Door County, the sweets edition

This gallery contains 12 photos.

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

v, vanilla bean

This gallery contains 6 photos.

T, Tofu. U, Udon. Welcome, my food for fun friends, to V! Today I join Shanna, Sofia, and Ngan as we continue to cook our way through the alphabet. My culinary colleagues smartly assigned V to vanilla bean and I’m … Continue reading

gate-crashing a Sicilian cocktail party

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Liz: Well, hello. Welcome to a Special Travel Edition here at food for fun. I hope you brought your passport, as we’re going International today. First, you’ll want to meet my friend Saucy of Saucy Gander. She puts my simple … Continue reading

British (cake) invasion

Anyone who writes, reads, comments on blogs would attest to the power of online communication for building relationships. Ditto for facebook, twitter, etc. We’ve all made friends we’d never have imagined meeting outside of online connections.

Today’s story is about such a connection, though it goes back 12 years, before blogs, facebook Likes, or tweets. Remember the chat room?

With little to do at the end of my first pregnancy (I had stopped accepting new projects in anticipation of first-time motherhood and the nursery was ready and waiting), I found myself newly addicted to a television show I’d enjoyed in the ’80s. Discovering its virtual chat room linked me to others following this cult favorite. Thus my bonding with Scarecrow & Mrs. King fans began.

It’s with some embarrassment that I ‘fess up to having been into this show (admitting to a trip to LA for SMK’s 20th anniversary reunion doesn’t help my street cred either), though I will forever be grateful as it formed a friendship I still hold today.

Di–watching SMK in Great Britain–was brilliantly funny and we soon moved on to emails and exchanging packages (though she’s much better at sending than I am). We’ve met up in LA, Vegas, Boston, D.C., and DisneyWorld and I’ve hosted her in my home as well.

(You can meet Di yourself, through TourGuide Ted, her well-traveled stuffed bear who has his own website, twitter account, and vacation property.)

Though Di would never call herself a “cook,” her bear, Ted, has posted the occasional culinary delight. Most recently, he showed up on his Twitter feed with a piña colada cake. And when Di sent me the recipe, I was on it like a maraschino cherry on a pineapple ring.

TourGuide Ted's cake is much prettier than mine.

TourGuide Ted’s cake is much prettier than mine.

What’s surprising here is that I don’t like pineapple. I especially don’t like pineapple in baked goods. (My theory that raisins don’t belong in baked goods easily extends to all fruit, excepting apple pie and crumble of course.) But a seemingly endless string of sub-zero temperature days broke me and I wanted nothing more than a slice of piña colada cake.

Luckily I have a kitchen scale and working knowledge of google as I needed to weigh ingredients and translate British cooking terms such as sandwich tins, caster sugar, and Gas Mark 3.

In the end, my cake baked up flatter (didn’t have 7-inch cake pans, so used 9-inch) and was less pretty (bought two cans of pineapple tidbits instead of one each rings and tidbits–oops) than what Ted had whipped up, but it couldn’t have been any less delicious. Moist, sweet, a little bit boozy, the cake offered texture contrast with moist pineapple pieces and shredded coconut. I put away three (not huge, honest) slices before I could stop eating.

Kept going back for more.

kept going back for more

slice of heaven

slice of heaven

In the spirit of the recent Winter Olympic games, food for fun salutes all its readers–international and domestic–with a cake that is good enough to bring about World Peace. And hopefully a spring thaw for those in northern climes.

Piña Colada Cake as told to an American food editor

  • 2 ounces brown sugar
  • 4 ounces tinned pineapple rings
  • Maraschino cherries
  • 6 ounces butter, softened
  • 6 ounces caster sugar (used granulated)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons coconut rum (used twice that and Ted claims to have tripled the amount)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces dessicated coconut (used shredded)
  • 6 ounces self-rising flour (used 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 ounces tinned pineapple pieces, drained and well-chopped (used canned tidbits)

Filling and Frosting

  • 525 grams icing (powdered) sugar
  • 225 grams butter (1/2 cup), softened
  • Coconut rum
  • Pineapple juice (reserved from canned pineapple)
  • 2 to 4 ounces dessicated coconut (Ted says toasted, though I did not)

Set oven to Gas Mark 3 (325ºF). Line 7-inch sandwich tins (with removable bottom). [I coated two 9-inch cake pans with baking spray.] Sprinkle bottom of one pan evenly with brown sugar. Top decoratively with pineapple rings and cherries.

In mixing bowl, beat together 6 ounces butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, rum, and vanilla until blended. Fold in coconut, flour, baking powder, and pineapple pieces. Add more rum if mixture is too thick to pour. Divide batter between pans. Bake on same oven rack 35 to 45 minutes or until cakes pull away from sides of pans and wooden pick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Cool (pineapple-side-up for pan with rings) on wire rack.

To make filling and frosting, sift icing sugar into large bowl. Add 1/2 cup butter and small amount of liquids; mix until smooth. Add liquids to taste until mixture is smooth and spreadable. (Here Ted mentions that it is important to keep tasting, though he is speaking specifically about the rum at this point.)

When cake layers are cool, place bottom half (without pineapple rings) on serving plate. Spread with about half of frosting; top with remaining cake layer, pineapple-side-up. Spread remaining frosting around side of cake. Top with coconut as desired.

in-laws, outlaw marshmallows, plus a pan of bars

The blogosphere has been abuzz with end-of-year posts and kicking-off-the-new-year posts and year-end reports. And while I’d like to consider myself capable of looking within and learning from the past 365 days in hopes of improving my next round, I find that mostly I just move forward. I go and I do.

Balancing professional and personal ambitions with mommyhood leaves precious little time to just Be. And while that’s a bit disturbing, it’s where I–along with a lot of other mommies–am right now. Forward march with the task-driven mentality. (Though should you need a good look inward, I’ll send you over to meet Kaela. She’s fun!)

So to kick off 2014, food for fun offers you its most recent Adventures in Marshmallows. (If you were reading food for fun last winter, you know that I went through a bit of ‘mallow madness back then as well.)

Another blogging friend and I have been trading cocktail recipes and found we share a love for bourbon. Her use of cherry-flavored bourbon piqued my interest and I did a bit of “research” when visiting my in-laws over the holidays. Their small town boasts one liquor store and it’s little more than ten or so shelves on one wall, plus a few bottles behind the counter. I figured my chances of finding cherry bourbon were small, and it was indeed a wash.

Yet I knew from reading Drink More Whiskey (best. birthday. gift. ever. Thanks, dear husband!) that on some level whiskey is whiskey–whether bourbon, Scotch, Canadian, etc–and a bottle of black cherry Canadian had to share some common ground with cherry-flavored bourbon. I bought said bottle and returned to my in-law’s.

cherry whisky meet other marshmallow ingredients!

cherry whisky meet other marshmallow ingredients!

But I didn’t plan to drink it. Instead, I was subbing it in for bourbon in a cheeky recipe I’d found at The Tart Tart. The resulting marshmallows were amazing and lovely–the cherry sweetness came through as the spirited booze flavors flew just below the radar.

whitedogmallows

I bet Santa would have enjoyed a few of these!

Santa would have enjoyed a few of these!

My sister-in-law and mother-in-law helped me lick the beaters (and spatula and bowl) clean upon project completion. It was then that s-i-l made a game-changing comment:

“I need rice krispies with this. And butter.”

My universe shifted a bit at her words. Boozy rice krispy bars. Sheer brilliance! A few rice krispies were stirred into the fluff left in the bowl and we enjoyed  a taste.

Fast forward a few days and I was back in my own kitchen using TTT’s recipe again, this time replacing the bourbon with rum.

there's rum in these 'mallows

there’s rum in these ‘mallows

After the marshmallows had cooled and been cut, I measured up 10 ounces and made a batch of Hot Buttered Rum Rice Krispy Bars. Oh divine.

hot. buttered. rum.

hot. buttered. rum.

The possibilities seem endless–adult rk treats in flavors of margarita, mudslide, etc. I sense that 2014 has taken on a new purpose for me. My resolution seems clear: Make More Marshmallows. (Which oddly enough is not too far off from my 11-year-old’s “eat more gummy bears” resolve.)

So please stick around (marshmallow pun–get it? 😉 ) and help me meet my ‘mallow-y goal. A fellow blogger (you’ve met amb here before) and I have joked about Marshmallow Mondays and while I’m not sure yet exactly how this will play out, I see it as a good start for a new year of sweet and fluffy fun.

Introspection will always be welcome here and maybe even occasionally offered outright. But it’s mostly about the food and the fun that accompanies. Marshmallows, then, seem a good way to kick off the new year. Wishing you all a mountain of marshmallows in 2014!

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.

ann and the three cookie recipes

Last post promised the story of my 20-year friendship with amazing Ann along with recipes for cookies served at her 80th birthday party. That promise will now be kept. Setting the time machine back two decades…

My first job out of college was “food scientist,” which was ideal as I had trained to be exactly that with my Food Science degree. The less than ideal part was that I really didn’t like the job. Test tubes and lab coats weren’t my thing, though I wasn’t sure what my thing was quite yet either.

That same year I was given a Betty Crocker cookbook for Christmas and I remember my fascination while turning its pages. Ironically, I had not learned to cook in college. A degree in Food Science requires plenty of science: reading, lab work, discussions, tests, but cooking is not required.

But with a cookbook in front of me (and Betty’s at that), I became enamored with the concept of sharing recipes and other food ideas. My career goal began to crystallize: I wanted to be a food writer.

Living in a small town in southern Minnesota, I shared this information with my grandmother. She knew of a local woman who owned a b&b and also wrote for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Taste section. I dutifully called this woman and was invited over for an informational interview. And that’s how I met Ann.

The day of our interview changed the course of my life, I’m convinced of this. Ann was friendly, warm, and encouraging, but the kicker was her no-nonsense, down-to-earth outlook. I already had a solid support system with friends and family, who were all kinds of “friendly, warm, and encouraging,” but Ann was the first to offer practical career advice.

She listened to my story, then suggested I offer to write a food column for a local paper. My initial response, “what if they say ‘no?’,” was countered with advice I still carry with me today: “Assume they’ll say ‘yes’.” Ann also suggested I volunteer at a local food co-op. Because Ann was the kind of person whose orders you simply obeyed, I followed both suggestions. Not only did I land the food column gig, but ended up working at that co-op as well, where I (finally) learned to cook and bake.

Ann supported me in so many ways: My husband and I b&b-sat when she was out of town. I assisted Ann when she taught cooking classes as well as tested recipes for her cookbook projects. Ann helped me believe in myself as a food professional. And with that confidence, I was able to move forward in my career and eventually find courage enough to start my own business.

We’ve both since moved from that small town to the same metro area. We see each other occasionally for lunches, dinners, and meetings, and she’s always generous with her gifts, time, and advice.

It’s been fun to watch Ann’s career evolve as well. Since we met back in the mid-90s, she’s published cookbooks (A Cook’s Tour of Minnesota and Hot Dish Heaven are her two most recent) and also was invited to serve as Comfort Food Ambassador to celebrate Creamette’s 100th birthday. How can you not love this woman?

So when Mary, a mutual friend, asked if I wanted to co-host a party for Ann’s 80th birthday, I immediately said “yes.” Not only would planning the party be fun, but we’d be celebrating a woman to whom I owe so much.

We sent out the invites, made plenty of food, took care of party favors (small booklets with the cookie recipes), and added Ann’s special touches: napkins she’d used at the b&b, egg salad made with the recipe from the co-op I’d worked at, dates because she always had a stash at her desk when she worked at the paper, fresh strawberries as she’s originally from a town called Strawberry Point, and the three cookies she’d requested. We were ready to party.

And party we did. Folks seemed to enjoy the event and most importantly, Ann was pleased. She was surrounded by people from her years at the newspaper and in the Betty Crocker Kitchens (did I mention that Ann had worked on Betty’s cookbooks?); others she had mentored; friends from church; neighbors; her daughter. Folks shared stories about what Ann had meant to them and it was clear that mine was not the only life she had changed with her practical, no-nonsense advice as well as her fierce loyalty to friendships.

My hope is that we all have an Ann in our lives–someone to encourage us in professional endeavors. Someone who knows what it’s like on the inside and can help us get where we don’t yet know we want to go. And someone who will celebrate with us when we do. Thank you Ann, for everything you are.

And now let’s talk cookies!

Strudel & Nudel’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookiesstrudel

Ann fell in love with this recipe when she wrote about Erich Christ who ran both The Black Forest and, next door, a deli called Strudel & Noodle. He sold homemade apple strudel and noodles besides these great cookies.

  • 2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 + 3/8 cup shortening or butter
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups raisins

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheets.

In bowl, cream together brown sugar, shortening, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in milk. Add cake flour, oats, and raisins, mixing smoothly.

Drop batter by large spoonfuls on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched with finger. Cool on rack. Makes 30 large cookies.

Fudge BrowniesBrownies

A favorite of Ann’s.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts, optional

Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease 13×9-inch pan.

In 3-quart saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

In small bowl, mix flour and salt; stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts, if using. Spread batter in pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack. Cut large or small as desired.

Small-pan Brownies:  Use half of each ingredient; mix and bake in 8-inch square pan.

Maple Chocolate Chip Cookiesmaple walnut

Here’s the recipe for Ann’s signature cookies, baked for her b&b cookie jar by a succession of excellent bakers. From Ken Haedrich’s Maple Syrup Cookbook.

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered instant coffee
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with kitchen parchment.

In bowl, cream butter with electric mixer, slowly drizzling in maple syrup. In small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in hot water; beat coffee and vanilla into butter mixture.

In separate bowl, toss together whole wheat and all-purpose flours, walnuts, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture, in several batches, until flour is just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Let batter stand several minutes to allow whole wheat flour to absorb moisture in syrup.

Drop dough by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Transfer to rack to cool. Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

amazing muffins and crazy ice cream part I

The raisins-in-baked goods question seems to divide folks and I’ve always found myself on the side of the not so muches. A handful as-is makes me very happy, but keep them out of my cookies, quick breads, scones, etc. thank you very much. (Don’t even get me started on sour cream raisin pie.)

But I baked with a friend recently and when she suggested we make Super Muffins, I couldn’t say no. (Super Muffins? How often do you get the chance to make Super Muffins?) I overlooked the fact that there were raisins involved as well as that the recipe looked much like that for the ever-popular Morning Glory muffins. (Never a fan–too chock-full-of-goodness for me.)

But I was baking with a friend and willing to try something new. And things didn’t look all bad–outside of raisins, the other ingredients were winners: oats, bran, whole wheat flour, shredded carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger. I was willing to look past the raisin thing and give these a try.

And it’s a good thing I did or I would not have been able to tell you that these were the Best Muffins Ever: full of flavor, dense but not in a doorstop way, just sweet enough. The raisins? They melted into the muffin’s structure, only making themselves known so far as their hit of tangy sweet.

yum?

yum?

out of the oven

out of the oven

Super Muffins cooling

Super Muffins cooling

These muffins are prize winners on so many levels. My baking friend and I enjoyed one for lunch, though they’re also no-brainers for breakfasts and snacks. And I imagined they’d also make a fine dessert warmed, then drizzled with caramel sauce and served alongside vanilla ice cream.

definitely yum

definitely yum

Thinking ahead, we talked about mixing pumpkin or sunflower seeds into the batter. Or chia seeds. Or flax seeds. Or subbing pumpkin puree in for part (or all) of the applesauce. Adding freshly grated nutmeg and upping the ground ginger seemed smart. But I wouldn’t touch the carrot amount–it was perfect. And despite what I thought going in, I’d keep the raisins. (Though perhaps they could be plumped in bourbon rather than boiling water?  😉 )

The muffin recipe follows, but note that I took my suggestion of serving these muffins drizzled with caramel sauce and alongside ice cream very seriously. (or as seriously as you can take something as fun as Super Muffins, caramel sauce, and ice cream 🙂 ) There’s more to say about that ice cream, but seeing as how this is getting long, I’ll leave you with a picture and ask you to come back later in the week for the second half of this divine dessert pairing. (There will also be beer chocolate sauce, so well worth the wait.)

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and salted caramel sauce--it doesn't get any better than this

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and sea salt caramel sauce–it doesn’t get any better than this

Now for those muffins…

Super Muffins

Credit for these absolutely above-average muffins goes to my friend Stephanie’s grandma–thanks for sharing!

1 to 2 cups raisins
3 cups all-bran cereal
1  (23-ounce) jar unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups milk
3 large carrots, grated (about 2 cups) or more if desired
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (we used coconut oil)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffins cups.

In small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add raisins; let stand 5 minutes. (DO NOT DRAIN.)

In large bowl, combine cereal, applesauce, milk, carrots, brown sugar, eggs, and oil; mix well. Stir in raisin mixture. In separate large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for walnuts. Gently stir wet ingredients into dry; mix just until combined. Stir in walnuts if using.

Ladle batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each completely. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate to store. Can also be frozen, which is good as this recipe Makes 40 Muffins!

culinary mash-up: chickpeas, margaritas, shabu-shabu, ice cream cake

This weekend I enjoyed one of the craziest–and most fun–meals I’ve yet to experience. Gracious friends invited us over for shabu-shabu–a Japanese dish that owes its name (if Wikipedia is to be believed) to the sound the food makes as it cooks in bubbling broth–along with the host’s amazing margaritas. Already known for his margaritas, our friend had kicked things up a notch after a recent trip to Cozumel. He promised they were even Better now that he was using a homemade lime sour mix. I was asked to bring dessert and also slipped in an app as I’d just seen a Must-Make-This-Now recipe in a recent Bon Appetit.

So, we have Bacony Roasted Chickpeas: a Mediterranean-American-Italian appetizer.

tasting as good as they look

tasting as good as they look

They were simple to make–just a handful of ingredients–and went down easy with the made-to-order margaritas.

margarita anyone?

margarita anyone?

The shabu-shabu was also great fun. Think fondue with an ethnic, less kitschy twist. Our hostess had set it up perfectly: Both halves of the pot held boiling broth, though one half also had a few drops of hot sauce added. Ingredients from the trays of prepped food (gorgeous shrimp, fish balls, mochi, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, sprouts, udon) were tossed into the broth with chopsticks, then fished out when cooked as desired. Between “interactive eating” and the fabulous ingredients, this meal was as stellar as they come. As we enjoyed tossing and fishing (and eating), we patted ourselves on the back: save the tequila in the drinks, this was crazy-healthy party food.

Shabu Shabu

Shabu-Shabu

boiling broth

boiling broth

Those back-pats ended, though, when the ice-cream cakes came out. With extra mint-chocolate chip ice cream on hand, I’d made two layer cakes of chocolate cookie crumb crusts (14 or so ounces cookies crushed to crumbs and mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter, then pressed into a 13x9ish-inch pan and frozen), a thick layer of minty ice cream, generous drizzles of homemade hot fudge sauce, and clouds of sweetened whipped cream. With cases of Girl Scout cookies in the basement, I couldn’t resist topping the cakes with cookie pieces. One cake might have done it for the amount we needed; I made two so I could stir creme de menthe (3 or so tablespoons) into the ice cream that went in the cake for the grown-ups. It was Grasshopper Cake, after all.

finale!

finale!

Adding the pepperoni pizza ordered in for the kids, this was quite a feast. A culinary mash-up indeed. Here’s to great meals and great friends and great times. If you want to entertain, but worry think that you can’t come up with the Perfect menu, take a page from this post. The foods don’t have to go together. They need only to be made (or purchased) and eaten in the spirit of friendship.

muffins with friends

It’s said that friendships are made, but I believe instead that they just happen. There are folks you connect with and those you don’t. The ones you connect with? Definite friend potential. Past membership in a local mom’s club added a few more connections to my life and even though the mom’s club years are behind me, the friendships remain.

One of these friends is a consummate foodie and I was lucky enough to bake with her earlier this week. The night before, we laid plans to make Cranberry Whole-Grain Muffins and I showed up at her house the next moning with cranberries, oats, whole wheat flour, buttermilk powder, and an orange. She furnished the remaining ingredients (including the toasted pecans) and we set about to measure, stir, chop, zest, mix, fill, and bake. The muffins turned out better than I’d imagined–wholesome and healthy, containing no white flour, but also slightly sweet, indulgent, and satisfying. Breakfast and snacktime were made for these muffins. (They were so good we didn’t even bother with the orange juice glaze.)

Better than the muffins themselves, though, was baking with a friend. There was flow in Sarah’s kitchen–we didn’t verbally assign tasks, we just baked. She mixed the butter, eggs, milk; I whisked together the dry ingredients. I chopped cranberries; she filled muffin tins. We enjoyed catching up with each other and somehow baked up an amazing batch of muffins as we chatted. Muffins, bread, scones, pie pops–all have been made while I’ve baked with friends. But the friendships themselves? They’ve just happened.

whole wheat, oats, cranberries, toasted pecans--good for you and pretty, too

Whole wheat, oats, cranberries, toasted pecans–good for you and pretty, too. No glazing necessary!