potato gnocchi: a cautionary tale

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My intentions for this post were solid. One of the first recipes in the latest Bon Appetit is for Potato Gnocchi and it struck me as the perfect evening meal for multiple reasons. For one, it called for only three … Continue reading

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.

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