Sunday, April 18, 2021

Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

 There's nothing like a birthday celebration to start the week off on the right note.  

And it doesn't get any better than marking a special occasion for a friend with an Old Fashioned Buttermilk Chocolate Cake  

Did You Know?
Dutch Process Cocoa is darker than regular unsweetened cocoa powder. It takes on a more mellow, chocolatey flavor as the powder is treated with an alkali that neutralizes its natural acidity.
Cook's Notes: The batter can be baked in a 13 x 9 pan or three cake pans but cooking time will vary 28 minutes for a 13 x 9 or 3 cake pans 22 minutes. The addition of buttermilk makes for a very moist cake. The recipe is very easy and straight forward. So delicious.
Ingredients: 
  • 2-1/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
Directions:
  • Preheat 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 pan or 3 cake pans.
  • Sift together the first five ingredients, through salt. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl cream butter and sugars for about 2 minutes.
  • Add eggs in one at a time beating after each addition.
  • Beat in vanilla and mix well.
  • Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating on low after each addition. Beat 20 seconds more.
  • Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake the required time depending on pan size. Cool before adding glaze. 
Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1- 4 oz bittersweet or semi- sweet chocolate bar, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons brewed coffee or water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlua
  • 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Half and half or milk as needed
  • Optional garnish ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Chocolate Glaze Directions:
  • Melt butter, Whisk in chopped chocolate, coffee or water and corn syrup in a saucepan on low. Stir until smooth. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in Kahlua and powdered sugar. Blend until smooth.
  • Add in milk or cream as needed for glaze consistency. Pour glaze over cooled cake and sprinkle with nuts if desired.
More spring blooms... Red Oleander



Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Old Crocodile Man Theory

 

“The Old Crocodile-Man Theory” is an engrossing and intriguing novel of love and atonement, deceit and bribery, often shrouded in African sorcery and black magic beliefs. A variety of environmental issues are central themes to the storyline. Philip Hunsicker's debut novel hits a home run with his readers.

Book Synopsis and Review 

Kael Husker, a fish biologist in Southeast Alaska, is on the brink of unemployment. The salmon hatchery where he works is facing a company closure. An unexpected news clipping sends Kael into a tailspin: Crocodile Man Kills American Researcher. A shock to read as Molly McGinley was his former Peace Corps co-worker from 10 years ago. The article listed her death as accidental drowning and a Crocodile Man has been accused of the crime and imprisoned. And Kael knows all too well from living there, it's a commonly held belief by Central Africans that certain individuals have the mystical power to change into a crocodile, commit murder, and then change back to a regular man. Haunted by Molly's recent death there are many unanswered questions, Kael decides a new fork in the road has now presented him with several unexpected opportunities. Since he will soon need a new job he reconnects with his friend Nick Cinzano, still involved in Central African Republic projects while living in Washington D.C. Kael is offered a job as a Director of Doli-Nagili Project in Central Africa.
The project involves elephant protection, as elephants are being slaughtered to fuel the ivory trade and to help stop logging companies' illegal activities. Corruption and bribery from the top down to local leaders are the norm for those living in the Central Africa Republic. Besides wanting to uncover the truths of Molly's death, rescue an innocent man in jail framed for killing Molly, Kael hopes to reconnect with his son Josie left behind ten years ago and make things right. Throughout the story, Kael is known for devising theories to explain life's little riddles such as height, tide tables, elephant culling, and even the validity of the crocodile man. His deductions are approached with subtle humor and tenacity as he searches for more answers. His Hidden Cove Theory proves to be the story's piece de resistance.

Hunsicker's wealth of real-life experiences lend an authentic voice to a well-crafted story that parallels the protagonist, Kael Husker. The storyline is unique which keeps the reader's attention right down to the last page as new events unfold. Sentences are crisp and flow easily as the author employs a natural speaking dialogue where the reader feels like he/she is right in the middle of conversations. The story's pace moves right along keeping the readers engaged. The descriptive language gives the reader a sense of place in both Southeast Alaska and Africa. It's easy to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells in each location. Learning about new places one may never visit is an enriching benefit of the story. It's evident the author hopes readers will come away with a new appreciation of a beautiful country with gentle people who have had to deal with more than their fair share of problems.

The chapters alternate between Kael's story and Bolo, a hired-to-kill elephant poacher who shows no mercy for his victims. While Kael's chapters appear lighter, more human peppered with humorous dialogue and many one-liners, Bolo's chilling chapters are tense, violent, robotic with no humor. Readers are kept guessing throughout the novel how these two stories told in different voices are going to come together.

Books can be purchased on  https://store.bookbaby.com/book/the-old-crocodile-man-theory1 

Hunsicker is a talented writer who has woven a fascinating heartfelt story of love, compassion, and the reconnection between Kael and son Josie and a country he once spent time in. Hunsicker has dedicated his life to environmental issues. He hopes elements of the story will resonate with readers long after it's read, bring about a change in behaviors and thinking, which ultimately protects the environment for future generations.

Bio

Phil is a writer, musician, and radical environmentalist – the three things his pragmatic high school guidance counselor specifically told him not to pursue. Phil’s writing, whether in a novel, a song, a poem, a children’s book, an article, an opinion piece, or even a professional work product, includes varying degrees of his sense of humor, which he thinks is as important to his survival as coffee spiked with Irish Cream, John Prine songs, a good boat, and his vintage Martin D-28 guitar.

At the age of three months, Phil flew to Japan (with some assistance from his mother), and that trip, according to his father, is when Phil caught the travel bug. This desire to see what was over the next hill led to stints as a student of marine biology in Florida, a Peace Corps volunteer in Central Africa, a fishery biologist in Alaska, a grad student in Vermont, a game park director for the World Wildlife Fund in the African rain forest, a ghostwriter for Minnesota Public Radio, and more recently, a part-time bluegrass musician and full-time expert on aquatic invasive species (AIS) in Minnesota.

Phil and his wife, Denise, live on a quiet lake in Minnesota where he continues to write, play music with his band – Hans Blix and the Weapons Inspectors – and fight the good fight to preserve the natural world. And yes, he still enjoys doing what others tell him he shouldn’t.  


Friday, April 16, 2021

Chocolate Dipped Waffle Bowls with Yogurt and Fresh Fruit

 

These days everyone is out looking for spring. Pops of color can certainly lift one's spirits. Even if you're in the sunny desert there's no color until the arrival of spring blooms. Each day here is one of discovery. This prickly pear is one to keep a close eye on. It's loaded with buds and one teeny tiny red bud toward the top just popped out. 

Another cactus to keep an eye on is this one which is blooming for the second time this month. 

But I'm told people in Minnesota are also searching for spring having faced a string of deary days. A friend found spring today at the Como Park Conservatory. 
All this waiting around for blooms to pop can make one hungry. 
SATURDAY SPECIAL
Chocolate Dipped Waffle Bowls with Yogurt and Fresh Fruit is an irresistible treat. Add a scoop of yogurt to these waffle bowls topped with fresh fruit for a delicious snack no matter what time of the day. Yum! Yum! 
You can make 1 or many. I made 6 waffle bowls and used 1/2 package of melting chocolate.  
Ingredients:
  • 1 box of waffle bowls
  • 1 package Ghirardelli Dark Melting Chocolate
  • Fresh fruit
  • Yogurt or ice cream if want to splurge
Directions:  
  • Use one large glass bowl and melt chocolate according to package directions.
  • Place one sheet of wax paper on the counter. 
  • Do one waffle bowl at a time. Dip waffle bowl upside down in chocolate and swirl. 
  • Place each chocolate-dipped waffle bowl on wax paper. 
  • With remaining chocolate go back along each waffle bowl edge and spoon chocolate around to drip a little. 
  

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Chicken Chipotle Ranch Tacos

The Lesson
by Billy Collins

In the morning when I found History
snoring heavily on the couch,
I took down his overcoat from the rack
and placed its weight over my shoulder blades.

It would protect me on the cold walk
into the village for milk and the paper
and I figured he would not mind,
not after our long conversation the night before.

How unexpected his blustering anger
when I returned covered with icicles,
the way he rummaged through the huge pockets
making sure no major battle or English queen
had fallen out and become lost in the deep snow.

Spring for a Chicken Dish  
Chicken Chipotle Ranch Tacos
Cook's Notes: Time crunch for dinner? A family-friendly dinner made in under 30 minutes. Choose your favorite prepared ranch dressing. I used Chipotle Ranch to give the flavor a "little kick." A side of rice or fruit goes well with the meal. 
 
Stand-up Taco Shells hold a lot of filling and are easy to eat. 
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb. ground beef, Italian sausage, ground turkey, or chicken
  • 3/4 cup each red and yellow sweet mini peppers, diced and sweet onions, diced
  • Chipotle Ranch Dressing or regular ranch dressing 
  • Taco Shells
  • Suggested toppings include: diced avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream or yogurt, shredded cheese
Directions:
  • Prepare toppings in advance.  
  • Brown onions and peppers for 2 minutes and then add in meat. Cook until no longer pink in the middle. Drain grease, pat the meat dry and crumble. 
  • Add ranch dressing to meat, peppers, and onions. Only add enough dressing to moisten the meat.  
  • Cover to keep warm.
  • Cook shells according to the manufacturer's directions.  
  • Place meat in warm shells and add desired toppings. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Asparagus Snap Peas and Radish Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

SPRING ON A PLATE

 Cook's notes: Recipe adapted from eatingwell.com and serves 4.
Salad Ingredients:
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus, cut off asparagus spears from the bottom about 4 inches up
  • 2 cups sugar snap peas
  • 1-2 cups radishes, thinly sliced
  • 3 TB. finely chopped scallion
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup Herb Mediterranean Feta Crumbles
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts or almonds

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup dark good quality balsamic (I splurged and used dark chocolate balsamic-so good)
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

Directions:

  • Fill a medium bowl with ice water and place it in sink. Bring water to a boil in a large pot.
  • Place asparagus and snap peas in boiling water. Lower heat to medium-high and boil until al dente about 1-2 minutes. Drain snap peas and asparagus using a colander. Place veggies in an ice bowl of water for 1 minute. Drain again.
  • In another bowl add cooked asparagus, snap peas, sliced radishes, cranberries, feta crumbles, nuts, and tomatoes. Drizzle with dressing and top the salad with crumbled feta cheese and toasted almonds or walnuts to serve.

Vinaigrette Dressing Directions:

  • Mix all balsamic dressing ingredients in a blender. Taste test to balance ingredients.
  • Transfer to a screw-type jar until serving. Reshake the jar and refrigerate any leftovers.

Spring Desert Landscape

Palo Verde (tree)



Ocotillo
Spring For A Poem
  
Spring
Spring appears in whispers
and hushed tones,
as the bellowing winter
bows away.
Drowsy flowers come to
attention,
waking from their sleep-
yawning;
with heads turned upward towards
the Maestro called Sun-
I watch with anticipation
as...
the concert begins.

author unknown


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Stove Top Cottage Cheese, Egg, Cheese and Veggie Frittata

The following poem comes from A.A. Milne's book of poetry. It was written in 1924. You can just imagine Winnie the Pooh reciting these words as he walked through the woods on a very fine spring morning.
Spring Morning
by A. A. Milne

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Wanderlust encourages adventures.  Go for it these wonderful spring days! Later treat yourself to protein-packed cottage cheese, veggie, and cheese frittata. 

Stovetop Cottage Cheese Egg Cheese and Veggie Frittata
Cook's Notes: Have you ever had an amazing frittata, one that's creamy, custardy, and full of veggies, and wished you could replicate it at home? Look no more with this easy stovetop method. This protein-packed meal is the ultimate clean-out-the-fridge weeknight dinner or weekend brunch recipe. You can get creative with leftover frittata—use a slice as a sandwich filling, or break it up for easy breakfast tacos.
Each ingredient was readily available in my refrigerator so a quick run to the store was not needed. YEAH! YEAH!
I streamlined the recipe by cooking all of the frittata on the stove and skipped the usual finish, baking in the oven. Prep all ingredients ahead for easier assembly.
The recipe serves 4 and Buttermilk Blueberry Lemon Coffeecake was the perfect side. and previously posted.
https://sockfairies.blogspot.com/2021/04/buttermilk-blueberry-lemon-coffee-cake.html

The Frittata Ratio to Remember

For every six eggs, use 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, and 2 cups total of vegetables and/or meat. This will get you a frittata with a hearty filling.

Ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 handfuls of torn spinach leaves
  • 3/4 cup sweet mini peppers, diced
  • 1/3 cup green onions, diced
  • 1 cup shredded cheese e.g. pepper jack, Swiss, or cheddar
  • Optional cooked meat 1 cup e.g. chicken sausage, diced, chicken, Italian sausage, pork sausage, or smoked salmon. Diced potatoes work well too.   
Directions:
  • In a blender pulse once; eggs, cream, and spices. Add cottage cheese and pulse once more. Set aside.
  • In a 10-inch non-stick skillet heat olive oil and stir fry at a medium-low heat thepeppers, onions, and garlic for 2 minutes. Add in spinach leaves and stir fry until spinach is wilted.
  • Add in cooked meat if using and mix well.
  • Pour the egg mixture into a skillet with the vegetable mixture. As the eggs begin to set, gently stir the eggs from the edges to the center (about 1 minute). Cover and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the eggs are slightly soft on top (8 minutes). During cooking, a few times, uncover and use a spatula to lift up around the edges for the egg mixture to cook underneath.
  • Sprinkle cheese at end of cooking time to melt. Remove from the heat.
  • Use a spatula to loosen the bottom. Place a large plate about the size of the skillet and flip the frittata over and then flip back. 



Thursday, April 8, 2021

Buttermilk Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake

 
A lovely reflective thought from John Muir

We all know how much Peter Rabbit liked his blackberries but it did get him into trouble. 


I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening.
His mother put him to bed and made some camomile tea, and she gave a dose of it to Peter!
'One table-spoon to be taken at bedtime.'
But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

ending text is taken from the book The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
I do wonder if Peter had spied blueberries would he try to eat more than his share.  Think I'll use up my blueberries before someone else decides it's a really good treat. 
Cook's Notes:
One of the best things about blueberries is their simplicity. You don't have to peel them before use, a simple rinse will do. Throw them in your cereal, morning yogurt, a smoothie, a salad, or just enjoy them as a quick snack. These little berries packed full of vitamins and minerals can be a healthy addition to any diet.
FYI I have been trying to perfect this recipe having made it several times and finally found the secret ingredient-cake flour! Oh my, what a difference over using regular flour. The cake is light, fluffy, and moist. I just can't believe one change in an ingredient makes such a difference. Do not be daunted by directions-so well worth the time to make this. 
Cooking Tips: to create a really good blueberry muffin or coffee cake.
Use buttermilk
Stir batter only until moistened
Use small blueberries
Buttermilk Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake
Ingredients:
For the Streusel Topping
  • 6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off
  • 1/3 cup quick or old fashioned but not instant oats
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
For the Cake
  • 2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.
  • 3 teaspoons packed lemon zest, from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 pints of fresh blueberries (frozen may be used but do not defrost)
Directions:
  • Make the streusel topping: Combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Using your fingers, mix until no lumps of brown sugar remain. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it reaches a crumbly state. Can use a food processor for this step pulse 2-3 times. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan, pie, or cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour/flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  • Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beating at low speed to combine.
  • Toss berries with a little flour and add the berries to the batter. Gently fold in with a spatula until evenly distributed. Do not over-mix.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the batter. Bake for 25-28 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a cake tester, comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for about 20 minutes, then serve right from the pan.
  • This cake is best served on the day it is made. Leftovers will keep well for a few days wrapped in foil and stored at room temperature. But I am not sure there will be any left. 

Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

  There's nothing like a birthday celebration to start the week off on the right note.   And it doesn't get any better than marking ...