baking bars: toffee-tastic

Anyone else see a river of chocolate, Willy Wonka-style, in this picture? As a child, I toured a local department store’s annual Christmas display with my school. Their elaborate productions changed yearly and in my 6-year-old eyes, they’d outdone themselves … Continue reading

boozy baker bourbon brittle cookies

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Imagine this: You find bars of Ghirardelli Dark clearanced out at $2.50 at your local grocer. Do you grab the last bars off the shelf? Does your mind automatically go into must-bake-chocolate-chip-cookie lockdown? If yes to both, we clearly have … Continue reading

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.

more momofuku insanity

I’ll admit to not being on top of the blogging game this week. My posting day arrived, but still no sense of what to write up. While my week was full of the usual food-related projects along with a handful of meals out, nothing had struck me as blog-worthy. And truth be told, sometimes I just get lazy. Having to track details, take pictures, etc for a post can (sometimes, not always) suck fun from a food adventure.

So today’s “inspiration” was forced and also a bit lazy. I grabbed Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi’s amazing cookbook, from the shelf and flipped through until I found a recipe that looked tasty, used minimal ingredients, and took little time to throw together. And boy howdy, did I strike gold.

Momofuku has been featured here before and for those who haven’t heard of this crazy little New York sweet shop, know that it’s famous for Crack Pie™ as well as crunches, crumbs, cereal milk, brittles, and the like. Tosi has an imagination like no other along with a willingness to think waaaaaaay outside the pastry box. She’s the proverbial kid in a candy store except that she’s in charge of the candy store.

What caught my eye this go-round was her Liquid Cheesecake. A dessert in itself, it’s also an ingredient in ice cream, sorbet, layer cakes (both apple and carrot), and truffles. Tosi is an excellent communicator and only her words will do her thought process justice:

…I’m kind of a fan of the gooey, just-barely-baked approach to making something delicious. There’s just something so naughty and fulfilling about the texture… Once I’d settled into my role as pastry chef at Momofuku, I knew I had every right to eat magically thickened cheesecake filling in the confines of my new home…so began my search for my voice in the form of cheesecake. It was short journey: my heart beats for one and only one kind of cheesecake–the underbaked, messy kind. And so, my signature cheesecake is liquid cheesecake.

Now doesn’t that sound lovely?

Should you share Tosi’s obsession for ooey-gooey goodness, I suggest you find yourself a copy of her book. It’s a fun read and a great kickstart for crazy-good dessert ideas. But if you can’t wait to make liquid cheesecake, here’s what I did:

Heat oven to 300°F. In mixing bowl with paddle attachment, beat 8 ounces softened cream cheese on low speed 2 minutes or until smooth. Scrape down side of bowl with spatula. Add 3/4 cup sugar; beat 1 to 2 minutes or until completely incorporated. Scrape down side of bowl.

In small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon salt; whisk in 2 tablespoons milk. (I used almond milk.) Whisk in 1 large egg. Beat cornstarch slurry into cream cheese mixture on medium-low speed 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth and loose. Scrape down side of bowl. Stir in 2 or so cups chopped chocolate, miniature candy bars, and cut-up marshmallows.batterScrape mixture into 9-inch graham cracker crust. Bake 15 minutes; gently shake pan. Remove from oven if cheesecake is firm in center and jiggly around edge. If mixture is jiggly all over, bake 5 minutes more. Add another 5 minutes if needed, but, in Tosi’s experience, “it shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes to underbake a cheesecake.” Cool cheesecake completely, allowing to set. Store in airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Note that the candy stir-ins and graham cracker crust were my spins. Tosi bakes in a 6-inch square pan lined with plastic wrap and describes the final “cheesecake” as “pipeable and pliable enough to easily spread or smear, while still having body and volume.”

I’ll close with a warning: This cheesecake is deadly addictive. As expected, it’s creamy and rich, but the chopped candy makes it über-sweet as well. What starts out as one spoonful easily leads to two, then three, etc. And before you know it, you’re regretting those last bites. (or so I’ve been told 😉 ) This is a sweet treat meant to be enjoyed in small portions.

Liquid Cheesecake Pie, not for the feint of heart!

Liquid Cheesecake Pie, not for the faint of heart!

If the description and picture didn’t sell it, I offer one more reason to love liquid cheesecake:

not a fail!

not a fail

so not what I was going for

so not what I was going for

It’s supposed to look like this! I’ve had similar baking experiences that were considered fails (see pink squirrel pie at right) and it seems the same result is a major success here.

Hats off, then, to Christina Tosi for her envelope-pushing sweet treats. I love how she thinks and am ever grateful for her inspirations.

let the good times roll–part deux

A recent conversation with fellow bloggers got me thinking rumballs. More specifically, it got me thinking that I will need rumballs to survive upcoming holiday travels.

But instead of rumballs, I recalled another candied ball of booze. A few years back, my husband and I traveled to Kentucky and it was there that I fell in love with bourbon. And Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls. These sweet Kentucky gems have a great back story (Which I’ve featured at Blog of Funny Names–read about it here. There’s a video of a fellow RR bourbon ball fan making a batch, too.) and are one-of-a-kind in the bourbon ball world. (The more traditional bourbon balls were featured at food for fun nearly two years ago–these of course were the part un.)

A recent purchase of more chocolate than anyone really needs (thank you, Trader Joe’s!) made the decision for me and Rebecca Ruth’s chocolate-dipped bourbon balls were my project for the night.

Chowhound’s recipe caught my eye as it was as simple as 1/2 cup butter, 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, and 5 tablespoons bourbon. The amount of chocolate was vague, but I melted 14 ounces of dark chocolate and ended up with just a bit left over.

The process wasn’t overly long nor was it too messy. Best part: I now have 40 or so bourbon balls that should keep for a long while, powering me through the Christmas holidays and quite possibly taking me into the new year. Though I plan to share, so they may not make it that long.

shiny!

shiny!

Speaking of sharing, I wish I could give everyone here a Rebecca Ruth Kentucky-style bourbon ball as a token of my gratitude. I appreciate you reading and wish you a blessed and wonderful holiday season. Food for fun is off for the next week or so, but already looking forward to coming back in 2014 with fun new food finds. Until then, enjoy the crazy delicious that is life.

so sweet

so sweet

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.

bourbon chocolate cake, candy corn cocktail, and a few shout-outs

Community: The name of a much-loved television show (which I’ll admit to never having seen–sorry, amb!) and also a support system found in the blogosphere. I’ve mentioned here before how gratifying it’s been to find others who are as crazy for all things food as I am. I’ve also met folks with completely different perspectives (you listening, wdydfae? 😉 ) that I can learn from.

Because I focus on food and drink, my community is mostly (but not entirely, Miss Fannie) made up of food bloggers, and though there are too many to list, you know who you are. You’ve inspired me with your recipes, photos, ingredients, and general celebration of all things culinary.

It’s also been rewarding to see this community extend to deLizious’ facebook page. Started purely for business purposes–potential clients should see that I’m out there trying new foods, restaurants, recipes, right?–it’s also become another point of connection for fellow bloggers.

Which brings me to the first of the two recipes I have for you this week.

Some months back, a blogging friend and facebook contact (hi, Dave!) posted a photo of a bourbon chocolate cake a friend had made for his birthday. The image grabbed my attention and stayed with me. A week or so ago, I mentioned that cake in a comment response on his blog, and he surprised me by starting a facebook conversation with me and the cake’s baker, asking her to share the recipe. And she did. (Hi, Courtney!) I’m giddily grateful to Courtney and Dave for their generosity and willingness to connect.

Enough with the ramble. Here is that cake!

the other half went down easy!

it goes down easy

Easy to make, it’s dense and boozy and chocolatey. We gobbled up half the night it was served and have been working on leftovers since. Letting it sit, I’ve found, is an excellent move as the cake gets boozier and fudgier by the day.

because even a piece of over-the-top boozy chocolate cake needs mounds of whipped cream

because even a piece of over-the-top boozy chocolate cake needs mounds of whipped cream

The cake was dessert at a get-together with friends. That same gathering gave me opportunity to debut another fun bit of party fare. This recipe connection came not from on-line relationships, but a phone call from my mother-in-law. She’d seen a recipe for a candy corn vodka (!) cocktail that had brought me to mind. (Not sure if it is good that my m-i-l thinks of me when she sees a booze recipe.)

I jumped on this candy corn bandwagon quicker than you can say “trick-or-treat,” combining 1/2 cup candy corn and 1 1/4 cups vodka in a mason jar. “Brewing” time is recommended at 4 hours up to overnight, and I gave the jar a good shake often as I wanted the candy corn dissolved in time for our evening party. Picture a kid shaking a snow globe–that’s where I was, watching the candy corn slowly dissolve as the alcohol ate the sugar.

Five hours later, the resulting liquid was day-glo orange and stunningly beautiful.

Candy corn vodka hanging with crabapple liqueur. Come back in a few weeks for the liqueur unveil

Candy corn vodka hanging with crabapple liqueur. Come back in a few weeks for the liqueur unveil.

Combining it with lemon juice and Grand Marnier (subbing for Triple Sec), along with ice as instructed in the recipe left me with a powerful strong beverage, highly drinkable with an extra shot of soda water. (Thank you, soda siphon!) I hadn’t realized until finding the recipe link online that this was a “pucker-tini” and have decided since that I’d use 1 to 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice instead of the 2 next time around.

puckertiniCrazy-good cake and cocktails made for an evening to remember and I owe it all to connections and community–online and off. Many thanks to all of you for your follows and Likes and comments and reads. I’m honored and thrilled to be in your most excellent company. Candy corn cheers to you!

suspension of disbelief or making cookies from chickpeas

Last post mentioned that my food science schooling involved lots of science and no cooking. Yet it wasn’t all hard work. Classes like Music 101 and General Theater helped me satisfy department requirements and also gave me insight into subjects completely outside of my major.

It was in the theater class that I learned about “suspension of disbelief.” In a good stage production, the audience suspends disbelief; limitations of live theater don’t prevent folks from believing what they see on stage. And it’s this phrase I thought of when deciding to pursue today’s recipe.

While my jury is still out on the merits of facebook, I’ve come to enjoy posting to my deLizious business page. Family, friends, clients, and even complete strangers have been pestered encouraged to sign on with a Like as well as to help make it more of a community by sharing their own fun food (and drink) finds. It’s gratifying when someone takes me up on this, so I was thrilled when my friend Kristine brought Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites to the deLizious party. This recipe, found all over the internet, promises “NO FLOUR, NO OIL, NO WHITE SUGAR.” And it contains chickpeas.

I shared the post and was surprised to see it prove popular, generating a healthy discussion on whether it might taste good (I had my doubts, having been burned before with those beet brownies) and whether it truly was sugar- and oil-free if it contained chocolate chips.

Noting that Dinner of Herbs had made these same cookies and given them thumbs-up via her facebook page, I decided to go for it. I’d suspend my disbelief that legumes don’t belong in baked goods.

Of course there were changes along the way. It made more sense to use the entire 15-ounce can of chickpeas instead of measuring out the 1 1/4 cups called for. A jar of nutella beckoned from the pantry when I reached for the peanut butter. (And when I emptied it before having the amount needed, cashew butter provided the balance.) Peanut butter chips and chopped chocolate stood in for the chocolate chips, and you know I used more than the 1/2 cup called for. Finally, instead of hauling out my food processor, I put everything in a bowl and whirred it (mostly) smooth with my stick blender.

canned chickpeas etc.

canned chickpeas etc.

And? I’ll agree with D of H and give them that thumbs-up. They’re a bit mealy, though not enough to bother. I can tell they contain chickpeas, but only because I know they’re there. Named well, they taste a lot like raw cookie dough even after baking. But to call them cookies seems a stretch. (That said, for gluten-free, they’re phenomenal.) No one will mistake them for Mrs. Fields‘ latest.

dough balls

dough balls

just baked

just baked

cooling

cooling

Do I not love them because I know what’s in them or are they just not that amazing? Can’t say. They’re tasty enough, but still strike me as a bit odd. Bottom line: I have trouble suspending my disbelief. Chickpeas shine in salads, hummus, pasta dishes, soups. But to puree them into a cookie seems sacrilege and I’m unable to get past that enough to rave about these treats.

If you’re in the mood, I challenge you to make these chickpea cookies and report back. Do you like them or no? How adept are you at suspending your disbelief when it comes to baked goods?

Mickey is back!

Mickey is back!

stack of gooey

stack of gooey

raw cookie dough?

raw cookie dough?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed well and patted dry
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons peanut butter (or any combination of nut butters )
1/4 cup agave nectar (original recipe called for honey)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease baking pan or coat with cooking spray.

In large bowl, combine all the ingredients except chocolate chips; blend with immersion blender until smooth. (Or process in food processor.) Add chocolate chips; stir to mix.

Scoop mixture into small mounds on baking pan. Bake 10 minutes or until just set. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 30 dough bites.

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.

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!

cocktail flippin’

Mentioned in my last post was my delight in meeting other like-minded folk within the blogging community. My circle of friends has expanded in ways I’d never imagined as has my pool of ideas and inspiration. A recent find has been The Weary Chef. Like me, she feeds a husband and two young kids while also running around tending to the rest of her life. While I’ve only just discovered TWC, I’m already nuts about her Friday Happy Hour post. While you’ll find a handful of cocktail write-ups at food for fun, there’s nothing scheduled weekly. Yet I so like the idea of celebrating the end of a workweek with a fun adult beverage that I’m hoping to stop by TWC each Friday and make whatever it is she’s making (or at least an approximation, depending on my pantry).

In honor of my new Friday tradition, I’ve been inspired by a review of a just-opened restaurant (you must click on this link if only to see the box graters hanging from the ceiling) in the latest Minnesota Monthly. Borough’s bar menu features A Flippin’ Good Drink and for the name alone I already love it. But it gets better: this drink combines milk stout with bourbon and egg to taste “almost like bitter dark chocolate.” Anything with bourbon gets a Like from me and the whole concept sounded absolutely lovely.

Amounts were not given, so I guessed at two parts stout to one part bourbon. And the (raw) egg thing didn’t sit well with me as it smacked of health shakes circa 1970. But I love me a little egg white froth on a cocktail (ramos gin fizz, anyone?), so tossed one white in the mix. Into the cocktail shaker, then, went 1/2 cup stout, 1/4 cup bourbon, 1 egg white.

flippin' good, yes

flippin’ good, yes

Minimal shaking required as the stout provided plenty of foam, though the egg white gave it a boost as well as tamed some of the stout’s rougher edges. I gave it a blast of carbonated water after sampling as it was too strong for my taste, but the chocolate notes rang loud and clear. I hope to hit Borough soon to try the real deal, but for now will enjoy my homespun version of the flippin’ good.

Overall, my drink-mixing skills are bare bones as I have yet to develop a sense for what kind and how much of one spirit to mix with another. But if I continue hanging out at TWC and other fun cocktail posts (Putney Farms is another good one for fun drinks), I’ll eventually find my inner mixologist. If you have favorite cocktail recipes or blog suggestions that will help me get there, please holler back via comments or facebook. I’d love to have you at the party 🙂

brownies and beans

A friend gave me an intriguing recipe today and because I had the time as well as all of the ingredients, I gave it a go. Black Bean Brownies appealed to me not so much as a healthy alternative to an otherwise decadent dessert, but because I wondered if the full, rich flavor of black beans would intensify the chocolate-ness of it all.

The brownies took only minutes to throw together and put in the oven and I was surprised to see them puff up as they contain no baking powder or baking soda. (Though whipping the eggs in a blender would add air.) The original recipe was heralded as gluten-free, but this wasn’t entirely true as most oats contain traces of gluten. Leaving out the oats (which I would do next time as they didn’t serve much of a purpose flavor- or texture-wise) would make them truly gluten-free.

I’d eat them regardless of nutrient content or health claim, though, as they’re sweet and melt-in-your mouth chocolatey. With no flour, they’ll get thumbs-down from anyone who enjoys cakey brownies–these are more moist, dense, and pudding-like. I ran nutrition numbers and each brownie clocks in at 170 calories. Use nuts instead of chocolate and the number goes down a bit; omit the chocolate or nut topping and you’re down to 130. That’s not oodles lower than a standard brownie (though far lower than some of the ultra-decadent versions), but you also get 3 grams of fiber and 4 of protein, which is better than what you’d find in most baked goods.

These brownies are more of a novelty for me as I very much enjoy using butter, white flour, and sugar in dessert-like baked goods. That said, this was a fun recipe to try and these intensely chocolate brownies will disappear quickly in my house. Next time I have a can of black beans on my shelf, I might just whip up another pan of brownies!

black bean brownies in a Christmas tree pan

black bean brownies in a Christmas tree pan

black.bean. brownie.

black. bean. brownie.

Black Bean Brownies

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped chocolate or nuts

Heat oven to 350°F. Coat 9×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In blender container (or in bowl using immersion blender), combine all ingredients except oats and chopped chocolate or nuts. Blend until smooth. Stir in oats. Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle with chocolate or nuts. Bake 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Cool on wire rack. Makes 12 brownies.

peanut butter, banana, chocolate

Having recently received a large bag of dried banana chips, I wanted to find a use for them outside of eating as-is or tossing with granola. An online search got me thinking about using them for baking. A few recipes included them in banana bread, which intrigued me. Because peanut butter and chocolate seem a good fit with banana, I wanted to build a quick bread that incorporated all three flavors.

Banana chips in banana bread seemed redundant and chocolate bread was more indulgence than I needed. This left me looking for a peanut butter bread recipe. My cookbook collection includes a 1970s-esque Jif Peanut Butter recipe booklet (complete with ’70s-style food photos), which was where I found a simple and delicious peanut butter bread recipe. I tossed a large handful of coarsely chopped dried banana chips and a slightly smaller amount of coarsely chopped chocolate (mix of semisweet and dark) into the batter and was thrilled with the result.

The bread itself is rich and peanutty, but adding chocolate (always a good idea) and banana chips elevated it to another level of yum. The banana flavor is only there when you bite into a chip, but it’s a lovely subtle hit when you do. And the slight chew of these chips–they don’t get squishy like raisins do–adds texture contrast.

I find myself having a slice (or two) for breakfast, munching on it between meals, then considering it a dessert at the end of the day. It needs no embellishment, but a small bit of grape jelly bumps up the sweetness and if I’m really wanting to gild lilies, a touch of butter rounds out the flavor very nicely. It’s been a fun bread to discover and am happy to have found a use for my bag of banana chips.

Peanut Butter Bread with Banana Chips and Chocolate

Based on a recipe found in Jif® Choosy Mothers’ Peanut Butter Cookbook (1979)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (Jif’s recipe called for creamy, but I used chunky)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried banana chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped chocolate bar

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

In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add peanut butter; cut in with fork or two knives until crumbly. Add egg and milk; stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Gently stir in banana chips and chocolate. Pour batter into pan; bake 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted near center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

out-of-this-world peanut butter bread