Sunday, June 29, 2014

and the winner of the cookbook is...

As promised, today I'm announcing the winner of the cookbook giveaway of a cookbook full of recipes for key lime pie, which features my photo on the cover.

Congratulations to Dina, writer of Hunting for the Very Best!  You'll be receiving a signed copy of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook by David L. Sloan.  I hope you enjoy the cookbook, and thank you so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment!

P.S.  Dina, please e-mail me your address so I can send you your cookbook! :)

One Year AgoPotato Salad with Bleu Cheese and Crispy Prosciutto
Two Years AgoStrawberry Rhubarb Spiced Chai Tea Bread
Three Years AgoMediterranean Vegetable Platter

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Perfect Fudge Brownies

When I have shared my brownie recipes on here before, it's usually been "S'mores Brownies" or "Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies", but I've been wanting to share just the basic recipe for what I think are perfect fudge brownies.  These are the starting point for all of my brownie creations and flavor variations now.

After much tweaking and brownie experimentation, this recipe has become the only brownie recipe I use anymore.  And when my sister made them, she agreed that they are the last brownie recipe she will ever need.

What makes them perfect, in my opinion, is that they are so intensely dark, chocolatey and fudgey.  With no leavening in the batter other than the eggs, they puff up slightly while baking, and then flatten down again while cooling, resulting in a dense, rich and incredibly moist brownie.

I've never been one to prefer the brownie crust over the gooey center, so I would never bother with one of those "crust only" pans.  I like every part of the brownie and the textural differences between the chewy crust and the moist center are what makes a brownie so wonderful.

The espresso powder is my favorite secret ingredient for chocolate, and if you've never used it before, I think you will love the way it enhances the flavor of the chocolate.

Equally wonderful are bittersweet chocolate chips.  After the brownies cool, the chocolate chips firm back up and add a lovely texture.

And while the plain brownies are pretty perfect, I love to add other flavors to the brownies with frosting, such as cappuccino or peanut butter buttercream.  For the sake of sharing just a simple recipe with you, though, I garnished these with pretty powdered sugar polka dots.

One Year AgoLobster Anniversary Dinner
Two Years AgoSavory Muffins with Bacon, Egg, Cheese and Potato
Three Years AgoApple Date Vanilla Bean Sauce

Perfect Fudge Brownies

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Hershey's "Special Dark")
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Baker's Note:  For a bigger batch, double the recipe and bake in a 9x13 pan.

Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a square 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over two sides.  Spray with non-stick spray.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir in the chocolate chips and sugar and stir until melted and smooth; remove from the heat.  Stir in the cocoa powder, salt, espresso powder and vanilla.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined, then stir in the flour just until moistened.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes; the top will be slightly puffed.

Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting or spreading with frosting.  For easy removal from the pan, lift the parchment paper by the overhang to remove the brownies from the pan, set on a cutting board and cut into squares.

Yields 9-12 brownies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Coconut Crunch Key Lime Pie and a Key Lime Pie Cookbook Giveaway

Today I have some thrilling news to share with you all.  See this cookbook?  No, it's not my cookbook, but that is my photo on the cover!

A little over four months ago, a publisher contacted me about my photos of key lime pie cupcakes and tartlets, to inquire about licensing one of the photos for the cover of a cookbook about Key lime pieImagine my excitement to receive a package in the mail with two beautiful cookbooks, signed by the author, one of which I will be giving away to one of you (giveaway rules are at the end of this blog post).

Other than the title of the cookbook, I knew very little about the project, so the book itself was a complete surprise to me.  I'm usually drawn to lots of close-up color photos of desserts, but although the only color photo is on the cover itself, the cookbook is sprinkled throughout with black and white vintage advertisements, recipes and photos to illustrate the interesting history of Key limes in Key West, Florida.

You all know my fondness for vintage items, and I loved looking at the old photos and reading through the history of how Key limes and Key lime pie originated.  And the cookbook arrived just in time for summer, because I love creamy, light tart desserts like this when it's so warm outside and I don't want to overheat the kitchen with hours of baking.

What I love about the cookbook is how much variety there is.  While I can appreciate a classic recipe from a purist point of view, I have no misgivings about trying new, even unusual, flavor combinations with favorite recipes, something I do with my cakes all the time.

Over 20 pages are devoted just to crusts, with so much more than just a traditional graham cracker crust.  Recipes called "Cinnamon Sin", "S'more to Adore", "Double Rum Yum" and "No Mistakin' Bacon" crusts had me changing my my mind over and over as to which one I wanted to try first.

And then the fillings - "Mango Tango", "Chocolate Chip Charm" and "Fleming Street Flamer" are just a few of the recipes offered with tempting variations of richer or lighter fillings, and even ones with special dietary considerations such as vegan or gluten free.

Surprisingly, there is even a section on sauces, which I would never have thought of, but why not?  Sauces make everything better, and a piece of Key lime pie with creme anglaise, raspberry, chocolate or whiskey butter sauce would just be decadently delicious.

Another section covers toppings, with so many suggestions of flavorings to add to your whipped cream or meringue toppings, such as eggnog, caramel, cocoa or almond.  I will always choose whipped cream over meringue, but if you like meringue, then it's the perfect way to use up all the leftover egg whites, since only the yolks are used in the filling.

Every recipe features an interesting fact or funny quote at the bottom of the page, such as the 1965 legislation proposing a $100 fine to be imposed against those advertising Key lime pies that were not made with Key limes (the bill didn't pass).  One of my favorites was "6 million men between the ages of 35 and 54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it."

After deliberating over the recipes, changing my mind several times, and then changing it a few more times after that, I finally decided to try the Coconut Loconut recipe with its extra rich filling of 6 egg yolks instead of 4 and toasted coconut mixed right in.  I also added sweetened coconut to the graham cracker crust instead of sugar, as well as a good pinch of salt because I love the combination of salty and sweet.  I topped my pie with a little more toasted coconut for a nice crunch and lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with coconut and vanilla.

Unfortunately, there were no Key limes to be found at our grocery store this week (availability of certain fruits and vegetables are hit or miss in Colorado) so I made my pie with bottled Key lime juice and zest from "regular" limes.  I hope the Key lime purists will forgive me.

With as much as I bake, I usually limit myself to tasting just a bite or two, but after I photographed my Coconut Crunch Key Lime Pie, I took a bite, and then another, and it was so good that I finished the whole piece.  I wasn't even sorry.

You're probably wondering by now about that second cookbook I said I'd be giving away, right?  Well, here are the rules:
  • Leave a comment on this blog post - anonymous comments or spam will not be considered, so your name needs to be visible.
  • Comments left on other blog posts or other social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc) will not be considered.
  • One entry per person - multiple comments left by the same person will only be considered as one entry.
  • The giveaway is limited to U.S. residents only.
  • Comments left from Sunday, 6/22/14 through Saturday, 6/28/14 will be considered, after which I'll randomly select the winner to be announced on Monday, 6/30/14.
  • Be sure to check back on Monday, 6/30/14 to see if your name is announced, because you'll need to e-mail me your address! :)
  • If you don't win, I hope you order a copy of the book for yourself on Amazon and whip up an amazing key lime pie!

Disclaimer: I received compensation for the licensing of my photo for the cover of the cookbook, but this is not a paid book review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

One Year AgoRed Velvet Strawberry Cheesecake
Two Years AgoRoot Beer Chocolate Cake with Root Beer Float Ice Cream
Three Years AgoPeach and Veggie Skewers

Coconut Crunch Key Lime Pie

coconut crust:
  • 1 1/3 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 3/4 cup toasted coconut
  • 1/2 cup key lime juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a deep dish pie pan with non-stick spray.  In a food processor, combine the graham crackers, coconut and salt until crushed.  Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork until moist.  Press the crumbs against the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown, then cool while you prepare the filling.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract and lime zest until smooth, then add the toasted coconut.  Whisk in the key lime juice.  Pour the filling into the crust and bake the pie at 350 for 8 minutes.  Cool the pie at room temperature for an hour, then chill in the refrigerator until firm, several hours or overnight.

Before serving, whip the cream with the powdered sugar, vanilla and coconut extracts until thick.  Serve each piece with whipped cream, a slice of lime, and toasted coconut.

Yields 8 servings

Recipe adapted from The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook by David L. Sloan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Going on an Adventure Cupcakes

When Bilbo Baggins packed his things, left his cozy home tucked into the side of a grassy hill, and shouted, "I'm going on an adventure!" as he ran to catch up with the Dwarves, he must not have had the slightest inkling just how long that adventure would be or how many surprising and dangerous twists and turns the journey would take.  If he did know, do you think he still would have gone?  I'm so fascinated by all the character studies in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Some friends are moving away, leaving Denver for their own adventure in Philadelphia.  It's bittersweet, because they will be missed, but at the same time, exciting for them to get to experience new opportunities in such an interesting city so full of history.

For their going away party, I was asked to make gluten free cupcakes (my first gluten free cake of any kind, which turned out very nicely, I think).  Since I have no experience with gluten free baking, not to mention no room to store all the special flours, powders and starches needed, or the time to experiment with from-scratch gluten baking, I baked the cupcakes from a gluten-free mix, but of course added a few special ingredients like sour cream and vanilla to give them that homemade taste.  I filled the cupcakes with seedless raspberry jam and topped them with cream cheese buttercream.  Although I didn't end up tasting one, I was told at they party that the cupcakes, as well as the cappuccino fudge brownies, were delicious.

For a fun cupcake topper with a "going-away" theme, I resized maps of Denver and Philadelphia, printed them on card stock, and cut them out to attach to wooden skewers.  Hearts for Denver, of course.

Our printer refused to print in color for some reason, other than shades of pink, so I resigned myself to some maps in pink and some in black and white, which I ended up not minding after all.  The pink maps actually looked pretty.

Jodi and Marcel, Colorado misses you already!

One Year AgoRed Velvet Cake
Two Years AgoJust a Chocolate Chip Cookie
Three Years AgoLemon Cream Cheese Tart

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Homemade Almond Milk

Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is something I've really come to love in the past year.  And since I don't drink soda or juice, and I limit my intake of caffeine and alcohol, I'm pretty much just left with water and milk.

I've been drinking store bought almond milk, but it contains additives and stabilizers and just isn't as natural as what I would like, so over the weekend, I made my own almond milk.

Almonds are pretty expensive, but I buy raw almonds in bulk at Costco to save money.  For this recipe using 1 cup of almonds, I ended up with almost 5 cups of milk which lasts me about 5 days.

The first step is to soak your raw almonds in water overnight, which is a good practice in general, and not just for making milk.  Soaking nuts breaks down the phytic acid and neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors, which allows our bodies to more easily digest them and glean as much of the nutrients as possible.  Here's a good article about this process if you'd like to learn more.

After the almonds have been soaked, drain and rinse them, then place them in your blender with 4 cups of fresh water.  If you like, add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.  For sweetener, I also added a little natural coconut that I had scraped from the shell, grated, dried and frozen, but some people use dried fruit with no added sugar to sweeten their almond milk.  You can even try other types of nuts besides almonds - next time I think I will try a combination of almonds and pecans.

Blend it all up for about 3 minutes - it's pretty amazing how as soon as you start blending, the water turns white and creamy as it turns into nut milk.  You can see in the photos how creamy it is and how it coated the glass pitcher.  Pour the milk through a thin piece of cloth (I just use a scrap piece of thin cotton that I wash and reuse as cheesecloth) and squeeze it to extract as much of the milk as possible from the nutty pulp.  You can even reuse the nut mash by drying it and grinding it into almond flour or mixing the wet nut mash into cookie batter.

My almond milk was warm from our blender, so after a few hours chilling in the refrigerator, it was ready to enjoy.  It tasted so different from the store bought almond milk I've been drinking, so much more fresh and natural tasting.  I don't think I'll go back to buying almond milk!

One Year Ago:  Chocolate Raspberry Pots de Creme
Two Years Ago:  Our Trip through the Dakotas, and the Girl who ate the Worm
Three Years Ago:  All About Peaches

Baker's Note: Other nuts can be used instead of or combined with the almonds.  Instead of coconut as a sweetener, other dried fruits with no added sugar such as dates or apricots can also be used.

Homemade Almond Milk
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1/3 cup natural, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • other equipment: blender, mesh strainer, bowl and cheesecloth or thin cotton fabric

Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with 1 cup water.  Leave to soak overnight.

In the morning, drain the almonds and place them in a blender.  Add 4 cups of fresh water, the coconut and vanilla.  Blend for 3 minutes.

Place the cheesecloth over the strainer and set over a bowl.  Pour the milk through the cloth.  Gather up the cloth and squeeze all the remaining milk out of the almonds.  Refrigerate the milk until chilled.

Yields about 4 1/2 - 5 cups of milk

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Black Tea Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Buttercream

"When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb.  The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries."

- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Years ago, when my sister Laura was a single mom and my oldest niece was only a couple years old, they lived just a few miles away from me in a tiny little duplex.  When it was unbearably hot outside, they would escape to my apartment which was air-conditioned but completely devoid of living room furniture other than an over-sized brown recliner chair from my parents' basement and a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor that served as my couch.  But I didn't mind, since I was just so thrilled to have my own place.

Most of the time, though, I'd spend weekends at Laura's place, where we'd paint our nails, eat crackers and canned soup for dinner, play games with my niece and watch movies until late at night when we would all three snuggle together in a crowed queen-sized bed.

If I slept over on a Sunday night, Laura would always make me a cup of tea in the morning before I left for work, usually something herbal like Blueberry or Orange Spice.  The cozy routine of those steaming cups of tea was just like our sisterhood - comfortable, warming and familiar.

After Jamie and I had gone out on our first few dates, I remember wondering where it was all going to go.  Wonder changed to hope as I began to fall in love with him, and then it was no longer a matter of if, but when would we reach that level of familiarity, when would we be comfortable enough to let the other see our weirdness and strange quirks and be completely ourselves.  The way we are with our family and friends we've known our whole lives.

Last week we celebrated the 5th anniversary of our first date, and he took me to Pappadeaux for dinner, where we shared a dozen oysters and Greek salad, followed by swordfish for him and the most amazing piece of halibut I've ever tasted, served with lemony olive oil sauce with capers.

I wanted to make a cake for our anniversary.  Chocolate seemed like the most obvious choice since we both love chocolate, but as I reflected back over the last five years, I thought of the way our relationship has changed and grown, how somewhere along the way, we reached that level of familiarity that I had been hoping for and dreaming of achieving with the person I would be spending my life with.  I thought of those mornings so many years ago at my sister's house, and of the cozy winter weekends when Jamie and I have spent two days straight in our pajamas, and I couldn't shake the idea of a tea cake made with brewed tea.

These days, I don't really care for herbal tea anymore, but I love a good cup of strong, unsweetened black tea.  The tea cake was beautifully spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, as well as a little cocoa powder.  The small amount of cocoa powder did not add a chocolate flavor, rather it just enhanced the flavor of the black tea.  The cake was so moist and ever so slightly bitter from the strong tea, and it paired so nicely with the sweet brown sugar cream cheese buttercream.

I don't think that any of the amazing things that have happened to me in the last five years would have been possible without his support, encouragement and love.  After we're married this fall, we'll begin a whole new chapter in our lives, and I can't wait to see what happens. He is my family now.  He is my home.

One Year AgoBaked Chocolate Coffee Cake Doughnuts
Two Years AgoPhotos of an Oatmeal Breakfast
Three Years AgoSweet Potato Fries and Beef Brisket

Black Tea Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup strong black tea, boiled and steeped for 5 minutes
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Baker's Note: Double the recipe to bake in three 8 or 9 inch pans for a standard-sized cake.

Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray three 6-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the eggs, vanilla, olive oil and brewed tea and mix on medium low for several minutes to combine - batter will be thin.

Divide batter between the cake pans.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until the center of each cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, cover loosely with clean kitchen towels and cool completely.

Make the Buttercream:
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Stir in the brown sugar and stir constantly while bringing the butter and sugar to a boil; boil while stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool to a room-temperature solid (this can be done one day in advance).

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the butter/brown sugar with the cream cheese and vanilla until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, meringue powder and salt.  Add by spoonfuls on low to combine, then increase speed and beat for several minutes until light and fluffy.

Frost or pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, June 12, 2014

S'mores Brownie Torte

I can't toast a marshmallow over a campfire without thinking of the camping trip we took one summer when I was in college.  My brother and I had a marshmallow fight (think snowball fight, only with marshmallows), and didn't think twice about leaving them strewn all over our campsite that night.  In the early morning hours the next day, their sweet scent welcomed a bear who was moseying along through the woods to come investigate, and he managed to open our cooler and eat all our food, not to mention scare my mom half to death in the tent while the rest of us had gone hiking.

Everyone has their own perfect method for toasting a marshmallow.  My sister likes to light hers on fire, let it burn until it's charred and black all over, and then blow it out.  I, like my mom, am more patient, and like to toast it slowly over the coals to achieve a perfect golden brown crust with a gooey interior.  My brother was somewhere in the middle between my perfectionism and her i-just-want-to-eat-my-marshmallow-now, although now my brother's favorite way to eat a s'more is between two soft chocolate chip cookies instead of graham crackers.  Which is such a genius idea, I don't know why we didn't do that all these years.

And Jamie likes my marshmallow-toasting skills so much that he'd prefer to let me toast his for him.  Neither of us are all that into marshmallows, though, unless they're in s'mores form.  But I did have a white Persian cat who loved eating marshmallows.  Silly kitty.

After our camping trip a few weeks ago, we had a bag full of jumbo-sized marshmallows leftover that we would never be able to use up.  I was craving dark chocolate fudgey brownies, so I baked the brownies on a salted graham cracker crust, topped with milk chocolate ganache - normally I would use bittersweet chocolate for ganache, but milk chocolate is more s'moresy.  S'moresy.  What a great word.

The marshmallows were too big for the top of the torte, so I cut them up into squares and tossed them with a little powdered sugar to keep the cut edges from sticking, which also made them look more homemade.  The last, and most fun part (besides the taste test) was torching the marshmallows with our brulee torche.

When I took a bite of the torte - post photo shoot - it was so good, I wanted to cry.

One Year AgoSweet Corn and Coconut Milk Ice Cream
Two Years AgoRhubarb Almond Streusel Muffins, and the Little Pie that Couldn't
Three Years AgoSnickerdoodle Sweetheart Ice Cream Sandwiches

S'mores Brownie Torte


  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 325.  Spray an 8-inch spring form pan with non-stick spray.

To make the crust, combine the crushed graham crackers with the salt in a bowl.  Pour in the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press the crumbs firmly against the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.

For the brownies, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl (use the same one you mixed the crust in to avoid more dirty dishes).  Pour in the melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.  Beat in the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time.  Stir in the flour, just until moistened, and the chocolate chips.  Batter will be thick.

Carefully, spread the batter over the crust, using a non-stick spatula or your hands (greased with butter or non-stick spray) to push the batter out to the edges without disturbing the crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool the torte on a wire rack for two hours before making the ganache.  For the ganache, place the chocolate chips in a bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, just until it simmers around the edges.  Pour the cream over the chocolate chips, let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth.  Spread the ganache over the torte.  Let stand until the torte is completely cool, at least 2-3 more hours, before serving.

Top the torte with the marshmallows, and if you have a brulee torche, torch the marshmallows to brown them a little.

Yields 8-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen