Happy Hour: Grape Focaccia and a Bramble

Welcome to Happy Hour my darlings!  Kick off those shoes and get yourself into something comfy. Personally I’ve chosen a pair of pajama pants that are old enough that the black fabric has a distinct greenish look to it.  The color doesn’t bother me when hanging out at home, but taking them out of the drawer I noticed a small hole on the leg.  It is tiny still, but it means a replacement is needed soon. I’ll have to look into that this weekend.  But for now, the comfy pajama pants remain.

The Bramble has made an appearance before and as I very much enjoy it will probably make many returns.  As a recipe refresher my version of a Bramble is:

Bramble

Ingredients:

1 ½ oz Gin

½ oz Chambord

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

You put everything into a cocktail shaker add a bit of ice and shake for all you are worth before pouring it into the glass of your choice.  I went with a coupe glass.  I think this one might have actually come as a promotional glass with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire at some point. It is a nice shape and holds enough liquid inside that one glass is plenty.

I felt the raspberry and lemon notes would pair well with the grape focaccia today.  I thought about picking up a wine to go with it, but the grapes were very sweet tart on their own and I kind of didn’t want anything competing with them.  I think if I had chosen mellower grapes I would have gone with a wine.  As it is the Bramble seemed to have enough of a fruitiness to pair well without really being competition, flavor wise.

I know some of you saw the title and were lifting some eyebrows at the sound of grape focaccia. That’s okay, my baby doll did as well, but then it baked up so sweet and salty that he decided it was okay in the end.  And while I had the Bramble listed above, he ended up having a beer with it because he wanted something earthy to go with it while I wanted something to pair with the fruitiness of the grapes.

There is a lot of wait time, but overall this focaccia recipe is really simple.  It just takes time.  You will need a stand mixer for this.  I’ve written out the recipe for those with stand mixers.  If you don’t have one can always knead the dough by hand.  If you are making this, check your times! While not a lot of this is active time, there is a lot of resting and rising so I generally make this when I know I’m going to be in the house for a while.  It does actually provide some nice breaks to the day if you are working from home.

Grape Focaccia

Ingredients:

6 tsp dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

2 cups warm water

¼ cup (or so) olive oil

5 cups of flour, plus more for dusting

2 tsp kosher salt (more for sprinkling)

12 ounces red seedless grapes (make sure they are seedless)

Parchment paper

It is large but it does freeze well.
  • Put the yeast, water and sugar in a bowl.  Stir to mix and then let sit to get foamy (5 min)
  • Into the bowl of a stand mixer place the flour, salt and foamy yeast mix. Mix with a dough hook until a sticky dough forms and pulls away from the sides (3-5 min)
  • Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Liberally flour your counter top and transfer the dough to it.  It will be stiff to work with but try to form it into a rectangle (ish) shape that is about twice the size as you start it with. 
  • Fold the dough in threes like a letter so that your dough forms a rectangle.  Brush the top with olive oil and transfer it to the center of your parchment covered cookie sheet oiled side down onto the parchment.
  • Brush olive oil onto the top of the dough Cover loosely with cling film and let it sit 1 hour.
  • (don’t worry if your rectangle is a little wonky.
  • After one hour come back to the dough and push it out until it fills the cookie sheet in a flat even surface.  Once flattened. Lightly press the grapes into the top of the dough. 
  • Leave to sit uncovered 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 500.
  • After the dough has rested for an hour, brush olive oil over the dough and grapes and sprinkle with salt.
  • Just before you put the dough into the oven, turn the temperature down to 450 degrees. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan in the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the dough is a light golden brown.
  • Cool 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

While we used grapes in this one for a sweet and savory play, this is my standard focaccia recipe. I forget where I picked it up, but I have adjusted it with rosemary and garlic to go along with roast lamb, mixed it with a variety of peppers and served it with chili, and used it plain as a base for all sorts of toppings.  It is a good basic recipe that really takes well to whatever flavors you want to throw at it.  Just remember not to be stingy with the olive oil.  It may look like a lot, but this bread needs it. It is the only fat this bread has in it. Once you have the basics down, go crazy with the flavors and make it your own.

So that my darlings is our happy hour.  Personally, I like how it turned out.  It also suits the weather this week.  It is surprisingly cool tonight, but I didn’t want anything very heavy.  This has the weight of bread that I like in cooler temperatures, but it is lifted by the roasted grapes into feeling like early spring rather than the middle of winter. And I have to confess, I really do like baking bread.

I hope you enjoy whatever it is you have planned for your Friday night and the weekend beyond.


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Happy Hour: Hummus and Truly Hard Seltzer

Hummus served with cucumber slices

Welcome to the end of the week my darlings. We finally made it. Shuck those work clothes, put on something comfy and prop your feet up.

Today I was feeling the need for something light and summery. Both in food and drink. So I went with a homemade hummus and cucumber slices and a Strawberry lemonade Hard Seltzer from Truly Hard Seltzer.

Now I have a confession. This was my first hard seltzer. I know the shockwaves are felt around the world. The truth is that when I look for alcoholic drinks I go for wine, gin or tequila. It never even occurs to me to look at the hard seltzer. There was something about the strawberry lemonade that just appealed to me so I decided to try it.

According to the label it has 5% alcohol by volume, 100 calories, 1 g of sugar and 3 g of carbs. As almost every muscle in my body is sore from the new workout regime this week, low cal, and low sugar sounded kind of ideal. And I do love strawberry lemonade. I make big pitchers of the non alcoholic variety to keep in my fridge all summer long. while I make the lemonade in the regular way, I leave out the sugar and then make a strawberry simple syrup to sweeten it. Using the simple syrup gets the pulp and seeds out while keeping the flavor and sweetness. You can always choose to add alcohol later if you want but in a tall glass filled with ice it is fabulous on it;s own.

But how did this Truly hard seltzer version taste?

Not bad. It is like a flavored water, the scent being stronger than the taste. In fact if there was no alcohol in it I would consider it a really nicely flavored seltzer water. There is however alcohol in it. Which you need to remember and not drink it like water. For me, putting it in the nice glass helped because I sipped it. I tend to drink liquids fast when i drink them in the can. (sodas, water, V8, if I drink from the can I just drink faster so glasses slow me down). I think it would be a really bad idea to drink this fast.

I don’t know how many of you are new to Hard seltzer, but I recommend sipping. It is easy to forget it isn’t flavored water.

The one issue I had with this is that it made my tongue feel dry. I know that sounds a little strange, but it is true. My tongue could feel the alcohol more than taste it and so my tongue felt dry. It wasn’t a bad thing, just a strange one that I wasn’t expecting.

Luckily, I had something on hand to make me feel a little less dry. And that was tonight’s happy hour snack, homemade hummus served with freshly sliced cucumbers. It is one of the easiest things to make. The trick is to make it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors can mellow. I made mine a little more lemon forward because I like the lemon flavor with the cucumber slices. If serving with crackers I tend to take out a Tablespoon of the lemon juice. When you first make this you will be tempted to try it right away and then you might feel like adjusting the seasoning. Let it sit overnight and then the next day adjust if you feel it needs more salt. To make this, you will need a food processor. if you have one, it is super easy. Ready?

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas, drained

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 and a half Tablespoons tahini

2 garlic cloves peeled

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper.

  • Put everything into the food processor.
  • blend until a smooth paste forms
  • Spoon into a bowl.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate over night
  • taste and adjust seasonings and serve with cucumber slices or pita chips.

Seriously, that’s it. It is light and summery. The lemon pairs well with the cucumber slices and with the Strawberry Lemonade Hard Seltzer chosen as tonight’s beverage. My favorite thing about this dip is that i almost always have all of the ingredients in the pantry and fridge so i can easily make this in a hurry without adding a lot to the grocery list. It also works as a great base. You can play around with spices to give it some heat. You can blend roasted red peppers into it. It is excellent on it’s own but it is also easy to play around with. I actually like to use it in sandwiches actually. I’ll spread a layer on my bread and then layer cucumbers radish slices and mung beans on it for an excellent lunch time treat. the veggies give you a nice crisp bite to the sandwich. Sometimes I’ll even quick pickle the cucumbers. I’ll put the cucumber slices in a bowl with a Tablespoon of grated ginger, and then add equal parts mirin and rice wine vinegar. shake them up a bit so the slices are covered. leave them in the fridge for half an hour and then add them to your sandwich. It is fabulously fresh and delicious. It will probably also be tomorrow’s sandwich at my house, providing any of the hummus lasts through the evening. No matter how big a bach I make, it always disappears fast.



Let’s get a little Bubly

Anyone who has read my posts for any length of time knows that one of my favorite kitchen tools is my Soda Stream.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore my Hamilton Beach Food Processor.  However my Soda Stream is a next level love. 

As strange as it sounds, one of my blocks to weight loss is my beverage consumption.  Put simply, I tend to drink liquids all day long.  I always have.  I still stick with my coffee in the morning,

However I have been slowly replacing most of the other beverages with water.  One of the first things I realized is that when you drink a lot of it, water feels heavy.  One of the ways I found to get me to drink more water and alleviate that heaviness is to carbonate the water.  I have always loved sparkling water so for me this was a no brainer.

My babydoll and I both grew up in houses where the bar cart had a soda syphon as well and many of the favored cocktails include seltzer.   We picked up the Soda Stream partially to try and have our own ‘soda’s’ at home, because my babydoll is a big soda fan, but mostly for the seltzer water.

My other trick for getting myself to drink more water is to put the water in a fancier glass that makes me just feel special drinking it.  And as water is the essence of life, why shouldn’t it be celebrated?  The glass pictured is from the Rachel Zoe Collection. It is one of the stemless champagne flutes.  It holds 8 ounces exactly and feels really good in the hand. It also looks pretty good on the desk.

When we first picked up the Soda Stream there were soda flavorings that went with the machine.  At that point I had already cut out a lot of the sugar I was used to eating and the mixes were all way to sweet for me.  My babydoll who still drinks soda really likes the Lemon Lime mix, but only uses about half of the recommended flavoring amount to cut down on the sweetness. I will occasionally put in a small drop into a glass, but it really is just the tiniest of drops. 

With the regular soda flavorings I tend to put the drop into the glass and pour the carbonated water over it so that the water mixes itself and I don’t have to stir. As it is sparkling, stirring can sometimes cause issues.

When Soda Stream released the Bubly Drops line I was thrilled. The drops are designed to flavor water so that it tastes like flavored water and not as though it was soda.  Which means it sounded just about perfect for me. 

But was it?

I picked up the Raspberry flavored bubbly drops to try it out. 

It is an unsweetened natural flavor essence with zero calories.  As with the other soda stream mixers, I find it better to put the drops in the bottom of the glass and then add the water.  I noticed if you add them to the water the scent sort of gathers and lingers and I don’t think it mixes in will since the flavor changed half way through.  If I put the drops in the bottom of the glass, the flavor blended into the entire glass with no issues. 

It is a natural raspberry essence with no sugars added so it is not sweet.  You get the taste of raspberry, but there is a slightly bitter note to it.  I actually kind of like the slight bitterness as it makes the water taste a little more like mineral water.  I tend to drink a lot of Pellegrino and it is sort of that same bitter minerally taste. I enjoy that flavor and so I enjoyed the drops.

The issue that you might face when dealing with these drops is that you have to remember that less is more.  The bottle recommends that ¼ tsp (1.2 ml) be added to a 12 oz glass. My glass is 8 ounces and I used about half of that amount.  Yup a 1/8 tsp.  That seemed to be about the right amount for me. 

If you add too much of the essence to the water it will begin to taste a bit medicinal and not very nice.  Restrain yourself and it is a very nice glass of flavored water.  No sugar, no strange flavors.  While I still like my plain water and I do love my occasional bottle of Blackberry Hint, having these drops around is a nice alternative to when you need something just a little different. 

Now that I’ve tried and liked it, I have my eye on a few of the other flavors.  Most notably the grapefruit. I think that might be my next purchase.  Grapefruit is hard to nail in a flavored water and when done right it is one of my favorite flavors, especially in the summer. So I have my fingers crossed that this will provide the flavor I want. For now I have the raspberry and soon, I will test the grapefruit.  I’ll keep you posted.


SodaStream USA, inc

Happy Hour: Mushroom Tarts and a Belmont Cocktail

Happy Hour: Mushroom tarts and a Belmont Cocktail

Welcome my darlings to the Friday Night happy Hour.  Tonight the cocktail I decided to make is called a Belmont and it comes from my Savoy Cocktail book.  I have to admit it is one of the cocktails I have been hesitant to try.  There is no real reason except that I always think it’s a little strange when gin is paired with cream.  I’ve had several pleasant cocktails with cream but when I saw this recipe I just wanted to skim over it.  I think it is because there are so few ingredients in it that the cream stood out to me.  Still tonight was it’s night for testing.  And so test I did.  The recipe is quite simple.

I part grenadine

2 parts gin

1 teaspoon cream

Put them all together in a shaker and shake the dickens out of it until it is foamy. Serve in a lovely glass.

It comes out a lovely and festive pink color.  To be honest it comes out tasting a bit like a cherry creamsicle that has been dipped in gin.  The gin comes through loud and clear.  It is a little odd to taste in that first sip.  I tasted the cherry dreamsicle part first and then the gin arrived on my tastebuds. It took a few sips to get used to it.  It was one of those cocktails I don’t mind having once but probably wouldn’t make again.  Nice, but not fabulous. It won’t be making the household repitoire.

But as there are thousands, if not millions of cocktail and mocktail (for the days when I don’t feel like having alcohol) recipes to try out there, I’m sure the list of ones I don’t mind having more than once will continue to grow.

Tonight I chose mushroom tarts to go along with the cocktail.  I’ve made the recipe many times before in both the large and small tartlets size.  Since the cocktail was bright and cherry I thought something earthy would pair well.  And the tart did work well with the drink.  Usually I serve these with a crisp chardonnay or even an Arnold Palmer if going non-alcoholic.  What I love about these little tarts is that they do freeze really well so you can make a bunch and then cool and freeze the ones you don’t eat.  My baby and I each had one and left the other four to cool for later freezing. (I made six). While I made them in small tartlet pans tonight you can make one big tart to serve as a dinner. We tend to eat this as a summer meal with a fresh salad. All of the measurements are the same, you just put them in one container rather than six.

Ingredients

1 pie crust

1 small yellow onion, diced

½ lb mushrooms, diced

Three sage leaves chopped

1 T butter

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup cream

1 egg yolk

1 whole egg

¼ cup sour cream

Pie weights (I use dried beans)

Tart pan or tartlet pans

  • Cut the pie dough into rounds and press into the pan. 
  • Dock the dough with a fork.
  • Place the tarts on a baking sheet, cover each with foil and put pie weights on the foil.
  • Bake at 375 for 20 minutes
  • Take out of oven, remove foil and pie weights and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes.  They should be golden brown.
  • Set to the side and allow to cool completely.
  • In a sauté pan, melt the butter and add in the onions, mushrooms and sage. 
  • Cook until all of the liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes).  Then take it from the stove and let cool to room temperature.
  • In a bowl mix together the cream, sour cream, egg yolk and egg.
  • Put mushroom mix into the tart shells, pour the custard mix over them and bake in a 325 degree oven until just set and slightly poufy.  (about 45 minutes)
  • Let tarts cool for 20 minutes and serve at room temperature.

This is one of those recipes that seems like it is more complicated than it is because you prepare three things separately and then just bring them together at the end.  It really is very easy and it is something you can make well ahead of time.  You can even make them the day before.  Just let them cool completely then move to the fridge.  When you want to serve them bring them out and let them come up to room temperature. And like I said it makes a really good meal as well as a happy hour treat.




Happy Hour: Choriqueso

Happy Hour: Choriqueso

Good evening my darlings and welcome once again to the Friday night Happy Hour.  While last week I dealt with the ramifications of having the second vaccine shot, this week it was my babydoll’s turn.  While mine was a condensed 24 hours of misery, his was less intense but spread out over a couple of days.  As a result, he spent the week with little appetite.  Now he is feeling better and quite hungry.

For us happy hour is about taking some time together to sit and unwind from the week.  Even before 2020 we tended towards quiet Friday nights and went out on Saturday instead.  That way we could always recoup from the week.  Usually, we take the opportunity to experiment with a new cocktail recipe and try out a delectable little treat. 

This week we are giving the alcohol a pass. It doesn’t mean that I am not having a pretty little drink though. This week I poured seltzer water into a stemless champagne flute and added a dash of grenadine.  We just got new tanks in for our Soda Stream so there are plenty of festive looking bubbles and the color is fun.  It may not be a traditional cocktail, but it is a fun drink to sip nonetheless and quite frankly I can drink almost anything out of these glasses and it feels special.

My babydoll won’t touch them  because he is worried that he will knock them over.  So he has taken one of my Blackberry Hint waters (the sparkling kind) and poured it into a very chunky looking goblet.  I have no idea how or when the goblet got into out cabinets but there it was when he reached for it, and he seems happy with his beverage choice.

We also tweaked the happy hour treat.  Technically speaking I believe this is meant to be a shared appetizer, at least when we had a version of this at a restaurant, that is how it was labeled. As an appetizer you need about six people to eat it and after that I would still suggest a light meal.

When I make this Choriqueso I make the full batch and we tend to use it as both happy hour delight and the main meal of the evening.  We certainly aren’t eating anything after this. When we do this we typically only eat about half, let it cool and put the other half away.  It reheats well in the oven and it does freeze well.  It is one of those dishes that I find easier to make in the full batch because of the size of the pan I am cooking it in and the measurements.  Plus it is something I know won’t go to waste even if we do end up freezing half.  It was also what my babydoll requested for his post pseudo flu hunger pangs.  How much will be left over is anyone’s guess. I suspect some might make it to the fridge overnight, but I doubt we will be freezing anything.

Although it seems like a bit much once you get everything together it comes together in a snap.  The only thing to remember is that you need to rehydrate your ancho chiles about half an hour or so before you begin cooking.  The only extra equipment other than a stove and oven with a broiler that you will need is a blender.  It really is the best tool for the job. If you don’t have one, you could try chopping the ancho pepper really finely and then whisking it and the other ingredients in a bowl but you won’t get the same smooth paste. It will still taste fantastic but it won’t be as smooth a paste. A food processor helps for quick cheese shredding, but it is optional.

To rehydrate the dried anchos put the chillies in a glass bowl. Pour boiling water over them and leave them to soak until they are plumped and soft. Drain, remove any seeds and use the chilies as directed. 

Ingredients

2 ancho chilies, seeded and rehydrated (see above note for rehydration)

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup water

Half of a medium sized yellow onion, diced

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp Mexican oregano (if you can’t find Mexican regular oregano will do)

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cayenne

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ lbs ground pork

1 lbs Monterey jack cheese shredded

Warm tortillas for serving

  • Do all of your prep work first.  This is one of those recipes that comes together quickly so dice, shred and measure ahead of time to save yourself some stress. As all the spices go in at once you can just put them all in the same bowl as you measure.
  • Put the anchos, vinegar and water into a blender. Blend until smooth then add the onion garlic, salt, and all of your spices (cumin, paprika, oregano, cinnamon and cayenne).
  • Again blend to a smooth paste.  If it is too thick then add a little water a tablespoon at a time. Don’t make it too liquid though.  You want it just loose enough so that everything blends into a homogeneous mix with no straggling chunky bits (think heavy romesco).
  • Place a large, broiler safe skillet  on the stove.
  • Add the vegetable oil to the skillet and turn on medium heat. When  it is warm pour the chili mix from the blender into the skillet.  Heat for about 1 minute to wake up the spices. 
  • Then add the ground pork to the skillet. Mix it in with the sauce until the meat is covered.
  • Cook the pork (medium heat) about 10 minutes or until no pink is showing, stirring occasionally.
  • While the pork cooks, move the oven rack about six inches below the broiler and let the broiler come up to temperature. 
  • Once the pork is cooked, check the seasonings and adjust the spice level if desired, then layer the shredded Monterey jack cheese over the meat mixture covering it completely. 
  • Shift the skillet from the stove top to place it under the broiler.  Keep it there until the cheese is melted and lightly browned (approximately 2-3 minutes)
  • Serve it hot in the pan with the tortillas (we just spoon it onto the tortillas and eat that way, you can, eat it with tortilla chips if you wanted to make it more of a dip than a meal)
adding the cheese to the top

A couple helpful hints.  If you want to shred cheese in a hurry with your food processor you can put the block of Monterrey jack in the freezer for about five minutes (no longer).  It will firm up enough for the machine to shred, but not do any damage to the blades or the cheese. 

My Hamilton Beach Food Processor has the plate that allowed for easy shredding (and makes me love the machine so very very much), just make sure your cheese is cut into pieces that can fit into the feeder tube on the machine before you freeze it.  My block needed to be divided into three sections.

I personally like glass carafe blenders as they don’t stain and don’t retain any odors from previous blending, but that is a personal choice.

With the ancho spice mix, the dish tastes like it took hours to prepare even though it took almost no time at all.  We occasionally like to use this mix on pasta in place of traditional red sauce or just as something to smear on a baguette.  It is a great and super easy burst of flavor.  Just don’t forget your minute on the heat with it because that is what really wakes up and melds the flavors. 

It is a great sauce to have in your flavor arsenal. And until you add the pork to the skillet and top with cheese, the ancho spice mix is actually vegan. When we have vegan, vegetarian or even just lactose intolerant friends over, the spice mix comes in really handy used in ways without the pork or cheese of course.

The one thing we have to watch is the spice level.  There are several places to control it.  You can leave in or take out the ancho seeds.  You can also adjust the cayenne.  In our house, since we grow paprika peppers and dry and grind our own paprika each fall, our paprika is what we have to watch.  It is really hot in the fall but towards the spring it mellows out a bit. It still has more of a kick than most store bought paprika though.  I used the spring paprika measurements for this dish, you might find you want a little more heat depending on what paprika you are using so don’t forget to taste and adjust.

So tonight our happy hour is rolling into dinner and out cocktails are non-alcoholic just to be on the vaccine reactions safe side. Still with a pretty glass filled with cheery bubbling liquid and an absolutely delicious choriqueso on hand, it is in no way a hardship. In fact, it feels quite luxurious and like the perfect way to unwind after a rough week. Happy Friday my darlings and I hope you have a fantastic weekend.



Happy Hour: Carrot Cake

I know normally this is where we talk about a delightful cocktail, a bottle of wine or even my babydoll’s home brew.  Then we add in a delightful delectable.  This week however was a bit much on the body, so tonight in a continuing effort to clear out the freezer before the garden starts producing veg that needs to be processed and stocked, we are taking out a container of beef stroganoff (the egg noodles will be fresh) and just having carrot cake and a big glass of milk afterwards.

Given the post vaccination fever and sickness, I think it is a much safer option than trying a new, untested cocktail variation. I’ll get back to experimenting next week.

Each spring we go through the strange freezer purge.  You see my baby doll has a weakness when it comes to the grocery store’s meat department.  It doesn’t matter what the grocery list says, if he sees a roast or chops or any cut he particularly likes on sale, he will scoop it up to add to the freezer.  He likes having a meat stash.  The problem is that the freezer fills up quickly with large odd shaped packages.  So when it looks like it is getting full I make large batches of dishes.

Like beef stroganoff.  Without the noodles it freezes really well and  because left over portions are in smaller stackable regularly shaped containers, it takes up less space.  (plus we’ve eaten some as well, usually for Friday night but some left overs on Saturday as well).  His massive meat buying tends to be in the fall so we have an assortment of heavy Friday night meat centric meals for the winter.  In the spring and summer we eat lighter so we clear them up.  Plus we need the freezer space for frozen veg. So we are in the clear out phase of the season. Hence the heavier dinner and why I’m not making a happy hour appetizer.  Plus we have a mostly untouched carrot cake to eat.

I love carrot cake, but I didn’t get to eat much of it this week so I will revel in it for my end of the week treat. It is super easy to make so if you are scared of cake baking it is a really easy one to start with. The icing makes exactly enough to give you a thin layer of frosting between the two cakes and then to coat the rest of the cake.  At best there will be maybe a spoonful left.

Carrot Cake

2 cups All Purpose (250 g plain flour – UK) Flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp nutmeg (grate it fresh please)

½ tsp salt

¾ cup vegetable oil (like Canola)

4 large eggs (room temperature)

1 ½ cup packed brown sugar (330 g)

½ cup granulated sugar (100 g caster sugar)

½ cup applesauce

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups grated carrots

ICING

1 (8oz) package of plain cream cheese (room temp)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter softened

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar (250 g icing sugar)

To make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (while I weigh certain ingredients like flour and brown sugar when I bake because it is more accurate than a cups measurement so I know the measurements and baking with my Gran gave me the different names for the same ingredients and will happily include them, I don’t know UK oven settings, sorry)
  • spray and flour two 9 inch round cake pans and set aside.
  • Grate your carrots and set aside (how many you need to get three cups depends on the size of your carrots.  Mine were all about eight inches long but varied in width and I needed about five this time)
  • In a bowl mix together: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg,  and salt (make this your larger mixing bowl as you add wet to the dry later)
  • In a separate bowl  whisk together eggs, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, apple sauce and vanilla until combined.  Once they are thoroughly mixed, add your carrots.  (while you can use a mixer to bend the earlier ingredients, when you get to the add the carrots stage, switch to a spoon or spatula.  Trust me it saves a lot of heartache.  Carrot strands can just get twisted around the mixer blades.  Sometimes low tech works best.  While I may use my Hamilton Beach food processor to grate the carrots in an instant, I use a silicone spatula to mix them in.)
  • Once mixed, pout wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ones (the flour mix – see I told you to use the bigger bowl for that one).  Mix them together with a spatula until just combined.   Don’t over mix. (it will make your cake stodgy)
  • Pour batter evenly into the two previously prepared cake pans.
  • Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until the top sets and a toothpick comes out of the center cleanly.
  • Remove from pans and let cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to ice them.

And now To the ICING!

I use a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer for this because I find it comes out better for me.  It you use a stand mixer make sure your cream cheese and butte are really soft and go with a whisk attachment if possible. I have both a stand and a hand mixer but I always use the hand mixer for this frosting because I find it easier to see the butter and cream cheese combining evenly.

  • So into the bowl place the unwrapped cream cheese/  beat until smooth
  • Add the butter and mix until smooth and combined with the cream cheese
  • Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth scraping down the sides as needed.

As I mentioned I like using the hand mixer.  What I like to do with the powdered sugar so less flies up, is to pour it in small doses a little bit at a time. After each addition I use the spatula to put a little of the butter cream cheese mix over it before turning on the hand mixer again.  The mix helps wets the sugar enough that it doesn’t fly up in a dust cloud. Plus if you keep scooping from the bottom with each addition you won’t end up with a sugar pocket in the base of the bowl.

This icing will make a thin layer between the cakes and then ice the top and sides.  There is no left over for decoration.  If you want to use it for decoration, you can make a second batch.  I like to add a little more sugar to the second batch if I am going to do this to make it a little stiffer.  I also add colorings to that as well.  Usually orange and green for carrot designs.  This year it was just us and the sugar already on the cake was more than enough so I didn’t add more with decorations.

This is one of my favorite cakes but I only tend to make it twice a year, One at Easter and once in the fall when the carrots are still coming out of the garden and my taste buds start craving the warming spices that go into this cake.  It is rich so I generally have it with coffee or a big glass of milk. 

Either way it is the treat my babydoll and I will be enjoying after dinner in lieu of a happy hour treat. Don’t worry, next week will feature a new cocktail and something fun to nibble on.


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Happy Hour: Blanketed Pigs and Cold Martinis

Some days the home happy hour is all about compromise.  My baby doll wasn’t feeling like anything fancy and inexplicably had a craving for pigs in a  blanket.  He opened a beer and I made a dirty martini. 

I know a dirty martini is always my fall back when I am not trying a new recipe.  While everyone has their own particular version my mix is:

One part Vermouth (Noily Pratt if possible, I have yet to find anything else that is a suitable replacement)

Two parts gin (my current preference is Plymouth Gin)

Dash of olive juice

A quick stir and add a large ice cube to chill it down. (I tend to keep my gin in the freezer)

Pour and serve with an olive.

It has the alcohol zing, the herbaceous notes from the gin, smoothed out by the vermouth, tempered with cold and perked up with the sharp brine of olive. What more could one ask for?

The glass I use is a small martini glass, circa 1950s I believe.  I use it one, because while I like my Friday Night cocktail I don’t need buckets of gin and two because of temperature.  I generally find that if I use one of the really large martini glasses the martini is warm by the time I get half way through it.  With the smaller glass I can not only have a second if it has been a rather long week without going over the top, but because it is a smaller glass I can have the perfect temperature of drink all the way from the first wipe to the last. 

While size often matters, sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better and that can easily be seen in the martini.

I would love to get some new martini glasses with a bit of a more modern design as the etched fruit isn’t exactly my taste, but it is always the size that stops me. I just can’t find a modern martini glass that is the appropriate size.  I mentioned this to a friend and she suggested instead of going newer, I go older and try for a 1920s set.  The size would be right and I tend to favor the simple lines and geometrics.  Perhaps I will start looking into those.

Surprisingly the martini went well with the pigs in a blanket. The recipe is quite simple. 

1 sheet of Puff pastry

Grated cheddar cheese

Your favorite hot dogs or sausages

Your measurements will depend on how many little piggies you want. I have to say this is one of those times though that I again love my Hamilton Beach Food Processor.  It has a grating attachment so I stick the cheese in the freezer for about five minutes to firm it up and then send it through the grating attachment.  Voila! Grated cheese in an instant.

The assembly is just as simple as the listed ingredients.

Cut the puff pastry into a size that is the length of your hot dog and can wrap around it about one and a half times.

Lay out the squares of pastry and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese.  Place the hot dog on the pastry and roll it up.

Flatten the seams so it doesn’t come undone.

Cut the pastry wrapped hot dog into inch long segments and transfer to a baking sheet.  I like to line my sheet with parchment paper so any cheese spillage is contained.

Bake at 350 until golden brown (10 to 15 minutes). Serve hot with dipping sauce if desired. 

We serve it with spicy mustard or barbeque sauce. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle mustard powder on the cheese for an extra tang and my baby doll likes adding in a bit of our home grown and roasted paprika.  Either way the fatty richness really compliments the sharpness of the martini as well as the hops notes in my baby doll’s beer.  It may sound like a strange combination, but it really does work.

So that is our happy hour this week.  It’s nice that allergies have been tamed and health wise all is well.  This week the world went a little wonky and it is nice to sit down with my baby doll, my feet clad in fuzzy socks sipping a martini and eating a few homemade delectable treats.  Tonight, we have the Vincent Price version of The Wax Museum for our viewing pleasure and maple glazed salmon, rice and asparagus for dinner following our happy hour relaxation.  I think it is going to be a pretty good night.


The Place Where Movies Never Get Old

Happy Hour: Allergy Edition

This week allergies hit hard at our house. While my babydoll has issues throughout the spring, I generally only suffer a little bit when the trees decide it is time to fling pollen into the air and give everything a nice yellowish coat.

In case you are wondering, that time is now.

I feel a little guilty complaining about it since so many people, including my babydoll, suffer much more than I do. Still this has been a week of clogged noses and dulled taste buds.

When we looked at putting together cocktails and a happy hour snack, neither of us were too enthused. We have a very nice cheese that we wanted to try, but as scent plays a big role in taste, I think it would be unfair to judge it now. Besides when I asked, my babydoll grunted and took a couple of pieces of salami out of the lunchmeat bag in the fridge and called it ‘snack meat’ before shuffling off to the living room to find a movie for us to watch tonight. I believe I heard ‘This is fine for me’ drifting back as he shuffled away.

Yup, it is going to be a quiet evening at home for us my darlings.

So I am making my favorite ‘I just want to breathe again,’ mug and I will curl up with my babydoll on the couch. I’m sure at some point there will be food, but for the most part I will be content with my beverage of choice. Many, many cups of my beverage of choice.

That’s right, it is time for Twinings Lemon and Ginger Herbal Tea.

I know it is in pretty much every grocery store in the country. (Incidentally, I get nothing from the link, it is not an affiliate link in any way, it is just the Twining’s website, you know, in case you can’t get to the grocery store). It is also relatively inexpensively priced.

As many of the teas I typically favor aren’t in grocery stores and tend to be on the higher end, I know you may be surprised. I know I really like ordering special teas from places like The Art of Tea. They are quite delicious and it seems like everytime I am on their site I find another one I want to try.

However, sometimes you just need lemon and ginger. Twinings is really good with this combination. And to be honest, lemon and ginger are my go to flavors when I don’t feel well. Head cold? Sinus infection? Stomach ache? Headache? Feeling a chill? General malaise? Well just hit that with a little lemon ginger and you’ll be fine.

I’m not sure when it became my go to comfort/cure all, but at some point it did. With this I generally add a slice of lemon to bump up the lemon flavor and I always sweeten it with local honey. Especially if it is allergy season.

I read somewhere once that locally produced honey can help build up your tolerance for local allergens. While I haven’t done any true study of it, I have moved around a lot and I do like honey, and supporting local producers. I have noticed that my allergies are always more severe when i move to a new area and then after about a year, less so. Throughout I consume local honey. It may just be my body adjusting to a new environment, but the honey may also play a role. Either way, I use my local honey to sweeten my Twinings.

And of course, to make myself feel better I use my Frankenstein mug. It makes me smile. My babydoll may remind me that it isn’t Halloween, but I don’t really care. And yes the mug does tell me “You’re the Ghouliest” with every sip. And that makes me happy. When I feel better, the Twinings will go back in the cupboard and the fancier teas will return. But for now, it is Lemon and Ginger all the way.

And if you are looking for something fun to watch, Peppa Pig and Sponge Bob are both now on Paramount+


Happy Hour: Chicken Liver Mousse and Cherry Fizz (non-alcoholic)

Today’s Cherry Fizz

I know some of you saw the chicken liver in the title and made a face.  I know, it is a common reaction.  This recipe is however, in addition to being delicious, near and dear to my heart for two very special reasons. 

One when I was a child (and even now) I was anemic and so my parents leaned heavily into the iron rich foods like spinach and liver, so for me this is a very comforting flavor (although it isn’t all that ‘liver-y’ a taste.  I also have very firm opinions about liver, but that is another tale.

Two I believe if you are going to make the choice to eat meat then you shouldn’t just choose a few choice cuts, but eat as much of the creature as possible.

That being said, I have friends who love mousses and pates (the non-duck abusive kind) but shy away from using chicken livers because they don’t know how to deal with them.  This is a very easy entre into cooking chicken livers.

First, this does require a few pieces of equipment.  You will need a knife to trim the livers, a cutting board, a large skillet with a lid that fully covers it (I prefer a nonstick kind) and a food processor.  I also use a mandolin but you can use your knife to cut the onions if you want.

The food processor is a necessity because you need to turn everything into a really smooth paste. Mine is from Hamilton Beach and I absolutely love it.  Not only is is affordably priced but it works like a champ.  Plus, for years I had only a small mini food processor (two cup maximum capacity) so I had to process everything in batches.  It is doable but it takes a lot of time.

This one is a ten cup food processor. Say it with my my darlings TEN CUPS! Oh it makes my little heart ping with joy. 

I think I hugged this food processor when  it first came home and my baby doll tells me that I patted it affectionately when ever I passed it for the first few months.  I do not recall this but he may be right. 

Okay, he probably is right.

While we use the food processor throughout the year it is when the garden is in full swing that we don’t even bother putting it back in the cupboard.  It gets an almost daily workout. It is one of my favorite tools. It’s got this blade so you can make slaw, grate cheese, make salsa and just about process most of what we grow in the garden. I love this thing.

Seriously, I could write sonnets.

If I could remember the rhyming structure.

I can’t at the moment, I’ll have to look it up. But I could definitely write a haiku.

But enough waxing poetic about my beloved food processor. It is time for the ingredients. Ready?

Ingredients before prep work

Ingredients

1 pound chicken livers, trimmed (this basically means cutting off all of the harder bits from the livers.)

1 thinly sliced onion (I use the mandolin for this)

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 cup chicken stock (if you don’t have your own on hand I highly recommend the Better than Bullion concentrate, just check your salt level)

2 tsp salt

3 sticks (3/4 of a lbs) softened butter (you want to be able to press your finger into it not have it melted)

3/5 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp cognac

Ingredients after prep work

Are you ready to bring it together? Excellent.

  • Put your pan on the stove top. 
  • Add your livers, onions, garlic, bay leaves chicken stock, and half of your salt (1 tsp).
  • Bring it to a boil.
  • As soon as it boils, turn the heat to a low simmer and cover it.
  • Leave it on the heat for 3 minutes.
  • After three minutes, turn the heat off and shift it off the burner.  DO NOT REMOVE THE LID. (you need the residual heat to cook the livers through)
  • Leave the pan covered for ten minutes. After ten minutes take off the lid and your livers will be cooked through but still a little pink. (mostly it will be the liquid that is still pink, but don’t worry we aren’t using it.)
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer all the solids from the pan into the food processor (livers and onions). 
  • Pulse until it is a smooth paste.
  • Take the lid off of the food processor and let it cool for 5 minutes.
  • After 5 minutes, put the lid back on and start adding the butter in lumps.
  • Add in the cognac, pepper and remaining salt.
  • Blend until smooth (I won’t lie, it looks like mud at this point.)
  • Pour the mix into a container (or several) and put it in the fridge for 4-6 hours or (even better) overnight. The mix will firm up to a pate like consistency.
  • As it is a LOT of Mousse, we cut it into servable sections once solid, wrap each one in plastic wrap and then put it in a freezer safe zip top bag. Thus stored in the freezer it keeps for about six months.   Just give it time to thaw before serving.(a  few hours on the counter or overnight in the fridge).
solids in the food processor

See that wasn’t so hard. And you not only have a delicious treat for now, but for several occasions to come. My portions come out to twelve, but I make them different sizes. Sometimes it is just me and my baby eating it and sometimes we have a houseful, so I find multiple sizes helps.

I tried to pare the recipe down, and in theory you can, but our store only sells chicken livers in one pound containers so for me it is just easier to make the batch and freeze what doesn’t get eaten right away.

Plus, I like having something I can pull out of the freezer for surprise company (not that we’ve had company in the past year, but you know, usually). Our location means we get a lot of friends and family passing through. Sometimes we only have a few hours notice before a drop by visit occurs so i like to be prepared.

cut into portions

This can be served with crackers or bread depending on your preference.  I find adding a really nice sharp cheddar works really well as a paired offering.

As for drinks, I usually choose a white wine to go with it.  Today, however we are going non-alcoholic. 

I know, strange for a happy hour.  However both my baby doll and I got our Vaccines this week and have been feeling a little off.  It seemed like a good week to give the booze a pass. You know, just in case.

So instead we are using seltzer water, complements of my lovely Soda Stream and adding a little bit of grenadine to make a sweet cherry fizz.  It is light and fruity and oddly enough the sweetness pairs well with the sweetness of the cognac. Personally, I like something light and fruity with the deep richness of the chicken liver mousse.

The two actually complement each other. If you were looking for something equally light to pair with it that had alcohol in it, you could add a shot of vodka to this (lemon infused vodka would actually be quite nice actually, the lemon adding a note of sharpness to go with the sweet and lemon would pair very well, or at least cut through the fatty richness of the mousse).

If looking for something pre-prepared, you might try a White Claw or some other hard seltzer to go with it. It also goes very well with a Chardonnay that leans towards citrus notes.

Whether alcoholic or not, you are going to want to look for a light beverage with either sweet or sharp notes to pair with the fatty rich flavor of the chicken liver mousse. And while I adore red wine, this is one of those foods that just leans towards the crispness of white wines. It may be liver, but it is still poultry if that helps you when you are making your selection. Sometimes the classic associations are there for a reason.

Personally tonight i am going to enjoy my light cherry flavored fizz with my chicken liver mousse spread on rounds of fresh baguette. And I think even without the alcohol, my baby and I are going to have a very happy, happy hour.


And if you’d like to oggle my beautiful Food Processor (Or really his compatriots) You can click on the Hamilton Beach link below. It really is one of my essential kitchen tools these days.



Happy Hour: ?

I know this is where I normally post the food and drink my baby doll and I indulge in on our Friday evening end of the week celebration. However tonight we have been invited over to a friends house. It is now warm enough to use the back porch for a short evening gathering and everyone in the house has been vaccinated. There will still be masks and social distancing over the porch and the short happy hour gathering (plus there aren’t that many of us) but I will not be making anything. Tonight the food and drink will be in someone else’s hands. I suspect it will be prepackaged items: beer and wine for drinks and cheese and charcuterie for food. It will be a small gathering, in the open but it will be the first in about a year so we are going. We will spend an hour or two making merry and then walk the two blocks back to our house. I promise to make it up to you next week. For now, I am off to shower and change. It is ridiculous to see how excited i actually am about this small gathering. I feel like its the first time I’ve ever been invited anywhere.

Happy Friday everyone!

Oh and if you are looking for something to celebrate this weekend, Sunday is Dry Shampoo day. I personally plan on trying Klorane’s new eco friendly dry shampoo. It comes in a package with no accelerant. According to the package you squeeze the bottle to get the product out. I can’t wait to try it. Sunday seems like the perfect day. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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