Chocolate-covered strawberries

When I drunkenly asked a coworker what I should bring to celebrate Benjamin Franklin’s birthday a week prior, I figured she’d ask for one of the store-bought cakes I usually buy, brownies, or cookies. Instead, she immediately popped out with “chocolate covered fruit!” in total excitement. I agreed, and decided I’d take up the challenge anyway. After all, I have mastered some new challenges already, and knew I’d have plenty of time to learn.

So I procrastinated until about five hours before work before even looking up a recipe. How in the world DO you make chocolate-covered strawberries, anyway? Was this going to be my first cheat at the spirit (but not the law) of restaurant abstinence, where I dip over to a local chocolaterie and beg them to expensively do it for me at the last minute? I didn’t even own a double-why-did-they-stack-the-pots(?).

Through patience, YouTube, Google, and about an hour of searching for the one double-boiler Bed Bath and Beyond does carry, I figured it out. As it turns out, dipping strawberries isn’t hard all.

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I emptied three 10oz bags of chocolate chips into the double boiler, and set that sucker to heat up on medium-high. While the chips melted, I washed the strawberries. One blogger advised that the strawberries needed to be very dry, and suddenly I found myself with wet strawberries and melted chocolate. Unsure whether that chocolate would get too hot or change consistency, I decided to go for drying them more quickly…with my blow dryer. What? It makes my hair dry faster, too. It was a stroke of kitchen-genius.

Just as I was blow-drying strawberries, my pal Chad arrived. We’d agreed to hang out, and he sacrificed his time to taste my strawberries. While I ate my real dinner, he even dipped about half of them and didn’t roll his eyes where I could see them when I showed him my picky, perfectionistic ways of dipping. Dip, let it run, tap the extra off on the sides, and turn it upside down before putting it on the parchment paper, okay?

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In a little less than an hour, we’d covered four pounds of strawberries in three-and-a-half pounds of chocolate. I just kept adding chocolate to the boiler until I’d finished all of the berries. Each parchment paper-covered cookie sheet sat in the fridge for about 15 minutes. For the white chocolate decorating, I bought Hershey’s vanilla chips, and heated about four ounces of them in a bowl in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until the stuff was molten. I used a fork to drizzle, quickly moving back and forth over the berries.

As we enjoyed tasting and talking, we popped open a bottle of wine. Despite my lack of posting about it here, I actually drink a fair amount of red wine — usually blends, merlots, cabs, and pinots. Because we’d had a terrible bottle of shitty red zinfandel aptly named “Poizon” before, I’d bought this bottle for us to drink this time:

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So here’s to Benjamin Franklin’s 309th birthday, and more hundred dollar bills in the coming year!

Steak, macaroni and cheese, and avocado pudding

Macaroni and cheese is, without a doubt, by a long shot, my favorite food. If I wasn’t a responsible adult, I’d eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. I might even marry it, yes.

I like macaroni and cheese more than I like most people.

So when I invited a friend over at the last minute, just an hour before she was set to arrive for dinner, I had to think fast. I pulled a recipe for the mac and cheese I’d really been craving the past few weeks from the Better Homes and Gardens gluten-free magazine special edition, and ran with it. The only thing I changed was the Beau Monde seasoning. I had no idea what the hell that was, so I googled it and threw in the tiniest little pinches of cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, celery seed, white pepper, black pepper, and ground up a little corner of a bay leaf to add. It turned out just fine with what I had. Over the top, I grated some smoked gruyere, and would incorporate that straight into the sauce next time. I added all of the cheese to the sauce slowly, to give it a chance to melt rather than clump up.

(Recipes in photo form below.)

The avocado pudding only happened because I stumbled on the recipe as I searched for the macaroni and cheese recipe in the same magazine, and noticed that I happened to have all of the ingredients. Chocolate pudding made from avocados? No way! I had to try it. I love avocados, but this was one use I hadn’t imagined. Of course, I used avocado milk in both recipes instead of cattle milk.

I briefly tried mashing the pudding with a fork to save myself the trouble of washing the blender later, but couldn’t get the avocado to blend and smooth out like “real” pudding that way. Trust me: just use the stupid blender. It wasn’t hard to wash a few days later.

Results? The pudding was so mousse-like, and so decadent and rich that I couldn’t eat more than a few spoonfuls without feeling the sugar rush over me and the urge to stop eating such a lovely, fatty desert. The substance that the avocado provided was so wonderful, I can’t even imagine what non-veggie item might take its place in an alternate recipe. It even kept for two days in the fridge without getting that stupid “skin” over the top of it, as some boxed recipes may do.

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What I learned from this meal was that sometimes, just following the damn recipe is enough. Sometimes other peoples’ ideas were great to start out with, and messing with them is totally unnecessary. I’d make both of these things again just as they were, but I think tweaking the macaroni and cheese recipe over the coming year will be fun and challenging for me.

Pumpkin alfredo, caprese, peanut butter cookies

After a terrifying brush with death in a blizzard yesterday, I was understandably interested in some comfort food. I was on my way back from my road trip, and I knew some snow was coming. Being a hearty, life-long Midwesterner, I brushed the meteorological reports off as getting some snow and unnecessary panic. Those of us who have lived through many cold, snowy winters shrug at the snow reports. Winter. That’s just winter. Anyway, I slid past a 20-car pile-up without hitting anything, barely, and continued on my way — to the grocery store. Again. I have a feeling I’ll have to find a second home at the grocery store this year, as real food spoils fast.

I’ve made this recipe for pumpkin fettuccine alfredo before, and remembered just how simple and quickly the comfort food hit my table. What I should have done was follow the recipe, but instead, I forgot the parmesan and the sage at the store and wandered around there like a blind moron during a “snowpocalypse” grocery store run. I miss autumn.

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Sometimes, the mistakes are a part of the learning process, right? Well, I was hell-bent on making the pumpkin alfredo after I’d dumped my heavy cream and pumpkin into the saucepan, so I went ahead with it. When I realized I’d forgotten the parmesan cheese, I dumped the leftover ricotta in the sauce, thereby giving it what little cheese flavor that ricotta does have. This is definitely a dish that needs an earthy, salty, hard, punch-y cheese. I figured I’d add some protein and use the ground turkey I’d made on the first before I had to throw it out, and tossed that in the sauce. I didn’t toss in the garlic, or follow the recipe much at all. I was living outside the box! Making it up! And feeling awfully cocky after some cooking success in the previous days.

I dumped in salt, too much thyme because it came out of the jar too fast, not enough oregano, black pepper, and ground sage to save the earthy flavor a little. Ground sage, pals, is nothing like the real thing. In a separate pan, I sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, and garlic in butter. I added those to top it off.

Honestly? Follow that recipe link above. It’s great, it’s fast, and it’s so easy. I had much better luck with it before. If it were me, I’d even grate the parmesan fresh off the block instead of buying packaged shaved pieces, like I’m always tempted to do instead of cleaning a cheese grater by hand. To really go for the gold on this one, use organic pureed pumpkin if you can find it (better flavor), or cook and puree your own and add a little more pumpkin than cream — maybe a cup and a third instead of just one cup.

On the side, I made a favorite: caprese salad. Caprese is only about as hard as chopping the things you need: fresh mozzarella slices, a big tomato, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar salad dressing. When I’m feeling frisky, I even add pickled red onions, which I could eat all day straight from the jar I pickle them in.

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After screwing up and eating my mistake (which wasn’t that bad, it just lacked in the amount of flavor I expected and loved from it before), I had to shovel the driveway. I hate shoveling. I really, really fucking hate shoveling. I have two herniated discs in my back, and wonky hip ligaments that like to throw me for a loop once in awhile. After coming inside, I thought I’d make some cookies for the kids next door, since they helped and did a great job. I casually flipped through a Better Homes and Gardens special Gluten-Free magazine issue that my mother gave to me, and out of nowhere appeared this recipe:

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I mean, how much easier could a cookie recipe be? It didn’t even include any fancy flours I don’t have, and I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand. I chose to roll mine in sugar at the end, as the recipe suggests, but instead of using parchment paper (who has parchment paper laying around?) I just slid a tiny bit of olive oil around a nonstick cookie sheet. A few notes for the cooking challenged like me, though: by “set in the center” they actually mean, “bake for 11-12 minutes and take the fragile things out of the oven, duh.” I carefully tried not to break them as I transferred them to a cool plate (who has wire racks?), and let them harden. They were great while they were still warm, and worth reheating in the microwave the next morning for a lazy snack in bed.

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