. Intrigued, I had to try. Twelve ounces of chocolate-rum melting wafers (purchased long ago at a bakery supply store and finally finding a use) melted down with 1 cup water. Next, the mixture was transferred to a bowl set in an ice bath, then beat 5ish minutes until achieving the chilled, light, and airy consistency that is chocolate mousse. I couldn’t resist adding a dash of vanilla and when I did, the mixture firmed up. Perhaps adding another liquid catalyzed the mousse making?

No matter the how and why, my mousse was everything I wanted it to be: rich but light, sweet but dark, dense but creamy. I’m still marveling that all that was needed was chocolate, water, an ice bath, and some muscle. (I’m partial to my grandma’s hand-me-down rotary egg beater, but an electric mixer would have made it effortless.) The recipe source had suggested folding in a whipped egg white for extra lightness, but I liked the denser consistency of using only chocolate and water. A sprinkle of fleur de sel added texture and flavor.

1-ingredient chocolate mousse

1-ingredient chocolate mousse

While I understand the value of meal planning, I also appreciate the opportunity to make it up on the fly. When I woke up this morning, I had no clue that learning of a foodie “holiday” would determine the course of my evening meal. But with an open mind (and a full pantry), anything is possible.

proving the pudding…is delish

It’s been a double-down week for classes as my daughter and I taught a kids’ cooking class last weekend, then Monday eve I helped same daughter’s Girl Scout troop earn their Simple Meals badge. Originally intending to repeat my Saturday menu (DIY instant oats, noodle bowl, chicken tenders) for the troop, I realized that badge requirements called for a dessert. This realization hit the morning of the Scout meeting, leaving me little time to come up with a quick-and-easy sweet that would teach basic cooking skills and appeal to 10- and 11-year-old taste buds.

Little time was needed, though, as the obvious dessert choice was homemade chocolate pudding. A favorite dessert with my family (especially the husband), pudding needs only a few ingredients, cooks up quickly, and is undeniably swoon-worthy. I also imagined that at least a few of the girls may have only experienced the snack-pack variety of pudding. And I was excited to see these girls learn that homemade is so much better.

The recipe I turned to is from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, a highly readabale book by Jennifer Reese of Tipsy Baker fame. Though I cut down on the milk just a smidge, I otherwise honored the recipe and its prose, quoting the recipe’s cleverly-written doneness test to the budding cooks: “It will start out looking like scummy hot chocolate, after which it will look like thin hot chocolate, until suddenly it becomes hot, bubbling glossy pudding. This is how you know it’s done.” While wordy, it’s also wonderfully descriptive and perfect for anyone who hasn’t cooked up pudding before.

As suspected, the pudding was a huge hit–sweet, but not overly so and also at a “chocolatey” level ideal for young kids who may not yet appreciate the darker side of chocolate. (Though using dark cocoa powder instead of the traditional would fix that.)

When I posted a photo collage of the foods the girls made that night (quinoa, roasted carrots and asparagus, breaded chicken tenders, and the pudding) on deLizious’ facebook page, all comments were for the pudding. And that’s when I knew I had a blog post.

From-Scratch Chocolate Pudding

tweaked only slightly from Jennifer Reese’s awesome Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk (2 1/4 cups in the original recipe and Reese recommends whole, though I use what we have which is usually 1%)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In medium saucepan, stir together brown sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.  Whisk in milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until hot, bubbly, and glossy. (The better doneness descriptor is given above.) Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla.

Divide pudding among 4 serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap. (Or not–I do not as I like the thin layer of skin that forms on a pudding’s surface as it chills. Texture!) Refrigerate. (Or not–who can wait for chocolate pudding to chill? It tastes great warm and slightly thinner, too 🙂 ) Makes 4 servings.

creamy chocolate pud from scratch!

creamy chocolate pud from scratch!

almost-there chocolate lava cake

My mother-in-law clipped a recipe from her local paper that grabbed my attention in a big way: Spiced Chocolate Whiskey Lava Cake. The spices in question were freshly cracked black pepper, ground ginger, and cayenne. A recent purchase of large blocks of chocolate as part of a wine tasting “kit” meant I had the 8-ounce block of 60% dark chocolate. Outside of the mandarin orange zest, all ingredients were on hand.

Expectations were high as I started melting the butter and chocolate. But here’s the thing: I was balancing the project with other Sunday evening tasks–laundry, picking up around the house, getting kids to bed–so ended up with a good but not great final product.

My first mistake was thinking I would sub lime zest for the orange zest. I had lime zest stored in the freezer, which would save me the step of zesting enough (regular as I didn’t have mandarin) oranges for the 2 tablespoons I’d need. As I emptied the small ziploc of what I thought was lime zest, it just didn’t look right. A little taste told me that I was putting frozen pesto (!) into the chocolate cake batter. Not about to give up on all the expensive ingredients I’d already stirred together, I removed the few clumps of pesto that had made it in to the chocolatey batter, rationalizing that this was how new recipes and flavor combinations are discovered. Maybe a hint of basil would make this cake even better? I forged ahead, deciding to use fresh orange zest instead of hunting down the frozen lime zest. Two oranges were freshly zested into the batter and I moved on.

Filling the four 6-ounce ramekins and one mini cheesecake pan, I baked the cakes for the 13 minutes given in the recipe. A quick peek in the oven showed butter bubbling up furiously and pudding-like cakes that looked decidedly undone. At each oven peek, the butter was still bubbling, so I’d leave it alone and come back a few minutes later. After 25 minutes, the cakes looked done (bad sign–only the sides should have looked done), so I removed them from the oven, bubbly butter and all. Out of the heat, the butter subsided and the cakes looked lovely as could be. I knew they had to be overbaked after all that time in the oven (no lava!), but turned one onto a plate and cut into it just the same. While the cake had a nice crumb, it released no river of chocolate.

this lava cake has no lava

this lava cake has no lava

Still delish, the chocolate cake was rich without being overly so. And the orange zest was bright and fresh–lime zest would be fun to try, but orange seems the better choice. There was not even a hint of whiskey, so I’d switch to a stronger tasting booze (bourbon!) when I give the recipe another try. I also wondered why I wasn’t being hit by the spices–where was the ginger, cayenne, black pepper? While the ginger and cayenne were (very) faint background notes, I realized I tasted no black pepper because I DIDN’T ADD ANY. That ingredient somehow slipped by me–shoot.

out of the oven

out of the oven

So I now have a game plan for the next round: Use orange zest–though a hint of basil wasn’t a horrible thing–or sub in lime zest if I must. But absolutely no pesto under any circumstances. Add 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper per recipe instructions and bump up the cayenne and ginger by a pinch or so each. Cut back on the butter just slightly–there’s too much butter if it’s still bubbling up 20+ minutes into baking. Don’t wait for said butter to stop bubbling to take the cakes from the oven. And sub in bourbon (maybe 4 tablespoons instead of 3 since I’m cutting the butter a bit) for the whiskey.

Even with all of the mistakes made, these cakes were still divine. But they could be and should be so much more. (Though the fact that they were not is due to my multitasking more so than any recipe faults.) An optimist by nature, I’m giving myself another chance with this dessert with the amazing name. Expect a report when I do!

spiced chocolate whiskey lava cakes

spiced chocolate whiskey lava cakes

a visit to the doctor (chocolate)

Tonight I returned to a shop I first mentioned in a post last spring. When I first stopped in, Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau had recently opened in a four-story Victorian mansion in Saint Paul. I’ve been back a few times since (once for an out-of-this-world French toast breakfast) and tonight was my chance to visit in more of a professional capacity and dig deeper. And because my experience and what I learned was all about fun, I must tell the Dr. Chocolate story here.

Dr. Chocolate, a.k.a. Dr. John Gannon, grew up in Minneapolis and eventually attended St. Thomas University in Saint Paul. He and his lovely wife (yes, that would be Mrs. Dr. Chocolate, though her real name is Evelyn) then lived in California where he practiced for many years as a forensic clinical psychologist. He also dabbled briefly in the chocolate business, but things didn’t pan out and he continued on his chosen career path. Fast forward to a few years back and he and his wife purchased a lovely and large mansion in St. Paul that had often housed charming Italian restaurants. When the last restaurant tenant left, the empty building seemed an ideal spot for Dr. Gannon and his wife to realize their dream of returning to the chocolate business.

The mansion opened its first level in early 2012 as a retail chocolate shop, offering gift items and a diverse selection of locally, nationally, and internationally sourced chocolates. By mid-summer, it also sold ice cream scoops and wine pours and the third and fourth floors were opened for the above-mentioned French toast extravaganza. Tonight, the local chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier met at Dr. Chocolate’s for a tour and wine tasting.

We were treated to a peek at their in-progress chocolate museum as well as what will be their wedding cake tasting room on the second floor, then whisked off to the upper levels for a beautifully planned and implemented wine-and-chocolate tasting. Four pours (two red, two white) were served with six chocolate samples. Dr. Chocolate, clearly a brilliant man (he had the names of all 20 of our group’s attending members memorized very soon after meeting us), had constructed a tasting sheet for matching flavor profiles to each chocolate we sampled. Tasting the wines and chocolate was a treat, as was listening to Krystal, the event planner, and Dr. Chocolate describe what we were tasting.

four wines to pair with six chocolate samples

four wines to pair with six chocolate samples

love this tasting tracker

love this tasting tracker

Word of Dr. Chocolate’s tasting events is spreading; their third and fourth floors are now regularly used. These floors also open to the public most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, offering fine wine, craft beer, inventive cocktails, and music. What fun to see the progress made since my initial visit and write-up.

Which is why the end of the evening meant so much to me. Evelyn called me aside near the meeting’s close to ask if I’d written a blog post about them soon after they had opened. (Why yes, yes I had!) I had sent them the link to my post, as I often do when writing about local businesses, but hadn’t known that it had been received, much less read. Recognizing me from my photo (these Gannons are bright folk for sure–what a memory), Evelyn so kindly shared that they had appreciated my words and even included a copy of the post in their Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau scrapbook. I was touched and honored to have made this connection.

Dr. Chocolate, his wife, and all staff involved in the evening were charming, gracious, and great fun. Dr. Gannon and wife have taken a (delicious) passion from dream to reality. Saint Paul is lucky to have Dr. Chocolate in the house.

chocolate under glass

chocolate under glass