dessert

Alton Brown Bread Pudding Mashup

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This is the bread pudding recipe so good that even those claim to hate bread pudding will ask for a second helping.

In his episode The Proof is in the Bread Pudding, Alton Brown makes a spiced pudding in a bread crust, and a second chocolate version with chunks of challah bread in a pyrex dish. If I was going to attempt this whole bread pudding thing I’d want a custard that was rich and flavorful, had a relatively simple recipe and task list (i.e. pyrex over a perfectly carved crust basin), and perfect texture rather than just damp bread. I decided to balance AB’s two recipes, switch a few items, and add chewy Craisins and Ghirardelli chocolate chunks for texture.

Kate’s Mashup of AB’s Bread Puddings

Ingredients

1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried orange peel
15 whole cloves
15 whole peppercorns
1/2 ounce crystallized ginger, chopped
4 cups half-and-half, divided
2 large whole eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 ounces spiced rum

1 Challah cubed into 1 inch pieces

1/2 Dark Chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% dark cocoa chips)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (optional)

Directions

Place the cinnamon, nutmeg, dried orange peel, cloves, peppercorns, and ginger into 3 cups of half-and-half in a microwavable container and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check the temperature of the mixture and microwave in 30 second increments until it reaches 180 degrees F. Cover and steep 15 minutes.

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Place the eggs and yolks in a blender with an 8-cup carafe. Blend on the lowest speed for 30 seconds. Raise the speed to quarter power and slowly add the sugars and blend until thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Add the remaining cup of half-and-half. With the machine still running, pour in the spiced half-and-half through a small hand strainer and add the rum. Use immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours.

Butter or non-stick spray a 9 by 13-inch metal pan and place the cubed bread in the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and dried cranberries on top of the bread and slowly pour in the custard. Press down on the mixture with a spatula or the back of a spoon (or your hands) to thoroughly saturate. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours, or refrigerate for up to 8 hours. You can do this the night before if you want.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Bake about 40 – 45 minutes. If you’d like your top extra crispy, set your oven to the high broil setting with the oven door slightly ajar. Remove the bread pudding from the oven. Pour the melted butter into a spray bottle and spritz the top of the bread pudding or brush on melted butter carefully. Return to the middle rack and broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

I served mine with vanilla ice cream and leftovers kept for 3 days in the fridge.

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Funny Bone Bites: Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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I don’t know if you heard, but Hostess has gone out of business. Anyone else see the irony in a “snack cake” company biting the dust when Americans are the fattest they’ve ever been?

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Any way, Funny Bones (chocolate ganache covered, peanut butter cream filled chocolate cakes) where just about my Dad’s favorite thing ever. And Drake’s Cakes, the maker of those and such fine things as Ring Dings (shout out to Aunt Ang!) and Coffee Cakes (watch that Seinfeld episode with Newman & Martin in the hospital and with Elaine’s endoscopy), was also owned by Hostess. Damnit. My dad, CHRISTopher, was born on Christmas Day, which means on top of gifts each year, my family also gets cake on December 25th. With Funny Bones officially dead, however, and with my folks traveling at different points this holiday season, I set out to find a chocolatey, peanut buttery substitute that was easy to bake in any kitchen or kitchenette stocked only with the bare necessities, and minimizing what would have to be purchased at the store.

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Funny Bones Cookie

  • 1 box of Devil’s Food cake mix
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

UPDATE: Not all boxed cake mixes are created equal! If your cookie dough is too moist, add 1/4 cup flour and 1 TBSP dutch processed cocoa for much more moldable batter. Your dough may not be crumbly like the photo and may be a little sticky, but keeping a ramekin of water near by to just lightly dip your fingertips in while rolling the dough around the filling will help tremendously. They still come out exactly the same and just as delicious. 

Filling:

  • 5 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (choosey Moms choose Jif…because it has less salt than many others)
  • 1 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • You can substitute everything above under “Filling”, do a caramel version and just use Rolos

Chocolate Coating

  • 11/4 cups bittersweet Ghirardelli chips
  • 1 TBSP + 1 tsp vegetable shortening

*Can you use store bought icing? Yup. Can you just sprinkle each with powder sugar to simplify? Sure. Does ganache make heroes of average men? You betcha!

Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix the Filling ingredients together. Yes, we’re starting with the filling. Once you get the butter, sugar, and peanut butter blended well together, stick it in the fridge to firm up a bit. At that point you can move on to the cookie aspect of this recipe, which is incredibly easy. And it’s meant to be. ‘Cause if given the option of baking while on holiday or drinking a pomegranate martini in a hot tub, which do you think I’ll choose? (Hint: It’s not baking.)

Mix the cake, eggs, and oil together. It will look crumbly, but that’s okay. Its easily moldable.

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Take just about a tablespoon of the oily cake/cookie batter into your hand, roll into a ball and flatten in your palm. Take about a heaping teaspoon of the peanut butter mixture and drop into the center of the cookie. Gently fold the sides of the cookie dough up around the peanut butter. Don’t worry if the dough cracks on you; once the sides are folded up as best as you can, roll lightly into a ball, smoothing cracks with your fingers. If there is any noticeable seam, place that down on the ungreased cookie sheet. Each stuffed ball should be about a heaping tablespoon. You will also probably have some peanut butter mixture left over.

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Bake for 8-10 minutes. I baked mine for 10, but could have easily pulled them from the oven after 9 for a slightly chewier cookie. The cookies will have spread just a little, puffed in the center, and should just start to be cracking on the top. Let cool on the sheet for 5-10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. While cooling, melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 10-15 second intervals, stirring in-between each, until the ganache mixture is nice and runny. Drip about a teaspoon or so of the ganache over each cookie, smoothing with the back of a spoon. There will be more than enough chocolately topping to cover each. I then topped mine with chocolate sprinkles…because why not? Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or so to help the glossy ganache solidify. Makes 26 cookies.

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UPDATE: My mother & friends have both stated – without tasting one of these delectable cookies – that the chocolate sprinkles are over-kill. Now, my heart isn’t as shriveled and black as theirs, but to each his own. They are delicious with or without them. I know, because I’ve eaten entirely too many already.

UPDATE 2: The worst thing about these cookies (that I’ve discovered only just this morning) is that they’re even better the next day, AND they freeze perfectly. And my friends are already on me to “test” this recipe again today. Good thing I went to the gym already today.

Autumn Frying By: Back Yard Gastro Graze

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What, oh what, does one do with a turkey fryer once Thanksgiving is past $60 worth of oil?

Well, if you’re part of my group of friends, you set out to discover what can and can’t be fried.

The Frying Rig.

For safety’s sake, my friends took a direct page from Alton Brown’s book and setup their fryer outside, away from the house, spending about $5 to have the fry basket on a pulley, and wrapping the hose in tinfoil so that in the event of a spill, the hot oil won’t melt through the propane hose.

The weather was cool, the colors bright, every one felt good in the throws of Austin Autumn.

While some planning had to go into what we fried (wet batter that could drip and therefore be more likely to cause burnt bits that would blacken the oil), we started ambitiously with hot wings followed by Brussel sprouts, both fried at 350F degrees. The hot wings were tossed in regular buffalo sauce and Texas Pete Sweet & Fiery, a new favorite of mine. The Brussel sprouts took less than 3 minutes and were amazing both simply salted and sprinkled with Uchiko’s recipe.

Following our bounty of protein and veggie tables, we moved to a pallet cleansing batch of fried baguette crust, cut into strips, dipped into Nutella and served with banana slices. This was particularly satisfying.

Not everything was a success, however. We did attempt a batch of fried cheese curds, that came out more like puffs of hollow crispy shells. They also coated the basket in goo, and we had to break from frying to scrub everything and make sure the oil wasn’t going to burn do to particles.

I had mixed up a batch of green chile biscuit dough, rolled into balls, and stuffed each ball with a small cube of cheese and two drops of chile oil. These were tasty, but needed more seasoning than I mixed into the dough. A good start on something, though, and they were even better the next day, making me think they may need to be a breakfast treat!

Up next were the corn dogs and, while I only got one bite, they were easily my favorite of the afternoon. And it goes without saying that they disappeared the fastest, loved by adults, kids, and X-1.

X knows where the good stuff is…

But the day wasn’t just about getting together to eat unnecessary calories. We learned, we taught each other, we enjoyed the sunshine. The was quality time…

“Quality” time of the future.

We taught Nicco how to use the horn on her Batmobile and how to make deep “Tooooooot” train sounds with an empty bottle. We chatted and allowed the kids to exhaust us, using the adults and trees as jungle gyms.

And what would an afternoon be without dessert, a dessert that appreciates Autumn’s bounty of apples, of course?! The amazing Tania whipped up two different kinds of fried apple pie, one in pie crust, and one in a simple biscuit dough, as recommended by Paula Deen. We were somewhat surprised to find that Deen’s dough was far lighter and more substantial (and far less greasy) than the simple pie dough! Both were dipped in a fantastic caramel sauce from Austin’s own Foreign & Domestic.

It was an afternoon of ease, experimentation, humor, good company, beautiful weather, and joy. It was a second Thanksgiving Day, it was perfect for a Sunday in Autumn. One final note: we did eventually get the cheese curds to come out better…though not all together perfect. When Sarah wanted to get a few more, her husband, not standing too far from the curds said “Well, kick the dog, drop the baby, and get over here!” rather than leave the table himself, because they were disappearing all too fast. (Yes, of course he was kidding! But it’s a funny picture non-the-less.)

Guilt-Free Peach Crisp

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In my 1,978 attempt to will Austin to have an Autumn, I decided to make a crisp on this abnormally cool day. I’m bored with the expected and somewhat plain sweetness that comes with a peach or apple crisp, however, and really wanted to try to make a light version. With the entire 8 X 8 inch pan containing only 3 tablespoons of butter and 1.5 tablespoons of brown sugar for “bad” fat and sweetness, I had to ramp of my peach crisp’s flavor in terms of spices.

And the whole reason I made this a peach crisp was because I was too lazy to go out and get apples.

Guilt-Free Peach Crisp

3 large Peaches, about 5 cups of slices cut 1/4 inch thick (skin on)

1 TBSP flour, plus 2 tsps

1/2 cup oats

3 TBSP cold butter, cut roughly into 1/2 inch cubes

1 1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice, divided

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp white pepper (you can use black if need be)

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt, divided

3 TBSP red wine (I used a Pinot Noir)

Preheat your oven to 375.  Spray an 8″ x 8″ with nonstick cooking spray. Layout a single layer of peach slices; it’s fine if the edges over lap. Lightly sprinkle about a teaspoon of flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin spice over this layer. They shouldn’t be completely or evenly covered, just a scattered sprinkling will do. Add another 2 layers of peach slices. My peaches made roughly 3 layers, filling in holes here and there where needed. You don’t want to merely stack the slices on top of each other, but you should stagger them, making sure there are no gaps. On the top layer, sprinkle another teaspoon of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

In a bowl, combine the oats, butter, brown sugar, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, and remaining flour and pumpkin pie spice. I found the best way to do this was with my fingers, mashing everything together until everything had formed small clumps. Sprinkle these clumps as evenly as possible over the top of the layered peach slices. Bake the crisp on the center rack for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes in the oven, drizzle the 3 tablespoons of red wine over the top of the peaches. This will mingle with the peach juices, flour, and spices making a fantastic syrupy sauce by the time it’s through cooking. Continue baking an additional 15-20 minutes or until the peaches are tender and the juices are bubbling around the edges. Let the crisp cool on the counter for 10-15 minutes; this will thicken the sauce as well.

With only 372 calories and 27 grams of fat from the brown sugar and butter in the entire pan, this winds up being a very guilt-free dessert. This means, divided into 6 large servings, it’s only 62 calories and 4.5 grams of fat from added sugar and butter! And those are big servings. You can easily get away with doing 8 servings to save even more. Yes, you can make this with sugar substitutes if need be, but as I am not diabetic, I’d rather eat the small amount of sugar and save myself from the chemicals and sodium of artificial sweeteners.

In lieu of ice cream, I served my crisp with a dollop of Chiobani Vanilla Chocolate Chip Greek Yogurt. The flavor of the wine had become delicate, but a nice noticeable addition to the usual plainly sweet crisp, and you can see all the spices in the golden syrup that it creates. The best thing about this very flavorful dessert, is that you don’t feel the need to run on a treadmill or brush the excess sugar of your teeth right after eating it. Perfect for Fall, and a great ending to a dinner party – or even as an afternoon snack of comfort food!

Light Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

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I’m in Austin. It’s a million degrees out here, on this second to last day of September. But I’m continuing in my quest to will it to be Autumn. Visiting a friend for a party tonight, I decided to bring a pumpkin cake. I like pumpkin bread, but tonight I wanted something more, yet light. This recipe has no oil or butter in it and makes for an ultra moist, but not too sweet dessert that’s great for company, coffee, or a night playing Beatles Rock Band. Breaking out my bundt pan and whipping together a brown sugar cream cheese filling, I set to work making an easy, but flavorful Fall cake.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

1 box Spice Cake Mix

1 15oz can pumpkin

1.5 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 tsp nutmeg

1 3.4oz butterscotch Instant Pudding Mix

2 eggs

2 TBSP Greek Yogurt

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Filling

12 oz. room temperature Cream Cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the cake ingredients. The cake batter will be sticky and thick, but fluffy, almost like icing. If it’s seems too thick, sticky, or dense to stir of manipulate add another big tablespoon of yogurt. In a separate bowl, whip together the cream cheese filling ingredients and place in the fridge for a few minutes.On a side note, I tend to not like things overly sweet and to me the pumpkin cake with cream cheese brown sugar mixture is more than enough. That being said, add 2 TBSP to 1/4 cup of granulated sugar to the cake mixture if you like it as sweet as usual cakes.

Grease or spray non-stick spray in a bundt cake pan and sprinkle with flour. Scoop in roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the batter into the pan and spread evenly, making a little indenture in the center while doing it. The cream cheese will sit in this like a circular river of deliciousness. Next remove the cream cheese mixture from the fridge and dollop it in the indentation around the cake batter as evenly as possible. Next, top the cream cheese with the remaining cake batter, being careful to cover all the exposed cream cheese. Smooth the top as best you can.

Bake for 45-55 degrees or until a tooth pick comes out clean. Let cool at least 20 minutes before flipping out of the bundt pan. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, slice, and serve. It’s moist, it’s delicious, it’s low fat, low sugar, and it screams Autumn comfort!

Orange White Chocolate Craisin Cookies

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A rainy day in Austin is like Christmas. To be able to open one’s windows, allow the breeze to come through is a rarity that must be thoroughly appreciated. I celebrate by making cookies. I don’t like to bake sweet crap too often, but when I do, I normally do it on a Sunday so the extras can either be baked into individual servings for lunches throughout the week or just brought into the office and dumped on less fatty coworkers.

Rather than making those heavy super mega chocolate cookies I normally make, I decided I wanted something lighter, fresher, something that would be great with a cup of coffee. I decided to take a usual cookie recipe and tweak by lightening the sugar and adding a little lemon, fruit, and love. Okay, not love, but I did really like the way they turned out. I call them Lemon White Chocolate Craisin Cookies ’cause I like the alliteration at the end there. I’m sure it should probably be something like the orange White Chocolate Craisin is a trademarked name of the Ocean Spray Company Cookies, or the much less exciting Lemon White Chocolate Dried Cranberry Cookies, but who the hell cares?

Lemon White Chocolate Craisin Cookie

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup backed brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 TBSP juice of a lemon

zest of one orange (about 3 tsps)

2 1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cups Ghirardelli white chocolate chips. I know, that’s pretentious, but they really are the best for baking.

1/2 cup dried cranberries (Guess which brand I used?)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the butter and sugar until delicious creamed. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until incorporated. Add the lemon juice (and take the 2 seconds and spend the 30 cents on a reallemon for that) and zest, and whip until it’s all combined.

Now at this point I’m supposed to tell you something like “In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda, then add slowly to the butter mixture…”, but I’m not going to tell you that. I made this recipe a couple of times (that’s what you do when you test and create recipes), once doing the flour and crap whisked in a separate bowl, and once at the end just adding it ingredient by ingredient. I’m going to blow your mind: It made NO difference. None. I bake to make my house smell all warm, fuzzy, and comforting, and to make my fatass fatter. Not for the delicate art of it all.

SO, once you got the butter and everything else mixed, add the flour. I added it a cup first, mixing well, then a cup and a half just so it wouldn’t make a mess. Then the salt, and then the baking soda. Mix until everything is combined. Add the white chocolate and the Craisins last; I have to do this quickly or I find my friends poaching the best ingredients.

Spray a cookie pan with nonp-stick spray and bake heaping tablespoon balls of dough, eight at a time per sheet for 10-12 minutes. I like my cookies chewy, so I did about 11 minutes on these. This recipe makes 24 good-sized cookies, not “fun” size, which is a size I call “small as crap”. I took a picture below of the sized balls of dough versus the final product to give you an idea of size. I don’t have huge man hands or weirdo tiny girl hands like I’m still a child, but I don’t like the way they look in this photo either…

I found these the right sweetness to have with a cup of coffee in lieu of a biscotti. There is a simple glaze, however, that really gives them an extra punch of lemony flavor. When I asked my buds if they “needed” the glaze their response was thus:

“I’m not going to say the need the glaze, because they’re very tasty, but….well, everything’s better with stuff on top.”

My friends loved this glaze like a six year old loves Dunkaroos, but I prefer them without, or with very little glaze.

Simple Lemon Glaze for Anything, but Especially Good with these Cookies

1 cup confectioners sugar

3 TBSP orange juice

The zest of 1 lemon

Whisk everything together and drizzle lightly over cooled cookies. Or french toast. Or pork chops. Hell, it’s simple and awesome, throw it on anything. But make sure to enjoy the cookies.

Summer Cakes: Berries, Lemon, & David Bowie

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Summer desserts have to be easy, fun, and minimal on oven time.

I want a flavor that reminds me of my childhood, bright, complex, lemony, and sweet. I also bought my first ever bundt pan, so I want to make something in that, because I didn’t spend $8 for nothin’! I took a simple cake recipe and added a bit of lemon flavors, creaminess, and berries to make the plain extraordinary, and then coated it in a glaze because why not?

Cake:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks/1 cup room temperature butter

1/3 vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 TBSP lemon curd

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 TBSP honey

1 1/4 cup berries, fresh or thawed from frozen, and pureed. (I used a blend of strawberries, blue berries, and raspberries, but any will work)

Glaze:

1 TBSP lemon juice (or use 1/2 TBSP lemon juice and 1/2 TBSP lime juice)

Zest of 1 lemon

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease the crap outta your bundt pan. In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside. Blend the eggs, oil, butter, sugar, lemon curd, lemon juice and zest until smooth. The lemon may make the butter look almost as if it’s curdled; don’t worry about it. Using a spatula combine the wet mixture into the flour mixture. The batter will seem thicker than your average cake batter.

In yet another bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt, honey, and sour cream. Fold or cut the cream mixture into the cake mix. Pour 1/2 of the the pureed berries into the batter and mix slightly. Pour the second half into the batter, but don’t mix, let it hang out all messy like.

Pour/dollop the batter into the bundt pan and cook on the middle rack of your preheated over for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool at least 20 minutes before inverting it and removing from the bundt pan. Let the cake cool at least another 30 minutes before pouring the glaze over the cake and letting the excess drip over the sides. You can also poke small toothpick holes all over the cake before topping with glaze to really allow the sweetness to penetrate the freshly baked goodness. One of my favorite things about this is that it’s flavorful without being very sweet, so a slice in the morning is a great alternative to coffee cake or some other stale pastry.

Want a simpler version? Get a boxed lemon cake mix, prepare the batter according to the directions with the addition of the juice of a lemon, mix in the sour cream concoction noted above, pour in the berries just as I mentioned previously, and bake in a bundt pan according to the box. It’s a faster, less involved way to meet the same ends.

And in the spirit of cakes, a friend made a sheet cake of psychedelic colors, and an airbrushing of Aladdin Sane, in honor of the 40th anniversary of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was delicious and absolutely worth sharing here.

Austin Gastro Graze 1: Michi Ramen, Moo Bawk Oink, and Krak 2

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I like trying new things. By “things” I mean food.

Living in Austin means I get an ever evolving restaurant scene in which to bask in beautiful tasty goodness.

This past weekend I ventured to the North Austin Trailer Yard, NATY. Some bites were simple meh, but one place was amazing.

This trailer yard is right outside my gym, which is…unfortunate. It makes circuit training much less effective. But that’s mostly due to the good food found within.

On Saturday we ordered a beef Snarky cheese steak from Boo Bawk Oink and a Black and White Donut from Krak 2 which is within the same trailer as Moo Bawk Oink and a bottle of water. The entire tab came to $13, which we considered to be a bit pricey for trailer food. The sandwich was overly bready and the meat what I believe to be pulled brisket, in fact at first I questioned if it was pork, a little dry, but not bad. I prefer the horrible cheesesteak sliced meat, but it was a decent sandwich. The jalapenos are not spicy and the cheese more like white goo sauce. Good enough to try, not sure if I’d go back, especially considering its competition at NATY.

The donut was actually a square piece of fried dough with a whole in the center, drizzled with icing, hershey’s chocolate sauce, and Cocoa Krispies. According to the prices on Boo Bawk Oink’s website our sandwich and bottled water was $8. There weren’t prices for Krak 2 and aren’t any on their website, but based on our tab the donut was $5. While the fried dough “donut” was tasty – what fried dough isn’t? – it wasn’t worth $5. It was essentially a large beignets. Now, if it came with a scoop of ice cream then I’d dig the $5…

We also ordered a bowl of ramen from Michi Ramen. Michi Ramen is, in a word, AMAZING. Flavor, rich, warm, traditional, the comfort food you never knew your craved. Michi only has the room to create 50 bowls of Ramen for lunch and 50 for dinner, so their twitter is merely a count down of the bowls they have left. At noon on a Saturday, however, Chip and I had no problem scoring a bowl. The line was steady, though, and for good reason: As an American who thinks of ramen as those dried 38cent packets you can get at the grocery store. What Michi serves is incredible, flavorful, and even served with a poached egg if so desired. The broth is cooked for almost TWO DAYS with all natural ingredients (this is their claim, but boy does it taste like it!), pork bones, leaking their delicious marrow and flavors into a rich base for a ultra flavorful lunch/dinner. The standard ramen is served with two slices of Cashu on top, gorgeous, fatty, soy marinated braised pork. It was $9, but in this case it was money well spent. I took home our left over broth, let it coagulate and then sauteed spinach in it with the next night’s dinner of grilled steak and mashed cauliflower.

Yeah. It was awesome.

Yes, under the pork and poached egg and mushrooms there are ramen noodles.

Easy Fire-Free S’Mores

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In Austin we have the very weird problem of summer actually not being the season for S’mores. I love me some s’mores. All gooey, chocolatey, crunchy, sugary, and delicious. The thing is that here it gets entirely too hot to stand outside, have a fire toast a few ‘mallows, and throw together a s’more. Your chocolate will be melted by the heat of the sun, the flies will be all over you, and most of the time there’s a burn ban against fire pits anyway. Yes, we Austinites have 2 days of cooler days a year, Flash Not-Summer, where we can actually toast marshmallows for s’mores. Our seasons are as follows: Pre-Summer (January – February), Summer (March – October), Slightly Lesser Summer (November – December 29th), and, of course, Flash Not-Summer (December 30-31).

So, what to do? You can always microwave yourself one, but the chocolate is still hard as a rock and the graham cracker gets tough.

The simple answer: use your microwave for a simple ganache and make magic by swapping out the marshmallows for Fluff.

On a cookie sheet lined with wax paper I placed 14 graham cracker halves. I like a good amount of fluff, so in the center of each cracker I dropped s heaping tablespoon of the white stuff, allowing it to settle and spreading with a butter knife prayed with non-stick spray where needed. In a microwave-safe bowl I poured the contents of a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips with 5-6 tablespoons of butter.

I microwaved the mixture in spurts for no more than 12 seconds at a time, stirring at each break. Once the chocolate was melted, I dropped a spoonful, about a level tablespoon, onto the fluff. I placed a graham cracker 1/8th onto the top of each so that the eater would have a place to hold with their fingertips without getting all gooey. Then I placed them in the fridge for 30 minutes to setup a bit.

I was tempted to add strawberry slices to a few and peanut butter to a couple. You could really do so many toppings that would stick perfectly to the fluff, even bananas with a little peanut butter on top for an Elvis inspired treat.

More than anything, though, I recommend these for any time you need an easy chocolate fix or a dessert you can make with your kids. You can keep leftovers in tupperware on the counter for about 3 days or in the fridge for about 5 until the graham starts softening.

Putting the Ass in Class: Champagne Jello Shots

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It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m hosting!…but I’m also cheap. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I still like to have a good time. This year to stretch the food spread and the booze budget I will be making Champagne Jello shooters.

This is a no-brainer: Jello is made of one part boiling water to one part cold water. Simply replace the cold water with chilled white wine, champagne, or other bubbly. Yes, you can also use vodka, but using champagne is far less Frat Boy esque. That being said I did once try watermelon jello made with coconut rum and, other than being so sweet that your could only keep down one sample of it, it was very tasty. You can get some decent tasting super cheap champagne nowadays (I assume the grapes are from the Champagne region of New Jersey, but it works, none the less). You can also use white wine or prosecco; red wine would be just too intense if using a flavored jello, which I am.

And, yes, you can use sugar free jello. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re drinking so much one night that you’re doing jello shots, than the last thing you’re really doing is calorie counting. And even the regular jello has only, like, 8 calories per serving. It’s just nil, so get over it.

So, jello shooters. Why the hell not? Let’s do this.

You will need:

*Jello/Gelatin. If using red wine you can use unflavored gelatin, which has no flavor, but smells like a wet dog when you add water. Tonight I will be using Lime jello to go with a spumante champagne, and strawberry flavored to go with a pink blush I picked up…because sometimes I’m girlier than other times.

*Boiling water. Follow the directions on the box. I purchased two of the larger sized boxes of jello; they call for 2 cups boiling water per flavor and that’s what I’m using.

*Chilled Champagne/Wine/Booze. A 750ml bottle will yield 3.5-4 cups of chilled liquid for jello. And it must be cold. You use equal parts cold drink as you use boiling water, exactly as specified on the boxed jello directions.

*Mini serve cups. I’m using paper dixie cups, but I would have really preferred something plastic or wax coated, which these are not. Not good for have a congealed liquid sitting in them for hours, but they will work just fine.

*A tray to hold all your mini serve cups. I’m using a pyrex baking pan and a cookie sheet.

*A fridge. Duh.

Boil water. Boil more than two cups; you never know how much will evaporate. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, pack your glass baking dish or cookie sheet with mini cups. Having them edge to edge means that if you get a little sloppy when pouring the mixture into the cups to chill, the drips will wind up IN the surrounding cups rather than around their bases.

Once boiling, measure 2 cups of water (if using the large size jello box or if making a double batch of the regular size packages. Again, follow the directions on the box.), preferably into a glass, pour spout measuring cup. Pour the the water into a heat proof bowl and stir with a non-stick spatula until the jello is completely dissolved. Don’t use a wooden spoon for this unless you want a permanently jello-dyed wooden kitchen utensil as a constant reminder of your clASSy jello shots.

When you go to open your bottle of champagne, wrap a towel around the cork so it doesn’t fly off, and slowly, gently pull. Sometimes it won’t even make that huge popping sound, but you’re guaranteed not to waste a drop of champagne this way or hurt an innocent bystander.

Once the jello has been dissolved in the boiling water let it cool for just a minute or two. Then measure equal parts champagne to your boiling water, in my case 2 cups. The measure is after the foam has subsided, so measure it out slowly. Again, a glass measuring cup with a pour spout is best for this and you can pick those up cheap any where if you don’t already have one.

Pour the champagne into the bowl with the hot water and dissolved jello and gently mix. Gently! Then pour slowly into dixie cups. They will foam up quite a bit so fill them each only about 1/2-2/3 of the way full and move onto the next cup until the foam settles. You can top them off later if you’d like.

Once your cups are full or you’re out of boozetastic jello mixture, refridgerate for at least 4 hours or over night.

Then enjoy!

I thought that the champagne bubbles would become transfixed in the jello making an almost Pop Rocks-like sensation when you’d suck one back. It doesn’t, not completely…so, sorry to – wait for it – burst your bubble.