They say, THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
I always believed this, but the past year and a half, and almost two-this popular saying has been a bit hard to believe sometimes, as it has been a hard and painful road. I’ve had 2 back surgeries and as I type this I still have not been able to walk without pain, much less- been able to walk very far at all. My spinal surgeon said my nerve root was so compressed that it was “dented”. He tells me it could take a year to fully recover. Every day is a challenge as I heal, in more ways than one. I lost my Mother in October of 2016. She had Alzheimers Disease and we watched her lively spirit slowly slip away. Then 6 months later my Stepfather passed. My Faith has been severely tested, but never extinguished I’m happy to report. I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me, but rather to paint the picture of my state of mind, as this story gets better, so stay with me…
In 2012 we moved to Taiwan (my Husband’s birthplace) from San Francisco to keep a closer eye on my Mother in Law who was not in good health at the time. We left our cuddle bug Jack Russell dog “Oscar” behind with one of our neighbors. Our neighbor was an elderly man named Bob who lived 2 houses down from us and adored our Oscar as much as we did. I affectionately called Oscar my “Oscar Boo”. Oscar was quite the character. We adopted him from a sweet gal named Sheerein, who operated her own dog shelter. I knew from the moment we met him that he was our dog. I bonded with him instantly. My Husband used to say Oscar was a reincarnated old man trapped inside the body of a dog. From the moment we got him we noticed he RARELY barked-but rather, he would just glare at you as if he was pissed at you for some reason. It was hysterical. A month in, and I had only heard him bark literally a few times, and I noticed it was when there was a suspicious noise outside, so we knew he would be a good guard dog. That dog had more personality than you could imagine. If he was left in the car (relax– San Francisco is like 60 degrees year round, and we’re talking like 5 minutes left in the car) he would press on the horn, AND the hazard lights to get your attention. At first we thought it was a fluke, but then it happened again, over and over, time after time, so clearly he knew what he was doing. It was a riot. When you opened the passenger car door for him to get in, he would insist on scooting over to the driver’s seat as soon as you opened the car door to go somewhere instead of going to the backseat. He would give you this look like, “I’m the Captain, and I’m driving”. Eventually he would cave and go to the back. We had a convertible then and he loved to ride with the top down. It definitely fit his personality. He always acted like he was King. Oscar was not only smart, but agile and cunning like a human, I swear. If left in one of the rooms with a closed-door, he would rise up, take both his front paws and twist the door knobs to open either the door of the kitchen to get into the living room, as well as the door of the bedroom. We actually witnessed him doing this. Like I said, just like a human.
He was the sweetest dog, but I remember the one time I was walking in the park in late afternoon near almost dark after barely having Oscar for a month, and I got a creepy feeling from this man who was walking behind me, so I slowed way down so that the man would pass me. The man tried to strike up a conversation with me and I kept getting a stranger danger vibe- and so did Oscar apparently because my sweet 19 pound Oscar all of a sudden stopped dead in his tracks, went full on CUJO, opened his mouth, snarled, and showed his teeth like I had never ever seen before. The man went running off scared like a 3 yr. old, and my sweet Oscar just looked over at me and kept trotting along as if nothing ever happened. From that day on, I knew he was more than just a lap dog.
When we moved to Taiwan, we decided to leave our dog with Bob, as we just could not bring ourselves to put our beloved dog through such a long quarantine of 6 months- which was required in Taiwan. (Oscar could barely handle being left for 6 minutes because he was originally abandoned at a doggy day care we learned when we adopted him), so anytime we left the house he went crazy. Besides, living in a high rise, concrete jungle was no place for a dog. Believe me, IT KILLED ME leaving him with Bob. In my mind I kind of knew it was a mistake-something JUST told me in the pit of my stomach, but I resolved that coming home to San Francisco from time to time to visit we could also visit Oscar and we knew he was in good hands.
Our friend Bob ended up hospitalized and passing while on a trip to Los Angeles and Oscar was sent to a shelter; we heard from Sheerein. Oscar was found running along a street in LA, a long way from his home in San Francisco. My heart sank when I heard this. She tried to intervene on our behalf to try to get him for us, as at this point we were back living in the States, but she was not able to figure out where he ended up, as the shelter said he went to a “family member”, and they did not know where, or to whom. The funny thing is that, when we gave him to Bob we were never able to transfer his documentation status online to Bob for the microchip. I tried several times, and he tried several times and the computer just never accepted it, so we just let it go. Matter of fact- we were never able to transfer the chip to OUR name when we adopted him from Sheerein, so we left it as is, and I let Sheerein know as well.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
When we originally adopted Oscar and could not transfer his micro chip status in 2011 Sheerein always said it was fine as if anything happened to Oscar, she knew that the local shelters all knew her well, and they would contact her if he popped up on any scan. So we went about our life. We never knew where Oscar ended up after Bob passed as she tried desperately to locate any family members of Bob through the shelter where Oscar was found, to no avail. We knew Bob had family in Arkansas, so we assumed that’s where Oscar ended up, and I tried to just let it go. My heart sank thinking of all the sweet memories of Oscar and wishing he was back with us. She kept our information and said that if she ever heard of anything she would contact me. I figured it was a lost cause.
Fast forward- 2 1/2 years. Just when you’re feeling like nothing is going right in your life, and you’re starting to have one of those pitty party’s of one. Like seriously- Lord, throw me a bone here….the date is August 2nd, and I’m feeling rather blue. A typical day. I open my email. Wait, what????
I spot an email. It jumps off the screen. Subject line reads: “I have located Oscar” its from Sheerein.
I can’t open it fast enough. I can’t believe what I’m reading. She’s telling me, Oscar was located near Sacramento. He was abandoned and brought into a shelter. Because his microchip is still in her name, they contacted her.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
I haven’t seen him in 5 years.
Long story short, my Husband drove 17 hours to California to pick him up, and then turned right around for another 17 to Arizona to bring him home.
But wait there’s more!….
When Oscar was brought into the shelter he came in with another dog, a female Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix named Bella. They said that Oscar bonded with her and “She was his girlfriend”. The shelter said the two were inseparable. When my Husband heard this from Sheerein he told her to ask the shelter if they would let us adopt her. They reported most likely Bella would be put down if not adopted right away since the shelter was a “High kill shelter”. Sheerein intervened on our behalf and they agreed.
I’ve been holding onto this story for a bit as today is “Clear the Shelters Day” Adopt a dog. Don’t shop. Rescue an abandoned soul. Oscar is what you’d call more of a “Sparkling Wine” kind of dog, and Bella is definitely more “Pabst Blue Ribbon” if you catch my drift. Love doesn’t always make sense on the surface. What does make sense is Love is comfort. Oscar gives me comfort. Bella gives Oscar comfort, and certainly Oscar gives Bella comfort. Today give someone you love some comfort, whether that be a hug, a kiss, or a sweet passing sentiment. One thing I know is for sure.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
Here is a picture of Bella giving Oscar a kiss. Notice the smile on his face…
“DON’T LOSE FAITH”
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON….
I picked up the latest special issue from Bake From Scratch dedicated to “Artisan pies and tarts”. I love this magazine-it has become one of my all time favorites. Their peanut butter pie on page 56, is a virtual no bake pie- only a quick trip in the oven for the crust and the rest is no bake. Perfect for summer in this August sweltering heat. I adapted the recipe slightly by adding in some mini snickers bites. I was not able to find the preferred Famous brand chocolate wafer cookie so often used in chocolate crust recipes so I ended up swapping in chocolate graham cracker crumbs and bumped up the melted butter a titch as well as adding in a bit of cocoa powder. If you can find the Famous brand chocolate wafer cookies they lend a deeper chocolate flavor for the crust. This pie is rich and super creamy so a little slice with a cup of hot coffee will do you just fine! Allow it to sit for a few minutes out of the fridge before diving in to allow the chocolate ganache on the bottom to soften. Peanut butter lovers will adore this pie!
Pour half of the filling over the ganache, then push the Snickers bites into the filling, then top with the other half of the filling. If you can’t find them, you can just chop up regular Snickers.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Snickers Pie
recipe adapted slightly from special issue “Artisan pies and tarts” Peanut Butter Pie (Bake From Scratch)
Chocolate Crumb Crust
1 1/2 Cups chocolate cookie crumbs (either Famous chocolate wafers or chocolate graham cracker crumbs*)
7 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 C sugar
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder* (add only if using choc. graham cracker crumbs)
In a food processor blitz the cookies/crackers along with the sugar and salt, and (cocoa powder if using) until the mixture is fine. Add in the melted butter and pulse until incorporated. Pour the crust into a standard size 9 inch pie plate and press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides. Bake in a 350° F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until cooled completely.
4 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used Ghirardelli brand)
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
Microwave the chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl on high in 20 second intervals, stirring in between until mixture is smooth and melted.
Peanut Butter Snickers Filling
8 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 C creamy peanut butter
1/2 C roasted salted peanuts, chopped
1/4 C sugar
1 C heavy whipping cream
~ 27-28 Snickers baking bites (I found them in the baking aisle)
• In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat one cup of the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
• Using the same bowl (no need to wash) switch to the paddle attachment and beat the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth; stopping to scrape the bottom and sides as needed. Add in the peanuts, sugar, and honey and contine to beat until combined. Fold in one-third of the reserved whipped cream from step one, and continue to fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
• Assembly: Pour the ganache in the bottom of the crust and smooth out with the back of a spoon. Pour in half of the peanut butter filling, and smooth til flat, then top with about 28 of the Snickers bites. Pour on the rest of the filling and smooth with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill the pie for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream if desired and top with chopped Snickers- (I used the same snickers baking bites and cut them in half for the garnish).
I remember parfait desserts being very popular when I was a child. We had this section in our cupboard for dessert glasses. My Mom always had cute little dessert glasses or parfait glasses for such things. It is true when they say you eat with your eyes first. For some reason there is something very inticing about a dessert with visual layers of differing textures and color. I love when you dip and drag your spoon down into the glass as you lift it up to take that first bite of all the different layers. These little desserts are perfect for a party when you don’t want to be fussing with cutting and serving. All you have to do is assemble them ahead of time and keep them chilled. If you use disposable plastic cups they are even better because you can throw them in the recycle bin when you are done and no washing!
I used my new Russian ball piping tip (#271) to pipe the stabilized whipped cream on top.
Black Forest Cheesecake Parfaits
Double Cherry Compote
3 Cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 Cup tart dried cherries (such as Montmorency)
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
cornstarch slurry: 1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp. cold water
1 tsp. vanilla
12 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1/2 C confectioners sugar
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream, cold
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder
*Miscellaneous: you will need Famous brand chocolate wafer cookies for assembly
Fresh sweetened whipped cream (for garnish)
1 Cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners sugar
1 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder
In the bowl of a stand mixer whip the cream cheese with the paddle attachment until cheese is soft. Remove cheese with a rubber spatula into a separate bowl and set aside at room temp.
In the same bowl (no need to wash) place the heavy cream and chill the bowl with the cream for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes place the bowl on the mixer and add in the vanilla and the nonfat dry milk powder and whip with the whisk attachment until thickened. Add in the softened cream cheese and stir gently with the whisk attachment until incorporated. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. (I used an Ateco 809).
• Take about 1/2 package of Famous chocolate wafers and place in a large ziplock bag. Using your hands crush the cookies from the outside of the bag until they are coarsely broken (you don’t want fine crumbs).
• Place about 2 Tbsp. of the chocolate wafer crumbs into the bottom of each parfait glasses. I used 14 oz. “crystal cut” chinet brand plastic cups for my parfaits.
• On top of each chocolate crumbs layer, pipe a layer of cream cheese filling, then top with a spoonful of cherry compote. Repeat another layer of chocolate cookie crumbs, followed by cheese cake filling and then end with a spoonful of cherry compote. Top with a small amount of chocolate crumbs and then fresh sweetened whipped cream, followed by a fresh cherry with stem.
Note: For a nice decorative touch you can use a Russian ball tip # 271 to pipe your whipped cream.
Vanilla and cherries are BFF’s when it comes to flavor parings. I cannot resist cherry season, although you can make these cupcakes year round with quality cherry preserves-both used in the filling and the buttercream. Trader Joes has a great preserves they sell that is chock full of whole cherries. Make sure to pick a preserves that is mostly on the tart side- you don’t want one that is too sweet. I have been in the kitchen lately experimenting with cherry recipes. I’m working on a no bake cheesecake parfait recipe that is coming soon that uses both dark sweet and tart dried cherries.
Also, I’ve included a picture of some of the same cuppies with a vanilla buttercream decorated for the Fourth of July, if you want to use an American style buttercream- see the “Bonus” recipe below. Happy Independence Day!
I used an Ateco 829 tip for the piping on both cupcakes you see here
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Cherry Filling
yield: 24 cupcakes
2 1/2 Cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 Cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 Cups sugar
2 lg. eggs, room temp
1 1/4 Cups whole milk, room temp
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Filling: Sour Cherry Preserves (I like Trader Joes brand) it is chock full of whole cherries
Preheat oven to 350° F. Drop cupcake liners into two trays of a standard size cupcake/muffin tin.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated, stopping in between to scrape bottom of mixer bowl. In a pyrex glass measuring cup mix the vanilla bean paste and milk well. Mix the dry ingredients well with a whisk.
Add in one third of the dry mixture and mix until incorporated, then add in half of the milk mixture and mix until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the dry and alternate with the wet, ending with the last third of the dry mixture until batter is homogenous.
Scoop batter into lined tins filling 2/3 way full. Bake for 16 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool on wire racks.
Remove a small portion of the cake from the middle of each cupcake to allow for the cherry filling. An apple corer works well for this or (do as I do and use the tip end of an 808 Ateco piping tip). Fill each cupcake with cherry preserves making sure to try and include a whole cherry or two. Hint: a baby spoon works well for this! I’ve kept a couple over the years for this very job.
Decorate with the cherry buttercream and top with a fresh cherry. * Note: If you aren’t serving right away-wait to top with the cherry as the stems will turn brown while being chilled. You’ll notice in my pictures the stems are brown-it’s because I topped them and took pictures the next day.
Swiss Meringue Cherry Buttercream
4 egg whites
1 Cup sugar
3 sticks of unsalted butter, room temp
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 Cup cherry preserves
optional: 1-2 drops of deep pink gel food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and sugar. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until mixture is hot and sugar is dissolved. Remove bowl and place on mixer and beat until stiff meringue forms and bottom of mixer bowl is cool to touch; about 5 minutes. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla, then beat until smooth. Mix in the cherry preserves until incorporated. Note: If you like a deeper pink color you can stir in a drop or two of deep pink gel color.
Vanilla American Style Buttercream
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste
Beat the butter and add in a little at a time until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla. For decorating- stripe the inside of a decorating bag with red and blue gel paste food coloring and use a open star tip for a swirled effect.
It was 120 degrees in my part of Arizona here the other day. I actually don’t mind when it’s this hot (I’m one of the very few) because it heats our pool up to a nice soaking bed of liquid nirvana. One of my favorite things is to swim late at night when the moon is shining and the palm trees are swaying. I close my eyes and just float mindlessly, shutting out the world. We have three palm trees that line the back edge of our pool, and with the right amount of wind they lend a soft gentle breeze. I love this time of year. The only downside is that when it’s this hot the last thing you want is to turn on the oven. Enter one of the classic no bake desserts-Tiramisu. It’s super easy and comes together quickly. There is only one caution and that is you have to be careful and not over whip the mascarpone once you add it to the custard portion. I’ve actually made this twice; the first time with flatter softer lady fingers and it turned out too soggy for my liking. The second time I used hard, crunchy type savoiardi biscuits and I much prefer this version. This tiramisu is not 100 percent classic as I used whole eggs versus only egg yolks, and I also did a sifting of cocoa powder over the custard to help combat sogginess. There are two layers of biscuits, but it’s hard to see in the picture above as when I scooped out the piece for the picture I ended up leaving the bottom layer behind a bit, but rest assured there are two. If you don’t like the mouth feel of cocoa powder on the top you can use grated chocolate shavings, or chocolate curls instead.
2/3 Cup strong (hot) coffee or espresso
1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp. Kahlua
1/4 Cup Crème de Cacao liqueur
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/4 Cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder (I like Valrhona) + more for assembly
Savoiardi biscuits (cookies) for assembly (Look for them in the cookie aisle)
5 whole eggs
1/2 Cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt or a pinch of salt if regular salt
24 oz. mascarpone cream cheese
Assemble a double boiler using the bowl of a stand mixer to fit over a 3 quart saucepan. Place eggs, sugar and salt in bowl and continually whisk over simmering water until mixture measures 160° F on a candy thermometer. Place mixer bowl on stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment and whisk egg mixture on medium high speed until you reach ribbon stage. Ribbon stage means when you stop the mixer and lift the whisk up out of the whipped eggs it should fall into ribbons that fall back and disappear into the foam. The entire mixture will resemble loose shaving cream and will have quadrupled in size. Place the entire mixer bowl in the fridge and chill for 30 minutes.
Remove the mixer bowl from the fridge and use the same whisk (no need to wash) and turn mixer on medium speed. Take the mascarpone out of the fridge and add a serving spoon size (about 1/4 Cup) at a time while the mixer is running, stopping frequently to scrape the bottom of the bowl. DO NOT TURN THE MIXER TO HIGH. If you over whip the mascarpone with the egg mixture it can separate and your mixture will “break” and resemble cottage cheese. THIS CAN HAPPEN VERY EASILY. Continue to keep adding in the cheese and mix on medium speed until smooth. Note: I prefer to mix the filling until it appears almost smooth and then finish by inserting an immersion blender in and out several times until mixture is smooth-this prevents the filling from being over whipped, and the filling comes out super smooth.
Prepare soaking syrup:
Whisk ingredients together (except the biscuits) in a small bowl that is wide enough to allow dunking of biscuits.
Use a baking pan for assembling the dessert. I used a 7 x 11 inch baking pan but a 9 x 9 pan has the same volume, so either one will work. With the 7 x 11 inch pan I ended up using 12 biscuits for each layer which ended up being one whole package of biscuits. Dunk (submerge) each biscuit into the soaking syrup for a couple seconds and place in an even layer to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Measure out 2 cups of the custard and smooth out into an even layer over the biscuits. Sift a layer of cocoa powder over the custard using a fine mesh strainer. Repeat with a second (final) layer of dunked biscuits and the final layer of custard, followed by a sifting of cocoa powder. I used a varied size of cookie cutters to dip and lift into the cocoa powder for a designed effect. Chill the dessert (uncovered) in the fridge for at least 2 hours to firm up. Serve chilled.
Do you like flatbread? My son and I will quite often share one while dining out. It’s a nice appetizer to share with friends or if you’re not super hungry. Peaches are in season now and they pair nicely with prosciutto. It’s a nice light alternative when you don’t want to eat something too heavy. Now I know it might sound weird to be firing up the oven to 425 on a hot Summer day, but they bake rather quickly once you’ve assembled them. Alternatively you could throw them on the grill as well and enlist some friends to help assemble. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice crisp white wine while lazing around the pool.
Summer Peach and Prosciutto Flatbread
yield: serves four
4 store bought naan flatbreads (such as Stonefire brand)
6-8 slices prosciutto ham, sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
7 oz. white cheddar cheese, sliced into thin slices (I used Kerrygold aged white cheddar)
fresh thyme leaves
2 fresh peaches, washed and dried and cut into thin slices
fresh ground pepper to taste
red onion sliced thin (optional)
approx. 2 Cups fresh baby spinach, sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
Preheat oven to 425° F. Place flatbreads on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, then spread a thin smear of apricot preserves over each flatbread. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves, 5 slices of white cheddar broken into pieces, ribbons of prosciutto, and 5 slices of peaches. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. If you like, you could add some thin slices of red onion (I did not have any in the house, but I think it would be nice). Bake for 10 minutes until flatbreads are crisp and golden brown. Top with the lemon-olive oil dressed ribbons of spinach. Cut into wedges and enjoy.
Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
pinch of each salt and pepper
In a medium bowl whisk together the ingredients and then toss the spinach gently to combine.