Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake

Today’s Musings:  TRUST YOUR GUT

I tell him I don’t like talking on the phone
He says he won’t ask me out via text
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him I prefer coffee or a cocktail for a first date
He asks me out for dinner
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him casual is good for me
He says, “It will be casual but upper scale.” He’s a “sucker for fine dining.”
I relent
He’s not listening.

What troubles me more – my easy acquiescence or his utter disregard for my desires?  I soothe my concerns.  “Am I making too big a deal about this?” “He wants to treat me well; what’s wrong with that?”  TRUST YOUR GUT – the gift my last relationship gave me. 

I text him this morning.  Let’s start with a cocktail and go from there – please and thank you.  For once in my life, I’m setting boundaries.  He declines, speaking volumes. 

I’m thanking my gut for its sage advice with these little treats below. 

Today’s Recipe:  REWARD YOUR GUT


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12 generous cupcakes
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Sticky toffee bombs. If making 12, the batter will rise beautifully over the side of the tin. If you need to make a few more cupcakes, reduce the batter in each muffin tin slightly.


Ingredients

    Toffee Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, spiced rum, or brandy
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 oz. ( 1 ¼ cups) coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. For Toffee Sauce: Whisk sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add cream and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, until toffee thickly coats the back of a spoon, 10-14 minutes. Whisk in rum. Set aside.
  2. For Cakes: Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan. Boil until dates are soft, about 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Line 12 muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter to blend – the mixture will be grainy. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture, beating to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups (about ¼ cup each).
  4. Bake cupcakes until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cook cakes completely on a rack. Using a cupcake corer, make a core in each cupcake and fill with 3-4 Tablespoons of toffee sauce. You may need to wait for some of the sauce to absorb before adding more sauce. Replace cupcake core.
  5. Cover cupcakes with piped whipped cream and a drizzle of additional toffee sauce. [Note: for best results, the cupcakes should be served at room temperature, yet the whipped cream needs to be kept cold. You can keep the cupcakes on the counter and add the whipped cream and drizzle just before serving. Your gut will thank you.

** Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

I’ve started yet another writing class.  This one is specifically geared towards blog writing.  If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I struggle (or downright ignore) trying to connect the introduction (this part) and the actual recipe I’ve created.  Anyone in the blogging world knows this is a mortal sin, yet I lack any desire to blather on about the benefits of store-bought rotisserie chicken (although it CAN be a time-saver, especially in a soup like this one). 

I have a suspicion I’m taking this class hoping for validation – from the instructor, from my fellow bloggers – that, although not orthodox to mismatch intro and recipe, it’s my damn blog and I can do whatever I want. I know I don’t need outside validation, but a bit of encouragement doesn’t hurt now and then. 

Our first assignment is determining our target audience, aka my ideal reader.  What’s her name? What’s she like? What does she do?  Where does she read my blog?  WHY does she read my blog? Essentially, who is my muse? [Side Note:  I HAD a muse for a number of years, but his presence in my life became problematic and I’ve had to move on.]

My new muse is Chloe.  Chloe is 35, a struggling photographer living in a loft in our suburban “downtown” arts district.  She’s got time on her hands – time to cook real meals for real friends.  Her dining table is a wobbly Ikea purchase covered with an old sarong.  Her chairs are mismatched; the wine glasses too – gorgeous pale pink and green thrift-store finds.  She spends her money on antique costume jewelry and the finest chocolates she can get her hands on.  She loves my sweet vermouth and I bring her a bottle often.

Chloe and I meet every week for coffee at a cozy shop two blocks from her loft that always smells of yeast and freshly roasted beans.  We’re bored with the same conversations everyone is having – about how they’re surviving COVID distancing, about what their kids are up to, about their latest intermittent fasting diet or doctor’s visit.  So, Chloe and I decided we each must bring two things to our coffee dates – an interesting story that happened during the week (or, if the event wasn’t interesting, the story must be entertaining) and our newest recipe.  We share over our cappuccinos.

Ta-Da! And just like that – justification for this mismatched blog.

This soup recipe is my last installment in the “Soup Sundays” series.  Over the next few days, I’ll be thumbing through my collection of recipes deciding what’s up next for November.  As always, I’ll be baking – it IS the beginning of the holiday season, after all, but my cholesterol level needs a hiatus from my holy trinity diet of butter, sugar and flour.  A carrot now and again isn’t a bad thing. 


Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

Copious amounts of lime give an added twist to this easy soup. Store-bought rotisserie chicken keeps it fuss-free.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 corn tortillas, cut into strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons diced chipotles in adobo (found in the Hispanic section of most markets)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped with juice
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry tortilla strips until golden. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  2. In a large saucepan, sauté bell pepper and onion until softened and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add chipotles, cumin, and tomatoes with juice and combine. Add chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add chicken, cilantro, oregano and lime juice and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve soup sprinkled with tortilla strips.

S’mores Cupcakes

My dear friend, Chris, is often encouraging me to include more “me” in my food photos – a video of me, all smiles, whisking up a cake, photos of me removing freshly-baked cookies from my professional-grade Thermador in my immaculate kitchen, me proudly holding my latest tart creation in my vintage apron.  If that’s what Chris imagines when he envisions me in the kitchen, who am I to correct him?  The reality is decidedly less glamourous.  On most days, you’ll find me barefoot, my unkempt hair pulled back in some odd top-knot, braless, sans makeup, and wearing last night’s pj’s.  When I’m in bake mode, I’m all in, girly glamour be damned. 

So, when the stars align and I manage to bake something divine AND get dolled up on the same day (in this case, Halloween), I feel I owe it to Chris to share a bit of both my worlds. Thank you, my friend, for always encouraging me.


S’mores Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Graham cracker crust and sinfully dark chocolate cake, topped with a pillowy swirl of toasted, sticky marshmallow meringue make for a decadent dessert – no campfire needed. This recipe makes a lot of frosting, so don’t skimp on your swirl.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 2 cups Graham crackers crumbs
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Marshmallow Meringue Frosting
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt together until it resembles wet sand. Place a rounded tablespoon of crust mixture at the bottom on each liner and press firmly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Bake for about 5 minutes until lightly golden.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee granules and salt. Combine oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Add water to oil mixture. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake 18- 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes and to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-2” of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the vanilla. Whisk on high speed for 5-6 minutes until stiff and glossy.
4. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Using a kitchen torch, toast meringue frosting.

Classic Pea Soup

She came to me in a dream…and had all the answers.

Do you ever have those dreams that impart so much truth, wisdom, and clarity that you commit to remembering every bit upon waking? 

I had one of those dreams the other night – the message was relevant and so dreadfully important.  The key to my happiness was locked in its meaning.  If I could remember, my life would transform. As I stirred from sleep, the details scattered from my mind like raindrops flung from my opening eyelashes.  Oh, the horror!  Of course, securing life’s answer is never that simple.  

I’ve been talking with a friend lately about metamorphosis and transformation.  Why do we confine ourselves to be the person we have scripted?  I’ve spoken before about our personal “story” – the story that we’ve concocted to describe ourselves…something to put behind the “I.”  “I am this,” “I do that,” and “I like those.” When we do so, we conscribe our own possibilities.

So, what did my dream have to tell me?  Alas, the details are gone, but snippets are still fluttering in my mind.  My dream was about things that hold us back from true transformation – from radically changing our story. 

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success – “who am I to deserve this?”
  • Idleness – why bother, I’m content where I am
  • Comfort in the known – transformation is inherently uncomfortable
  • Morals, values and laws that may no longer apply, serve a purpose, or be correct – society’s and our own personal beliefs
  • The opinion of others
  • The energy to make it happen – with barely the strength to get through the week, how do we find the strength to transform?

If we can overcome these obstacles, then true, lasting, profound change can be ours, but that, my friend, is a difficult road.

The key to everlasting happiness may be elusive,  but a bowl of comforting and fleeting happiness can be found in this hearty and soul-satisfying pea soup.  Enjoy!


Classic Pea Soup

  • Servings: Serves 6-8
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Enjoy this hearty, smoky, classic pea soup on a chilly fall evening with crusty bread and a simple pear salad.


Ingredients

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cups dried green split peas
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • Sour cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the onions are soft. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Add the split peas and stir to combine. Add the broth and the ham hock and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. If soup is too thick, add a little more broth. The soup is ready when the peas are soft, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer the ham onto a cutting board and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones, shred, and stir back into the soup (discard the bones and any skin). Remove bay leaves and season with salt, pepper and finish with white vinegar. To serve, dollop with sour cream (if using).

Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

When your sister says, “Dad was the best dad ever,” it makes you question your memory.  You wonder if you’ve incorrectly rewritten your story to match the narrative you want to tell.  You wonder if you’re falsely playing victim for attention.  So, you try to remember the forgotten good times, special times with your dad, when he loved you, supported you, and truly saw you as his child.  You recall a handful of times, age 13 or 14, when he took you to explore the local tide pools and then…nothing.  You cannot remember another instance, although you rack your brains for more.  So, you pull the dusty photo album from the closet shelf,  you turn the pages of your life, one year after the next, birthdays, Christmas, visiting grandparents, attempting to find other special times with him and then you realize there are only two photos of you with your dad.  Two photos, taken long ago, when you were a few months old, before you could even remember and then…nothing.  Not another photo, for the whole of your life.

Me, at 9 months and one of only two photos with dad.

I’m sometimes asked where I came up with the name Two-Bit Tart.  I can thank Dad for that.  When I was a teenager and young adult primping for a night out, he would sometimes comment, “You look like a two-bit tart!” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the antiquated term, it means “cheap hooker” – a slur.  Thanks dad.  Years later, I defiantly chose that name for this blog to say, “I remember how you treated me, but the emotional abuse I suffered did not – will not – break me.”


Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

  • Servings: 8 Servings
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I serve this cake often for autumn entertaining. Best served slightly warm, this rustic cake needs nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup plus ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 medium (1 ½ lbs.) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into eights
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • Lightly-sweetened freshly-whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9-inch- cake pan; line pan with parchment and butter parchment. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup sugar and cook until sugar dissolves and mixture turns deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add apple and gently shake skillet to distribute caramel evenly. Cover and cook until apples release their juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until apples are tender and caramel thickens and coats apples, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer apples and caramel syrup to prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Place polenta in large bowl; pour boiling water over and stir to blend. Add remaining butter and 3/4 cup sugar to polenta mixture. Using electric mixer, beat until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each. Gently pour batter over apples in pan.
  3. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen cake. Carefully invert cake onto microwavable platter and peel off parchment. Cool 15 minutes. (To rewarm in microwave, heat on medium about 2 minutes.). Serve with freshly-whipped cream or ice cream.

Slightly adapted from Epicurious.