How do YOU say “thank you” to someone? Or “happy birthday”? Maybe you want a little special something to present your favorite hostess the next time you’re invited to her celebration. I consider a bottle of wine a somewhat thoughtless gesture. I mean really, all you’re doing is reaching into your wine stash and grabbing the bottle you were planning on drinking that night. And that exquisitely slim, leather-bound volume of poems you love is a real shot in the dark and, I don’t know about you, but the only flowers I can afford are the grocery store variety and, quite frankly, if I don’t want them in my house I certainly wouldn’t take them over to yours! But a gift of chocolate is always, always welcome. These nubby little nuggets of flavor are soooo easy to make, easy on the wallet and easy to pop in your mouth. I started making them to give away back in the ’70’s and they’ve been a hit every time I’ve shared them. The beauty of Chocolate Truffles is they can be made with or without liquor. And just about any kind of liquor is a magnificent addition. I’ve used Bailey’s, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Amaretto, Chambord, Metaxa even dark rum. It’s all good. Except maybe Jaegermeister. Although it may taste good…I’ve never tried it. I just don’t think something that tastes like cough syrup would marry well with rich, dark chocolate. The recipe doesn’t call for a large quantity of chocolate so make certain you’re using the best quality you can find. The truffles do need to be refrigerated and are best served after sitting out for 15 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!
any of the following to roll the truffles in: unsweetened cocoa, confectioners sugar, toasted, finely chopped pecans, toffee bits, coconut, chocolate flakes, sugar sprinkles
In a small, heavy pot boil the cream until it has reduced to 2 tablespoons.
Remove from the heat and stir in the liquor, if using, and the chocolate. Stir well until the chocolate has completely melted. Return to low heat if necessary continuing to stir.
Stir in the butter, mixing until completely smooth.
Pour into a shallow container, cover and chill in the refrigerator 30-40 minutes or until firm.
With a small melon baller, scoop out 1″ portions and shape into balls with your fingers. You can also cut out 1″ portions with a small knife. I like the balls roughly shaped as they look better than perfect spheres.
Roll the balls in cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar or any ingredient you wish.
Cover truffles and store in the refrigerator.
Allow to sit out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
This is the cake of your childhood. This is the cake the sweet cafeteria ladies served you in grade school. I went to East Side School, as did all my childhood friends, and I positively loved it. Five minutes away from our house, East Side was our neighborhood public school. Mint green in color, the stucco two-storied building was connected by open air hallways so, although we didn’t have air conditioning, we could always enjoy our tropical breezes. Our playground was carpeted by thick, emerald-green grass and seemed immense to us. Dotted through the campus were mammoth ficus and banyan trees, perfect for shady rests after rousing games of “dodge ball” and “red rover”. The cafeteria was set away from the school connected by a lengthy open-air breezeway. I remember walking single-file in the heat of the day for lunch. Everyone bought. I don’t think I know of one child who brought his lunch. And we ALL had our favorite lunches. My older sister, Cynthia, loved fish sticks, always served on Fridays. I enjoyed them as well except the cafeteria ladies only gave you two and I was always left hungry. She also mentioned, as all the food was made from scratch and hand-made, they made a mean meatloaf and their mashed potatoes were the stuff dreams are made of. I called my best friends, Dana and Andrea, to find out what their best-loved meals were at East Side. Dana and Andrea both called me right back and it turns out we all have the same fave…spaghetti! It had such flavor; something we never, ever had at home. Dana’s little sister, Dawn, LOVED the tater tots. She also reminded me the absolute worst to eat was the spinach and pointed out we always seemed to have it after the grass was cut. To quote her, “Yuck!” But what we all agreed was the best was the selection of desserts, again all made from scratch and by hand. Thick, creamy chocolate pudding was scooped out of enormous bowls. Generous wedges of apple pie were cut. But the best had to be the chocolate cake squares with peanut butter on top. Oh man. The icing and peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth while the cake melted in your mouth, all washed down with a healthy gulp of cold milk. Heaven on earth and all for a whopping 35¢!
This is the Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake of your childhood. It is beyond sublime and puts all those fancy-dancy, beet for color, salted, chocolate with ancho chile, corn flake and beer creations to shame! This cake is simple, straightforward and ain’t nothin’ hoity-toity about it. I suggest using only regular, store-bought peanut butter like Skippy or Jiffy. A more “natural” or organic, grind your own butter is flat and bland tasting. The only change I made is I added two teaspoons of vanilla extract to the cake instead of one and also to the chocolate icing but only because I love vanilla. This recipe comes directly from a pulled out page of an old Southern Living magazine. The paper is stained and water marked. The article is titled “Make Mine Chocolate” and I treasure this recipe in the short collection. So thanks, Marian T. Talley from Huntsville, Alabama who contributed the recipe for this cake. You have a fan in Fort Lauderdale.
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, stir in cocoa. Add water, buttermilk and eggs, stirring well.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils. Remove from heat; add to flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13X9-inch baking pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Carefully spread peanut butter over warm cake. Cool completely.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring first three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pour over powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Yield: 2 1/2 cups
Summer’s here. We’ve put down our bourbons, pulled out the tequila and now our blenders are humming happily on our kitchen counter and poolside in our tiki huts. Sunday nights find us with sunburned shoulders making lunches and gearing up to answer the 412 emails waiting for us at the office. I’m already thinking, heck, dreaming of the weekend ahead. I want pool time with my family and early morning workouts where I can marvel at creamy magnolias and gardenias with their thick, glossy leaves, brilliant bougainvillea and tropical orchids seemingly growing out of palm trees.
And although my clothes are sodden with perspiration 15 seconds into the workout, the damp sheen on my skin gives me perverse pleasure. I want plenty of local fish and vegetables on the grill, the soft “plop-plop” of flip-flops slapping my floors. Weekdays I take advantage of two major sales at our grocery stores… mangoes and Haas avocados are in season and dirt cheap. In this house, avocados are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sliced and on the side, in salads, stuffed or made into guac, we love ’em. Mangoes, too. In salads, blender drinks or salsas, but especially in this summer favorite… warm Mango Coconut Upside Down Cake served with vanilla ice cream slowly puddling in the bowl.
My family loves this cake. Loves it. I’ve had to bake it three times for this post as the first two times the cake was eaten before I had a chance to take some pics. My boys had had a couple of long, stressful days and this was their reward for persevering. I added a bit of good rum to the butter brown sugar which intensified the caramel overtones and depth of the syrup. The alcohol burns off but know the rum is optional. The recipe calls for creamed coconut, a product found in the international aisle of your grocery store. The texture of the creamed coconut is that of hard wax. When ready to use, it is melted stove top with the coconut milk. Creamed coconut is unsweetened, has tee-tiny bits of coconut meat and adds a richness to foods that is unparalleled. I keep a box or two in my pantry and boost the flavor of soups and curries with it. Within the small box, the creamed coconut is in a cryovac bag so it keeps fresh for a good amount of time. You won’t really notice a coconut taste in the cake but rather a creamy, richness.
This Mango Upside Down Cake shines with a fat dollop of freshly whipped cream atop or a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream speckled with vanilla beans. I have found, though, that this cake is at it’s best when served warm. If it is baked in a 10″ skillet, the pan must have at least 3″ sides to avoid spill over. A nonstick pan is fine, however, I don’t recommend cast iron as the rum and/or mangos may react to the metal.
12 tablespoons butter, divided – 8 to melt, 4 softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons dark rum, optional
4 large ripe mangos, peeled and sliced, pulp and juices reserved
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 6-ounce box creamed coconut
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour, all-purpose will do to avoid a trip to the store
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
To a 10″-12″ skillet add 8 tablespoons of butter and melt on medium heat.
Add the brown sugar and rum, if using, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Cover the bottom of the pan with the mango slices, filling in any gaps with small pieces of mango. Layer the mango until all is used except 1/2 cup of small pieces, pulp and juice. Set that 1/2 cup aside.
In the microwave or stove top, heat the coconut milk with the creamed coconut and stir until the creamed coconut has melted. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl add the reserved 4 tablespoons of softened butter with the granulated sugar and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy and well incorporated.
Add the reserved mango pulp and juice and mix well.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the cooled milk and coconut mixture as well as the vanilla and mix well.
In a separate medium size bowl add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix.
Add the flour mixture to the coconut-mango mixture and gently mix BY HAND until there are no flour streaks and all is incorporated. Try not to over beat the cake.
Pour the cake batter over the arranged mango slices in the skillet, covering all the fruit and smooth the top of the batter.
Bake 40-50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack 20-30 minutes.
Invert on a platter, replacing any mango slices still in pan back onto cake and serve warm with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
How many times is a kindness extended to you and a grateful “thank you!” just isn’t quite enough? I don’t know about you but it happens to me quite often. From your manicurist who graciously fits you in for that emergency mani when she clearly doesn’t have the time to the seamstress at your dry cleaner who will have your LBD back to you altered and pressed in time for the funeral your weight gain didn’t take into consideration. These acts of generosity are evident time and again in my day-to-day life and in the lives of my loved ones. My 93-year-old father has a whole support group who work at Publix and make the quality of his life much better from engaging him in conversation to helping him choose the most nutritious almond milk. Kesha and David can’t replace my mother but their attentions make him feel valued and respected. I can certainly tip the skycap who didn’t charge me when my suitcase was four pounds over last week but I don’t have the money to do that for someone I deal with on a weekly basis. That’s when I put together a pretty bag of goodies. Here in Boston a certain dental office bent over backwards to take care of us during a little “cosmetic” emergency. I wanted to say thank you not only to the dentist who saved the day but also to his staff who got us in ASAP and treated us with the utmost warmth and concern. I thought most definitely wine for the kind doctor and how about a sweet treat for the wonderful ladies at the front desk? Our apartment is fabulous but I am really limited as to cooking and baking tools. I brought my knives and sharpener from home and picked up a few essentials on Newbury Street…bowls, spatulas etc. I always set aside an empty wine bottle in the kitchen in the event I need a rolling-pin. But I don’t have a food processor or hand mixer. I decided on biscotti since I don’t need any special equipment, they’re easy to prepare and travel well. Dunk them in coffee or vin santo. Grab one for breakfast or a snack on the fly. This recipe produces a firm biscotti but not one that will break a tooth. They seem a bit soft when taken out of the oven for the final cooling but will harden sufficiently by the time they’re completely cool. Enjoy them and thank you!
1 tablespoon dried EDIBLE lavender flowers, rough chop optional
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
8 ounces white chocolate
In a large bowl combine lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter, lemon and vanilla extracts and eggs. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
In a separate bowl mix flour, lavender, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to lemon-egg mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut dough into equal halves and spray a little non-stick pan spray on hands to keep dough from sticking.
Form dough into rectangular logs measuring roughly 11 X 4 X 1. Smooth tops and sides.
Bake 25 minutes and cool on racks for 10-15 minutes.
With a bread knife or serrated knife cut logs on the diagonal about 1 1/2″ thick.
Reduce heat to 325°, place cookies cut side up back on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 5 minutes.
Turn over cookies baking the other cut side 5 more minutes.
Cool on wire racks. Cookies will seem soft when just out of oven but will firm up as they cool.
Melt white chocolate over double boiler. When chocolate has almost but not quite melted completely drizzle over cookies or dip in one end of each cookie. Or dip one cut side. Place on parchment paper to set. If white chocolate cools and thickens while working with it place back in double boiler and stir until warm and easy to work with.
In the days before Easter Mama always prepared one of her two signature dishes, flan. Hers was always beyond perfection. There were never any offensive bubble holes and, without fail, a generous amount of caramelized syrup. I’ve told y’all before…that woman could.not.cook. Dinners were a consistent disaster, everything was burned to a charcoal briquet level on one side. Her solution to that problem? Serve the dinner burn side down and no one will ever know. That, coupled with the fact that my little sister Pamela knocked her glass of milk over just about every night, made for stressful dinners round our dining room table. Mama just wasn’t into eating or cooking and assumed everyone else felt the same way. But her Sunday roasts and flans were spectacular triumphs. The dessert was always the traditional egg, milk and vanilla flan, her mother’s recipe. In recent years many have ventured into additional flavors such as mango, coconut, guava and other Caribbean tastes. Mama stuck with what she knew. I find a guava cream cheese flan is easier due to the changed instructions. For my mother’s traditional version the eggs are beaten until smooth but as lightly as possible so as not to create unsightly holes when the custard is baked. Whereas a flan with cream cheese can be made in a food processor or blender. The addition of the fruit and cream cheese produces a dessert much denser, almost a cheesecake in texture, and no holes. It’s rich and creamy, just perfect for a holiday. The fact that it needs serious chilling time in the refrigerator makes for a splendid do-ahead last course.
To a food processor or blender, I think the blender works best, add 1 cup sugar, milk, cream cheese and guava paste. Blend until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and pulse until the eggs are completely broken up and incorporated into the cream cheese mixture.
Heat 1 cup of sugar in 10″ round cake pan melting slowly over medium heat. Do not stir as that will create sugar crystals and you want a smooth syrup. Gently swirl the melted sugar, covering the bottom and sides, until the syrup turns a golden brown.
Place round cake pan in a bain marie, a bain marie being a pan with hot water for slow, even cooking. The water in the bain marie should come up about 3/4 of the side of the cake pan.
Bake for about 50 minutes then remove from oven. Cool in bain marie. The flan will continue cooking in the hot water.
When completely cool remove cake pan from water, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. I chill mine overnight and often a couple of days in advance of serving.
When ready to serve have a serving dish or platter with a good-sized lip to catch the syrup that WILL come flying out. Holding the flan with one hand use the other hand to firmly rap the sides of the custard loosening it. You’ll see the flan come away from the sides of the baking pan. Cover the top of the flan with the platter and over your sink QUICKLY invert the custard. The flan should flop right onto the platter followed by the syrup. If you’re not accustomed to doing this, the transfer from baking pan to serving platter can be done hours in advance when you’re not pressed for time and no one is watching. Cover the flan with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator to stay cool until ready to serve.