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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Fresh spinach wilted in garlic butter with artichoke hearts and creamy cheese is a winning appetizer at every party. (Kitchen Report)

Election night party app: Artichoke and spinach dip

By Kitchen Report / 11.06.12

The Nov. 5 cover story for The Christian Science Monitor weekly edition shares the voices of voters in swing states. In addition to the resounding chorus of “Washington, get something done!,” the sentiment from these towns, which may be deeply divided politically and with serious concerns about our individual and collective future, is that neighbors and friends are still able to get along.

“My best friend in the world is a super-left-wing liberal,” Anne Wanke, an unswerving Republican, from Janesville, Wis., told the Monitor. “I mean, she’s pro-abortion. I’m pro-life. She’s very Democrat. But we’ve worked on projects for 30-something years in this town and love each other dearly. I wish our politicians did the same thing.”

If you are watching the election returns tonight with friends who may or may not share your political persuasion, break out a bag of blue and a bag of red tortilla chips (and maybe a plain corn one for Third Party fans) and dig into this delicious, warm artichoke and spinach dip.

You’ve probably made spinach and artichoke dip from frozen spinach before. I’m going to challenge you to make it from fresh spinach. (I’ll leave peeling artichokes for another day.) It is just as fast to wilt chopped, fresh spinach in some melted butter with browned garlic as it is to rip open a frozen box of spinach.

Pepper jack cheese adds a layer of heat (and if you don’t have that handy, just add a few sprinkles of red pepper flakes).

This dip takes almost no time to make. So hustle and get to the polls to cast your vote and then head home to warm up with this cheesy, creamy dip.

Artichoke and spinach dip

2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 8-ounce bag fresh spinach, chopped

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts (about 2 cups), chopped

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup pepper jack cheese, cubed

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonaise

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper flakes, optional

Melt butter in a large skillet add garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add spinach and stir. When the spinach cooks down add artichoke hearts and heat through. Add cream cheese and pepper jack cheese and stir until cheeses melt. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir to mix thoroughly. 

Serve warm with your choice of tortilla chips, pita chips, or crackers.

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Everyone loves chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting. Decorate them with red or blue candy to show support for your political party, or both if you're feeling bipartisan. (Laura Edwins/The Christian Science Monitor)

Election night cupcakes

By Contributor / 11.05.12

There's no doubt about it, cupcakes work for every occasion. Banish any thought that these treats are just for kids, and quell your rollar coaster of Election Day emotions with a sugar rush.

This simple recipe, which can be done ahead of the Tuesday night returns, is perfect for an election night party. Both the batter and the frosting can be stored at room temperature for a couple hours, or in the refrigerator for a couple days. The chocolate cake batter makes fudgy, moist cakes, and the vanilla frosting starts off velvety, but hardens a bit on the cakes to form a crispy, sugary coating that melts in your mouth.

This recipe is specifically for cupcakes, rather than an adapted cake recipe, so it's intended to make exactly 12. My muffin tin is a bit smaller than the standard size, and I found I had enough batter for about 14 cupcakes. I also found myself with a lot of extra frosting, even after I layered more frosting onto the cakes than I usually would.

Decorate the cupcakes with red or blue to celebrate your political party, or both if you're feeling a bit bipartisan. I used thin red licorice and the blue pieces from Hershey's York Peppermint Paddy Pieces for my American "flags." Blue M&Ms would work just as well. I also experimented with red food coloring and shredded coconut.

Even if you're watching the election results alone, you may want to have some cupcakes on hand. Is there any better way to celebrate your candidate's win, or drown the dismay of a loss than with chocolate and frosting?

Chocolate cupcakes with crispy magic frosting
Recipe adapted from "Flour" by Joanne Chang
Makes about 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped 

1/4 cup cocoa powder (the original recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa powder, I used regular Hershey's, which worked fine)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the frosting:
2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 egg whites

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2-inch chunks

1-2/3 cups confections' sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

About 2 tablespoons red or blue food coloring (optional) – experiment with the exact amount until you get your desired color, though I have a suspicion this frosting doesn't take coloring well. My red turned out more like hot pink.

For the decorations:
Thin red licorice cut into smaller pieces, blue and white candy, or decorations of your choice

For the cupcakes: 
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Set aside.

2. In large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder. In a small saucepan, heat the granulated sugar, butter, and water over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot butter-sugar mixture over the chocolate-cocoa mixture and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

3. Whisk the milk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.

4. Dump the flour mixture on top of the chocolate mixture. Whisk until the dry ingredients are totally mixed into the chocolate mixture.

5. Let the batter sit for at least 1 hour (I recommend longer) at room temperature, or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. (This allows the liquid to be totally absorbed into the batter, so the batter thickens up a bit and isn't so soupy.)

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a muffin tin, or line with paper liners.

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, dividing it evenly. Leave about 1/4 to 1/8-inch space at the top of each cup (the cakes spread in the oven). Bake for 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back when pressed. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

For the frosting:
1. In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and egg whites to make a thick frothy slurry. Place the bowl over, (not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is hot to the touch. It will thin out a bit as the sugar melts.

I suppose a double boiler would work best for this step, but if you're like me and don't have one, you can use a large pot and a Pyrex measuring cup with a handle. Experiment with the water level in your pot and hanging the measuring cup over the side before measuring the sugar and egg whites. I used very little water. With this method it takes much longer for the egg whites and sugar to get hot, almost 10 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment (or a handheld mixer). Whip on medium-high speed for 6-8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, bright white meringue and is cool to the touch. (For me this took less than 6 minutes.)

Turn down the speed to medium, add the butter, a few chunks at a time, and beat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add the confectioners' sugar, salt, milk, vanilla, and food coloring (if using) and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and satiny. You should have about 3-1/2 cups. 

Use the icing immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to three days, then beat with the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for a few minutes until smooth before using. Or, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, then bring to room temperature and paddle for a few minutes until smooth before using.

3. Ice the cupcakes. I used a cake decorator and experimented with a star tip and a flat edge tip, but an icing spatula or a butter knife would work fine. Decorate with your candy!

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Election Cake tastes like a fruit bread, similar to an English fruit cake, but not as dense. Here it is topped with a milk frosting glaze. (Kitchen Report)

Election Cake: An American tradition

By Kitchen Report / 11.05.12

The first known recipe for Election Cake, one of the first foods to be identified with American politics, was published as early as 1796 in Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” cookbook. In the 1800s, the cake was served at election time and by the 1830s it had became popularly known as Hartford Election Cake. 

Election Cake actually tastes more like a fruit bread, similar to an English fruit cake, but not as dense. Its purpose is to fortify, not serve as a sweet finish to a meal. In fact, these cakes were originally known as “muster cakes,” prepared and packed for farmers when they left the fields to travel into towns for military training or “mustering.”

Do you know why Election Day is held on a Tuesday in November?

Washington staff writer Peter Grier for explains, “For a society in which most people lived on farms, November was a good month to vote. The harvest was in, and snow hadn’t yet closed the roads. Why Tuesday? Records of lawmaker debate show that officials thought Sunday wouldn’t work, because many people were in church. Monday wouldn’t work, because most polling places were in county seats, and folks from outlying areas could not always get there in time.

“Tuesday was the earliest day everybody could make it into town. So Tuesday it was. Congress similarly standardized congressional elections in 1872.”

So, like militia training, farmers would head into town for a few days for electioneering, to vote, hang out at the tavern, and wait for the results. The women, who wouldn’t win the right to vote until Aug. 26, 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, stayed on the farm.

Sometimes Election Cake was sold at church suppers proceeding the election, or it was sold at polling stations. In 1830 in Hartford, Conn., Election Cake was given to every man who voted a straight party ticket. And the name “Hartford Election Cake” stuck when every household in Hartford would prepare a cake to serve to out-of-town guests. You can read more about that here.

I bought a bundt pan to make the Election Cake recipe from “The American Heritage Cookbook.” As you can see, I didn’t quite master the dripping of the Milk Frosting. I ran into trouble when I tried to pour multiple layers as the frosting was hardening. Oops! I’m not sure I will ever master attractive frosting.

I’m relieved to report that the frosting still tastes delicious and so does this Election Cake. It is thick and doughy, with a hint of raisins, and it makes a delicious spiced aroma as you bake it in the oven. I think it would make a lovely afternoon tea cake, even when the polls are closed.

Election Cake could be just want you need to survive a long night of election returns. Just think, on Wednesday the political ads will be finished!

(See next page for recipe)

Election Cake

From “The American Heritage Cookbook”

Step 1
1 medium-size potato

1 cup milk

1-1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons shortening

1/2 package active dry yeast

1 egg, well beaten

3-1/2 to 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon butter, melted

Cook potato in boiling water until tender. Drain, peel, and work through a sieve or ricer, then set aside. Scald milk. Pour into a large bowl and stir in salt, sugar, shortening, and potato. When lukewarm, stir in yeast until dissolved. Add egg, then flour, a little at a time, to make a soft but still manageable dough. Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, brush with a little melted butter, cover with a tea towel, and put in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until a little more than double in size.

[Tip: Set your oven to "Warm" while you are mixing the dough. Then, turn the oven off and set your tea-towel covered bowl into the oven as a warm place to help your dough rise.]

Step 2
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter

1 egg

1-1/4 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup sherry [I used cooking sherry]

1 cup seedless raisins, chopped [I add some dried cranberries so I threw those in, too]

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

When yeast dough has risen sufficiently push down the dough with your fix and work in butter thoroughly (I used a mixer with dough beaters). Toss the raisins with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Then using your hand as the mixer, stir in the egg, sugar, raisins, and remaining flour sifted with the spices and salt. Pour into a large greased Turk’s-head or gugelhupf mold or 10-inch tube pan, filling pan only two-thirds full. Cover with a tea towel and let rise about 1 to 1-1/2 hours in a warm place. Bake in a preheated 325 degree F. oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool about 10 minutes, then turn out of the pan, and cool completely before frosting.

Milk frosting

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, milk, and butter in a saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil. Then boil, without stirring, until a few drops tested in cold water form a soft ball. Remove from the heat, stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat until frosting is of a spreading consistency. Spread over top of cake, letting it dribble down the sides. If frosting becomes too stiff to spread, melt in top of double boiler over boiling water, then beat again. 

Related post on Kitchen Report: Revolutionary gingerbread cupcakes

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Clean out the back of the fridge with this simple and savory Asian-inspired dish. (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

Five secrets to fabulous fried rice

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 11.04.12

Everyone loves fried rice!

I know, I know, it’s a bold statement to make. I don’t think it’s a stretch though. Just think about the infinite permutations worldwide. Examples include: Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai pineapple fried rice, Filipino garlic fried rice (siningag), and that’s only in Asia! Fried rice is also wildly popular at Asian restaurants, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by my friend, X, who shall go unnamed.

I have a confession to make. Fried rice is the last thing on the menu I’d order when dining out (unless it’s chicken and salted fish fried rice, yum!) for one reason – it’s so very simple to make at home. A quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night’s leftovers and whatever treasures are lurking in the back, and everything comes together in the wok in less than 20 minutes!

Making fried rice is easy in theory, but getting it right does take a little know-how. I don’t know about you but I’ve dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not very good fried rice.

After years of experimenting and watching, however, I have to say my fried rice is pretty good. So here are my 5 secrets anyone can pick up and you’ll soon be on your way to making fabulous fried rice.

5 secrets for perfect fried rice

1. Use cold, leftover cooked rice. Left in the fridge overnight, the rice grains will firm up, making it easier to separate and decreasing the chances of your fried rice turning out mushy. If you can’t wait, air freshly cooked rice to remove moisture and refrigerate the rice for a few hours before cooking.

2. Use medium to long grain rice, not short grain sweet/sushi rice or glutinous rice. Medium grain jasmine rice is my choice for fluffy, sturdy grains that don’t clump or fall apart when fried. Short grain rice tends to be softer and to stick together.

3. A blazing hot wok (a wok is ideal but a large pan, skillet, or Dutch oven will do) and an adequate amount of oil will ensure your ingredients don’t stick to the surface. That’s how restaurants achieve the smoky, “burnt” flavor in their stir-fried dishes. Your home stove probably doesn’t have the same BTU strength (unless you have a commercial Viking or Wolf range) but just remember to preheat your wok before adding ingredients.

4. Use the biggest pan available in your kitchen and don’t crowd it with ingredients. Don’t try to cook for your spouse, son, twin daughters, and grandma and grandpa, too. You’ll have rice and peas flying everywhere! Ideally, you should cook one to two servings at a time. My recipe below makes enough for three moderate appetites. When you have too many ingredients, the wok doesn’t get hot enough and your ingredients will get soggy causing the rice to clump together. If you prefer, cook each ingredient individually (raw vegetables or meat, egg) and remove to separate plates. Return all the ingredients to the pan at the end for the final mixing and seasoning.

5. Don’t overdo the saucy seasonings like soy sauce or oyster sauce. I add just a few tablespoons of my chosen sauce for flavor and then add salt for saltiness and savor. Too much sauce will make your rice mushy.

It’s a lot to remember but keep your mind set on one goal: non-mushy fried rice and everything will fall into place.

Fried rice any way you like it

Cooking fried rice isn’t a science; you don’t need exact ingredients or measurements. And just about anything belongs in fried rice: leftover roast chicken, fried tofu, ham, frozen veggies. Just don’t use super “wet” leftovers like a curry or chap chye, or your fried rice will most likely turn to mush. As for seasonings, experiment with ginger, sesame oil, kecap manis, chili paste, etc. or add herbs like Thai basil or cilantro.

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 3 to 4 servings

4 cups cooked long or medium grain rice, leftover from the day before or refrigerated for at least 2 hours
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup carrots chopped into small pieces (about 2 medium)
3 eggs
1 cup chopped leftover meat or tofu
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (or sweet soy sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or fish sauce)
white pepper powder

1. Break up large clumps of rice and separate the grains with wet fingers.

2. Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat for about 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and onion and stir until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Add the carrots and cook until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Move all the ingredients to one side of the wok. Break the eggs into the wok, and stir to scramble until they are almost cooked through but still a little soggy, about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.

5. Add the meat and the peas, followed by the rice, stirring and tossing between each addition. Use your spatula to break up any clumps.

6. Add the sauces, and salt and white pepper to taste. Stir everything swiftly around the wok until the rice is well-coated and -colored (little bits of white here and there is OK) and heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add more oil if the rice begins to stick to the wok; reduce the heat if it starts to scorch. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Divide the rice among dinner plates. Serve immediately.

Related post from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: A new take on a Dim Sum favorite: Chinese-style savory pumpkin cake

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Intensely cheesy and extra comforting, serve this soup on a chilly day for a delicious dinner. (The Gourmand Mom)

Aged white cheddar and broccoli soup with chorizo

By The Gourmand Mom / 11.03.12

I am one of those parents who flood their Facebook page with pictures of my children. Yes, I’m that person. Everyone knows at least one these people. For my friends, it’s me. My Facebook wall reads like most parents’ baby books … full of photos, videos, firsts, favorites, and funny anecdotes. (They’re funny to me, at least.) And my profile pictures are mostly pictures of my kids, rather than of myself.

I have heard comments such as You are not your kids, in regards to this issue. And it’s true. I am my own person. I am not my kids … at least not completely. But the truth is, my children are a huge part of me. They are the very best representation of me. They are my finest creation and my life’s grandest purpose. If I do nothing else of importance during the rest of my life, I can rest easy in knowing that I grew, loved, and nurtured these precious little people.

Why wouldn’t I associate part of my identity with that of my children? Aren’t we all little bits of every person and every event we’ve experienced. And don’t we all continue to change as our lives change courses? Why wouldn’t my children shape me in the same way that I shape them? Why wouldn’t my children be irreversibly intertwined with my identity?

At this point in my life, perhaps for always and forever, my children are the center of my world. They are my passion and my motivation. They are at least as much a part of me as my love of cooking, my fear of failure, or my passion for bacon.

And in my children’s eyes, I see the me I strive to be. In their eyes, I am love. I am security. I am healing. I am their mom. I have never felt more beautiful than the way I look in my children’s eyes. I am in those profile pictures I post of my children. I’m right there, in their eyes.

This soup is beautiful in my eyes. I may make it my facebook profile pic. It’s broccoli cheddar soup for grown-ups. Spicy chorizo gives the soup a smokey bit of heat, while the aged white cheddar (get the good stuff) adds intense cheesy flavor. There’s nothing like eating a big bowl of cheesy soup on a chilly winter day. Ultra-comforting.

Enjoy, friends.

Aged white cheddar and broccoli soup with chorizo

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces spicy Spanish chorizo, halved and sliced
1 small onion, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk (skim milk works well)
8 ounces aged white cheddar, shredded
3 cups broccoli, steamed until tender and well chopped
about 1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes, until the chorizo begins to release its oil.

2. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and continue cooking for a minute or two, stirring constantly.

3. Add the milk and whisk until well combined. Bring the milk to a simmer as you continue whisking. Simmer for about 3 minutes, until the milk begins to thicken.

4. Turn down the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until melted. Stir in the broccoli. Season with salt, to taste.

Related post from The Gourmand Mom: Ham and corn chowder

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This brownie is built in three layers. The first is a fudgy brownie base, the second is a layer of candy and peanuts, and the third is a layer of peanut butter, Rice Krispies, butter, and chocolate melted together. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Halloween leftovers: Peanut butter cup and Snickers crunch brownies

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 11.02.12

Let's address the all-important issue of what to do with leftover Halloween candy. 

Besides the obvious of sneaking in a piece here and there until suddenly it's December (or earlier) and you've consumed them all without any conscious memory of tearing open those wrappers and having "just one small piece."

Don't do it. Instead, sift through those bags you optimistically bought but ended up with less trick or treaters this year than last year or else go through that hard-earned pile your kids gathered traipsing through the neighborhood. Pull out the Snickers and the Reese's peanut butter cups and use them for this recipe.

You make the brownie layer and right before it's done, you sprinkle it with chopped toasted peanuts and chopped peanut butter cups and Snickers, return it to the oven for a few minutes, just long enough for the candy to begin to melt, then you take it out and top it with a rice krispie peanut butter chocolate mixture that will make you salivate. 

It's similar in concept to my Nutella crunch topping but uses peanut butter instead of Nutella. You can't see the middle layer very well in the picture since it's smothered by the Rice Krispie peanut butter chocolate topping but rest assured, every bite of this brownie will give you the full impact of how much goodness you can turn that candy into. 

If you're a peanut butter and chocolate lover, this is a brownie must-make and have-to-consume. After it cools completely, it's easy to cut and share with others so not only are you not the only one eating all that leftover Halloween candy but you (and your friends and family) are also consuming it in a much loftier fashion. These also freeze well for future consumption.

Recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction.

Brownie layer
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1-1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Middle layer
1/2 cup peanuts, toasted
1/2 cup peanut butter cups, chopped
1/2 cup Snickers, chopped 

Top layer
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups Rice Krispies cereal

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9- x 9-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. 

2. Melt butter and chocolate in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water on medium heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. 

3. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Gently fold in the flour and salt. By hand, stir enough to emulsify the batter and bring it together but do not overbeat or your brownies will be cakey rather than fudgy if too much air is whipped into them.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a knife. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs.

5. Remove brownies from the oven and sprinkle the top with the peanuts, chopped peanut butter cups and chopped Snickers. Return to the oven and bake for 3-5 additional minutes.

6. While the brownies are finishing up in the oven, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the Rice Krispies until evenly coated. Remove the brownies from the oven and pour the chocolate and peanut butter mixture over top. Spread to cover evenly. Refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting into 24 squares. Share.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Jumbo candy & nut cookies

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Blend together your leftover chocolate candy with creamy warm milk to make a rich hot chocolate drink. (The Runaway Spoon)

Too much leftover Halloween candy? Use it to make a delicious hot drink.

By The Runaway Spoon / 11.02.12

I see lots of recipe for using up leftover Halloween candy. I’m not sure I see the point, as just eating it straight is generally fine with me. Mind you, not in one sitting, but over time, stashed in drawers and cabinets.

But I do want to make my contribution with this creamy, rich hot chocolate. Make it as soon as the little monsters come in from the trick-or-treating chill, or as a special, after-school treat later in the week.

You must use soft candy that will melt, and nuts are too chunky. Milky Way, Rolo, Kisses, Reese’s, Hershey’s Milk or Special Dark all work beautifully. The final product may not be a chocolaty brown depending on the type of candy used, but it will still be delicious. Using the blender makes a creamy drink with everything smoothly combined, plus it creates a nice foamy top.

Halloween Hot Chocolate (Liquid Candy)

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 ounce chocolate candy (4 mini-size squares)

Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium just until bubbles form on the surface. Do not boil.

Unwrap the candy and place in the carafe of a blender. Pour in the warm milk and leave for a few seconds to soften the candy bars. Vent the blender lid and carefully hold it with a folded tea towel. Blend until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately, or pour back into the saucepan and reheat gently if needed.

Makes one serving, can be doubled or tripled

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Candy Corn Mousse

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The key to shortbread is making sure you bake it long enough. You want a 'snap' in the texture and the smooth buttery taste. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Cinnamon nut crunch shortbread

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 11.01.12

I've been baking the recipes I've pinned so much lately that I've been neglecting the recipes in my "still need to make" file on my computer. Back to those recipes for this one. This is from one of my favorite cookbook authors and I've had this recipe in my file for a few years. The original recipe called for pecans but I had a ton of almonds in my freezer so I went with those.

This is a good basic shortbread and the addition of the cinnamon-sugar nuts cuts through the normal buttery taste of shortbread. The key to good shortbread is making sure you bake it long enough. If you underbake it, you won't get the "snap" in the texture and instead it'll be more chewy. You don't want to overbake it either, but if you do bake it a trifle longer than you should, it's still not so bad as long as it doesn't burn. I did end up covering the pan loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil about halfway through the baking time so the nuts didn't burn.

While I liked this version, Regan Daley's recipe for butter toffee crunch shortbread is still my favorite shortbread recipe.

Cinnamon shortbread dough
From Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson

1-1/4 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup rice flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Nut crunch topping
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans (I used almonds)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Confectioners’ sugar for sifting over the baked and cooled shortbread (optional)

Fluted 9 1/2”-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Film the inside of the tart pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg onto a sheet of waxed paper.

3. Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract, and continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the sifted mixture in two additions, mixing until the particles of flour are absorbed and a smooth soft dough is created. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl once or twice with a rubber spatula to keep the dough even-textured. The shortbread dough will be shapeable and supple.

4. Turn the dough into the prepared tart pan. Lightly press and pat the dough into an even layer, using your fingertips. Lightly prick the dough with the tines of a fork in 12 to 15 places.

5. Combine the chopped nuts with the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the shortbread dough. With the underside of a small, offset metal spatula (or your fingertips), lightly press the nut topping on top of the dough.

6. Bake the shortbread for 45 minutes or until set. The baking time on this shortbread is a little longer than usual because the topping adds an extra dimension of thickness to the cookie. The shortbread must be completely baked through. (If the nut topping appears to be browning too fast after 30 minutes, place a sheet of aluminum foil lightly on top of the cookie.)

7. Let the cookie stand in the tart pan on the cooling rack for 10 minutes, then unmold carefully, leaving it on its round base. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes longer. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut into even-sized wedges. Cool completely. Just before serving, sieve a light coating of confectioners’ sugar over the top of the shortbread triangles, if you wish.

Related post from The Pastry Chef's Baking: Toasted coconut shortbread

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Like a cup of hot cider with a cinnamon stick, this cake will warm the stomach and the heart. (The Runaway Spoon)

Spiced cider pound cake

By The Runaway Spoon / 10.31.12

Growing up in the south, fall was always just a short little respite from the heat, before the dull, dark cold winter. The leaves turn quickly and fall fast. The weather is only really sweater-worthy for a few days. The mass-marketed Halloween costumes were always hideously hot, and eating outside on Thanksgiving is usually a possibility.

I love everything about fall. Autumn colors, falling leaves, pumpkins, warming meals, the nip in the air. But I never really realized the true glory of fall until I started college in Connecticut. I suddenly understood why people would take leaf-viewing car trips, and those preppy catalogs and magazine shots now made sense. I took those leaf-viewing drives myself, driving through picturesque towns awash in amber, gold and russet. I bought apples at road-side stands, and finally wrapped myself in soft sweaters, fashionable jackets and colorful scarfs.

And it was on these exploratory fall jaunts that I was introduced to real apple cider, a world away from the apple juice I grew up with. I loved hot cups of cider with a cinnamon stick and warm, cake doughnuts served at those roadside stands to keep the hands and heart warm.

Real apple cider is now available readily here, and I enjoy it to the fullest. A nice warm mug is a special warming treat, and I use it to make French onion soup, to jazz up my family favorite waffles and hash and in the classic Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. And it is wonderful for baking.

For this lovely, rich pound cake, I boil the cider down to concentrate its apple-y essence. I think this cake is perfect on its own, unglazed, the cider flavor really shines. But it can easily be topped with a rich caramel glaze or a rummy version or an old-fashioned buttermilk glaze.

Spiced cider pound cake
Serves 10 

2 cups fresh apple cider

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature

2 cups white sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

6 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Boil the apple cider in a medium pot until it is reduced by half, yielding one cup. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t boil over. Leave the cider to cool completely.

2. Thoroughly grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan, or use a baking spray like Bakers’ Joy. (The decorative pan I used for the picture is a 10–cup pan, so I filled it almost to the top, then had a little bonus mini-cake).

3. Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

4. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then add the spices and blend with a fork until everything is combined. Lower the mixer speed and add the flour and reduced cider alternately in three additions, ending with the cider. Beat well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times.

5. Scrape the batter into the well-greased pan and tap it on the counter a few times to even it out a remove any air bubbles. Put the cake into a cold oven and cook it at 325 degrees F. for 50 – 65 minutes, until it is puffed and golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.

The cake will keep for two days wrapped in plastic wrap.

Related post from The Runaway Spoon: Bananas foster pound cake

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To make the spider web topping, combine a few tablespoons of milk with sour cream. Spoon a circle in the center of the soup, and use a knife to gently drag it outward to the edges. (Whipped, The Blog)

A spooky supper: Calabaza soup with spider web cream

By Whipped, The Blog / 10.30.12

I first learned about calabaza when researching the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos. On Nov. 1 and 2, people gather to celebrate and honor the deceased. They prepare altars that are filled with candles, colorful offerings, photos of the deceased, bright decorated skeletons and food. The food offerings are meant to nourish the traveling souls. Calabaza, or candied pumpkin, is a common dish placed on the alter.

Last week, I was meandering through the produce section of a local market that carries a lot of Mexican food and ingredients, and a pumpkin-like squash near the common acorn variety caught my eye. The small sign nearly buried under a large specimen revealed that they were calabaza. Excited to try it, I brought one home. 

Because my life is too busy, I didn’t have the time to for anything fancy. Just cutting and cleaning the squash was a challenge with four little hands in the kitchen getting into everything. I found a simple recipe and altered it slightly to make this soup. If you can’t find calabaza, you can substitute acorn or butternut squash.

As for the spider web, I have seen it on cupcakes and has been wanting to try it on top of soup. I used sour cream but crème fraîche would also be yummy. The key is to make the dairy a little runnier with milk to that it can sit atop the thick soup. My little arachnid is simply a raisin that I squished with my thumb and then snipped with some kitchen shears.

This soup is a bit sweet and is accented with nutmeg. If you prefer more savory, this curried calabaza soup looks good.

Simple calabaza soup with spider web
Makes 4-6 servings
Adapted from

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 lbs. calabaza (can substitute pumpkin, butternut or acorn squash)

2 medium tomatos, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated milk

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white or black pepper

Sour cream for garnish

Raisins for spiders

1. Seed and peel the calabaza. Cut it into 1-inch chunks. Put the chunks in a sauce pan and cover with water. Boil until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add tomato and onion, cook until soft. Add mixture to calabaza. Add broth and put the mixture in a blender or food processor in batches and puree until smooth. Add more or less broth for desired consistency.

3. Return puréed soup to saucepan. Stir in evaporated milk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper; mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just boiling.

4. To make the spider webs, add about 2 tablespoons of milk to 1/3 cup of sour cream. Stir until smooth. If it isn’t runny enough to drizzle over soup, add more milk. Ladle soup into bowls. Spoon circles of cream on top of the soup. Using a knife, drag gently from the center of the soup out to the edge (like spokes of a wheel). Continue around the bowl dragging the knife to create the web. To make spiders, use your thumb to press a raisin flat. Using kitchen shears, cut small triangles out of the sides to give the effect of legs. Place spiders on the webs and serve.

Related post from Whipped, The Blog: Curried sweet potato and carrot soup

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