Dare the decadence! Talk the torte!

The end is near. 2015 is 11 hours away from being over. I’m not gonna do it. 

The year’s retrospect. I’m not.

Instead, I’m gonna celebrate with … cake!

Decadent rich dark chocolate torte, to be precise. Not a spoonful of flour found! Not a dessert for the faint of heart.

After diligent research of recipes and reviews, I selected this chocolate torte recipe. And easy chocolate ganache instead of the called-for glaze. No regrets! Very easy with minor adjustments & tips below.

Cake

1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional — didn’t use

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional — DO USE! 

3 large eggs

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Ganache (from another site) 

12 ounces chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons flavored liqueur, optional
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of the pan.

To make the cake: Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat until the butter is melted and the chips are soft. Stir until the chips melt, reheating briefly if necessary. You can also do this over a burner set at very low heat. Transfer the melted chocolate/butter to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the sugar, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla. Espresso enhances chocolate’s flavor much as vanilla does; using 1 teaspoon will simply enhance the flavor, while 2 teaspoons will lend a hint of mocha to the cake.

Add the eggs, beating briefly until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, and mix just to combine.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust, and it should register at least 200°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into its center.

Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes.

Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that’s fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.

Yield: 8″ cake, 8 to 12 servings.

*************

Let us begin!

1. The batter. Dreamy decadent batter! That –hard to believe! — I don’t taste. Not even a pinch off the beaters! What’s wrong with me?! Answer: I make this first thing in my (late) morning. I do NOTNOTNOT like sweets in the morning! 

 Hence I rely on a strictly visual taste-test. It passes with flying (dark) colors! Chosen chocolate: Bittersweet chips by Ghiradelli. Semi-sweet chips are just too sweet. Of course you could mix ‘n’ match to your taste. 

can ya dig the darkness?!

 
2.  Into the oven. Recipe states 375. Too hot. I set mine at 350. Good move. 

Also, after reading reviews, I make sure to generously grease with PAM and parchment-paper the pan AND use an 8-inch cake pan. Not 9-inch! — after posted complaints that the cake was too thin. Mmmmm-mmm, have a look at that black beauty! Have we died and gone to heaven?

torte heading into oven

 
3. Baked around 22 minutes. The edges are crusted and the center jiggly-soft just a skoosh. Some cracking and sinking are normal as it cools so don’t be alarmed. Perfect.

 

torte cooling and cracking but don’t fret, it’s normal

 
4. Flipped onto its serving dish fully intact. Bottom’s up!

 

torte “flips out”

 
5. Now the really fun part. Decorating! I loooove to decorate! 

But first, the ganache. Ganache is a tricky animal. Because it hardens as it cools. Which makes it ideal for pouring or whipping or piping into shapes. So you must tend to its temperature and consistency for your desired purpose.

I don’t like cakes drenched in sugar. Your mileage may vary. (And probably does; I don’t equate sugar and salt with flavor like most Americans do.)

I roll with about a cup of chocolate chips — about 2/3 dark chocolate, the remaining semi-sweet — and whipping cream in a carton. Stir in a saucepan over low heat. 

Stir with mindful eye until it achieves a consistency that’s thick but still pourable. If you pass that point and the ganache hardens, simply reheat on low while stirring so it doesn’t burn! Burnt ganache no good.

Plenty ganache to coat the cake with leftovers!

gimme ganache!

6. Since it’s the recipient’s birthday AND Christmas (sucks for her), I combine candles ‘n’ kisses.

Tips:

* After pouring the ganache, I cool the torte in the fridge so it’ll harden and make slicing easier. 

* I use a sharp long unserrated knife and press firmly; do not saw. Dip knife into hot water and wipe dry after EVERY cut.

* This baby’s rich rich rich so cut pieces small! There’s 16 here. Verdict: These are keeper recipes.

Feast … with your eyes!

if tortes could talk, this one would say Merry Christmas AND Happy Birthday!

Snowballs from the oven. Has the world gone mad?!

Yes it has. Yet let us bake nonetheless!

Baking. Gets no more basic than Betty Crocker sometimes. 

After disappointment with a cookie recipe — unfortunately Christmas cookies for my son — at one site, I returned to ol’ Betts for another batch. Earmarked for the food-demo gals and guys at Costco. 

So sorry my son got the bleh batch with the bleh recipe! Won’t happen again.

Mexican wedding cakes. Russian tea cakes. Snowballs. Call them what you will, they’re a well-liked popular cookie, except among folks who can’t eat or don’t like nuts. And so seasonal! We here in cental Arizona did not get the white Christmas promised us repeatedly by the forecasters. 

Wouldn’t it be something to be continuously wrong or bad at your job and STILL get paid?!

Snowballs. Really, they’re shortbread in a ball. Rich buttery shortbread with sugar, vanilla and finely-chopped nuts.

Some folks use walnuts or almonds. I stick with pecans. They’re traditional. Plus have a meatier and richer flavor than walnuts and (certainly) almonds, thereby nicely complementing the buttery shortbread.

Here’s the recipe and Russian tea cakes from ol’ gal Betty:

Ingredients

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

1/4 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar

Directions

Heat oven to 400ºF. (Note: seemed too hot to me so I went with 350)

Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.

Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

Now the best and completely calories-free part: Pics!

The raw dough with pecans very finely chopped. That’s key IMHO. Enables through mixing and a nutty flavor in every bite.

 

snowballs dough at the start

 
Size matters. Snowballs rolled into the size of golfballs are the preference of some. I prefer those slightly bigger than, say, a walnut shell. These cookies do not spread so what you roll is what you’ll get.  

Also, the thick bigger balls increase the chance of burning on the bottom (since, as I said, they don’t spread). Even when rolled small, I need to keep an eye out since my oven bakes hot; hence I rotate the cookie sheets at the halfway mark.

raw snowballs heading into oven

 
Oops! I forgot to photograph the balls fresh outta the oven! Oh well. Here they come in their snowy finest.

This is a good place to mention why I didn’t like the first recipe for the batch that unfortunately was mailed to my son. It did not call for a SECOND rolling in powdered sugar.

It was the critical flaw.

The secret to a successful snowball is this: 

(1) Roll them the first time in powdered sugar while still warm, about 5 minutes out of the oven. This ensures a coating that will stick. If you wait until they’ve cooled, you’ve, we’ll, screwed up!

(2) Roll them in powdered sugar a second time anytime after they’re fully cooled. This second roll creates a fluffy snow that sticks.

a white christmas after all!

Now, like I said, these were for the Costco demo gals and guys. I know some “well.” In my town, they’re always so nice and friendly and their smiles lift my spirit so these are a merry token of my appreciation and gratitude. 

Hence into each baggie went two snowballs and two kisses made of chocolate. How they got delivered is a secret between me and Santa ;-).

 

snowballs and kisses in a bag

 
 The batch readied for delivery by a (not-too-secret) secret Santa. Since one of the Costco demo gals can’t eat gluten (genuinely, separate from the gluten-free trend of the times), she gets extra kisses and a cinnamon votive candle.  🙂 

a buncha snowballs in bags

 

Ciao, Christmas 2015

Baking. Crafting a newsletter* to insert into Christmas cards. Creating those Christmas cards!** Baking again. Writing two freelance stories.

* Not your usual lame newsletter, I assure you.

** I’ve made my own Christmas cards for years and years. Into envelopes with STAMPS they go. No friggin’ e-cards and texts here! I’m a freak.

Don’t know about you but I’m glad Christmas is over.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad Christmas. I’ve endured much darker and far worse than this last. On the other hand, there’s a lot of room for improvement. A lot.

* * *

I’m missing my laptop, which should be arriving at the Mac hospital in Texas about now. See prior pix and post for that unfortunate tale.

I’m grateful for this old iPad that enables Internet access and blogging.

But two-finger typing on a touch-screen sucks! Far prefer the standard keyboard on which I learned to type in summer school circa 7th grade. (Typing speed approximately 85 wpm.) Again, I’m a freak, I know. An old-school freak.

The last man standing in a world gone amok in technology. Fuck that. I love technology in portions. Not as a way of life or at the expense of REAL contact and connection. Does anyone even CARE about that stuff anymore?

Like I said, I’ve made my own Christmas cards for decades. Does anyone do that anymore? (Yes, my sister and my dad when he was here.) Does anyone CARE about keeping it real?

* * *

Wasn’t any easy Christmas emotionally. Private matters with people important in my life. One a family member and that is NEVER fun. Especially painful. Shit. Robots have advantages. Their lives are never fucked up by emotions and people.

* * *

I really am missing my laptop, out of commission now for 1-1/2 weeks. Guesstimate 2-3 weeks until she’s back from the hospital. Sigh.

S’long from the Grumpy Two-Fingered Typist.

Peer into the tent if you dare

Take a look at this pic.

image

Surprise tent

 

Fun indoor kiddie tent?

Hardly.

Friday evening I’m at Starbucks with a free hour before a meeting. And this. MacBook Pro with retina screen, 15-inch, 16 months old.

Then this. A very tall latte with extra-hot whole milk sprinkled with chocolate, white chocolate, cinnamon and nutmeg.

image

Laptop plugged in. Screen loaded. I reach for the tall latte to my right.

I send the entire drink minus one sip flying. Across the keyboard. Into the crevices at the fold where screen and body are joined.

In a nanosecond, I dive head-first into a panic at the latte pool. Bolt to the counter with drenched laptop on display mopping up with flimsy thin paper napkins. Eventually a barista hands me a dry rag.

I mop up as much of the latte I can, knowing well it’s seeped into the unit. The barista eventually appears with a rag at my table to clean up the spill across the table, chair and floor. So not ALL went into the laptop. Still. Witnessing what did was a horror.

In kindness, she remakes the latte. I’m grateful. But in such shock, my taste buds are numbed.

I jump onto my phone to research laptop spills. Based on findings and tips from others who’ve suffered spills, I race home heartsick and stomach-sick and scared. And I McGyver a solution, temporarily.

Newish laptop. Pricey too. With no backup. MY BAD. Shit.

I pull the laundry contraption outta the closet.

I pull out too the tower floor fan, used in summer.

image

Set the fan on its side. I open the laptop all the way. Set it keyboard-side down atop the mesh designed for drying a sweater.

image

Turn the fan on full force, no rotating!!

Hang a cotton blanket over the homemade Laptop Drier for a tent of circulating air. Close the blanket. Now you know why this ain’t no fun kiddie camp scene. No s’mores or frightening midnight tales here. We’ll, on second thought …

image

image

Surprise tent

Continue reading

There’s no paper & ribbon for this gift

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” croons Frank Sinatra, possibly, over the cafe’s sound system.

I’ve no idea what Christmas, a mere week away, will look like this year!

I may be at the radio station working that afternoon if it’s needed — and I’m happy to do so.

If not, I may be lending a volunteering hand at the big free community meal at a church. Like 500+-people big! I don’t attend that or any church. I’m spiritual and not at all religious. I very much like the idea of serving others Christmas Day.

Or I may go as a guest to mingle with the community.

Or I may go to a movie.

Or visit a favorite saloon on Whiskey Row.

Or spend time on the road with my Subbie, weather permitting.

Or stay home and paint or play with clay or write and drink mulled wine, a seasonal favorite, and listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas on Pandora.

Whatever I end up doing, it won’t involve family; whether buddies will be involved remains to be seen.

I’m not worried. I’ve survived much worse Christmases. Christmases alone with no friend or casual acquaintance or connection in sight. In geographical places that were very dark, lonely and depressing (the Pacific Northwest categorically the worst, of course).

Have also spent plenty of Christmases at jobs I detest or loathe or at the very least want out of, please God, get me outta here!

It’s because I’ve survived so many rotten and unconventional Christmases over some 20 years that I’ve cultivated more than a thick survivor’s skin.

I’ve developed gratitude.

Gratitude for being where I am today. In a state (Arizona) and town that I love and that resonates, mutually.

Even if I’m with complete strangers — as I may well be this Christmas — I like this community. It’s quirky yet solid and highly conservative with a sub-population of oddballs, artists, creative sorts and mainstream misfits.

Don’t misunderstand. It ain’t Berkeley or San Francisco or New York or even Austin — all places overtaken (hence ruined) by the libs/socialists. Not. At. All. It’s conservative but quirky, my town — in a nutshell.

Moving along …

It’s BECAUSE I’ve been in such dark places many times and years over that I sit here with such gratitude for where I am today. And with zero concern or worry about what I may or may not do on the so-called biggest holiday in America.

Reckon some folks might trade places with me for a day. Because the sad truth about Christmas in America is: It lost its meaning long ago.

For most, it’s all about presents — gross commercialism — and rushing around and beaucoup stress and even more credit-card debt and time with relatives they don’t want to see, obligations they wish they didn’t have to fulfill, controlled chaos and … did I miss anything?

Oh, and screaming whining crying ungrateful brats. I don’t mean exclusively the tots.

I don’t see it happening but on Christmas, I could sit in my new-ish (4 months) lovely space staring out the window and be centered and calm in gratitude. For all that I have and how much better my life has become — and continues to become.

The simplest things are the most meaningful, to me.

I’ll probably have one gift to open, perhaps a few cards. It’ll be a gift and cards from people who mean a lot to me, individuals I truly care about and love.

I’d trade that for, say, a slew of sweaters I don’t need or wouldn’t wear from people who feel obligated to give me gifts any day.

But that’s just me, un-American freak that I am; freak because I’ve no interest whatsoever in the BuyBuyBuy SpendSpendSpend version of the American Christmas. So sad.

Whether I be at work (gratefully at a job I love) or a community feast, a saloon or at home alone singing along to Mannheim Steamroller — only after several glasses of mulled wine! — this is sure:

I shall be in my heart in gratitude.

And that is a gift, of and to the self, that could never be put on a credit card or wrapped with paper.

Do I or Don’t I & Other Joyful News

Never a dull moment.

Is an understatement!

Fry’s Finito?

When asked by locals how my job at Fry’s Food is going, I reply: “I dunno whether I still work there.”

Some issues went down before Thanksgiving. Last I checked the Fry’s schedule after the holiday, I was OFF on my available days; presumably that continues to this day (haven’t gone in to check weekly schedules since).

Evidently in the eyes of Fry’s, either I don’t work there until we talk. Or I don’t work there at all.

Knowing which it is requires a pow-wow for me and management. I’m a worker. Have never in decades of working just walked off a job — though I’ve wanted to plenty! — left an employer hanging or just disappeared without a word.

I don’t really care whether I still work there as it wasn’t a job I desired to keep. I do, however, care that it end right, respectfully and without ill will. Thus in that spirit, I’ll need to make an appearance, hopefully when a top manager’s on shift, soon.

Joy!

My life took a sudden (though not wholly unexpected) turn for the better when this Fry’s “fiasco” went down.

I was given an extra shift at the radio station!!!! Yes! Yes! And Yes!

It’s one reason I’ve not rushed to meet with the market’s management. Things suddenly changed and got very busy, in a more meaningful and rewarding way.

A few months ago I was trained to run the board for our live afternoon show. The fellow with that shift was so busy with other commitments that he was needing a fill-in. And I was the “obvious” choice on our (small) staff.

Things so remained, me filling in time to time, joyfully, for some months. Was really only a matter of time until the busy fellow needed to let the shift go.

My boss knew I not only wanted it but was ready to move into it verrry quickly. That time officially arrived about a week ago. (Really should’ve blogged on it then!) So the Tuesday evening shift, steadily and weekly, is officially mine!

I looove working there, love being a part of the team, the station’s content, etc. and etc.!

It’s true, it’s still PT (around 20 hrs./week) and requires other employment (that may or may not involve Fry’s, haha).

Yet I’ve been wanting this for so long and am elated that it has come to pass!

I told myself that if I reach the 20 hours/week at the station, I’ll forever drop all Lame Crap Jobs (a decade-plus of those!) and do only what is my passion, purpose and career — writing. Or at the very least jobs I TRULY enjoy.

That time is come. That time is now.

(So makes sense that I’m not runnin’ back to Fry’s. 🙂 )

Lookin’ Back

Not so fast. It’s a tad early for The Year in Retrospect, neither am I prone to producing said.

What I will say is 2015’s been a helluva whopper!!

It began with a new residence — that ultimately became a nightmare with the upstairs neighbors. Still. It was a smidge better than the place prior.

I got a job. A Lame Crap Job, part-time; still a job after a year of looking. I am grateful.

I got trained, hence developed new skills, at the radio station! YES! That job’s grown from 5 hours a week to 11 to 19-20 in my year-plus there. YES! With the station, my answer’s always: a joyful YES!

I moved again. Into a far better situation than the last.

From that arrived other goodies. My health and sleep improved 1,000-fold, my peace of mind grew exponentially. For example.

There are other very personal matters, recent and very challenging developments taking place. So by no means is everything hunky-dory.

Next year looks poised to be verrrry interesting indeed.

Whether or not I still work at Fry’s! (haha)

Just wanted to touch blogging bases before those bases blew into my rear-view mirror. See y’all soon.

(Whether or not I still work at Fry’s. 🙂 )

A Lickety-Split (Peas) Soup? Yes Please!

Sure, there’s the cold … the long dark nights … turning on the furnace for the first time … the hibernation.

Yet, for me, it’s when the hearty homemade soup appears on the scene that winter c’est arrivé.

No winter soup arrives before its time. For that timing, I trust my biology, my gut, knowingness, intuition. I trust my bones, my inner farmer’s almanac, the flow of the seasons.

That first pot of a hearty soup — invariably split pea or lentil with a ham bone, the all-important, all-imperative, integral ham bone — announces:

Yes. The corner from autumn into winter is turned.

I eat foods and drink craft ales with the season. That’s what you should know about me. For this post. 🙂

Now.

The cold season brings out my inner German hausfrau. Earthy nourishing soups are my strength. Pasta, not at bit! Wasn’t Italian in the last 4 lifetimes, at least!

I do peruse soup recipes online for ideas, inspirations or guidelines for amounts. However, generally I just create by intuition and gut and body needs/cravings.

A couple days ago, the green light went off announcing: “It’s time. You can make the soup now.”

Kinda like being in labor and heading to the hospital only far less painful!

The twist:

It was 9 o’clock at night. I’d eaten little to nothing all day. I needed food. Good food. And I needed it fast.

I’d planned on using the crockpot.

Then I thought again about my mother.

She and I had a fucking toxic relationship. I’ve tons of issues unresolved. I’ll say that straight out.

AND she was a good cook. One of my fondest memories is her making lentil soup from scratch. With the ham bone. Always the ham bone. I remember her stirring the big pot on the stovetop and lentil soup simmering eternally, seemingly.

I didn’t want leftovers or to freeze half a batch. I get bored eating the same foods, even a yummy soup, after three days.

So my aim: Three Days of Soup. Starting Now.

Now to the meat of the matter.

A. My soups always begin with Better than Bouillon. A genuine chicken stock in a jar. (There’s also a beef.) I could rave forever about the product! I shall n-e-v-e-r return to bouillon salt cubes.

My super soup starter

My super soup starter

B. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of Better Than Bouillon chicken base.

C. Five simple ingredients plus spices. That’s all it took for my Easy-Peasy Split Pea Soup.

Five simple ingredients plus spices

Five simple ingredients plus spices

1. 1/2 pound of dried split peas. Typically half a bag. Or 1 cup. Note: **Split peas do not need to be soaked.**

2. 2 celery stalks, diced.

3. 2 carrots, diced.

4. 1/2 large white onion, diced. Guesstimate 1 cup. I loooove onion so am generous with the root vegetable. If you’re not, dice to taste.

5. 1 pound ham hocks. Mine were smoked. Use less (or none) to taste.

6. 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper.

Slide all into the pan with 5 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for around 90 minutes.

easy split pea soup  ready to roll

easy split pea soup
ready to roll

Check and stir often. Split peas absorb water as they cook and thicken into a paste. So do keep an eye on the water and replenish accordingly. Cook until the peas turn soft. Don’t be mislead into thinking that they’re cooked just because the mixture’s thick.

Some folks prefer pea soup the consistency of white school paste. Not I. I like a slightly-watery thick. So around 2-3 cups of water added intermittently achieved desired consistency.

D. My Easy-Peasy Split Peas-y Soup was infused with a nice hammy smokey salty flavor. So bear that in mind when you add seasonings before cooking.

Normally I slice hock meat into the soup. However, mine were rich in flavor and fat that I decided to instead use them for a second batch. Soon, very soon.

EZ split pea soup

EZ split pea soup

E. Partnered with a grilled cheese, a nourishing and warming supper that’s lickety-split (peas) too!

Easy split pea soup + grilled cheese = easy supper

Easy split pea soup + grilled cheese = easy supper