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?