Monday, August 31, 2020

Death by Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes #FoodieReads

Last week I blazed through Sex, Murder & Killer Cupcakes by Allison Janda* in an evening. I liked the title, loved the cover, and it was a welcome distraction from my almost nightly Zoom meetings for various organizations with which I volunteer. Zoom fatigue is real!

On the Page
image from
This book was okay. Just okay. Nothing earth-shattering or wow-inspiring. Even though it entertained me for a couple of hours, there really wasn't much going on in this story. The main character, Marian, owns and operates a food porn publication - Think naked guys holding food in front of their private bits. Yes, really. - and moonlights as a crime scene photographer with the local police department. Though that seems like an interesting combination of career choices rife with possibilities for character development and conflict, this book is mainly about her obsession with two guys, attempts on her life, and her wild and unsubstantiated conclusions about who murdered the model in her studio. The murder weapon, by the way, was a poisoned cupcake.

Amateur detective stories can be amusing. This one quickly grew tiresome because Marian's character was annoying naive.

But it did its job in distracting me as we head into our twenty-fourth week of being sheltered-in-place during this corona virus pandemic. For the first month or so that we were ordered to stay at home, I couldn't focus on reading. I would read a page or two, and my mind would drift. Then I started reading voraciously...and my standards plummeted. Ha. Now I'll pretty much read through anything.

On the Plate

There was no doubt in my mind that I had to make cupcakes for this post and I definitely wanted to make a 'death by chocolate' kinda creation. I don't know why I usually only make chocolate cakes with Guinness in March. I guess it's because Guinness isn't usually on my shopping list except in preparation for St. Patrick's Day. While it was my college beer of choice, now I lean towards smaller microbrews. But, here we are.


  • 1 cup Guinness (or other stout beer that you have on-hand)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1 cup organic dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup organic granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
  • Also needed: cupcake liners (I used shamrock green!), piping bag and tips

Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chunks or chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Combine the Guinness and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk till smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout-butter mixture and beat just to combine. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache
Place whipping cream and butter in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until bubbles begin to form on the side of the pan. Add in the chocolate chunks and swirl to make sure they are covered with the warmed cream. Let stand for 3 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

Cool in refrigerator until it thickens, at least 30 minutes. Once it's cool, you can whip the cooled ganache into a pipeable frosting. Pipe over cooled cupcakes. You can refrigerate them to set the frosting. But my trio devoured them as is.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in August 2020: here.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Spiced 'Tree Pumpkin' (Persimmon) Muffins #MuffinMonday

Earlier in the year I saw a post from one of my favorite bloggers - Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm - and I realized that they've been having a muffin party for years without me. LOL. I emailed the host, Stacy of Food Lust People Love and got the scoop: "...last Monday of the month and no themes. We've been baking together since August 2015! Only one rule, you must use the muffin method (folding wet ingredients with dry - no creaming butter and sugar, etc.) to bake muffins."

I've been happily joining in for months now. This month, this is the muffin line-up...

Spiced 'Tree Pumpkin' (Persimmon) Muffins

Years ago I was at an event where the dessert course was a gingerbread cake was served with cubes of fresh persimmon scattered over the top. One of the people at my table inquired, "What's a persimmon?" 

Before I could answer, another person answered, "It's a tree pumpkin."

I almost spit my wine out I was laughing so hard. But it made sense! Ever since, my family and I jokingly call these 'tree pumpkins.' And whenever I see them sold on branches, I buy them for our table.

So, when a friend gave me a bag full of tree pumpkins this week, I decided to turn them into muffins for a quick weekday breakfast. I made these gluten-free because that's the flour I had in the cabinet, but you can substitute regular flour.

Ingredients makes a dozen muffins
  • ½  cup organic dark brown sugar + more for sprinkling
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk (you can use whole milk yogurt instead)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2½  cups persimmon, peeled and diced
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds (you can substitute whatever kinds of nuts you have on-hand)
  • Also needed: muffin pan, paper muffin liners

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, olive oil, and sugar. Add in the spices, flour, and baking powder. Stir until just moistened.

Fold in the almonds and persimmons. Scoop into paper lined muffin hollows, about three-quarters full. Sprinkle tops with additional dark brown sugar.

Place pan in the oven and bake for 26 to 28 minutes. The muffins should be a nice burnished brown. let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve warm, although they are just as good cool.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Spiced Smashed Potato Tacos with Homemade Purple Corn Tortillas

My cousin Joan posted the photo [below] on social media last month along with the caption that her high school classmate generously shared her mom's recipe. I politely asked if she would be willing to share it with me. Because, well, you know me. I'm always excited about beautiful and delicious food!

photo by Joan Mateo-Bartoli via social media

Naibe graciously posted her mom's recipe in the stream of comments and I used it as a jumping off point. In fact, you might say that I went completely rogue; I swapped in some homemade purple corn tortillas and whatever potatoes I had in my root basket; I added fresh cabbage, and pico de gallo; and I sautéed the potatoes in coconut oil with some spices. But her recipe was my inspiration.

makes about twelve 6" tortillas and as many tacos

Purple Corn Tortillas
  • 3 cups purple masa harina
  • 2-1/4 cups warm liquid (you can use water or stock)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground salt
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • corn meal for rolling
  • oil for cooking
  • Also needed: waxed paper or parchment paper, tortilla press (if you don't have a press, you can use a rolling just won't be as uniform)

Potato Filling

  • 5 to 6 medium potatoes (I used Yukon gold because I liked the color combination of yellow and purple!)
  • 2 to 3 Spring onions, trimmed and diced (or you can use 1/2 of a regular onion)
  • 2 organic tomatoes, cored and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Also needed: oil for frying (I used coconut oil)

Taco Fixings
  • pico de gallo (I have made Watermelon Pico de Gallo, Peach Pico de Gallo, and others)
  • shredded cabbage (I used green cabbage)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cheese (I used cotija)
  • fresh organic cilantro leaves
  • lime wedges
  • avocado slices

Purple Corn Tortillas
Put masa flour in a large mixing bowl. Add warm liquid, salt, and olive oil. Use a wooden spoon to mix all of the ingredients together. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Knead the dough to form a smooth ball. If the dough seems too dry, add more liquid; if the dough seems too wet, add more masa. Once the dough is ready, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

Pinch off a piece of the masa dough and shape it into a ball the size of a plum, or slightly large golf ball. Take two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper and lay one on the bottom of the tortilla press. Place the masa ball in the center.

Place another piece of wax paper over the masa ball. Gently close the press and press down, until the dough has spread to a diameter of 5 to 6".

Heat a griddle or a large skillet on high heat. Grease your pan; I used coconut oil. Working one at a time, hold a tortilla in your hand, carefully removing the wax paper on each side. Allow the tortilla to rest half on your hand, and half hanging down, and gently lay the tortilla down on to the skillet.

Cook the tortilla on the hot pan for 30 seconds to a minute on each side. The tortilla should be lightly toasted and little air pockets forming. Set aside.

Potato Filling
Wash potatoes and cut into cubes. Please them in a pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then cook until easily pierced with a fork, approximately 18 to 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place in a large mixing bowl. Smash the potatoes while leaving them a bit lumpy.

In a large skillet, add 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil and heat until melted. Sauté the Spring onions until they are softened and beginning to turn transparent. Stir in the tomatoes and spices. Cook until the tomatoes soften and begin to lose their shape, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and mix until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper as needed.

Heat a griddle or a large skillet on high heat. Grease your pan; I used coconut oil. Place your tortillas on the griddle and spoon 2 to 3 Tablespoons of filling on one half of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and lightly fry each taco until crispy, approximately 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Repeat until you run out of tortillas or filling. Serve immediately.

Let diners carefully tuck some cabbage, cotija, and cilantro in each taco. Top with pico de gallo. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

I first made this to celebrate Peruvian Independence Day last month and would never have thought to make a potato taco, so for that I thank Joan and Naibe. Totally inspiring, ladies! It has been added to my family's menu rotation as Jake is now plant-based during the week. And this is delicious and filling, so we make it at least every other week.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Rom-Com Read, Cocktail in a Can, But I Prefer Bourbon #FoodieReads

I can honestly say that I have never read a rom-com. I've watched plenty of them. Sometimes you just need some silly giggles.

Like a rom-com movie, I asked myself, is it plausible? Maybe. Is it ridiculous? Most of the time. But it is enjoyable? Absolutely! And often times, the more silly the antics are - think When Harry Met Sally - the more memorable it is. The Unhoneymooners is just such a book.

So, I was glad that The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren* was in my to-read pile. I cannot really remember who recommended it or how I ended up with it, but at the end of an exhausting day when Zoom meetings bookended all of my other activities, I was happy to collapse on my bean bag with this book in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other. I read it in one sitting.

The Enemies-to-Lovers trope has a long history. Think Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and others. The reason it persists is because that's probably how most love stories go. Love at first sight is very rare and sort of boring! A little conflict is always entertaining, right?

On the Page

Olive (not Olivia!) Torres seems to have been born under an unlucky cloud. She was once trapped inside a claw machine when she was 6 years old. "I spent two hours inside the machine, surrounded by a lot of hard, coarse-furred, chemical-smelling toy bears. I remember looking out through the handprint-smudged plexiglass and seeing an array of frantic faces shouting muffled orders to each other. ...Fast-forward twenty-six years and - thank you, YouTube - there's still video floating around. To date, nearly five hundred thousand people have watched it and discovered that I was stubborn enough to climb in, and unlucky enough to catch my belt loop on the way out, leaving my pants behind with the bears" (pg. 5).

On the other hand Ali, her twin, though only four minutes older, seems to float on a cloud of good fortune. "No one in our enormous family was surprised, then, when she successfully planned a posh wedding with two hundred guests, a seafood buffet, a chocolate fountain, and multicolored roses spilling out of every jar, vase, and goblet - and has shelled out, at most, a thousand dollars. My sister works her ass off to find the best promotions and contests. She reposts every Twitter and Facebook giveaway she can find..." (pp. 3-4). She won everything from her sister's Skittle-hued maid-of-honor dress to an all-expenses paid honeymoon to Maui.

But when everyone at the wedding, minus the two who don't (or can't) indulge in the free all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, succumbs to food poisoning, someone has to use the non-transferable vacation. So Olive and Ethan, the groom's brother, head to an island paradise together. The only catch: they don't actually like each other. Add to that situation they are end up at the same resort as her new boss and his ex-fiancée and they really have to embrace their (faux) newlywed status to not be discovered as committing vacation fraud.

Their witty banter, snorkling trips, couples massage, and a few too many tropical drinks later reveal the truth we all knew was coming: they are actually crazy about each other. But don't let that spoil the fun or stop you from picking up this book. I laughed out loud during certain parts which wasn't ideal since Jake was asleep next to me.

And for its inclusion in #FoodieReads, there is plenty of food from the cheese curds that caused a misunderstanding between Olive and Ethan when the first met to the lasagna Ami makes when she sets up her husband and lures all three of his mistresses to the house. Shared meals provide lots of fodder for more hilarity. So, this wasn't great literature. But it was a fun way to pass the evening.

In the Can

Awhile back, friends were having a virtual Hawaiian vacation - since we're all sheltered-in-place for the coronavirus pandemic - and picked up these mai tai cocktails in a can. She gave me a four-pack of them and we still had one in the fridge. Even though rum and I are not friends - I'll take a bourbon or gin cocktail over rum any day - I found it a fitting pairing with The Unhoneymooners. 

"About halfway back to the hotel, we pull into the dusty lot of Cheeseburger Maui - which boasts $1.99 Mai Tai Wednesdays. This is thrilling as it is Wednesday and I am broke" (pp. 209-210).

Truth be told, I took a photo with the can, poured it for Jake, and made myself a drink with a spirit I prefer: Grapefruit &Thyme Bourbon Smash.

In the Glass

Ingredients makes 1 cocktail
  • 5 sprigs fresh organic thyme
  • 1 organic kumquat, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic granulated sugar
  • 4 to 6 cold whiskey stones
  • 3 ounces Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 1 grapefruit slice for serving
  • 1 sprigs fresh organic thyme for serving
  • sparkling water

Place the thyme sprigs, kumquat halves, and sugar and add to a cocktail shaker. Muddle to release the juice from the kumquat for at least 60 seconds. Pour the bourbon, grapefruit juice and bitters to the shaker. And stir for 20 seconds.

Fill your chilled glass with ice or whiskey stones and strain the cocktail into the glass. Top off with sparkling water. Garnish with a grapefruit slice and a sprig of thyme. Serve immediately. Cheers!

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in August 2020: here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Tenth Island, Alcatra, Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa, and Practicing Charity #FoodieReads

I picked up The Tenth Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores by Diana Marcum* this week. And I finished it in two sittings. This is Marcum's personal account of her explorations of the remote Azores islands off the coast of Portugal. She had forged relationships with the Azorean diaspora in California's central valley, then traveled to the islands to live temporarily on the island of Terceira.

'The Tenth Island' - as there are nine islands in the Azorean archipelago - refers to everywhere in the world that Azorean communities keep the traditions alive, including California, Canada, Hawaii, and southern Brazil. It's less of a physical place as it is a piece of the Azores that the people carry within themselves that preserves their culture for themselves and for future generations. "The Tenth Island is what you carry inside you. Its what's left when everything falls away. Those of us who live between worlds just know the Tenth Island better. No matter where I have lived--I have never left my Island." Even still, carrying their island inside, I was surprised how many Azoreans spent part of the year in California, for example, and part on the islands where they maintain their ancestral homes.

Early in the book, Marcum wrote something that resonated with me as we, here on California's central coast, were on various levels of evacuation warnings and orders from the four fires burning around us right now. "Growing up in California, you learn early that living amid great beauty comes with great risk. Our sunlit mountains, fertile valleys, and sparkling coastal cities are vulnerable to fires, floods, and earthquakes. Try finding someone in California who has never been evacuated." While we prepared a go-bag, it was a great opportunity for discussing that is irreplaceable and what has true value.

Marcum deftly illustrates how the Azorean relationships ebb and flow with the islands through the years as she frames their stories within the narrative of her own visits. She makes the people and the places come to life. "Before we had left for Alberto and Dona Maria’s, Luisa had picked a basket of red and yellow tomatoes from her garden, arranging them just so in a basket. She placed them next to the figs. In the Azores, I was surrounded by still-life paintings come to life."

The two standouts, in my mind: the bullfights and the food. Tourada à corda is a type of bullfighting traditional to the Azores Islands, and particularly the island of Terceira, where the intent is not to kill the animal unlike the Spanish bullfights. In this, the bull has a rope around its neck and is controlled by several people running along a street. This is a nightly event with a rotating parade of bulls; it seems after a fight the bull rests for at least a couple of weeks before it has to run again. They even have cow fights where the females, with horns still, fight.

And the food...reading this book made my mouth water. "There was a big table groaning with food: cozido à portuguesa—every kind of meat, beef, pork, chicken, and various blood sausages, amazing potatoes from the garden, white potatoes that were as sweet as pastry, chewy yams, and creamy little round batatas as rich as butter. There was bread straight from the fire and pumpkins from the garden sliced in half and sprinkled with brown sugar and transformed into something intense by their stone-and-fire roasting. My favorite Portuguese word is the word for pumpkin—abóbora—it’s just fun to say."

While pumpkin is a favorite of mine, too, I was intrigued by the foods I've never tried such as limpets, what the Azoreans call lapas. "The lapas were for only the most patient divers. They had to be scraped off the rocks, which they clung to with a ferocious tenacity. They looked like rocks filled with translucent, jellied blobs. People say they taste like the ocean—salty and clean. I wouldn’t know. Although I could feel the censure of all my seafood-loving friends from past and present, I couldn’t make myself taste one. All the pretty kale and lemon garnish in the world couldn’t make them look like something I wanted to eat. I grew up vegetarian. I had to overcome a certain squeamishness to eat a grilled chicken breast—no way could I slurp a raw sea snail."

If you have been following my blog at all, you'll know about my pandemic adventures with sourdough. Marcum writes about transformative bread in the Azores: "On Fridays at Ti Choa, they bake bread in a big wood-burning oven. The first time I tasted this bread, I was chatting along and absentmindedly broke off a piece and put it in my mouth. Everything else stopped. My entire attention turned to the bread. The thick brown crust was chewy, the pale soft interior a beehive of bread and pockets of warm air. There was the faintest whisper of sweetness. The recipe comes from their great-grandmother. It is based on pão caseiro, traditional Portuguese home-style bread but with an until-now-secret ingredient: sweet potato yeast."

The Tenth Island, and Marcum's way with words, definitely placed the Azores on my list of dream travel destinations. Portugal has always been on that list, but now I definitely want to rent a house on one of those islands and stay for a little while. Besides, their view toward wine mirrors my own. "White wine is not always afforded full respect in Portugal. I once biked down the coast of the mainland with a wine aficionado. A waiter recommended a full-bodied red, and my friend said, 'Really? But we ordered fish. Not white wine?' The waiter said, 'Sir, in Portugal we believe in good wine. So always red.'"


With so many mentions of food, I was inspired by this passage: "'C’mon,' Romana said, grabbing my hands and pulling. 'We’re going to another village to the best butcher for Marilva to get meat for the alcatra'—a traditional Azorean dish of meat cooked in a clay pot—'and it’s beautiful along the way.'"

I especially like this dish because it's a traditional beef pot roast dish from Terceira, the island on which Marcum lived. Traditionally the alcatra beef roast is slow-roasted in a clay pot that's shaped like a flower pot with herbs and spices. The closest thing I have is a large stoneware baking bowl.

And it take two nights to make because of the overnight marinating. From all of my research, a few ingredients are key to the alcatra marinade - cinnamon sticks, whole allspice, onions, garlic, wine, bay leaves. So I placed all of that in the stoneware bowl with the rump roast and two nitrite-free Portuguese sausages to soak overnight.

After marinating overnight, I roasted the alcatra for three hours in accordance with some more modern recipes. At 375 degrees Fahrenheit, the roast cooked for three hours. Then I added potatoes, reduced the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and cooked for another hour. 

To serve I smashed the potatoes, sliced the roast and sausages, and topped it all with the roasted onions. Delicious. But the recipe I'm going to share for this post is a plant-based stew as Jake doesn't eat meat during the week. 

Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa

Sopa de Legumes Portuguesa is a flexible, thick vegetable-heavy soup that is partially blended and finished with cooked beans. One version I found had pumpkin and cabbage; I had butternut squash and used that.

Ingredients makes 8 servings

  • olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
  • 4 cups potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup cubed zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used yellow and red)
  • 1-1/2 cups green beans, trimmed to 1" lengths
  • 4 cups chopped green cabbage
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 to 2 cups water, as needed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • cooked beans for garnish (traditional is garbanzo beans, but I used some heirloom Italian beans)
  • Also needed: large soup pot (I used a Dutch oven), blender or food processor


Heat the oil in a large soup pot (or Dutch oven) and sauté the onion, celery, and garlic over medium heat until the onions are translucent and softened. Stir in the potatoes. Turn to coat with the oil in the pot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes before adding in the butternut squash, zucchini, and bell peppers.

Pour in the stock. The vegetables should be covered by at least an inch of liquid, if not, add in water.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until all of the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove two ladles full of the vegetables and set aside. In batches, pulse the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the puree to the pot and add in the reserved vegetables. Fold in the cabbage and green beans. Stir in the smoked paprika and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the cabbage is softened, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle servings into individual bowls. Top each bowl with a Tablespoons of cooked beans. Serve hot and enjoy!

 Practicing Charity

The last passage that stuck with me from The Tenth Island, "Each spring the impérios come alive as the center of Holy Spirit festivals. It’s a celebration in which huge pots of soup and baskets of bread are served, a reminder to practice charity." So, we made soup. Check. And, because of the large number of evacuees on the Monterey Peninsula who have been displaced due to the fires, D and I looked up some of the items that were needed, ran to the store, and dropped off at a local site. It was a nice reminder to be gracious and generous in the face of other people's misfortune. I hope it's a lesson that he carries with him into adulthood.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in August 2020: here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Fitting Wine and Bacon-Wrapped Mini Meatloaf #CooktheBooks #LitHappens #FoodieReads

Wild foxglove in a canyon in Big Sur / photo by Jake Mann

This post is doing double-duty! I love being able to kill two birds (that is two assignments) with one stone.

Debra of Eliot's Eats is hosting our bi-monthly reading group Cook the Books. You can read her invitation here. And, if you'd like to join the fun, the posts aren't due till the end of September, so you still have time.

Then, for our Lit Happens book group, Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm picked the same book: Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown.* That is not a cook-from-the-book kind of group, but I usually am inspired into the kitchen by anything that I read or watch.

And I love being able to consolidate posts, especially since I wasn't loving the book anyway. When you have a novel that includes physical abuse, deliberate lies and omissions between spouses, and spousal rape (sorry for that spoiler!), I am frankly surprised that I finished the book at all. But I did.

And, on the day that I finished, I came across this very fitting bottle of wine: Foxglove Cabernet Sauvignon out of Paso Robles. Actually I bought a few bottles of the wine and was able to give one to friends who were on the evacuation warning list from the fires we're having on California's central coast.

Wild foxglove in a canyon in Big Sur / photo by Jake Mann

If you read the book, you'll know why foxglove is important to the plot. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that foxglove is poisonous in large doses...or repeated small doses. It's a dangerous beauty for certain. On to the book. Here we go...

On the Page

Recipe For A Perfect Wife by Karma Brown spans two timelines in a single house. In the current time, we have Alice Hale, a reluctant - maybe more resentful - modern-day housewife who has recently moved into the suburbs and discovers hidden letters from the previous owner, Nellie Murdoch, the quintessential mid-century housewife. Both women are navigating societal pressures and expectations of being that perfect wife. Domestic chores and, most importantly, motherhood. But neither wants to be a mother.

That seems intriguing enough, right? It might have been, but I truly despised Alice's character. As for Nellie, I could understand her choices, given the time in which she lived, and I found her character fascinating and complex. Also, you have to admire someone with that much passion and resolve. I may not have agreed with the tactic she landed on, but, she solved her problem.

As for Alice, I found her choices repugnant or at the very least those of someone who doesn't understand the concept of marriage or a true partnership. And she perpetuated her problems with lies and deceit. Really, the pressures she felt seems to be of her own making and her inability or unwillingness to communicate with Nate.

The idea of the story - that even after all the legal and social changes that have occurred, there still remains subconscious and immutable gender role stereotypes - is valid. I'm sure we have all experienced it in our own lives. I liked how the book started; I hated how it ended. Two things I found amusing throughout though: the misogynistic quotations at the beginning of each chapter - with an attribution to an actual person or publication (Someone actual wrote that? And someone actually valued the sentiment enough to put it in print?!?) and Nellie's recipes.

Bacon-Wrapped Mini Meatloaf

I chuckled every time I read one of the recipes from Nellie's timeline, that is to say mid-century; the recipes are dated, but fun to read. Boiled Chocolate Cookies, Chicken à la King, and Busy Day Cake were all new to me.

I've eaten that same Tuna Noodle Casserole every week of my junior year in college! That was one of my roommate's only recipes...and, on her assigned cooking day, she made it every week, exactly like that. Down to the bag of potato chips. I've blogged Cyn's recipe here and fed it to my family: A College Throwback + Potato Chip-Crusted Chocolate Tart. Baked Alaska may be a mid-century dish, but it's a family favorite. In fact, when my older son was applying to colleges last year, one of his requirements was that they needed to be within the 'Baked Alaska radius.' That is the distance that I would drive to bring him a Baked Alaska for his birthday. I've made that for him every year for this birthday since he was about nine years old when he discovered that dessert. Here's his 2017 birthday Baked Alaska...and the one from 2016. You get the idea.

After seeing Nellie's meatloaf recipe, I decided to make my own version. My family and friends love my bacon-wrapped mini meatloaves.

Ingredients makes 6 to 8 servings (photos are of a double-batch!)
  • 1-1/2 pounds organic, grass-fed ground beef
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon minced lemongrass
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs (I used a mixture of parsley, thyme, oregano and dill)
  • 12 slices thick-cut applewood smoked bacon
  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 2 Tablespoons organic dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Also needed: fried onion pieces

In a large mixing bowl, place the beef, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, and fresh herbs. Mix with your hands until well-combined. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with foil
Divide into six equal sized portions (4 ounces each) and shape into disks. Wrap bacon slices around the disks so that the bacon ends meet or overlap slightly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar.

Spoon the sauce over the tops of the mini meatloaves. Carefully cover the tops of the meatloaves with crispy fried onions.

Bake in oven until bacon is golden, approximately 60 to 70 minutes. Serve immediately.

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I am also linking this in to the monthly #FoodieReads event.
Click to see what everyone else read in August 2020: here.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Chocolate Caramel Cauldrons (Bittersweet Cremeux with Coffee Caramel and Bourbon Cream) #FoodNFlix

This month Tina of Squirrel Head Manor is hosting the Food'n'Flix bloggers as we watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone*. You can read her invitation here.

Okay, I'll start with this: I am not a fan of the Harry Potter universe. There, I said it. I have tried to read the books. I have tried to watch the movies. Back in 2015, we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for #TheBookClubCookbookCC and I made Pumpkin Pasties.

So, when I saw Tina's invitation, I posted to my local friends, "Does anyone have a DVD of the first Harry Potter movie? I could stream it for $3, but I'd rather borrow it for free if possible." The next day a DVD showed up on my doorstep from a friend. Except it was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets...which didn't match Tina's invitation. I messaged my friend and stated, "I don't think this is the first one." The next day, another DVD showed up on my doorstep and it was the right one. Still it took me a week to actually pop it in the DVD player.

Another friend surprised me by saying that he loved these movies and he knew what my problem was. "When you put the movie in, you are not allowed to do anything else. Don't get up and start cooking at the counter while peering at the television through the door. Don't read a book and just listen to it. And don't try to make jewelry while you're watching. Just watch the movie!" Okay, he knows me pretty well. Fine.

One evening we put the DVD in and watched about half before we drifted off. Well, Jake and I drifted off. I stood up and pressed pause on the movie only to hear my oldest son complain, "Mom, I was still watching that." Sorry. I handed him the remote control and headed off to bed.

The following evening, we picked up where we left off. And we finished watching...finally. Mission accomplished, even though it took two nights.

All that was simply to set up this statement: I tried. I still didn't care for the movie or the characters.  But I'll brief describe the movie before I move on to the dish that it inspired.

Harry Potter has been living under the stairs with his cruel (and abusive) aunt and uncle for the past decade...after he was left on the doorstep by Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore as a baby. On his eleventh birthday he receives an invitation, explaining that he has been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he discovers that not only were his parents wizards but he is destined to become a powerful wizard in his own right! Along with new friends and fellow students Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry refines his magical skills and confronts the evil wizard who murdered his parents.

Chocolate Caramel Cauldrons
Bittersweet Cremeux with Coffee Caramel and Bourbon Cream

Despite not really liking the film, there was quite a bit of food inspiration. I love the Hogwarts' dining hall scenes, but you couldn't always make out what was on the table. Mostly sweets...and far as I could tell.

So, I considered making a version of my Diminutive Caramel Apples; they look witchy, right? But my family was clamoring for something chocolatey. Done!


For the Cremeux
  • 1-1/2 cups organic heavy whipping cream
  • 2-1/2 cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (use a good quality at whatever percent cacao you prefer)
  • 1-1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger syrup
For the Caramel
  • 2 cups organic granulated sugar
  • 12 Tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 1 Tablespoon instant coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup organic heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)
For the Cream
  • 1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For Serving
  • whole coffee beans
  • chocolate for shaving over the top


For the Cremeux
Place 1-1/2 cups organic heavy whipping cream in a sauce pan ring to a bubble again. Add in 2-1/2 cups chocolate chips or chunks and swirl until they are completely submerged. Let stand for 3 minutes. Then, with a whisk, blend till smooth - like you're making a ganache.

Place 1-1/2 cups thick Greek yogurt in a mixing bowl. Stir in 1 Tablespoon ginger syrup. Once the chocolate-cream is smooth, add it to the yogurt and syrup. Blend until completely combined.

Poured the cremeux into individual ramekins, leaving room at the top of the container for the caramel and the whipped cream. Covered the pots with plastic wrap and let them set overnight.

For the Caramel
Place sugar in heavy saucepan that holds, at least, two quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as it begins to melt. The sugar will begin to form clumps. Keep whisking and they will melt back down.

Once all the sugar has melted, swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar continues to cook.

Cook until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should have a slightly nutty aroma and be almost a reddish brown. Using a candy thermometer, cook till it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

As soon as the caramel reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit, add the butter cubes all at once. Be careful because the caramel will bubble up. Whisk the butter into the caramel until completely melted. Stir in the instant coffee.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, take care because the mixture will bubble up again. Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel. Whisk to incorporate.

You can use this sauce warm, but I let it cool until it was spoonable and held its shape.

For the Cream
Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat until peaks have formed.

For Serving
Remove the cremeux from the fridge. Spoon a dollop of caramel over the top. Spoon whipped cream over the caramel. Use a microplane to shave bits of chocolate on the whipped cream. Garnish with a coffee bean.

And I just realized that this would have been appropriate for next month's Food'N'Flix event when we'll be watching Chocolat with the group's founder, Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, at the head. Stay tuned...

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.