Sunday, December 31, 2006


There are a few people we meet along the way who are unique. As Granny used to say "they threw away the mold" and it was true about Larry. There were no strangers in this world, only friends he hadn't yet made. You had a problem, Larry would listen. Your secrets were safe with him. Got car trouble, if he couldn't fix it, he knew someone who could. On moving day, Larry was there with his truck to help you out. If you enjoyed yourself at his house parties a little too much, Larry took the keys and made sure you slept over. If you needed it, he was there with a cold one. He could tell just by looking at you if there was something going on. Always laughing, brewsky in hand, watching the game, sitting at the round table. Talk about living a sweet life. A very dear friend to all who knew him, more like a brother to most of us, Larry passed away recently. Anyeurism, gone in his sleep. He had just moved out of state and was looking forward to his new home. Knowing Larry, he was probably getting ready to start remodeling, landscaping the yard, knocking out walls, putting in a spa, he could do all those things and more. But above all, Larry was my friend at a time when I desperately needed one. He helped me through a disastrous event in my life, so horrific and so terrifying. Larry did what he could to help ease the pain and tried to make it all go away. For that he will always have a special place in my heart. My prayers go out to his family in the hope that they will be comforted knowing how much he was loved by so many of us. Tonight, as I ring in the New Year, I will fondly remember all the New Year's Eve parties and celebrations we all shared.
Here's one for you, Larry. Salud!
Vaya con Dios, amigo.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tamale Time 2006 Edicion Numero Dos

Thank goodness for good butchers. They are the people behind the counter or the case at the market where you buy fresh meat, poultry and fish. Get to know these people. Ask questions. If you don't see what you want, ask them to order it for you. You are more likely to find a helpful butcher at one of the smaller market chains, like Stater Bros. (God, please send a Staters to me!) There is no excuse why the supermarket butcher cannot be helpful and accommodating. But more often than not, there's nobody around to help. "Everyone is on break." I have a major "beef" with the lack of service at a local unnamed major supermarket. I only shop there for the items SuperA doesn't have room to stock.

So it was no surprise that in addition to the great price on masa, SuperA also had the big ass pork butt on sale. Nothing in the case---Dios mio! No problema, their butchers are always helpful. In no time at all the butcher had a huge pork butt ready for me, cut into three pieces and beautifully trimmed with just enough fat. I also bought a large piece of beef chuck roast, for "mas sabor", like our Nana Della and Tata did when they made tamales. In all it was about 15 pounds of meat.

The meat was prepped the day before our tamale time, drying the beef and pork pieces with paper towels and then salting all surfaces. After searing the meat in olive oil, I added smushed garlic cloves, a couple of whole peeled brown onions, then enough water to cover. Brought to a boil, it was seasoned with salt & pepper, then simmered until the beef was tender and fell apart. That was how my grandmother did it, how she knew the when meat was ready. Nothing worse than biting into a tamale made with tough stringy meat.

The meat was placed in a large bowl, the broth was strained, then poured it into another pot to be used later. Then I had to work quickly. Cleaning and shredding the meat is actually better to do while it is still hot. The pieces of fat, connective tissue and the nasty gristly parts come apart easier. I was amazed at how delicious that meat tasted. The combination of the beef and pork had such a great flavor. I couldn't help myself, so I made a burrito with a hunk of the meat and a splosh of that chile colorado. Man, that's some good eating, besides it's the chef's advantage! The meat was ready, very lean, not much waste. I gotta thank my butcher again.
(To be continued...)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tamale Time 2006 Edicion Numero Uno

What is Christmas without tamales? NADA! We can deck the halls all over the place. We can come a wasailing and bring a figgy pudding. But it wouldn't be Christmas without serving tamales at the table. After many hours of field research and compiling information for a fiscal study, we determined it was not in our best interest to invest in store-bought tamales this year. $15 bucks a dozen is a lot of dinero for keeping our tradition of enjoying a simple tamal during the holidays. I was very disappointed with the filling of thin shreds of meat and mushy gristly fat in the store-bought tamales I tasted recently. The masa was heavy, and it felt like a brick. Try getting up off the sofa after eating one of those tamales. And the lighter version of a "veggie" tamal was nothing to get excited enough to fork over that kind of money. One place actually used canned school cafeteria "Veg-All" in their cheese tamal. Que barbaridad! "It's $15 a dozen for all the tamales, cheese or meat." What?!

Time was running out, so I quickly made an executive decision to skip the tiendas, panaderias and tortillerias. I called my cousin Nicky to make a deal: come over and help make tamales and we'll split them up between us. It was an offer she couldn't refuse. Her favorite tamale place had also raised their prices. And her husband's primary tamale maker was too ill this year. Tamale making requires tremendous physical strength. Seriously. So Tamale Time 2006 was on!

Like with any good food, the key to making a good tamal is using quality ingredients. And with the holidays, it is hardly the time to skimp, but we had a goal of keeping our food cost low. Should we use a packaged sack of dry masa harina from off the supermarket shelf? Maybe another time, but not for Christmas. I opted for the fresh masa from SuperA market, and at only 89 cents a pound, it fit our budget. Regardless of what type used, a good masa requires beating, broth, and some additional fat. Some cooks use shortening (YUCK!) and others use a ton of lard (DOUBLE YUCK!) but for 15 pounds of masa, I only used one pound of lard. The additional broth is for flavor. The traditional test of masa readiness is to drop a teaspoonful into a glass of water. If it floats, the masa is ready. David Letterman should try that one on a "Will It Float?" segment! While mixing the masa, we discovered that it didn't have to be heavily laden with fat to be tasty. As long as it came together and didn't cling to the hoja, it would work. The result was a masa closer to a lighter firm polenta. Not that heavy brick. Who knew?

Canned red chile sauce? No, I have a trusted connection in Monterey Park that makes their chile colorado sauce from scratch. I could make it myself, but we were under the gun. That extra three to four hours to make homemade chile colorado sauce would have put me well into the wee small hours, staying up long after Conan and Carson Daly.

With the masa ready and the chile colorado well-chilled it was time to cook the meat for the tamale filling.
(To be continued...)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

La Vida Dulce Holiday Movie Guide 2006

FELIZ NAVIDAD! We love watching these movies over and over again during the holiday season. No disrespect to "It's A Wonderful Life" and its place in movie history, but it has gone into the vault for safekeeping. Of course it would not be the holidays without the modern classic "A Christmas Story" with Ralphie and his BB gun. Several movie versions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" are out there, my two favorites are with George C. Scott and Reginald Owen as Scrooge.

But we have a whole other slew of Christmas flavored movies that convey the feeling of the season. La Vida Dulce believes that these offbeat, often irreverent movies deserve a special place in moviedom's holiday classics. Our list is filled with stories of merry gentlemen and lovely ladies in various states of dismay, folks who may have taken a wrong turn and are somehow brought back from the brink. Some have only strayed off the path. Some are downright evil and nasty. But the meaning of the holiday season is about hope, comfort and joy. The promise of Christmas is that we all are worthy of love and respect, no matter how or when we have gone astray. These films convey the message of good tidings in their own special way. So heat up a cup of cocoa with or without spirited embellishment, grab yourself a plate of cookies before Santa gets his mitts on them, relax and watch these films with us. Peace on earth, goodwill to all men and women.

(in no particular order of preference)

THREE GODFATHERS - Cowboy outlaws and a baby

BETTER OFF DEAD - Do they have Christmas in France?

THE REF - Denis Leary wearing a St. Lucia wreath. Enough said.

BAD SANTA - He's so bad he's good!

O'HENRY'S FULL HOUSE - John Steinbeck is the host

PENNY SERENADE - This one makes me cry like a baby

RADIO DAYS - Yeah, it's not about Christmas, but it's about families

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER - And this one makes cry like an idiot

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER - Bette Davis is great in this one

GREMLINS - Don't let them get wet!

TRADING PLACES - Is that Bo Diddley behind the pawn shop counter?

SOMEONE LIKE YOU - Hugh Jackman all dressed up for the holidays

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Don't Kiss Santa

When Monica was a very young girl she got together with her cousin Gabrielle and the two of them tried to remember the words to "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" but instead they came up with their own version:

Don't kiss Santa, Santa, Santa
Don't kiss Santa
You will get his germs
If you kiss him, kiss him, kiss him
If you kiss him
You'll get sick and die

Little girls are not always too excited to have their picture taken with a fat old stranger, and to some it becomes a traumatic experience. Dirty gloves, scraggly beard, smelly red suit, noisy crowds of people, not exactly a Norman Rockwell or Kodak moment with two little girls crying and the baby making a fuss. Broken candy canes and See's candy lollypops stuck to clothing and full of lint didn't help. Looking back on that day, I can laugh now, but at the time, it was a total mess!

That little song of theirs, probably a reaction to that horrible day at the mall, became the anthem for our family at the holiday season. And it still cracks me up to this day, some 25+ years later. Merry Christmas and remember, don't kiss Santa!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Holiday Baking 2006

We will be baking all this week. Revisting a few old favorites, and testing out some new additions, La Vida Dulce is up to her sobacos (armpits!) with flour-sugar-butter-eggs-chocolate, all the things that make this life so sweet. Last year we used the red Hefty "plates are lids, lids are plates" large platters and they suited us nicely as baked goodie gift trays. Wrapped up in pretty snowflake cellophane and shiny ribbons and bows, they are so very Festivus for the rest of us.

For starters, family favorites like the little Christmas Wreath donut cookies we made last year are sure to be chomped up quickly. Monica's Mexican Wedding Balls will be on the platters along with our English Toffee Cookies. Biscotti flavor for this year will be chocolate almond, made even richer with the new Nestle Chocolatier products.

This season I discovered some really interesting new goodies to try out and possibly add to our gift trays. No Chocolate Bark this year, opting instead for a White Chocolate Cranberry & Pumpkin Seed Fudge, adapted from those nice folks at Kraft. A new sublimely decadent Chocolatier recipe from Nestle is called the "Rated R" brownie. We shall see if it lives up to its naughty but nice name. Since I am the only one who enjoys drinking a good nog, I'm baking Egg Nog Coffee Cake, instead of the traditional L.A. City School Coffee Cake. Can't let a good nog go to waist!

Another new treat is my take on mini fruitcakes, which earned a plateful of homegrown tomatoes from my neighbors. They are my best customers! Not your standard doorstop fruitcakes, these are filled with diced fresh fruits and tasty dried fruits, none of that nasty candied stuff. Ugh! Instead we use fresh gala apples, mangoes, Fuyu persimmons, bananas, and a variety of dried fruits like apricots, cranberries, pineapple and coconut. And toasted pecans. Definitely not your granny's fruitcakes.

If I am so inclined and not too worn out, I may even add a crusty holey loaf, the world famous New York Times No Knead Bread to my 2006 gift platter. This is the bread we had to try out a few times to get it just right. It needed another pinch or so of salt. Bittman had to write a second column and made some adjustments to the original formula. My baking buddy George divided the dough into smaller loaves, and that may be the answer for gift giving. He also used sourdough starter in a test batch with excellent results. Think I'll stick to the revision Bittman wrote. Although time consuming, it is worth all the effort to enjoy a slice of this bread. The aroma in the house while it bakes, the crumb, the flavor, and the crust are all so intoxicating, it's like a controlled substance. What would be its street value? Laws governing proper fermentation and rise would be enacted, you'd read about pudgy politicians taking bribes of warm loaves and butter, and bakers in possession of banettons for this bread would have to be licensed.
Yes, it is that good. Happy Baking!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hanging Up Another Stocking!

We have a new baby in the family! Her name is Sophia. Weight 8 lbs. 15 oz. and her mom and dad are doing just fine. Yay!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cookbook Gifts For The Holidays

My family knows me well. They have generously given me many cookbooks as presents. I love it! Last year Monica gave me a copy of the beautiful fundraiser cookbook that she complied and edited. She knows how much hard work goes into putting one of these together. She saw me do the very same thing with our church cookbook when she was a very young girl. (And when I was domestic!) But she has done a much better job and used a publishing house with hers.

Michael Ruhlman, author of "Charcuterie" (now in its 5th printing!) has made his suggestions for holiday cookbook gifts on his blog:

(I am sadly blogger challenged but if you can Google, you will find his wonderfully written food blog.)

I'd like to share a list of my own cookbook gift suggestions:
There's a brand new edition of Joy of Cooking. If yours looks like mine, the spine is bent and the pages are stained.
Anything by Julia Child. My favorite is Baking With Julia, with some excellent recipes for croissants and brioche.
Anything by Lidia Bastianich. That woman is the sweetest and friendliest chef I have ever met.
I missed Ina Garten when she was out here in Southern California recently, but any of her cookbooks would do nicely. They are beautifully photographed, the food looks spectacular.
King Arthur Flour has a new whole grain baking book.
"Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan is another new book on my list. She is one of my favorite writers, author of the Pierre Herme pastry books.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Beard on Bread, The Bread Bible, The Italian Baker, are perfect for your serious bread baking friends.
Diana Kennedy has written some of the best cookbooks on Mexican food and its history.
And I will add a shameless promotion here with a personal recommendation for any of Chef Robert Wemischner's books, you can find them on Amazon.
I could go on forever, but you get the idea. Have fun shopping for the foodies in your life!

Monday, December 04, 2006

In-N-Out Burger Break

We were all so done with turkey, the soup, the tacos, the sandwiches, ay ya basta! Enough already. Although I still have some dark meat in the freezer, nothing sounded so good as In-N-Out cheeseburgers, root beer and fries. Michael had the double-double, Lauren and I went for singles. No onions this time, although I love that you have a choice of either raw or grilled onions. So tell me why was the place so packed with people late at night? Don't these people have homes, why aren't those children in bed? You'd think they were giving away free burgers. I sound like Grandpa again! I saw two suvs, with both drivers yakking on their cellphones, nearly crash into a third suv. The drive-through line moved slowly yet steady, and my patience was rewarded with some cool 80's music on the radio. All the way home I could smell the yummy fries, good thing I put the box on the floor, well out of my reach. They'd be gone before I got home.

A few years back, at his book signing for "Bouchon" Chef Thomas Keller was asked which restaurants in Los Angeles were his favorites. Immediately, without missing a beat he said In-N-Out Burgers was one of them. Hearing that made me laugh, then I let out a "woo-hoo" and others joined in cheering and applauding. Can you believe all these foodies getting excited over Keller's stamp of approval on a burger! He's right, these burgers are amazing stuff, and that's what a hamburger's all about.

Locations throughout Southern California

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Fuyu Persimmon Bundt Cake

My new next door neighbor was kind enough to bring over a big sack of Fuyu persimmons today, the last of the bunch off the tree in his yard. He apologized because his mother-in-law took the rest this week. I apologized for my "mal Espanol" thanks to a strict upbringing that insisted we speak only English and made it necessary to take four years of Spanish in high school and two years in college to understand what the elders in the familia were talking about. He laughed and said I spoke very well for an American. That made me laugh!

These Fuyus are crisp and sweet. Earlier this fall he gave me some of the Hachiyas. I made a big batch of persimmon bars for them, and they had no idea it was made from their own fruit tree. What lucky guys to have both persimmon trees! This time he gave me so many, I had to search around for another recipe and came upon this one. When the familia comes over for Sunday dinner tomorrow, I'll bake this to have with cafe con leche.

FUYU PERSIMMON BUNDT CAKE – adapted from Sunset Magazine and the California Fuyu Growers Association

Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan. Preheat oven to 350.
Blend 2 tsp. baking soda into 3 cups of chopped and peeled firm Fuyus, discard seeds. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup soft butter with 1 2/3 cups sugar. Add 2 eggs, 2 tsp. lemon juice, and 2 tsp. vanilla and beat until fluffy. Stir in Fuyu mix.
Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Stir flour into Fuyu mixture just until blended. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans. Add in 3/4 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries, dusted with a tablespoon of flour. This prevents them from sinking to the bottom in a big clump. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 to 60 minutes or until long skewer inserted in the center tests clean. Cool in Bundt pan 15 minutes. Turn onto rack then onto a cake plate when cooled. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dark Chocolate Truffles

Long ago, way back during my domestic goddess days, I made up my mind to get serious about cuisine. I read everything I could get my hands on, clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers, watched all the PBS cooking shows, and tried out new foods and recipes on my family. My poor kids, once we made fresh pasta and hung fetuccine to dry all over the house! That was incredible pasta, it was so delicious we ate the whole batch. It was also during that time I decided to try candy making and after a few experiments, I came up with this recipe for truffles. I entered it in a local contest and won second place, not bad for a first time entry. The comments were very nice from a judge who appreciated the taste of rich dark chocolate. The other judges preferred milk chocolate. Oh well, you can't please everyone. I was still very happy with my win and spent the small cash prize on my kids. At the time, the only good chocolate I could find in our area was either Tobler or Lindt. How fortunate we are today to have so many fine chocolates available in supermarkets. Try this surprisingly simple recipe with the best quality chocolate and ingredients you can afford, you will not be disappointed. It is easy to make by hand, so let that electric mixer have the day off and have some fun making candy!

makes about 28-32

8 ounces fine dark chocolate, "Chocolatier" or "Guittard" or "Valhrona"
3 tablespoons quality unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream, or "manufacturing" cream sold at Smart & Final
Dark cocoa powder, chocolate candy melting discs, ground nuts, or other decorations
Additional flavorings or seasonings, see *NOTE

Scald cream in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain cream through a very fine sieve or clean cheesecloth. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set over simmering, not boiling water, and do not allow bowl to touch the water. When melted, remove from heat. Beat butter into chocolate until smooth. Add in flavoring, if desired, at this time. Vigorously beat cooled scalded cream into chocolate/butter mixture with a sturdy whisk, until it becomes light and fluffy. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Be proud of yourself, you have just made ganache! Chill ganache for about 1 to 3 hours. Form into balls using a sturdy melon baller, or pipe with a pastry bag fitted with a star tip into little paper candy cups, found at craft stores like Michael's. Dust with cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Or gently roll in chopped nuts, candy decorations, etc. Or if you dare, melt dark chocolate couvature discs, also found at Michael's, and cover each little chilled ball, carefully dipping into the melted chocolate using two forks, and transferring to a sheet pan covered with waxed paper. Let these chill and place in the paper cups. It kind of reminds of "I Love Lucy" when Lucy and Ethel were chocolate dippers! Enjoy making these little truffles.

*PLEASE NOTE: any additional flavorings can be added to this recipe EXCEPT liquids. You must reduce the amount of cream by the same amount of liquid to be added. For example, if you want to add two tablespoons of Bailey's Irish Creme liqueur, you must adjust the amount of liquid by removing two tablespoons of the whipping cream. If you decide to add a dry ingredient like a teaspoon of instant espresso powder, you do not need to make any liquid adjustments.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie Bites

On the day after Thanksgiving, my little sister helped herself to the remaining pecan bites for breakfast, the sneak! Turns out she got to the tray left out in the dining room before I could put them away. They are divinely decadent, with the addition of that fabulous new product "Chocolatier" the deep dark chocolate from Nestle. This simple recipe comes from Eagle Brand, it's just taken to greater heights with drizzles of melted dark Chocolatier. I was originally going to make these into little tarts, but the lack of time was the determining factor and this one fit the Thanksgiving schedule perfectly. Make them up the day ahead, somehow they taste even richer. Ask my sister!

DARK CHOCOLATE PECAN BITES - adapted from Eagle Brand
makes 32 - 36 small bars

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, try the new "Harvest King" from Gold Medal
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 can 14 oz. size Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, no bottled stuff
tiny pinch of Kosher salt
1/4 cup "Chocolatier" morsels, or your favorite chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl combine the flour & sugar. Cut in the butter till crumbly. Press down mixture into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan with a measuring cup or flat-bottomed drinking glass. Bake crust for only 10 to 15 minutes to set. In a small bowl combine the pecans, Eagle Brand, eggs, lemon juice, salt. Pour directly onto hot crust and then bake 25 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in pan. Melt chocolate in microwave oven at 10 second intervals, stirring until smooth. Drizzle on melted chocolate, let cool slightly to set, then cut into bite size bars. A pizza cutter works nicely. Serve in little paper cups or decorate a tray. Store covered with plastic wrap at room temperature. And that is assuming you have any leftover.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mystery of the Missing Pecan Bites Solved!

We had a whole pan of chocolate pecan pie bites for a Thanksgiving treat and they mysteriously disappeared overnight. I was sad because I only got to eat a couple, including one on Thanksgiving night. There was about half a tray leftover that evening, after plating up some for our guests to take home. Next morning, they were all gone! DOH! Nothing left but an empty tray...DUN-DUN-DUN!! Where did they go? My younger sister was visiting with us for a few days. Although she has multiple disabilities and illnesses, she can get around on her own just fine. That morning I went to take my shower and when I came into the dining room after getting dressed, the tray was empty, only crumbs. Darn it, and I was looking forward to having one with coffee that morning. Oh well, I assumed that Michael and Lauren divvy-ed them up and that was that. Later I asked Michael how he liked the pecan bites. Come to find out he never touched them and neither did Lauren. AHA! Turns out my sister got up early, sneaked into the dining room and helped herself to them for breakfast! I should have known, she had such a playful look in her eyes and she was giggling and smiling all morning. Clever girl, she waited until the coast was clear and made her move! And they call her disabled? No way!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chocolatier by Nestle

When I was a kid, just after the end of the covered wagon days, there was a Nestle's commercial with a guy and his dog named Farfel, singing "N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle's makes the very best choco-late" and the dog would snap his chops together at the last syllable. If I could sing like Farfel, you would hear me go "C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-I-E-R, Chocolatier makes a dark rich bar!" No kidding, this is really good stuff. Check for coupons in the paper, it is a bit pricey, but well worth it. I used the Chocolatier dark chocolate morsels on top the little pecan pie bites, and oooh was that a rich treat! I made a whole pan, ate two pieces myself, shared some with guests, and now we have none left! ARRRGH! If you go to the Nestle site at, sign up for the monthly coupons and recipes. Chocolatier morsels are larger in size than regular chips, but the total weight is less, only 10 oz. per package, the bar is 8 oz. It is available in both 53% and 62% cacao. Use them wisely, in something meant to be decadent and flavorful, and share with those who really appreciate good dark chocolate. Save the milk chocolate for the unwashed. They whine, "Eewww, I don't like dark chocolate." Forgive them, for they know not what they miss. Enjoy this new product this season in your holiday baking.
NOTE: La Vida Dulce does not receive any compensation for product endorsement. But I am open to persuasion.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Slightly Southern Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! May we always be grateful for what we have and may we always have room to share with others.
Menu for Friday, November 26, 2006
Charleston Shrimp Bisque

Cabbage and Carrot Slaw
Green Salad with Bleu Cheese and Pecans

Assorted Cheeses and Crackers
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Main Courses
Roasted Herb Salted Turkey
Green Corn Pork Tamales with Tomatillo Sauce

Side Dishes
Mashed Potatoes and Country Gravy
Four Cheese Macaroni
Sautéed Mustard & Collard Greens
Sausage and Sage Cornbread Dressing
Ruby Port Cranberry Sauce

Pumpkin Pie
Cranberry Mandarin Chiffon Ring
Pecan Tartlets
Cranberry Pear Cobbler
Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Spiced Hot Cocoa
French Roast Coffee
Sweet Tea

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

100 Posts on La Vida Dulce MeansTequila Time

In celebration of the 100th post on this blog, let's have cocktails from an old recipe booklet published by Tequila Sauza, another little gem from Granny's collection. Granny and Gramps visited Mexico, often during the holidays. While Gramps played in golf tournaments for charity, Granny would shop and relax by the pool. During one trip they were given a personal tour of the Tequila Sauza plant. Must have been fun, since they brought back some very fine tequila. Salud!

BERTHA - adapted from Tequila Sauza Cocktails
makes one cocktail
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
Dash of red wine, like a cabernet or zinfandel
Pour into a shaker, gently swish around once or twice, then pour into a tall highball glass filled with commercially made cracked ice. Garnish with a twist of lemon and a stemmed cherry.

makes one cocktail
1/2 oz. simple syrup or light honey
1 oz. lemon juice
Mix well and serve in cocktail glass with shaved ice.

makes one cocktail
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Shake well with ice and strain into a wine glass.

makes one cocktail
2 oz. half & half
1 oz. White Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Grenadine syrup
Place all ingredients into a blender with 1/2 cup cracked ice and mix for about 1 minute. Pour into cocktail glass and garnish with a stemmed cherry and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

If I Did It, This Is How I Baked It---Kitty Litter Cake!

What a load! While the media is busy patting each other on the back for NOT going forward with an extremely distasteful subject, book, and interview, allow me to add my humble yet more appropriate contribution. Grandpa on "The Simpsons" says it best when commenting on the state of the world---"In a handbasket!"

KITTY LITTER CAKE – adapted from Roseanne World
1 pkg. German chocolate cake mix
1 pkg. white cake mix
2 large pkg. Jello French vanilla instant pudding mix, prepared
1 large pkg. vanilla sandwich cookies, crumbled and divided
a few drops of green food coloring
12 small Tootsie Roll candies

1 new plastic kitty litter pan
1 new plastic kitty litter pan liner
Large sheet of aluminum foil
1 new plastic kitty litter scooper

Prepare cake mixes and bake according to directions, using any size cake pans. Allow to cool on racks.

Prepare pudding according to directions and chill until ready to assemble.

Crumble sandwich cookies in small batches in food processor, scraping often. Or place in ziplock bags and pound the heck out of them. Set aside all but about 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup cookie crumbs, add a few drops of green food coloring and mix until completely colored, resembling the little green flecks found in Johnny Cat or other similar cat litter.

When cakes are cooled to room temperature, crumble cakes into a large bowl. Toss with half the remaining white cookie crumbs and the chilled pudding. Very important step: mix in just enough of the pudding to moisten the cake. You don't want it too soggy. Combine ingredients gently.

Line a new, clean kitty litter box, letting the liner hang over the sides. Cover the bottom with a long sheet of foil. Place the cake/pudding/cookie mixture into the litter box. You may want to enlist the help of the kids for this step.

Put three unwrapped tootsie rolls in a microwave safe dish and heat until soft and pliable, a few seconds at a time. Shape ends so they are no longer blunt, curving slightly. Repeat with 3 more Tootsie rolls bury them in the mixture. Sprinkle the other half of cookie crumbs over top. Scatter the green cookie crumbs lightly on top of everything.

Heat three more tootsie rolls in the microwave until almost melted. Scrape them on top of the cake, and toss around in the cookie crumbs. Spread remaining Tootsie Rolls over the top. Take one and heat until pliable, hang it over the side of the kitty litter box, sprinkling it lightly with cookie crumbs. My three cats seem to miss the box once in a while. To serve, place the box on top a sheet newspaper, set the scooper in the box, and sprinkle a few of the cookie crumbs around for a truly disgusting effect. The kids will love it!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Retro Recipe Challenge #4 - Fall Favorites

Laura Rebecca's Kitchen is hosting her 4th Retro Recipe Challenge. La Vida Dulce's contribution is this recipe from one of Granny's cooking booklets. It's a charming little 16-page collection called "Happy Holiday," published by the Southern California Gas Company back in the late 1960's or early 70's, but the exact date cannot be verified.

Here is the introduction from the title page:
A Recipe for a Happy Holiday
High Spirits Genuine Kindness Large Amount of Love
Generous Portions of Cheer Complete Contentment
Tender Sentiments Pleasant Company Milk of Human Kindness
Mix all ingredients well and heat in the warmth of true friendship.
Partake of freely during the holidays.
Any leftovers may be used throughout the coming year.
Result: A very HAPPY HOLIDAY from the Gas Company Home Economists

Granny loved making jello mold salads, her favorite was one that included lime jello, pimentos, and cottage cheese. Yuck! Apparently, these salads were very popular back then, and recipes for them can be found in many fund-raiser cookbooks. This one reminds me of her Thanksgiving cranberry mold, which included canned mandarin orange slices. I wonder where her mint green Tupperware jello mold went?

CRANBERRY WINE MOLD - adapted from the Southern California Gas Company
1 can size 1lb, 2 oz. crushed pineapple in juice, drained
and 3/4 cup liquid reserved
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 package size 3 oz. raspberry jello
3/4 cup rose or white zinfandel wine
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 can size 1 lb. whole cranberry sauce (not jelled), drained
1 tablespoon grated orange rind

Combine reserved pineapple juice and orange juice in a small saucepan. Heat over medium flame until liquid comes to a boil. Dissolve jello in hot juice. Stir in wine and lemon juice. Refrigerate until mixture becomes the consistency of of unbeaten egg white. Fold in crushed pineapple, cranberries and orange rind. Pour into oiled 1-quart mold. Refergerate until firm. To serve, unmold onto greens. Makes 6-8 servings.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mudslide Brownies

A bunch of my single friends swear they love to drink Mudslides, but that big bottle of pre-made stuff is not my cup of tea. Or mug of booze. It's made by the same folks who put out a pre-made margarita. Ayyy! Come on now, how hard is it to make a decent cocktail with real ingredients? Well, these Mudslide Brownies come pretty close to the flavor of a true Mudslide. Don't buy pre-made cocktails, what's the matter with you. Drink like an adult, not a frat boy! Oops, I'm starting to sound like Grandpa again! Be a gracious host, your guests are surely worth a little time and effort. I forget where I stole this brownie recipe, but I am eternally grateful, so wherever you are, muchas gracias! Please keep these brownies out of the reach of children.

makes 24

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces Bakers unsweetened chocolate or 4 squares, chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons Kahlua liqueur, or your own homemade stuff
2 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Creme liqueur
1 tablespoon vodka, any brand, Stoli vanilla would be nice
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Glaze: 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons Kahlua
Optional: chocolate covered coffee beans, roughly chopped
and ice cream

Grease a 9x13 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift flour, baking powder & salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not burninate. Set aside to cool slightly. In mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat both sugars and the eggs added in one at a time. Add in the sifted dry ingredients, then chocolate mixture, and all the booze. Mix just to combine, do not overix. Fold in the nuts by hand. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes. While baking, prepare glaze. Cool brownies in pan. Drizzle on the Kahlua glaze and sprinkle with the coffee beans, if desired. Cut into bars and serve with coffee ice cream, and drizzle additional Kahlua glaze on top. Do not serve to underage diners.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

La Vida Dulce is "vieja" enough to remember when you could walk up to the counter at the 7-11 store, show your voters' tag and get a free cup of coffee on election day. I also can remember that long ago booze and brewskies were not allowed to be sold while the polling places were open. Ha! Times have certainly changed. But not the importance of voting. I don't give a hoot how you vote, just do it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Persimmon Bars

Our new next-door neighbors have graciously given us a basket of persimmons from the back yard trees. When Candace lived there, we had no problem and could freely enjoy the kumquats, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons and the most delicious persimmons, both the crunchy Fuyu, the ready-to-eat variety, and the other ones you have let fully ripen, called Hachiya. You will end up with a horrible taste in your mouth if you eat them before they are ready. The most horrible taste ever, ugh, yuck. A lesson in patience that must be obeyed. The reward is enjoying these little persimmon bars, one good way to savor a marvelously flavorful and juicy fruit. I sent over a batch of persimmon bars to our new neighbors, paid my culinary insurance!

PERSIMMON BARS - adapted from MasterCook 9.0
makes 16 to 20 bars

3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup fully ripe mashed persimmon pulp, Hachiya variety
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon canola oil

Grease a 9"x13" glass baking pan, or use smaller rectangular pan for more dense bars. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine salt, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, ginger, set aside. In mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment, beat eggs, then gradually add sugar, till frothy. Add in persimmon pulp. With mixer set at low speed, add in flour mixture and combine. Add oil, vanilla, chopped nuts and blend. Do not overmix. Spread into greased pan and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, turning pan halfway through baking time. Cool in pan slightly, then cut into bars. Dust tops with powdered sugar if desired.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Donut Day!

I just read an article from the New York Daily News that declared this very day to be Donut Day. This is a day I gladly celebrate. Being well acquainted with donuts and all their species, let me raise my Los Angeles Dodgers mug of steaming hot coffee in honor of this day. To those many sprinkled, frosted, glazed and plain wonders, who so sweetly and gallantly gave their all, I hereby pledge my loyalty, and swear to uphold my coffee mug and cheer. Well done, my precious little buttermilk bars made fresh at the Shell gas station, well done. And to you, my little Krispy Kremes, whose stores are closing left and right, we'll meet again soon. And to the many Winchell's who are also fading from the scene, hold on, old man, I'll find you. To the Helms Bakery Man and his truck, who visited our block twice a week, thank you for those fond childhood memories of glazed donuts, you are gone but not forgotten. And finally, to Van De Kamp's and their plain cake donuts that I can still find at Ralphs supermarket, though their grand old baking facility is closed, thanks for sticking around all these years. To all of you who delight in that freshly made warm donut and a cup of coffee---Happy Donut Day!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Another Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookie

Can you stand it---one more cookie? This will be the last cookie post till Christmas time. It comes from the Spirit of Christmas series, (it's in the volume Monica has---HINT!). Before I gave her the book, I copied down the recipe for this little gem. It's kind of a "Reeses-Turned-Into-A-Cookie" that's fun to make with the kids. You have the two dough combinations to mix, a rich chocolate cookie dough, and the creamy peanut butter filling. Then with the procedures of the counting, the covering and the squishing, there's plenty for the kids to do. So is it the peanut butter in the chocolate cookie, or the cookie in the peanut butter that makes it so yummy? Let the kids decide! As with all activities, please supervise the children in the kitchen, do not leave them unattended. Enjoy!

"REESES COOKIES" - adapted from Spirit of Christmas
makes about 30 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter, divided---NO CHUNKY!
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tiny pinch of salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar on a plate for dipping

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1/4 cup peanut butter until creamy smooth. Gradually add in the two half-cups each of the brown and granulated sugars. Add the egg and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt and cocoa, stir to aerate. Add to the peanut butter mixture and blend well.

In another bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of peanut butter and the powdered sugar. With clean, floured hands, scoop out and shape into 1-inch balls.

Scoop out a tablespoon of the chocolate dough, flatten it out just a bit and then carefully it shape around a peanut butter ball, covering as best you can.

Place the covered cookie balls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Dip a flat bottomed drinking glass into the plate with the granulated sugar. Gently flatten each ball to about a 1-1/2 inch diameter circle with the glass bottom. Dip the glass bottom into the sugar each time. Do not go squisha-squisha on them, you are not Trogdor! Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets and then transfer to racks and cool completely before tasting.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Black Russian Brownies

Here's a great little treat to make with that homemade coffee liqueur. I am not sure where this one comes from, but it sure is a delicious batch of rich deep dark brownies, especially served warm from the oven, and topped with a scoop of coffee or mocha ice cream.

makes 16 large or 24 small brownies

4 squares Bakers unsweetened chocolate, 1 ounce each
1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
2 tablespoons vodka, any brand
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour, King Arthur
1/2 teaspoon plain salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans or toasted sliced almonds
Optional garnishes: powdered sugar, cocoa, ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the bottom of 13x9 inch baking pan with waxed paper. Melt chocolate and butter with pepper in small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and cool. Combine eggs, sugars and vanilla in large bowl, beat well. Stir in cooled chocolate mixture, Kahlua and vodka.

Combine flour, salt and baking powder and add to chocolate mixture. Stir until blended. Add chopped nuts. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven just until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. To serve, dust with powdered sugar, cocoa, or if desired, serve with a scoop of quality ice cream.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Homemade Coffee Liqueur

Since we recently posted a cocktail, I thought this would be a good time to pass along this wonderful homemade "coffee liqueur" (sorta like a Kahlua-type flavor) which Diane graciously shared with me. This is much easier than other recipes, and can be enjoyed the same day, no hiding it under the kitchen sink and waiting forever. Gotta love that instant gratification. I make this liqueur around the holidays, to give as gifts, to use in baking, in desserts, and for our own enjoyment. One year, we made up half a dozen bottles, and only gave away two! It was that good. Depends mostly on the brand of instant coffee. I have used Tasters' Choice and Nescafe instant, which happens to be a brand widely used throughout the world. Another time I used an instant espresso, and it was so strong that it needed a simple syrup to balance the bitterness. Don't splurge on an expensive brandy, since you are already adding it to a coffee and sugar mixture. Make up a batch and enjoy it with friends and family this holiday season. Have fun!

HOMEMADE (Kahlua-type) COFFEE LIQUEUR - adapted from
Diane's personal recipe
makes two bottles - see note

One bottle 750ml E&J Brandy, or an inexpensive brandy
1/2 cup instant coffee crystals, Nescafe preferred
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups boiling water, bottled water preferred
2 clean dry wine bottles, glass measuring cup, funnel, ladle
all equipment completely washed and sterilized in dishwasher or boiled
2 corks, boiled and cooled

In a large heavy stockpot, pour the boiling water over the instant coffee and sugar. Stir well to dissolve completely. Let cool at least two full hours. When completely cooled, add in vanilla and entire bottle of brandy. Stir well. Ladle into a clean glass measuring cup with a spout and carefully pour into bottles, using a clean funnel. Seal with corks. Serve straight, or with hot coffee, in cocktails, in desserts and baked goods. Makes a great hostess gift.
NOTE: recipe can be doubled.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ed Levine Eats Contest and Donuts

I don't live in New York City, but if you are in the vicinity, quickly head over to this blog and enter Ed Levine's contest. His blog is located at this address:

This blog actually makes me hungry. All those fabulous restaurants, so far away. Sigh!

One of Ed Levine's recent posts describes a "donut tasting" which included sampling from several local donut masters. There was also a "donut dessert" from one of the umpteen million NYC restaurants, at a cost of $9.00 USD per serving. For that kind of money, those donuts better get up and dance. Geesh, I sound like Grandpa! Still I envy New Yorkers, having so many wonderful restaurants to choose from. We have our own share of wonderful restaurants in Southern California, but we must drive over the river and through the hoods. Not like in NYC, where you walk down the street, jump in a cab, or ride the subway and there you are. How lucky is that!

Now, if you really want to try some great donuts, check out the recipe in James Beard's classic cookbook "Beard on Bread" which is one of my absolute favorites. His donut recipe was a real life saver last year, when our family was in the midst of a major crisis. Making up a batch of these homemade donuts made a terrible situation just a little bit easier to endure. If making your own donuts doesn't do it for you, there's a donut shop inside the Shell Gasoline station down the street from here that makes an incredibly light, non-greasy glazed buttermilk donut. Take that New York!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hot Chocolate for Grown Ups

Baking and posting all these cookies has me plum tuckered out. I have two more holiday cookies left to finish. Ah, time for a martini break. Did someone say cocktails? Yeah, baby! Keep this martini out of the reach of children. Do not operate farm or industrial machinery while sipping. You must be this tall to savor this cocktail. May cause serious enjoyment to spontaneously occur if unsupervised. This Hot Chocolate Martini may be enjoyed without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball. Ladies and Gentlemen and everyone else, start your shakers!

Hot Chocolate Martini - adapted from 101 Martinis
Serves One (so go ahead and make some more!)

3 ounces cooled Swiss Miss hot chocolate, prepared as directed on package,
OR homemade hot chocolate, cooled to touch, preferred
1 ounce Bols dark crème de cocoa
1 ounce Bailey's Irish Cream or Carolans Cream liqueur
3/4 ounce Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Crystal clear store bought cracked ice, please!
NOT that stuff in a dingy plastic tray from the back of your freezer
3 to 4 Kraft miniature marshmallows
OR a spritz of Reddi Whip, for garnish
(put away that darn cool whip!)

Combine the cooled hot chocolate, dark crème de cacao, cream liqueur, and vanilla vodka in a cocktail shaker filled with clear ice and shake moderately. Strain into a chilled martini glass. To garnish, drop 3 to 4 miniature marshmallows into the glass and carefully toast them with a crème brûlée torch, if desired. I love a man who can harness the power of fire, even if it's through a butane cigar lighter. OR if you prefer, SLOWLY spritz a shot of whipped cream on top. Careful, don't spray this martini all over the place. Now go make another one!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Congratulations to the Cardinals on their World Series win. Is it too soon to be saying wait till next year, and THINK BLUE? Nah!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chocolate Macaroons

Here's a macaroon for our cookie marathon, but these are not the traditional coconut macaroons you may be accustomed to eating. We were very fortunate to make these last year in class with Chef Bob. These are light and delicious, filled with a decadent ganache, which is prepared the day before, and yet really not that difficult to make. If you are blessed with having a beautiful shiny new food processor, you are half-way there. For the rest of us, a small electric food chopper or a blender may also be used. The key to success is to get everything set up before you begin, all the equipment, ingredients, baking sheets, everything ready. If you have a friend or relative to help, the more the merrier. Once again, Chef Bob is the trend setter, because these little French macaroons are a big hit. You'll be seeing them in all the patisseries and upscale bake shops, available in a specatular array of flavor combinations. We offer a chocolate version here. More chocolate, why not. Enjoy!

CHOCOLATE MACAROONS - adapted from Pierre Herme
makes 24 cookies

3/4 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups whole blanched or slivered almonds, no skins
1 pound powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, divided in fourths
6 egg whites (about 3/4 cup)
Optional: drizzling of white and dark chocolate

To make the chocolate filling for these little bites, combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate. When smooth, pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

To make the macaroons, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 4 baking sheets with parchment. Mix the sugar and almonds in the food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Add the cocoa and mix. In an impeccably clean mixer bowl fitted with a clean whisk, free of any grease, beat the egg whites until they are smooth and form stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula gently fold in the cocoa powder in fourths, ending with a thick batter. Spoon tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch apart. Bake for 11 minutes. Slide the parchment off the baking sheet onto the counter to cool.

To assemble these little delights, spread about a tablespoon of the ganache on the bottom of one macaroon and seal with the bottom of another, making a sandwich. Place on a tray and chill them for about on hour before serving. If desired, drizzle melted white and dark chocolate to garnish.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Florentine Cookies for Two

We are finishing up my cookie marathon with some fancy French cookies. Have no fear, the next few are beautifully simple. This lacy Florentine comes straight out of a new cookbook called "Cooking For Two or More" from Pampered Chef. These are really simple to put together and will definitely dazzle your dinner guests. Serve up a generous scoop of your favorite ice cream in a large wine glass, add a few fresh berries and place a Florentine on top. Viola! (yes I know, that's a family joke!) You have a treat that looks like the $9.95 desserts served in white tablecloth restaurants. From a cart, pushed by a indifferent server, and you still have to leave a tip! If you are blessed to have Silpats, these Florentines will turn out perfectly. To assure success, please do not make substitutions with the recipe ingredients. If you want to get seriously decadent, drizzle melted white and bittersweet chocolate over the cooled cookies or dip one side into melted chocolate for a beautiful dessert garnish.

FLORENTINE COOKIES - adapted from "Cooking For Two or More"
makes 2 to 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon light Karo syrup
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds
Optional: one ounce melted bittersweet or white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with parchment or, if you have one, a Silpat, you lucky baker! In a bowl, whisk together the melted butter, Karo, flour, and sugar and mix well. Scoop mixture by spoonfuls onto baking pan, making either two large or four small circles, placing each at least two inches apart. These cookies will spread out quite a bit, so allow enough room. Spread the mixture evenly with an offset spatula or the back of the spoon. Sprinkle the chopped almonds on top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Slide parchment sheet from pan onto cooling rack to cool completely for flat Florentines. If you desire a curved cookie, then immediately remove from pan, carefully placing them onto a rolling pin to shape while still warm. When completely cool, decorate with the melted chocolate, if desired.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Doughnut Muffins

It's back to class again next week! Going through my syllabus from last year, while looking for another recipe, I came upon these delicious muffins. This is one of the best recipes Chef Wemischner gave us. Easy to make, these muffins have the flavor and texture of old fashioned doughnuts, but without the added soaking in a bath of hot grease. Calories saved---a ton! Mind you they do get brushed with melted butter, but only a bit. They make a nice weekend brunch treat, are no more difficult to make than other muffins, and require ingredients found right the pantry cupboard. With the cool fall mornings finally here, why not wake up the house with the aroma of freshly baked doughnut muffins.

DOUGHNUT MUFFINS - adapted from Fine Cooking
Makes about 24 muffins

12 oz. or 3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 3/4 teaspoon plain salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 2/3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup buttermilk

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in the middle. Grease and flour two regular muffin tins. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. On a sheet of waxed paper, sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg. In a glass measuring cup combine the milk and buttermilk. By hand with a wooden spoon, mix in one 4th of the dry ingredients, and then one 3rd of the milk mixture. Continue adding ingredients alternately, and ending with the dry. Combine until smooth, but do not overmix. With an ice cream scoop or a serving spoon, scoop batter into muffin tin filling each about 1/2 cup, so it comes up even with the rim. Bake muffins until firm to touch, about 30 to 35 minutes. While muffins are baking, melt the butter for dipping in a small saucepan. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. When muffins are just cool enough to handle, remove from tin. Brush each with melted butter, then roll in cinnamon sugar coating evenly.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Back in the early days of the FoodTV network, David Rosengarten and his show "Taste" featured many wonderful recipes. His show on the origins and creation of Tarte Tatin is one I will fondly remember. But this chunky cookie is also quite memorable. Rich, loaded with chocolate, huge, and delicious. Yes, we can always use another chocolate cookie! In case you were wondering.

CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES - adapted from David Rosengarten
makes about 2 dozen

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour, King Arthur
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 tablespoon light cream, not milk
2 cups or 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift flours and soda. In mixer bowl with paddle attachment cream the butter and sugars till fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Beat in egg and light cream. Set mixer at low speed, gradually add in the flour mixture about one-third at a time, mix well to combine. Stir in the chocolate chunks by hand, so as to keep them whole. Scoop out dough by huge tablespoons or use a large ice cream scoop, and drop onto parchement lined baking sheets. With a clean fingertip dipped in a little water, gently flatten the cookies a little bit. Don't smush them down flat. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes, no longer, or just until the edges are lightly brown. Cookies will still be soft. Allow cookies cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then place on racks to finish cooling.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Chocolate Biscotti

The first time we made this biscotti, back in 1998, we had nothing left, nothing to share---gone, all gone. Every last one. It was sad. So I went and made up another batch right away. But it was no trouble, they are very easy to make, no oil, no butter, no shortening. Seriously. It's wise to make a batch for keeping and then another for gifts. They look fancy wrapped up in those cellophane gift bags, tied with raffia or grosgrain ribbon. If you want to be generous, fill a large glass jar with these biscotti, and give a batch of them to someone you love. Enjoy!

makes 24 to 36 cookies SEE NOTE*

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour, King Arthur is best
1 cup cocoa powder, use a quality brand
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 3/4 cups almonds or pecans or hazelnuts
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
5 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
For dipping: 12 ounces white chocolate, good quality

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine flours, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, salt and espresso powder in mixer fitted with paddle and mix at low speed. Add nuts, semisweet chocolate. In another bowl whisk eggs and vanilla, add to flour mixture at low speed. Mix only until dough comes together. Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead to incorporate any dry ingredients. Divide dough and shape into four logs about 2 inches wide and place on two parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Logs will be firm and dry to the touch, slightly cracked. Turn oven down to 300 degrees F. Allow logs to cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet. Cut each log on the diagonal, slicing the biscotti about 3/4" wide, cutting straight down. Place cut slices flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven, baking for another 25 to 30 minutes. Place on racks and cool completely. While the biscotti are cooling, either nuke the white chocolate for a few seconds at a time to melt, or melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Dip the biscotti into the melted white chocolate and place on sheets of waxed paper to dry. When finished drying, store biscotti in airtight containers.
*NOTE: If larger biscotti are desired, shape dough only into two logs, increase first baking time about five minutes, and slice baked logs about 1-inch wide.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Chocolate Crackle Nut Cookies

I don't know where these come from, there are many chocolate crackle recipes out there, including the ones found in my favorite church and school fundraiser cookbooks. This one is simple to throw together and the process is fun for the kids to help bake. With all the separate bowls, there's enough for everyone to have a turn at participating in the baking process. The cookies actually take on a crackle effect, puffing up while they bake. Again, please supervise the kids in the kitchen.

makes 4 dozen

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Powdered sugar on a plate for dusting

Melt the chocolate morsels in the top of a double boiler OR set a heat-proof bowl over a large saucepan with simmering water, do not let the bowl touch the water. In another bowl, mix the brown sugar and oil, then add in the melted chocolate. Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Add vanilla. In yet another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir this into the chocolate mixture, add the chopped nuts. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scoop out cookie dough into one-inch size balls. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for only 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff up, crackle and no longer look wet. Do not burninate. Cool completely on rack. Store the uneaten ones in airtight containers.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

English Toffee Bars

I love the flavor of Heath Bars and See's Toffee, so when this cookie recipe showed up in the Food Section of the L.A. Times, I had to try it. Well, it became a holiday tradition because now I bake them every year. With a taste and texture more like a crisp candy than a cookie, you will be amazed by how fast they get gobbled up. The original recipe says it yields 24 bars, but these little guys are rich, so they are cut to yield 36 bars. This might be a good one to try with that new $5.00 USD Nestle Chocolatier bar, if you like your chocolate on the darker side like me, and you don't mind making the investment. Call your financial adviser first. Ay, mucho dinero, hombre! On the frugal side, try Hershey's Special Dark bars, available for far less dinero, Ralphs has them on sale for only a buck apiece. Using fresh ingredients is the key here, so buy a new pack of brown sugar, don't use that lumpy rock stuff from the back of the cupboard. And buy fresh unsalted butter, not the one that absorbed all the odors from the frige. But do save those wrappers, use them to butter the baking pan. Enjoy!

ENGLISH TOFFEE BARS - adapted from the L.A. Times
Makes 24 to 36 cookies

2 sticks or 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temp.
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon plain salt
1 or more bars of milk chocolate---7 ounces total, broken
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds or pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With the butter wrappers, grease a 9"x13" baking pan. In a small dry skillet, lightly toast the almonds, moving them around over medium heat for only a couple of minutes. Do not burninate. If you can smell them, they're burninated. Set aside to cool. Break up the chocolate into small pieces, set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter and brown sugar till light and creamy. Add egg yolk, vanilla, flour, salt and mix. Spread the cookie batter into the prepared pan. Bake until browned, for 15 to 20 minutes. Batter will rise and fall, do not be alarmed.

Remove pan from oven to a heat-proof surface and immediately sprinkle the broken chocolate pieces on top. Be careful working with the pan, it is still very hot. With either a dinner knife or an offset spatula, spread the melting chocolate evenly and gently. Do not tear up the cookie base. Top with the toasted almonds and let cool in the pan completely. When cooled, cut into bars. Store them in an airtight container, if you are lucky enough to have any left.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

OK, now we're back to our cookies again. We tried Martha Stewart's first, but Michael said they were too dry. I liked the firmness, but taste is what really matters, so it was on to another recipe. I found an old volume of Spirit of Christmas and this one added vanilla extract and salt. Maybe that's what it needed. They were much better than the first batch and I think the process of cutting out the cookie shapes after baking was great. I wanted a thicker cookie, so I used a narrower baking pan than the one listed.

CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES - adapted from Spirit of Christmas
makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon table salt
additional powdered sugar for dusting

Cream butter, sugar, vanilla in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl stir together the flour, cocoa and salt. Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture, combine well. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Press dough into a 15" by 10" jellyroll pan. Bake for 30 minutes, turning pan halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, about 2" wide or cut into squares or bars. Remove cookies from pan onto cooling racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. When completely cooled store in an airtight container. (May also be decorated with an icing glaze made of 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons of milk, and a tiny drop of food coloring.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

News From Hawaii

I tried calling about the earthquake but couldn't get through. Then Monica called to say that she is fine. The power is out, but she was finally able to call on her cell. Her houseguest is fine. My furry grandchildren, (the dog and cat!) are fine. And my beautiful son-in-law will be returning from duty later this week. Then everything will be fine. Gracias a Dios.

Retro Recipe Challenge #3 - Macaroni Saute

Another cookie break! Laura Rebecca's Kitchen is hosting this challenge, making a recipe published within five years of your birth year. I chose a recipe from Betty Crocker's Good and Easy Cook Book, Macaroni Saute. The cooking process is similar to making "sopa de fideo" which is a wonderful Mexican side dish using coiled vermicelli. The vermicelli is first broken into pieces, lightly browned in oil in a large skillet with some diced onion, then liquid is added, either plain water or a boullion cube added, and tomato sauce. Mexican restaurants rarely offer it and serve a side of rice instead, which usually tastes either too bland or too mushy. An informal survey found that 4 out of 5 diners preferred sopa de fideo to Mexican rice.

Mom actually made this macaroni dish, but she gave it her own flair. Her technique was to leave it uncovered, use canned crushed tomatoes instead of tomato juice, a tiny pinch of comino (ground cumin) and then she added grated Monterey Jack cheese to finish. If it got too dry during cooking, she added more water. It was one of our family favorites. Enjoy!

MACARONI SAUTE - from Betty Crocker's Good and Easy Cook Book published 1954
2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup green bell pepper (I used red)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup cooking oil
3 cups tomato juice (I used crushed tomatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestshire sauce

In a skillet, saute macaroni, onion, pepper and garlic in hot oil till macaroni turns slightly yellow. Add tomato juice and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

This one tasted rather bland until I added Mom's touches.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Broken Cookies Have No Calories

Just a moment for a few random thoughts while I finish up with a baker's dozen posts on some basic cookie recipes:

Broken cookies have no calories.

Mom and Grandma made some pretty good cookies. Thanks!

Did you see that creepy commercial? No thank you, I don't dream about playing chess in the kitchen with a talking beaver and Abe Lincoln. Ever.

Maybe Starbucks should hand out information on how people can get a good night's sleep.

Kinda like a cigarette company telling you how to talk to your kids about smoking.

If he is the oldest person to have a number one album on the Billboard charts, why can't Bob Dylan crack a smile?

Can there ever be too many chocolate chip cookie recipes? I'll give you five seconds to answer that one.

Will the non-dysfunctional family please identify yourselves?

Once again, it's wait till next year. Hey, it could happen. THINK BLUE!

Why does chili, spaghetti, and cold pizza taste so good the next day?

If they are bringing "sexy back", then where has it been hiding all this time?

I am confused. Doesn't "farewell tour" mean you aren't going to be doing it anymore?

Nobody knows who ate the last cookie. Ever.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Russ Parsons' Snickerdoodles

OK, let me get this part out of the way first, then we'll move on to these yummy little Snickerdoodles. I LOVE THIS MAN! I have been a major fan of Russ Parsons for years. His "Lamb and Lentils to Eat With a Spoon" from the Los Angeles Times made me a devotee for life. And his "Chicken For A Crowd" is another killer recipe. I had the pleasure to meet him at a book signing and his recommendation for my practical final earned me a solid "B" in my culinary arts class. Watta guy! I have notebooks filled with yellowing newsprint pages, copies of his recipes from the Food Section. Thank goodness for sheet protectors and scanners.

These Snickerdoodles have a flavor and texture similar to "Bizcochos", Mexican cinnamon cookies. He gives a wide range for baking time in his recipe, a full five minutes to finish. Adjust to the desired crispness you prefer.
Thanks Russ, I love you!

SNICKERDOODLES - adapted from Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times
makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 cup Crisco shortening
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon plain salt

Cinnamon Sugar: mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon in a small bowl.

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly with each addition. On to a sheet of waxed paper sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add to the shortening mixture, beat well. Scrape bowl and gather into a ball, wrapping in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm for one hour. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. With a small melon baller or an iced teaspoon, scoop out a piece of dough and roll into a ball about the size of a walnut. Roll in cinnamon sugar and place on baking sheet leaving two inches apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Grandma Lil's Chocolate Chip Cookies

My beautiful son-in-law comes from a family of wonderful cooks, and they have generously shared their recipes with Monica. One of their finest is this cookie recipe from Jim's grandma. Come on now, the world can always use more chocolate chip cookies!

makes about three dozen

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 bag or 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Cream shortening and sugars together, add egg and vanilla, then add dry ingredients. Last fold in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop onto parchment cookie sheets about 2" apart. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, checking and turning cookie sheets halfway through. Remove from pan and place on cooling racks.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rocks and Hermits Cookies

Since we are revisiting Granny's old recipes, I searched for her famous Rocks and Hermits Cookies to add here. As a kid I thought they were amazing, all those dozens and more dozens of cookies from only one batch. It was such a wonderful treat to come home from school and find freshly baked cookies with a cold glass of milk waiting for me. These cookies are simple to make by hand, and fun to make with the kids, a good way to teach math, among the many other benefits of cooking and baking together.

Since both recipes make TONS of cookies, you may want freeze half and bake them off later. To freeze cookie dough, scoop out individual cookies onto parchment and freeze separately for about an hour, then transfer to ziplock bags and place in freezer until ready to bake. Rocks are crunchy nuggets, while Hermits are more tender with a bit more spice. Both cookies keep well in tightly covered cookie tins and can be frozen to enjoy later. Thanks Granny!

makes about 8 to 10 dozen cookies

1 cup Crisco shortening
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped raisins, or other dried fruits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare several baking sheets with parchment, and have extra sheets of parchment on hand. In very large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar. In a small bowl beat the eggs and add milk. Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift together all the dry ingredients, except the nuts and raisins. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the wet ingredients. Incorporate the nuts and raisins, mixing well. Drop by teaspoons onto baking sheets and bake for about 15 minutes. Cool on racks and place in air tight containers, then freeze the rest in ziplock bags after a couple of days.

makes about 7 to 9 dozen cookies

1 cup Crisco shortening
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
(OR subsitute 1 cup AP with 1 cup white whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sour milk *SEE NOTE
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chopped raisins, or other dried fruits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment. In a very large mixing bowl, beat shortening and then gradually add in brown sugar, cream together. Add beaten eggs and mix. Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift the dry ingredients, except the nuts and raisins. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternating with the sour milk. Add in the nuts and raisins and mix well. Drop by teaspoons on to
baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on racks. These will keep for a couple of weeks at room temp in an air tight container, or freeze in ziplock bags.
*NOTE - for sour milk add one tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice to one cup of milk in a glass measuring cup and let stand for 5 minutes before using.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rum Balls

The first time we made these, I was a concerned about serving them to minors, the intense aroma of the rum filled up the whole room! But you'd have to be a little piggy and eat nearly the whole tray to get a buzz from these cookies. The ingredients easily mix together in one bowl and require no baking. Use fresh cookies for the crumbs, not leftovers, you don't want any stale after-taste. You may want to use the food processor to grind up the cookies into fine crumbs, but smashing up the cookies in a ziplock bag works just as well. Try to resist the temptation to unwrap these little munchies too soon and your patience will be greatly rewarded. They keep well at room temperature, and are great with hot cocoa or a steamy cup of coffee.

makes about three dozen cookies

2 cups finely ground galletas Marias cookies,
OR use vanilla wafers, freshly opened packages only
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup Meyer's rum or other dark rum, plus more
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
tiny pinch of salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. On a large plate, place 1/2 cup powdered sugar. In a large bowl combine the cookie crumbs, 1 cup powdered sugar, nuts, salt and stir. Add in the rum, corn syrup, melted butter and stir. If mixture seems too dry add a splosh more rum and continue kneading. It couldn't hurt! With clean hands, knead the mixture together or continue stirring. Using a melon baller or iced teaspoon, roll into a one-inch size ball. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Wrap baking sheet tightly in plastic, completely covering and let tray sit at room temperature for 48 hours.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Crunchy Baseball Bars

These no-bake bars come from Granny's wonderful cookbooks, written way back when, before it became cool and hip to call it "retro" and "mid-century" instead of "old fashioned" and "corny" as I call it. It really is fun reading through these old recipes in fund-raiser cookbooks, recipe cards and booklets from the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Some of the writing is very silly by today's standards. Advice from one cookbook dated 1950 says "pork is always cooked to the well done stage. It is never broiled unless cured as ham." Huh? Another suggests when making a brown bag sandwich to "omit lettuce or other greens---they wilt." What? Yeah, things were different in the "retro" era, I guess. So were these Baseball Bars. YIKES! In one version they required 4 whole cups of candy morsels for the topping in a little 8" square pan! YUCK, that's even too DULCE for me. We played around with the original recipe and came up with these bars. Adding the crunch from "Honey Bunches of Oats" cereal and peanuts, then cutting back on the candies, it allowed us to keep the flavor of the "old fashioned" bars, while fending off a diabetic coma. We chose a larger size pan, to spread out the topping a bit thinner than the original. Leftover candy morsels can always be used in other cookie recipes, so please don't give in to temptation and throw in the whole bag. I like using salted peanuts with this sweet treat, for a contrast in tastes, but you choose for yourself. If you plan on allowing kid chefs in the kitchen, please supervise them at all times. The original Baseball Bars were designed to recreate the taste of the "Baby Ruth" candy bar, popular back when the Sultan of Swat ruled the sports world. These Crunchy Baseball Bars are a tip of the cap to "retro" ballpark concession stand treats. We present them here in honor of the 2006 MLB Playoffs.

Makes about 32 mini or 16 large bars

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 package marshmallows, about 10 oz.
1 cup chunky peanut butter, divided
NOT "natural" style, use a brand like Skippy or Jif
1 cup chopped peanuts, divided
1/2 cup butterscotch morsels
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
6 cups Honey Bunches of Oats cereal

Spray a 9"x13" baking pan with a non-stick coating, like a canola spray, and set aside. Tear off a sheet of waxed paper longer than the pan, set aside. In a large pot on medium heat, melt the butter, add the marshmallows and stir with a big wooden spoon till completely melted. Add in all but 2 tablespoons of the peanut butter and stir. Add the cereal, 1/2 cup peanuts and toss quickly to coat. It will get all smooshy, but that's OK. Scrape into the prepared pan, cover it with the sheet of waxed paper and press the mixture down firmly into the pan in a somewhat even layer. Remove the waxed paper. Sprinkle butterscotch morsels over the top and press them into the mixture while still warm, use the waxed paper again if needed. In a small sauce pan over medium heat melt the 2 remaining tablespoons of peanut butter and the semi-sweet chocolate morsels to a spreadable consistency, stirring constantly, do not burninate. Pour over the mixture and spread with a spatula to coat evenly. Top with the remaining chopped peanuts. Allow to cool completely and cut into bars.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Not really a traditional cake, these are the snowy white cookies, the Pastelitas De Boda served at weddings, that nearly melt in your mouth. It is a familiar cookie also featured around the holidays and similar versions are found in other countries besides Mexico. Not exactly like the pfeffernusse, which has a bit more crunch and spice, these little nuggets hold up nicely in a cookie gift basket. Wrap in plastic and store in air tight containers to avoid getting powdered sugar all over the place. Monica gave this cookie her special touch with the addition of almond extract. Thanks Mo!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 cup or two sticks unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup finely diced pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup powdered in the middle of a sheet of waxed paper. Place the flour in the middle of another sheet of waxed paper. In the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment combine the butter and the two extracts. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the sugar, holding the waxed paper like a funnel, into the butter mixture. Then add the flour slowly in the same manner, and add the nuts. If you have one, it's a good time to use that splatter shield on your mixer. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula, mix to combine. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into one-inch balls. Place on sheet pans giving about an inch or so of space inbetween. Place remaining powdered sugar on a large dinner plate. Bake one sheet pan at a time, about 12 to 15 minutes, rotating pan half way through baking. Cookies should be lightly browned, do not overbake. Remove pan from oven and let cookies cool about 5 minutes. Roll each little ball in the powdered sugar. Allow them to absorb the powdered sugar for about one minute, then place them on racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

More cookies? Oh yeah! This cookie was a big hit last Christmas, with kids and adults alike. They are easy to handle, hold their shape, are easy to cut out with your best fancy cookie cutters, and have a light subtle taste, which stands up to all the decorations you can pile on. Depending on the size of the cutters, you can easily get about four to six dozen cookies from each batch. The dough can be made ahead of time and keeps well in the frige for about a week. It makes for a fun afternoon with friends, grandchildren, your own kids of any age, neighbor kids, or be creative and design your own cookie art all by yourself!

CREAM CHEESE SUGAR COOKIES - adapted from the Pillsbury Doughboy (hee-hee!)
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
1 package cream cheese 3 ounce size, softened at room temp.
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
Cookie decorations: colored sugars, frosting, royal icing, jimmies, sprinkles, dragees, etc. as desired

In the bowl of a KA mixer with the paddle attachment, or a large bowl, combine ALL ingredients EXCEPT flour and cookie decorations. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix well. Be careful not to overheat mixer by adding in flour a bit at a time. Scrape the bowl frequently while mixing. Shape dough into three disks. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap twice and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

When ready to bake cookies, heat oven to 375 degrees F and remove only one disk from the frige. Leave the other two in the frige until ready to work. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough with a rolling pin, starting at the center and rolling out, north to south, east to west, to about 1/8-inch in thickness. Place about 1/4 cup of flour onto a saucer. Dip cutter into flour and then cut out desired cookie shapes. With an offset spatula, place the cookies on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Decorate with colored sugar, if desired.

Bake for about 6 to 10 minutes, check about halfway through the baking time and turn sheet pan back to front, to prevent overbrowning and oven hot spots, do not "burninate" these cookies (but they still taste good!). Gently remove from parchment paper onto cooling racks. You can use the parchment over again, allow pan to cool first, wipe off any cookie crumbs, then place next batch ready for baking. If desired, decorate cookies with frosting, royal icing, etc. when completely cooled.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Soft Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

George, my baking buddy, got me thinking about those packaged soft cookies that were all over the market and on TV years ago. I like crisp cookies, but these are tender and have a deep flavor, mostly from the addition of molasses and the use of both baking soda and baking powder. So here's another treat to include with our holiday collection. They're great for cookie exchanges, hostess gifts, office treats, or a late nite snack with a glass of milk from "Da-Iry" --- yum!

Makes about 4 dozen

1 lb. unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla or paste
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon plain salt
5 cups all purpose flour
18 oz. (1 pkg. plus 1/2 pkg.) semisweet chocolate chips
Optional: 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Cream the butter, eggs, molasses, vanilla and water in mixer bowl with paddle attachment or by hand in a medium sized bowl, until well combined. In a large bowl, sift together the sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour. Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add in the chocolate chips and pecans, if desired. With a melon baller or iced teaspoon, scoop the dough into 1-inch balls and place on parchment paper about an inch apart, to allow for spread. Bake for about 8 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until lightly browned on the edges, do not "burninate" and overbake. That will make them crispy instead of soft. Remove from oven and place on cooling racks. These are similar to the famous Keebler cookie.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Think Blue!

Well, this has been one heck of a year with my Boys in Blue! I had high hopes for a great year, but never did I expect anything like this, clinching a spot in the playoffs. Now my question is --- what happens next? We are still tied with SD, and are still in the Wild Card spot. Oh Lucy, somebody splain, pleeze! I will have to wait for the LA Times Sports page, either online after midnight, or if I hit the sack early, I will read it tomorrow in print. Whatever happens, I am soooo happy. There's a Rally scheduled at the Universal City Walk on Monday, check the paper for details.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Hat

I mentioned in my last post that after eating at The Hat, I sat down to watch "Cooking Showdown" on KSCI Channel 18. We shared the famous and deadly chili cheese Fries, and I ate half a double dipped pastrami. Let me explain, this is the famous Southern California burger stand pastrami sandwich, not your deli stacked sandwich on rye, which in all fairness is another very good sandwich, just not the same. I've been to a few places outside of So.Cal. and they don't make pastramis anywhere else like they do out here. When Monica comes out to visit, The Hat is first place on her list.

The Hat is one of the oldest burger joints in the area, the original opened in 1951. Chronis on Whittier Blvd. also makes a pretty darn good pastrami, and the best chili dogs, and I must give them credit for still being around. But The Hat is closer to the house, so that's what we chose. My cousin even worked at Chronis through high school. And for the record, Dirty Vegas filmed their video for "Days Go By" at Chronis, the one where the guy starts break dancing out in front of the burger stand. How cool was that to see Chronis on MTV!

Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed these juicy dipped pastrami sandwiches, and The Hat makes a good one. They long ago abandoned the denser heavier French roll for a much larger and softer one, and they increased the price to $6.29, but they still serve a very generous sandwich. The freshly sliced French roll is dipped (or not!) into the steaming hot au jus, slathered with mustard, layered with pickle slices, and then thinly sliced lean pastrami is piled on. Anymore, I can only eat half, if I want to enjoy any chili cheese fries and still be able to breathe! I told you this story so you would understand that it really and truly had to be some spectacular food on "Cooking Showdown" for me to even think about any food after a meal from The Hat. It was that good!

locations throughout Southern California
Upland, Temple City, Simi Valley, Brea, Lake Forest and more!
PS---Wouldn't THE HAT pastramis be the perfect ballpark food at Dodger Stadium? It could happen!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bagels That Grab A Woman's Heart!

La Vida Dulce LOVES cooking shows! Some more than others. I also love bizarre TV. Stuff nobody watches but me. Many years ago I got hooked on a soap opera called "Tokyo Housewives" that was followed by a cooking show in which a battle was waged between two chefs over a featured food item, like sea cucumber. It was the original "Iron Chef" now shown on FoodTV. Both shows displayed English subtitles, I loved watching them. It was charming to hear the English and French culinary terms on the cooking show. Then suddenly "IC" was taken off the air. I actually called the local station, Channel 18, and asked what happened. It seems that there was a dispute over the rights to the English translations and subtitles so that was that. Well, I was very happy to see "IC" back on the air, but those cheesy voice-overs are the worst. I rarely watch it anymore, it's annoying to listen to the silly overacting and giggling. Put the subtitles back, please!

Well you can imagine my delight, while scrolling the through the guide, to discover another Japanese food program called "Cooking Showdown" on Channel 18. OMIGOD it is fabulous!! Two teams of spectators who decide the winner, two chefs, two different takes on the same meal item, this week---sandwiches! One team chose to make a fried fish filet sandwich with freshly caught suzuki fish. The other team made a Norwegian smoked salmon sandwich on a fresh bagel. The bagel team called their sandwich the "Jennifer Lopez" and the suzuki team called theirs the "Mariah Carey" which had both teams laughing. Me too! Ask yourself, what would JLo eat? Elaborate preparations were made, they even smoked the Norwegian salmon onstage in a stainless steel smoker that had me envious. These were the most spectacularly executed plate presentations, and both teams of spectators were anxious for a bite of either one. It made me hungry too, and we had just been to The Hat!

The best part of the show is a behind-the-scenes look at the featured "Showdown" foods. Cameras were on board the tiny fishing boat that hooked the suzuki, which is one of the most expensive types of fish. We were then treated to a visit to the popular "Bagel Cafe" and watched fresh dough being made into bagels. They made it clear that only imported American flour was used. I was surprised to learn that they didn't boil their bagels for a very long period of time. A longer boil creates a chewier bagel and they said Japanese jaws are not as strong as American jaws! Then the baker announced that these bagels "grab a woman's heart!" --- so help me, that's what the subtitles read! They went on to explain that since there is no fat in these bagels, women love them. The bagels looked delicious, slightly chewy outside, soft and fluffy inside. Customers couldn't get enough.

After the two sandwiches were presented, the spectators voted, and the suzuki fish sandwich won. That meant that the spectators who voted for the bagel sandwich didn't get to eat! All they could do was look on with sad faces and watch the other spectators devour their food, and then the show was over. Bizarre TV indeed, and I loved it. La Vida Dulce can't wait for another "Cooking Showdown" next weekend. I found a cooking show that grabbed my heart!
NOTE: You can watch "Cooking Showdown" in the greater Los Angeles area on KSCI Channel 18 at 8pm on Saturdays.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Basic Biscuit, Cocoa and Playdough Mixes

Here it is, September is almost gone already, and that means it's time to get myself into gear for the holidays. Once a week La Vida Dulce will be posting some of the basic mixes, formulas and recipes we have used throughout the years. It helps to have these on hand, that way we can get moving and be done with one product or gift, then move on to the next. Today we feature two mixes using nonfat dry milk, plus a fun playdough recipe for the kids. Older kids with some basic kitchen knowledge can handle this one, but PLEASE supervise them, accidents can happen, even I have recent kitchen scars. Younger kids can help out with measuring, (a wonderful way to teach math!) but safety comes first. Have fun!

BISCUIT MIX (something like that big yellow box)
2 lbs. or about 8 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups instant nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon plain salt, not kosher
1 1/2 cups shortening

In a very large bowl stir dry ingredients until well mixed. With a pastry blender or large fork cut in the shortening until well blended. Store in an air-tight covered container, keep at about 70-75 degrees F. Use within one month. Makes about 10 cups.

5 cups instant nonfat dry milk
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup quality cocoa powder,
Ghiradelli or Hershey's Dark are good choices
tiny pinch of salt
Additional flavorings:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
Whipped cream

Mix nonfat dry milk, sugar, salt and cocoa together in a very large bowl with a whisk. Add flavorings as desired. Store in an air-tight covered jar.

To make 1 quart of chocolate milk or hot cocoa, add 3 cups of plain water to 1 1/2 cups cocoa mix in a heavy saucepan. Heat just to boiling. Lower heat and continue to cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, set the timer. Serve in mugs or large cups for hot cocoa, top with whipped cream or marshmallows, if desired. For a quick cold chocolate milk drink, chill before serving. To make only one cup of hot cocoa, use 6 tablespoons of cocoa mix in a mug and add 3/4 cup boiling water, stir.
NOTE: This mix makes a nice hostess or gift exchange present. Include the directions on a gift card.

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup plain water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup plain salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
liquid food coloring

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please remember to supervise at ALL times when cooking with children. DO NOT WALK AWAY, PET THE DOG OR ANSWER THE PHONE! Be the adult in charge, not next of kin on the accident report. Seriously.

To make playdough in the desired color, add a few drops of food coloring to water, or add more for a deeper color. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan, stir with a wooden spoon. Cook mixture on medium heat until it begins to leave the side of the pan, just as with choux paste. Let cool, remove from saucepan, and place in a tightly covered plastic container, or ziplock bag. Place in refrigerator for about 30 minutes before using, it may be too warm for small hands to use. Keep in the frige when not using, and throw it out if it gets too dirty. Will last for about one month. So you know when it's past its prime, write the date playdough was made on a piece of tape and stick onto the side of the container. Make a couple of batches in several colors. Be creative, get out the rolling pins, cookie cutters, wooden sticks, whatever. But if you want to add flavor extracts, remember it may entice kids to eat the playdough. It's up to you. This is great fun to make with your kids or grandkids!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Chef Robert Wemischner Featured On C2C is one of the best places for seriously curious cooks, chefs, bakers, and all who possess more cookbooks than they can remember. Today on the Foodservice Daily page, Chef Bob Wemischner, my baking and pastry instructor, is featured this week with recipes from his book "Cooking With Tea" and he is also the featured chef on the National Honey Board site, click on their foodservice tab. He is absolutely brilliant, a dedicated teacher, knowledgeable, supportive, and he inspired me to continue my studies. I will never forget the day he showed us how to make apple strudel so thin, you could read the newspaper through it. The finished product is on top, covered in confectioner's sugar. Next, Chef Bob is rolling out the strudel dough on to the linen tablecloth I liberated from the Culinary Arts storage room downstairs. Had to promise a slice of strudel to someone in return. That's my bakeshop partner, Elaine, brushing on the eggwash. She is an awesome lady. Good thing I finally learned how to upload these pictures, and good thing I ordered the CD with my double prints! One of these days I will figure out how to link to other websites. (Duh, Mom! I can hear my kids say!) Until then go read about him for yourself on Better yet, check it out on Amazon and go buy his books. Many thanks to Chef Bob!