Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake

Gam’s Cocoa Apple CakeSeason’s Greetings
For most of the country, the Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of cooler temperatures and spiced flavors of fall (regardless of what the calendar says is the actual start of the season). Those of us here in California know that, despite the recent cooler weather, it is not yet time to guzzle pumpkin spice or bring the sweaters out of storage. Because, dear friends, the hottest days of the year are actually ahead of us. For Californians, fall doesn’t really start until around Halloween.

For the record, I had a chai latte this morning. Why should you care? Because chai spices are basically the gateway to pumpkin spice. I’m not quite ready to go there yet! But, I found myself in a bit of a fall mood brought on by the cooler temps this morning as well as the apple picking we did over the weekend. So, I compromised.

The apple picking happened because my brother in law’s apple tree runneth over at the moment and it is just WAY too much for one man no matter how many neighborhood squirrels there are. I think we picked at least 40 pounds of apples…maybe more which means now I have to figure out what to do with all of them. Upon arrival at home, I immediately threw some in my pressure cooker and made applesauce. That was a no-brainer. My daughter made a couple of Dutch Apple pies which the kids have been enjoying for breakfast. Of course, we have been eating the apples straight as snacks. And, the kids have been putting them in their lunches with a little peanut butter. But, I have to figure out what to do with the rest. Thus, I have been going through my cookbooks and re-examining some of my favorite recipes.

One recipe that jumped out at me was my grandmother’s Cocoa Apple Cake. It is one of two that I always loved growing up. The second one was an applesauce cake that she made with her homemade applesauce. (I’m still trying to find it.) The chocolate in this bundt cake recipe makes it popular with the young as well as the old while the apples keep it nice and moist. It’s a delicious addition to a lunch box or as a snack for the PTA meeting.

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake
Yields 10 to 12 Servings Read more…

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

Chewy Chocolate BrowniesBrownie Brain
Labor Day weekend is almost here…which is awesome because, Hey!, a three day weekend! Tradition suggests that I am supposed to be thinking about barbecue but truth be told, I’m kind of sick of grilling. With as hot as it has been lately, I haven’t even looked twice at my oven. Everything we’ve eaten in the past two weeks has been hot off the outdoor grill. Needless to say, I am finding it hard to get too excited about a barbecue for Labor Day.

That being said, I will be going to a barbecue on Sunday. The good news is the decision to figure out what to throw on the grill rests entirely on my sister’s shoulders. I have a feeling that I will be in charge of bringing something sweet to the party. And, for some reason lately, I have had brownies on the brain.

I can’t tell you how long it has been since I have made a batch of brownies. I love brownies and because of that love I just can’t have them lying around. I will simply end up eating them. Hence, I have not made them in over a year. As a general rule, I am a brownie purist but I am not above swirling in a little peanut butter before they go in the oven or even mixing some espresso into the batter. There are never any nuts in my brownies. Not because I don’t like nuts—but I just don’t want anything to interfere with my chocolate intake. And, no nuts means there is more room for chocolate in each bite.

Brownies, or chocolate anything really, are a great way to end a barbecue because chocolate just goes well with grilled meats. Even better, you can serve them with the ice cream of your choice on the top for a sundae. Or, take it a step further and use the brownies as the base for an ice cream cake!

Chewy Chocolate Brownies Read more…

Affogato

AffogatoAffogato ‘bout it
Valentine ’s Day is a pretty low key affair in my house. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if my main squeeze bucked tradition and went all out. It would be great and I would be completely surprised but I have learned after almost 20 years together that the old adage about aging dogs and new tricks is true. To be fair, I am not looking for a grotesque “Hallmark Store just threw up” type of display. I don’t need five dozen roses. I’m always up for a nice dinner (but you have to fight the crowds). I’d be totally happy with a book and an hour or two of uninterrupted silence and solitude. Throw in a hot bath and I’ve hit Nirvana…

However, one dude in my house is putting in some work this Valentine’s Day. One of my 14-year-old sons was very adamant about getting his girlfriend (Did I really just type that? Girlfriend? Yikes!) a gift and I have to give him credit, he did it because he wanted to not because he was pressured. AND, he did it all on his own with no help from me except for the use of my Amazon Prime account. He’s planning to present his gift and spend the evening with her on Thursday which means he will be missing out on our Annual Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Sundae fest. I sense he isn’t all that broken up about it. Can’t imagine why…

I’ve decided I’m gonna change things up and get a little crazy this year. The others can do their mountain of ice cream with sprinkles and fudge and nuts and whipped cream. This year I’m going to make one of my all-time favorite desserts, Affogato. If you’ve never heard of it, Affogato is basically vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso poured over it. It’s absolutely simple and incredibly tasty. It’s even better if you use a vanilla chocolate chip gelato and then sprinkle more chocolate chips on top…yum! Of course, you can use whatever gelato you want—coconut would be really good. Or maybe something boozy. You can never go wrong with boozy…especially with a little of your favorite poured on top…Bailey’s anyone?

A quick search online can yield a number of yummy Affogato possibilities…

Affogato
Yields 4 servings Read more…

Home Made Croissants

Home Made CroissantsCroissant Crazy
Over the years, my sister and I have taken a lot of cooking classes. So many, in fact, that there isn’t a whole lot out there that we haven’t taken. By no means have we mastered the art of cooking. Far from it! But, you do reach a point that, unless it is something very specific, you can pick up any recipe and produce a better than average result. There was one thing that both of us were fairly intent on learning—and that is how to make croissants. Or, to be more specific, the laminated dough used to make croissants and other flaky goodness.

I’ve always been a fan of a really good croissant. I mean what’s not to love? You just can’t go wrong with flakey buttery pastry, with or without filling, fresh from the oven. Am I right?

This particular drive to learn the art of croissant was born out of an obsession with the orange morning buns that are produced by our favorite bakery in Tahoe City, CA. I can’t even with these morning buns. No trip to the lake is complete without these for breakfast at least once but they’re up there and we’re down here. We had to figure out a way to recreate them but to do that we needed to learn the basics.

This was how we found ourselves spending a lovely Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago learning to make croissants. It was great. It was challenging. And I have found that having an industrial grade sheeter would make the folding process so much easier but, alas, that is not an option.

To be frank, croissants are not a thing you make on a whim. They are a project that requires hours. It is something you do as much for the process as for the end result. It is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday when you have absolutely nothing going on.

This weekend for me is one of those rare weekends where we will not be running around shuttling kids here and there and my plan is to make a batch of croissants just to make sure I can do it without the instructor there. Should be interesting…

For those adventurous spirits out there below is a great recipe for those who are willing to give it a shot. For the rest, there is definitely something to be said for letting someone else do the work and grabbing a dozen or so from your favorite bakery.

Home Made Croissants
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields about 2 dozen Read more…

Baked Brie

Baked BrieHot Stuff
If a party is happening at my place you can bet there are going to be snacks. I say snacks because the phrase hors d’oeuvres can be a bit high brow for what the function actually is. You do not have hors-d’oeuvres at a football party. You have snacks. Munchies. Grubs…You get the idea.

For the rare party that I throw at my place, I almost always have a cheese plate with various cheeses and fresh fruits. It’s easy and elegant and you can set it out and let people serve themselves. Same goes for a dip platter with veggies—or depending on the dip, some interesting crackers. These are easy go-to pre-dinner nibbles that allow you to interact with your guests but they’re not hot, and for parties on a cold night, I like to have at least something that is warm.

The difficult thing about serving hot hors-d’oeuvres is that it requires you to be in the kitchen and not mingling. Instead, you are in a constant stage of putting stuff in the oven or taking it out. One of my favorites is my Hot Cheesy Things which are a family favorite as well as a definite crowd pleaser. But again, there’s that oven thing.

This year I think I have found a solution to the dilemma. Baked Brie.

Obviously, this is not a new concept but you can modernize it a bit by choosing a different type of jam than the traditional raspberry or another sweet version. I’m making mine with a Maple Bacon Onion jam that we sell here at the store but it would also be good with a Balsamic Onion Jam or even a Fig Jam. Of course, anything spicy would work well too—like a little Thai Sweet Chili sauce…Yum!

Because I am using the onion jam I am going to sprinkle a little fresh thyme for a little more flavor.

Baked Brie
Yields about 16 servings Read more…