Friday, December 28, 2012

Creamy Cocoa Bonbons

Beautiful and simple, Cocoa Bonbons.
There are many holiday themed delights to be found in the Time Capsule, but this one caught my (adult) attention because of its quick and easy nature. Indeed, the entire process took me less than half an hour, and produced a sweet, fudgy treat – perfect for taking to a cookie exchange or popping in your mouth by the handful after a vigorous round of holiday shopping.

Several years ago, I watched Martha Stewart scoop chilled chocolate ganache into homemade truffles and was smitten. Although truffles are not really difficult (ganache being a concoction of chocolate, butter and cream, which is melted together, then chilled), they are messy, time consuming and relatively expensive. Three things I try to avoid this time of year.

From humble beginnings ...
Likewise, I have long desired to turn effortless fudge out of my kitchen at the holidays. Sadly, the last time I made fudge that did not seize, split or fail to set was in 2008. (Interestingly enough, that was my daughter’s first Christmas. How the heck did I have time to make fudge that year?)

So here I found myself, once again, knocking on the door of the mid-'80s. And, once again, the Time Capsule did not disappoint. This recipe, cut from my childhood paper, The (Everett) Herald, gloriously straddles the line between fudge and truffle, with the benefits of both economics and time on its side.

Let your cream cheese soften at room temp before whipping.
I was initially dubious that the cream cheese base would overwhelm the cocoa and sugar flavors, but I needn’t have worried. What it does do is lend a budget-minded creaminess, and, I’d like to think, a smidgen of health that isn’t to be found in more traditional truffles.

The process itself couldn’t be simpler – take softened cream cheese and mix in cocoa, confectioners sugar, a bit of butter and vanilla. Mix until combined, chill, than shape into bite-sized bliss. Voila! Holiday treats that keep your sanity and pocketbook intact. I’ll celebrate that combination!

Creamy Cocoa Bonbons

3 ounces cream cheese
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

The finished batter, before chilling.
Soften cream cheese in small mixer bowl. Add sugar, cocoa, butter and vanilla and mix. Shape into ½-inch balls (you may need to chill this to make it handleable). Chill again completely. Store in refrigerator. Makes 2 dozen bonbons.

·      I used reduced-fat cream cheese. This time of year, I would rather splurge on my full-fat stuff where I’m really going to taste it. If you are parsimonious in other dietary pursuits, by all means use the regular stuff.
·      I rolled the finished bonbons in confectioners’ sugar, chilled, then rolled again – rather the way you make good fried chicken by coating it twice. I found this allowed the sugar to really stick to the chocolate.
·      “Handleable” is their word, not mine.

Why Don’t You …
·      Experiment with flavors? It boggles the mind really how far you could take some variations: almond extract with crushed almond coating; mint extract with crushed candy canes; vanilla and extra cocoa powder; almond and coconut; crushed potato chips or pretzels …
·      Whip up a batch for your sweetheart at Valentine’s Day?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Traditional Chex Mix

The gang's all here for "Traditional Chex Mix."
My husband’s best friend Brad has many talents, not the least of which is making really killer Chex Mix. Brad insists, as do I, on the “original” recipe that is baked to perfection in a slow oven. So, like me, Brad would probably be stunned to see this recipe for Chex Mix, which is a far cry from the Mix I’ve been making and munching on for the last decade. The recipe itself looks like it was folded up in one of those teeny plastic bags and stuffed inside the cereal box itself, and is accompanied by some variations that I’m sure were cutting-edge at the time: Cajun, Peanut and my personal fave, Harvest (which features curry powder, chow mein noodles and raisins).

Melted butter awaiting more ingredients.
A quick glance at the Chex website,, and you’ll realize how quaint (and bland) the ‘80s really were. Today’s Chex Mix variations feature caramel, chocolate “blasts,” malted milk powder, BBQ sauce and powdered ranch dressing mix (but not all together – not yet). It seems that just adding pretzel sticks is not variation enough for our millennium. If flavor is not literally exploding around you while you’re parked on the couch watching the game, say the good people at Chex, why even bother snacking? The amount of time that has been spent creating modern Chex Mix variations – about half of which make me salivate and half of which activate my gag reflex – is astonishing. But kudos to the Chex cereal folks for turning a rather drab breakfast option into a snack that has endured for 60-plus years.

The 1980s "Traditional"
Whatever the ingredients, the basic concept of Chex Mix has stayed reassuringly the same: Melt some butter and seasonings in a large cookie sheet, stir in cereal and nuts, and bake, tossing every 15 minutes, until coated and crispy.  But this 1980s version is boring, even if it does feature more butter. I prefer a 21st century version featuring pretzels, a few more seasonings (less butter – sigh) and bagel chips. Though not technically from the Time Capsule, I’ve included it here. I think you'll be pleased.

Traditional Chex Party Mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1-1/4 teaspoons seasoned salt
4-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2-2/3 cups Corn Chex cereal
2-2/3 cups Rice Chex cereal
2-2/3 cups Wheat Chex cereal
1 cup salted mixed nuts

Preheated 350-degree oven. In 15x10x2-inch baking pan melt butter in oven. Remove. Stir in seasoned salt and Worcestershire. Gradually add cereal and nuts, stirring until all pieces are evenly coated. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Spread on absorbent paper to cool. Store in air tight container.

"Please, sir, could I have a pretzel?" says 1980s Chex Mix
My Traditional Chex Mix
3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Wheat Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup bite-sized pretzels
1 cup bite-sized bagel chips, or regular-sized bagel chips, broken into 1" pieces
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon onion salt

1. Heat oven to 250-degrees.
2. In ungreased large roasting pan, melt butter in oven. Stir in Worcestershire, seasoned salt and garlic and onion powders. Gradually stir in remaining ingredients until evenly coated.
3. Bake uncoverd 1 hour, stirring every 15 mintues. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Store in airtight container.
Deliciously salty and crisp: My Traditional Chex Mix variation
·      Chex would have you believe you can get identical results using your microwave. This is a lie. What you may gain in time, you lose in soul-sucking, limp Mix. Take an hour, lazy-bones, and make it the old-fashioned way.
·      Chex would also have you believe that their pre-made Mix (now available in the snack aisle at your local grocery) is identical to a batch of the homemade stuff. This is another lie. Take an hour and make it the old-fashioned way, without any shelf-stabilizers or guar gum.
·      I use Johnny’s Seasoning Salt and real butter.

Why Don’t You …
·      Gift some Mix? Traditional Chex Mix, or a salty variation thereof, is a great gift this time of year, when some people (I’ve heard tell) can get burnt out on the abundance of sweets.  I’ve found it keeps well in an air-tight container. Of course, it only sticks around for about 36 hours at my house, so I can’t vouch for its freshness after, say, a week.
·      Look at all the ways the word “air tight” is featured in this story! I prefer air-tight, the 1980s want it air tight, and the new millennium goes with airtight. We may not agree on syntax, but we can all agree: Chex Mix is delicious!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Quick Bites: Seabolt's Smoked Salmon Paté

That's no cheese ball -- that's salmon pate!
After a few weeks (or should I say, months) of slumming it in the convenience aisle, I think it’s time to class up the Capsule, don’t you? And I love this recipe for seriously chic salmon paté – a ridiculously easy and delicious appetizer for all the entertaining you’re bound to be doing this time of year.

Seafood can be pricy, but I found a beautiful piece of smoked Alaska King for about $10. And, with the addition of the (budget-minded) cream cheese, this recipe is a great way to stretch the fish to feed a crowd.

Although I have no idea why I might have ventured to the (still very much operational) Seabolt's Seafood in Oak Harbor, WA, as a child, this recipe might convince me to make the trip as an adult to see what else they're cookin' up. Visit them yourself, in person or online: They ship!

Still life with ingredients.
Seabolt’s Smoked Salmon Paté

¼ lb. cream cheese
¼ lb. smoked salmon
1 T. lemon juice
½ T. minced onion
½ T. minced parsley
¼ tsp. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients and thin down with a little mayonnaise or lemon juice, if desired.

  • I am a Pacific Northwest girl, married to a former commercial fisherman, so I'm going to insist: You must use wild-caught Alaska smoked salmon.
  • I used the Cuisinart to whirl everything into pink oblivion. But fear not if you're without a food processor -- it will come together just fine by hand. In fact, it might be a little more retro-chunky that way.
  • I did find the finished paté thick, but because I decide to pack it in a mold, it worked perfectly. If you're planning to scoop it straight out of the Cuisinart, you may wish to fold in lemon juice or mayo as directed to ensure a fluffier consistency.

To make a quick mold, line a small bowl with cling wrap. Spoon the pate into the now-covered bowl, cover and chill. To serve, unwrap and invert onto a serving plate.
Why Don't You?
  • Add some chopped dill or capers -- or both?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cheese"bugar" Pie

Steaming hot Impossible Pie.
Is there any more hilarious pun than the cheeseburger/cheesebugar one? Especially when you’re nine? It’s hard to know if I meant this as a little joke, though, or if I made an honest spelling mistake. (Quick spelling aside: Even without the cheat of spellcheck, I am a fantastic speller these days. I give all the credit to fifth grade teacher Ms. Dee, who, after I got 3/10 on a weekly spelling test, announced to the entire class, “Stefin will be staying inside at recess to work on her spelling.” I never did anything but ace a spelling test after that pitiful Friday when my chums played in the golden autumn sunshine of childhood, and I glared daggers at Ms. Dee under the glow of sickly fluorescent lighting. D-A-G-G-E-R-S. Sometimes public humiliation does work.)

But with that jaunt down memory lane behind us, let’s get down to dinner. Bisquick’s Cheeseburger Pie headlined their “Impossible Pie” category for many a moon. But a quick gander at the Betty Crocker website nearly blew my mind – today, Betty’s Impossible Pie is spanning the globe and attempting to win the more refined palates, too. Tip your hat to a range of “Impossibles:” From Taco to Italian to Bacon and finally, my personal favorite: Seafood. (This last one features crabmeat and pimentos, and I found myself laughing at the idea of that concoction as much as my nine-year-old-self was laughing at bugars.)

The Bisquick mixture tops the ground beef.
Cheeseburger Pie is a cinch to make. Brown your ground beef and onion, dump it into a pan and top with a creamy concoction of milk, eggs and Bisquick. After it’s baked for half-an-hour or so, top with fresh sliced tomatoes and grated Cheddar (or American!) cheese. The beauty of the Impossible Pie is that it makes its own crust – a glorified blender quiche.

This dinner worked when I needed it to: A busy weekend evening. And as the holiday season swings into high gear, it may be just what you’re looking for. But man alive was it bland. Comparing it to today’s version of the recipe, I found an addition that would have helped a lot: Worcestershire sauce. If you’re going to try for the Impossible, I highly suggest you add some seasonings beyond the recommended salt and pepper.

The last tomatoes from my garden met a fitting end.
So while it’s certainly tastier than I imagine true “bugar” pie would be, but it’s not completely delicious, either.  But, much like an ordinary cheeseburger, it provides a launching pad from which to build a great concoction. Try your hand at some variations, and let me know what works.

 Cheese”bugar” Pie

1 pound ground beef
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 cups milk
¾ cup Bisquick baking mix
3 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded Cheddar or process American cheese

This is Cheddar, but I'd prefer American.
Heat oven to 400-degrees. Grease pie plate, 10x1-1/2 inches. Brown beef and onion; drain. Stir in salt and pepper. Spread in plate. Beat milk, baking mix and eggs until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake 25 minutes. Top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 5 to 8 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. 6 to 8 servings. High Altitude: Increase first bake time to 30 minutes.

·      I take any opportunity to sing the praises of Velveeta, and I’ll do it again here. I think its gooey, melty consistency would be just the right thing for this dish, actually, contributing to the Big Mac quality you’re shooting for.
·      Fifteen seconds of use is not a good enough reason to drag out your blender, and, more to the point, wash it after you’re done. Use a hand mixer (or fork, in a pinch) and count the one-minute whisk toward your daily aerobic tally!

Could be improved upon ... unlike the joke in the title.
Why Don’t You …
·      Add some chopped sweet or dill pickle?
·      Try caramelizing the onion separate from browning the ground beef? This would add a deeper, more refined flavor. Perfect for something you're going to douse in ketchup.
·      Add other favorite cheeseburger toppings – cooked bacon, avocado, ketchup, mustard. Go crazy. Betty has! (Seriously, check out that Seafood Pie on I bet you’d rather eat a cheesebugar. HAHA! Still funny!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

All this luscious cake from humble beginnings.
I had the best of intentions to forgo sweets until next week, when I dodge the twin dietary minefields of Thanksgiving and my birthday. But you know what they say about intentions … and some days a girl has just got to have cake. Fortunately, this one comes together quickly, with ingredients you probably have in your pantry and -- mega-bonus! -- doesn’t totally break the calorie bank.

Though I’d never made this particular recipe, dating to sometime in the mid-‘80s, judging by the yellowed newspaper it’s cut from, I immediately recognized it as a dessert I had in college. I’d gone home to Moberly, MO with my dear friend Angie for spring break, and one night her dad made a “Pudding Cake.”  (Quick aside: I realize that saying “I went to Moberly, MO for spring break” may not have the same party-girl cachet as saying: “I went to Cancun,” but, having now been both places, I’ll take the Heartland any day of the week.) But back to the cake: I remember being suspicious that the nearly two cups of boiling water her father poured over the batter would render it edible, but I’m nothing if not a good houseguest, and kept my observations to myself. Happily for everyone, the batter sucked up the water and, warm out of the oven, put a smile on my face.

The "stiff" batter with brown-sugar topping.
That’s what happens with this recipe, too. The initial batter is stiff and scanty. Then, with the topping of brown sugar, additional cocoa and the aforementioned hot water, it turns into something resembling a science experience gone amok. But fear not, fearless readers, for the batter inverts itself, much like an Impossible Pie, and what comes out of the oven is a moist, delicious cake. And please note, fans of the "toothpick test:" This is one cake you definitely DO want to come out with moist crumbs attached.

This is not a cake to cut, per se, but rather scoop. And really, the only acceptable vehicle to scoop it onto is vanilla ice cream. The recipe says you can top with whipped cream, but trust me: You need ice cream. The hot pudding cake oozes down the side like a happy avalanche. The texture of the cake is slightly spongy, while the copious amounts of pudding "sauce" is thick and rich. And somehow it's not overly sweet, despite its combined total of 1-3/4 cups of sugar. (All the more reason to spoon it over ice cream.)

Don't worry, you haven't ruined it!
In addition to reaffirming my commitment to weeknight cake, this recipe also reaffirmed my commitment to homemade cake batter. Though many of the Time Capsule recipes rely on a boxed mix (and God love ‘em), the ingredients for a simple pantry cake come together so easily, and are so much more tasty, that there’s really no advantage to relying on Betty Crocker.

So do yourself a tasty favor. Whip up this Hot Fudge Pudding Cake and reminiscence – about your own spring break, about friends and Midwestern hospitality, about other delicious cakes you’ve enjoyed … whatever. It’s a worthy weeknight indulgence. You won’t be sorry.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup flour
Hello gorgeous!
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons oil
½ to 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1-3/4 cup hot water
Whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons cocoa into bowl; blend in milk and oil. Stir in nuts, if using. Turn batter into ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. Combine brown sugar and remaining cocoa; sprinkle on batter. Slowly pour water over all. Bake at 350 degrees 40-45 minutes. During baking, cake mixture rises to the top and chocolate sauce settles to the bottom. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 9 servings.

·      I am so not sifting a weeknight cake. My trusty whisk took care of the minimal lumps just fine.
·      I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, because that’s what I had in the pantry. Hence, the rather gothic appearance of my cake.  In most applications, I prefer the Special Dark powder.
·      I used ½ cup of chopped walnuts, but I think chopped peanuts would also be delish.

Why Don’t You …
·      Continue the hot-fudge sundae feel of this cake? Top the vanilla ice cream with the cake and fudge sauce, then continue the decadence with whipped cream, pineapple topping and a cherry.
·      Try swirling some peanut butter into the hot cake sauce for a gooey, melty double play? Oh come on people! We've got six weeks until New Year's resolution time.