Chocolate Stout Cake

Chocolate Stout CakeIt’s For The Kids
A friend of mine is holding a beer pong tournament this weekend. In fact, this will be the 6th Annual tournament and my husband and I will be there. Our attendance is remarkable for two reasons: 1. At the age of 46, I don’t really feel the need to relive the days of my ill-spent youth (it hurts too much). And, 2. As a general rule, I don’t like to drink beer.

The first reason is easily overcome because it is a fun night hanging out with friends and raising money for charity. The people-watching entertainment alone is pure gold. The second reason my attendance is strange is much more problematic.

There have been only a few occasions where I have purposefully ordered a beer and was satisfied with my choice. The bucket of ice-cold beer with lime I enjoyed while lounging on the beaches of Mazatlán 20 years ago was beyond perfect, both in setting and in thirst-quenching achievement. The winner for best beer I ever tasted in my life was the pint of Guinness I drank after taking the tour of the brewery in Dublin, Ireland with a pint of that same brew that I had in Boston being a very close second. Both pints were smooth like liquid chocolate and both were the best remedy for a very blustery cold day.

I doubt very seriously that the beer being poured into keg cups this weekend will be of the same quality. I’m pretty sure it will be a mix of the cheaper fraternity party favorites in the beginning with the better stuff only coming out as the competition gets tighter. My husband, a beer lover, has vowed to take one for the team and drink the beer for me ‘cause he’s a giver like that.

In a preemptive strike, I am planning on making this chocolate stout cake to bring to the party to help take the bitter cheap beer taste from everyone’s mouth while still sticking to the theme…

Chocolate Stout Cake
Yields 12 servings Read more…

Chocolate Hazelnut Scones

Chocolate Hazelnut SconesOregone
I spent last weekend in Oregon and it was glorious. True, I spent four years living there—so I may be biased. But, the drive down to Eugene from Portland reminded me just how much I love it up there, green rolling hills, fields of frisky animals, charming red barns….

There is no greener state than Oregon. And yes, it does rain up there. A lot. And that rain makes for some of the most stunning scenery you can ask for. This time around, I was blessed to experience one of the few absolutely perfect-weather weekends. No rain and 70 degrees. Perfect. Add to that a football win for the home team and you just can’t get much better than that…unless we start talking about the food.

Oregon is a food lover’s dream and it’s no secret that the hot Portland restaurant scene is where innovation is happening. With the abundance of fresh-grown veggies and humanely raised meats available within an hour or two of the city, you’d have to work pretty hard to not to produce a quality product. Needless to say, I ate pretty well on this trip.

I took advantage of what there was to offer including the fresh veggies, and the Pinots, and of course, the coffee. Coffee is a religion up there. Like, literally. Oregonians don’t mess around. While consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of caffeine at one of my favorite coffee stops, I had the privilege of snacking on a hazelnut chocolate scone freshly made from Oregon grown hazelnuts and fresh butter. It was ah-may-zing!

I brought a bunch of coffee beans home with me in an effort to extend my trip (if only in my mind and coffee cup). For this same reason, I have been searching for a hazelnut scone recipe on the internet. I found this basic recipe on Food 52 and have been experimenting to duplicate my Oregon scones. It’s a tough job but I am definitely up to the task….

Chocolate Hazelnut Scones
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 12 servings Read more…

Caramelized Butternut Squash

Caramelized Butternut SquashFall Flow
The changing of the seasons is always a weird time food-wise, especially for us here in California. The calendar may tell you that it is fall but the 90 degree weather says differently. And, the thought of a succulent fall roast from a warm oven is off-putting. On top of that, we are blessed to be able to get whatever produce we want year-round unlike other areas of the country where certain produce can only be found seasonally. This means that there is less seasonality to our cooking and the chances of a cooking rut or ingredient boredom are high. Whenever I feel like I am in a rut or need some inspiration I head to the farmer’s market. And, if I can’t get there I camp out in the produce section and try to find something that sparks my interest.

I can’t quite explain it. There’s something about standing in the middle of botanic abundance that makes my inner farmer happy. The same thing happens when I am picking anything from my own garden. It’s the thought process that starts when you have to consider how you are going to use the homegrown wealth in front of you. It is also the same feeling you get when presented with beautiful examples of farmed art piled high in a vast array of colors beneath the tents of people who love working their land.

It’s been a while since I have been able to get to my Sunday farmers market and it is making me kind of itchy. I have also been struggling with the daily “What’s For Dinner?” grind. So, I know I am overdue for a trip. I need the therapy you can only find while loading more fruits than necessary into your market basket. I also need the thrill of the first squash sightings and the hearty greens that go with them. For me, that first taste of an in-season butternut captures more of fall than any pumpkin latte ever could.

As I sit here and write this I am beyond thankful for a responsibility-free weekend. I can already feel my creative culinary juices flow while the anticipation of a “fruitful” Sunday morning buzzes through my body.

Caramelized Butternut Squash
Adapted from Ina Garden and The Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

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…