Category: Dessert

Microwave Popcorn Recipe

microwave popcorn recipeThis may not come as a surprise to anyone, but did you know that you can make popcorn in a microwave? Yes, shocking, I know. But what I dislike about buying bags of prepared popcorn ready to go into the microwave is that they are mostly filled with unpronounceable substances that I would not put in my body given a choice. They are also a ridiculous amount of money for what you get. This afternoon, I went out and bought a bag of regular popcorn for almost nothing. I placed a handful of kernels into a brown paper bag, folded up the top and placed it in my microwave oven for about 2 1/2 minutes. 2 and 1/2 minutes later, I was enjoying a bowl of cheap as dirt popcorn seasoned with my favorite smoked salt. I’m not as surprised at how easy this is as much as I’m blown away by the idea that I hadn’t thought to try this long ago. I’m sure many of you reading this may already know how easy this is, but this was my mini epiphany. Now I can make popcorn flavored with just about anything I like and I don’t have to take out the pot and oil, or pay more than movie popcorn prices for a simple bag of microwaved popcorn. This is, by far, the simplest popcorn recipe I have ever come across and works incredibly well.

Mexican Wedding Cake

mexican wedding cakeThe basis for this cake is Mexican chocolate, which is basically chocolate with a touch of cinnamon. But as it has the proper name “Mexican chocolate” it is obviously an entirely different type of product than plain old chocolate with cinnamon in it. I have to admit, though, that there is something very special about this cake and if you taste it once, you may fight to the death for another piece.

Ingredients:
For the streusel topping
:
1 18- or 19-ounce package Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped (regular dark chocolate will do if Mexican chocolate is not available)
1 large egg yolk
Salt
3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

For the cake:
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Powdered sugar, for dusting the finished cake

Directions:

1. The streusel topping. In a food processor, pulse half of the Mexican chocolate until it is the consistency of coarse crumbs. Remove and set aside for the batter. To the processor, add the second half of the chocolate and process it to the consistency of coarse crumbs. Mix the egg yolk and 1/2 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, omit the salt) in a small bowl to dissolve the salt. Add to the processor along with the 3 1/2 ounces butter, and the 1cup flour. Pulse the machine just until everything is thoroughly combined—it should look crumbly, not having been processed to a paste.

2. The cake. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Sift together the 1 3/4 cups flour and baking powder. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the cream cheese, the 8 ounces butter and the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. One at a time, add the eggs, beating until one is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next. Add the sifted flour mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 1 minute, just until the flour is incorporated. Lastly, use a large spoon to stir the reserved chopped chocolate into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth. Crumble the streusel topping evenly over the batter, making sure there are no large lumps—lumps may sink during baking.

Bake in the center of the oven until springy (the edges will have just begun to pull away from the sides of the pan) and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack (in my opinion, this cake tastes best when still slightly warm), cut into squares and serve dusted with powdered sugar. Vanilla, caramel or cinnamon-scented ice cream sure goes well with a bite of this pastel.

Working Ahead: Tightly wrapped, the finished cake keeps beautifully for several days. You may want to re-warm pieces of the cake before serving.

Easy Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Chocolate covered strawberries

Chocolate covered strawberries

This simple dessert (or snack) looks like it takes a lot of work, but perfect chocolate covered strawberries can actually be a quick and easy treat. I’d say it took me about 5 minutes or less to make these, and then you should hide them if you will need them later, they are too easy to polish off immediately. The key to saving time is using milk chocolate chips and melting them in a microwave rather than a fancy double boiler.

Ingredients:
strawberries
chocolate chips (milk chocolate is my preference, but use what you like)

Directions:
1. Wash and dry the strawberries. Make sure they are dry as the chocolate will not stick well to them if they are wet.

2. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 15-30 seconds at a time. In between each cycle, stir with a fork to ensure an even consistency.

3. When the chocolate has melted, hold the strawberries by the leaves and dip in the melted chocolate and slowly rotate. Stirring them around will result in a lumpy chocolate coating, but slowly rotating them once and lifting them out straight up will leave a nice, smooth coating on the strawberries.

4. Place each strawberry on wax paper (or aluminum foil, or a plate that has been greased with butter) to set. The best place for the strawberries to set is in your refrigerator.

5. When the chocolate coating is set, take them somewhere safe and eat them all yourself.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

It may seem odd to add vinegar to berries, but a surprisingly tasty combination is a very simple dish of strawberries with balsamic vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar brings out the sweetness of the berries, and the contrast of flavors allows the intensity of each to come out, enhancing the “berry-ness” of a simple strawberry. This is a great summer dessert when the strawberries are at their peak ripeness, but is a great dish any time of year (and a great way to enjoy so-so strawberries out of season).

There are two ways to make this, the inexpensive way, and the more expensive way. The inexpensive way (relatively speaking) is to add standard balsamic vinegar and sugar to the berries, while the latter method is to use a special type of balsamic vinegar that has been bottled with some of the concentrated must from the wine-making process. Must is what one calls the sweet grape juice prior to fermentation. This particular vinegar is thicker and sweeter than traditional vinegar, and a little goes a long way, but it is an incredible addition to any sweet dessert, and I keep a bottle around always for this very purpose. You will find it in specialty food stores, such as cheese shops and foofy high-end food shops.

Ingredients
1 pint strawberries
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

If you have the sweetened, reduced balsamic vinegar you can leave out the sugar.

Directions
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve. Really. You don’t need any whipped cream (although you can add it if you wish), this dish is incredible on its own. Also, feel free to increase or reduce the vinegar to your taste. Some people prefer just a hint of vinegar, and some (like me) like soup. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of experimenting with this to make a smoothie, if I can find the proper mix of ingredients (and I will). Expect that post this summer.

Caramel Popcorn Balls

caramel popcorn balls

Caramel Popcorn Balls

These popcorn balls are easy to make and disappear in an instant. This recipe can be used to make regular caramel popcorn, however the kids really like the balls and I kind of do too. It also makes them easier to distribute when you can toss them across a room when the time comes. If we want to take them somewhere we put them in little wax paper sandwich bags to keep them safe. Personally, I prefer to pop my own popcorn, however in a pinch I have used 2 bags of microwave popcorn and no one will know the difference.

Ingredients
10 cups of popcorn
1/2 bag of Kraft caramel pieces (about 25 – 30)
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon water
A dash of salt
extra butter for greasing up hands

Directions
1. Put the popcorn in a large bowl, large enough to allow for the mixing of the ingredients as the popcorn will be tossed around.

2. In a medium saucepan, place the butter, water, salt and caramel pieces and over a medium-high heat, melt the caramel, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan. When melted, remove from heat and keep stirring for a minute.

3. Slowly pour the melted caramel mixture into the bowl while using two large forks to keep tossing the popcorn like a salad. I often recruit my wife to pour while I stir, but it can be done by one person.

3. When the caramel has been incorporated into the popcorn, grab a hunk of butter and rub it all over your hands so they are nice and buttery. This will allow you to shape the balls without the popcorn sticking to your hands. It also adds a nice coating of butter to the popcorn that adds tremendously to the flavor, but isn’t enough to make them greasy. Pick up a handful of the popcorn mixture and shape into a ball. Press lightly to shape them into spheres. You should have plenty of time to do this before all the popcorn cools, as when warm it will shape easily, but if you leave it to cool first, you will have a tough time shaping it into balls.

4. Eat before your kids see them or you won’t get any.