other people’s recipes

Food for fun is taking it easy this week. After the excitement of last Thursday’s crazy Halloween bash, it’s time to take it down a notch. Instead of offering original fare, I’m paying it forward by sharing experiences with recipes found elsewhere.

If you’re looking for recipes and photos that make you drool, a trip to Cottage Grove House should do the trick. Last August, a post for Cherry Yogurt Cake stopped me in my tracks. I was struck by the recipe’s simplicity. What would one need to make this pretty little cake? Only butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, yogurt, and cherries. Last week brought time to make the cake and it was everything I hoped it would be: spectacular in its simplicity.

Of course there were changes, though none made deliberately. About halfway through slicing through the bag of cherries I’d frozen last summer, I realized there were no pits (can you say “autopilot”?) and upon closer inspection saw that the cherries were red grapes. Huh. Well, why not, thought I and went ahead with my newly named Grape Yogurt Cake. I also neglected to use vanilla yogurt and didn’t add vanilla to the plain yogurt I did use. But in the end it was a stunner. As much as I love fancy-pants desserts, there’s something so lovely about a simple white cake.

PB&J Cake

PB&J Cake

The grapes had me thinking peanut butter, so I added a spoonful of two of chunky-style to warm caramel sauce and served it alongside, christening it PB&J Cake. I’m certain the cake would be smashing made with only cherries as well. Three cheers for Cottage Grove House!

Moving on: I’m always thrilled when others take me up on my invitation to post their fun food finds at deLizious facebook. Amb, of Words Become Superfluous fame, thrilled me over the weekend by posting her bananarrific muffins. They looked most festive propped with a Christmas-themed plate and topped with Halloween candy. (It’s a must-see you haven’t already. Follow my deLizious link above and look for 11/3’s post.) She also credited the original recipe, and it was drool-at-first sight. These muffins looked tender, moist, and so very banana-y. (And we all know food for fun loves a good overripe banana recipe.)

Glad for yet another excuse to bake, I set out to make the muffins. A note on the recipe mentioned the option of turning it into banana bread–even better. The loaf still got a generous topping of chopped Snicker’s and peanut butter cups per amb’s photo. Glorious and amazing, this quickbread makes breakfast and snack time very bright. Thanks, amb!

candy-topped banana bread

candy-topped banana bread

all sliced up

all sliced up

Finally, I’ll share a healthier recipe, with which I was also enamored. True to form, it took me a while to get around to making a Weary Chef soup that caught my eye back in February. My daughters love Panera’s chicken wild rice soup, and this seemed a healthier but equally lovely version. I went totally DIY with this one, starting with a large kettle of water and a whole chicken. After making stock, I proceeded with WC’s recipe and ended up with a pot of mmmm-good soup. After two large bowls, I was full and warm and happy. My girls enjoyed theirs as well, and I liked that it was chock-full of veggies, whole grain, and lean protein. Weary Chef is about much more than her Happy Hour, people!

DIY cream chicken wild rice soup

DIY cream chicken wild rice soup

So that’s the recap. Though I’ll close with a link to my latest Minnesota Soybean project. No need to click over unless you like pumpkin waffles ­čśë

Wishing you a most excellent and delicious week.

special ed. with pink mushroom cake, vodka gummy bears, and a bourbon ball

Summer crazies have temporarily stalled out food for fun, but I’m back tonight with a special edition highlighting three unrelated tales of fun food and drink:

Tale 1 First, a look back at last post’s Here’s Your D@mn Chocolate Ice Cream. I had lamented that this Humphry Slocombe recipe seemed a lot of work and though it was tasty, wondered if it had been worth the effort. The ice cream accompanied a birthday cake for my oldest daughter and what with those summer crazies, I made yet another cake soon after for another birthday party.

now that's a cupcake

now that’s a cupcake

I used a much-loved cake pan, which when sprayed well enough with baking spray makes two cake layers that come together to make one big cupcake. (When not sprayed well, it makes a big mess.)

All went as planned until it came time to frost. Many a poorly decorated cake has been featured at food for fun (here and here, just for starters), so it should come as no surprise that this one got out of hand as well. Instead of the sweet “cupcake” I’d planned, it looked more like a big pink mushroom. (Or where Smurfette calls home per deLizious facebook post.)

again, best-laid plans

again, best-laid plans

As with my other decorating disasters, the cake tasted far better than it looked. The big surprise, though, was how amazing the HS chocolate ice cream was served alongside. Whether it had aged a bit in the freezer, mellowing its flavors, or was simply a better match for white cake than it was chocolate trifle, I know not. But that ice cream really dazzled here.chocicecream

A word about the cake: Mr. Wonderful White Cake recipe was found in Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook. Corny name aside, it’s one of the best white cakes I’ve had.

do you like the cake saw?

do you like the cake saw?

Mr. Wonderful White Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites

Heat oven to 350┬░F. Grease and flour two cake pans or spray with baking spray.

In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add milk, butter, and vanilla; beat with electric mixer 3 minutes or until smooth. Add egg whites; beat 2 minutes longer. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove cakes directly to wire racks to cool completely. Frost as desired.

Tale 2 Another bit of cocktail news means that Weary Chef can’t be too far away. I found a link through one of her Happy Hour posts for vodka gummy bears and was smitten. With young kids underfoot, there are always gummy bears to be found, and I loved the idea of infusing them (the gummy bears, not the kids) with vodka.

I did exactly as instructed and was unimpressed when unveiling the batch a week later. My cute little sugar bombs had melted into the vodka, leaving me with a thick (albeit colorful) syrup. Anyone who has read food for fun knows that this wouldn’t stop me and I was forging ahead regardless. I mixed some of this goo with carbonated water and loved that it was sweet, fruity, bubbly, and boozy. It went down easy for sure. I’m curious as to why my bears melted down when I Sing in the Kitchen seemed to keep hers intact. Maybe gummy bear brand matters? Regardless, it was a fun cocktail.

the bears make it silly, but it's still a goo cocktail: refreshing and potent

the bears make it silly, but it’s still a fine cocktail–refreshing and potent

Tale 3 You’ll need to hop over to Blog of Funny Names for this tale. A recent guest post highlights another Kentucky favorite: Ruth Hanly Booe and other funnily-named folk who made Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls the internationally known confection they are today.

Many thanks for stopping by during what I know is YOUR crazy-busy life. Your visits here are always appreciated ­čÖé

inspiration from a friend and a cookie

I met up with a foodie friend for lunch today who believes–as I do–in empowering others to cook. (Jen’s business is aptly named Catalyst Cooks.) I enjoy our visits because she doesn’t limit her ideas. Time with Jen is always inspiring.

We ate at a popular Minneapolis cafe-style bakery, Sun Street Breads, and my gobbler sandwich (piled high with moist, tender, herb-flecked turkey) was yum. But I had a feeling the cookies I bagged to take home would be the real superstars. I was right. The Domino (Belgian chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips) was divine, though the big hit–for me–was the Crusher. The ingredient tag read chocolate chips, crushed pretzels, and broken up sugar cones. Combining chocolate and pretzels isn’t new, but the addition of the sugar cone struck me as brilliance. Why hadn’t I thought of it?

I loved the idea, so went home to bake up a batch of cookies using chocolate chips, crushed sugar cones, and pretzels. A recipe for Monster Marshmallow Cookies listed several nuts, chips, and types of cereal, so seemed a good fit for this project as the pretzels and crushed cones could easily replace some of the stir-ins. I also liked the idea of using mini marshmallows.

As usual, I played it fast-and-loose with measurements (for the stir-ins anyway) and ended up with more chocolate chips, marshmallow, etc then intended. More lacy than solid, the cookie’s structure–the word “craggy” comes to mind–had been stretched thin by the many stir-ins. Replacing half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour also made for a slightly different chew. But in the end, the many ingredients–marshmallows, chocolate chips, m&ms, oats, pretzels, crushed cones–made for a crazy and crazy good cookie packed with contrasting textures and flavors. They weren’t Sun Street’s Crushers, but that had not been my intent. I had only wanted to make cookies that combined chocolate chips, pretzels, and sugar cones.

I’ll stretch a bit here to say that my cookie find and subsequent baking project was a bit like my conversations with Jen. I’m encouraged to look at things from a completely different perspective, then inspired to work those new ideas into my own projects. My hope is that everyone has a friend like Jen as well as a pantry full of fun cookie ingredients for the next time inspiration strikes.

monster crushers

monster crushers

Crusher Marshmallow Cookies

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup each all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups stir-ins (any combination of pretzel pieces, crushed sugar cones, chocolate chips, m&ms┬«)
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats (I used old-fashioned)
  • 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350┬░F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

In bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and baking powder. In separate bowl, beat together butter and sugars with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden and set. Let cool slightly on baking sheets. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

from cobb salad to chocolate chateau

Spring break hit this week which could only mean one thing: road trip. Despite having no official travel plans, I was able to get out on a few small trips–all food-focused, of course.

On Thursday, a good friend and I were joined by our daughters as we day-tripped to Stillwater, a small destination city with quaint downtown shopping. Lunch, at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, was retro in decor and food. My butterfinger malt was rich with malt powder (yay) and the Cobb salad looked like a Cobb salad was supposed to–neat rows of ingredients. (Food pet-peeve: restaurants that toss chicken, bacon, romaine, blue cheese, and hard-cooked egg together and call it a Cobb. Don’t toss a Cobb.) The blue cheese dressing was thick and the bacon was good, though adding avocados would have made it more authentic. We shopped a bit, then hit Tremblay’s Sweet Shop for a collection of pay-by-the-pound candies before heading home. (I billed our visit to this store as a treat for the girls, but who am I kidding? I love candy.)

Cobb salad at Leo’s

Friday’s “road trip” came about when my oldest daughter asked if we could go on “one of our adventures” when her younger sister went to daycare. (I love that my daughter considers our outings “adventures.”) We had only a few hours, so stayed close to home and set off to explore a few St. Paul neighborhoods.

Our first stop was Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau. (Yes, that is really what it is called.) The first floor had opened only a month ago as a retail chocolate shop. The upper three floors of this beautiful Victorian mansion are eventually slotted to hold a chocolate museum, hall-of-fame, event center, pastry shop, tasting room, and who knows what else. Dr. Chocolate certainly has big dreams.

The first-floor shop was stocked with wrapped chocolate bars sourced regionally and internationally as well as high-end chocolate candies and baking mixes. They also carry aprons, cookbooks, coffee mugs, and other gift-y items. The chocolate display case boasts at least 30 different kinds of truffles along with bricks of chocolate wrapped in gold foil (shades of Willy Wonka) and chocolate-dipped goodies such as fruit, cookies, and the like.

The truffles were front-and-center and seemed the thing to buy, though we limited ourselves to three total. I also bought a few chocolate bars (Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Aztec dark) as well as a chocolate Cabernet cake mix (packaged in a wine bottle) and a few smaller chocolates. It wasn’t an inexpensive trip, but it was fun to be there at the beginning of this store’s journey. Walking away with our bag of classy chocolate was simply (chocolate) icing on the cake.

Dr. Chocolate signage

Dr. Chocolate purchases

We left the Chateau to walk a few blocks to Cheeky Monkey, a fun lunch and dinner spot with impressive food. I’ve been a number of times, but especially enjoyed sharing it with my daughter. We chowed down on sandwiches (hers the Little Monkey with turkey and cheese and mine a roasted pepper, chicken, bacon, and gouda panini–delish, ate every last crumb) and enjoyed the complementary self-serve cucumber and lemon waters.

No time for dessert (we had chocolate waiting for us in the car, remember?), we drove over to Grand Avenue to do a bit of window shopping. I was thrilled to spend this time with my 9-year-old as I know that in not too many years she’ll prefer spending time with friends to spending time with mom. I’ll take as many of these “adventures” as she’ll give me.

Tonight my husband and I took the shortest road trip of the week by hitting the freeway for i nonni, an upscale Italian restaurant in a nearby ‘burb. The food and drink were amazing. From cocktail (gin with grapefruit, sage, and cucumber–refreshing!) to appetizer (cured, paper thin slices of strip steak) to entree (farro pasta with sea urchin roe and lump crab) to dessert (a game-changing figgy pudding–wow) to grappa (what else after an Italian feast?), the meal was one I’ll long remember. It was a splurge, for sure, but with two young kids and nearly 20 years of marriage under our belts, my husband and I don’t get out much. Tonight’s fancy-pants date made up for all of the going out we haven’t done in the past few months.

When Monday rolls around, the kids go back to school and I’ll buckle down to work projects again. And though I didn’t hit the beaches of Cancun or tour Disney property with my family, I enjoyed local spots–new and old, upscale and casual. I shopped, ate well, and spent time with friends and family. Spring Break 2012 gets high marks from me.

cookie pops muppet-style

A recent WalMart ad for the new Muppet movie DVD featured a photo of and video link for Swedish Chef Pops. The ad was cleverly done. The grocery list could be shopped at WalMart and you were encouraged to buy the ingredients and DVD, make the pops, then enjoy a family movie night while munching treats that resemble the Swedish chef. A fan of the Muppet’s latest big-screen adventure (as well as the Swedish chef), I was easily sold on the concept. (The cookie pop part, not the shopping for everything at WalMart part.)

When my oldest came home from school with the recipe for these cookie pops (her class had watched the video as part of their puppet unit), I knew we had a project for the evening. Admittedly, I’m not especially good at decorative baking; my style is a bit too casual to make things look “just so.” That said, this seemed a fun project. We had everything we needed save circus peanuts and fruit leather. A quick trip to the grocery store solved the circus peanut shortage and we decided to flatten red Starburst┬« candies instead of buy fruit leather.

After a quick supper of scrambled eggs, toast, and strawberries (had to be healthy if the cookie pops were coming), we frosted and sprinkled our way to six Swedish chef pops. They were a bit putzy (and messy), but fun to make. And while they won’t win any nutrition awards, each pop has fewer calories than a candy bar or large cookie. There are worse foods you can serve to kids. If you like the Muppets, sweets, and playing with your food, I say give it a go.

Swedish Chef Pops

Adapted slightly from http://www.dashrecipes.com/recipes/dr/s/swedish-chef-pops.html Follow the link for more detail on assembly.

  • 2 vanilla wafer cookies
  • Creamy peanut butter (used crunchy as it was all we had)
  • 1 wooden craft stick
  • Unsweetened shredded coconut, tinted with orange food color
  • 1 orange circus peanut marshmallow candy
  • 1 large marshmallow
  • Cream cheese
  • 1 (1-inch) piece red fruit leather

For each pop, spread a bit of peanut butter on flat side of each cookie. Press flat sides of cookies together, inserting craft stick between cookies to form “pop.” Create bushy “eyebrows” and “mustache” on one side of cookie pop using peanut butter as “glue.” Cut small piece from circus peanut and attach as “nose.” Cut large marshmallow into 3 circles and press pieces together, fanning slightly, to form chef’s hat. Attach to pop with cream cheese. Twist fruit leather to form bow; attach to craft stick just below cookie for bow-tie.

Swedish Chef Pop

beyond the sugar rush

Had a belated Valentine’s lunch with my husband today at Dancing Geisha. Hadn’t been and love trying new restaurants. Groupon turned me onto this one and today seemed a good day to visit. Food wasn’t bad–shrimp vinadloo set my mouth afire. And who knew Gobi Manchurian–fried cauliflower, really–could be so delicious? A basket of lightly charred naan was another nice touch. But I wouldn’t go back–food wasn’t over-the-top spectacular and there are too many other places to try.

My favorite food moment today, though, wasn’t the trendy downtown Indian restaurant. Also wasn’t the hastily thrown-together meatloaf that had to finish in the microwave so we could make 6 p.m. soccer practice. It was the wander past the marked down Valentine’s candy at the grocery stotre. I bought a bag of conversation hearts on the cheap for two reasons. For someone who loves candy, conversation hearts–really nothing more than solid rocks of colored sugar–are perfection. Beyond the sugar high I was seeking was the second reason: Buying a bag of Brach’s brought my grandpa to mind. He died years ago, but one memory I’ll always carry is his stash of out-of-season candy. He kept it in a round metal biscuit tin on the third of fourth step of their big white house, then in the hallway closet just off the kitchen when they moved to the smaller red house. You were sure to find Christmas ribbon candy in February, Valentine hearts in March, and fun-size Halloween candy in December. Bemused, I realized I have been carrying this tradition on for a while now. My pantry has a section with oversize pumpkin marshmallows (who knew they sold pumpkin marshmallows?), ribbon candy, Christmas tree Peeps┬«, and bulk candy corn. To that I add, in honor of Grandpa Bob, a bag of sugary, jawbreaker-solid conversation candy hearts. How sweet is that?