Tuesday, May 15, 2007

But where has all the rum gone? (said in Cap't Jack Sparrow's slurring pirate accent)

Oh, the rum is right here, my friend, right here.

As I've told you all before, I'm not really big on desserts. However, I've been in the sweets-mode for a few weeks now....and all signs point to this trend continuing for awhile. My friends and co-workers have been lavished with leftover treats recently and now they won't stop pleading for more. What can I say? They're savages (scallywags?). :)

So, in my quest to come up with things that are delicious, I looked through my pantry.




Oh baby, yeah.

Add these all together and discover a most luscious dessert. Yes, indeed, folks ... I'm talking about rum balls. The reason I embarked upon this particular (non)baking quest is simple. It was the last game of the kickball season and my team's name is Red Rum. Get it? Ball? Rum? :)

Rum Balls were clearly in order. Plus, inebriation via pastry is always fun.

The follow recipe is super simple. You can throw this together in just a few minutes and enjoy the rum balls immediately (or wait a few days for an even better treat). These are seriously good -- rich, chocolatey, with a hint of cinnamon, and a punch of rum. yum!

Be warned, however, that these things are super potent. Only serve to those of age (and not driving right away -- having just eaten one of these would make you fail a breathalizer test for sure!)

Rum Balls
-- makes at least 40


--1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (toast the pecans first, let them totally cool, and then pulse very finely - if you don't let them fully cool they will get all pasty...which you don't want, I promise.)

--1 1/2 cups ground vanilla wafers (pulse into a fine powder in a food processor)

-- 3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for garnish

-- 1 teaspoon cinnamon

--2 tablespoons cocoa powder

--2 tablespoons corn syrup

--1/2 cup good quality rum (mix of your favorite -- I used spiced rum and stroh's rum)


1) mix together all ingredients, in order listed, and chill until batter is cool (and less sticky)

2) roll dough into thumb size balls

3) toss them in a bowl with powdered sugar (enough to coat each ball)

4) store in refrigerator


They're even better a few days later. My team adored them (and D and M made me promise to make more soon for them). Enjoy!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

An experiment in fava beans

I'd never had a fava bean before. Sure, I'd heard of them (I am a foodie after all), but I'd never eaten them. However, last week at the Farmer's Market I saw a pile of pretty greenish brown beans with a "fava" sign and couldn't resist.

I shelled one, and popped a raw bean in my mouth. It tasted grassy and clean, with a nutty undertone. I wasn't sure how to prepare them -- I didn't even know if they were meant to be eaten raw.

A pile of shelled favas

After I went home, I did some Googling and discovered that they are usually cooked, and often served with other spring veggies. They are also eaten mashed, with spices. I was tempted by many of the recipes, particularly one in which the fava beans with tossed with peas and mint, but I eventually settled on a risotto.

In all honesty, I ended up a bit disappointed. The fava beans didn't taste like much. They had a pretty color, and a nice texture, but the flavor was bland. Maybe their delicate taste was overwhelmed by the chicken, or the artichokes. Or maybe they are better with another preparation. Or maybe fava beans are just boring. Beats me. I did enjoy the risotto, which is why I'm giving you all the recipe, but the fava beans themself weren't particularly exciting.

Fava bean shells on the left, the shelled beans on the right.

Unshelled, shelled. Up close.

Fava Bean and Chicken Risotto, with Artichokes -- serves 6


--1 large onion, roughly chopped
--3 tablespoons olive oil
--1 1/4 cup risotto rice (arborio)
--salt and pepper, to taste
--5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
--1 cup good white wine

--2 cups shelled, blanched fava beans*
--1 cup quartered, cooked artichoke hearts
--1 cup shredded, cooked chicken


1) Saute the onion in the olive oil until the onions are softened.

2) Stir in the rice, and saute with the onions until the grains of rice get a little translucent and have a white dot in the middle of each one.

3) Add salt and pepper, stir

4) Add a cup of chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally over medium/low heat until the liquid is absorbed.

5) Repeat step 4 with the rest of the cups of chicken broth and the wine (should take about 25 minutes). As you add the liquid, remember not to add the next cup of liquid until the previous cup is absorbed. And, of course, be careful not to let the rice get so dry that it scorches.

6) Just before the final bit of liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy, add the fava beans, artichokes, and shredded chicken. Cook for a few minutes and then turn off the heat. Taste, and adjust seasonings.

To serve:

This is a main dish risotto, just serve with a leafy green salad and a glass of crisp white wine.


Be sure to add enough salt -- I noticed that the risotto was a bit bland at first and salt really perked it up. A squeeze of lemon over top is not a bad call either.

* The fava beans are infinitely easier to shell if they have been blanched in boiling water first. I tried to shell them without blanching them, and it was quite difficult and time consuming. But, after a 1 minute dunk in boiling water and a quick drain, the fava beans are a breeze to shell.

Strawberry Basil Deliciousness

It is getting warm here in sunny southern California -- I've been itching to use our ice cream maker for a few weeks. Luckily, there was a Farmer's Market outside my building last Friday and I picked up some juicy strawberries on my way home. They languished in my refrigerator until they were getting a little soft and I was obligated to use them in something. Sorbet seemed the obvious choice, though pie was a contender for a few minutes. I didn't want to make boring, simple strawberry sorbet though. I wanted something a little exotic.

My thoughts went to other fruits, but they didn't sound fun enough. Then I remembered some flavor combos that I had been intrigued by -- including one with strawberries and and basil.

Now, let me admit something -- I am obsessed with Thai purple basil, and I use it as often as I can. I toss it into salads, stir it into pastas, and drop it into soups. It is a little more fragrant and less licorice-y than green basil. I decided that strawberry *basil* sorbet sounded just unique enough, and I made the following recipe. We devoured it in days. It was divine -- try it and see. Hello, summer. :)

Strawberry Thai Basil Sorbet


-- 5 cups sliced, cleaned, ripe strawberries
--3/4 cup sugar
--3/4 cup water
--1 large bunch Thai purple basil, leaves chiffonaded
--1 ounce vodka
--juice of one lemon


1) Puree the strawberries in a food processor. Put pureed strawberries in the refrigerator for at least one hour

2) Simmer the sugar, water, and basil in a small sauce pan over low heat until the sugar is totally dissolved (5 -6 minutes)

3) Take syrup off the heat and place in refrigerator until cold.

4) Strain the basil leaves out of the syrup if so desired.

5) Stir the syrup, lemon juice, and vodka into the pureed strawberries

6) Freeze according to the ice cream maker's instructions.

To serve:

Scoop into bowls, and garnish with more Thai basil or pretty edible flowers (like we did).


The vodka helps the sorbet stay soft -- actually, any liquor with a compatible flavor would also work. Grand Marnier comes to mind. Without the alcohol (which doesn't freeze) the sorbet gets too hard and icy. However, you don't have to add the alcohol if you don't want to, just be sure to let it soften before you serve.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

There's peanut butter in my chocolate, and all that that implies. Wait... what?

Oh, the things I could admit to you all.

I have a secret love of Jennifer Lopez. I own Tevas *and* Birkenstocks. I once shoved more than 15 marsh mellows in my mouth at one time (on stage in front of thousands of people) and nearly threw up on stage, but managed to hold it in and win the prize. As a teenager I had such a crush on Jonathan Brandis that I wrote a script that added me (as a love interest, of course) into SeaQuest DSV and mailed it to Steven Spielberg. I love canned mushrooms. I sort my Skittles into color piles before I eat them. I still watch Saved By the Bell when I find it on T.V. Believe me, I could go on, but I'll spare you all of the quirky details.

Now, with all of this background, you will be much less surprised to find out that I play on a kickball team. See, if I had come right out with the kickball thing, you might have thought that I was little strange...but with all that information, you aren't a bit thrown off. Pun intended.

Anyway, I joined an adult kickball league shortly after moving to L.A. I didn't know a lot of people and I figured that the kind of adult that plays kickball is my kind of adult. I was right. Fast forward a few months, I've made some great friends, stayed out way too many late nights at local bars, and made an awesome use of my old soccer cleats.

My team is in the playoffs right now, and our captain sent out an email earlier this week saying, "anyone who likes to cook, feel free to bring a baked good to our next game." Now, I know this was directed to me because we had had a conversation at our previous game about 1) how I liked to cook and 2) how I had thought about bringing cookies or something to a game. He managed to cleverly ask me to follow through with my promise by couching it in a request to the entire team. Smart boy. It worked.

I decided to make my mom's fabulous chocolate peanut butter cake bars after scouring my memory for a crowd pleasing, unique dessert. My mom used to make this cake for me to bring to school as a child, and I've never forgotten the rich creamy frosting or the moist chocolaty cake. Even as a kid, I couldn't eat very much of this cake at once. It is so decadent that just a few bites are all that anyone can handle at a time.

Sadly enough, I had a doctor's appointment for the pinched nerve in my elbow and a stack of work to do last night. I had to miss my game. Boo! However, what my kickball team missed out on, my co-workers relished. I brought in these rich, sweet pieces of chocolate peanut butter goodness and they were scarfed in minutes.

I hope this cake becomes a regular in your repertoire -- It has certainly earned a spot in mine.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake Bars*


For the cake:

--1 cup butter
--1/2 cup cocoa
--1 cup water
--1/2 cup buttermilk (or in my case, one scant cup soy milk and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar)
--1 teaspoon vanilla
--2 eggs, well beaten
--2 cups sugar
--2 cups flour
--1 teaspoon baking soda

For the Frosting:

-- 1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter

--1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
--1/4 cup cocoa
--6 teaspoons buttermilk (or soy milk with a tiny splash of apple cider vinegar)
--1 teaspoon vanilla
--1 box confectioners sugar (16 oz.)


Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees

For the Cake:

1) Simmer the butter, cocoa, water, buttermilk, and eggs in a sauce pan on low heat until it bubbles

2) Take mixture off the heat, and stir in the vanilla

3) In a large bowl, stir the sugar, flour, and baking soda together until completely mixed

4) Pour the hot, wet mixture over the dry ingredients. Mix the batter with electric beaters until completely smooth.

5) Pour the batter into a well-greased 9 x 13 pan and bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean (about 25 minutes). Set aside to cool.

For the Frosting:

1) Heat the butter, cocoa, and buttermilk in a sauce pan on low. Stir until butter is melted, cocoa is incorporated, and the mixture is bubbling a little. Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

2) Pour the confectioners sugar into a large bowl and then pour the warm cocoa mixture over the sugar. Beat until smooth. The frosting should be very thick, but if it is impossible to stir, beat in a tiny bit more buttermilk.

To Assemble:

1) Spread the peanut butter over top of the completely cooled cake. Spread the chocolate frosting over the peanut butter, doing your best to maintain the integrity of the layers.

To Serve:

Cut into small pieces. Savor the deliciousness. :)


Next time I plan on using only 1 or 2 eggs. I think I'd prefer a more brownie-like cake, verses the lighter fluffy cake that 3 eggs ensures. I've also debated pouring the cake batter into a larger pan so as to have a more equal cake to frosting ratio, but I've always talked myself out of it because the frosting is so rich it needs a substantial cake layer to balance it out.

* My mom calles it Reese Pieces Cake, but I've changed the name to avoid trademark infringement. Blame it on the IP class I took in law school.