Red Velvet Brownies

Cakes have been a part of world’s diet since the 13th century. However, hack then, they were nothing like we know them today. When cakes were first introduced, they were more of a sweet bread, than the velvety sweet cakes of today. Many times, people would put dried fruits and nuts in their cake recipes. As a result, the desserts were rough and had an abrasive texture. It wasn’t until 500 years later when bakers began to make dessert more appealing. They were able to find ways to break down the flour in the recipes so cakes could be softer and tastier.

Velvet cakes first came about in England’s Victorian era, with the introduction of cocoa powder into the cakes. The cocoa would help break down the coarse flour. As a result, the flour was softer and the cake was velvety, hence the name of a velvet cake. Often times, the cakes had a red tint as well, due to the chemical reaction between the cocoa and acid that give the cakes their red color. Natural cocoa has a lot of acidities and works well with the baking soda and buttermilk. Cocoa powders have become better over the years. Now, most of the cocoa powder you buy has to undergo special processing. During the production phases, the cocoa interacts with an alkalizing agent. The base (alkalizing agent) causes the cocoa’s acidity to neutralize. As a result, the other cake ingredients no longer have a chemical reaction with the cocoa. Today, because of the neutralizing agents, often red coloring is used to make the cakes turn red. The red color of the cake isn’t nearly as important as the flavor and texture of the cakes though. A cream cheese frosting is a nice accent to adorn the “red velvet” cakes and has become a popular topping for them.

The actual “red velvet cake” wasn’t made popular until 1943, by Irma Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking. During WWII, rations were in place, and sugar wasn’t readily available, so beet root was often used as a sweetener. The beet root made the cake batter red in color, as well as making the cakes more flavorful and moist.

Today, red velvet cakes are known by many different names, some of which include red carpet cake, red mystery cake, flame cake, authentic red velvet cake and Waldorf Astoria cake.

I turned my “red velvet cake” into brownies. And yes, I topped them with a cream cheese frosting as well. They were very popular indeed, and they all disappeared in no time.

I admit I cheated though, and sometimes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with cheating by starting off with a cake or brownie mix. I did not make these entirely from scratch. I started off with Ghirardelli’s packaged brownie mix and then created from that. There are so many fantastic cake and brownie mixes available today, that sometimes it is just smarter, and cheaper, to use those than to always make everything from scratch. Many years ago, when I was first in culinary school, my pastry instructor was a master pastry chef, originally from Holland. His name was Chef Rudy Rosier, or Chef Rudy as we lovingly called him. He actually created and perfected many of the pre-packaged cake recipes that are available today. So if you get a known, major brand, chances are, they are going to be very good indeed. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, or in this case, the cake.

Red Velvet Brownies

2 packages of Ghirardelli brownie mix

2 eggs

2/3 cup water

2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

1 oz red food coloring

1/2 package of cherry chips, optional

1/2 cup softened or whipped cream cheese

2 egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

2 TBSP flour

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 190*C.

Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray.

Follow the directions on the package for the brownies, then add the food coloring and cherry chips, and carefully fold into the mixture.

Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, egg whites, vanilla and flour with a mixer until well blended and smooth.

Spread the brownie batter evenly into the prepared pan, then add the cream cheese topping, making sure to completely cover the brownie mixture. Gently swirl the cream cheese mixture into the brownie mixture with a knife.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pan and slicing.

Share with friends and enjoy. These delicious treats will be gone before you know it. Everything is always better with chocolate, and especially with a rich, velvety chocolate. 🙂

Have a great day Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Italian Pear and Cranberry Tart

I usually make something with pears during the holiday season, but this holidays season was so busy, and I made so many other wonderful dishes, that I just couldn’t squeeze anything else in. Until now. It is still kind of the holiday season, so it still counts, right?! Although, I love pears and pears are good any time of year, so you don’t have to wait for the holidays to prepare this scrumptious dessert.

I made an Italian pear and cranberry tart with chopped pecans. It was very good, and quickly disappeared. That’s what I like to see.

I started with a pate sucre, or a sweetened basic tart dough. The only difference is a pate sucre has about 3 TBPS of powdered sugar added to the dough while it is being made.

Pate Sucre Dough

1 1/2-1 3/4 cup flour

6-TBSP cold butter, cubed

3 TBSP powdered sugar

dash of salt

1 egg

5-6 TBSP heavy whipping cream

Put the flour, butter, salt and powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds, or until it resembles sand. You can use a pastry cutter if doing it by hand too. Then add the egg and the cream and blend until it all forms into a dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours before rolling it out to shape your pan.

Pear and Cranberry Tart

You can use either walnuts or pecans, but since I am not a huge walnut fan, I always substitute pecans for walnuts.

pute sucre dough

1/4 cup dried cranberries, soaked in warm water for at least 20 minutes, drained

3 pears, peeled and sliced very thin

2 TBSP sugar

2 TBSP almond flour

3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

2-3 TBSP cold butter, cut into pieces

1/3 cup apple, apricot or peach jam or preserves

1 tsp almond extract

powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 190* C.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and press firmly into a fluted tart pan. Sprinkle the almond flour and sugar around the bottom of the dough.

Arrange the pear slices around the pan, then top with the cranberries and chopped nuts.

Melt the preserves (I used peach and Amaretto preserves) until they are are completely liquid, stirring constantly so they don’t burn. Turn off the heat then add the almond extract and combine thoroughly.

Spoon the preserves over the top of the fruit and carefully spread it out evenly to cover the top. Then scatter the butter slices around the top of the tart.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly browned.

Let the tart cool completely before removing it from the pan and dusting it with powdered sugar. Then slice it up and enjoy it with friends. This tart is not overly sweet, but is just sweet enough, especially with the powdered sugar, and perhaps a little whipped cream or ice cream on the side too.

I cut my pieces very small because I was serving it to a lot of people, for my coffee cart. It literally just melts in your mouth. !Delizcioza! !Mangia!

Have a great day Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Un Insalada Mediterannea

When I made my calzones Loaded Calzones I had to have something to serve alongside them as well. I couldn’t just serve calzones and nothing else. And if you’ve noticed, I like to cook in themes. So, calzones are Italian, I needed an Italian side dish to go with them. I created my own version of a Mediterranean salad or, un insalada Mediterannea. It was super easy and super simple to make, all from basic ingredients most of us have in our pantries already.

Insalada Mediterrnea

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and cut in half

2-3 hearts of palm, sliced very thin

1/2-1 bell pepper, any color, or a mix, chopped

1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin

1 cup mix olives, sliced

1 cup tomatoes – I used the very tiny tomatoes

lettuce, chopped rough

Parmigiano cheese, optional for topping

pepita seeds, optional for topping

Gently toss everything, except the lettuce and the toppings, together in the lemon vinaigrette then serve atop a bed of chopped lettuce. Top with the Parmagiano cheese and/or the pepita seeds and enjoy. Mine has the pepita seeds and Larry’s has the cheese.

Lemon Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil

2-3 TBSP lemon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup white wine or Proseco vinegar

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped

fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Combine everything together thoroughly. This is a very light dressing and can be used as either a dressing or a light marinade for chicken or seafood too.

Sometimes the best things in life, and in cooking, are the simple things. Have a great day Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

A New Adventure

It seems I am always reinventing myself, or at the very least, adding new things on to my ever-expanding repertoire. This time, I have decided to take yet another chance by trying to make a go out of selling some of my photos. I am going to start small and go to local art shows and art fairs and see what happens from there. A friend of mine does face paintings for kids at these shows and she has already said we could share a booth. There has already been a lot of very positive responses to this new, crazy idea of mine. Let’s see how it goes.

My first venture into the “professional” world of photography starts with these few pictures, but I have 100’s more if this works out.

Let me start by saying though, I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL photographer at all. I am merely an amateur. My photos are all natural, with only the help of my editing tool on my computer. I do not use different filters or lenses. When I printed these few pictures up, I have to admit, I was very impressed with how they turned out. I wasn’t sure how they would come out blown up and printed. The young salesgirl who was helping me out was impressed too.

Larry seems to be the only skeptic in the room though. His first comment was “you are duck heavy with these photos”, followed by “how much is this going to cost” and “how are you going to make money out of this idea”. There is a reason for all the ducks though. I am still playing with this whole idea, and I printed those up to give as a gift for some friends of mine. You know, you have to sample the goods with people you love and trust before going public with something. 🙂

At some point, all of my nature photos will be available for sale, however, you have all seen them already, and it would be very easy to get them to you if you should so desire. I am going to sell the prints for $15 and the framed prints for $50, at least to start with. I have been asking around and the general consensus is that these are very fair prices. I have already done the math with just these few pictures. At the very least, if all I do is sell the prints only, it would be $825, and the best case scenario, if I were to sell them all framed would be over $2700. So there is definitely $$$$ to be made, if there is a market and a desire for them., IF being the key word. So once again, we’ll see what happens. You never know until you try, right?! And even if things don’t work out at first, I can always keep trying and tweaking things until they are just right. Try, try and try again is what I always say.

This photo of the eel was taken years ago, on a diving trip to Hawai’i. Larry is in the background waving and the spotted moray in front is smiling at the camera. I entered this photo into a photo contest years ago, liking it a lot but never giving it much thought beyond that, and it won us a free, all expense-paid trip to Cancun for a week. So again, you just never know, but you will never know until you try. My motto is – “Never stop trying. You just may surprise yourself with what happens”.

Be adventurous and step outside of your comfort zone. There is a wonderful, amazing world that awaits you.

Have a great day Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Loaded Calzones

You all know how much I love recreating from my leftovers. I had yet another opportunity to do just that once again. This one was a simple, obvious recreation, but it was still very tasty all the same. I took my leftover spaghetti sauce and turned it into calzones.

We like a very rich and meaty spaghetti sauce. It’s always loaded with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, ground beef sausage, and herbs, as well as marinara sauce. You know, just how a Sicilian nona would make it. 🙂 I love spaghetti and pasta, but as you know, I also love to change things around too, and I do that quite frequently. This time, I turned it into calzones. I served a quick little Mediterranean salad on the side, along with some rich velvety red wine, and voila! Dinner was done; Italian style.

When it comes to making pizza doughs and calzones, it is always a personal choice. There are so many different options available and so many of them are very good. You just have to choose the one(s) you like best. I have one recipe for both that I like to use a lot, and this is the recipe I chose for these calzones too. Pizza with Pesto, Sausages and Vegetables It is the same recipe for both. After all, a calzone is really just a stuffed pizza sandwich. 🙂

I love calzones, but I very rarely order them at a restaurant. I love my calzones stuffed, and so often at restaurants, you just get mostly bread and not a lot of stuff inside. So when I make them, I really load them up.

Once I made my dough and let it rest, it was time to fill it up. My filling was already made. It was just a mater of loading it all up and making it pretty.

I rolled out the dough to a circle (of sorts) on a lightly floured surface, then added a layer of mozzarella cheese, a generous portion of my sausage and beef sauce, with another layer of mozzarella cheese on top. Then I folded it over and shape it into a calzone.

Once the calzones were made, I coated them with an egg wash before putting them in the oven.

They were baked at 350* F or 190*C for about 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

After removing them from the oven, I let them cool for a few minutes before cutting them. These turned out to be HUGE so 1/2 a calzone each plus a salad was more than enough.

They were light and crispy on the outside and filled with warm, comforting goodness on the inside. !Deliziosa!

Have a great day Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Merlin The Magnificent

On my brief walk-about yesterday, not only was I graced by my new friend the Bushtit, Nature Walks – The Bushtit but I also had the pleasure of a Merlin posing for me up high in a tree. Merlins are part of the falcon family, smaller than a falcon but larger than a kestrel. They are small but ferocious. They are comfortable calling many parts of Colorado home, but we don’t see them all that often. They like to roam the skies.

I have been pondering on a way to showcase my pictures from our beautiful lakes for some time, but was not quite sure how to do it. I had thought about publishing a little book, but in order to produce it to sell, at least for the moment, it would be prohibitively expensive. Yesterday, I was telling this to one of my neighbors, and she suggested I should sell my photos at local art shows and fairs. I had never thought about that before, but now, she has planted a seed I am starting to grow. Please be honest (I can take it), is this something I should pursue? Would any of you be interested in purchasing prints if I were to start selling them? As with many of my ideas, this new idea is food for thought.

Have a great day Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Catalan Pork and Sausage Stew

Catalonia is located in the northeast region of the Iberian Peninsula and is made up of four main provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. According to Catalionan conceit, the region also includes the Catalan Lands which are known as the “Else Paisos Catalans” and include Valencia and it’s provinces to the south, Mountain Suzerainty of Andorra, the French Region of Roussillon to the North which is home to the most important agricultural area, the Balearic Islands, and the City of Alghero. All of these regions speak Catalan, or a dialect derived from it and share a common culinary heritage. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and it’s largest city, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and extends down into Catalonia’s vineyard land where the popular drink of cava is sourced, along with many other great wines. Girona is bordered by both the Mediterranean Sea and France, and is the most Northeastern province of Catalonia, which is where the “Wild Coast” or Costa Brava is located. The history behind Catalonia is significant to their culinary life because it alludes to the great effort behind keeping the Catalan culture alive. 

Catalan food is unique because it is a blend of European foods and Mediterranean foods, rather than foods found in the interior portions of Spain. It has been enriched by the cooking practices of the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Italians, and French and the dishes resemble Catalonia’s medieval roots. Many of the basic ingredients that go into Catalan dishes include onions and peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, nuts, wild mushrooms, a variety of beans, apples and pears, and herbs. Rice, eggs, pasta, wild game, chicken, veal, pork, duck are also commonly seen as staples in Catalonian dishes. Additionally cinnamon and chocolate are utilized for many dessert dishes and wine or cava is served with almost every meal. Dishes are composed of simple ingredients and do not contain an overwhelming amount of seasoning, therefore it is necessary that they are made with the best, most fresh products. Traditional Catalan cuisine is quite diverse, ranging from pork-intensive dishes cooked in the inland part of the region (Catalonia is one of the main producers of swine products in Spain) to fish-based recipes along the coast.

I think I must have been a Spanish chef in a previous life because I am definitely gravitated towards all the different Spanish cuisines. I love Mexican food and spicy foods with a passion, but I also love the wide varieties of food from the mother land, Spain, just as much. My most recent Spanish/Catalan culinary adventure was with a Catalan pork and sausage stew.

Catalan Pork and Sausage Stew

This is a simple stew made with simple ingredients, that when combined is just simply perfection. I used some cooked pulled pork that Larry had made earlier.

1 1/2-2 lbs cooked pulled pork

1-1/2 lbs sausage

1 1/2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and cubed

2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed

1 onion, diced medium

1 bell pepper, diced medium

1 jalapeno, diced fine

2 cups tomatoes, diced

salt & pepper to taste

2 bay leaves

1-2 TBSP garlic

1 cup dry white wine

3 TBSP tomato paste

1-1 1/2 cups water

5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme

olive oil

Cook the sausage until mostly done. Allow it to cool, then slice.

Cook the onions, peppers, pumpkin and garlic in olive oil until tender.

Add the sausage and continue to cook until it is done.

Add the wine and be careful of flare-ups. Add the bay leaves.

Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and continue to cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring often.

Serve in a bowl since you want all the good flavors of the broth too. Serve with warmed bread to soak up the flavorful broth. You don’t want any of it to go to waste. I served it with warmed pita bread and a cool, crisp chardonnay, but a warm, full bodied red wine would pair nicely as well. !Delicioso! !Desfruitas!

Whether you are in the Catalonia areas of Spain or you are just bringing Catalonia to your own kitchen, I guarantee you are going to love this warm comforting stew. It is loaded with nothing but pure goodness that will warm you up from the inside out.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – The Bushtit

It’s a new year and I have to new bird friend. I got some fabulous shots today. I cut my normal walk short due to the ice on the sidewalks. The ice and snow were cleared in some spots, but not in others and I slid a few times, so I thought it best to cut it short. But I was still able to get a few really great shots.

I met a new bird friend today. It is a little Bushtit. It is only about 3 inches long and it is a little ball of grey fluff. It’s so cute. There were a few in the trees, but they were difficult to capture. They are so tiny and fly away very quickly, but one let me get in a few shots before flying off to join his friends.

Make the most out of every day and make every day a good day.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

It is hard to think of foods that can survive a long car ride, but I came up with a couple of good things to take with us to our recent trip to Hays, KS. Both were successful transports and were enjoyed by all. Along with the Parmagiano herbed carrots, Roasted Parmagiano and Herb Carrots, we also brought the makings for some crab stuffed mushrooms with us too. The carrots were served with dinner and the mushrooms were appetizers.

I made the crab stuffing at home and brought it with us and then I stuffed the mushrooms once we got to Hays.

Mushrooms are a staple in our house. I can use mushrooms in just about anything, and do too. 🙂 And crab, well that goes without saying. I love anything with crab. I also added some of my leftover sausage and spinach mixture that was leftover from my breakfast tortelets. A New Year’s Breakfast

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb mushrooms

7 oz jumbo crab meat

5 green onions, sliced very thin

1 jalapeno pepper, diced fine

1/2 red bell pepper, diced fine

1 TBSP garlic

salt & pepper to taste

a dash of dried thyme

dash of dried oregano

dash of dried marjoram

dash of dried basil

1/2 cup Parmagiamo cheese

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup cooked sausage crumbles, optional

Mozzarella cheese for topping

paprika and parsley for topping

Combine everything together and mix well. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but I prefer to mix my spices and mayonnaise together separately then carefully fold it into the crab and vegetable mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350* F or about 190*C.

Wash the mushrooms and pop out the stems. Generously fill the mushroom caps with the filling, then top with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the tops with the paprika and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the mushrooms are hot. Add the parsley and serve immediately. You want these hot, straight out of the oven. Eat as many as you like. They are fairly healthy, at only about 167 calories per mushroom and are full of different nutrients.

Happy New Year Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Roasted Parmagiano and Herb Carrots

Side dishes are often overlooked when preparing or serving meals, yet they are just as important as the main part of the meal itself. The parts complete the whole. You need the side dishes just as much as you need the main protein portion of the meal in order to make a complete meal.

I was originally preparing some roasted Parmigiano and herbed carrots for our Christmas Eve dinner, however, I learned that one of our guests was bringing a carrot dish so that plan was scrapped. Unfortunately, I already had the carrots prepared and they just needed to be popped into the oven to roast. No problem though. I quickly activated Plan B, and put everything in a plastic freezer bag and popped them into the freezer until our trip to Hays. This was a great plan and it worked out very well, since all I had to do to transport them to Hays was to take the the whole bag. They were a big hit with Larry’s family and not a carrot was left. I did not get a picture of them before we started to eat though. Sorry about that, but they will look very similar to how they looked before putting them in the oven.

Parimigiano Herb Roasted Carrots

2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into sticks about 3 inches long

1/2 stick melted butter

1 TBSP garlic

1 tsp dried orgeano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried marjoram

salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese

chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 400* F or 200* C.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the melted butter and seasonings together then toss the carrot sticks into the mixture, making sure to thoroughly coat the carrots.

Spread the carrots out onto the prepared sheet pan in a single layer. Top with the Parmigiano cheese and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.

Top with the chopped parsley and serve. These are a guaranteed winner and are so easy to make, using just simple and basic ingredients. They will pair well with anything you choose to serve beside them. Besides, you can’t go wrong with carrots, right?! 🙂 this recipe was inspired by Cooking with Mima and My Meals are on Wheels. Thank you both for this wonderful idea.

Happy New Year Everyone. Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

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