Add a little spice to your holiday celebrations with gingersnaps. And if you really want to experience a holiday treat, order a tin of crisp, spicy gingersnaps from The Center, a private not-for-profit agency serving persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities (Houston readers can usually purchase these at the Eastside Farmers Market as well). The sale of the gingersnaps began as a volunteer effort led by Alicia Lee, whose son and nephew were residents at The Center’s Willow River Farms. According to the website, the request for gingersnaps came from Barbara Bush, and Ms. Lee set about testing recipes for months in her quest for a crisp, crunchy, spicy cookie. After many test batches, they sent a sample to Barbara Bush, who loved them, and the rest is gingersnap history. Each gold tin is decorated with a hand-pressed and gilded ornament, made by one of the Center’s clients.
If you’d like to make your own gingersnaps or ginger cookies, there are a million recipes out there. My personal favorite recipe is this one, and I bake tons of them every year.
The Center also has a traditional fruitcake that we adore. It is loaded with red cherries, pecans, dates, walnuts, and coconut, and is more of a confection than a cake. They are not kidding when they say that this is “the best you have ever tasted! EVER!” (At the suggestion of one of The Center’s volunteers, we now freeze one of these fruitcakes every year to enjoy as a special treat in the summer months.)
Although the gingersnaps are wonderful all by themselves, they are even better served with Amazing Pumpkin Dip. We discovered this years ago at a small grocery store that had samples out of various products you could order for the holidays. They called it Amazing Pumpkin Dip and had copies of the recipe printed for anyone who wanted one. What was truly amazing was that we were not asked to leave, because my young son ate at least half of the bowl of dip while I was shopping. (He tended to view free samples as his own personal buffet.)
If you need to bring a dish to a holiday party, or are looking for something to serve at one of your own, gingersnaps and pumpkin dip are a crowd-pleaser.
Place cream cheese in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add pumpkin butter, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until well-blended. Gently fold in whipped topping. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with gingersnaps for dipping.
I hope one of these might inspire you to make a special dessert to celebrate Independence Day.
If you are not quite into red, white, and blue, in honor of Tag Sale Tastes’ birthday, I’m sharing a recipe my daughter made for Father’s Day that is worthy of any summer celebration. Layers of brownie, mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate ganache, real whipped cream, and a topping of shaved chocolate — it’s easy, cool, and quite decadent. Although I think you cheat yourself if you use whipped topping instead of real whipped cream, don’t think twice about using Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix instead of making your own brownies.
1.5-quart container good quality Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1.5-ounce chocolate bar
Prepare brownie mix according to package directions. Lightly spray a 9x9 pan with cooking spray. Spread brownie batter in prepared pan and bake according to package directions. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.
Remove ice cream from freezer and allow to soften at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, until soft enough to spread. Spread ice cream over the cooled brownie layer, leaving approximately ½" to top of pan for ganache layer. Place pan in freezer and allow ice cream to harden, at least 1 hours.
Prepare ganache by placing ¾ cup heavy cream in a microwave-proof container and heat for 2 minutes until hot but not boiling. Add the chocolate chips to the cream and set aside for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt, then stir until cream and chocolate are thoroughly combined. Set aside and allow to cool (ganache will thicken as it cools). When the ganache is cool, spread evenly over the ice cream layer and return pan to freezer for 2-3 hours, until ice cream and ganache are firm.
Just before serving, whip 1 cup heavy cream and powdered sugar using an electric beater, just until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overwhip -- you don't want butter!).
To serve, cut into 2" squares. Pipe or dollop whipped cream decoratively on top of each square. Garnish by grating chocolate over whipped cream. Serve immediately.
For summer entertaining, chocolate-covered strawberries are a delicious dessert treat that are easy to make and won’t heat up your kitchen. I’m always surprised to learn how many people have never made them or think they’re too difficult to make at home, and for those people, this post is for you.
Begin with the most beautiful firm, bright red strawberries you can find. Check for ripeness by making sure they smell like strawberries.
Use any chocolate that you like. You can use plain old chocolate chips, or get fancy with fair trade chocolate, 85% cacao dark chocolate, or single estate chocolate made from cocoa beans picked from a single tree by a single person. But don’t overthink it — I use Hershey’s bars, and they work just fine and taste great. Whatever you do, don’t use candy melts (also known as confectionery coating) — it’s not fair to the strawberries.
Make sure everything you’re using is dry and free from water drops, including the strawberries and the cooking equipment. Otherwise, your chocolate may seize up, and then the party’s over.
The secret to a smooth chocolate coating on your berries is a tablespoon of shortening. (I had a friend that used paraffin, but I don’t consider that a food, so I wouldn’t recommend it.) Crisco works great (which I also don’t really consider a food.) Simply melt the chocolate and shortening together in a small saucepan — no tempering, no water bath (which you are free to do, but your berries will not taste any better and you’ll just be in the kitchen longer and make a bigger mess).
To dress up your berries, you can sprinkle them with jimmies, nuts, or toffee bits, although they look just as tempting plain. You can also drizzle them with white chocolate. If you’re really in it to win it, you can use a syringe to inject them with Grand Marnier, although it might not be the best idea for a kids’ birthday party.
8-9 ounces of chocolate (chocolate chips, Hershey's bars, dark chocolate -- your pick)
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
1 pound strawberries, cleaned and thoroughly dried
Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper.
Place the chocolate and shortening in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. (If using candy bars, coarsely chop chocolate before adding to saucepan.). Remove from heat.
Holding 1 strawberry by its green top, dip ¾ of the berry into the melted chocolate (tip pan slightly to make it easier to dip). Let excess chocolate drip into pan. Place on prepared baking sheet. (If desired, can sprinkle with jimmies or nuts at this point.) Repeat with remaining berries. Refrigerate until chocolate coating is firm, approximately 1 hour. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
I found this book, “Flower Children,” by Elizabeth Gordon, copyright 1939, at an estate sale. The book is dedicated to “every Child-Flower that Blooms Within the Glorious Garden That we Call Home.”
I was charmed by the colorful drawings of the flower children:
I’m not sure how the creepy old “Grandpa” flower ended up alone with all the Flower Children:
My oldest Child-Flower left for college last week, just like little Garden Pink (I still have a 15-year old Stinkweed at home):
I was amused by the idea of Garden Pink insisting that everyone call her Rose Carnation when she came home to visit. When I turned 18, my Dad told me it was time to start using my middle initial, so I did (while disregarding most of the other advice he offered). My husband dropped his childhood nickname sometime in college. My daughter’s roommate, formerly known as Sophie, now asks to be called Sophia. (Then there’s my friend’s daughter’s soon-to-be-ex-roommate, who insists on being called Thomas and asks not to be referred to as “she” in anticipation of the “changes ahead.” Oh my.) I wonder if my daughter is going to insist on an adult version of the name she has gone by her whole life. Doesn’t matter — she’ll always be our Garden Pink.
I have lots to say about the emotional experience of leaving your firstborn at college, but I’m too fragile to write about it just yet. So for now, if anyone asks, I’ll tell them “I’m just peachy” — which means whatever you want it to mean at any given moment.
Inspired by the book of flower children and the excitement/trauma of taking my daughter to college, I have a recipe for a dessert that is, like me, just peachy. I know there are lots of recipes for baked/roasted/grilled peaches floating around this time of year, but this one is different in that it uses golden syrup–not maple syrup or honey–to add a touch of sweetness. Something special happens when the golden syrup, butter, and peach juices simmer together in the baking dish. The peaches, in all their caramelly goodness, are delicious on their own, but they will not protest if you add a small scoop of ice cream with some of those delicious pan juices drizzled over it.
Cut peaches in half, remove pit, and then cut each half into four wedges. Place peaches, skin side down, in a baking dish. Combine butter and golden syrup in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush peaches with butter mixture, pouring any extra over peaches.
Bake peaches until soft and beginning to caramelize, approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Just before serving, pour pan juices over peaches and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Note: These baked peaches go well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Start with fresh, unblemished peaches
Arrange skin side down in baking dish
Bake until soft and beginning to caramelize
A little ice cream never hurts
Remember when the alien popped out of the guy’s stomach in Aliens?
I found this pretty shell at an estate sale. Like rock collections, I often see shells and coral at estate sales. The first thing I am naturally inclined to do when I come across a shell like this, is pick it up and listen for the ocean.
This week, however, I don’t hear the sound of the ocean when I listen — I hear the sound of people screaming about sharks in the vicinity. That’s right — it’s Shark Week, right on the heels of Sharknado 2. Although Shark Week has been featured since 1988, I only learned about it a few years ago. I was sitting (i.e., propped up trying to stay awake) in a “Women’s Initiative” meeting at my prior law firm, and we were planning a luncheon, when someone piped up that our proposed date fell during Shark Week. Huh? Well, it turns out that Shark Week was much more interesting than anything we were discussing at the Women’s Initiative meeting, the initiative apparently being to bore each other to death. In fact, my friend and I used to sit there emailing each other during the meetings, things like “Do you want to phone in a bomb scare or should I?”
Shark Week is an annual week-long feature on the Discovery Channel, showcasing shark-based programming, and usually runs in July or August. According to Wikipedia, it is the “longest-running cable television programming event in history,” and is broadcast in more than 70 countries.
Here’s a shark fact for you — Do you know why sharks won’t attack lawyers? Professional courtesy.
As for me, inspired by my pretty shell and the close relationship between sharks and lawyers, I’m serving the favorite dessert of lawyers — Tira-me-sue! Not funny? So sue me! This recipe is adapted from one from Gourmet magazine (sniff). Although the recipe is pretty easy to put together, it is a little time-consuming. Based on the comments to the recipe, I made it in an 8×8-inch pan, and had a little left over which was just right for an individual portion for a baby shark. I added a chocolate shark fin, just for Shark Week.
3 tablespoons Kahlua or Tia Maria (coffee liqueur)
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup dry Marsala
1 pound mascarpone, at room temperature
1 cup chilled heavy cream
24 crisp ladyfingers (also known as savoiardi)
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
Dark chocolate, for grating over tiramisu (optional)
Stir together espresso, 1 tablespoon sugar, and coffee liqueur in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining ½ cup sugar, using a whisk or handheld electric mixer. Beat until tripled in volume, approximately 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and beat in mascarpone with electric mixer, beating just until smooth.
In a separate large bowl, beat cream with electric mixer until cream holds stiff peaks. (Be careful not to overbeat to the point where it turns into butter!)
Gently fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream, until thoroughly combined.
Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of each ladyfinger generously with coffee mixture (without allowing them to become too soggy). Line the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking pan with 12 ladyfingers, trimming edges to fit as necessary. Spread half of the mascarpone filling on top, smoothing with an offset spatula. Repeat with remaining 12 ladyfingers and mascarpone filling.
Place cocoa powder in a mesh sieve, and sprinkle cocoa powder over top layer of mascarpone filling. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Allow tiramisu to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Just before serving, dust with additional cocoa powder, and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Cut into individual portions and serve.
Beat egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala over simmering water
Fold in mascarpone
Beat cream until it holds stiff peaks
Fold together whipped cream and mascarpone mixture
Layer coffee-soaked ladyfingers alternately with mascarpone cream
I found this piece of petrified wood — a tree that has completely turned to stone — among the specimens in a rock collection at an estate sale. I often run across rock and shell collections at these sales, and occasionally come home with one or two. They’re the kind of thing that when you see them sitting out, you’re practically compelled to pick them up and study them, turning them over in your hand, marveling at their markings.
What are you petrified of? I confess that I am a little scared of technology. OK, a lot scared. It involves a language I don’t always understand, and changes faster than I can master it. I recently had to face my worst technology-related fear — pomumphobia, or fear of the Apple Store (“pomum” meaning apple in Latin, and do I really have to tell you what phobia means?). It began when I received an iPad for Christmas. A few days later, we went to the AT&T Store to get a SIM card activated so that I could use the iPad even when I did not have access to wi-fi (if I’m using any technology-related words incorrectly, just roll your eyes, snicker, and move on). The very enthusiastic and extremely annoying AT&T salesperson told me it would cost an additional $50/month to add it to my existing service. So let’s see . . . that comes out to $600/year to play Scrabble and check Facebook and eBay on my shiny new toy? No thank you. But wait, she said — let’s explore the options. She then undertook an elaborate shell game, whereby I would only have to pay an additional $20/month, but of course, there was a multi-year contract involved, and then, of course, the “activation fee,” and oh, I’d have to give up the unlimited data on some of our family’s devices, and I’d have to perform 200 hours of community service, and bake a pan of brownies with a blindfold on. After it was all said and done, it cost me $347 to have the privilege of only paying an additional $20/month. It was worth it, though, if it would get me out of the AT&T store. But noooooooo — after all that, she could not get a SIM card to work in my brand new iPad. After trying 3 different cards, she concluded that it was a problem with the iPad, and told me to take it to the Apple Store. OK, that was fun.
So I made an appointment for the “Genius Bar” at the Apple Store. Make no mistake — it’s called the Genius Bar to make sure you understand that they know everything and you are, well, stupid. I hate the Apple Store. It’s for young, hip people, and I am neither. I don’t need the whole glossy Apple Store — I just need a Shriveled Up Apple Core store for my limited needs.
All hail the Apple Store
It was hate at first sight between me and the “Genius” who drew the short straw and was assigned to me. And I have to add that I believe “Genius” was a stretch. Next time I’m asking to see a Mensa membership card. She was young and smarmy and had weird thick cat-eye makeup and her hair done up in a Rosie-the-Riveter bandana thing, which she was not rocking. She had two facial piercings, which meant I could not look at her directly, or I would gag.
My Genius advised me that she was going to have to “wipe” my iPad and reload the software, to determine if it really was not working. I just stared at the iPad. She said, “You’ve backed up your iPad, right? I continued to just stare at the impotent device. She tried again — “Have you backed your stuff up to the cloud?” I sat there thinking “I’m going to back you up to the cloud, bitch.” Since I’d only had the iPad a short while, there wasn’t a lot on it, and of course, I hadn’t backed anything up because I have no idea how to, so I told her to just go ahead and wipe the 6 pictures of my dog and 4 apps from the face of my iPad.
After wiping the iPad, my Genius confirmed that yes, it was in fact, broken, which–Miss Smarty Pants–I already knew. But the good news was that they would replace it . . . in 3 to 5 days. This is where things pretty much broke down. The iPad was two weeks old, fully covered under an Apple warranty, and I am sitting in the freaking Apple Store, where there are shelves full of brand new iPads that presumably work, and my Genius is telling me I cannot have one of those, but must return to the Apple Store (and spend another 30-40 minutes trying to find parking) in 3-5 days to pick up my “part” (that’s Applespeak for “we’ll give you what we want to give you, when we want to give it to you”) from the Genius Bar. This, I informed her, made no sense. So she repeated that Apple was fully standing behind its warranty and would replace my iPad . . . in 3-5 days with a replacement “part” from the Genius Bar, not from the forbidden retail side of the store. And then, in her most condescending voice, she said, “Now do you understand?” as if her brilliant explanation was so crystal clear that even a toddler could understand it. I’m pretty sure this is the point at which I went off the rails.
So reinforcements were called in, who determined it was in everyone’s best interests just to give me a new iPad right then and there. They even went so far as to get one from off of the forbidden retail shelf. I could almost touch it. But just as quickly as Apple was willing to giveth, Apple taketh away, and the reinforcements said they couldn’t do that because I didn’t buy it at the Apple Store, but from (gasp!) another retailer. At this point, I surrendered in defeat. I took the paper my Genius handed me that entitled me to come back in 3-5 days and get a replacement “part,” and went home.
I got an email a day or two later telling me my replacement “part” was ready for pickup. As instructed, I handed my paper to the “man with the green iPad” who told me to have a seat and he would get someone to help me. He started to point to the stools at the Genius Bar, and with tears welling up in my eyes, I begged him not to make me go back there. So he sat me down elsewhere, and got me someone of Above Average intelligence to help me instead. The Above Average helper handed me a plain brown box wrapped in clear packaging tape with my replacement “part” in it. I asked him if this was a new iPad, like the two-week old broken one it was replacing, or if it was a refurbished one. He told me that I was “the first person that would be using it.” As lawyers say to evasive witnesses — OBJECTION, NONRESPONSIVE. What the hell kind of Applespeak was that? I didn’t have the energy to jack with him any further, and I was more than a little worried that if I went off the rails again they’d call security, so we turned it on, confirmed the SIM card worked, and I went home with my refurbished replacement part (my “Furby,” as I like to call it) that I would be the first person to use.
It’s times like this when something comforting is called for. Inspired by the petrified wood and my pomumphobia, I made Cinnamon Apple Crisp. You don’t need to be a Genius to make it. As it bakes, it fills the house with the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon and apples, and it is so good warm out of the oven — comforting and familiar, and not at all scary. It’s even better with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the warm crisp. In the summer months, it is equally delicious with fresh peaches.
Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the apples and toss to coat. Transfer the apple mixture to a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish.
Combine flour, sugar, oats, and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a coarse meal forms. Spread mixture evenly over apples. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until apples are tender and topping is golden, approximately 30 minutes more. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Cinnamon and brown sugar cling to the raw apple slices
Warm from the oven, it’s irresistible
Apple Crisp that you will be the first person to eat
I found this “stone” fruit at an estate sale. It’s either an agate or marble peach. In an effort to make it look more realistic, someone glued a real peach pit in it:
Peaches are categorized as either cling or freestone, referring to the relationship the pit has with the surrounding flesh. With cling peaches, the peach flesh adheres strongly, (i.e., “clings”) to the pit, and usually has to be cut away. With freestone peaches, the flesh is loosely attached to the stone and is easily removed. The peach above appears to be a freestone (or gluedstone, as the case may be).
In the course of my research, I also learned that freestone peaches tend to be more colorful and flavorful than cling peaches. Freestone peaches tend to have a higher water content than cling peaches, and thus, tend to be juicier. Because cling peaches contain less moisture, they are favored for canning. I always wondered why the label on the canned peaches read “cling peaches,” and now I know. Yep, another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.
When I was a kid, on school days my Mom used to prepare breakfast the night before, in order to save time in the mornings. One of my least favorite make-ahead breakfasts in her rotation was cottage cheese with canned peaches, covered with plastic wrap, like maybe we were dining at Luby’s. When I would peel the plastic wrap off, everything would kind of “cling” to it, and it was always my private little joke that that is how cling peaches got their name. It was either that or cry.
Inspired by the “stone” fruit and thankful that fresh freestone peaches are in season, I made a peach galette. This is a quick and easy dessert, great served warm with ice cream, but perfectly delicious on its own. To keep it simple, I use refrigerated pie crusts. Depending on what looks best at the market, you can also use plums, nectarines, or apricots.
2-3 large peaches or plums, halved, pitted, and sliced into ¼" slices (peeled if desired)*
1 tablespoon coarse or sparkling sugar (optional)
*To easily peel peaches, cut a large X--not too deep--in the bottom of the peach. Drop the peach into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peach and peel under cold running water.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pie crust on a large baking sheet. Stir together flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar, and sprinkle evenly over dough, leaving a 1" border. Arrange fruit slices decoratively in a single layer on top of flour mixture. Sprinkle fruit with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar (if fruit is very sweet, decrease amount of sugar as desired). Fold in edge of dough to cover outer rim of fruit, pleating dough as necessary.
Cover galette loosely with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until crust is golden, fruit is tender, and juices are bubbling, approximately 5 minutes more. Transfer galette on baking sheet to a rack and immediately brush hot juices over plums with a pastry brush. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if using. Cut into wedges, and serve.
Cut a large X in the bottom of the peach
Place peach in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove
with slotted spoon, and peel under cold running water.
Fold over edges, pleating as necessary
Baked to golden, juicy deliciousness
Hey — where’s the ice cream? And the mint leaf garnish?