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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast. There are characters galore in this book, and it sometimes takes a bit to figure out which decade you’re reading about (few clues) or which person. Oh yes, her, current day. Oh, that’s him, during the war. Max, oh, I thought he died. No, that’s his son. I think. The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem. There is family dysfunction. Relationship dysfunction. There is quite a bit of adultery going on, yet I found myself understanding why. The book relays a true story (names changed) about an architect and a woman who is trying to write a book about him. Drawings and paintings of this village play a big part. There is some mental dis-health too. And throughout, it’s about the land, the sea, and this remarkable house. I wondered if in the hardback edition there were any photo plates of the drawings. One character is driven to draw the rooms he’s in, the house he’s in, or the house he conjures in his mind. There are lots of beach walks, and there is a huge tidal flood too. Despite having some difficulty keeping track of the characters, it was a good read.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. She struggles to keep her poverty at bay, and like many women of her time and the day, wished themselves on men of means. There is love. There is loss. And through it all, the thread that holds it all together is the mores – the rules of civility – required of most everyone. To keep up the face. To swing. To survive. Really well developed drama and a very real sense of place. I’m reviewing the book in one of my book clubs; fortunately there is a lot online about this book.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl. She’s a biologist, was working at Cal Tech and someone brought in a tiny abandoned barn owl. She took him home, and he became her “mate” (that happens at year two). Everything about this book is interesting, from how she nurtures him in his tiny habitat, to how she transforms her living space to accommodate a full grown owl. He couldn’t be habilitated to the wild because of a wing injury (likely when he fell out of the nest). It’s a heartwarming story.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends). The supposition is that all the women are ladies of the night, and it’s their ticket to a better life. He holds to his principles until he meets lovely Livia, who begins cooking for a group of soldiers (it was a real job). Food plays a starring role in this book, as well as Vesuvius’ eruption. It’s a very interesting story – I don’t know if it’s true there were such positions in the British military, but it sounds like it. Gould has to find his way through the miasma of politics, corruption, provisioning in a war-torn country and the warfront. But all of it is laced with the very sweet love story.

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio. She needs a job, and agrees to the commute, rain, shine or snow. The “library” is limited. The inmates her “staff.” She weaves her way through the pitfalls of limited funds, theft, perversion, jerks, rules, and every myriad of inmate problems. Very interesting read.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II. Franco is a weary Italian soldier. He stumbles into a vineyard and is hired. It’s hard work (nothing he’s ever done before) but he’s a very diligent worker. He didn’t stop there to find love, but it found him. There’s a lot of sinister Fascist activity throughout the book, plenty of local history, and of course, a bit about the walls of Lucca.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars. A British family buys a very dilapidated house, and a local man (the handyman) begins helping them fix it up. Two children play a part, with the British husband merely peeking in now and then. There is local dissension, town secrets, some violence as the town tries to heal from years of war. And the handyman just keeps working, pondering his own demons as well. Very riveting story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition. Some of that is hard to read, but Follett writes sagas, and I was really “into it.” Have always loved his writing, and if you haven’t ever read this sidebar before, or my section on books, his book, The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel  is my#1 favorite book I’ve ever read. In this Fire book, though, there are numerous characters, families really, in France, London and the (fictitious I think) town of Kingsbridge. Riveting reading, as are all of his books.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way. Anger is there, but deep down you know, reading this, that they care about each other. The one that left is a successful but lonely attorney in Seattle. The other is a single mother who owns a small seasonal cabin rental facility near Seattle. It’s a very sweet story – takes awhile to “get there” but you know they’re going to reconcile and find their sister-groove again. Good book. Worth reading.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital. You ride the wave of his first, painful days when he questions if he was ever meant to be a doctor, to the end of the year when he recognized his true passion for infectious disease diagnostics. I really enjoyed the book, and commend him for being so brutally honest about his own vulnerabilities and what he saw as complete inexperience. If you enjoy this genre of book, this is a good one.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children. She was hired as an under-nurse, but soon became the prime caregiver of the youngest children. She became “Lala” to the children, and they loved her dearly. And she them. This is a serious below-stairs look at that part of the royal family, their foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even the proclivities of the children themselves. It was a great read. Loved it from the first page.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam. It’s an eye-opener. Over the last many years I’ve marveled at authors who have found a niche of some part of that awful war and it was enough to write a great story. Simon is the hero, here. He was a Jew and miraculously survived Auschwitz and returned to his home, hoping to find his mother and sister (who were also at Auschwitz, but he knew not their fates). He knew his father had died in the camp. The family home had been taken over by others. He was destitute. He befriended two young women (one had worked for his father in his clock-making business). There is a “box” in the story – an important element. Simon finds a job, income, friends, and love. Finds some caring people, but also encounters some very shady characters as well. The story is told very well. There is mystery, poignant love and redemption. Well worth reading.

Camille De Maio wrote Before the Rain Falls. Very interesting story about a young doctor who returns to her border town in Texas for a very short vacation. And about a young down-on-his-luck journalist who goes to the same town to get a story. There’s a death/murder long ago, the sharp shards of emotions that remain in the town. The survivors. The grandmother who spent 7 decades in prison. And a love story. Very sweet book about family. Love. Loss. As I write this, it’s $.99 on Kindle.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career. There was always “talk” about him. He never married. He was querulous. He got high-handed too frequently. He was a tee-totaler, and always had a dog named Psyche. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was appalled at the condition of prisons and even ordinary Army barracks. When he died it came out – Dr. James Barry was really a woman. And a woman who had borne a child. Facts that were suspected by many, but never corroborated. S/he did so because a woman wasn’t allowed to go to college, let alone medical school. When you read it in context, it’s logical what her mentors suggested she do. I can’t say that this book is all that well written – some of it uses the stilted language of the time, even though it’s current in its publication. But it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. So I’ve read, there is going to be a documentary made about her life.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on June 6th, 2020.

straw_sauce_ricotta_cream

That’s a glass espresso cup. Tiny. And an espresso spoon. To make a tiny dessert.

As businesses have opened up here in California (mostly) I’m still sheltering in place. Wishing all of this was over with, so we can go about our lives again. Alas, for people my age, at least here in California, it’s not happening yet. I’m still at home, preparing all of my own food (I haven’t done any take-out so far). There’s no shortage of recipes to try, but sometimes there aren’t the right ingredients to make things happen. My next door neighbor is still buying lots of food for me, although I’m now buying from some local grocery stores that deliver.

The other day a little memory rose up to the surface, as they are wont to do sometimes, and I remembered waaaay back in the day when I was still working. Kathleen, who worked for us, was going to Weight Watchers at the time, and came into the office and said oh, taste this . . . it was something creamy, thick, white. Eileen tasted it and said eww….. I tasted it and said wow, that’s delicious. What is it? She said pastry cream. What? Really, on Weight Watchers? She said yes. I wanted the recipe. She laughed a little, I think, and said you won’t believe what it is? Ricotta cheese, a smidgen of yogurt with some sweetener in it (probably Sweet ‘n Low, which was about all that was available back then). And maybe there was a tiny splash of vanilla in it. Not sure that I remember if Kathleen used it, but I do add vanilla when I make it.

My business partner and I sold the ad agency back in 1995, but I’ve stayed in touch with some of the employees, Kathleen included. I emailed her the other day and asked her if she remembered that day. Of course she did! And she recalled that the following week after that epiphany in the office, she went to her Weight Watchers meeting, and raved about the “pastry cream” she’d been snacking on a few times a day, the leader said WHAT? You’re only supposed to have a bite or two, like on a strawberry, or spread on an apple slice. OH. We all laughed about that.

ricotta_cheese_TJsBut I’ve not forgotten that little sinful pleasure, and had my neighbor buy me a tub of ricotta from Trader Joe’s. I buy full fat because I’m not pleased with what I’ve read about how dairy products are stripped of the fat – maybe not a healthy food to eat. So anyway, I opened the tub, sprinkled on some monkfruit sweetener, added a small dollop of yogurt, and a couple of drops of vanilla, and stirred it up well. I prefer to do this several hours ahead, but hey, if you’re in a hurry, go right ahead. The sweetener or sugar just doesn’t dissolve immediately in ricotta cheese. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve made this “ricotta cream” at least 20 times. (Thank you, Kathleen!) The original recipe suggests you whiz this up in the food processor until the ricotta is silky smooth. I don’t bother – the stirred version is fine with me.

Meanwhile, my neighbor phoned me one day and said the local grocery store had big boxes of fresh strawberries for $1.99. Did I want one? Wow, that’s a lot of strawberries for me to eat, but I said “sure.” I ate a few, then thought about making a fresh strawberry sauce, using artificial sweetener. I’m really trying to limit the sugar I eat. This may be the last “dessert” you’ll see here for awhile as I’m telling myself I can’t be baking with abandon as I stay here at home. I want to bake. No. Need to stop!

straw_sauceSo I made a fresh strawberry sauce with fresh, sliced strawberries, some monkfruit sweetener, and a little bit of fresh lemon juice. It took little or no time to make. I read a bunch of different recipes, and one intrigued me stating that sliced berries will result in a vibrant, clear sauce. If you mash them, it muddies the waters, so to speak. I liked the result, and it’s low in calorie to boot. I also added a tiny, tiny splash of dark balsamic vinegar to the mixture once it cooled. It gives a different flavor profile – you can’t quite figure out what’s in it. Those little storage containers above are now in the freezer. The pound of berries made a lot of sauce, which won’t keep all that long because it’s not sweetened with sugar. It tastes like a thin jam, but without real sugar it will begin to spoil after 4-5 days.

straw_sauce_ice_creamUSING: Well, when I’m desperate for a snack, my spoon goes into that tub of ricotta cheese. I eat maybe 2 bites straight, just like Kathleen taught me back in the 90s [cheeky grin]. If I’m wanting something more fancy, I do have some vanilla ice cream on hand that I’m trying very hard not to eat but rarely, and the other night I scooped some into a little bitty glass dish and spooned some berries on top, with a few walnuts. A tasty dessert. Or I spoon some of the ricotta cream into a little espresso cup and add the berries on top (pictured at top).

What’s GOOD: a great little snack (moderation, remember?) and makes a nice little bitty dessert if you’re hankering for something not too sinful. Strawberries are at peak season here in California at the moment. A perfect time to make this. And freeze some of it for a winter’s day.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t like the texture/consistency of ricotta cheese. It is an odd, kind of grainy texture, perhaps an acquired taste for some, but I’m fine with it. Obviously Eileen wasn’t! Chuckle.

RICOTTA CREAM: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

STRAWBERRY SAUCE: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Ricotta Cream

Recipe By: From my friend Kathleen H, from a Weight Watcher’s class, c. 1990
Serving Size: 8

1 pound ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sugar — or artificial sweetener
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Blend ingredients in food processor with metal blade until satiny smooth. Refrigerate in tightly covered container. Will keep for at least a week.
2. If you’re lazy, you can just stir into the ricotta the yogurt, sugar and vanilla and mix well. The sugar takes awhile to dissolve, so it’s best if made a few hours ahead.
SERVING: Serve as a kind of small-portion pudding, top with some sliced fruit, a fruit sauce, or even chocolate syrup. Put between two cookies, or use between thin layers of cake.
Per Serving: 108 Calories; 6g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 29mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 124mg Calcium; trace Iron; 134mg Potassium; 93mg Phosphorus.

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Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Recipe By: My own recipe.
Serving Size: 12

1 pound fresh strawberries — cleaned, dried with paper towels, stemmed, then sliced thickly
2 tablespoons sugar — or monkfruit sweetener, or other artificial sweetener
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar — or more to taste

1. Place sliced strawberries into a saucepan. Add sugar and lemon juice. The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the berries are – riper the berries = less sugar.
2. Bring mixture to a simmer and stir occasionally as it cooks and the strawberries soften, about 4-8 minutes. Do not overcook or the berries will soften to a mush. That’s not the texture you want – just cooked through, barely. Taste for more sugar or lemon juice, as needed.
3. Set aside to cool.
4. Add balsamic vinegar and stir well. You do not want the balsamic vinegar flavor to predominate – it’s there just to add a nuance. Allow to cool completely and chill. Freezes well.
Per Serving: 21 Calories; trace Fat (4.6% calories from fat); trace Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium; 4g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 6mg Calcium; trace Iron; 61mg Potassium; 9mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on May 22nd, 2020.

rhubarb_cobbler_ice_cream

Every time I make something with rhubarb, my mind wings back in time to my mother’s varied ways of preparing it.

No question about it, I love rhubarb. I love the sweet-sour taste of it – even with plenty of sugar in it – it still has that little bit of sour that reaches those particular taste buds on your tongue. This was a new recipe I tried, and I liked it a LOT. My mother most often just made a rhubarb sauce – probably nothing more than rhubarb, sugar and water. That would be dessert. Mom would put out the bowl of sauce, 3 little serving bowls and we’d help ourselves. As I think I’ve mentioned before, my mother had a patch of rhubarb in the back  yard, clearly tucked away under a tree with lots of shade. I’ve heard tell that some people serve stalks of rhubarb with a bowl of sugar and you just dip the end into the sugar and eat it raw. I’ve never tried it.

rhubarb_cobbler_unbakedThe chunked up rhubarb was mixed with sugar (I used half real sugar and half monkfruit sweetener), salt, lemon juice and some almond extract (loved that part). It went into a buttered baking dish. Then you mix up the topping – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, some shortening (yes, really), some butter, milk and an egg. It came together very easily. I did use a pastry blender, although at the end I just used my hands and mashed the little pieces of butter between my fingers. Then you pinch off little pieces of that dough and put them on top of the rhubarb. What happens is that it makes  “cobbled” top. It gives the topping, when baked, a craggy type top with little nooks and crannies.rhubarb_cobbler_baked

Into the oven it went for about 30 minutes and it was perfectly golden brown on top. I let it cool – but I think the best way to eat this would be still warm, with the ice cream.

Truth be told, the next morning I had this for my breakfast with some milk poured over it. Absolutely divine.

What’s GOOD: altogether wonderful. The rhubarb. Yum. Topping. Yum. After having 2-3 portions, I gave the rest of it to my daughter Sara, who came to visit the day before Mother’s Day – we visited outside. I made lunch.

What’s NOT: nothing. nothing.

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Rhubarb Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at Tasty Kitchen (Ree Drummonds recipe sharing part of her website, Pioneer Woman)
Serving Size: 12

RHUBARB:
6 cups rhubarb — chopped
1 2/3 cups sugar — you can use half or all artificial sweetener – I use monkfruit
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
TOPPING:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 whole egg

NOTE: Use a ceramic or glass dish. The rhubarb cooks down a lot so choose a dish that is larger than a 9×9 if you have one.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and almond extract. Stir it well to distribute the sugar mixture and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir together. Using a pastry cutter or your hands, add shortening and butter, until all the fat is in small little pebbles.
4. Beat egg and milk together. Pour into flour mixture and stir with a fork until just combined. If mixture is too dry, add a teaspoon or two of milk. The dough should hold together but not be sticky.
5. Pour rhubarb into a large, buttered baking dish. Tear off pinches of dough and drop it onto the surface of the fruit, creating a “cobbled” texture. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, half and half or fresh whipped cream. You can also serve this for breakfast with milk poured over it.
Per Serving: 311 Calories; 11g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 318mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on April 15th, 2020.

indiv_choc_pavlova_choc_pastry_cream

The prettiest little dessert ever. Chocolate.

At a cooking class awhile back, Phillis Carey made these gems. Would I ever make them? Probably not – I think they’re a bit too fussy for my dessert-making tastes, but Phillis assured us they weren’t that difficult. However, she’d made the meringues that morning, and prepared the chocolate cream filling the night before. She’d put the meringues in a sealed container. So, really, all she had to do at the class was assemble them. That part’s really easy. But, if you don’t mind the making of meringues, or the chocolate cream, then go for it.

The recipe down below looks more than intimidating, I’d wager, for even the more experienced cooks out there. Some folks get turned off by anything more than about 5 ingredients in a recipe. Definitely more complicated than that.

Making meringues can be off-putting to some, but Phillis’ instructions are quite straight forward. You do have to make 4” circles on a big piece of parchment paper, then you turn it over so you don’t absorb graphite into the meringues, but you can still SEE the circles through the other side of the parchment. And, you’ve got to whip the egg whites for at least 8 minutes. Advice: set a timer when you begin, because you’ll think you’re done at about 5 minutes. No, a full 8 minutes.

The chocolate cream is easy enough, although  you do need to prepare an ice-water bath for it. Once made, and it’s hot, of course, you set the bowl into the ice water to cool it down until it’s fully cold. So, do make the meringues the day ahead (store at room temp, sealed up in a plastic, lidded box) and make the filling up to 3 days ahead. Then it’s only a matter of whipping the cream, shaving some chocolate curls and assembling it. That part’s very easy.

What’s GOOD: loved having chocolate pavlova – that was a new taste treat. If you want to make it a bit more decadent, make MORE of the chocolate cream – the chocolate flavor really comes from that and as the recipe is now, it doesn’t give any serving very much of it. I think I’d double it.

What’s NOT: only that you’ll want to plan ahead – make meringues day before – make cream at least a day or 2 ahead of time. A little bit fussy to serve, but not overly so. If everything IS made ahead, it’s not difficult in the least.

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Individual Chocolate Pavlovas with Dark Chocolate Cream

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey, 2020
Serving Size: 4

PAVLOVAS:
2 large egg whites — at room temperature
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup heavy cream — whipped (garnish)
chocolate curls (garnish)
CHOCOLATE CREAM:
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream — + 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces dark chocolate — finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. PAVLOVAS: To make meringue, preheat oven to 275°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Draw four 4-inch circles on parchment, flip parchment over (so you can see the pencil marks but it won’t be absorbed into the meringue). Mix egg whites, sugars, salt and vinegar in a mixing bowl, set over a bowl of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugars dissolve and mixture is warm, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk on medium-high speed or hand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Set a timer if that helps – you do not want to under-beat this meringue. Beat in vanilla.
2. Sift cocoa powder over meringue and fold until barely any streaks remain. Using an offset spatula or a large spoon, spread meringue onto parchment, using the circles as a guide. Be careful not to spread out too much as the meringue will spread some during baking. Form a small well in the center of each meringue, being careful not to spread the meringue too thin in the center.
3. Bake meringues until dry to the touch, about 40-45 minutes. Let cool on sheet pan on wire rack. Meringues will keep in a tightly covered container for up to one day. Remove to a sealed container.
4. CHOCOLATE CREAM: Prepare an ice-water bath.
5. Whisk egg yolks and half of the sugar in a medium bowl. Bring cream, milk, salt and remaining sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Pour a THIRD of the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking until combined. Pour yolk mixture into pan with hot cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture coats the back of a spoon – this will happen very quickly.
6. Place chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Pour hot mixture over chocolate. Whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Strain through a sieve into a medium bowl, then set bowl in ice-water bath, stirring often, until chocolate is cool/cold. Stir in vanilla. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of chocolate cream, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
7. ASSEMBLY: Spread chocolate cream evenly in the center of each meringue, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the outside. Spread whipped cream over chocolate cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 465 Calories; 28g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 170mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on March 20th, 2020.

sour_cherry_choc_torte_slice

Comfort food needed.

In this post I’m addressing the current state of self-quarantine from COVID-19. Today is day nine of my staying at home. Completely. Although I have gone out to take walks. And I delivered documents to my CPA. Otherwise it’s day after day of being at home. I’ve been glued to the TV, having it on from early morning  until bedtime. Kind of depressing. I love my home, but my daughter Dana said to me yesterday (on the phone) that it’s one thing to be content staying at home when it’s your own idea. Not so when someone else tells you you have to stay at home. Yes, I agree. It’s been too cold to sit outside – only walking. And we’ve had a lot of rain besides.

There’s been plenty of cooking going on in my house – and I have posts set up into mid-April. My young next door neighbor, Josee, has declared herself my own personal shopper. God bless her!! I give her a grocery list by text and off she goes, disinfecting everything before she sets it on my front step. Although – lots of things are in short supply or in NO supply (blueberries, for instance, and TP of course). No white onions. Huh? All this hoarding is crazy.

I’m about to start a to-do list – things I want to accomplish during this forced quarantine. Like wipe down all the cupboard shelves in my kitchen that are open or glass fronted. My cleaning gals don’t clean those and it’s been a year or so since I’ve wiped them down. Like working in my garage – cleaning shelves and “stuff” that’s accumulated there. I have a 3-car garage, so there is plenty of space to accumulate stuff. One of the car bays stores my outdoor furniture, but once the weather warms up, that will all go outside. Otherwise, I could still get 3 cars into my garage, but things are encroaching on the ease of doing that. I have one car, of course.

My DH Dave used to be the person who handled the garage – periodically cleaning it out, brooming out detritus, getting it neat again. Since he’s been gone I’ve not done much of that – a bit here and there. And by the way, tomorrow is the 6-year anniversary of his death. I’ve shredded thousands of pages of things that could be tossed, but that’s an ongoing project. I’ve tossed out about 90% of my many thick travel files – with clippings and pages from magazines, newspapers, etc. over the course of about 40 years. Most of it isn’t up to date, so why keep it? My desk in my upstairs study needs to be neatened up. That’ll take about 2 hours at most, but it always gets shoved down the list of things to do. I’ve never been good about keeping a neat desk. Filing has never been my forte! Why haven’t I worked on my painting? I don’t know. Can’t seem to motivate myself to. In time, perhaps.

sour_cherry_choc_torte_topviewSo yesterday I was feeling kind of blah. Physically I’m fine – I mean mentally. So I did what lots of people do – I decided I needed a food reward. And it needed to be chocolate! I went searching in several cookbooks, and settled on Maida Heatter – her book about chocolate. Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. (The book is no longer in print, but used copies are available for a very inexpensive price if you’re so inclined.) She’s a legend, and all of her books are very interesting reading. I own two I think. I’ve never prepared any recipe of hers that hasn’t been perfect – spot on. Nearly every recipe has a paragraph of explanation – who gave her the recipe, where she first ate it – what chef, friend, relative or neighbor prepared it – why it’s special or why she developed it. Lots of recipes contained things I don’t have in my pantry (almond paste, sweetened condensed milk, a lot of cream or milk, or half and half – I have a bit of those, but not enough). I eliminated dozens upon dozens of possible recipes that required a filling or icing. I wanted easy. A chocolate carrot cake intrigued me, but I don’t have enough carrots at the moment (yes, they’re on the next grocery list).

sour_cherry_choc_torte_closeup_cherries

Above: note the cherries kind of buried under the chocolate cake batter, touching the edges.

What I did have in my pantry was a jar of Trader Joe’s Morello (more or less sour) cherries. Perfect for this recipe. And Maida even mentioned that there is a natural marriage between chocolate and cherries. The cake was made with semisweet chocolate (had that), eggs (had the 3 needed), flour, sugar, almond flour (yes), butter, vanilla, almond extract. Yes, I had it all. The cake is made in a springform pan (a 9” one) and Maida wanted you to butter it and dust it with bread crumbs . . . I used almond flour instead.

sour_cherry_choc_torte_sideviewThere is flour in this recipe, so it’s not GF. The batter is made. The cherries are drained and blotted dry with paper towels (yes, I still have ample of those for now). Half the batter is poured into the prepared pan, then you carefully place the cherries all over the batter, even touching the pan side if needed, then the rest of the batter is poured on top and carefully spread. 50 minutes baking time  later it was done, then it cooled. After dinner last night I cut myself a slice, whipped up some cream with kirsch and had myself a slice. I think I’ll freeze at least half of it so I can bring out a piece now and then.

What’s GOOD: yum. The chocolate wasn’t overwhelming – you wouldn’t want it to be, so you could taste the cherries. Loved the moist cherries kind of hidden inside. And the whipped cream with kirsch? Oh yes. If you don’t have it, not to worry, but do serve with the whipped cream.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except you’ve got to have sour cherries (not dried type) on hand.

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Sour Cherry Chocolate Torte

Recipe By: Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts
Serving Size: 10

24 ounces canned cherries — tart (sour) red cherries packed in water (it needs to yield: scant 2 cups)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup almonds — ground very fine or use almond flour
1/8 cup almond flour — for dusting the pan
6 ounces unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2/3 cup all-purpose flour — scant
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon Kirsch

NOTE: Trader Joe’s Morello cherries packed in water (sweetened some) is a 24-ounce jar. It yielded about 2 1/4 cups of drained cherries.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F, butter a 9″ spring-form pan dust with ground almonds (or fine, dry unseasoned bread crumbs), shake out extra, set aside.
2. Drain cherries, then spread in a single layer on several thicknesses of paper towel, while you continue to prepare the torte. Measure out a scant 2 cups to add to the cake.
3. Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave. Watch carefully, don’t allow any water to get in the chocolate or it will seize.
4. Cream the butter, add extracts and sugar, beat well; add eggs one at a time beating after each until mixed. On low, add chocolate, beat until mixed, add almonds (flour), then all-purpose flour, mixing just until incorporated.
5. Spread about half or a little more of the batter into the pan (it is thick, using an offset spatula helps) place cherries one at a time over batter in a single layer (they can touch the sides) then spoon and spread the remaining batter over the cherries. Going slow helps prevent pull up.
6. Bake cake 50 minutes – the cake will be dry and crusty on top and a toothpick will come out clean. Cool for 15 minutes on a rack, then remove springform side, let stand until almost cool (to serve warm this is about 30 minutes). Use a long pastry spatula to loosen cake from the cake bottom and slide off onto serving platter. Or cover cake with a rack and flip over, remove pan bottom – you may need to slip a thin spatula between the torte and pan bottom to loosen, cover cake with serving plate and flip back over.
7. Whip cream with sugar and kirsch and serve each slice with a large dollop of whipped cream.
Per Serving: 370 Calories; 19g Fat (44.4% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 46mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on March 2nd, 2020.

sour_cream_walnut_brownies

Oh gosh, just make these, okay? So rich and chocolaty. So easy (mix in one bowl).

The other night I had eaten a very virtuous dinner. A very light dinner. And I just craved a little something sweet. All the chocolate chip cookies are gone (I took them to the desert and my friend Ann and I ate the two dozen or so I took out there). I scrounged in the freezer, thinking there might be something in there. Nope. I try not to keep ice cream in the freezer, because it beckons me too often to come have some. So there was simply nothing in the freezer to satisfy. So I opted to make something new. Brownies.

There are so many different textures of brownies out there – thick, thin, chewy, crunchy, even fudge-like ones, or the kind that have a shiny, crackled top. And then there are cake-type, like these. Do you have a favorite? These may be my new favs.

What was the greatest? They were mixed up, by hand, in one bowl. I did melt the butter and chocolate in a separate bowl in the microwave (and watched it very carefully so it wouldn’t boil), and I used a wooden spoon and a rubber spatula. But that was all it took. The pan needs a foil sling, so don’t overlook that part, and I sprayed the foil with EVOO. Eggs gave it nice lift, and the sour cream (only 1/3 cup) gave it tenderness. And it only contains 1/2 cup flour. What provides the dense chocolate flavor is the use of some bar chocolate (I used dark) and a hefty amount of Dutch-processed cocoa. Some brownie recipes use pecans. I prefer walnuts. Into a 325°F oven they went and 40 minutes later they were just barely cooked through. Because they’re such a tender cake-type, you definitely want to let them cool in the pan for awhile.

I did use monkfruit sweetener for half of the sugar amount called for. I couldn’t even tell there was any alternative sweetener in there. I do like the monkfruit type – has a very natural taste.

These could feed 9 hearty eaters, but I cut this into much smaller squares. The recipe does say 16, but you could easily get 18-20, I think. Don’t refrigerate them – just put them in a covered container. If you don’t eat them within 48 hours, freeze them, using parchment paper in between the layers so they won’t stick to each other.

What’s GOOD: love-loved the tender texture, cake-like, and intense chocolate flavor of these. A little serving gives you a big jolt of happiness.

What’s NOT: nary a thing that I can think of, unless you don’t like this type of tender brownie.

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Sour Cream Walnut Brownies

Serving Size: 16 (or more)

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts — coarsely chopped

NOTE: If you’re watching sugar intake, you may easily swap monkfruit sweetener for the sugar, or use half sugar and half monkfruit.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 8-inch square pan with foil so that at least 2 inches hang over two opposite sides. Spray the foil with EVOO, or grease with butter.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or use a microwave (but watch it carefully so it doesn’t boil). Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.
3. Using a wooden spoon, beat in cocoa powder and sugar until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract. Add flour and salt. Mix just until blended. Stir in walnuts.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool for about 30 minutes in the pan on wire rack then use foil sling to remove them to the rack to cool completely. Will keep a few days at room temp, or freeze for longer storage. If freezing, use parchment paper to separate the layers so the brownies don’t stick, as they are very moist.
Per Serving: 272 Calories; 20g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on December 6th, 2019.

germ_choc_pecan_pie

Like Pecan Pie? Like chocolate? What a combo.

Pecan pie has never been something at the top of my sweets list of likes. My mother used to make one at Christmas or Thanksgiving because my dad liked it. Not me so much – mostly because they were always too sweet and sticky. A bite or two over my lifetime, yes, I’ve had a slice. But not usually by choice – only if it had been embarrassing to not take some. I’d pick at it. Well, now, with this recipe, from a Phillis Carey class, I may be on the bandwagon – but only if it’s made this way. With chocolate on the bottom. And whipped cream on top. The crust I can’t have, although I now have a pie crust recipe that’s lectin-free – haven’t tried it yet. This pie isn’t quite as sweet as some, and the sticky texture wasn’t quite so predominant. I ate the interior of the pie and all the whipped cream. So delicious.

The original recipe came from Rachel Ray. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if a chocolate pecan pie has been around the block over the years. Who knows, really, where it originated.

What’s GOOD: the chocolate layer inside. The not-quite-so-sticky filling. And definitely the whipped cream that cuts the richness.

What’s NOT: only the work required to make a pie crust and pie.

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German Chocolate Pecan Pie

Recipe By: Cooking class with Phillis Carey, Nov. 2019
Serving Size: 8

CRUST:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsalted butter — cut into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water
FILLING:
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups pecan halves — (about 10 ounces) coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
TOPPING:
2/3 cup heavy cream — whipped
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 5 seconds. Drizzle in the ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap; flatten to form a disk. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round; transfer to a pie pan. Cut the excess dough to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Using your fingers, roll the dough edge under and crimp. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork; refrigerate for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees .
3. Line the shell with foil and pie weights or dried beans; bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 12 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk together the remaining 5 tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt with the brown sugar and corn syrup over medium heat until melted and smooth. Whisk the sugar mixture into the beaten eggs. Stir in the nuts and coconut.
5. Spread the chocolate chips in the pie shell. Pour in the filling and bake until set, about 25 minutes. Let the pie cool completely before slicing.
6. Whip heavy cream with sugar and add a big dollop on each slice.
Per Serving: 769 Calories; 57g Fat (63.9% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 345mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 9th, 2019.

cherry_cheesecake_trifle

The title is a bit of a misnomer, I think. There isn’t much “trifle” here. It’s a layered kind of cheesecake pudding with Amaretto overtones and accented with sweet, dark cherries.

My friend Cherrie does a girls’ luncheon every October. She calls it a witches lunch and does all kinds of witch-type themes. We’re supposed to come in some kind of costume. I wore a Halloween apron that says BOO on it. I’ve never been much of a costume person. Most of the ladies had very fancy Halloween head paraphernalia, or hats, or scarves, or orange/black feathers. The apron was just fine for me. Some just wore black. But all that aside, it was very fun. I offered to bring dessert and this pudding kind of thing seemed just right.

The original recipe came from Taste of Home (I didn’t try to look it up online), just copied it from a booklet Cherrie gave me. What’s missing from the recipe for a “trifle” is some kind of cake – like ladyfingers, or pound cake – which is more common in a trifle. So how it got named a trifle is beyond me.

What you see there in the cup (a beverage cup) is a layer of Amaretto-scented cheesecake pudding (not a cooked type), a layer of dark sweet cherries, then topped with a bunch of Cool-Whip, then accented with one cherry and some shaved chocolate. I made the cheesecake part (most of it) the day before. It’s merely cream cheese, powdered sugar and Amaretto mixed together. Just before serving you lighten it up with some Cool-Whip. That was a little bit tedious as the cheesecake part was relatively firm, and the other, obviously, very light and fluffy. It took a couple of minutes of light folding to get it all to combine. It worked. That went into the bottom of the cup. The day before I’d also cooked the frozen cherries with sugar and vanilla and let them chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Cherrie’s daughter-in-law Brianna helped me compose all these desserts. I was very grateful for her help because it was a bit tedious to make these for 13 people. Probably took about 20 minutes altogether with two of us working at it. So, one piece of advice, don’t make this for a large group (recipe said not to make it ahead, probably because of the Cool-Whip not holding  up in the cheesecake part). For 6-8 people, it wouldn’t be difficult.

Since I’ve now made this, I’ve decided to change-up the recipe a little bit. First, I’d use real whipped cream for the topping. But I’d still use the Cool-Whip for the cheesecake part. I’d also cook the cherries differently – I’d use my favorite recipe for cherries, Fresh Bing Cherry Compote. They’re flavored with allspice, clove and cinnamon and poached in red wine. THIS recipe used frozen cherries – which will work just fine with that recipe for fresh Bing cherries. The only other change I’ve made to this recipe is to use some of the flavorful juice – I spooned some of it in the middle, and then some more on the top. Made the finished dessert look prettier. So, the recipe below incorporates all of those changes I’d make.

What’s GOOD: so creamy and delicious. If you don’t like cream, or creamy pudding like desserts, give this a pass. It was a great dessert in my book.

What’s NOT: you can’t make this up ahead – needs composing just before serving. Also, it’s a bit time-consuming to assemble, so don’t make this for a big group. Much too tedious. But for 6-8 it would be fine.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Cherry Cheesecake Trifles

Recipe By: Adapted from Taste of Home
Serving Size: 6

CHERRIES:
1 pound cherries — fresh, stemmed, pitted, halved *
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
AMARETTO CREAM CHEESE FILLING:
8 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Amaretto
8 fluid ounces Cool Whip® — Extra Creamy type, thawed
TRIFLE:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
GARNISH:
6 cherries — from the cooked batch above
shaved chocolate

* Or use same quantity of frozen and thawed unsweetened cherries. Recipe indicates using frozen (hence cold) may affect cooking time.
1. CHERRIES: In a medium saucepan heat cherries, sugar, clove, allspice berry, cinnamon and red wine over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir in. If possible, make this a day ahead and chill, allowing the flavors to meld.
2. FILLING: In a medium bowl, beat softened cream cheese and sugar with a mixer at med-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add Amaretto, beating to combine. Add whipped topping and beat until smooth. Do not make this ahead.
3. TRIFLE: Whip the heavy cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Layer Amaretto cream cheese on bottom of short parfait glasses or cups, a layer of cherries with some of the juice, then add the whipped cream. With a spoon, swirl the whipped cream up to a slight peak if possible and that’s where you’ll place the single cherry.
4. GARNISH: Garnish with additional cherries if available, drizzle with a bit more of the cherry juices and shave chocolate over the top.
Per Serving: 521 Calories; 31g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 96mg Cholesterol; 148mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, Gundry-friendly, on October 6th, 2019.

gf_almond_brownies

Decadent tasting, full of chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped almonds. AND gluten free.

Last week I had a new friend come to visit for a few hours. She’s a Type 1 diabetic (like my DH was) and she does her best to avoid carbs. I introduced her to chaffles (you can google it – it’s quite a phenom in the low carb world). My chaffle is not really one made with cheese (that what the ch means in the name, the affle means it’s made in a little Sur La Table Dash Mini Waffle Maker waffle iron which makes one waffle round). Mine was made of egg and a tetch of almond flour, a tablespoon of mayo, baking powder and water. I doubt many of you would be interested in any of this, but they make a great substitute for bread. Put two together and you have a sandwich. If you’re interested in the recipe, click that link.

Anyway, when I pulled out my bag of Costco’s Kirkland almond flour to demonstrate how easy it is to make a sandwich chaffle, my friend Vicki asked if I’d tried the almond brownie recipe on the back of the bag. Nope, had not. But it got my taste buds hankering for brownies.

Daughter Sara and her husband were here this weekend so I had a reason to make these brownies. I did use Hershey’s cocoa powder extra dark – so the resulting brownies were really dark/black. Regular cocoa powder might not make them so dark colored. Me? I’m all into the intense flavor. But, if I’d made them for myself, I’d have eaten them all – myself. Not good. Even though they’re GF, and not too high in fat, they’re still calories. As I’m writing this, there are just 4 left. Maybe I’ll freeze them so I can dole them out to myself slowly. We’ll see how THAT goes! I cut them into small squares – I think I got more than 16 out of the 8×8 pan. But you can cut them any size you want.

Because I loved them. And I know my cousin Gary, who loves carbs and chocolate, but is GF, will love these too. He’s not much of a baker, so I’ll make a batch for him when he comes to visit next month. I mixed these up in a bowl with my hand mixer and they baked for about 30+ minutes. Once cooled, these were still quite wet/sticky, but by this morning they were perfect for picking up in hand and didn’t fall apart. I forgot to put more almonds on top. Made no never-mind in the end. These are delicious. I did use some sugar (not supposed to have any sugar, but I used half and half with artificial sugar). I think next time I’ll use a little less sugar and Swerve – I think they’re quite sweet.

What’s GOOD: the intense chocolate flavor. Love that I can have a brownie recipe that satisfies my desire for something brownie-like. The longer I’m on a no-flour diet, I realize how much white flour is used in everyday cooking, and how incredibly versatile it is. AND how important it is to making baked goods have the texture they do. Can’t get that with any of the substitute flours out there. Anyway, I loved these and will most definitely be making them again.

What’s NOT: nothing really – you do need almond flour. Trader Joe’s brand does have the skins in with the flour in their bag (which I can’t have on this diet – lectins live in the skins of almonds, amongst hundreds of other places in various foods). Kirkland’s is ground up blanched almonds. That’s what I buy now and keep it in the freezer to store it so it stays fresher, longer. What these don’t have if a ton of chewiness – they’re quite tender and soft. You won’t get chew from almond flour, I guess.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file – click link to open recipe

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Almond Brownies

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Kirkland brand almond flour package
Serving Size: 16

2 tablespoons butter — softened
1/4 cup Swerve — or other artificial sweetener
1/4 cup sugar — or use all artificial
1 egg
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk — or whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup almonds — chopped
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
More almonds for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Cream together butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl. Blend in egg. Blend in almond milk and vanilla.
3. In another bowl, whisk together almond flour, cocoa powder, sea salt and baking powder. Add to butter mixture and blend just until mixed. Stir in chopped almonds and chocolate chips.
4. Coat an 8 X 8 baking pan with non-sticking cooking spray. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving. They’re better if allowed to cool well (like overnight). Right out of the oven they may be quite wet and sticky, hard to hold together.
5. Garnish with more chopped almonds or with sliced almonds, toasted. Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 98 Calories; 6g Fat (42.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 66mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on September 10th, 2019.

lemon_curd_pudding

You love lemon? Oh, this pudding is for you. Tart and sweet.

One of my granddaughters (Taylor) is visiting me from Northern California. She graduated with a BS from Cal State Sacramento last May and is waiting to hear if she’s been admitted to a fast-track nursing school. If so, she’ll graduate in a year with a BSN. So she’s enjoying time off. Taylor and I were invited to friends the other night for dinner and I offered to bring dessert. I found this recipe in my repertoire of recipes to try – I thought it was a recipe from Marie Rayner, but I can’t find it on her blog.

lemon_curd_pudding_without_toppingAnyway, the original recipe was a pudding with a meringue topping. I’m not such a fan of meringue (like in pie) so I made it with a whipped cream topping flavored with limoncello. The pudding was easy enough to make. I used my copper-core All-Clad pan and put it on top of a flame tamer too, but by doing so I was able to make the pudding in it rather than resorting to a double boiler, which is what the recipe recommends. Anyway, added egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, cream cheese, sour cream. It was warmed up to a slow simmer and thickened a bit (not much, really), cooled, then I mixed in some heavy cream. Poured it into little cups, cooled and chilled.

Then, just before serving I whipped some cream to soft peaks, added a jot of limoncello. I didn’t add any sugar as the pudding was sweet enough already, I believed. Garnished with a mint leaf from Bud & Cherrie’s herb garden. The pudding isn’t a firm pudding – a soft, gentle one.

If you wanted to use the leftover egg whites, by all means, make a meringue with 2 & 2/3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar and pour over the pudding. Bake at 425°F for about 6 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned.

lemon_curd_pudding_group

Here they are all lined up to serve. Even though it’s still very much summer here in SoCal, Cherrie has brought out all of her fall stuff. Loved the little fall-color plates she’d put out for me to use.

What’s GOOD: love-loved the lemony, tart flavor. I wanted to lick the little ramekin. Not nice to do that! Liked the fact that it was a small serving. Super smooth (make sure you get all of the little tiny pieces of cream cheese to dissolve smoothly into the pudding – Taylor helped me and we used a spring coil whisk to make that happen).

What’s NOT: a little bit tricky to transport, but it all worked fine. Nothing else.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lemon Curd Pudding with Limoncello Whipped Cream

Serving Size: 8

3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces cream cheese
1 1/3 cups sour cream
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 teaspoons lemon zest — grated
2/3 cup heavy cream
WHIPPED CREAM:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons limoncello
8 small mint sprigs

1. Beat the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the sugar, cream cheese and sour cream. Blend until smooth. Use a spring coil whisk to make sure you dissolve all of the cream cheese. Add the lemon juice and the zest.
2. Place n the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Cook and stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Whip the cream until thick. Fold this into the lemon mixture. Divide the pudding between custard cups or ramekins. Chill until serving time.
4. TOPPING: Whip the heavy cream and add limoncello at the end. You can add sugar to this if you think it’s needed. Spoon onto the ramekins. Garnish each with a mint sprig. Make small servings, which is fine as it’s rich.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 28g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 160mg Cholesterol; 79mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized, on August 11th, 2019.

The Right Way to Make Tres Leches Cake!

This cake is easy and delicious without the soggy mess. 

A post from Sara – I’ve made a few Tres Leches cakes in my time and have always been disappointed with the soggy mess left by the milk mixture.  Finally, I’ve found a cake that can stand up to the mixture and a trick to prevent the sogginess thanks to Ina Garten.   There is no butter or oil in this cake which, in my opinion, allows the cake to absorb it after baking.  I think traditionally the Tres Leche cake is frosted with either meringue or a whipped topping.  I love the simple square cut of the cake topped with whipped cream and berries.  It’s much easier to store and serve which makes it a perfect make-ahead dessert.  Just whip up the cream and toss the strawberries together before serving.  I used strawberries from Bonsall Farms here in Vista.  It’s a local grower and the berries are naturally sweet perfectly red all the way through.  I actually decided not to add the extra sugar into the berries.

The trick with this cake is to beat the sugar and eggs for 10 minutes.  Yes!  Really!  It leaves the eggs thick and fluffy and a pale yellow color.  Then add the milk and flour mixture alternately.  Mix it a couple more times by hand to be sure its combined.  After it’s baked and cooled slightly, you are ready to add the milk mixture.  GO SLOWLY… pour 1/4 of mixture over punctured cake, then wait until its all absorbed.  Then another 1/4 of mixture and so on.  It allows the cake to take in the liquid rather than it sinking to the bottom of the pan and becoming a soggy mess.

Just wanted to say that mom and I (OK, just me!) having technical difficulty adding the .pdf recipe file into the blog.  So, I officially give up.  Please print screen from here or cut and paste the recipe into word processor.  Sorry.

What’s Good:  I love how easy this cake is to make.  I almost always have the ingredients in my pantry.  And I am all about make ahead dishes.

What’s Not:  It’s definitely a plan ahead dessert.  This would not work for an unexpected guest.

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

Recipe By : Farmhouse Rules
Serving Size : 12

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs — room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
12 ounces evaporated milk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 vanilla bean — scrape seeds
whipped cream — for topping
8 cups strawberries, sliced

1. Pre heat oven to 350 and butter 9×13″ pan.
2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into small bowl and set aside.
3. Place eggs, 1c sugar and vanilla extract into bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle. Beat on medium-high for 10 min (really!) until light yellow and fluffy.
4. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour mixture, then milk, then last of flour mixture.
5. Pour into prepared pan, smooth top and bake for 25 mins, until cake springs back when touched and cake tester comes out clean.
6. Set aside to cool in pan for 30 mins.
7. In a 4c measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract and vanilla bean seeds. Using a skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour cream mixture over the cake allowing to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour more. Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hrs.
8. To serve, toss strawberries with 5T sugar, cut square of cake, add strawberries and whipped cream.

Per Serving: 432 Calories; 16g Fat (33.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 108mg Cholesterol; 320mg Sodium.

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