Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

A plate of ginger pecan balls

Today’s Musings:

My sister and I were debating the merits of holiday Eccles Cakes vs. Mince Pies last weekend.  I voted for the mince, since they’re easier to make.  Each year, Christmas cheer comes hesitantly for me.  When I tear off the second to last page on the calendar, I dread the work that lies ahead over the next 24 days.  2019 was a snap; we packed our bags on the 15th and headed to London, not returning until the holiday rush and festivities were over.  This year, I was even undecided about exchanging gifts with the family.  Then, perhaps with the help of some holiday magic (or spiked eggnog), my mood began to change.  In the first few days of December, I agreed to the gifts and the hosting (I’m the only one who can).  By mid-month, my Christmas spirit was beginning to stir. We trekked to Santiago Canyon to select our freshly-cut tree (no parking-lot version for us!), sang carols as we decorated, and drove about town to four different stores looking for lights (My new pro tip:  Not Target; your neighborhood Walgreens).  As I write this, I’ve devoured two panettone, baked mince pies and panforte, and have my recipes ready for Christmas morning stollen, Christmas Eve dinner, and mulled wine.  I’ve also volunteered to assemble luminaries to decorate our street on Christmas Eve and, last weekend, drove through the neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.  My house smells of pine and crackling logs (I ALMOST spent $30 for 4 Irish peat briquettes).  I’ve watched A Christmas Carol (although not my favorite version with George C. Scott) and invited some friends (within my bubble) for Christmas Day ham.  Today’s to-do list includes a trip to the butchers (not for a goose, Mrs. Cratchet, but a boneless lamb roast), gift wrapping, and these easy Ginger Pecan Rum Balls.  With less than one week to go, I’ve found my holiday spirit after all, as I always do.  So, Happy Holiday from my (hesitant) house to yours.  

Today’s Recipe:


Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

  • Servings: About 24 Balls
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Easy spicy ginger holiday treats spiked with a good dose of dark rum. Feel free to play with the ingredients – different crumbs, nuts, or spirits can provide an array of flavors.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups ginger snap crumbs
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
  • 3 Tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until pecans are finely ground and dough forms into a ball.
  2. Roll dough into small balls (about 13-15 grams each) and roll in powdered sugar
  3. Store in an airtight container. Let sit for at least one day to allow flavors to meld; they will get more flavorful with each day.

Panforte

Panforte di Siena

Today’s Musings:
His drawings are dark, Schielesque (if I can make that a word), his dissonant music even more so; his lips a vertical line without hint of teeth below intense eyes.  He’s a loner, surrounded by his art and words and noise.  Before, I would have grasped after his complicated darkness – my preternatural talent to home in on the damaged and the wounded.  Beautiful, exquisite danger.

I’ve always been drawn to broken and frayed things.  Not to fix them, oh no, but to love them, for all their splendid flaws.  I cradle them tightly against my vulnerability and whisper, “I see your shadows and I love you for them, just as you are,” like my habit of gathering discarded objects from the sidewalks and the gutters, holding them up to the light, searching for their unique worth.  I find beauty in the things others judge as trash.

We are all broken.  We all have value. The darkness that resides in me sees the masked shadows in you. 

This time, though, my heart said, “No, Enough. You have learned your lesson.”  I have learned it well this time. I can love his art without gifting my heart to the marred soul that created it.  No, I will not walk in the woods with him today. A tear escapes from my eye.  This education is not without pain.

Today’s Recipe:
Somehow I’ve equated candied orange peel with holiday baking.  All of my annual holiday bakes, including gibassier, stollen, and eccles cakes, require candied orange peel.  This year, I’ve added mince pies and panforte to my repertoire, requiring even more peel. With nightmares of dreaded fruitcake in your head, you probably believe you’re not a fan of candied citrus peel. You most likely only know those chewy, tooth sticking, flavorless, processed nuggets that come in a grocery store tub. That’s what I thought candied peel was all about, too – until I made my own. Then, ooohhhh, I fell in love. Hand-crafted candied peel is pliant and juicy with the perfect balance between bitter peel and sweet syrup. Making your own takes a bit more work, but it’s the difference between a frozen beef patty and aged rib eye steak.

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. My recipe contains pistachios, walnuts, candied orange peel, chocolate and a shit-load of spices. Its chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.  The secret to its soft and pliant texture is baking the panforte just until barely firm in the middle. Otherwise, it will rip the fillings from your molars.  Panforte is typically served in thin wedges dusted with powdered sugar.

This version is only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe.


Panforte

  • Servings: 16 thin slices
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Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. Its yielding, chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup dark honey
  • extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment and dust with cocoa powder, making sure to dust the sides.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, cocoa powder, flour, candied orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and ancho chile powder.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Set aside.
  5. In a small pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF.
  6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well until fully incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top by using a spatula. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a dampened hand to press it completely flat.
  7. Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 minutes; the center will feel soft, like a barely baked brownie; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean. (Do not over bake or it will be too firm once cooled.)
  8. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely. Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands. Serve in thin wedges.

Today’s Tip:
 You can store panforte for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

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.

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).