Quinoa Fruit Bars

This recipe is a make-over for quinoa, transforming the unglamorous side dish into a sweet and hearty dessert bar that doubles as a to-go breakfast or quick energy snack.  For those of you who have never tried or heard of quinoa, you are in for a treat.  For those of you who have only use quinoa as a side dish for your dinner, you are also in for a treat.  This nutritious grain is much more versatile than I originally thought.

Up until this point, I had only used quinoa, an ancient grain from the Andean highlands of South America revered by the Incas, as a quick grain option.  It’s very easy to cook and has a rich, nutty flavor.  It is one of my favorites. Then I rented from my local library The South American Table cookbook by Maria Baez Kijac.  This book is a collection of 450 recipes from South America, a culinary jewel often overlooked by cooks in the US who are generally more familiar with Mexican recipes.

I wanted to use quinoa in a different way other than relegating it to the side lines and figured that Peruvian or Bolivian cooking would guide and inspire.  After all, Peru and Bolivia were the geographic centers of the Incan empire where quinoa was the “mother of grain.”   I adapted this recipe slightly from a Quinoa Bars recipe in The South American Table by adjusting the spices moderately and taking out the anise seeds, since I don’t like licorice flavor.

Quinoa Fruit Bars uses quinoa like flour, making a “cake” that holds and binds the dried fruit and nuts.  Orange juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add an autumn holiday flavor.  These bars are moist and versatile.  Since quinoa has no gluten, these bars are an excellent gluten-free baked good option, just use rice flour instead of all purpose). Make variations of these bars by substituting other dried fruit or nuts.  Cut up the leftovers into ready-to-go bars for a quick breakfast or snack. Store at room temperature in covered Tupperware containers for 3-4 days.

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Quinoa Fruit Bars
adapted from The South American Table
makes 24 bars

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a cup of warm water for 15 minutes to plump them.

2.  Toast 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (or other nuts) in a small saute pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes.

3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add
2 cups water and
1 cup rinsed quinoa (See How to: Cook Quinoa for preparation instructions)
Cover the pot and cook 12-15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  The quinoa will be light and fluffy.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (for gluten-free use rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped dates (or dried apricots, cherries, etc.)
plus your toasted nuts and plumped raisins.

Mix these ingredients together.

5.  Add the quinoa to the dry ingredints.  Mix to combine.

6.  To the dry ingredients mix in the following:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh orange juice, and
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

7. Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 inch pan that’s been lightly coated with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Buen Provecho!

Double Tree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you’ve ever stayed at the Double Tree Hotel you’ve most likely been given a warm chocolate chip cookie as a welcome gift.  These cookies are so popular that they even have their own webpage (click here ) and countless attempts at copying their secret recipe.  So, what’s one more?

One secret of these cookies is to make them for a crowd.  Bring some in for your co-workers or your child’s little league team, or, if you are lucky like me, a group of drunken graduate students playing softball.  Works like a charm every time.

Printable Recipe: Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookies

All cookies (and cakes too) consist of dry ingredients and wet ingredients that you mix together to make the dough/batter.  I like to start with the dry ingredients because I’m superstitious.Yes, this is a giant bottle of cinnamon.  We like to do things in an extreme way in my house.Start by adding ¾ cup quick-cooking oatmeal to a food processor.  Quaker Oats are good, but if you are cheap like me, the generic works just as well.   Pulse the oatmeal 10-15 times until you get a fine looking consistency.  The oatmeal is really just a subtle aftertaste in the back of the cookie.  Only true foodies can taste this flavor hint.  Finely chopping the oatmeal in the food processor adds to the mystery taste because no one can actually see the oats.

Add the chopped oatmeal to a large mixing bowl.  Place a sifter over the edges and sift in 3 cups of all-purpose flour.Also put in 1 teaspoon EACH of baking soda, ground cinnamon, and salt.  Voila, dry ingredients done.  Set this aside so the flavors can mix.  Just kidding.  You really just want the bowl out of the way while you work on the wet ingredients.  Make sure to mix it all together.

Making these cookies I’ve had a few realizations.  One is that our kitchen appliances really don’t have that long of cords, especially the food processor and the stand mixer.  So, I fumbled my way around the kitchen appliances -all of which came from our wedding gift registry-did some quick rearranging and cord stretching.  I had to move the food processor completely out of the way for the mixer.  I must have accidently moved the switch to “on” because as soon as I plugged it in, the whisk attachment started making undulating circles in the air.  Ooophs, note to self: make sure things are off before you give them electricity.

Alright, we’re ready.  Careful of dogs that may lie close to your feet as you work.  In a stand mixer, cream together 3 sticks of butter.  This was all the butter we had in the house.  I don’t bake very often.  I also forgot to read the recipe all the way through and only set out 2 sticks this morning to soften up.  So, I took another one out, went to the grocery store to pick up chocolate chips, came back and the butter was ready.  It’s been pretty hot out here in CA (alright I won’t say the temperature because some people might get offended where it is really hot).

The butter got real soft, real fast.  Ick!As I was saying, cream together the butter and sugar.  As you see it, remind yourself that you’re giving away all of the cookies.  It’s the only way to justify using ALL THAT BUTTER.

You’ll fight with the butter because it’ll clump up in the middle of the whisk and along the edges of the mixer bowl.  A rubber spatula works wonders at beating the butter into its proper place.Next step, eggs.  Break 4 eggs into a separate bowl.  This way you can fish out any eggshells.  Of course if you’re awesome and you already know that, well, by all means, just break them one at a time into the mixer. People like me, read clumsy, need the extra caution of a separate bowl.  For people like me, there will always be eggshells to fish out.  What’s my secret?  After myriad attempts at trying to bring the shell piece up from the side and grabbing it, only to have it slip over my finger, I’ve learned another way.

Know thy enemy and take advantage of the fact that the shell is not moving at the bottom of the bowl.

Relax all your muscles in your face, take a deep breathe, then feel your way along the bottom of the bowl towards the piece of shell.  As soon as you feel its sharp edginess, push hard with all your might and slide it up the side of the bowl.  DO NOT PASS GO; DO NOT COLLECT $100; take that shell and send it directly to jail, your compost heap; it’ll do wonders.

Once the eggs are ready, dump them into the mixer one at a time.  Mix after each egg until incorporated.Add 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla.  It makes a beautiful brown swirl when you add it to the mixer.  Use your imagination; I didn’t get a picture.

Also add the juice of 1 lemon.  If you can understand my bad luck with eggshells, you can probably guess my luck at juicing a lemon.  This is why I use a citrus hand juicer.  If only all of life’s problems could be solved with a simple gadget.

All right.  On one side of the ring we have the wet ingredients, and on the other, the dry.  Everything about cookies comes down to dry and wet ingredients.  Now put it all together, and mix with a rubber spatula; the same one you used beating the butter into its place, no need for more dirty dishes.Once the dough is ready, gently mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts (or pecans, but this is not true Double Tree style, so accept the fact that if you’re using pecans you are tainting the purity of the recipe). Gently mix it all together to form your dough.  Cover the cookie dough with plastic wrap, stick it in the refrigerator, and forget about it.  At least for the night.  OK, at least for 12 hours; trust me on this.  Couldn’t do it?  Neither could I, so I took a leetle taste.  If you have issues eating raw cookie dough, don’t.  Kris and I snuck a spoonful each for dessert.

THE NEXT DAY…

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper or cooking spray.  We’ve had this parchment paper for years-it doesn’t go bad even though I don’t bake often. So, some people I know actually cut their parchment to the exact size of the cookie sheet.  I kinda like the wild quality of mine.  Can parchment paper be wild?  I also like to fold the edges under, but it usually rolls up on itself until I plop some cookie dough on it.

Speaking of plopping,12 plops.  That’s a good number, twelve.  Use an ice cream scoop or cookie scoop or just a heaping spoonful and drop the dough onto the parchment paper.  Make sure to leave space between the cookies; give ‘um room to spread.

What does it take for a girl to get a little help around here?Bake at 375 degrees for 13-14 minutes, until golden brown and tantalizing.  I made 36 cookies…I mean 35, one fell, yeah that’s what happened, honey.Enjoy with (drunken) friends.  Don’t forget the milk!

Kahlua Spiked Ice Cream Pie for The Rapture

I don’t know about you, but I’m riding out the Rapture in sin, and what better  way to do that than with alcohol, ice cream, and chocolate.

Saturday, May 21st, was the end of the world according to a local in my neck of the woods, the SF Bay Area.   To celebrate in our unique way, Kris and I threw an end of the world potluck BBQ.  We wanted to leave the world feasting, surrounded by friends.

I prepared this luscious ice cream pie, dripping with Kahlua flavor at each layer a day before the BBQ.  It has several freezing stages because of its 3 layers, so it is definately a make-ahead.

Delicious Decadence.  I can’t wait for the next apocalypse scare.

Forgive me, Lord.

Printable PDF: Kahlua Ice Cream Pie for the Rapture

Ingredients:
For Crust:
½ package of Oreo cookies
6 tablespoons of melted butter

For Kahlua Spiked Chocolate Sauce:
6 ounces semi sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
6 tablespoons Kahlua

For Kahlua Spiked Ice Cream Layers:
1 pint vanilla, plus 2 tablespoons Kahlua mixed in
1 pint Java chip (or other coffee ice cream), plus 2 tablespoons Kahlua mixed in

Procedure:

Start with 1/2 a package of Oreo cookies and 6 tablespoons of melted butter.Crumble the cookies in the food processor, and add butter.   Pulse until you get a glossy mixture that can be formed into a cookie crust.With your hands.Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Take out and cool completely.

In the meantime, make the Kahlua spiked chocolate sauce by halving 6 Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate squares.  They are conveniently 1 ounce each.Heat the chocolate, 1 teaspoon of instant coffee crystals, 6 tablespoons of Kahlua, and 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan until a thick sauce forms.  Set aside to cool.When it coats your spoon, it’s done.Spike your vanilla ice cream with 2 tablespoons of Kahlua.  Spread it along the cooled cookie crust in a single layer.  Freeze.

Spread the Kahlua-spike chocolate sauce in a layer on the vanilla.  Freeze until firm.  I hope yours comes out a little more elegant than mine.  Good thing there was a third layer to cover it up.

Spike up Java Chip ice cream with 2 more tablespoons of Kahlua, and place as a final third layer of Kahlua goodness.  Freeze until ready to serve.Hint: I had trouble cutting my ice cream pie crust.  I submerged the bottom of my pie pan in hot water until the water reached halfway up the sides.  This loosened the crust from the bottom of the dish making cutting and serving a little easier.

Coconut Custard Cupcakes

I made this recipe when I met Kris’ family in Nebraska for the first time, Christmas 2007.  I wanted to bring some Latin American treats for his mid-western relatives, plus I needed something gluten-free for his mom.  Not only is this dessert based off of my mom’s favorite ingredient, coconut, but now that we know she’s gluten intolerant, it makes the perfect dessert for Mother’s Day.

The first time I made this recipe, I used store bought shredded coconut which was fine.  This time around, freshly grated coconut made the thick custard even more hypnotizing. (Click here for How-to Make Freshly Grated Coconut) If you don’t have fresh coconuts, I sense your pain; you can use fresh canned coconut meat, or, if you have to, shredded coconut from the store.

I adapted this recipe from “Quindins de Yaya (Coconut Cupcake Dessert)” in The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.  I took out the flour to make it gluten-free and added flavor with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Printable PDF: Coconut Custard Cupcakes

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 8 egg yolks, 2 Tablespoons softened butter, 2 cups freshly grated coconut, and 1 egg white. (Not pictured ground cinnamon and nutmeg.)

Prepare a 24 mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.  Place the muffin tin inside of a baking pan with side high enough to act as a water bath for the custard.

Using a hand mixer, beat egg white until soft peaks form.  Set aside.Use a stand mixer to cream the butter and brown sugar.  Add coconut and mix well

Drop in egg yolks, ONE AT A TIME.  After each one, mix until incorporated.

Take bowl off of stand and fold in beaten egg white. Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 2 sprinkle-shakes of ground nutmeg.  Stir lightly to combine.Fill ¾ of each muffin space with custard.  Pour hot water into the baking pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the muffins.  This creates a water bath to cook the custard evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from water bath and cool.  Makes 24-30 mini cupcakes.


How to Make Freshly Grated Coconut

When I was in elementary school, we used to go to the San Jose flea market once a month.  My mom was a single mother, raising 2 young girls, working 50-60 hours a week to try to get ahead.  We’d buy hard-to-find tropical fruits and vegetables, and every time she would treat herself to a fresh coconut.

She walked around humming, sipping the coconut water out of a straw with a look of delight.  Afterwards, the fruit vendor hacked his machete, a harsh “thwack,” revealing the inside treasure, milk-white coconut meat.  He cut off the shell and put the meat pieces in a cup for her.  Immediately she turned giddy as if she were doing something behind her mother’s back.  I tried a bite each time, hoping for the same delight, but the gummy crunch never appealed to my tastes.

This Mother’s Day, I decided to make freshly grated coconut for  Coconut Custard Cupcakes.  I hope it brings my mom back to those stolen moments of pleasure she found drinking and eating a coconut in the midst of trying to raise 2 young girls on her own.

You can find coconuts at any Hispanic market, often Asian markets as well.  Remember coconuts have water and meat.  For grated coconut, you’ll just need the meat.

Printable PDF: How to Make Fresh Grated Coconut

Start with medium size coconuts, about the size of a ripe cantaloupe. Locate the 3 eyes of the coconut on the top.With a hammer and screwdriver, pierce 2 of the 3 eyes.  You will not need to go very deep, but you need to widen the holes by twisting the screwdriver in a circle.Drain the coconut water into a bowl.  (Drink it or store it or give it to your hard-working mom)Bake drained coconuts at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  Some stray strands will be browned.Place baked coconut on a hard surface (ex: concrete patio).  Take the hammer and lightly smash around the shell to break it in half.  Husbands like to do this.Use a butter knife to carefully take out the coconut meat from the shell.  It should come out in one bowl-shaped piece.Use a paring knife or a potato peeler to peel off the inner brown skin.Coarsely chop coconut and place in a food processor.Pulse until coconut is finely chopped.  You can add a tablespoon or so of the coconut water to help the grating.  Makes 2 cups.

To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sundae Sauce

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first,” said American writer Ernestine Ulmer.  I suppose writing about dessert before discussing the dinner is comparable.

As part of our 2011 New Year’s Resolution, Kris and I have agreed to host a dinner party feast once a month.  Of course we didn’t really start until our March going away dinner for Monica and Mattias, and we’ve only had 2 months of consistency, but every new goal needs a little wiggle room to become habit.

For April, the idea was to celebrate early spring using new fresh veggies that come out this time of year: asparagus, peas, spinach, arugula, and strawberries (alright, not a vegetable, but who’s keeping track?).

The menu:
Appetizers: Crostini with Pea Puree
Crostini with Beef and Balsamic
Goat’s milk triple creme brie cheese
Salad: Shaved Asparagus with Arugula and Toasted Almonds
Main Course: Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom Sauce
Wilted Spinach with raisins and pine nuts
Dessert: Make your own hot fudge sundae, recipe follows
Let’s not forget the flowing wine and beer throughout the evening as well.

Make your own hot fudge sundae was so much fun, so it’s clearly the best place to start.

To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sauce, expanded from Crescent Dragonwagon’s “The Very Best Hot fudge Sauce” in The Passionate Vegetarian.

Printable PDF recipe: To die for hot fudge sundae sauce

Ingredients:
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk (or soy milk, feeling indulgent? go with cream)
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (aim for 60% or higher cacao)
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (if you’re feeling adventurous, try a liqueur like Frangelico, amaretto, creme de menthe)

1.  SHAKE evaporated can of milk VERY WELL, to break up the solids.
2.  Create a cheap “double boiler” by placing a glass (or stainless steel) bowl over the edges of a simmering pot of water.
3.  Combine evaporated milk with chocolates, sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt in the glass bowl.  Let chocolates melt and mix from time to time.  Cook for about 5 minutes until all ingredients have dissolved into one another.
4.  When everything has combined into a sauce, cook for another 10 minutes and DO NOT stir.  The sauce will thicken and become very smooth.
5.  Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.  Then stir in the vanilla.
The sauce will last up to four months…if you can make it that long.

Hot fudge sundae toppings

Kris and I prepped various toppings: cut strawberries, toasted slivered almonds, chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups, chopped Skor toffee bars, and homemade hazelnut-spiked whipped cream.  Guests chose from either coffee or vanilla ice cream (most chose both, myself included).  And to top everything off, hot fudge sauce.

It’s funny how everyone’s personality came out in their finished sundae masterpieces.

My sundae was all messy and thrown together, zero structure.

My sundae, all messy and thrown together

Jocelyn was the only one brave enough to be photographed with her work of art.She made a very playful sundae.

Jocelyns playful sundae

Mike, her fiance, a software engineer, made a structural masterpiece.  Kris says it looks like the entrance to the Temple of Doom, and he made me write that, Mike.

Mikes structural masterpiece

Kris’ friend from back in the undergrad days, Loren, made a pure sundae, straight and to the point, letting the strawberries take center stage.

Lorens pure sundae

Loren’s fiance, Yvette, a chemical engineer, created a sundae with an efficient use of ingredients, hers was the best portion-controlled. Go Yvette!  Wish I could have said the same for mine.

Yvettes well-portioned sundae

Kris’ was of course, intense, full of as much as he could possibly fit in his bowl, while still maintaining structure.

Kris everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-then-some sundae

Everyone should be able to make a homemade hot fudge sauce.  It makes sundae making that much more fun.

It was still good the next day, when we used it as fondue for bananas and apples.

And it’s still delicious two weeks later when we use it to top a blackberry sundae.

Delicious blackberry sundae...two weeks later

Lemon Curd

What would you do if you had over 120 lemons freshly picked from your backyard tree?

Yes, my husband is known for his extremes, 20 lemons obviously was not enough, and he had to get 5 times as many as I would have.  So, yeah, we’re kind of overwhelmed with lemons here in NorCal.  Most of them Kris juiced and made 2 trays of lemon juice ice cubes, but there are still so many left.

So many lemons!!

Well, since we both left for a few days, upon returning, I noticed that many of them had started to grow mold, so I tossed out about 15 of them.  Throwing away some of them didn’t really make a dent in the amount, so I figured the only way to use them up would be a recipe requiring a lot of lemon juice.  Note to self (and Kris) let’s not harvest immediately before we go on trips.

Some friends of ours invited us for a Sunday Brunch, so I thought I’d try my hand at making lemon curd and bring some strawberries to accompany it.  This recipe comes from a Northern California Cookbook called California Fresh Harvest A Seasonal Journey Through Northern California by the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay, Inc. This book has recipes from a lot of famous California chefs, including Alice Waters, among others.  For my first try at a recipe from this book, Kris and I are vastly impressed, read it’s absolutely delicious.

Hints (from my mistakes): zest the lemons before you juice them and to help aid the straining process use a wooden spoon.

Ingredients:

Lemon Curd Ingredients

1 and 1/2 cup sugar; 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 10 of our small lemons); 1 stick of butter; zest of 6 lemons (hint: zest before you juice, otherwise you’ll make my stupid mistake); and 8 eggs (4 whole eggs, plus 4 yolks)

Step 1: Break 4 eggs into a bowl.  Then separate the other four.  Add only the yolks and save the egg whites for an omelet another day.

4 whole eggs plus 4 yolks

Step 2: Combine the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a medium saucepan.

Yum!!

Whisk to combine.

Add the lemon juice and whisk to combine.

Step 3:  Cook the eggs, zest, sugar, and juice over medium low heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent sugar from burning on the bottom of the pot.

Step 4: Once the mixture is warmed, never boiling or simmering, cut the butter into chunks and add to the pot.

Step 5: Continue to stir the curd, while it thickens.  You have to stir constantly to prevent burns on the bottom.  Once it’s able to coat the back of your wooden spoon, it’s ready.

Step 6: Strain the curd into a bowl.  It’s thick and the zest will clog up the bottom, so lightly move a wooden spoon in the strainer to speed up this process, or you could just stand there for 1/2 hour while gravity does it for you.

Straining gets rid of all the zest and thick chunks because we want light luscious lemon curd that’s smooth and silky.

Thanks for the flavor, but that's all we need you for

Step 7: Place your bowl inside a larger bowl containing an ice bath.  This will help quicken the cooling process.  Oophs…I forgot the picture, but in the above one you can kinda see my bowl within a bowl set up.  Just be careful not to get water into your beautiful, smooth lemon curd.  When it is lukewarm, place plastic wrap over the curd (to prevent a yucky film from forming on top) and place in the fridge until you need it.  The curd will thicken in the fridge as it continues to cool, and you’ll be left with what looks like a lemon pudding that tastes so tangy and sweet at the same time.

Here’s how we ate it the next morning.  Kris made waffle-cakes (we don’t have a waffle maker since ours broke from overuse), I put lemon curd and fresh cut, first harvest strawberries on top.  I love weekend breakfasts!

Other uses for lemon curd: eat it plain with fruit, place it in a tart and cover with fruit, fill a pie crust with it and add meringue on top or fresh whipping cream, put it between layer cake, the possibilities are endless.

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Emita is the kind of friend that the second you see each other again, it’s like it was yesterday, except it’s been really almost a year since you both live on opposite sides of the country.   Such is the reality of the mobile generation I belong to.

I met Emily while studying in Chile for the year.  We were both finishing our last years of college and enjoying a state of non-responsibility abroad, truly one of the best experiences for any college student.  I loved it so much, I studied abroad twice because I couldn’t get enough.

Em came out to California around Christmas to visit friends here in Nor Cal and family in So Cal.  Kris and I were very excited to show her our house, and I wanted to bake something with her.  I have realized that one way to make our house into a home is to create memories of cooking and eating with friends.  Not only that, but in my quest to join the farm to table movement, I wanted to use ingredients from our own yard.  I had many stories to tell her of my meager attempts to utilize our edible landscape.

Emita’s visit in December inspired me to try my first recipe using our persimmons.  It comes from David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes that I procured from epicurious.com.  Since it was a baking recipe and my first time using persimmons, I was very faithful to his protocol, adding in only a few extra spices to experiment and make the recipe a teensy bit mine.  I also added extra lemon flavor to the cream cheese frosting.  We used lemons from our tree, and the taste exploded on your tongue. Although there is a large amount of persimmon puree, the persimmon taste is very mellow.  It was a good thing that Emily left with half of the cake because it would not have lasted long in our house, and I’m a much faster eater than Kris is.

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake; 12-16 servings

Cake Ingredients:
¾ cup raisins
½ cup brandy or whisky
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pod (optional, but fun if you have some laying around)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups persimmon puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Icing
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (depends on lemon taste preference)
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
4 or 5 teaspoons water

1.     Preheat oven to 350° F.  Coat a 10 cup Bundt cake pan with cooking spray.

2.     In a small saucepan, bring the whisky or bourbon, raisins, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pod to a soft simmer for about 5 minutes.  You want most of the liquid to soak up into the raisins, but not all of it.  Discard the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pod.  DON’T strain it, you risk losing the infused alcohol.

3.     In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients to combine: flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir in the sugar.

4.     In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients: butter, persimmon puree, eggs, and vanilla.

5.     Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Gently stir.  Fold in the raisins, their liquid, and the nuts.  Mix until everything is just put together, maybe even less, you don’t want to over mix, only until things are roughly combined.

6.     Scrape every last bit of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.  Remove from the oven, and let cool.  Once it’s cooled, flip the cake onto a serving plate.

7.     Make the icing: in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla and lemon juice.  Gradually add the powdered sugar a little at a time.  After each addition of powdered sugar, beat until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 teaspoon of water at a time until the icing has thick liquid consistency.  How much you add depends on amount of lemon juice used. Pour on top of the cake and let it run messily along the sides and crevices.

Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies: the recipe

There’s a great story that goes along with these cookies.

This recipe comes courtesy of Ms. Crescent Dragonwagon‘s book, The Passionate Vegetarian, a book that has completely transformed my life.  Think of this recipe in stages: melt Chocolate Round #1; create “the caress,” the wet ingredients; prepare the dry ingredients/Chocolate Round #2; combine wet and dry ingredients; mix in nuts and Chocolate Round #3.

Ingredients
4 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 vegetable shortening, like Crisco
2 large eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee crystals (Dragonwagon recommends decaf, but we always use regular)
1 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened American-style cocoa powder (NOT Dutch processed)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate chips (we use Ghiradelli)
6-8 ounces pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped (I prefer pecans)
Parchment Paper for baking stones

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.  When the oven is hot, toast pecans on a baking sheet for about 8-10 minutes.  Chop up the nuts with a mortar and pestle or a knife.
3.  Prepare 2 baking stones with parchment paper and set aside.
4.  Chocolate Round #1: In a small saucepan, combine semi-sweet or dark chocolate, butter, and shortening.  Stir occasionally until all ingredients melt uniformly.  Cool to room temperature.
5.  The Caress (AKA the wet ingredients): While the chocolate and butter/shortening melt, beat the eggs and both sugars at medium high speed with an electric mixer for 5-7 minutes.
6.  In a small bowl, stir the instant coffee in the boiling water until fully dissolved.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add to the egg/sugar mixture.  Also add the cooled melted chocolate/butter/shortening to the mixer.  Beat for 2-4 minutes.

7.  Chocolate Round #2 (AKA the dry ingredients): In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together: flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, salt.  Whisk to combine.

8.  Add the wet ingredients from the mixer to your dry ingredients.  Make sure to use a rubber spatula to get every last drop of wet ingredients.  Combine with a wooden spoon until a dough forms.
9.  Chocolate Round #3: Add toasted pecans and chocolate chips.  Stir lightly to combine.  Don’t over stir the dough, when it looks “just barely” combined you’re good.

10.  Using a spoon, drop cookie dough onto the parchment covered baking stones.  Press the form into a circle, the cookies do not expand; the shape you put in is the shape you will take out of the oven.  We fit about 20 on 1 baking stone.
11.  Bake 12.5 to 13 minutes, slide off the parchment, and cool the cookies on wire racks.  Enjoy with milk…you’ll need it.

This recipe according to Ms. Dragonwagon makes 33 small cookies.  We doubled the recipe and got about 80 cookies.