Monday, October 28, 2013

Jamoca Almond Cream Cheese Frosting

Do you ever catch yourself saying something that you really don't want to say, but before you can stop yourself it has already come out of your mouth, and is hanging in the air, much to your chagrin? This happened to me. I chalk it up to temporary insanity. As I may have mentioned, after three and a half years on the market, our 121-year-old Victorian-style farmhouse finally sold. Now, during the last eighteen months, Mr. O.P. has been keeping the fires burning, as it were, at the old place, and I've been living it up, albeit austerely, at the new one.  I began to like it. A lot. Queen of my own castle has always been a dream of mine, a clear, clutter-free castle has been another one. Well people, all of this was dashed last week when the mister and his two hundred boxes of God-knows-what, plus his monster-size pieces of antique furniture descended upon me and, well, my house. It has been a logistical nightmare. He is Oscar to my Felix. He is hoarder to my declutterer. At the moment, living in what now looks to be a warehouse of boxes, lining the walls, startling my poor Subaru in what used to be an empty garage, filling the storage area in the basement to capacity (I pray that we don't overload a circuit because only a trained monkey would be able to reach the circuit box.), I find myself completely off my game.  So I suppose, with all of this mess it shouldn't surprise me that I found myself, mid conversation, inviting a group of people over for a party to watch Game 4 of the World Series! What was I thinking?

So, yesterday after stumbling out of bed, drinking way too much coffee, and carelessly brushing my teeth (I do think I managed to get every other one), I found myself in the kitchen, playing Beat the Clock, madly whipping up dishes to suit every palate. What I failed to consider was, umm, dessert. Between innings I remembered a box of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix hiding in the pantry.  I stirred the ingredients together and popped it into the oven. Then I reminded myself that I have long wanted to come up with a chocolate version of cream cheese frosting. Half loopy with fatigue, and remembering (why, at this moment, I do not know) that my favorite Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor used to be Jamoca Almond Fudge (do they still sell that?) I created this one. Chocolate, almond, espresso powder, and cream cheese. All of my favorite flavors rolled into one. I'm glad I made extra because I have a midnight date with a bowl and a spoon. 

Give it a try and see what you think. You can pump up the almond or espresso powder, to suit your tastes, or eliminate one or the other, or both. The chocolate and cream cheese alone carry this delicious, easy-to-spread frosting that turned my simple brownies into something special. 

Jamoca Almond Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ teaspoon espresso powder
¼ teaspoon almond flavoring
½ cup cocoa (Hershey’s Special Dark recommended)
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk

In a large metal mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, almond flavoring, and espresso powder until thoroughly blended.  Blend in cocoa powder.  Sift confectioners’’ sugar over cream cheese mixture, add milk, and beat until combined.  Spread over brownies (or cake).  This recipe should thickly cover a 9 x 9 pan of brownies, or thinly cover a 9 x 13 pan.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Harvest Granola


The fall season is one of my favorite times of the year.  There is just something about the picking of apples, the drinking of cider, the big summer harvest that makes me feel all warm and cozy inside.  Or, perhaps it’s the shot of Apple Jack that I put in my cider, who knows?  At any rate, I thought it was time for a new granola recipe featuring fall fruits and seasonal spices.  Mr. O-P made a veritable pig of himself on this, so let me tell you, that is high praise indeed.  It is a delicious way to start your morning, is perfect alone with a drizzle of milk or cream, makes a flavorful crunchy topping to your regular bowl of cereal, can become an elegant dessert layered between pumpkin mousse or yogurt, or a reasonably healthy snack nibbled straight from the bowl. 

Harvest Granola

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup mixed nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut 
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey
1 3-oz. package Melissa’s Dried Apricots, cut in quarters
1/2cup dried apples, cut in quarters
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 11 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dried fruits; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer. Cool. This granola can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Petit Basque with Roasted Garlic, Shallots, and Gemelli

If one could acquire a degree in the art of making macaroni and cheese (yes, that's right, I said art), one would need to purchase and devour (if you'll pardon the pun) the new book by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. In this valuable tome, no stone is left unturned when it comes to learning about this American favorite, from the pasta base, the process of making the cheese, the wide varieties, those best suited for combining with pasta, helpful wine pairings, and some of the most unique mac and cheese recipes that I have ever encountered along with mouthwatering photographs of these novel dishes. Consider if you will, Roquefort Macaroni with Beets, Shallots, and Poppy Seeds; Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini; Soba Noodles with Parmesan and Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts, to name a few.

It is pretty to look at, informative, and unique. At first glance, it is overwhelming. Many of the pastas and cheeses (a good many of them only regionally available) are a bit obscure and not easily obtained by the average cook. Even in a city such as mine with a thriving Italian neighborhood and numerous Italian specialty markets, I was unable to find some of the pastas. A good many cheeses are unfamiliar as well, although a list of suggested substitutions appears at the end of each recipe, but even with various options I often came up empty. Many of the combinations are a bit odd, the addition of various fruits in pasta salads spring immediately to mind, as does a baked mac and cheese dish topped with raspberry jam.  But it is a book such as this one that encourages the experimentation that allows us to reap the greatest rewards in our culinary endeavors. Fruit in pasta salad is good!  It lightens, refreshes, and provides a hint of sweetness that brightens the dish.

The recipes are written in a form that is conversational. Something new can be learned in reading each one. If you thought that you knew macaroni and cheese, think again. But the value of a book such as this one is in its simplicity. Sandwiched in between some of the wilder concoctions are recipes for Tuna Noodle Casserole, a velvety Mornay Sauce that is spot on, a hearty Chicken Sausage Skillet casserole, a post-Thankgiving charmer called Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselets (individual pasta tarts baked in a muffin tin), and a soul soothing Gruyere and Emmentaler Macaroni with Ham and Cubed Sourdough. The recipe for Buffalo Chicken Macaroni with Buttermilk Bleu Cheese Sauce had my mouth watering; I'll be serving this for Super Bowl.

The appendices at the end of the book are ample and informative. Detailed information on both pasta and cheese will answer almost any question that may arise during reading. While I tried to be as authentic as possible when testing the recipes, it was good to know that when I couldn’t find Gemelli that fusili would do. Still have a question?  A website has been created to accompany the book. You can find it at:

Meanwhile, give this simple, but intensely flavorful pasta dish a try. Thumbs up all around from my camp.  Don't let the rather lengthy directions deter you from making it. I have divided it by steps. It is really quite easy to do.

Petit Basque with Roasted Garlic, Shallots,
and Gemelli

To roast garlic:
2 whole heads garlic
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Peel off most of the outer paper (skin) on garlic.  Using a sharp knife, trim 1/4" off of the top of the bulb.  Place garlic in a small ramekin and drizzle with olive oil.  Cover loosely with foil and roast for 1 hour until soft; cool. Squeeze it out of its skin and mash with a fork.

NOTE: I did this the day ahead of use and stored it in the refrigerator, with great results. Allow it to come to room temperature before making the dish.

To make shallots:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced shallots (1 large bulb)

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add shallots; cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.

Cook pasta:
8 oz. Gemelli (or other spiral pasta)

Cook according to package directions. Drain. Set aside.

To make Mornay Sauce and assemble pasta:
1-1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces Petit Basque cheese, shredded
1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh chives

Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat. When milk steams and bubbles form around the edge, turn off heat.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over a medium flame. Add flour, stirring with a flat wooden paddle until lightly brown, 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the warmed milk.  Cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  Stir in mashed garlic.  Add shallots and their cooking oil. Stir well. Remove from heat. Stir in salt and pepper. Add cheese, stir until melted. Fold in pasta.  Stir in chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional chives. Serve immediately.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book, prior to its publication, from NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Michael Lee West!

Long before I started a blog, I read them. There were three that I stumbled upon and read religiously, Michael's blog, Designs by Gollum (now Rattlebridge Farm), Susan's Between Naps on the Porch, and Mary's Home is Where the Boat Is.  I was in awe of these three women who wrote, photographed, cooked, gardened, and decorated.  I read these blogs every Tuesday and Wednesday from my hospital bed where I spent each week getting 48-hours of aggressive chemo infusions. When I wasn't reading blogs and mentally taking myself to a far better place, I was writing my bucket list. At the top of that list was to start a blog. It seemed doable and far easier than number seventeen on the list, Study for a hot air balloon pilot's license.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to these blogging women who are more than just words and pictures online, but real women more than willing to share what they know. When I was invited to join in on the celebration of Michael's milestone birthday, I panicked.  How on earth could I live up to the standards of such talented blogging women? But then I thought, in the past three years I have read every one of Michael's eight books, devoured them, if you will, taking a particular liking to Teeny Templeton (Teeny Templeton Mysteries) and Honora DeChavannes (Mermaids in the Basement), whose quote, I lacked the strength to host a parasite, much less a party applies to me more often than I care to admit.  Through the reading of her books, I learned a little something about finding my own voice.  So, I decided that, in celebration of her sixtieth birthday, I would not only honor the woman, but her books. 

Join me, will you, in a cup of tea, served from my treasured Mystery Writer's Teapot (in honor of Teeny and her mystery-solving skills), and sink your teeth into one of Michael's books. Literally.

Happy Birthday, Michael!   
May you have many more to come, we're counting on you!

About the cookies:  I learned to step out of my realm, and push myself beyond what I ever thought I could do through reading blogs. A couple of years ago I saw cookies made with edible paper and have always wanted to try this. The truth is, until now, I never had the nerve. I cook, and sometimes bake, but decorated cookies are something I generally know better than to tackle.  But knowing that I'd have to come up with something unique to celebrate Michael, I gave it a try. Michael, I do hope that you'll give me an A for effort. Obviously this was a bit too far out of my realm. Of course, a lot of the problem was my fault, and should not, in any way, deter you from trying these yourself. I should have made two batches of icing. One for outlining, the other to flow on. It was too stiff and did not flow at all, so I had to sand them down with a nail buffer. I should have checked my supply of piping bags BEFORE Michael's closed. I had to use a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag (after removing the celery, yes, I should have checked my supply of them too), to do the edging, that I punctured when I put the star tip in. Then the tip got clogged, I forced it, and the bag burst. Another lesson learned is to never wear your favorite tangerine linen shirt to pipe icing. Getting the picture?

The recipe (reprinted below for convenience) is from Martha Stewart. (It's delicious.) The edible book covers I custom ordered from Queen of Tarts (A lovely woman, who, I should mention, does not violate copyright with reckless abandon, I begged like a dog for these.).  You can find a great tutorial by someone who really knows what she’s doing here.  I bought the decorating tips and meringue power to make the royal icing from Michael's (appropriate, no?). The nerves of steel are my own. Oh, one more thing, a nearly new container of meringue powder is up for grabs, I am never doing this again!  But, like I said, this should not deter you.

In her Inspector Sloane mysteries, Catherine Aird wrote, If you can't be a good example, then you'll have to serve as a horrible warning.  I think I've done my part.

Martha Stewart’s Basic Sugar Cookies
Everyday Food, December 2003

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.