Monday, December 26, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Cake with Hickory Nut Pralines


1) M.I.A.... Yes, I have been gone since November. You haven't seen me. I haven't seen you either. I have been in the throws of chocolate making. I have had nightmares about filling chocolate orders and midnight panics that my chocolate was over-seeded and not coating my fillings properly.
2) November really depressed me. It was hard to be inspired about making delicious food when you feel -meh- about everything. Sometimes when you are feeling really down, you want to give up on everything. I had a few days there where I even wanted to give up on chocolate making.
3) I moved out into some sunshine for some needed Vitamin D and just poured myself into chocolate my making. Loads of good music and beautiful friends can work magic on the sad soul. Everything somehow turned around. Perspective is everything.
4) The holidays arrived. We celebrated Christmas with my mother and enjoyed a beautiful day filled with wickedly delicious food, the above cake, and wine and rum and more wine.
5) My husband really surprised me this Christmas with a plane ticket to Ecuador. I am one giant step closer to my chocolate internship in Ecuador. Yeah!
6) Family and friends are what help bring sanity to the craziness of the holidays. Bless you all. Seriously, thank you for keeping me grounded with your warm tea, delicious cookies, fresh bread and most of all your hugs and laughter. Muah!


Now for this hot damn, highly caloric cake. You don't need the holidays to make something like this. But it may help. I hear many of you giving yourself the excuse the indulge because you are in the midst of holiday season. Well.... this cake will allow you to indulge and then put you an extra 600 calories over the limit of the limit that you already exceeded earlier.

Chocolate Caramel Cake with Hickory Nut Pralines

The cake. The recipe for this cake was first sourced off of the Bon Appetite Magazine/Epicurious Web Site. I kept the cake recipe the same yet I changed the frosting a bit and added on the hickory nut pralines. The cake was just over the top. My god, with practically 2 lbs of high quality chocolate and ungodly amounts of sugar, butter and heavy cream, the cake really wowed our mouths and bellies. (I just finished another piece off for my lunch)

The pralines I will include in my next blog post as there is too much here already with just the cake and the frosting. I actually think the word "frosting" sounds cheap when talking about the amazing chocolate caramel mixture that covers the cake. It is more like a candy filling, velvety, sweet and chocolatey delicious. 

 For The Chocolate Cake: - Straight from Epicurious.com

2 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 cup lukewarm water (I added lukewarm coffee)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1) Oven to 350 degrees. Butter two, 9" cake pans. Line with parchment paper and butter and flour again. 

2) Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl and then whisk together. In mixer with the paddle attachment, blend butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add in eggs, one at a time. Mix after each addition. Add in vanilla.

3) Alternate between adding the dry mixture with the buttermilk until you added in all the buttermilk and dry ingredients. Add in lukewarm water or even better (lukewarm coffee). Mix until just blended. Hand stir in the chocolate chips.

4) Pour and divide ingredients in between the two pans. Place into hot oven. Test at 25 minutes. If not quite done, give it another 4 minutes. Do not over bake.

5) Let cake cool for ten minutes, then invert onto cooling racks and peel off the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely before slicing into layers. 


Caramel Chocolate Frosting: -you can choose to use just milk chocolate for a sweeter more caramel flavor or go with what I chose for a delicious deep chocolate caramel flavor.

17 ounces high quality semi-sweet chocolate. 55% cocoa content. chopped finely.
10 ounces hight quality milk chocolate. chopped finely.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 cups whipping cream

Place chopped chocolate in a large stainless steel bowl. Heat cream just until boiling. Turn off immediately and cover. In a heavy bottomed large sauce pan, stir sugar and water until all the sugar is moistened. Turn on medium high heat and heat until the sugar caramelizes and turns a nice amber brown. Heat to about 350 degrees. I heat mine to 370 for a deeper caramel flavor. Pour the hot cream into the hot caramel, CAREFULLY as this is super hot! Mixture will bubble up. Keep stirring with a long handled whisk until all the hard caramel dissapears and you have a lovely hot and delicious caramel. Pour over the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for one minute. Stir chocolate until all of the chocolate has melted. Chill for two hours. Let rest out of fridge at least one hour at room temp. before going onto the next step.

Scrape the caramel chocolate mixture into the mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk the mixture until it becomes creamy and changes color. You will see it change color. It will look lighter brown. Do not overmix. If your mixture becomes grainy. Heat the entire mixture over a bain marie until it reaches your desired consistency. It should be like mayonnaise. 

You are now ready to spread the mixture over the cake layers. Assemble and decorate with the candied hickory nut pralines. Amazing. 



Miss you all - bliss out and eat chocolate. xoxo megan




Sunday, November 13, 2011

Czech Kolaches with Poppy Seed and Apricot Filling


My grandfathers parents, were both from Czechoslovakia, the now Czech Republic. They brought with them a love a theater, activism, music, good food and drink... a true Bohemian as my grandfather liked to call himself. My grandfather loved a good sweet, especially Vanocka, which is a Christmas bread with almonds and raisins and kolaches or kolaces as they are also known. My favorite was the Kolache. My grandfather would buy them every almost every Sunday from the  bakery in our town. I would always eat as many as I could or until my mother would scold me.


For me, the best part of eating a kolache was getting to the filling. The dough is a mere basket for the delicious fillings. I made both apricot and poppy seed filling and was so pleased with the results of both. The fillings stand up on their own, to spread on fresh bread, a croissant or as a layer for a cake. 


I have a cookbook from 1952, titled, Czechoslovak Pastries which was put out by the Charlotte Masaryk Society.  It contains various Czech recipes that were "shortened" to take place of the long and tedious working methods. I find this little book a gem as it has my grandmothers handwriting all over it, including dates of when she last made it and changes to the recipes. How good does it feel to use the same cookbook my grandmother used back in the seventies! 


I followed the recipe exactly, as I was working with a yeasted dough that I had never made before. Working with a yeast dough is still a foreign area for me so I tip-toed through this recipe with trepidation.  At one point it just asks you to press your dough into squares....no rolling here. I mean, come on, I was dying to bust out the rolling pin, but I didn't. I believe the cooking times were off by about 10-15 minutes. I adjusted the timing for the recipe and the oven temp.... just a touch. As the first too batches were too brown and over-cooked. When they came out of the oven, I did the same thing as I did when I was little, I tore off the dough from around the edges just to get to the filling. Yum! These are not very sweet, I am sure you could make a sweeter dough, but serving them warm with powdered sugar and butter does the trick.


Kolache Recipe
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sweet butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1.5 teaspoon vanilla or lemon rind
1 package dry yeast, raised - you can do this by following the instructions on the package. 1/4 water about 112 degrees and dissolve the packet. When foam has doubled in size, you can add it to your dough.
Apricot Filling

Bring milk to a boil, add butter, sugar, salt. Mix and let cool for 5 minutes. Temper your eggs, stir in eggs, raised yeast and vanilla. Make sure your dough mixture is not too hot, you do not want to kill the yeast. Sift your flour on a board, adding the wet mixture, a little at a time. Knead into a smooth dough that does not stick to the board. Let rise in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp towel, until double in size. Tear off even, egg sized pieces. Press each piece into a square 3x3. Place on parchment lined oven trays. Take about 1 TBS of your filling of choice and place in the middle. Draw the corners up firmly together over the filling. It is a bit like dumpling pinching. Let rise again. Oven to 350 degrees. Brush with beaten egg and 1 TBS milk before going into oven. There is an optional crumb mixture which I did not make, but I will include here for those of you who wish to add this on to the kolaches before they go into the oven. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until just brown. (I admit, mine were too brown as the original recipe called for thirty minutes at 400)

Crumb Mixture - 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 sugar, 2 TBS butter, 1/2 teaspoon mace. Chopped nuts if desired. Sprinkle on the kolaches before they go into the oven. 

Poppy Seed Filling
1 cup poppy seeds GROUND - I found that 1 cup gives me about 1.5 ground.
3/4 cup milk
3 TBS sugar
3 TBS honey
1 tsp. allspice
Cook poppy seeds with milk and sugar on low and slow for five minutes. Stirring constantly until thick. Add honey and allspice. Take off heat. 

Apricot Filling
1 lb. dried apricots
1 cup of water
1/2 cup sugar, or more.... depending on your sweet tooth

Cook apricots, liquid and sugar, low and slow until the fruit has broken down and you have a relatively, smooth and thick mixture.  Add more liquid and sugar if necessary.

kolache kisses....have a beautiful week and celebrate the little things! xoxo - megan


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Orange Polenta Tea Biscuits with Orange Candy Glaze


orange polenta tea cookies. best served same day, no waiting around. serve with tea, and if you've got it, some mascarpone cheese. 

not a sweet cookie, a bit of crunch from the polenta, hence the biscuit name.

not a stand out biscuit, just simple, somewhat courageous.

breakfast with the ladies?  serve these. (with mascarpone cheese on the side please)

they would even be good, really good, alongside a big bowl of spicy chili.

miss my husband, he is off in Peru. he would eat these, possibly all of them, if he was around.

today we set our clocks back, in hopes of raising our spirits and shedding a bit more sun into our daylight hours. i miss the warm sun, hence these little shiny cookies. everything was yellow, bright and cheery. little orange and yellow disks of deliciousness. 

if and when I make these again, I will use a finer ground corn meal, eat them with mascarpone cheese or a bowl full of chili, or maybe both. 

i thought I was making a stand alone little cookie. but.... these do need something to pair with them. i tasted them hot out of the oven and was a bit sad as i had imagined something else. polenta had too much crunch, finer ground corn meal will suit your teeth better. the large grain almost ruins the biscuit.

rule #1. have no expectations about your own cooking and then you will never be let down.

the glaze came out of necessity, something to brighten up the flavor of the cookie. it worked.

whoops... I wasn' t paying any attention. I was busy skyping my husband on the other side of the world, and then I smelled something burning!

Orange Polenta Tea Biscuits with Candy Orange Glazeadapted from a 2110 Food and Wine Recipe
1 and 1/2 cups corn meal, grind your polenta down if you are lucky enough to have a VitaMix or other powerful blender. Too coarse of a meal, will be hard to chew.
1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted organic butter
2/3 cups flour
3/4 cup organic unbleached sugar
2 TBS orange zest
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs

For Glaze
Juice of 1 large orange
2/3 cup sugar

1) Place ground polenta/ corn meal, butter, sugar, flour, orange zest and salt in a food processor. Process until you have a nice crumbly meal. Add eggs and pulse until your dough just comes together. Scrape out dough and put into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
2) Oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place teaspoonful sized balls of dough onto sheet leaving 2 inches between. Place into oven for about 10 minutes, check at 9. These can burn quite quickly. Remove when edges are golden brown.
3) Juice one orange, if it is a small orange, juice two. Place sugar into heavy bottomed pan, and strain the orange juice into it. Cook sugar and juice until sugar reaches about 235 degrees. This will give you a thicker glaze that has not quite moved into soft crack of the candy stage.
4) Glaze your cookies using a silicon pastry brush. Hopefully you have one that you dedicate to just savory so that your glaze won't end up tasting like garlic!
5) Let cookies sit with the glaze on for several hours. You can not stack or store these with the glaze. Cookies could be made a week ahead of time as long as they were stored in an airtight package. (Tupperware, etc.)
5) Save any leftover glaze and use it as a sweetener to your tea. It is quite delicious.



 orange candy kisses, an extra hour of sleep, and a hot cup of tea! xoxo megan



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Laughing Jack






Monday, October 24, 2011

Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples


Sometimes I contemplate writing just about apples, or just about caramel and leaving behind all my heart to just make a good looking 'professional' post. Nope, can't do it. I'm the kind of girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. I am the gal who feels a twinge of heartache for the last apple left on the tree.


Such is life. Breathe in, breathe out, smile. We win some, we lose some. We are given what we need, when we need it.  I slow down every day and feel the magic of something... wether it is the milkweed seeds blowing in the wind or just celebrating the ability to move by throwing the football with my son. Celebrating life feels good....even on a bad day.


Sometimes it takes a fiery argument and a long walk for me to come to my senses. Even that can be a celebration. Little victories, small gains, remembering that sometimes it is okay to be wrong, even though we don't like to admit it. We are wild creatures, aren't we? Big hearts, lovers with tempers, friends who drift away, mothers and fathers, friends who are close, irate neighbors, bad drivers, gentle teachers, big hearts, timid, speak too loud, hear my voice, unkind, jealous, anxious, kind, cooperative, crazy full of love people.


The caramel apple was on my "confectionary to-do list" (yes... I do have one). I was tired of biting into apples that are bland, dry, and covered with a caramel so hard, it will pull your teeth out and send you to the dentist. My husband hates the caramel apples that taste like plastic. Plastic covered apples... hmmmm maybe he's on to something. I digress.  I/we hate bad apples and plastic-like caramel apples. They are no fun for anyone. You end up throwing them into the compost pile. Even the racoons rejects them. This is my attempt to right the wrong of bad caramel apples.

                                                                                                                        
                                                                     
 Vanilla Bean Caramel Apples


1 cup organic non salted butter
1 cup organic dark brown sugar
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1 can 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
3" of vanilla bean, scored down the middle
20 - medium sized GOOD apples... I used  honey-crisp
sticks for apples

Place parchment paper on large baking sheet. Butter parchment paper. Place sticks into majority of apples.** In large sauce pan (heavy bottomed) put all your ingredients....everything, and turn on medium. Let this come to a boil and stir frequently. Let caramel reach 243 degrees. Pull off burner and let cool slightly. Begin dipping apples. Rotate/twirl caramel around the apple a bit, you will have some wrist action here. Place on parchment paper. Let cool completely. Share with neighborhood children, and adults alike.

**notes
*Bubbles will form in the caramel, do not fret, they will disappear.
*Caramel will probably sit at 228 degrees or so,  until the water is finally out of the mixture, then start watching your thermometer. You don't want your caramel to burn.
*Parchment works better than wax paper.
*Apples are best eaten the day of.
*Apple size will vary, possibly varying how many caramel apples are made. Leave a few apples without sticks, you don't want to ruin a perfectly good apple with a stick when you find out there is no caramel left.
*Save yourself some heartache, use a tasty apple. There is life beyond a granny-smith. Not sure she feels the same.
*Kids enjoy making this, watch out that caramel smarts! Ouch, sugar burns are no fun.
*If you have four year old kids in your neighborhood, they will come knocking at your door asking for seconds! Indulge them!

Loads of caramel apple kisses, and yes, sometimes I am wrong - hoping that if I keep saying it, it will get easier?  xoxo - megan






Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sugar Skulls, Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead




I have been making sugar skulls since 2003. Every year I pull out all of my supplies, get out all the goodies and pounds of sugar, and spend a manic couple of days creating these calaveras de azúcar. I finished with Gallery Night on Friday where I was at Chiripa demonstrating how to make these sugar laden tributes to the Day of the Dead. We had an amazing turn out. There were kids, college students, teachers and of course many of my dear friends and family in attendance.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to  share some of my creativity with others. I have photos of gallery night posted here.


Sometimes, I feel so locked in my own kitchen just bursting at the seams, wishing I had more opportunities like this one. How great to be able to pass on knowledge to others who are just as excited as you are about something!



If you are interested in the "how to" of creating these. Please visit my sugar skull blog post of last year. There are several photos which show you how to mold, and un-mold the skulls. MexicanSugarSkull.com has all the goods you need if you wish to purchase the molds or some of the other items you would need for this project. 


For now, these skulls are heading back over to Chiripa where they will be on sale. I am currently taking orders for skulls, if you are interested please drop me an email. Megan @ foodalution.com  I will also be offering sugar skull parties where people can be merry, and spend an evening learning about the Day of the Dead while making a skull for themselves.


Each skulls comes with it's own heart ♥ - a reminder of the love that we have for those in our lives who have passed on. ♥


Calavera Kisses  - xoxoxo megan


Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Stencil Numbers onto your Cake


A few days ago when I posted the recipe for the above cake and chocolate frosting, several of you were interested in the "how-to" of getting the numbers onto the cake. Below are photos of how I did it. Enjoy!






Easy does it! Happy Decorating! xoxo megan


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - A heart-full of squash.




Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chocolate Frosting Confetti Cake

Happiness is a chocolate cake ~ (or just loads of good frosting)

Getting Dreamy for my son's birthday. Hitting the double digits and never looking back. Happy day to my one and only boy! 10 years old and loving it!

Most of the time my cakes are made so the person receiving the cake can eat it on their special day. That's what a birthday cake is... right? Not so with this cake.  I have not been feeling well for the past week, hence no posts. I have been resting and taking it easy.  I finally felt well enough to  make my son's cake, albeit five days late. As the saying goes, better late than never!

This cake made me happy, made him happy, it made all of us happy. Who wouldn't be overjoyed to see a large chocolate cake decorated with thousands of brightly colored nonpareils? Sometimes, simple is better.
But this post is really about my son and chocolate frosting. I could care less about what hides underneath the chocolate deliciousness. It was the frosting that made us all happy. (And the little colored crunches.) Kind of makes you feel like you are eating confetti in candy form.

My son:

1) Is hilarious.
2) Has a BIG heart!
3) Loves his family.
4) Is kind to others, especially little ones.
5) Eats most anything I cook.... and raves about it.

The photo on the left sums it all up! Toothy ten year old grin, full of life, and happy that his mother finally made him a cake. I spent all morning long making it and he didn't even notice the finished cake until 1:00. He finally slowed down enough to see the giant number "10" staring back at him from the chocolate frosting."For me?" he asked. Yes, "For you."

My son was a chocolate lover from the very beginning. He was past his due date, I was getting quite large and uncomfortable, yet the midwife asked me to hold on. 'He will come when he is ready' was her mantra. One day, after a long labor inducing type walk, I made myself a treat that I had read could help bring on labor. I brought out my molinillo and made myself a bitter sweet chocolate brew made with fresh chilies, cocoa poweder, water and a bit of sugar. Wa! Did I ever go into labor~ That night, (or early morning) of October 4th, 2001, Deva Sun, was born. Happiness is a new baby boy! Thank you Deva for choosing me as your mama! 
little man with his big sis.




Best Chocolate Frosting - for your favorite cake ~ adapted from America's Test Kitchen 
enough for a two layer cake. 
20 TBS unsalted organic butter, softened, room temp. 
1 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa - Valrhona preferred
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz. milk chocolate, melted and cooled to around 85 degrees. - important step, do not add the hot melted chocolate to your frosting, you will ruin it.
In a food processor with the blade attachment process the butter, sugar, cocoa until nice and smooth. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process again. Scrape the sides as needed. Pulse until you have a smooth, delicious and creamy frosting. Taste along the way. Use immediately for best results. I have never stored this, even though you probably can. Just pull out of the refrigerator a good hour before you will be using it. 
This is one of my favorite chocolate frostings. It is more smooth than a ganache, has more curb appeal than chocolate cream cheese frosting and just feels good in your mouth. Creamy, chocolatey deliciousness.


Confetti Kisses and Chocolate Hugs! xoxo megan



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - a hike of space and time.




Friday, September 30, 2011

7 hr pork shoulder, super salsa, minimal waste, and a (homemade) video

 How to host a party with minimal waste?


#1 - Start by inviting several of your dearest friends and family. ✓
# 2- If planning a BIG event, have your guests bring their own reusable dinnerware and cups.  ✓
#2 - Plan your menu around the goal. You want a menu that will be delicious and one where you can source your ingredients locally. ✓
#3 - Set out shopping. Head to the local farmers market. Bring your own bags to minimize waste in the end. Look at 'food miles'. See how far something had to travel to make it to your table? Can you purchase from the farmer who is 5 miles from town? ✓
#4 - Cook a damn good meal. ✓
#5 - Compost everything that you possible can. Encourage your friends and family to compost. Have them observe you in your element!  ✓
#6 - Recycle everything else! ✓
#7 - Smile pretty... you just had a party with minimal waste, you produced a minimal amount of waste, less than a bag... produced more compost than actual garbage! ✓


This post will wrap up my four post series for Glad and Tastemakers from Foodbuzz. I have had fun encouraging others to try to "think outside the can". Repeat, garbage cans aren't going anywhere, it is what you put in them that counts. Throughout the past month I have had the chance to reflect on my families garbage "output". We still produce too much garbage. I have had twinges of guilt rise up when I have been at stores this month and I do not have my canvas bags with me. I don't want to just be complacent with the paper bag attitude. As a culture, we are so far removed from the reality of where things come from and where they end up. Hence my push this month on composting. It means a lot to me to see my produce waste move just 50 feet to our back yard compost pile and I watch it turn into finished compost. It feels good to recycle my containers, glass and paper. I want to know that somehow in this crazy world of ours, my impact is minimal.




I hosted a "party" at my house with close friends and family. We enjoyed a delicious meal together, ate a TON of food and I was left with practically any waste at all. We had a plastic bag for the meat, a can from the olives, and the wine bottles of course, some pork fat that we couldn't compost and a bit of other miscellaneous waste. I have hosted parties where my garbage can is overflowing. Take the time to bring and use reusable plates and real silverware.  It makes a difference. Take the time to purchase locally. You will buy fresh, you can use your own bags and miss out on all the garbage bag waste.


Super Salsa - shop local - now is the time to take advantage of the tomato harvests!

5 large delicious tomatoes - heirloom and ripe if you can
1/2 clove garlic crushed
1/2 of a medium onion - chopped small and rinsed in cold water
2 cubanella peppers - chopped very fine - 
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3/4 ripe red jalapeño - you want it wrinkly and crinkly on the outside.
juice of 1 small lime

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy on your fresh pork tacos. Taste along the way and adjust ingredients, such and the salt, pepper and lime.


7 Hour Pork Shoulder- for pork tacos

4 lb pork shoulder, locally and sustainably raised
4 Italian Fryer peppers, cubanellas or other sweeter pepper chopped roughly
4 heirloom tomatoes chopped roughly
1 medium onion chopped roughly
1 Jar of Frontera Grill Salsa - your choice, I used roasted tomato and garlic
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
for some kick - throw in 1/2 a habanero

Oven to 300F. Cut off excess fat off the pork shoulder and brown nicely in a deep ditch oven. Brown on all sides. Add salsa, add all the tomatoes and peppers and garlic. Let start to simmer, cover and place in the oven. Check every two hours, stir juices and flip meat over half way through. Cook for seven hours for delicious, tender, flavorful meat.


Guests enjoying the good food......especially the kids.

A truly homemade video on composting. Disclaimer: My sweet daughter was working the camera. My head is missing from 1/4 of the video, however for her impromptu role as camera woman, she did great! This is laughable... my whole family begged me not to post. HA!  Please don't grade me on this video... I promise to do better next time. Pinky swear!



loads of foodie love and kisses - megan