Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot Chocolate

Man, it's hot here. Not just hot, but all fans full bore, walking around the house in underwear, eating popsicles for dinner hot. We're wilting. The only happy thing around here are my tomato plants. The little green blops have started to finally ripen. Of course, the Early Girl starts that I bought this spring have all turned out to be mini roma tomatos, but at least they'll be red.

The other thing that the heat brings on is zucchini. This is the time that gardeners have to be vigilant, constantly checking for ripe zucchinis lurking under the leaves. Left too long in this kind of weather they will swell and bloat up to Herculean proportions. Then you only have three options. 1) Use them as baseball bats. 2) Hollow them out and use them as one-man canoes. 3) Swaddle them up like babies and leave them in a Moses basket on the doorstep of a kind stranger.

If you are the recipient of said swaddled zucchini (or unswaddled for that matter), I can think of no more delicious way to use it up than to make this bread. Chocolate Cherry Zucchini Bread. Even the finickiest of non-vegetable eaters (such as my husband) won't object to zucchini when it's folded into a luscious chocolate bread studded with ripe cherries and chocolate chips. It's deliciously moist and when warm (like today) it takes on a fabulously melty chocolate texture, requiring frequent licking of fingertips as you devour your piece. Um, two pieces. Excuse me, could you look the other way? Er, three pieces.

The recipe is from the lovely blog Feeding My Enthusiasms. I was fortunate enough to get to meet up with the blog author this past week and she's wonderful. Go get the recipe and then take a stroll through her blog to enjoy her beautiful recipes and her lovely writing.

I think I'll go cut another slice of the chocolate zucchini bread and then stick my feet in a bucket of ice water.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stay at Home Blueberry Cake

In my high school I was fortunate to have a cooking teacher who showed us not only how to cook, but brought a sense of adventure into the kitchen. We explored not only stovetop and oven cooking, but dabbled a bit in microwave, slow-cooker, and even car engine cooking. Yes, you read that correctly - car engine.

There was a short-lived fad of cooking your meal on top of your manifold. You take a long car trip and - ta da!- you've got a hot meal ready to eat. I'm not sure exactly what happened to this brilliant idea. I suspect bumpy roads and an engine seizing up trying to ingest pot roast and new potatoes. The only time I ever tried it was to reheat a pizza at a drive-in movie and it worked well enough for that.

In class we often got to select what we wanted to cook. My kitchen partner was obsessed with the idea of making a pineapple upside-down cake. For some reason, she thought this was the height of haute cuisine. Our teacher obliged and made one. Because she used the microwave, it turned out kind of funky, but I saw the appeal of an upside-down cake. You put lovely, sweet, gooey ingredients in the pan, spoon batter over it, bake it, and to serve you turn it upside down and magically your cake is topped with a beautiful mess of syrupy goodness.

With the bounty of blueberries we're having here, I thought a light take on an upside-down cake was in order. This easy cake goes together in a jiffy and it's fun (especially for children) to watch the flipping over transformation. You can also play around with the fruit, substituting cherries, raspberries, or peaches for some or all of the blueberries. Since it bakes in the oven, no road trip is required.

Blueberry Upside-Down Cake
- adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too by Susan Purdy

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar, packed
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon or orange zest
2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over, rinsed and patted dy, or frozen unsweetened whole berries, unthawed

1/3 cup canola or safflower oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup skim milk or orange or apple juice
1-1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Whipped cream
Fresh berries

1- Preheat oven to 325 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven.

2- Coat a 10-inch heavy ovenproof skillet or 10-inch deep Pyrex pie plate with cooking spray. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. Stir, then place the pan over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon to partially melt the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat. Ad the zest and blueberries, spreading them in a single layer. Set aside.

3- In a large bowl, combine the oil, granulated sugar, honey, egg whites, vanilla, and milk or juice. Whisk lightly to combine. Set a strainer over the bowl and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir and sift the dry ingredients onto the wet. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat until well blended, scraping down the bowl and beaters several times. The batter will be runny.

4- Pour the batter evenly over the blueberries in the pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake top is golden and springy to the touch. Don't forget to use a potholder when handling the skillet; it is hot!

5- Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 3 or 4 minutes, until the glaze sops bubbling. Top the pan with a large flat serving platter. Holding the plate and pan together with potholders, carefully invert. Lift off the skillet. Reposition any fruit that may have stuck to the pan.

6- (optional) Garnish with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I Know What I Like

When we bought our house many years ago it was stained a nasty dark, dark brown. It hadn't had any treatment in 15 years and you could scrape a nail over the siding and get to bare wood. Something had to be done. My husband sanded the entire house with a hand-held orbital sander (that's what he had and it worked, but it took a loooong time), we brushed primer over the whole thing. Twice. And then we painted it a lovely light blue with a greyish undertone. New Zealand Lake, the color was called.

Our house has stayed that same color for about 20 years. We'd repaint a side of the house as it needed it, but the look stayed the same.

This year it was time to paint again and my husband decided it was time for a change. He wanted to go grey. I agreed, so long as it wasn't a really dark, lowering grey, the tone that says Communist East German government housing.

We went together to the paint store, debating over swatches. This one was too dark, that one was too yellow, and then we found one that was just right. Light grey with a blue undertone. Perfect! We bought 15 gallons and brought it home, set up our ladders and drape cloths and began to paint. Wait just a doggone's the same color. The exact same color! We couldn't even tell where we'd started painting or where we'd left off.

If you're a Red Dwarf fan, you'll know what I mean when I say that we went from Ocean Grey to Military Grey.

Well, at least we know what we like. And one thing I like is this pear bread. It's super easy to make and stays moist and delicious for a week. So in case you're working on an onerous task like painting your house, you can make it early in the morning when it's still cool and then have painting break snacks for several days. Unless you're smart like us and import help (son and nephew). Then it'll be gone in a day.

Pear Bread
- adapted from America’s Best Recipes

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt*
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla etract
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped pear (about 3 pears)
1 cup chopped pecans

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Thoroughly grease 2 9-x-5-inch loaf pans (or 4 mini loaf pans, or 1 large and 2 small).

2- In the bowl of an electric mixer cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating well at medium speed. Add yogurt and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

3- In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

4- Gently fold in the chopped pears and pecans.

5- Spoon the batter into the loaf pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes for large loaves, 45 minutes for small loaves, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves

* I used Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt and it was delicious! You can click on the link to get a coupon, if you'd like to try it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seattle Chocolate Salon, Part Deux

I really love where I live. There are mountains, tall trees, lots of lakes, and the Seattle Chocolate Salon. This was the second year of the Chocolate Salon and it was amazing! There were over 30 chocolatiers, as well as wineries, spa products, beverages, and jewelry. It was a tough challenge to get around to each booth, talk to the proprietors, and sample their wares, but for you, my dear readers, I made an effort. I hope you appreciate what I go through for you.

This is a quick overview of what it took me almost three hours to do. It's not complete- I didn't get to talk to every chocolatier - but it gives you an idea of what the chocolate salon was like. Enjoy the calorie-free visit!

The first chocolatier to greet us as we walked in the door was one of my favorites - Oh! Chocolate. This is a family run business with exceptionally nice people and amazing chocolates. They were dipping truffles and glacéed apricots to sample. Mmmmmm. The orange salted caramel I tried was amazing. Oh! Chocolate has three retail outlets and they offer classes at their Madison store.

Posh Chocolates boasts an impressive pedigree and their chocolates are beautiful as well as delicious. Though you'd have to travel to Montana to meet the delightful owners of this company, they do a brisk internet business and are looking to get placed in stores. Note to store owners - contact them! A sample of their drinking chocolate had my friend wondering if she could politely ask them to fill her water bottle with it. Isn't Ana a great advertisement for chocolate as health food?

Carter's Chocolates is located in Port Orchard, Washington. They have a wide selection of artistic truffles in a range of flavors that encompass liquors, herbs, and fruit. Friendly people with fun stuff going on at their store, it's definitely worth a stop in their shop if you're in the area!

Chubby Chipmunk came all the way from Deadwood, South Dakota to be at the salon. The truffle flavors they offered were lovely, my favorites being the key lime with white chocolate and the moosewood crunch. Their truffles are also huge. One of those dense babies would be dessert for a family of four. Sure, their truffles are all handmade, beautifully decorated, and made with pure ingredients, but what really sold me were their tins. They're so darn cute!

Crave Chocolates features beautiful work of art truffles. Would the skier in your life be thrilled with the ski collection which has a snow-covered mountain truffle? Or perhaps you know a chocolate-loving fisherman (or woman)? The flavors and gift baskets available are shown on their website.

Intrigue Chocolates gave a guided tour of flavors through their mouth-watering truffles. They had the stand-out basil that I loved last year as well as grapefruit, Mojito, HOT chocolate, and a few others from their menu of over sixty flavors. Their truffles are not dipped in chocolate, only rolled in cocoa powder so the flavor of the truffle really stands out.

La Chatelaine is owned by a man of Polish descent, raised in Paris, who now makes his home, as well as drool-worthy chocolates, in Bozeman, Montana. When I think Montana, I think cowboys, but this chocolatier might make me change my mind about that.

Chocolopolis is a year old chocolate shop in downtown Seattle that is like a mini chocolate salon. They carry chocolates from makers around the world. We got to sample single source truffles they'd made from chocolate from Claudio Corallo. It's amazing how much the taste changes from grower to grower. If you're in the Seattle area, be sure to check in with Chocolopolis to see what events they've got going in the store.

Divine aptly sums up these chocolates. I sampled the milk chocolate with hazelnuts and I think this might be the best milk chocolate I've ever tasted. Smooth, creamy, and not too sweet. I enjoyed tasting the chocolate and I felt even better about it when I read that Divine is a Fair Trade brand. Farmers receive a guaranteed Fair Trade price for their beans and they co-own the company. It's truly a sweet treat to enjoy your chocolate with a clear conscience.

William Dean Chocolates came all the way from Florida to showcase their gorgeous chocolates. If I were in charge of handing out awards, I'd give these guys a trophy for most beautiful truffles. Gorgeously shaped and colored, they were truly stunning. And the presentation boxes that came with the truffles were worthy of jewelry. The lighting was truly heinous, so my pictures didn't begin to capture how lovely their work is. Go to their website to see true art in chocolate form.

Suess Chocolates is another local shop. I'm so lucky! They had an mouthwatering selection of truffles to sample, but the one that kept us lingering over their table was the Matcha Truffle. I'm not a big green tea fan, but these truffles kept me coming back for more. Wowsa! The guys at Suess Chocolates also are kid-friendly. They have a child play section in their store and offer chocolate dipping experiences for kids. Needless to say, we're going!

L'Estasi Dolce offers Asian-Fusion confections like Lemongrass Ginger Truffles and caramel corn with almonds and oriental spices, as well as wine truffles. My favorite was the champagne truffle. Bringing out a small tray of these would be the perfect way to close a dinner party; elegant and tasty.

As a calorie-free way to enjoy your chocolates, Marco Polo Designs offered their chocolate-inspired jewelry collection. Beautiful, sparkling necklaces and earrings in chocolate colors were a nice break from the onerous duty of sampling chocolates.

What do you get when you pair a physics professor with a passion for chocolate? Amano Chocolates. Single source chocolate bars as well as (gasp of pleasure) single source cacoa nibs! I love sampling the different flavors from the different regions represented. My favorite was Madagascar and I'm thinking about how I can best showcase the nibs that came home with me. Cookies? Ice Cream? Pie?

Here's a short video that shows a bit about Amano and the chocolate making process.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to work out!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Berry De-Lite

I've been pregnant through 3 summers and I must say that on every hot day I am profoundly grateful that I'm not pregnant now. My first pregnancy I wore a bikini. I was young and cute and could pull it off. My second pregnancy I bought a huge, black maternity bathing suit and a kiddie wading pool. My toddler was excited about the pool, but got a pouty lower lip when he saw that mammoth mommy took up the whole pool.

The last time around I was a pro at keeping cool. Stay in the mall. Lurk near the frozen foods section. And above all else, do not turn on the oven to bake!

Luckily for those who don't enjoy sweltering, as well as a heat wave, summer also brings a bounty of fresh fruit that tastes fabulous without any cooking necessary. This berry dessert was originally intended as a pie filling, but I was not about to turn on the oven to make a pie crust, so it became parfaits. Beautiful parfaits, heady with splash of wine flavor, topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Cool, fruity, and easy. What better summer dessert could you ask for?

Berry De-Lite Parfaits
- adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried, or frozen unsweetened whole blueberries
2 cups fresh raspberries or frozen unsweetened whole raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dry white wine
2-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 tsp unflavored gelatine
2 Tbsp creme de cassis
Whipped cream to top
Fresh berries to top

1- In a 1-1/2 quart nonreactive saucepan, combine 1 cup of the blueberries, 1 cup of the raspberries, the sugar, wine, and lemon juice. Set over low heat and cook gently, crushing the fruit with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside.

2- Pour the water into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatine over the water and allow it to sit for about 3 minutes to soften. Stir the mixture over low heat just until the gelatine dissolves. Do not boil.

3- Stir the dissolved gelatine into the berry mixture, then stir in the remaining berries and the creme de cassis.

4- Transfer the hot berry mixture to a heatproof bowl and set it in a larger pan of ice water. Cool, stirring on and off, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of raw egg whites. Carefully spoon the mixture into parfait glasses. Cover the glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours, or overnight.

5- Top the parfaits with whipped cream and fresh berries just before serving.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tall Man's Waffles

I need to clear something up here. In my last post I didn't specify how tall I am. Some of you might have assumed Me + Heels = Towering Over Date because I'm an Amazon. No, I'm 5'4". My date was maybe 5'5".

It's my daughter that's 5'9". (That's me, my sister, and my daughter.) How did I end up with such a tall girl? Easy - I married a man I could look up to. Literally. He's 6'2". I ended up with ginormous babies and someone who could easily reach the upper shelves of the tall cupboards. That is a plus, unless he's being a sweetheart and tidying up the kitchen for me. Then I end up cursing, I mean blessing him for putting away things where I can't even see them, let alone reach them.

I don't fret too much if it's paper plates or boxes of pasta that get shoved to the back of the upper cupboards, but my husband has learned that I'm far happier if I can see my chocolate stash. If I wasn't able to eyeball it, how would I know what's on hand? And how would I be able to make these fabulous waffles?

The recipe came in my inbox from King Arthur Flour. My husband wanted it so much, we had it for dinner. They were soooooo good! It's not the height of healthy eating, but it's got whole wheat flour, sourdough starter, and homemade chocolate ice cream, so as a very once in a while splurge, it works for me. Really, really well.

Chocolate Malt Waffles
- from King Arthur Flour


1 cup ripe, bubbly sourdough starter (made with equal weights water and flour)
1 1/4 cups cool water
1 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour


1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 cup malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chips, semisweet or bittersweet; mini chips work especially well

1) To make the starter: Measure 1 cup "fed" sourdough starter into a medium bowl.

2) Stir in the water and whole wheat flour, and mix until thoroughly combined.

3) Cover the bowl and set it aside for several hours, or up to overnight.

4) To make the batter: When you're ready to make the waffles, whisk the dry ingredients in a small bowl; you may need to sift the mixture if your cocoa is lumpy.

5) Add the dry ingredients, plus the eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and chocolate chips to the sourdough batter, stirring to combine.

6) To bake the waffles: Drop about ½ cup batter onto a greased, preheated waffle iron. Bake the waffle until steam stops coming out the sides of the iron. The waffles will feel soft and tender coming out of the iron, but will crisp up on standing.

7) Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, if desired. (Well, duh, of course you desire!)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

You Don't Know Till You Try

In high school I got invited to a formal dance by a young man who I was glad to go with because he was a lot of fun, but he was on the short side. If I wore my normal (for then) 3 to 4 inch heels, I'd tower over my date.

To solve this dating dilemma, I borrowed a cute little mandarin-style dress from my friend who was 2 inches shorter than me and I bought some super cute flat shoes. The shoes were black, satin sandals that were held onto the feet with long, satin ties that tied around the ankles like ballet slippers. As I said, super cute.

So I went on my date, thinking that this date would be great and my outfit was the cat's meow. As is so often the case in life, expectations were far greater than the actuality. I spent the majority of the evening bending over and retying up the silly ribbons that held my shoes on. I guess if I'd thought it through, I'd have known that satin's defining characteristic is slipperiness and a satin ribbon holding on a shoe was not a good design. I finally took the shoes off altogether and my date put them in his pocket and although my toes did get trod on a wee bit, we had a much better time.

This pie reminded me a bit of that date because sometime you never can tell how something's going to work until you try it out. I found the recipe for the rhubarb curd on Patricia's beautiful site (be sure to check out her gorgeous artwork in her shop!). I had the brilliant thought of putting it into my favorite strawberry pie, combining two great flavors together.

I made a crumb crust (too lazy to do the regular kind, plus I didn't want the crust to get soggy with the curd), spread in a layer of the curd, piled on sliced strawberries, and covered it in a beautiful strawberry glaze. I took some pictures of the pie after it had chilled, then prepared to get the money shot - the gorgeous piece of pie standing tall on it's plate.

I sliced and, um, no, that's not going on the blog. It oozed. I couldn't slice the pie. I had to scoop it out like a cobbler. It wasn't lovely at all. But it was sooooo good. Not one person complained about the look of the pie. Instead there were intense discussions about whether the stomach could hold seconds. Or thirds.

So, here's the recipe. Be forewarned, it's not company pie. Not glamorous at all. But your family will be pleased that you made it for them!

(Note: this is a multi-stage recipe, so you can do parts of it as your schedule allows, put it together early the day you want to serve it, and let it sit in the refrigerator till it's time for dessert.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Curd Pie


1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp butter, melted

Rhubarb Curd:

2 cups of rhubarb cut into small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Strawberries and Glaze:

2 to 3 cups strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and sliced
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg.

2- Combine all the crust ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Press firmly on the bottom and up the sides of a deep 9 inch pie plate.

3- Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the edges are brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

4- To make the curd, combine the rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water and lemon juice in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over med-high until rhubarb goes completely mushy. Remove from the heat and let it cool to just warm. Put the mixture into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

5-Whisk the yolks and sugar together in a heat-resistant bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add the cooled rhubarb and the butter in pieces and stir until it is all combined and thickens. Cool completely and it will thicken some more.

6- To make the strawberry glaze, place one cup of the strawberries in a non-reactive saucepan with 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

7- Mix together the sugar and cornstarch; add to the strawberry liquid and cook until clear. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

8- Spread the cooled rhubarb curd over the crust. Arrange the remaining strawberries over the curd. Pour the cooled glaze over the strawberries, completely coating the top.

9- Refrigerate until serving time.