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As part of the Valentine’s Day dinner I made for Lisa and Emma (yes, there was an empty chair at the table this year…) I made this awesome Chocolate Bundt Cake for dessert. It’s a very simple recipe, and really doesn’t need a glaze or frosting, although the fresh whipped cream and fresh blackberries added a nice touch. The bonus is the not-really-melted chocolate chips that float throughout the cake.

For the unsweetened cocoa I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa, and for the chocolate chips (and chopped semisweet chocolate) I used Ghirardelli semisweet chips.

I’ll also take an aside here to say that, for some reason, Bundt pans seem to be in high demand these days in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. I looked at several stores, including Goodwill, and nobody had one. I finally found one at Target, which was my 5th or 6th stop in my errands last Saturday. Have Bundt cakes suddenly become The Thing?

Enough grousing: make this and your loved ones will think you’re nothing short of spectacular. On to the recipe.

Chocolate-Buttermilk Bundt Cake
2 c flour
1 1/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa

1 oz finely chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 c water, boiling
1 c low-fat buttermilk
1/2 c canola oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick spray.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl.
Combine cocoa and chopped chocolate in small bowl. Pour boiling water over cocoa mixture, stirring until chocolate is melted.
Whisk together buttermilk, oil, egg, egg white, and vanilla in large bowl; stir in cocoa mixture. Add flour mixture, stirring just until no longer visible. Stir in chocolate chips.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 45–50 minutes.
Let cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert and remove pan. Let cool completely.

Jan 042011

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Our next-door neighbors just got back from Palermo, Sicily and dropped off a little something from the hometown: fresh cannoli.

This is the way to start a new year. :)

Nov 232010

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Yes, it’s that time again: the air is crisp, the leaves crunch underfoot, and the patio furniture is stored for another season.

Oh, and that wonderful young wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday of November. I made the trek to our usual favorite shops to pick up a few bottles for our annual tasting; this time, we sampled five wines and enlisted the assistance of Liz, Bob, Megan, and Craig as the preface to a Game Night.

The wines, in the order of the photo above, are by Georges DuBoeuf, Château Cambon, Bouchard Aîné & Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Pierre Chermette. Of all these, the DuBoeuf was the favorite with the crowd. (DuBoeuf is the most popular and widely-available Beaujolais Nouveau.) The others came in close, as this is a fun little wine.

You can read our take on the 2008 and 2009 wines at these links. And if you’d like our take on the 2007 DuBoeuf, check out this episode of the Cheap Date podcast.

…and so, the holiday season is kicked off!

Oct 192010

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The annual Apple Butter event was held this past weekend at Lisa’s parents’ home in the cornfields of Indiana. The group was up at the crack of dawn to start the process, and this year’s batch turned out wonderfully.
Emma’s swim team had their conference finals on Saturday morning, so while Lisa and the rest of the gang was peeling, stoking the fire, and stirring, I was sitting in the stands at EGHS watching Emma dominate her events and listening to other parents yelling “SWWIIIIIIIIIMMM!”
We left directly from the meet and got to the Stevenson compound in the late afternoon, just in time for hotdogs and the family visit. Oh, and let’s not forget the amazing breakfast on Sunday morning.
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You can view more about the Apple Butter process by watching this 2007 episode of the Cheap Date podcast.
Yum!

Aug 032010

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We were back in the test kitchen this weekend, and this time we tried a recipe we found in the Daily Herald’s Food section: S’mores Pie.

I know, I know: Why make things all complicated and messy– not to mention heating up the house on a 95-degree August afternoon– when all you need is a box of graham crackers, a bag of marshmallows, a bunch of Hershey bars, and a fire? (or grill, or stove, or… microwave oven?)

Because it was a challenge, that’s why. And the pictures looked so good that I just had to see how this thing turned out.

The short answer: it was delicious, but it was complicated. The pie definitely has all the tastes of a campire-created S’more, only instead of getting your fingers sticky you get your plate, fork, and fingers sticky no matter how careful you are eating it.

We didn’t use pre-made anything, so everything from the graham cracker crust on up was made from scratch. It helped that there were two of us working on this, since it made some portions of the process– especially creating the marshmallow topping– much easier to execute.

We didn’t have a 10-inch deep dish pie pan, and this definitely overfilled our 9-incher. That’s not a bad thing, but we did have leftover marshmallow topping. Again, not a bad thing. We also used a mixture of a dark chocolate Lindt bar (see my Valentine’s Day project) and Nestle’s Morsels: the thought here was that adding two cans of sweetened condensed milk could sugar up pretty much anything.

We inadvertently added the egg yolks before the condensed milk and vanilla, which created little soft chocolate lumps in the filling, which I found delightful. Adding the ingredients in the order listed below would probably make the filling completely smooth.

Finally, we used the broiler to get the marshmallow topping toasted; we don’t have a kitchen torch, although I’m building my list of reasons to get one.

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Would we make this again? Probably in the dead of winter when going into a sugar coma would be a little more acceptable. In the meantime, we’ll head out to the firepit the next time we get a S’mores craving.

Enjoy!

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Jul 272010

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We had our first harvest of jalapeños last week, and we decided to use the first batch to make Jalapeño Jelly. It was very easy, and turned out delicious!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
3/4 lb jalapeno peppers
2 cups cider vinegar, divided
6 cups sugar
6 ounces liquid pectin

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1. Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers. Note that I used food service gloves. You might also want to use other tricks like cutting the peppers under running water to reduce the effects of pepper juice in the air: you won’t even notice it at first, but by the end of the pile of jalapeños your eyes may start watering. Oh, and don’t rub your eyes or face!

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2. Add one cup of cider vinegar…

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…and puree the mixture.

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3. Combine the puree, 1 cup of cider vinegar, and sugar in large saucepot. Bring to a boil. boil 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

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4. Stir in liquid pectin, then return to a rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

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5. Skim foam, if necessary, and stir in a few drops of green food coloring, if desired. We did not add food coloring– what you see is all natural.

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6. Ladle hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

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7. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

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We served it on sesame crackers and brie, but cream cheese will work nicely as well.

Enjoy!

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On Saturday morning, we visited the Arlington Heights Farmers’ Market in its new home at the village parking lot on the northwest corner of Vail Avenue and Fremont Street, near the Historical Museum campus. The market is open from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Saturday from June 19 through October 23.

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As expected, there weren’t many booths this early in the season, but we did get some wonderful strawberries from one of the vendors and some delicious cherry salsa from a vendor called A Taste of Michigan Cherries.

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As we were leaving, Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder arrived and offered to take our photo. So there’s our Brush With Greatness for the week.

Looking forward to a delicious season!

May 182010

Japanese Kit Kats

Among the souvenirs I brought back from Tokyo were these Kit Kat bars. They’re not your standard bars, like the ones you’d get at your local 7-11. (That is, all of them except the one on top, which is a regular Kit Kat.)

Clockwise from the top, we have: a standard small chocolate Kit Kat bar followed by these flavors: Soy Sauce; Wasabi; Roasted Soybean; and Green Tea.

Being a fan of the standard Kit Kat bar, I was intrigued by these other flavors. In the US, they’ve produced white and dark chocolate flavors, but nothing like these. (It’s worth noting that Kit Kat is a Nestle product everywhere in the world except the USA, where it’s made by Hershey.)

Japanese Kit Kats

Here’s the verdict of my family and several coworkers on these Kit Kats:

- Green Tea: a favorite. Most people compare it to white chocolate with a little green tea flavor mixed in.

- Roasted Soybean: another favorite. It has a chocolate coating and the roasted soybean tastes like a grown-up peanut butter. It’s also the only one of this bunch that has an actual chocolate flavored coating.

- Soy Sauce: Lisa noted that it tastes a lot like caramel, which it does. There is a definite wave of soy sauce flavor that comes through.

- Wasabi: The most challenging of the bunch. There actually was a little heat with these, but it wasn’t like actual wasabi paste. Most people who tasted it weren’t crazy about it.

It should be noted that I went into several stores while in Tokyo and I only saw the regular chocolate Kit Kats there. These bars were all purchased at Narita Airport, which makes me suspect that these may have been stocked for the benefit of the tourists.

I doubt we’ll see these on our shores any time soon, but that’s probably okay. :)

Feb 162010

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Valentine’s Day dinner was my doing this year. I made Chicken Parmesan (a modified version of the too-complicated Cook’s Illustrated version) and this awesome dessert: Flourless Chocolate Cake. I got this recipe from Les Nomades, a wonderful restaurant in Chicago that we reviewed on an episode of our Cheap Date podcast.

What you see above are some of the raw ingredients for the cake. Five full-sized Lindt 70% Cocoa bars made the foundation for this dessert. Read on for the recipe and more photos.

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Nov 242009

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It’s that time of year again– the third Thursday in November brings the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau. We always sample several wines and select the one we’ll serve at Thanksgiving dinner.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a simple, young, and unpretentious wine which is perfect for the holidays. It goes well with just about anything, including this lovely pizza from Dondi’s:

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This year, we tried the wines from four vineyards: Louis Tête, Joseph Drouhin, Georges DuBoeuf, and Thorin. While DuBoeuf is the most popular brand, you’ll find several brands in your local store, and this year’s wine is very good, so you won’t go wrong regardless of the brand you choose.

We selected the Thorin (from World Market) for this year’s dinner, as it has just the right balance of sweetness and dryness.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and bon appetit!

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