Yum! Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Homemade Cream

To Cake or Not to Cake . . .

I’m standing in the middle of the Giant food store, and I don’t know whether to feel guilty or justified when I am thinking that Betty Crocker’s Angel Food Cake boxed mix, a “recipe” that only has one other ingredient necessary—water, is just too much for me to even consider making.

Aisle 5: I pick up the cake mix and ponder. This lady next to me is grating my nerves because she keeps going from one side of the cake section to the other. I move my cart out of her way, to no avail. Where ever I am standing, she is also. Hey, Lady, I am debating Angel Food here, okay. Is there something I can do you for? After about one minute of this, she decides on one of those Betty Crocker mini-microwave desserts and then ambles down the aisle with her cart. Au revoir.

Now I’ve a moment to consider my dessert options.

Let’s see. I’ve already planned to cook a Winter Pasta* from 101 Cookbooks that I can only hope goes well because making the dish involves pots, bowls, strainers, and a food processor, for crying out loud. My counter has been screaming at me, “I can only house so much cooking paraphernalia.”

Well, la ti da is my response. We cover you in granite, and this is what we get?

While making the pasta does involve a gadget this or a tool that, making dessert really does not, unless we’re talking about the hand mixer, which I will use to make homemade cream . . . to top the strawberries . . . that will top this cake that will or will not be. If I make the cake, then we’ll have a gadget parade and lots of cake lying around over the weekend.

These two thoughts are cumbersome. Back goes the cake mix. Must. Remember. Rule: Make baked goods on a work night. When my co-workers aren’t in the mood to eat baked goods (in January, right after New Year’s resolutions), I simply stand in the hallway of the high school where I teach, hold the baked good away from my body and watch a congregation of teenage boys form.

Cake mix returned, now I move on to the dairy aisle. Yep, I’ll make strawberries and cream—oh, and chocolate! Really, there must be chocolate. Return to aisle five. Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate chips, to melt. Then just freeze the rest of the chips. Yes, freezing them helps me justify the purchase. Also, berries are good for me, and the cream’ll be eaten up in a jif. Angel Food cake is overrated anyhow when there is chocolate in the vicinity.

With my problems solved, I stroll toward the checkout counter.

Enter discount code . . . Beep. Beep. Beep.

Then again, just imagine that berries, chocolate and cream atop the Angel food cake? Yikes, what a combo!

To the man in line behind me, “Excuse me, sir, can you hold on just a sec? I’m just running over to aisle five for something I forgot?” He rolls his eyes at me. I just knew he’d understand.

Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Cream

Really, though, I never went back for the Angel Food cake. That was just for the narrative. If you wanted to make it a part of this dessert, however, it’d be a great addition. This dessert, as presented, is really easy to make, and if you prepped the cream and cut the berries beforehand, it’d be a fabulous dessert for when you have guests. Another idea to make it even easier for having guests is to melt the chocolate and dip the strawberries beforehand for chocolate-covered strawberries and then just put it all into a bowl for presentation and top it with the cream when the time arrives. Even easier? Store-bought whipped cream, but I’d suggest making the homemade cream every time. You’ll be glad you did.  

Prep level:    Super easy                               

Total time/actual prep time:   25/12                Serves: 4-6

Ingredients :

  • ½ pint Heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Approximately 1.5 Tablespoons powdered sugar (add to taste)
  • four pinches of cream of tartar
  • 1 lb. strawberries
  • approximately 5 oz. dark chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli.)

Instructions:

To prep homemade cream:

  1. (preferable but still optional) Place hand mixer beaters and bowl in freezer for about 10 minutes.

  2. Remove items from freezer. Pour heavy cream into bowl. Beat with electric hand mixer on low for approximately four minutes.

  3. As you are mixing, add in vanilla and powdered sugar and cream of tartar. Mix for another 1-2 minutes. Place in refrigerator while you prep the rest of the dish. *I beat the cream until it is frothy and thickened; most recipes tell me that the cream will thicken enough to form peaks, but I honestly managed only to form light peaks. The cream of tartar is what helps with this; if you do not have cream of tartar or do not want to buy it just for this, you can skip it, but the cream will not become as firm.

To prep strawberries and chocolate:

  1. Rinse strawberries and cut the stems from each. Then, cut the berries into bite-sized pieces. Put in refrigerator.
  2. Into a small saucepan set to low heat and pre-warmed*, add chocolate chips. Constantly stir until chocolate is smooth. *For best results, do not pour chips into room temperature sauce pan.

Preparation:

  1. Into a small bowl or medium-sized coffee mug, add a hearty layer of berries and hefty dollops of both the chocolate and the cream. Finally, top with a small dollop of chocolate and a small strawberry, for garnish. Serve immediately.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

*You saw Winter Pasta listed in the narrative preceding the dessert recipe. It turned out to be a delicious dish worthy of sharing and a great use for kale.

Cookie Time! Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

How do you come up with the name for a cookie that you just completely made up? Well, sort of made up.

My mother used to make these delicious, little cookies with chow mein noodles in them. What else? Maybe butterscotch? Yes, yes, butterscotch. What else? I cannot remember.

Call the recipe-ist? Tempting.

However, this was an opening to get into the kitchen to just do. To just put a new twist on an old memory . . . and to give this creation, if it worked, an obnoxious name. Here’s the result:

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

Maybe now you can use them to act out a play where Clusters the First bears a myriad of sons and one day pisses off Clusters the Second. It’s your play, so you’ll have to think of the conflict, but the end should result in a chow mein catastrophe.

Once I made this recipe, I proceeded to do research because I knew my cookies wouldn’t be lucky enough to be the archetype. Sure enough, endless recipes abound for a recipe similar to mine — all called “____ Haystacks,” usually “Butterscotch Haystacks.” Plenty of people have also thrown chocolate in there, too.

I hereby declare that with this recipe, there are three key differences, however:

a) No need for a double boiler to melt your chocolate. This boiler might sound exciting to use, but I’m working on limited room in my kitchen, so I cannot spare another tool–unless it is a panini maker. Ina Garten said that she loves hers, so I now need one. You can use a microwave to melt chips, if need be, but something about that subtracts from the experience.

b) This recipe includes chocolate. The chocolate part isn’t original, but a chocolate addition to anything sure is delicious. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but to accommodate anti-chocolate lovers, sub in more butterscotch where the chocolate should be.

c) The haystacks stamp is nowhere to be found. Don’t you find the idea of eating a Cluster the First appeals more to your need for power than does eating a haystack? Haystacks are rough and functional; Clusters the First are for real men, women and children who have both a real lust for cookies and a need to snap a twig off of a tree if that twig gets up in their way.

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

Difficulty level:  Easy       

Total time:  10 minutes prep/2 hours in refrigerator     

Yields:   16 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups La Choy (or similar) chow mein noodles
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or Nestle chocolate chunks)
  • 1 Tablespoon milk (optional, to add creaminess to melted chips)

LET’S DO THIS!!

  1. Pour two cups of chow mein noodles into a medium-sized bowl. You can chop the chow mein noodles with large, sturdy spoon, if desired. (The smaller you make the pieces, the more you can taste the chocolate. The larger, the more you can taste the noodles and butterscotch.)
  2. Add peanut butter and honey to chow mein noodles. Mix enough so that peanut butter, honey and chow mein noodles are rough mixture.
  3. In a small saucepan, over medium low heat, add butterscotch chips and 1/2 Tablespoon milk (milk optional). Stir for about two minutes, until the chips are melted together and are the consistency will be of fairly smooth peanut butter.
  4. Add melted butterscotch to the existing chow mein mixture and stir. This time, look for your mixture to mesh.
  5. In the same saucepan, over medium low heat, add chocolate chips/chunks and 1/2 Tablespoon milk (milk optional). Stir until the chips are melted and are the consistency will be of fairly smooth peanut butter.
  6. Add melted chocolate to the existing chow mein mixture and stir thoroughly.
  7. Drop by the spoonful onto wax paper. You should be able to make approximately 16 spoon-sized balls.
  8. Place in the refrigerator for at least two hours, to firm.

Eat! Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Chocolate Makes Everything Better: Awesome Pecan Pie Chocolate Chip Bars. Happy Thanksgiving! . . .

So that we can get to the headline recipe here, I’ll keep my comments to a minimum. I wish I had pictures, and I’ll get them up when I create some. Until then . . . these bars are delicious and have proven a hit over and over again. I am not a huge fan of pecan pie itself because of the glaze-y taste that always seems to be in the whole pie slice. A little bit goes a long way. For some reason, the addition of the chocolate chips and the ability to eat small doses of pecan pie throughout the day is so tantalizing in this recipe that this has become one of my favorite desserts — easy to make, too, and JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING. I say, “Do it! You won’t regret it.” Enjoy 🙂 Michelle

Awesome Pecan Pie Chocolate Chip Bars – adapted recipe from an old roommate’s version 🙂

Difficulty level:    Easy                     Prep time: 30 minutes   Total time: approximately 1 hr 15 mins

Yields:    approximately 20 bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter or margarine, cut up and slightly chilled
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • approximately 3/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

LET’S DO THIS!!
For crust:

  1. Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl.
  2. Cut in 3/4 cup butter thoroughly with a pastry blender until mixture resembles very fine crumbs. *Can use fork if you have no pastry blender, though pastry blender probably easier.
  3. Using a piece of plastic wrap, Press mixture evenly into a greased 13×9 pan.
  4. Bake crust at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly firm. *Since ovens vary, make sure you monitor the process.
  5. Remove from oven before moving on to make your filling.

For filling:

  1. Beat eggs in a medium bowl and put in refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. Combine brown sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup butter in a medium to large saucepan. *Saucepan needs to be large enough to comfortably hold all mixture ingredients.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring gently. Remove from heat.
  4. Stir one-fourth of hot mixture into beaten eggs.
  5. Pour mixture from step #4 (immediately above) directly back into the remaining hot mixture.
  6. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips and vanilla and then pour over crust.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes or until set. *Honestly, with my oven, the fork still doesn’t come out perfectly clean at this time allotment because of the chocolate chips. However, pull it out and lightly cover with tinfoil to let it cook itself the rest of the way. It’ll firm up. You do not want it to burn due to too much cooking.
  8. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
  9. Cut into bars.

Happy baking! Happy eating!

Scarier? A Pumpkin Head or the Marshmallow Man? Plus! Product Review of TJ’s Pumpkin Ice Cream and an Ice Cream Topping Recipe Inside

When I write a blog, I try to start with an anecdote, a statistic, a joke. Something, for crying out loud. Some days my creek water is running rapidly; some days my creek is modeling cracked dirt and dry weeds. Today is the latter. I considered starting this post with a slightly fabricated story–okay, it would be a big fabrication–that includes me carving an upside-down face on a pumpkin and then cutting a hole in the top and sticking it onto my head. Then, in this asinine scenario, I am running around the kitchen after Baby O. We are having fun and games until things get ugly and she freaks out. A two-year-old freak out: shoulder convulsions, a sudden, high-pitched squeal, an instant look of panic. When I freak her out, I feel awful. In this scene, not only am I about four-ish times her size, I also have a ridiculous, round, orange fruit on my head, and it doesn’t have a stem on it, so what kid wouldn’t get scared, I wonder to myself. Nonetheless I only take it off long enough to give her a hug and to take a deep breath. Then on it goes again.

The whole image is analogous to me seeing a smaller version of (but still four times the size of me) the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from GhostBusters, except I do not believe the M.M. talked (which, I, as a pumpkin, would, of course). Plus we all know that marshmallows are sweeter and softer than pumpkins, so my analogy is flawed because anyone’d be crazy not to want a 500 lb M.M. coming his way (adjust for your own weight as necessary, please). The scariest thing about seeing the M.M. is that I couldn’t just eat him. Everyone knows that marshmallows are yummy, and if I couldn’t rip off M.M.’s leg amd roast it immediately over an open fire, I would most certainly be in a horror flick, much like Baby O in the pumpkin scenario.

Here’s the real point: I decided that telling a lie would be wrong, so I decided not to do it.

Let’s get down to what we’re all here for: pumpkin product reviews AND a (delicious) dessert recipe. I’ve decided to “drop” my reviews a couple of days apart to maintain the suspense and the readability of this blog.

UP FIRST? Pilgrim Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream (from Trader Joe’s)

My first reponse? Poser. This ain’t no pumpkin pie.

My second response? Maybe I need to put honey on it. After you read this blog for a while, you’ll figure out that that is my response to everything. Yogurt a little plain today? Pour honey on it. Getting a cough? Pour honey into it. Some wily teenager sasses you? Pour. honey. on. that. kid. immediately. My husband, Matt, says that if you add immediately to the end of sentences, things will get done, and since sass is unacceptable . . .

Honey was the wrong answer, incidentally. It made the ice cream sickeningly sweet. Don’t do this.

Then I saw Matt put granola on his. WHY didn’t I think of that? That was my third response. This was the added jolt the ice cream needed. I liked the ice cream itself: it was creamy and had the pumpkin flavor it promised, with small hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. Another fabulous thing is that it is made completely from ingredients that I can understand and that are natural. The whole time, though, I was expecting pumpkin pie and not getting it, so I think I kept looking for something more.

About a week later, I determined that I was looking at this situation incorrectly. I couldn’t try to replace pumpkin pie with other pumpkin products. My epiphany that pumpkin pie is irreplaceable came to fruition for me during this whole pumpkin-product-tasting fest. Thus I welcomed TJ’s Pumpkin Ice Cream as its own entity.

My fourth response? Judging the ice cream with no direct comparison to pie, I felt that it was good but was still not holding up to what I think an irresistable little bowl of dessert should be . . . until I created the following apple and granola topping to pair with it (yes, a little self-promotion–sickening). After adding this topping, my opinion was seriously affected. I haven’t mentioned this important part, but I really think the ice cream tastes like eggnog, too, but the mix of the cream and the apples and the granola . . . is just an awesome fall dessert.

*To my MS readers, you still don’t have a Trader Joe’s (a small specialty store that buys most of its products directly from suppliers and deals with a number of local vendors), but they are spreading. There is one in Nashville the next time you visit. Also, for my North Carolinian readers, there is a TJ’s in Chapel Hill, Cary and Raleigh.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream with Honey Apple Slices and Granola Clusters

Ingredients:

  • Pumpkin pie ice cream (can attest to Trader Joe’s, but other brands may be worth it?)
  • 2 Nittany apples (or another fresh, sweet variety), peeled, cored, cut into roughly 1/4″ strips
  • 1/2 cup Granola Clusters (cereal or a plastic pouch of granola) (more for lovers of crunch)

To make the honey and brown sugar mix that covers the apple slices:

Using 2 apples makes approximately 6 toppings

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice

LET’S DO THIS!!

1. Peel and core your apples. Cut whole apple into fourths and then into approx. 1/4″ strips. **Honestly, I have no corer and don’t want to buy one, so I cut around the core and then cut into slices.

2. Once all apples are sliced, place a small pan on medium heat.

3. Add butter until it melts.

4. Reduce the heat to low and then add honey. Stir slowly for a minute or so until honey and butter are well blended.

5. Add brown sugar and repeat slow stir until well blended.

6. Add remaining ingredients and leave on low heat for approx. one minute.

7. Toss in apple slices to coat.

8. Spoon desired amount of pumpkin pie ice cream into bowl.

9. Add desired amount of apple slices and granola. Feel free to add a dash of cinnamon for color.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

**By the way, a pumpkin is a fruit. A little delectable is on the way to Karla Lockwood for answering correctly 🙂

Baking the American Dream . . . Without Another Trip to the Grocery Plus! Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Michelle Byrd’s Weekly Meal Calendar:

Sunday:           Do the BIG grocery shopping trip. Be all content that I have used my time wisely and that our cabinets are now set for the week.

Monday:          Realize on the way home that one little chili pepper would be great to add to tonight’s tortilla soup. (Geez, Michelle, why didn’t you think of that yesterday, you crazy girl?) Swing into the nearest Giant to pick up the tiniest of chili peppers . . . and a pack of gum wrapped in packaging that resembles a maze.

Tuesday:          Oh, crap, who forgot the buns for tonight’s burgers? Gotta have those because Matt always offers notable groans when I mention that we can use regular bread.

Wednesday:    Hell no, I’m NOT going to the grocery today. We eat our spaghetti without meatballs because in my rush on Sunday, I just forgot to grab them altogether. Also, I just left a girl who cried over the B she’d received on her essay and a boy who told me that school was useless and that if he needed to know anything, he could just turn on his TV. He called Hemingway stupid, too. Do you know that were Hemingway alive today, he just might make you his next hunting target for that?

Thursday:        Okay, so I know I was all irritated yesterday, but I’m craving some of that baby yogurt, and I’ve ripped through all four containers this week. I’ll just quietly stop into Giant.

Friday:             Yes, I spent $32 when I went in yesterday to get YoBaby!. Why do you ask?

Saturday:         Are you serious that tomorrow is Sunday already? I usually make my shopping list on Saturday. Better get busy this week because I will not forget anything. I know I said that last Saturday. Stop bringing it up.

Photo courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

And so it goes . . .

A conversation I had last year at lunch spurred me to jot down a week-long example of the bittersweet relationship I have with my local Giant. During that lunch, a few of us fine ladies were shoveling food down our gullets in the 27.5 minutes we are allotted to do so. After getting settled, microwaving, chewing and swallowing, we were left with about 11.2 minutes to discuss something. That day, we talked of cookies–eating them, loving them, making and baking them. Usual cookie talk. Most of what we said is extremely general, except for one response. To someone else’s comment, I replied, “Yeah, you know you’ve arrived when you have all of the stuff to make cookies from scratch right in your cabinet.” I’m not 100% confident that the stares I received meant my statement was odd, but that’s how I interpreted them.

Forget the money, the fame, the pride or the freedom. Basic kitchen staples: Keys to The American Dream. When I made my comment, I meant that having these all ready in the kitchen meant I could, on a whim, hearken back to that mythical “simpler time” when people made things from scratch more often, really liked each other, and lit warm fires and cozy candles. (Men were baking from scratch, no one told anyone to “Shut up,” and everyone’s eyes stayed intact even while reading with crumby candlelight, too, which solidifies the mythical nature of my “simpler time.”) Most importantly, having staples in my cabinet meant that the grocery store might as well be a small entity located miles away, just like years ago. Back then, my YoBaby! cravings would just have to wait (for another 50 years or so).

At lunch that day, my version of The American Dream hung out in the nether regions of my cabinets. Today, it still does. I have a hard time even writing that with a straight face because freedom and pride are pretty friggin’ key to The American Dream, for crying out loud. But, hey, the chocolate chip cookie is an American icon and can easily carry the symbolism of The American Dream on its chewy top. So, when you bite into one, raise your cookie high to the sky and revere its symbolic weight. Know that you are doing something right. Finally, if you get a chance, send a box of cookies to a soldier, to a volunteer or to someone you know doing something to maintain some American ideals. With this piece, I have just inspired myself to do the same.

Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from a random internet source that I can no longer find, but I know, via notes, that I’ve made about four changes from the original recipe

*I’ve reduced some of the sugary contents for this recipe because I don’t want to feel sick after eating a cookie. I’ve more to eat after just one, you know. Anyhow, my favorite parts of this cookie are its level of sweetness, its soft and chewy texture, and its subtle aftertaste. If you like your cookies on the sweeter side, increase the sugar to 1/2 cup and the syrup to 2 Tablespoons.

Difficulty:  Easy              Prep time:   15-20 minutes of prep + 12 mins per batch of baking       Makes: 30-36 medium-size cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon backing soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

    My poor, little, one-legged hand mixer

  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon syrup, maple or regular
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

LET’S DO THIS!!!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In medium bowl, blend flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, oats, and walnuts with fork.

3. In large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and (regular) sugar together with a hand mixer for 30 seconds or until well blended. Hand mixer should be on medium speed.

4. Beat in egg until smooth.

5. Add syrup and vanilla. Mix on medium high for approximately 20 seconds.

6. Switch mixer to lowest speed and begin mixing in dry ingredients in medium bowl (step #2) 1/2 cup at a time. Continue mixing dry ingredients into wet until you are out of dry ingredients. Continue to mix until well blended.

7. Add chocolate chips and coconut. Mix until well blended.

8. Scoop each “cookie-to-be” on an average-sized spoon. Round slightly and place on pre-greased cookie sheet.

9. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 12 minutes. (I turn the pan at seven minutes.) Ovens will vary. Keep an eye on your cookies. **Your cookies may look slightly underdone, but I like to take them out at this point and have them cook themselves for the remainder. I find that it keeps them chewier longer.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Is Fruitcake On Your Bucket List? Introducing A Blog Reader Challenge

DO YOU HAVE A FRUITCAKE PROBLEM YOU NEED TO SOLVE? Look no further than THE GREAT FRUITCAKE RECYCLING PROJECT.

Is Fruitcake On Your Bucket List?          by Michelle Byrd

Back in 2003, when Sonya Thomas shoved 2.2 kilograms of fruitcake down her gullet in ten minutes, she was justifiably crowned the Fruitcake Champion of Buffalo. The tiny 105 lb. Sonya beat out Eric “Badlands” Booker that year. He blamed his loss on his miscalculation of the amount of coffee he needed to wash down his almighty fruitcake. Only 1/8 of an ounce stood between Thomas and Booker when the ten-minute time limit elapsed (1). Oh, brother! Most people don’t desire to eat one nibble of a god-awful fruitcake, much less 2.2 kilograms, or approximately 4.8 pounds of the stuff. Or do they?

Yep, it's another stock image! Photo courtesy of fotosearch

A small bakery founded in 1896 still well-known for its fruitcakes is Collin Street Bakery (CSB), located in Corsicana, Texas. The bakery’s web site declares that its fruitcake is what “gets all the attention” and that people as famous as Vanna White and Lyle Lovett have ordered from there. I am pretty sure this qualifies as “ooh la la!” name-dropping among the fruitcake set. Even if White and Lovett are no longer “A-list,” their investment in a mound or so of this fruit-laden victual obviously exists as a source of pride and promotion for the company. Every company needs promotion, but let’s get one thing straight: Collin Street is certainly a steady, little contender in the fruitcake game. It produces over one million fruitcakes per year and ships these cakes to over 200 countries (2). This is just one small, 120-employee store, too (3). So, who is eating all of these fruit cakes?

Well, CSB sends upwards 3,000 of these cakes to troops overseas (2). A fruitcake’s ability to keep for up to 26 years in an airtight container makes it a perfect product for this purpose (4). Plus, we know that Mrs. White and Mr. Lovett are in the mix. I do not have statistics on the rest of CSB’s recipients but am left to assume that these people must be genuine fruitcake lovers or genuine pranksters.

Once CSB’s fruitcakes are purchased, is it possible that each and every one is being eaten? Not if you were to look at what happens to some poor fruitcakes come the New Year. Let’s look at the Annual Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado, each January. This event sounds ridiculous but is not complete willy-nilly. There are rules. Cake weight divisions, the 2 lb and the 4 lb, are in place. Want to launch your fruitcake 175 feet towards a target? Okay, that’s one possibility. Want to catch a big fruitcake being launched at you? Done (4). Caution: the density of fruitcake to mahogany ratio is 1:1. Injury may occur (5).

The Toss is an event in which I wouldn’t mind participating, but I’d need to invest in a fruitcake somehow first. I have never had a memorable piece of fruitcake, if I’ve ever had fruitcake at all. I know for certain that I’ve received and thrown out  fruitcake. I am not alone. According to a 2006 report, 47% of people say they’ve done the same (6). The food’s reputation precedes itself. When dealing with a food that has the ability to outdo the lifespan of my pets and my cars, I’d like to think I ain’t gonna touch it. I’ve eaten nastier things, though. Here are some of them: I’ve nibbled on an old Cheeto that I found between the couch cushions. I don’t know how old it was. I’ve eaten lots of crawfish innards and “outtards,” if you know what I mean. Oh, and I’ve eaten off of the $.99 Taco Bell menu past 3 a.m. in the morning. My three years working at a fast food joint tells me there was more than one person on the line that had not washed his hands.

After listing some things I’ve eaten, fruitcake doesn’t sound nearly as atrocious. And, really, it does have its charm. Back in 1994, a local news channel anchor interviewed two older women, both home cooks, Mary Cook and Bessie Selby. Cook and Selby debated over light versus dark fruitcake (6). Throughout the clip, it is clear that these two, sweet ladies were really fond of their recipes; Mrs. Cook clearly took pride in being able to carry on her family’s tradition. I dare you to watch it and not want to try their fruitcakes.

I’ll bet every family can find some sort of fruitcake memory or recipe in its history. If not for taste, maybe fruitcake should carry on for tradition. Baking something out of pure tradition, however, raises this question: “How close to tasting like crap does our grandma’s recipe have to be before we can declare tradition a stupid agenda?” Hey, look at it this way. Even if grandma’s recipe does stink, we are lucky enough to live in the Food Network age. This age allows us to tweak grandma’s stuff with goat cheese or crystallized ginger root until it magically fits our 21st century standards. Hell, let’s just pour a ton of rum or brandy on it, as originally intended. Enough liquor has the potential to cover the taste of roadkill.

Some people blame fruitcake’s bad rap more on comedians than on taste. Johnny Carson once joked, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other” (7). Jim Gaffigan commented, “Fruit, good; cake, great; fruitcake, nasty crap” (8). Whatever the reason for its rap, maybe I should try it for the first time or revisit it. I honestly can’t remember which I’d be doing, and it’d only be fair to this article.

Collin Street Bakery swears by its fruitcake, describing it as “unexpectedly delicious” and thus acknowledging that not all versions are. I’ll put it on my bucket list. Wanna try, too? If you can’t bear fruitcake, take a look at the endless possibilities that you’ve yet to try or want to try again: Stilton cheese, purple figs, bubble tea, gazpacho, chocolate profiteroles. Life is pretty awesome even with a little bit of new. You don’t need to make it high-fat or low-fat, just different or nostalgic. Neither your kid nor your spouse nor your best friend has to eat it with you. They can, but it can also be just you and the food. Check to see if your food of choice raises your anxiety level a little. Check to see if it evokes any response. If you feel something when you’re eating it, you’re living. Enjoy the moment and, for goodness sake, don’t shovel it into your face, Sonya Thomas-style. Save that kind of energy for your championship title.

NEXT POST: READER CHALLENGE POLL: Mark ALL of the following that you have never had or have not had within the last year . . . Keep an eye out for it and join me in the challenge to try at least one new food item (not recipe, necessarily) each week. We can share our highs and lows.

If you have any further comment about this article, fruitcake, trying new foods, etc., I’d love to hear from you. If you want to stick up for fruitcake, join its Facebook page.

Are You Mad for Dessert? You voted. I tested. Let’s get our Bourbon on!

Photo by Michelle Byrd

The winning recipe is a slightly modified version of an existing Ezra Poundcake recipe. To go directly to the original dessert recipe, simply scroll down and click on the link at the bottom of this post. Any modifications I made to the Ezra Poundcake recipe are noted in this post.

Hello Voters,

And your winner is . . . The Mad Men Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream with Salted Bourbon-Caramel Sauce and Buttercrunch Toffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seven of you voted (and I thank each and every one), and Mad Men won, 5-2. Poor ol’ Harry Potter’s treacle tart received no votes. He can lick his wounds with his box office millions.

Bourbon Fun Fact: Even if a foreign liquor meets all of the U.S. federal requirements necessary to create bourbon, it still cannot be referenced as bourbon. Bourbon has to be made within the U.S. 1.

Allow me a little pun for a tick. Was I mad to offer up the Mad Men-themed dessert?

As is my nature with recipes, I always let my stomach make the decisions first. This time was no exception, and that is exactly why I might be mad. When I offered up the Mad Men dessert option, did I look to see if I needed an ice cream maker? Did I look to see that a candy thermometer, which I did not own, was involved? Did I double-check to make sure I had the corn syrup I thought I had? Yes, of course answers are obvious. I also did not consider that I’d have to visit at least two stores for my ingredients—the grocery and the ABC store.

As a digression, I would like to address my thoughts on the ABC store. If you are out-of-state, ABC stands for Alcohol and Beverage Control, and it is the only store (in Virginia anyway) that can sell hard liquor.

  1. To make an extra store do what a grocery store can handle is costly and cumbersome. Keep in mind that I do not know the full history here.
  2. I feel cool when I walk into the hard liquor store, like I’m in a movie. Sometimes I am a bad ass brown-bagger about to jump onto a Harley, sometimes I am a desperate Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, sometimes I am just pathetic Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas. It’s not cool to be an alcoholic. It is interesting that the brown bag carries all this mystique.

Now, time for the Mad Men Recipe Verdict (score out of 10):

Michelle’s rating:                   7

Papa Byrd’s rating:               8

Baby Byrd’s rating:                Please! Did it involve sugar? Okay then.  

Photo by Michelle Byrd

Overall, I vote you do this:

1)      Buy your vanilla ice cream of choice.

2)      The toffee was Papa Byrd’s favorite item of the bunch. Make it if you want added sweetness. It was easy to make, but you know what’s even easier? Buying good-quality chocolates (i.e. Ghirardelli) and sticking the edge of one right into the ice cream mound, like a little flag.

3)      Definitely make the bourbon sauce. I used light cream and lite corn syrup because I had it available. These changes did not bother me.

Reasons for my suggestions, a la Byrd Notes:

On the Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream: I absentmindedly assumed I could do an ice cream mix-in, or what some people call a “smoosh in.” (If you are familiar with The Jersey Shore, this is not the same kind of “smoosh.”) This is where you take pre-made ice cream, usually plain vanilla, and then lace in your ingredient of choice and then refreeze. Well, I wasn’t going to buy an ice cream maker. I ended up buying a lot of things for this recipe, but that’s where I stopped. I did a mix-in instead that I wouldn’t even suggest you do. If you want to make the ice cream, go ahead and make it. I’d love to know how it goes.

On the toffee: The toffee was easy and quick. It tasted better the day after it was made. Of course, with Papa B, no holds barred here. Toffee was his thang! Whether the toffee is really necessary to complete this dessert depends on your level of sweet tooth. Litmus: If other people make comments to you about how much sugar you put in your coffee, then go ahead and whip up this toffee. If not, you’re fine without it because . . .

. . . the caramel sauce is a must-have. This sauce was quick and easy and would definitely be cheap if you already have most of the materials. The bourbon does not cook down with this sauce, but it was not overpowering. A nice, warm shot of bourbon atop your ice cream–ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Click here to get to Ezra Poundcake, the site full of fun recipes that houses this one:

BIG TIPS: Always read the entire recipe first and have fun. Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Sincerely,

Michelle

If you try this recipe or any others from the Ezra Poundcake sight, I’d love for you to post feedback.

1-Cowdery, Charles K. “How Bourbon Whiskey Really Got Its Famous Name.” The

         Bourbon Country Reader. 3.1 (1996). Limit Point Systems. 2007. Web. 22

Aug 2011.

Which TV/Movie-Themed Dessert Should I Concoct? Vote Now!!

Theme party, anyone? I’ll be testing one of these existing recipes for you to see if it’s worth your time. Tell me which one you want!! Vote now!!