Cranberry ~ Orange Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

Cranberry ~ Orange Layer Cake

3 1/3 Cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2 Cups unsalted butter, room temp

2 Cups sugar

zest of one large orange or 2 tangerines

3 large eggs, room temp

1 Cup milk, room temp

1 Cup sour cream, room temp

1 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla

3 Cups fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour or spray with baking spray 3 eight inch pans.

Cream the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time and combine. In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl or large glass measuring 4 cup size; whisk together the sour cream, milk and vanilla until combined. Starting and ending with the flour; Alternate with the flour in 3 additions and w/the milk mixture in 2 additions. Don’t over mix. Fold in the cranberries. Divide the batter in the 3 prepared pans and bake about 35-40 minutes until a skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool the pans over a wire rack until the cakes are completely cool. Frost with the cream cheese icing.

Decorate as desired.

Optional sugared rosemary and cranberries:

Make a small amount of simple sugar with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water by melting in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves and gently boil for a minute. Remove from the heat and let the syrup cool for about 10 minutes. Drop the cranberries into the syrup and remove and place over a wire rack and let rest for about 10 minutes then roll in sugar and place back onto the rack to dry. “Drag” the rosemary sprigs into the syrup and let dry on the rack for about 40 minutes, the coat with sugar and place back onto the rack to dry.

Optional marzipan pine cones:

Quick food processor marzipan: (you can use store bought also)

5 oz. finely ground blanched almond flour

6 oz. confectioners sugar

1 Tbsp. liquid pasteurized (100 %) egg white

1 tsp. almond extract

Blend all the ingredients in the processor and dump out onto a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log.

Break off a small piece of marzipan and roll it into a ball first in your hands, then shape into a cone shape. Insert sliced “natural” almonds at an angle into the marzipan. Sprinkle a generous amount of confectioners sugar once formed. Carefully place on the cake as desired.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

16 oz. Cream Cheese, softened

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

2 lbs. Confectioners sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

8 oz. white chocolate melted

1/4 Cup sour cream

2 teaspoons  vanilla

2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar

(optional)* 8 oz. white chocolate melted and cooled

Beat cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add in the white chocolate and blend until combined; but don’t overbeat. Fill and frost cooled cake layers. Tip; the prevent the cake layers sliding insert bamboo skewers into the top of the cake and chill the cake after doing a thin crumb coating on the top and sides before putting on the final layer of frosting. Remove the skewers once you’re ready to frost the top and sides of the cake; chill the cake in between if the frosting starts to get a little soft.


Peanut Butter ~ Salted Pretzel Balls

This is seriously the easiest treat to whip together. Plop yourself in front of the tv with a friend and commence to rolling out the balls. Take advantage of your little gremlins to help get all the balls rolled and then you can get to the dippin. I like the crunch of the Himalayan salt on top-don’t skip that part; it helps make them extra special. The salt I had was a little coarse so I bashed it (yes that’s a cooking technical term) in my mortar and pestle until it was a wee bit finer in texture. With all the other time sensitive treats you may be whipping up these don’t take much time to crank out.

Happy Holidays!

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter ~ Salted Pretzel Balls

1 stick (1/2 Cup) unsalted butter, room temp

3/4 Cup smooth peanut butter; such as Jif (not natural style)

pinch of kosher salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted

1/2 Cup salted pretzel thin sticks (cut into small pieces)

10 oz. bag Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers

pink Himalayan salt for garnish

Cream the butter, peanut butter, and salt together until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment and blend in the sugar a cup at a time until combined. Add in the pretzel pieces and stir until combined. Using about a tablespoon roll into balls. Place the balls onto a parchment lined tray and chill until firm; about 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate wafers in the microwave in 30 second increments; taking out to stir and keeping close watch so the chocolate does not burn. Once melted dip the balls using either a fork or a chocolate dipping loop and place onto the tray and immediately sprinkle with the pink salt. Once all the balls have been dipped place in the fridge to set up completely. Let come to room temperature to serve.


Chocolate Kahlua Mousse Pie

Okay, I cannot tell you how much I love this pie. It is insanely good, like seriously no joke. If you can stir- you can make this pie. Its stupid easy. I don’t want to hear any excuses. I mean it- I’m not kidding. Can you press a crumb crust into a pie-shell? Check. Whip some cream? Check. Melt some chocolate? Check. See- you can make this pie. Okay, now my picture doesn’t really do it justice how high this sucker really is, (cuz I hastily snapped a pic before running out the door to my neighbors with it) but trust me its like 4-5 inches high. People will ooh and ahhh when you bring it out. I used the trick of adding in non fat milk powder into the whipping cream which will hold the cream without weeping for days in the fridge- not that it will last that long, because as soon as people taste it they’re gonna go gaga over it, and it will be gone in 2 seconds. Girls! This is proposal worthy!!! Make it- report back to me haha!

Chocolate Kahlua Mousse Pie

(recipe adapted adapted slightly from Serious Eats)

Chocolate press in crust:

Chocolate wafers; process to fine crumbs to equal 8 oz (this is 36 cookies if using Famous Nabisco brand). I reserve the remaining 8 cookies to crush coarsely (this is 3 oz. if measuring). (I used Nabisco brand-you can use Oreo if you like)

*Note; if you use Oreo-discard the filling and only use the cookie part

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp. water

Place 8 oz. of the crumbs in a large bowl and stir in melted butter, 2 tsp. sugar, pinch of salt, and one 1 tsp. of water; the mixture will be very moist; but this is intentional since it’s no bake; it needs to be this wet. Trust me. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate and chill until firm.

Chocolate Kahlua Mousse filling:

8 oz. Bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped fine ( I used Trader Joes Dark Chocolate- the one in the Pound Plus brown wrapper)

3/4 tsp. powdered un-flavored gelatin

1 Tbsp. water

6 Tbsp. Kahlua liquor

3 1/3 Cups heavy cream, very cold, divided

Place 1 Tbsp. of water in a small microwave proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over and let sit for 5 minutes to bloom. In a medium heat proof bowl place the chocolate and melt over a pot of simmer water until melted.

Heat the gelatin mixture for 10-15 seconds in the microwave to melt.

Into the melted chocolate whisk in 6 tablespoons Kahlua until combined. Whisk in the melted gelatin.

Whip 2 1/3 cups of the remaining heavy whipping cream along with 1 tablespoon of sugar to medium peaks. Fold the cream into the chocolate in 3 batches until combined. Fold in the remaining 3 oz. of coarsely crushed cookies. Pour into the chilled crust and let the pie chill until completely set; about 3-4 hours.

Stabilized whipped cream

1 Cup cold heavy cream

1 Tablespoon confectioners sugar

1 Tablespoon non-fat milk powder

Place the cold heavy cream in a mixer bowl and ad in the milk powder and confectioners sugar and beat until firm peaks. Place on top of the pie (use a piping nozzle if you like to add a decorative touch) and decorate as desired with any chocolate pearls or chocolate shavings or chocolate sprinkles. I used Valrhona chocolate crunchy pearls which adds a nice contrasting crunch.


Pomegranate Curd,Mini Tarts

Pomegranate Curd and Mini Tarts

I am lucky to live near a fresh farmers market with really cheap produce. They had pomegranates for 50 cents a piece. I bought 4 of them. I’ve seen them in the grocery stores for 4 for 5 dollars.

Quite often people are intimidated on opening a pomegranate, but it couldn’t be more simple. You simply cut down in an angle with 1/2 centimeter cuts around the crown-pop out the crown and then cut a series of 3-4 cuts down the sides of the pom with 1/2 cm cuts. Then using your thumb placed into where the crown was and pull back each section. The best was to release the arils is to have a deep bowl of cold water and place the sections up side down under the water and push out the arils. The white membranous pieces will float to the top of the bowl so you can scoop it out to toss. Once you have all the arils in your bowl then strain the contents through a strainer. There is nothing more beautiful than fresh pomegranate juice created by placing in a high speed blender. The color is stunning.

Cream cheese press in crust (makes 24 mini tarts)

1 stick butter, cubed at room temp

3 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 Cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

pinch of salt

In a large shallow bowl combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and cream cheese. Using a fork mix to combine into one cohesive mass. Knead gently into a ball to gather up any scrappy bits of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 30 mins.

Remove the tart dough from the fridge and using a non stick mini muffin pan press about a 1 measured tablespoon size ball (14.5 grams) into the wells of each mini muffin well. Bake at 350 for about 15 -17 mins until lightly golden brown. Remove the tin from the oven and immediately use a rounded measuring 1/2 tsp. to flatten the bottom and sides if puffy. Let cool. When cool, top with pomegranate curd and top with stablized whipped cream, a few pomegranate arils and a sugared tiny mint leaf or a fresh cleaned mint leaf and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Pomegranate Curd

(makes about 2 cups) you will have some leftover which you can freeze

7 Tablespoons butter (cut into small pieces)

Scant 1 Cup sugar (measured slightly less full)

2 eggs

1 Cup pomegranate juice (You can use fresh or bottled)

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (it helps with a tang)

In a saucepan place all the ingredients and stir over low to medium low heat until the butter starts to melt and the sugar starts to dissolve a bit. Once the butter has melted switch to a whisk and whisk continuously over medium low heat until it starts to bubble and continue whisking until it thickens and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain mixture into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap directly onto the surface and cool in the refrigerator. It will thicken more once it has completely cooled.

Stablized whipped cream

1 Cup heavy cream; very cold (I also put the mixer bowl and whisk in the fridge for about 30 minutes)

1 Tablespoon non fat dry milk powder

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar

Place all the ingredients into a cold mixer bowl and whisk until medium peaks.


THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON… A Homecoming for Oscar Boo

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 (relaxSan 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….