Coconut Brownie Buttons

A plate of Coconut Brownie Buttons

I’m only 15 days into California’s shelter-in-place mandate and I’m already tired of staring at the same living room each day and evening, which reminds me of a recent creative writing assignment I completed on just that subject – my living room. I apologize in advance for the length of this post – feel free to skip to the recipe. I won’t mind.

LIVING ROOM

Georgia O’Keeffe, a hero of mine, painted every wall of her beloved home in Abiquiu, NM creamy white. The effect was modern, calming, soothing, and the perfect counterbalance to her large, colorful canvases hung on the walls. I wonder what she’d think of my living room. The first thing she’d notice is the cacophony of colors. I’ve painted the walls a vivid brick red. The imposing mid-century fireplace pops from the corner thanks to a shade of golden wheat. The kitchen wall peeks from the opposite corner, a sagey green. Warm tones, in general, except for the daring teal velvet mid-century wing chair; its color repeating itself on a throw pillow, in a niche, in candles, on a decorative plate. I’ve read in decorating books that tertiary colors should be repeated at least three times to help your eye move about easily. In this painter’s box of color, I’ve taken that recommendation to heart. There are dabs of all these colors – and others – spattered throughout this rainbow palette.

The bare, wooden floors, in contrast, glow a dark Brazilian cherry, reminding me of a racehorse’s shiny coat. I believe breeders call that color “sorrel.” For a long time, I envisioned breaking up the expanse of dark floor and tempering the explosion of color with a large, white, fluffy flokati rug. I finally thought better of it, knowing a white rug would quickly turn a dingy gray underfoot, especially with two cats. The “boys”, the constant residents of this space, spend more of the day here than I do, lounging in the sun, determinedly grooming themselves, and wrestling each other into submission. Consequently, every surface, from floor to couch to coffee table, is covered in a layer of their hair. In fact, just before the cleaners are due for a visit, it’s common to watch cat-hair tumbleweeds slowly roll their way across the floor to accumulate in the room’s remote corners.

My sister, Susan, says my living room reminds her of Pablo Picasso’s apartment in the 1960’s. Since she’s never met Picasso – or seen his apartment, I’m dubious of her comparison, although she explained it to me once – it’s the juxtaposition of eras, of textures, of cultures, not unlike photos of his mid-century abode randomly scattered with mismatched sculptures, found items, and art. My sunken room and its furnishings are decidedly sleek mid-century modern, yet the step down is weathered Saltillo and glazed Spanish tiles. The menacing antique puppet in the corner is Balinese, the embroidered tapestry on the wall Oaxacan, and the ceramic vase hand-thrown by a Santa Ana Artwalk artist, a steal at $25. Another decorating rule I subscribe to is, “mismatched items you truly love will always go together.” These are my loved items – my collection. A less flattering comparison would be that the décor tends towards a Pier 1 sale aisle.

The entire west side of the room looks out on the backyard, thanks to a bank of ten wooden-framed windows original to the 1950’s house. There’s no blinds or curtains to obscure the view. I’ve left them bare so I can watch the morning squirrel and bird going-ons as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch. Just before sunset each evening, the room shimmers with direct afternoon light reflecting golden off the polished wooden floor, silver coffee table and flurry of ubiquitous swirling cat hair in the air. It’s often the motivation needed to grab the Swiffer, as the final light rays sink behind the garden wall.

The cookie recipe below is ideal during this time of self-quarantine because it requires minimal ingredients – and substitutions are encouraged. Out of walnuts? Any nut or combination of nuts will do. Don’t have coconut? Roll the cookies in powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Don’t want to go to the store for cocoa powder? Leave it out and let the flavor of the nuts shine! Plus, dare I say, with no flour, minimal sugar, and heart-healthy nuts, they are somewhat good for you – just like staying at home these days.


Coconut Brownie Buttons

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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Rich chocolate cookies with a crisp coconut outside and soft fudge-like middle.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove coconut and set aside.
  2. Place walnuts in the bowl of food processor and process until well chopped. Add sugar and process until mixture looks like sand. Add cocoa powder and salt and process until combined. Add egg white and vanilla extract and process until dough comes together. Transfer bowl to refrigerator and refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Divide dough into 16 equal balls (about 13 grams each). Roll each ball in reserved coconut and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until coconut is lightly toasted and cookies are barely firm to the touch (you want the outside crisp, but the inside fudge-like). Cool for a few minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Salmon Corn Chowder

A bowl of Salmon Corn Chowder

Not a fish fan? The salmon can be replaced with shredded cooked chicken.

Culinary School flew by at such a rapid pace that I barely remember the basics. Today, 11 years later, I couldn’t tourne a potato to save my life, even though we spent weeks perfecting our technique. Knowledge was imparted by Chef, 90% of it sadly unretained by this student.

Someone recently asked me what defines a soup as “chowder” and, as that definition was probably somewhere in my missing 90%, I didn’t have a sufficient answer. Does using seafood make it chowder? Nope. Seafood is a standard ingredient, yes, but not a requirement. Does adding cream make it chowder? Chowders are often finished with cream, but they don’t have to be.

According to The Professional Chef, the tome we relied upon in school, chowder is defined as, “a soup that is thickened with flour, roux or potatoes.” Thank goodness “potatoes” were in that mix, because I’ve been calling this recipe “chowder” for years.

Who knew I could be validated by a potato.


Salmon Corn Chowder

A hearty soup loaded with salmon, bacon, sweet corn, and, of course, potatoes.


Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup brandy, white wine, or dry sherry
  • ¾ lb. potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups frozen or fresh corn
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked salmon, cubed
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to the bacon fat and cook until softened and beginning to brown.
  2. Add bay leaf, thyme, and brandy; reduce, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add potatoes and chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. Add corn and simmer until corn is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream, salmon, and reserved bacon. Simmer 10 more minutes, remove bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.

Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

Rows of Apple Spice Muffins

“How often do you blog?” he asks.

“I try to post twice a week,” she unthinkingly replies, “Every Monday and Wednesday.”

Her answer was honest…albeit, incorrect. She USED to post twice a week, yet she hasn’t done so in a year. In December, Mardi Gras for most dessert bloggers, her fingers didn’t type a word. In 2019, her unique views didn’t surpass the previous year’s count, a first.

It’s not only about the statistics.

She compares her dull flat-lays to the avante-garde images in her head – a bowl of soup precariously teetering on a see-saw (quirky and unexpected), a slowly melting chocolate truffle on a tongue (sexy, gothic and moody) – and is chagrinned. Her intros are stilted and forced – telling, rather than showing. Her words only seem to flow when in the midst of upheaval – not a sustainable situation. Unsatisfied with her results, she wonders if she’s stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit her anymore.

But who is she without her blog, her constant companion for the past 11 years? She considers her options and decides, before killing it off completely, to seek CPR – her first remedy – a writing course to revive words that have flat lined.


Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Moist cupcakes with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and 5-spice garnished with walnuts and rich cream cheese frosting, if desired.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 ” pieces
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Cream cheese frosting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar, egg, oil, ginger and water. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Pour batter into tins, sprinkle with chopped walnuts (if using) and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with cream cheese frosting.

Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

A gingerbread cupcake drizzled with salted caramel

I’m a list keeper. I keep shopping lists, lists of books to read, lists of desserts I want to make, lists of writing topics, and my never-ending to-do list. Of all my lists, my favorite is one I’ve entitled “Things I Love” and it captures some of the things, from the silly to the sublime, that put a smile on my face. If you want to know what makes me happy, you can read my list here.

Looking back, I can’t recall why (or even when) I started this list. Remembering how crazed my work world used to be, I was likely attempting to bring a little contentment into my life. By reminding myself what truly brought me happiness, I could remember to appreciate these simple delights.

Christmas light displays didn’t make the list, but they’re a much-loved part of my holiday season. When I was little, my siblings and I would squeal from the station wagon’s back seat, “Pretty lights! Pretty lights!” whenever we’d drive by a festively lit house. As adults, we road trip to other neighborhoods – and other cities (Portland!?) in search of flamboyantly adorned holiday houses. If Jesus, Santa, Snoopy, AND a giant snow globe all make it into one tableau, our holiday is complete!

I’m thinking about Christmas light displays today because I’ve had a request to bake a few treats for a neighborhood holiday light stroll next month – a request I happily accepted. These sticky, spicy gingerbread cupcakes are my first contibution, adapted from Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread. My coworker, John, took a bite and said, “This is dangerous.” He then took a second bite and said, “This is really dangerous.” By his third bite, the cupcake was gone. Others agreed.


Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
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Dangerously sticky, spicy, not-too-sweet cupcakes topped with lashings of cream cheese frosting, salted caramel and candied walnuts.


Ingredients

    Gingerbread
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality salted caramel, plus more for drizzling (It’s worth making your own!)
  • 24 candied walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin tins. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, and then cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  3. Fill muffin tins ¾ full and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  4. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salted caramel. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy. If frosting is too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before piping.
  5. Frost cupcakes, drizzle with additional salted caramel, and garnish with a candied walnut.

Modern Black Forest Cake

A black forest cake with mirror glaze

It’s Friday and I tuck away my standard, never-ending to-do list and write out a new one for this weekend. It contains a mere three bullets:

  • Write
  • Bake
  • Hike

Simple. It’s all I want to do the next few days. It’s all I need to ensure my happiness. I’m eschewing friends, happy hours, brunches, laundry, and home repairs to focus on these three things. Of course, life can never be whittled down to three bullets. There’s six pieces of writing on my list, four for Tuesday’s creative writing class and two for the blog. There’s three separate recipes I want to test – the one below, the most ambitious, as well as gingerbread cupcakes and banana chocolate muffins. The hiking? I’m shooting for four miles each day.

It’s 9 p.m. on Sunday and I can’t legitimately cross any of these items above off my list – not completely. I finished half the writing and most of the recipes. The Modern Black Forest Cake is completed, tested, updated, and photographed. The gingerbread cupcakes are partially finished – a swirl of cream cheese frosting and drizzle of salted caramel and they’ll be ready for their close up. The banana muffins will need to wait for another day. The hiking? I hiked today – a little over four miles, but found myself trapped at home on Saturday waiting for an answer from an indecisive executive. Working on a weekend – sometimes I must. I didn’t hear back until 4 p.m. – too late to take to the trails.

Even though projects are left undone, I feel…satisfied. I completely turned, if only for 48 hours, towards endeavors significant to me. That accomplishment, by itself, delivers my contentment.

This cake, which has been banging around in my head for a while, is a modern reimagining of that 1970’s classic – and it’s striking enough to make an appearance on the holiday table, should you feel inspired. This was my first attempt at a mirror glaze and I’m pleased with the result.


Modern Black Forest Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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The darkest, richest Black Forest Cake you’ll ever find.


Ingredients

    Brandied Cherries (make the night before)
  • 1 ½ cups Morello cherries in light syrup, cut in half (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup Kirsch
  • Chocolate Ganache Frosting
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Kirsch
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • 8 oz. container mascarpone cheese
  • ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kirsch
  • Mirror Glaze (optional)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 envelope gelatin (¼ ounce)

Directions

  1. Make brandied cherries: Combine cherries, sugar and kirsch in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves, cover and let set overnight.
  2. Make the chocolate ganache frosting: Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup. Heat heavy whipping cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate, let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Add Kirsch. Cool to room temperature. Before using, beat for 2-3 minutes to lighten and whip to spreading consistency.
  3. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line three 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  4. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the kirsch.
  7. To assemble, place the first cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half the mascarpone filling and cover with brandied cherries. Cover with second cake layer, remaining mascarpone filling and cherries. Finish with top cake layer. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the chocolate ganache and smooth well. Refrigerate.
  8. Make mirror glaze (if using): Place 1 tablespoon cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let soften 5 minutes. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, sugar, heavy whipping cream and cocoa powder. Simmer for about 20 minutes until mixture slightly thickens. Remove chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in gelatin until thoroughly combined. Set over an ice bath and whisk until the glaze thickens and reaches about 80 degrees. Pour over cake and smooth with an offset spatula quickly. Decorate.

A modern take on a clasic black forest cake