Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Summer Excursions and Food

So I just spent the last 3 weekends away from home. After all, it is summertime and it is time to play.
I also spent many hours preparing food for all three excusions since I love to feed people.

The first trip was to Bethel Island where my husband and I spent two nights in a motor home. That was a fun experience and it beats staying in a tent any day. We went boating with our good friends Kevin and Donna and their grandson Jamison. It was a blast.
 I brought my decadent Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Cheesecake to celebrate my girlfriend Kathi's 50th birthday. It is her favorite and was enjoyed by everyone. This recipe is a crowd favorite and feeds a large crowd if you slice it thinly. After all, it is very decadent. It is the perfect end to a perfect meal with friends and enjoyed best with a cup of strong coffee.

Here is the recipe:

Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
4 tbsp             butter, melted
1 cup               graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp             granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp          ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients and press into the bottom of an 8" or 9" springform pan.  Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

5   8oz pkgs    cream cheese
1 3/4 cup         granulated sugar
1 tsp.               lemon zest
1/2 tsp.           vanilla
Pinch              salt
4 or 5            large eggs = 1 cup
2                   egg yolks
1/4C             whipping cream

1. Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until soft and well-blended.  Add zest, vanilla and salt and blend again.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended.    Fold in cream.
Put into a spring form pan on a sheet pan in the center of a preheated 450 degree oven for 12 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for 1 hour more. Cheesecake will pull away from sides of pan when cooling and crack in the center. It is ok since you will be topping with the dk choc ganache when cool.
Ganache Topping:
1 cup                 cream
1 tsp                  vanilla
1/2 tsp.              coffee extract
1 C                   dk chocolate 52%  (like Cacao Barry)
1 T.                   corn syrup

Heat cream in a med size stock pot until almost boiling. Take off heat and add chopped chocolate,corn syrup, vanilla and coffee extract. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside to cool.
When cool, top cheesecake with ganache. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove sides of pan and bottom before slicing. Can be frozen for up to 1 month.

     The next excursion was in Tahoe with 22 members of my husbands family. We stayed in the same house like we do every summer and we shared meals, stories and adventures. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed being with the neices and nephews and their babies.
I made a BBQ pulled pork, a turkey ragu w/ spaghetti, chicken enchilada's, Spanish rice and magic cookie bars for the occasion. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect vacation. Here is the recipe for the magic cookie bars:

 Magic Cookie Bars


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Use a 13 by 9 glass baking dish.

Take 2 packages of graham crackers and crush them in a food processor and 1 stick of butter or margarine melted and mix. Spread mixture into a 13x9 baking dish. Place 1 Cup shredded or flaked coconut onto crust. Sprinkle 10 oz or more of semi sweet chocolate chips over coconut. Sprinkle @ 3/4 C. chopped walnuts over chips. Pour 2 cans of sweetened and condensed milk (not evaporated!) over entire pan.

Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until brown.

Cool and cut into squares.


Last weekend, my Aunt Teri and my mother in law Nilda and I headed north to the Point Arena Coast to visit the relatives. My aunt and I stayed at the Coast Guard House and had a quiet and relaxing time together visiting the local shops and going to the famous Point Arena Lighthouse. My aunt loves history and was excited to find a local book on the area that she could bring back to cherish forever.
We also had an unexpected visitor surprise us with his presence. We didn't expect to see a tiny green frog crawl out onto our window sill, but it was something to do since we didn't have cable tv. Next thing we knew, he was devouring his dinner right before our eyes! My aunt and I must have been tired because we couldn't stop giggling during the frog incident. I haven't laughed that hard in years!

I prepared a ragu bolognese with polenta, a roasted cauliflower and split pea soup, raviolis with Armenini's pesto, chocolate cream puffs, and candied ginger banana bread. Yum! The 93 year old aunt and uncle enjoyed the homemade meals and loved having their niece Nilda there to share stories about the good old days.

I'm back at home now planning the next great summer excursion to go on. I'm excited to cook again. What should I make next time?


Let's Celebrate the Heirloom Tomato!

                                          Photo: Heirloom tomatoes for dinner again. Yum!
     This year I shopped and planted by tomato garden in in early April. I attended the Master Gardener's tomato sale in Walnut Creek with my mom and her fiance. I picked up around 14 plants of all new and different varieties.  Staying away from Better Boy, Ace, and Early Girl my tried and true favorites, I purchased  Hearts of Passion, Cherokee Purple, Candystripe, and Black Zebra along with many others.

     A few plants were given away as an Easter gift for those favorite people who I knew would appreciate them. Some plants didn't flourish in my well prepared organic soil, but that was okay since I had so many others to rely on.

     The weather in the East Bay rained a lot and the tomato plants didn't start developing fruit until mid to late July. They typically like hot days and warm nights before the fruit becomes ripe. I also noticed that the heirloom varieties don't produce as many tomatoes, but the ones that do grow become very large and juicy.

     In any case, it was fun to see organic eats come from my garden to my table.
I am happy and always surprised to find a tomato hiding in the center of the bush, only to be plucked quickly off  and sometimes eaten the moment it is picked. So delicious!

     This recipe is extremely simple. It's not the same old Caprese Salad that you see everywhere.
You will need:

1 jar of pesto (I like La Romanella found at Smart and Final)
1 container of mozarella in water sliced
4 or 5 heirloom tomatoes of various colors sliced thick
Salt and pepper to taste

Place sliced tomatoes on a large serving platter. Arrange mozarella around tomatoes and drizzle the pesto onto the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Serves 6


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Honey makes Chocolate Chip Cookies taste even better!



Most people love the taste of honey. I am not a huge fan. Whenever I had a cough, my mom would give me a huge tablespoon of honey. It was supposed to help calm my cough. It probably worked and that is why she always gave it to us kids when we were sick.

I dislike the taste, but I do use it to flavor my tea occasionally. Mrs. Miller, my ex mother-in law was a fabulous cook and always used a tablespoon of honey in her chocolate chip cookie recipe to make her  cookies more moist. It is a great tip for us cookie lovers.

I fell in love with chocolate chip cookies when I was a girl. We lived in a quiet neighborhood in Concord near a chef and caterer. This chef always had cookies stored in a Tupperware container in her outside freezer. Sometimes, she would ask me to take care of her house while on vacation. I couldn't resist taking a cookie or two from the freezer for my efforts. It was the perfect looking cookie. The chocolate chips were placed ever so carefully on each cookie before they were baked. They tasted amazing. They were so rich and chewy and chocolatey. She must have noticed a few cookies missing, but never said a word to me about it. I was ever so happy each time she left for a trip.

My absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe was shared with me while at my friends house. Donna made these cookies for me over 20 years ago while we were studying for a microbiology class and I still make them for my family and friends. They have oatmeal, coconut, walnuts and chocolate in them, so you feel like you are getting a little nutrition in your cookie. You won't ever go back to baking a plain chocolate chip cookie after you taste this cookie. I have added a little honey in the recipe to sweeten things up a bit.
Donna’s Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Crunchies

1 C.  butter or margarine
¾ C. Brown sugar
¾ C granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ C. sifted flour
1 teas soda
1 teas salt
1 teas vanilla
1 teas hot water or coffee
1 C chopped walnuts
12 oz choc chips
2 C. Oatmeal
1 C shredded  or flaked coconut
1 Tablespoon  of honey

Blend butter w/ sugars until thoroughly combined. Add eggs one at a time, honey, then vanilla and scrape bowl often. Sift flour w/ soda and salt and incorporate into batter. Alternately, add hot water, oatmeal, chips, and walnuts and blend just until well incorporated.
Scoop batter into balls and press gently to flatten w/ powdered sugar hand.
Bake @ 350 degrees for  9-11 minutes (depending on the size of the scoop) until golden brown.