A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants…

This has been one hell of a week. Not only are we here in the States witness to troubling acts that well, at the least have been distressing to watch, we lost an icon who meant the world me and countless others who needed a role model to start the discussion of all the things we could be.  So in honor of Mary Tyler Moore, and to provide a recipe that is the definition of comfort at a very discomforting time, I’m reposting something I wrote several years ago. Rest easy Mair…


I have great fondness for the ridiculous. I can’t help it, it runs in my family. My dad was once helping a rather shnockered woman onto a canal boat and one of her shoes fell into the canal. As she cried “my SHOE!” Dad reached down, grabbed the other shoe and tossed it overboard too. “Well, you won’t be needing this one then!” Yup, genetic – my whole family suffers from it. We just can’t help loving the ridiculous, goofy, and silly. I would have been the one like Mary Tyler Moore, consumed by body-wrenching panty-wetting giggles during Chuckles the Clown’s funeral. There’s no sense in shushing me – it only makes it worse. Can you stop laughing when someone tells you to, especially when they give you that “you’d better stop or ELSE” look? Worse yet, that’s usually when my uncontrollable snorts emerge. And it’s not just in the sad times. Imagine trying to get fired up during phone sex with your someone and she starts giggling during the “ooo, baby babies.” Sure you can try to hold on, but when uncontrollable laughter is emanating from the other end of the line, it pretty much deflates the purpose. Ok, so my timing wasn’t good, but seriously it really IS a pretty ridiculous thing to do, don’t you think?

The good news is silly can get you through some pretty awful times. In fact, I believe it’s one of my best coping skills. Funerals, broken hearts, job loss, fear, the hopelessness that things will never get better — all these and more can be soothed by some uncontrollable giggles. Even if it only lasts for a few moments. So what if gasping laughter gives way to sobbing? It’s a release either way and better out than in I say. Yes it happens at ‘inappropriate’ times, but that’s usually when you need it most. Plus holding in a laughter-induced snort is damn near impossible and there’s really no use in trying. You might sprain something important. So to all the giggle gaggers and snort stiflers out there, I suggest you just go with it. Hell, join in! It’ll do you a world of good too. There’s plenty time to be serious so give silliness it’s due. Sometimes the surest way to feel better is a little song, a little dance, a seltzer down your pants…

When I’m looking for a little culinary silliness, I head toward pudding. Perhaps it’s the comfort-food aspect, or the tactile goofiness, or maybe just how silly the word pudding sounds. Whatever it is, you just can’t stay sad with a big bowl full of pudding and a spoon.  I found this recipe years ago in a copy of Real Simple magazine and it’s been my go-to recipe ever since. It’s as easy as the cook & serve box mix, takes about the same time, has nothing in it you can’t pronounce and tastes WAY better. And depending on how creative you are feeling, you can add in a little cinnamon, a little ancho chilli powder, switch out the vanilla for almond extract, add a little orange liqueur, etc. Whatever is going to put that well needed giggle in your mouth.

Chocolate pudding (adapted from Real Simple)

Makes 8  half-cup servings, or one BIG bowl, when it’s been that kind of day…

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP cornstarch
  • 3 cups whole milk (I’ve used 2% and it works just fine)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 oz. bitter-sweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I like bittersweet, but if that’s too strong a flavor for you, use semi-sweet or a combo of both)
  • 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Add in 1/3 cup of the milk, stirring to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and the egg yolks.

Cook the pudding over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with spatula until thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Do not let it boil – if it’s at the stage when a few tiny bubbles are forming, turn off the heat – it’s done.

Add in the chopped chocolate and the vanilla extract and stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour into 8 4-oz. ramekins, custard cups, tea cups, etc.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours. You can make these up to 2 days ahead of serving (yeah, like you could actually keep out of them for that long…) Calories – 275/serving.

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Oh, It’ll Fit…

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I have a few talents. The more obvious ones you know about or you wouldn’t be here in the first place. Here’s one not so obvious: I’m a fitting things in small spaces savant. Seriously. Give me a suitcase, a tiny apartment freezer, a dresser drawer and I can clown car that sucker to fit the contents of a shipping container. This talent comes in particularly handy this time of year. You know those boxes from the post office where you pay a reasonable flat rate for 2-day delivery, providing it fits in the box? Those cardboard vessels are my santa’s sleigh. And when they say “if it fits, it ships”, rest assured “it” WILL fit.

I’m not entirely certain where or when my skill of cramming a lot into a little evolved. Perhaps with my first pair of Jordache jeans. You remember Jordache, right? It didn’t matter how thin you were (or weren’t), somehow a pair of Jordache always involved sucking it in and lying on a flat surface while hoisting the zipper. Maybe my talent of turning a small/medium/large cardboard box into Mary Poppin’s magic bag surfaced with my first studio apartment, back when “tiny housing” was because you were poor, not hip. I don’t really care, I’m just glad I’ve got it. So are those naughty yet nice recipients once the cardboard clown car pulls into their mailbox.

Here’s a few last minute goodies to cram into your own tiny boxes, or better yet, into your mouth. Wishing you the merriest of merry from the Cooking in My Heels kitchen!!

dsc06139  photo 2 DSC05943

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

 

Love Bites

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Yes gentle readers, it’s here. Again. That day named after a saint, filled with flying fat babies with arrows, and “officially sanctioned” by Hallmark as a retail holiday. There’s no getting away from it – we are in the post-Super Bowl, pre-Mardi Gras holiday slump, and retail and TV alike are desperate to tag our attentions to something.  And when it comes to observing, this holiday always seems particularly well-set with land mines as it relates to what to and not to do.

Of course, if you aren’t “coupled” and you want to be, the options lean towards a blue possibly kleenex filled day, which isn’t helped much by airwaves filled with sappy rom-coms, tear-jerking love stories, modern day fairytales and the like. There are even channels devoted to nothing else for the weeks following the end of Santa-themed TV. Funny how Rambo is never scheduled for Valentine’s week, isn’t it? I mean, there should be at least one channel devoted to things blowing up, slashed, or hacked. You know, maybe to commemorate the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. For me, when the infamous day rolled around at a time I was “non-observant”, I’d definitely select pyrotechnics over boy-meets-girl. Unless Dirty Dancing was on. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for Dirty Dancing, having never tired of Baby being rescued from that corner. And if you’re paired-up, the path isn’t necessarily rosier. Let’s face it, due to all the hubbub and folderol associated with the heart-shaped box and rose-filled festivities, there’s a good shot at disappointment rather than loving joy filling the day.

Over many years of both V-Day options, I’ve realized the best way to avert disaster is the simple approach. I’d much rather cook something luscious (and easy) than pay exorbitant prices for a limited menu of someone else’s ideas of what makes romance. Simple pasta with cheese and butter, a great bottle of wine and your pjs can be the most romantic night with the right person. Add in a great pint of ice-cream and two spoons… heaven! Can’t find a card that says what you want? Make one. Seriously. Wouldn’t you rather get red construction paper and doilies than something mass-produced and $3.50? Remember how excited you were in 4th grade when you got one? You’re smiling right now aren’t you? Go with that.

Don’t have a special someone? Get together with special someones. You know an evening with great friends will end in laughter induced sore sides. Order a pizza and spend the big bucks on a fabulous bottle of wine to go with it. I guarantee it will be an evening you’ll never forget! And if your sweetie is far away? A package of homemade treats will remind them of your love, with every sweet love bite.photo

dsc06139To honor that saint, those chubby weapon-wielding flying babies, and countless greeting card dollars, I’ve compiled a bunch of my favorite V-Day love bites. These are all pretty simple, and any of them is guaranteed to bring a blush to the cheek and a flutter to the heart. ❤

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

Just Call Me MacGIRLver

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Remember how MacGyver could build a wind turbine, nuclear fusion reactor, or inordinately complicated whatsis from rubber bands, paper clips, a car battery and a roll of scotch tape? No biggie I say. Sure, Mac could defuse a bomb,  escape his weekly perilous predicament and save the world in a mere 60 minutes (including commercials). But could he whip up a tasty dessert for three chick-flick movie night viewers with a serious case of the munchies? I think not. And, could the wizard of aluminum foil and rubber band engineering do this with two pears past their prime, some really good wine, a modest pantry and a Hershey bar? Give it up Mac. You’re clearly out of your depth.

Imagine if you will, an impromptu gal pal (and a guy) movie night, happily thrown together over an even more spur of the moment lunch earlier that day. There we are, all snug with cozy slippers and fluffy blankie, remote poised to dive into an evening of chick flick. Then someone says it — the innocuous comment about craving something sweet. Brainpan gears start turning, and just like a yawn spawning more yawn, all three of us are channeling Homer Simpson-esque “Ooo…something sweet” thoughts. Now when I was back in Gotham these thoughts could easily turn to a pint of Cherry Garcia or package of Mallomars with a quick phone call or pj-clad run to Duane Reade. But when you are on the top of a mountain on a rainy night in rural Washington, alternatives are necessary. Enter MacGIRLver.

Instead of rubber bands, two slightly past their prime pears. Instead of a car battery and paperclips, some vanilla ice-cream, finely ground coffee and a Hershey bar. A half bottle of wine, a splash of balsamic, a pinch of cinnamon and slow simmer later….the sugar-jonesing trio is digging in, the munchies are sated, the guy gets the girl, love triumphs again and all is right in the world. All in 30 minutes. Take that, MacGyver!

Spiced Wine Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Here is another example of something that is more technique than precise recipe, since the ingredients were what was found in the kitchen, and the occasion very spur of the moment. Overripe pears mean a tarter poaching liquid, and ice cream is a perfect stand in for cream when making a chocolate sauce, especially when you have some good finely ground coffee (or instant in a pinch) to balance the sweetness of the ice cream. Since the pears I started with were already pretty soft, they didn’t need a long time in the poaching liquid either.

For the pears: (Works best with overripe pears)

  • Overripe pears – one per person
  • 1/2 – 3/4 of a bottle of red wine (you could substitute cranberry or pomegranate juice if you like, just omit the balsamic)
  • 2-3 TBSP honey or sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Peel very ripe pears (one per person), cut out any rotten spots, scoop out the seeds from the bottom using a melon baller or small spoon. Set aside as you make the poaching liquid.

In a saucepan large enough to fit the pears lying on their sides in one layer, heat together some red wine, a splash (1-2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar or honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 pinch cloves and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and put the pears in the pan. The poaching liquid should come almost to the top of the pears but not cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, turn the pears, and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the pears to a plate, turn the heat up under the poaching liquid and boil down until reduced by a little more than half. Taste and adjust for sweetness if needed. (It shouldn’t be overly sweet – a little tartness is nice.)

While the pears are poaching, make the chocolate sauce:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream, melted (Coffee ice cream would be great too)
  • 1 milk chocolate bar
  • 1-2 tsp very finely ground coffee
  • pinch salt

Heat together all the ingredients over low until the chocolate is melted. Stir well until the sauce is smooth.

To serve:  Pour a little of the poaching liquid on the plate. Slice the pear in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, on top of poaching liquid. Drizzle chocolate sauce over the pears.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

Just Call Me MacGIRLver

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Remember how MacGyver could build a wind turbine, nuclear fusion reactor, or inordinately complicated whatsis from rubber bands, paper clips, a car battery and a roll of scotch tape? No biggie I say. Sure, Mac could defuse a bomb,  escape his weekly perilous predicament and save the world in a mere 60 minutes (including commercials). But could he whip up a tasty dessert for three chick-flick movie night viewers with a serious case of the munchies? I think not. And, could the wizard of aluminum foil and rubber band engineering do this with two pears past their prime, some really good wine, a modest pantry and a Hershey bar? Give it up Mac. You’re clearly out of your depth.

Imagine if you will, an impromptu gal pal (and a guy) movie night, happily thrown together over an even more spur of the moment lunch earlier that day. There we are, all snug with cozy slippers and fluffy blankie, remote poised to dive into an evening of chick flick. Then someone says it — the innocuous comment about craving something sweet. Brainpan gears start turning, and just like a yawn spawning more yawn, all three of us are channeling Homer Simpson-esque “Ooo…something sweet” thoughts. Now when I was back in Gotham these thoughts could easily turn to a pint of Cherry Garcia or package of Mallomars with a quick phone call or pj-clad run to Duane Reade. But when you are on the top of a mountain on a rainy night in rural Washington, alternatives are necessary. Enter MacGIRLver.

Instead of rubber bands, two slightly past their prime pears. Instead of a car battery and paperclips, some vanilla ice-cream, finely ground coffee and a Hershey bar. A half bottle of wine, a splash of balsamic, a pinch of cinnamon and slow simmer later….the sugar-jonesing trio is digging in, the munchies are sated, the guy gets the girl, love triumphs again and all is right in the world. All in 30 minutes. Take that, MacGyver!

Spiced Wine Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Here is another example of something that is more technique than precise recipe, since the ingredients were what was found in the kitchen, and the occasion very spur of the moment. Overripe pears mean a tarter poaching liquid, and ice cream is a perfect stand in for cream when making a chocolate sauce, especially when you have some good finely ground coffee (or instant in a pinch) to balance the sweetness of the ice cream. Since the pears I started with were already pretty soft, they didn’t need a long time in the poaching liquid either.

For the pears: (Works best with overripe pears)

  • Overripe pears – one per person
  • 1/2 – 3/4 of a bottle of red wine (you could substitute cranberry or pomegranate juice if you like, just omit the balsamic)
  • 2-3 TBSP honey or sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Peel very ripe pears (one per person), cut out any rotten spots, scoop out the seeds from the bottom using a melon baller or small spoon. Set aside as you make the poaching liquid.

In a saucepan large enough to fit the pears lying on their sides in one layer, heat together some red wine, a splash (1-2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar or honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 pinch cloves and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and put the pears in the pan. The poaching liquid should come almost to the top of the pears but not cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, turn the pears, and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the pears to a plate, turn the heat up under the poaching liquid and boil down until reduced by a little more than half. Taste and adjust for sweetness if needed. (It shouldn’t be overly sweet – a little tartness is nice.)

While the pears are poaching, make the chocolate sauce:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream, melted (Coffee ice cream would be great too)
  • 1 milk chocolate bar
  • 1-2 tsp very finely ground coffee
  • pinch salt

Heat together all the ingredients over low until the chocolate is melted. Stir well until the sauce is smooth.

To serve:  Pour a little of the poaching liquid on the plate. Slice the pear in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, on top of poaching liquid. Drizzle chocolate sauce over the pears.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

The medicinal properties of a hot fudge sundae

Ok, I admit it….this is a rerun. A rebroadcast of a post I wrote about 2 years ago. Why the deja vu? Well, remember last week when I warned The Donald to move over? Be careful what you wish for. Seems that when you decide to supplement your income with the currency of truffles, people actually want you to make them in time for Cupid’s arrows next week. So since the hands are a bit preoccupied (and covered in chocolate), I thought I’d share an oldie but a goodie. A new post is forthcoming, but in the meantime, talk amongst yourselves.  I’ll give you a topic: The Medicinal Properties of a Hot Fudge Sundae…

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Years ago while enjoying some spring skiing at my brother’s in Wyoming, I quite successfully disengaged most of the parts that hold a knee together and allow it to move in the right direction. I know this because after the snow settled and screaming stopped, my knee moved in the wrong direction…VERY wrong. Luckily, I happened to be in a place where they are adept at re-hinging the unhinged. And after the surgeon knitted the various parts and put them back in their place, I was sent home to mend.

That was when I discovered the curative properties of a hot fudge sundae. Sure the drugs prescribed were swell and somewhat entertaining, but the hot fudge sundae had something more. It worked internally and topically. You can’t say that about Vicodin and Valium. I’m sure many of you know the medicinal value of ingesting the hot fudge sundae. Take the tonsillectomy. What’s the first thing they give you after they yank the little suckers out? And what about the mood altering properties delivered by that multi-temp bowl of medicine? Beats the hell out of Prozac. But when you place a big dish of fudgy ice cream therapy on top of the cantaloupe-sized joint where your dainty knee used to be? You get the best tasting anti-inflammatory you’ll ever find. After all, they say ice for swelling, right? And no co-pay!

But why stop with the hot fudge formulary? There’s more homeopathic therapeutics accessible without insurance card or script. For example, cheesecake. Who among us hasn’t gotten that late night call. The phone rings and on the other end is a sobbing girlfriend. “What’s wrong?” ‘I’ve…(sob, sniffle) got some news.’ “How bad is it?” ‘Meet me at the diner for cheesecake’. “Aw geez, that’s bad…” Some heart pains only a big slab of baked cream cheese, eggs, and sugar and can salve. Got cramps? Ben & Jerry’s. I found Cherry Garcia to have the best palliative effect, but when it was ‘rip me off the ceiling’ pain, I pulled out the big guns: New York Super Fudge Chunk. And there are countless other remedies and tonics (I prefer mine with gin), as varied as the ailments they treat. So the next time you pull, break, wrench, twist, or ache, apply one dose of hot fudge sundae liberally, and repeat as necessary. You’ll feel much better in the morning.

Below are two prescriptions guaranteed to cure what ails you. The first, a Dark Chocolate sauce with Port Wine is great on ice cream, but I’ve also served it over poached pears or toasted pound cake (and eaten it right out of the jar cold, for medicinal purposes of course.)

The second recipe, my mom’s cheesecake, is a favorite in sickness and health. It was lovingly dubbed Heart Attack Cheesecake by one of my friends when I made it for him many years ago, and the name stuck. Think of it as a treatment and not a cause, and you’ll be fine.

Dark Chocolate Sauce with Port Wine

(Inspired by a recipe in Appetit magazine)

Makes about 2 cups

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped (I use half bittersweet and half semisweet chocolate)
  • 1/4 cup tawny Port * (you could substitute coffee, almond, orange, raspberry or other liqueurs)

Bring whipping cream, whole milk, instant espresso, a pinch of salt and  butter to simmer in small heavy saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add chopped chocolate. Whisk mixture until smooth. Stir in Port or other liqueur. Taste and add a little more wine or liqueur if needed. Cover and chill (sauce can be made 2 days ahead). Warm over medium-low heat when ready to serve.

Heart Attack Cheesecake

Makes one 10” cake

  • 1 lb 3 oz cream cheese – room temp
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 TBSP flour
  • 1 pint of sour cream
  • 1 TBSP lemon zest
  • 6 eggs separated
  • 3-4 TBSP melted butter
  • ¾- 1 cup finely ground cookie crumbs (graham crackers, ginger, almond, chocolate or orange cookies all work nicely)

Beat cream cheese in electric mixer until fluffy. Add the next 5 ingredients and beat until well combined. Separate the eggs, add yolks to mixture and beat.  In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until a soft meringue. Fold into cream cheese mixture.

Melt butter and liberally brush the sides and bottom of a 10″ spring form pan, coating thoroughly. Dump crumbs into well-buttered pan and shake pan to distribute so that the bottom and sides of pan are covered in crumbs.* (*Many, if not most spring form pans can leak a little when liquids are poured in. That’s why I always wrap my pan in aluminum foil – burned cheesecake on the bottom of my oven is counter-indicative to maximum healing properties…)

Carefully pour in the cream cheese mixture, and bake 325 º F for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave cake in to cool for one more hour. Calories: Do your other prescriptions have calorie counts on them? 

A Mere Truffle…

Lest you thought I’d leave my musings of Valentine’s Day to just pasta fagioli, I too have a romantic heart. And a love. A great love. A burning, passionate, undying love that I’ve carried pretty much since I left the womb. It’s chocolate. I always come back to my first love, in times of joy, in times of heartbreak, in times when it’s, well, there. I know I’m not alone in this love, but that’s ok. I’m willing to have an open relationship.

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Making your own chocolate truffles isn’t as crazy or arduous as you may have thought, especially considering the price some shops charge for them. The basic recipe or template is simple ganache – just cream, chocolate, a little butter and you are pretty much good to go. But, when you start to play around a little, well there’s no telling what magical seductive powers you can bring to them…especially if you make them with a partner 😉

Chocolate Truffle Template

Makes a dozen or so truffles, depending upon how generous you are

The Basics:

  • 6 oz. chocolate – I like a 5oz. bittersweet to 1 oz. milk mix, but you can use all semisweet, bittersweet or milk depending on your preferences. Using a block or bar is better than chips for this.
  • 1/3-cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Tiny pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Making the Ganache

Chop the chocolate and melt* either in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between, or over a double boiler.

(*Some truffle recipes call for pouring the hot cream over the chopped chocolate to melt. Since this is a small batch, I find sometimes it doesn’t do the trick and you wind up with pieces of chocolate in the final ganache. It still tastes fine, but defeats the purpose of the smooth, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth character of truffles.)

Add a tiny pinch of salt to the cream and heat until bubbles form around the edges (DON’T BOIL). Add the hot cream, vanilla and butter to the melted chocolate and stir until everything is well mixed. Cool to room temperature, and then cover with cling wrap, pressing the wrap to the surface if the ganache. Place in the fridge until it is firm enough to roll into balls and hold its shape, a few hours,  but overnight is fine too. If you leave overnight, you’ll have to let it sit on the counter to soften up a bit before forming.

 

2. Forming the Truffles:

The set up:

  • A shallow bowl for the cocoa powder
  • A scooper of some sort (I like to use the smaller end of a melon baller)
  • A mug of hot tap water to dip scooper between truffles
  • A large plate or pan lined with cling wrap or wax paper to put the finished truffles on and store the fridge.

Dip the scoop into the hot water first, then scoop out a ball of ganache. Place the lump of chocolate in your hands (very clean hands) and roll around to a ball. These don’t have to be perfect. After all, truffles are called that because they look like the mushroomy ones.

Drop the formed truffle into the bowl of cocoa. Form another 3 or 4 and drop into cocoa. Carefully shake the bowl back and forth (or you could roll these guys around using a fork or your hands) so each truffle is coated. Place on the pan. Repeat with the remainder of the ganache. Once all your little babies are formed and blanketed in cocoa, cover the pan and place in the fridge to firm up again.

Truffles taste best if they aren’t cold, so let them warm up a little before serving. Calories: basic recipe is approximately 105 calories per truffle if you make a dozen. Calories will vary depending upon yield and variations.

3. The Variations

This is when the imagination can run wild, as long as you keep it subtle. This isn’t a Dagwood sandwich; it’s a tasty one-bite morsel. Too many add-ins or ons and you lose the star of the show, the chocolate.

Here’s some of the things I found make for an interesting bite. I’ve separated them into three categories: Flavoring the cream, flavoring the ganache, and coatings & sprinklings.

Flavoring the cream:

The basic technique is to bring the cream up to heat with something in it that will steep and infuse its flavor. Once the cream is hot, turn off heat, cover and let sit for 15-30 minutes, depending on the strength of flavor you like. Then you strain the infused cream into the melted chocolate and go from there. A few of my favorites are:

  • 1 tsp ground espresso or coffee
  • 1 tsp earl gray tea
  • 2 crushed cinnamon sticks
  • 1 crushed cinnamon stick, two crushed cardamom pods, 2 crushed whole cloves (Chai truffles)
  • Orange peel (making sure it’s just the peel and not the white pith)

Flavoring the ganache:

These you would add into the melted ganache when you add the cream.

  • 2 TBSP Tawny Port and ¼ cup dried tart cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 TBSP Cointreau
  • ¼ tsp ground ancho chili pepper (or your favorite chili pepper)

Coatings & Sprinklings:

First you dip in 4 oz. of melted chocolate (semi, bitter or milk), then sprinkle or roll away in:

  • Chopped salted pistachios, almonds or hazelnuts
  • Toasted shredded coconut
  • Chopped candied orange peel
  • Flaky sea salt like Maldon or fleur de sel

I found the best way to dip is to drop the truffle in the melted chocolate, roll around with a fork, then lift out and gently tap the fork on the rim of the bowl so excess chocolate drips off between the tines. Place dipped truffles on a clean wrap covered plate or pan. You can now sprinkle any of the toppings above or others you come up with on the wet chocolate. If you are using the flaky sea salt, a flake or two is all you need.

If you want to roll instead of sprinkle, let the truffles sit for about 5 minutes and then roll in the chopped nuts or coconut. Place truffles back in fridge, covered, until the chocolate has set.

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Dear Mr. Clooney,

Today is February 29th. Leap Day. And on this intercalary day (I looked that up), tradition dictates that it is perfectly acceptable, nay, recommended that women do the proposing to men. Of course, they (the men) have to say yes, or else. Seriously, refusal is not a viable option. To do so would bring hellfire, damnation and plagues of back luck raining down on your head. Ok, maybe folklore says you’d have to pay me gloves (12 pair) if you refuse, necessary to hide the fact that the bling is conspicuously absent from a certain finger. But since I have plenty of gloves already and believe every ancient tradition could use a little sprucing up, nasty apocalyptic repercussions for rejection it is. Now George, you wouldn’t want that to happen, would you? Think of the ramifications! No more fancy house on Lake Como. No more pick of ‘serious’ pictures, or making a boatload on the fluff so you can make the ‘serious’ pictures. Do you think James Lipton will want to ask you that questionnaire made famous by Bernard Pivot on Bouillon de Culture??? (Liptonesque affectation implied.)  Nuh uh. He won’t give a crap about your favorite curse word. You’ll be lucky to get work in a commercial, in this country…on CABLE!  And no more really tall slinky-dressed teenagers as arm candy (ok, so she’s what, 32?? A child!) They’ll be running off to make Ryan Gosling look short in a heartbeat.

I want to save you from all of that. So I think it’s best you say yes to me. I’m really quite a catch when you come down to what’s important. I know how to cook and bake, and I’m not too shabby at either. I clean up pretty well too (with ample time and appropriately affixed spackle, paint, spray and Spanx), have manners (when I need them), and am generally pleasant and amusing company. Prefer a partner in snarky comments or cursing like a sailor? Hell, I’m your gal! You should just see me at an Oscar broadcast (you were robbed) or Yankee game. I’d be more than happy to let you take the spotlight (well,mostly), and get your references to popular culture before the inception of the ‘E’ Network, reality TV and the Internet. (I even know who the Cowsills are….betcha can’t say that about wrestler-girl, huh?) Plus there are other benefits I can bestow, willingly, trust me on this… If nothing else, I promise to always have your back, wear 3-inch heels or less when walking a red carpet with you, and always keep you well fed, well-loved and laughing. So what do you say George? Isn’t it time to play with someone your own age?

©cookinginmyheels.wordpress.com

The menu you serve prior to asking such an important question is up to you. That could mean going out, buying all the ingredients for an elegant feast, or ordering in pizza with your intended’s favorite toppings. What’s important is what you serve as you ask. It has to be something that would make them so rapturous, so enamored, so out of their head with pleasure that they would have no choice but to say yes…YESYES!!  After all, you may as well hedge your bet, right? These Woo Cakes (truffle-filled chocolate whoopee pies) could just seal the deal. And if it all goes to pot and they say no? Well then, at least someone is getting a little whoopee at the end of the evening, and your hands will never be cold again.

Woo Cakes

These are basically a version of a whoopee pie, but instead of a butter cream filling, there’s dense, melt in your mouth caramel truffle with a hint of sea salt.  If you wanted, you could make the cake part from scratch with your favorite chocolate cake recipe. Me? I have better things to do if I’m going to be ready for the event, (mani/pedi, maybe a waxing, and definitely shopping for the right pair of proposal heels.) So I use my favorite fudgy chocolate cake box mix and save a step. The real star of the show is the caramel truffle ganache filling anyway.

This recipe makes about a dozen 3” cakes,  more if you want smaller ones. You are in charge of the amount of woo you need to close the deal.

For the cakes:

  • 1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix. I like to doctor up a box mix a little with the following additions:
    • ¼ tsp cayenne, chipotle or your favorite chili powder
    • ¼ tsp cinnamon
    • ½ tsp vanilla
    • ½ tsp instant espresso powder
    • Optional: a can of pumpkin (not pie filling, just pureed pumpkin–tell you why in a minute)

For the truffle ganache filling:

  • 1 3.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate
  • 1.25 ounces sugar (approximately half of a 1/3 cup measure)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp flakey sea salt (I prefer fleur du sel or Malden sea salt)
  • 1 TBSP water

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. Prepare the cake batter according to the package directions, adding in the chili, cinnamon, espresso powder and vanilla.

OPTION: If you’d like to reduce the calories a little and pretend you are making something healthy, forget the oil, egg and water the box recommends and add in one whole can of pureed pumpkin into the adulterated box mix. It makes a stiffer dough that won’t spread as much so you’ll have rounder cakes, but it’s a neat trick and you’ll never taste the pumpkin!

Drop the batter by 2 TBSP portions (for 3-inch cakes) onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Try to make them as even a circle as possible, since they get paired up in the finished woo cakes.  You’ll need 24 for 12 finished cakes.  Bake 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove cakes to cooling rack, and cool completely.

Prepare the ganache:

Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler or in the microwave at 30-second intervals until smooth. Set aside while you make the caramel. *

*[A note about making caramel:  A lot of cooks are spooked by the prospect of this, but be brave and patient. And never leave the sugar unattended while you are boiling it. Whenever I’m playing with molten sugar, I keep a small bowl of ice water right next to the stove. That way if some lava does happen to get on me, I can immediately plunge that part into the icy bath. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to yet, but it does make me feel better to know it’s there. Also, caramel is, well, caramel colored. Really nice rich amber is what you are going for. Patience and a little courage get you there. And if you let it go too far and burn it? It’s just sugar, so try again. You’ll get the hang of it.]

Combine sugar and 1-tablespoon water in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals that form. When the sugar is completely dissolved, increase heat and boil until syrup is a deep amber color, swirling pan occasionally (don’t stir it). Take off heat and carefully add cream (mixture will bubble violently). Put back over very low heat and stir with a whisk until caramel is smooth. Add caramel and 1/4-teaspoon sea salt into melted chocolate. Mix until smooth. Let ganache sit 10-15 minutes on the counter until it firms up just a bit.

To assemble the woo cakes you need:

  • the cakes
  • truffle ganache
  • some flakey sea salt

Take one of the cooled cakes and put a little more than a teaspoon of the truffle filling on the flat side (you are building a sandwich with the flat sides together). Top with another cake, flat side down and press together gently so the filling spreads to fill the inside. Place on a tray to set. Repeat with all of the other cakes. Take about ½ tsp of the remaining filling and put a dollop on top of each cake. Carefully sprinkle a few flakes of the sea salt on top.

Chill the finished cakes in the fridge until the ganache has firmed up. You can store them in an airtight container in the fridge, but let them sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature before serving. Calories: if they say yes, you’ll work it off later. If not, you don’t really want to know anyway…

The Other 4-Letter Word

©cookinginmyheels.com

Ah, Love. Never was there an emotion so tailor-made for the idea that without pain there is no joy. That Eros can be one tough bastard. But we’d all go there anyway, because when it’s real, there’s nothing better. Not even chocolate. Next week is Valentine’s Day, the mother of all Hallmark holidays, and a time fraught with just about every emotion named. Depending upon the mood and attachments (or lack thereof), it can be known as a good day, a great day, or Black Tuesday. Which means next Tuesday could be a time to honor love, or commemorate the mowing down of men in a Chicago garage. Either way, from the minute the holiday lights are taken down and the streets are littered with the corpses of Christmas trees, the world becomes a sea of pink and red hearts. When you are in love, this seems like an awfully swell thing. When you aren’t, or worse, have just ended a bout of it, the other other 4-letter-word creeps into your thoughts. Or spews forth from your lips. We’ve all been there, and it ain’t pretty. Weeping, screeching, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes (theirs, if they happened to leave any behind), consumption of buckets of ice cream, or vodka, or both, all part of the dance l’amour. Love makes you a bit crazy from beginning to end. Especially the end. And everybody has ‘a story’. You know, the one you tell your best friends, once you are fit to be out in public again without a box of Kleenex, bottle of Stoli and pint of Cherry Garcia. I know someone who actually had to break up with herself because he couldn’t get up the courage to do it. He just stood there looking forlornly at the ground and shuffling his feet. So she took the bull by the horns and did it herself. “You want to break up with me,” said she. “Uh-huh” said he. All very calm, very civil. And after he left, she calmly wandered around the house, collecting the few pieces of him left here and there in a plastic bag. As she walked to the trashcan she passed the litter box. She scooped, dropped poop on top of ‘poop’, and in the can it went. A fitting coda to the end of a love affair. Sure, they don’t all end that elegantly. Screaming assorted 4-letter expletives (and 7-letter, and 5-letter) works too, with the exclamation point of a loud door-slam for added emphasis.

Lest you think I’m jaded when it comes to affairs of the heart, I’m not. I LOVE love. I’ve been in it 3 times so far (not including Bobby Sherman when I was 14), and I’m not finished yet. One was my first, one was my worst, and one I will always carry a teeny torch for. They lit me up, made me feel like the most amazing woman in the world, and two of them broke my heart, but not irreparably. I think of them as V-Day approaches, mostly with a smile. Except for the S.O.A.B.R.B., but you can read about that one on your own (The SOABRB Dinner Party.) With each love came joy and pain, and I try not to dwell on the pain part too much. Like the Dalai Lama said, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. And love could be just around the corner.

While nothing is better than love, a cookie wrapped in chocolate is an attractive understudy. These Cinnamon & Chocolate Hearts were the favorite of a favorite of mine. Make them for your honey or just for yourself. After all, you deserve a sweet Valentine too.

Cinnamon & Chocolate Hearts

Makes about 24-30 cookies, depending upon the size of your cookie cutter

  • 1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBSP cream or milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (you can substitute your favorite chocolate.) There will probably be leftover melted chocolate, so I usually pick up some dried apricots, candied orange peel, pretzels or fresh strawberries when I know I’m making these cookies for a little extra dip-worthy delight.

Additional equipment: heart-shaped cookie cutter

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Thoroughly cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in egg, then milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix together all the dry ingredients, then add them to the butter mixture and incorporate thoroughly. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a ball, then pat out into a disk. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll out the dough to about ¼” thick and cut out into hearts. Collect the scraps and re-roll (try not to add too much flour or you’ll get tough cookies.) Bake for 10-12 minutes on parchment lined cookie sheets. Cool completely on rack before dipping.

Melt chocolate over a water bath (bowl over simmering water) or in the microwave (use 30 second intervals so you don’t scorch the chocolate). Dip one half of the cookie in the chocolate. Cool on parchment or wax paper covered tray at room temp for about 30 minutes then put in fridge for the chocolate to harden completely. Store in an airtight container in a cool place. I like to store in fridge and bring to room temperature before serving. These freeze well too. Calories: approximately 125 per cookie…but you can figure out a way to ‘burn’ that off!  😉

Article first published as The Other 4-Letter Word on Technorati.