The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

Each month when they announce the challenges there can be a bit of time of feeling overwhelmed. This was one of those recipes. It had a lot of components and at first glance seemed complicated. Luckily others are always out there to do the recipe first and give their suggestions to the rest of us. I soon learned that it wasn't so difficult, just time consuming.

I started by making the chocolate base and the spiced nuts on Friday night. I only had a few pecans lying around, so I didn't make a big batch of nuts. The biggest problem there was that I didn't think the final product was spiced enough. Note for next time. I then tackled the chocolate base and was going to stop for the night but then realized the chocolate marquise needed to freeze overnight.  So I quickly whipped that together and poured it into a square pan to freeze.

On Saturday I just needed to whip up the meringue and make the caramel. I piped the meringue onto tin foil and then put it under the broiler to brown. Then it was just a matter of plating it all together.

In the end, a rather easy recipe after all. And good! Definitely a keeper to pull out for a special occasion to impress all your friends.

The recipes that were initially supplied made huge batches. I chose the quarter recipes, which was still enough to serve a dinner party of 6-8 easily. 

Chocolate Marquise

Servings: 6 2"x2" (5cmx5cm) cubes

3 large egg yolks at room temperature
1 large egg
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (40 ml) (40 grams/ 1½ oz) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (2/3 fluid oz/ 20 ml.) water
Chocolate Base, barely warm (recipe follows)
½ cup (4 fluid oz./ 120 ml.) heavy cream
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder (for rolling) (Note: We used extra brut, like Hershey's Special Dark. Make sure it's a Dutch processed cocoa, not a natural cocoa powder.)
Torched meringue (recipe follows)
Spiced almonds (recipe follows)
Cacao nibs (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and whole eggs. Whip on high speed until very thick and pale, about 10 - 15 minutes.
When the eggs are getting close to finishing, make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil and then cook to softball stage (235F/115C). If you have a cake tester with a metal loop for a handle, the right stage for the syrup is reached when you can blow a bubble through the loop (as seen in the following pictures). 
With the mixer running on low speed, drizzle the sugar syrup into the fluffy eggs, trying to hit that magic spot between the mixing bowl and the whisk.
When all of the syrup has been added (do it fairly quickly), turn the mixer back on high and whip until the bowl is cool to the touch. This will take at least 10 minutes.
 In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside.
When the egg mixture has cooled, add the chocolate base to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Try to get it as consistent as possible without losing all of the air you've whipped into the eggs. We used the stand mixer for this, and it took about 1 minute.
Fold 1/3 of the reserved whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Pour into the prepared pans and cover with plastic wrap (directly touching the mixture so it doesn't allow in any air).
Freeze until very firm, at least 2 - 4 hours (preferably 6 – 8 hours).
When you're ready to plate, remove the marquise from the freezer at least 15 minutes before serving. While it's still hard, remove it from the pan by pulling on the parchment 'handles' or by flipping it over onto another piece of parchment.
Cut it into cubes and roll the cubes in cocoa powder. These will start to melt almost immediately, so don't do this step until all of your other plating components (meringue, caramel, spiced nuts, cocoa nibs) are ready. The cubes need to sit in the fridge to slowly thaw so plating components can be done during that time. They don’t need to be ready before the cubes are rolled in the cocoa powder.

Chocolate Base 

Servings: n/a - this is an ingredient for the chocolate marquise, not meant to be used separately

3 oz (85 grams/ 6 tablespoons) bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cocoa)
1/3 cup + 2 teaspoons (90 ml/3 fluid oz.) heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/16 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon (15 ml/ 1/2 fluid oz.) tequila
1 tablespoon (15 ml/ 1/2 fluid oz.) light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon/(less than 1/4 ounce) cocoa powder (we used extra brut, like Hershey's Special Dark, but any Dutch-processed cocoa would be fine. Do not substitute natural cocoa powder.)
dash freshly ground black pepper
1/4 oz unsalted butter (1/2 tablespoon/8 grams), softened
  1. Place the chocolate in a small mixing bowl.
  2. In a double-boiler, warm the cream until it is hot to the touch (but is not boiling). Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
  3. Allow it to sit for a minute or two before stirring. Stir until the chocolate is melted completely and is smooth throughout.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
  5. Set aside until cooled to room temperature. Do not refrigerate, as the base needs to be soft when added to the marquise mixture. If you make it the day before, you may need to warm it slightly. Whisk it until it is smooth again before using it in the marquise recipe.

Torched Meringue

Servings: Makes about 1 cup of meringue.
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon (105 ml) (3½ oz or 100 gms) sugar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
Combine the egg whites, sugar and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using your (clean, washed) hand, reach in the bowl and stir the three together, making sure the sugar is moistened evenly by the egg whites and they make a homogeneous liquid.
Over a saucepan of simmering water, warm the egg white mixture. Use one hand to stir the mixture continuously, feeling for grains of sugar in the egg whites. As the liquid heats up, the sugar will slowly dissolve and the egg whites will thicken. This step is complete when you don't feel any more sugar crystals in the liquid and it is uniformly warm, nearly hot.
 Remove the mixing bowl from the saucepan and return it to the stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk until you reach soft peaks. In the last 10 seconds of mixing, add the vanilla to the meringue and mix thoroughly.
 When you're ready to plate the dessert, spoon the meringue onto a plate (or use a piping bag) and use a blowtorch to broil.

Servings: Makes about 1/4 cup of caramel
1/4 cup (60 ml/2 fluid oz) (2 oz/55 gm) sugar
2 tablespoons (1 fluid oz./ 30 ml.) water
1/4 cup (2 fluid oz./ 60 ml.) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water on medium-high heat. Boil until the water completely evaporates and the sugar caramelizes to a dark mahogany color.
Working quickly, add the cream to the darkened caramel. It will bubble and pop vigorously, so add only as much cream as you can without overflowing the pot.
 Return the pot to the stove on low heat and whisk gently to break up any hardened sugar. Add any remaining cream and continue stirring. Gradually, the hard sugar will dissolve and the caramel sauce will continue to darken. When the caramel has darkened to the point you want it, remove it from the heat. Add the salt and tequila and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to serve.

Spiced Nuts Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl whisk the egg white until it's frothy and thick.
  4. Add the spice mix to the egg white and whisk to combine completely.
  5. Add the nuts to the egg white mixture and toss with a spoon.
  6. Spoon the coated nuts onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake the nuts for 30 minutes, or until they turn light brown. Allow the nuts to cool completely and they will get very crunchy. Set aside until ready to serve.


Plate with the torched meringue and drizzled caramel sauce, and toss spiced almonds and cocoa nibs around for garnish. You want to handle the cubes as little as possible because they get messy quickly and are difficult to move. However, you want to wait to serve them until they've softened completely. The soft pillows of chocolate are what make this dessert so unusual and when combined with the other elements, you'll get creamy and crunchy textures with cool, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet sensations on your palate. 
Hard Eight BBQ on Urbanspoon

My friend asked me what I was in the mood for. Being in Texas, I said, "Barbecue!"

We drove into a commercial area near the airport where there was nothing but corporations and warehouses. Being that it was almost 9:00, the area was dead quiet. And yet we came to an intersection with a lot full of cars - we had arrived at Hard Eight

A month ago I would say that I had never gone through an entire day without eating some sort of animal protein. I had never done a Meatless Monday. If I had a salad for lunch, it had to have something, be it fish, chicken, or steak. And I bet there are plenty of you that are like that too. So when I decided to do a vegetarian month, I thought it would be pretty hard and I wondered if I would have meat cravings.

My “month” is over now. Yes, it was only three weeks long. (I have a trip to Texas and I figured there’s no way you can be in Texas and not eat beef sometime during the trip.) And I did cheat a couple of times for special events that I went to. For the most part, though, I did keep to my vegetarian month and had a few foodie revelations along the way.

First was that I could easily substitute fake meat products for some dishes and never really miss the animal version. I used Gardein’s Chick’n Scallopini for my salads and to make a nice picatta with grilled asparagus.  I used their Beefless Cubes and did a great stir-fry with vegetables and Asian sauces. The tempeh chili I made for Crockpot Wednesday was so good that I’m thinking I might never use ground beef in my chili again. I’ve often wondered if I would be able to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet and realize that with beans, of course, and these products, it would not be a challenge after all.

Some cuisines make the transition easy as well. Tandoor Chef meals are frozen Indian dinners that also come in vegetarian and vegan varieties. I was sent an assortment of the vegetarian ones to try.  I’m not all that knowledgeable about Indian food and some of the dinners made me a bit nervous. After all, I don’t like garbanzo beans and had never been a big fan of paneer. These meals were delicious and I ate every last bit. All that matters is flavor and Indians are experts with the use of spices. With a majority of their population being vegetarians, it’s no wonder they are experts with such fare.

Using those shortcuts certainly helped me out. To truly convert to vegetarian full time would certainly be a challenge, let alone going all the way to vegan. But I did manage to go through without craving any meat. Unfortunately, I did not see any difference in my energy levels. I probably would if I had gone totally vegan.

My biggest revelation was just realizing I had been a bit of a food snob. I'd shut down when confronted with the idea of vegan foods. Silly really. After I realized that margarine subs for butter and there are egg substitutes, the idea of vegan baking became more palatable to me. I'm still not sure how I'd get past cheese and cream in cooking though. Perhaps that will be another month - to go completely vegan and learn about those substitutes.

I will use this experience to make changes and will eat less meat now. It's all about learning what will work best for your lifestyle. I'm not interested in giving up meat completely, but I am interested in eating less of it. 

Now if I could just wean myself off sugar.

Lounge On 20 on Urbanspoon

People who know me know that I like to save a buck. I love Groupon and Living Social for that reason. Before they came along, I was using a lot. I don't like it as much anymore because of the restrictions they have and also because they tell you you have to purchase, say, $35 in food for your $25 coupon to work.

Anyway, the point is that I had a coupon for Lounge ON20 that I bought in 2009 and had never used. Lounge ON20 was an ultra-bar that catered more to a club scene than a dining scene. Then last month, when they announced the revamp with Pajo Bruich and Elaine Baker, I jumped for joy. Finally I had a reason to use my coupon! Last week Elaine tweeted that they were going to do a special tasting menu for the weekend. Here was my chance to try a range of items from two chefs that I admire. Keep in mind that they knew I was coming, so this was not a blind tasting (disclaimer).

The Lounge has always occupied a large corner of the MARS building. Prior to the revamp the lounge was set mostly with conversation areas of couches and low tables. There was a large empty area for dancing, and then the bar and patio seating. Although there are still some couch areas available, a large section has now been converted to a dining room with booths and tables.

Functional foods are "those foods that encompass potentially healthful products including any modified food or ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains," as defined by the Institute of Medicine. 

It all started decades ago simply enough: iodine added to salt to prevent goiters and Vitamin D added to milk. Or how about flouride added to toothpaste (although not a food) to prevent tooth decay? These were legitimate additions for improving everyone's health.
But now food companies are making all sorts of health claims on their packages in order to get you to buy them. Examples: Children's cereals saying that they improve children's focus and energy during school. Drinks touting their anti-oxidant properties. Labels shouting out: Probiotic! Heart healthy! Low in cholesterol!

There's been a bit of controversy of late because food manufacturers are going out of their way to promote and package their products as functional foods while pussy footing around the rules of the Food and Drug Administration. In an article this week in The New York Times, Foods With Benefits, or So They Say  speaks to those deceptive practices, how the FDA has come down on some companies with fines, and how the American public is being duped. Suffice it to say, the best way to get your nutrients is to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Always has been, always will. 

Rating: 2/5

Coming up with a recipe each week for Crockpot Wednesday has proven to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. First is the fact that a good blogger should test a recipe at least twice before posting. I rarely have the opportunity to do that and therefore appreciate feedback if something did or did not work out for you. Secondly, I'm single and so I end up with a lot of food for little ol' me! Between those reasons I try to pick recipes that will have high success and will be something I'm willing to eat for days. Most of the meals get packaged up and frozen for me to take to work.  I still get sick of them, though, even with rotating through them.

This week I wanted something simple and I wanted to try to incorporate a Gardein product as I am still eating vegetarian this May. I chose a cheesy chicken artichoke pasta. Thing is, sometimes you wonder about these so-called slow cooker recipe. Is it something that should be done in a crockpot? Or is it something that is better to be done on the stovetop?

In this case, I'd say the latter, especially if the chicken and the noodles are already cooked.  If you use raw chicken breasts, then yes, it does well for the crockpot. But if you use fake chicken (Gardein) or cooked rotisserie chicken leftovers, you might as well just do it on the stove.

So I leave you with this recipe with those little caveats. I will admit that I goofed and put the pasta in to cook the whole day when I was supposed to put it at THE END, thus the rather gloppy mess. It still tasted good. After all, it all ends up in the same place, right?

Note:  I'll be busy with a reunion over Memorial Day weekend. So the next two Crockpot Wednesdays are a bit up in the air. They might be reposts or links to other sites.

Chick'n & Artichoke Cheesy Pasta
adapted from
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breast, cubed or 3 pieces of Gardein Chick'n Scallopini, cubed
  • 4 oz roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 can (15oz) artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 8 oz process American cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can fat free cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 cups hot cooked pasta ( 8 to 10 oz)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Combine chicken, peppers, peas, artichokes, Havarti cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and soup in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. About 15 minutes before serving, add cheddar cheese and hot cooked pasta. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Bob is a big fan of Ginger Elizabeth. Actually, the whole family of Sactomato's Ann is, but her husband is the biggest. The way he tells it, he's parked out in front of Ginger Elizabeth's small shop before opening, tapping on the window going, "Open, open, open" like in those old Mervyn's commercials. Once a month Ginger makes cupcakes and Bob is first in line with daughter, Eva, to get them. This devotion does make a statement. After all, Ann and Bob are well versed in all things foodie.

This cupcake admiration meant that I had to try them too. Ginger makes three flavors for that one day a  month. Being May, she decided to make cupcake day on Mother's Day. I will bet that it was her highest sales ever in the cupcake category. I certainly couldn't resist when she announced May's flavors on her Facebook page:
  • Strawberry Rose Shortcake Cupcake: Vanilla Cake filled with House-Made Strawberry Rose Jam and Vanilla Crème Bavarois, topped with Strawberry Rose Buttercream.
  • Pistachio Parisian Macaron Cupcake: Almond Cake with Pistachio Pieces topped with Rich Pistachio Buttercream and Parisian Macaron Cookies.
  • Salty Caramel Cupcake: Rich Chocolate Cake filled with Fleur de Sel Caramel and topped with Caramel Buttercream.

How about a noodle with zero calories?! There is one that's made from an Asian yam. You've probably had them before if you ever had sukiyaki at a Japanese restaurant. They've been used for centuries.  Although it's been around for a long time in the Asian diet, it's now being marketed to the West. One company that is promoting them is NoOodle.

Made from shirataki yams, the yams have a special fiber called glucomannan. High in soluble fiber but with zero calories, zero net carbohydrates, and no gluten, they are useful for those on diabetic and low carb diets. Soluble fiber means that it turns into a gel when mixed with water. (Insoluble fiber passes through your system as a solid.)  The high water content mixed with the glucomannan creates a substance that  "increases the viscosity of gastro-intestinal content" making you feel fuller for longer. Studies have also found that glucomannan works in the intestinal tract to reduce food (sugar, fat, cholesterol) absorption. Because NoOodles have zero carbs, they do not cause any kind of glucose spike like other carb filled pastas, thus the popularity for diabetics. Glucomannan also reduces the absorption of cholesterol by helping it to flush through your system.

Rating: 5/5

I've known about tempeh for some time, wanted to try it, but never had enough urge to actually do it. Now that I'm doing my vegetarian May, I figured this was finally the time. I wanted to see if some of these fake meat products could be put into a crockpot recipe. Luckily, as I was flipping through my new copy of Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen, I found one!

Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans. It becomes firm and is often sold in cake form. It's often used as a meat substitute. Nowadays there are fake meat products that are made of more than just soy beans. The better ones combine soy with hearty grains such as quinoa and amaranth.

Thanks to my giant grapefruit and lemon trees, I turn into a citrus stand during the late winter/early spring. I don't care for grapefruit and so most of it is left on my porch and my coworkers stop by on their way home and stock up. Honestly, they've gotten at least $100 worth each from my prolific tree. I don't ask for anything in return. After all, they're helping get rid of them for me.

Nevertheless, I do have one coworker who repays me in culinary goodies from Eastern Europe. Not a bad deal. Last week she dropped off a bottle of pumpkin seed oil. She uses it on salads and told me to enjoy the strong pumpkiny flavor.

Internet research turns up that pumpkin seed oil comes just after hemp seed and flax seed oils for the most Omega 3 and 6 oils. Therefore, this is some super healthy stuff. It's also traditionally prescribed for treatment of bladder, prostate, and intestinal problems.

In Europe it is used over salads with apple cider vinegar for a simple dressing. It's also drizzled over things like soups and appetizers as a finisher. It is not for cooking, though, as that ruins the health benefits. Heat is the enemy and so it is best to refrigerate it.

As you can see, it has a very dark, rich color with red thrown into the dark green. It is indeed very pumpkiny and I just dipped my snow peas in it for my taste test. I look forward to using it to finish things like bruschetta or simply to dip some good bread in.
Vegan have fork lines, regular do not

It’s been years since I last made snickerdoodle cookies. A classic recipe that’s been around for over 100 years, the cookie with the strange name is really just a cinnamon sugar cookie.

Me, I’m a big chocolate chip cookie fan. They are my go-to cookie. But I recently had a nostalgic turn where I was thinking about snickerdoodles and the fact that I hadn’t made them in a really long time. I also was learning a little about vegan baking and decided that this would be a good cookie to experiment with. After all, when you are comparing like recipes, you want the simplicity of a sugar cookie.

The reason I wanted to try baking them vegan involves a certain food snobbery that I think many of us share. I’ve been into the Sugar Plum Vegan shop a couple of times over the last few months but never bought anything. How many times have you done this? Something is labeled vegan or gluten-free and you run away as if it’s some sort of diseased item. “I want REAL food!” you proclaim. “I use butter, eggs, flour, etc. Not substitutes!”

We are week into May and a week into my eating vegetarian. No, it's not something permanent. It's more like an experiment. I want to see how not eating meat might make me feel health and energy-wise. It's not been too difficult at home and bringing lunch to work. The real challenge is going out to eat with friends.

I am one of those people, maybe like you, that has had to have some sort of meat with every lunch or dinner. Even in salads I want something - whether it's chicken, some shrimp, or slices of steak. Pork is my favorite meat of all. LOVE pork in all forms. But the medical and nutrition community has said for many years that we need to make meat the side dish and beans or vegetables the main part of every meal. 

At first I contemplated going vegan for the month, but decided that would be just too drastic a step to take. I'll try that soon, I'm sure, but for now I wanted to just stick to eliminating meat to see how I do.

I figured the route for me, Ms. Meat Eater, is to try the fake meat approach to ease me into the vegetarian meals. Ellen Degeneres is a vegan and on her show she's been challenging people to try the vegan lifestyle. I was watching one of her shows where a family was trying vegan and using Gardein products to help. 

Gardein makes healthy protein alternatives. You can call them fake meat if you wish, since they are meant to take the place of meat in your meals with names such as Chick'n Scallopini and Beefless Burger. The products consist of a blend of grains, fiber, and soy to create dense pieces that have a consistency as close to meat as possible. I contacted Gardein and they were kind enough to send me some coupons so I could get a few different products to try.

So far I'm really liking the Chick'n Scallopini. They come frozen and you saute them in a skillet or pan to cook them. I've been using them as a substitute for chicken in my salads for lunch. For dinner, I've cooked them up in some butter before adding some lemon juice and capers. I serve it all up with some steamed asparagus for a simple, yet delicious meal.

Now I must admit that if pork is my favorite meat, chicken is my least favorite. Having these Chick'n items has been an easy change for me. They are close enough to chicken that I don't really notice the difference. I've also tried the Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers which are baked in the oven. Nice and crispy. I still have to try the beef alternative items.

The next few weeks will have more posts about my trying vegetarian. So far, it's not been too difficult.

Rating: 3.5/5

Soup is generally not very photogenic. Especially when it's a bean soup. But looks, luckily, do not reflect on taste. This is a spiced lentil soup. I say spiced because it has spice in it (tumeric), but is not very spicy-hot.

I have adapted this recipe from one I tore out of a magazine. I can't remember which, because I cut it out. Anyway, the recipe called for just taking about a half an hour of time to make whereas I've converted it for the crockpot.

There are many, many types of lentils ranging all the way from yellow to black. Each color will have a different flavor and consistency and therefore, different uses. This recipe calls for red lentils, which are supposed to be good for sauces and soups because they break down with cooking. Green lentils, by comparison, will retain their shape. In my case, I had little bits of this and that. I had about 1/2 cup of green, 1/4 cup of brown, and 1/4 of a different type of red. I had to go and buy some more red, which was a different variety from what I already had. So mine came out to be a mixed lentil soup.

Spiced Lentil Soup

2 c red lentils
1 serrano chili pepper, chopped
1 1 1/2 inch of ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 t tumeric
4 c vegetable broth
2 c water
salt to taste

Put everything but the salt into the crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Season with salt to taste at end.

As many know, last year I got to meet and get my picture taken with my Russell Crowe. I was beaming for a week and even now, when I feel down, I just have to look at that picture of us to cheer myself up.

That’s the kind of glow I have now after a super successful SactoMoFo. After nine months of planning, it went off superbly. And to think that as of late January, we hadn’t yet had our County permit meeting and I was stressing. Yes, we actually pulled it off in just three months.