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Friday, July 4, 2014

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Friendship can be a tricky thing. Making them, keeping them and enjoying them gets harder as you get older. If you're fortunate enough to have lifelong friendships that make you feel comfortable and open, then congratulations. But for most of us, friendships that survive growing up, marriage, kids, time and distance is a rare animal indeed. And fighting, let's not forget the fights, because friends who care about each other will invariably get into arguments.

As you get older and become set in your ways it's harder to approach other people, to put yourself out there on a ledge and expose your true self for the sake of making a new friend. Finding those that share similar life experiences or an interest in the same things can even be a chore. And if you're already married to your BEST friend it's nearly impossible to find another friend who will measure up.

Hell, I'm not even sure what point I'm trying to make with this post unless it's to say hold onto your friends. Or maybe I'm saying friends are a pain-in-the-butt that may or may not be worth the frustration. It's a social crapshoot sometimes so draw your own conclusions on what I'm trying to say.

I had some friends over from dinner and cake, so a post about friendship sounded like a good idea in my head, but now....

Let's just talk about the cake, alright?

It's a fairly straight-forward coffee cake base, with a tender crumb. I think I over-baked it a little because I found the cake portion to be a little dry. The cream cheese topping adds a nice tang to what could have been a boring cake. The blueberry and almonds are a great compliment to the cream cheese and make for a great combination. My friends liked it.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

    For the blueberry topping:
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons water, divided
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • For the cake:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the topping and assembly:
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
To make the blueberry topping:
Combine blueberries, 1/4 cup water, and lemon juice in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils. Lower heat and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally. Simmer until blueberries have split and released their juices (about 3 minutes).
In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 2 teaspoons water. Add to blueberry mixture. Stir until thickened (about 1 minute).
Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and sugar. Add butter and mix with a pastry blender or a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Remove 1/2 cup of mixture and set aside to use for the topping.
Add lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to remaining flour mixture. Mix just until combined.
In a separate bowl, mix yogurt, egg, and vanilla until blended and smooth. Add to flour mixture and mix just until combined.
Transfer batter to prepared pan. Spread evenly.
To make the topping and assemble the cake:
Beat cream cheese, sugar, egg, and lemon juice until smooth. Spread mixture over cake batter, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges.
Spread cooled blueberry mixture over cream cheese mixture. Leave some of the cream cheese mixture visible around the outermost edges.
Stir almonds into reserved cake mixture. Sprinkle over cake, placing most of the mixture around the outer edges.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and the center of the cake barely jiggles when the pan is gently shaken.
Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then, release the pan's latch and remove the sides of the pan.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Read This Book

It's not a newly released book. It was published in 2009. I've been anxiously awaiting the sequel ever since.

I keep a running list of my top five favorite books in my head at all times. You know, just in case I randomly get invited to the White House and need to make interesting dinner conversation.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
  2. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams
  3. Shades of Grey-Jasper Fforde
  4. Catch 22-Joseph Heller
  5. Special Topics in Calamity Physics-Marisha Pessl
Jasper Fforde is probably best known for writing about the adventures of his book detective creation, Thursday Next. Which started off as a pretty fair series of books in their own right, but has faltered since the first three books.

Fforde is British with that wonderful Brit sense of humor that can make a good book a great book. He deserves far more attention for his canon of work than he receives. 

A brief synopsis of the book: In a dystopian future (just stay with me) "something happened" and generations are born color blind. Everyone's place in society is dictated by the amount of any given color they can see. 

That's it, that's all I'm willing to tell you. If it sounds boring, I assure you that you're mistaken.

Misery loves company. If I have to suffer through the wait of the sequel, then I need someone to do it with. Read this book, tell me what you think about it. Even if you end up hating it, I want to talk to you about it. Just read it.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

There's a sense of self-satisfaction to making things yourself. Knowing that you accomplished something on your own is a real confidence builder and we could all use more of that.

When I had my first apartment I ran my own phone line into a room that was lacking one. I was so proud of what I'd done I called everyone I knew to squawk about my feat. You'd have thought I had found the Titanic, and raised it from the ocean floor using only my bare hands and a snorkel.

Making food from scratch that most people buy at the mega-mart has that same sense of ego enhancement. Around our house we make our own sauces: pasta, hot dog and stir fry. I have a friend who teases me about this practice, asking  if I'm considering the move to an Amish lifestyle, and how often my butter churn is dragged out from the barn to be used. For the record, I have made my own butter (there was no churn in site unless you count my KitchenAid stand mixer) and it was nothing special. Tastes just like the supermarket stuff.

We occasionally make our own sandwich bread and bagels. And just as the homemade butter is nothing special, the bread is so perfect that it will make your heart soar. One of the great toppers for a large slice of that bread or one of the chewy bagels (my personal preference) is our own apple butter.

If you're wondering why you should make your own when buying it is so convenient, I have, in a surprise to no one who knows me, prepared a list.

  • Preparing it in a slow cooker is almost as easy as pulling a jar of pre-made off of the supermarket shelf. Hell, you don't even have to peel the apples. Throw in the ingredients and walk away for a few hours.
  • You control the flavor. The amount of spices and sugar is all up to you. All to be customized to your palate. I don't know about you, but I'm all about anything that is tailor-made for moi.
  • I won't lie to you and tell you it's cheaper than buying it pre-made, but per ounce it's still pretty inexpensive. 
  • No artificial ingredients. Unless that's the kind of thing you enjoy.
  •  You're painfully lonely and can't eat an entire jar of apple butter before it spoils? It's freezable.
  • You know exactly what's in the jar. Even if a hair ends up in the there, at least you know its YOUR hair.



Core and chop apples (peel removal is optional). Add apples and all other ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on low setting for 6 hours. Use immersion blender to puree the cooked mixture and smooth. Jar and refrigerate for up to 30 days. Makes approximately four cups of butter.

It's worth making just so you can text all your friends and brag about how great you are. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tale of Two Burrito Boutiques

Winter can be enjoyable, but even I have my limits. Luckily, there are plenty of burritos to keep me warm.

Getting the chance to cook a meal is something I thoroughly enjoy. The creativity, the stress relief, to say nothing of the eating, all speaks to my soul. But like most people of our generation, my love and I, also jump at the chance to hand the wooden spoons over to professionals who wish to feed us in exchange for money. We are adventurous eaters and our rotation of old and new restaurants is an eclectic one, except when it comes to Mexican eateries.

I'm going to say what so many of you have been thinking all along, but refuse to say aloud....all local Mexican restaurants taste exactly the same!! There is nothing that sets one apart from another. It's the same entrees of tacos and burritos with the same beans, lettuce and sour cream on the side. Oh sure, sometimes the whole eatery will get a little excited when someone dares to order that sizzling, smoking platter of fajitas. Oooohing and aaaahing as they're brought out to the table, but that's where the thrill ends. From the chips and salsa to the fried ice cream it's a big snore.

I usually avoid Mexican restaurants because life is too short to bore my taste buds to death. I prefer the taco salads, tacos and burritos that we make at home.

If you're thinking to yourself "It's easy for you to feel that way, but I don't cook. And my only other choice for Mexican is Taco Bell". Fear not, I have found an alternative that doesn't suck.

I give you Black Sheep Brews and Burritos. My second favorite restaurant (since they do not serve "The Cake" they will never take the top spot in stomach). This hipster, boutique burrito joint will wake up your taste receptors that were formerly addled by tasteless taquitos (try saying that three times quickly).

I've visited both locations in Charleston and Huntington. The space and decor for each is very different. Huntington's spot is cozy and intimate. Housed in the location of the former Calamity Cafe, the large bar is still the eye-grabber in the room. The space gives a hanging-out-waiting-for-the-party-to-start vibe.

The Charleston location stands at 702 Quarrier St. in the former Capitol Roasters building. The Charleston spot is much bigger allowing more seating (there's always a line to be seated), and has a warehouse/steakhouse feel to it with aluminum siding on the walls and exposed rafters. The downside to the larger space seems to be lack of sound absorption. Frankly, the hubs and I couldn't even hold a conversation over the roar of a family-filled Saturday night crowd. Yep, it made me feel old (LOWER YOUR VOICES YOU WHIPPERSNAPPERS....AND GET OFF OF MY LAWN WHILE YOU'RE AT IT!) This location also houses a microbrewery, adding to it's charm.

There are some things that can be counted on at both locations. Both seem to be a hit with small children. The menu is consistent at both (more on that in a minute). And one thing that you can be sure of, no matter which one spot you visit, you will be served by a dyed-in-the-wool hipster. Your waiter will have a full-on Grizzly Adams beard and will be wearing a toboggan while indoors, and because it is the law, your waitress will have the standard-issue nerd glasses (non-prescription), of course and she will be wearing skinny jeans with ballet slippers even though it -15 outside, (pink hair and indoor scarf optional). I'm not downing the hipsters, I'm just saying that they try so hard to be edgy and they end up looking like cookie-cutter conformists of themselves. *whispering* Maybe I am downing them just a wee bit.

But the burritos, OH THE BURRITOS YOU'LL EAT! That is why I came here is to tell you about the burritos, remember? Pictured above is the brisket burrito. I will not go into minute details on the ingredients, that's what the menu link is for at the end of the post. I will tell you that it is quite huge and ridiculously good. Wrapped in a large flour tortilla, covered with coleslaw, this Dijon glazed, burrito screams with mammoth tastiness. If you only eat one brisket burrito this year, make it a Black Sheep burrito, boys and girls.

If you don't like burritos then you should still visit Black Sheep for their large array of sandwiches, and side dishes. Most importantly the Chipotle Sweet Potato Salad. In this salad I may have found the perfect side dish. The complexity of its flavors set it apart from run-of-the-mill potato salad. In taking a bite, you are first hit with the sweetness of the potato. Then the smokiness of the chipotle comes roaring past. And last, but still important, you get just a touch of heat from the red pepper on the back end. I could take a bath in this stuff and never get sick of it.

So, you heard it here. Check this place out (the Huntington location, if you can), you won't be sorry.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Another day, another brown cookie.

They look tasty, no? The flavor is rich, and screams for a large glass of milk. They're chocolatey with just the right amount of salt sprinkled on top. The taste is not the problem with this cookie. The problem is with the consistency, and the problem with the consistency stems from the need for more detail in the recipe. First let's look at the recipe....

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: about 24 cookies

  • 1 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons coarse salt, such as fleur de sal
Place bittersweet chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat at half power in microwave in 30-second increments until butter is melted and chocolate melts when stirred. Stir until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs. Slowly add the chocolate mixture, and stir to combine. Stir in vanilla extract.
Add flour mixture in three portions, mixing just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. (If dough is still warm, allow to cool before stirring in chocolate chips so that they won't melt.)
Chill dough for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
Use a cookie scoop to drop tablespoonfuls of dough on prepared pans. Sprinkle each cookie with desired amount of salt. 
Bake cookies, one pan at a time, 8-10 minutes, or until outside edges of cookies are slightly cracked but centers are still soft. Do not overbake.
Refrigerate remaining dough until ready to bake. If the dough has become too hard, allow it to sit at room temperature for a few minutes before scooping and baking.

Cool cookies on pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

The cookies should be somewhere between a cookie and a brownie, and it almost gets there. The recipe should be changed to specify chilling the dough for 15 minutes or until firm enough to roll into balls. I chilled the dough for 15 minutes, and it was runny. I chilled it for an additional 15 minutes and it was slightly more firm, but still more of a batter than a dough. I pressed ahead anyway and this is what happened with the first batch...
They spread during baking and were too thin to lift off of the parchment paper, they had to be scraped off after cooling. They tasted delicious, but a cookie they were not.

The second batched fared a little better, probably because the dough/batter had chilled 45 minutes for this round. But I don't think the cookies are supposed to turn out this thin, they should be puffier.

I would attempt this recipe again, just because the taste of these cookies is worth another shot. I wouldn't
call this whole thing and epic fail, but definitely a disappointment. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013


For those of us who love to bake, there are always, ALWAYS those confections that never turn out quite right for us, no matter how hard we try. I call those confoundings my Achilles Desserts. For me, my list of Achilles Desserts(A.D.) always seem to be the sweets that I enjoy the most. Shortbread cookies make my mouth sing, but the ones I make always turn out like bland sand. What should be a smooth, creamy chocolate frosting for my Texas Sheet Cake instead turns into what I describe as shards of greasy glass. These things happen to me regardless of the multiple recipes I've tried for each one. 

That brings us to what I thought was destined to be A.D. numero uno, Italian Cream Cake. 

There's a small, Italian eatery near my house, that we frequent often. That restaurant has a house-made Italian Cream Cake on the menu that is so good that it will make you beg the owners to adopt you so that you can spend more time in the presence of.....THE CAKE. After eating THE CAKE a few times I was determined to replicate it in my own kitchen. Cake, nuts, cream cheese frosting. How hard could it possibly be??!! Turns out it was very, very hard. The recipes I tried were either too dry, or the flavoring did not live up to that of THE CAKE.

I had pretty much given up, and had come to terms with only having THE CAKE when out and about. The A.D. list had welcomed another addition. 

And then, my boss' birthday rolled around. Knowing that the man loves pecans with a near-religious fervor, I searched my files for a cake that would scream "PECAN OVERLOAD!!!!!!" (I'm having a new love affair with exclamation points, it's a sickness really. Let's hope the symptoms soon pass....!!!!!). The only recipes that filled that need was the Italian Cream Cake. I stared bitterly at the pages, and they stared back, mocking me with their A.D.-ness (it's my blog and I can make up words(and faux drama) if I want to). A first-world problem, but still a problem, to be sure. 

I threw out the useless recipes and again scoured the internet for the Italian Cream Cake that would rule them all. I'm sure you figured out that I found my saving recipe, otherwise there would be no point to this post. The cake is light and moist, the frosting is nutty and sweet without being overly so. It was a hit with my boss!!! (I will be entering exclamation point group therapy after the new year begins). I can't really compare this to THE CAKE, because they're so different from each other, but I'm satisfied with how close this cake comes to the cake of all cakes.

The recipe comes from and I cannot begin to tell you how great that sight is. It's quickly becoming indispensable to me. I've included the full link to the cake recipe below.



I'm raising my own bad-ass Santa cookie army. One of them is so tough he cut off his own nose. Beware the KKLF (Kris Kringle Liberation Front). Motto: So cute, yet so angry.

Raspberry Oat Bars: Cake mix crust + raspberry jam + oat streusel = divine.

Lemon Crumb Bars: The balance of salty crust and lemon tang are smack-your-face delicious. My 2014 prediction....forget salted caramel because here comes salted lemon. 

The list of baked goods made this Christmas is too long to include here, so that wraps another Christmas baking season. Also known as the I-claim-I-love-this-time-of-year-but-I-secretly-want-to-put-a-gun-to-my-fa-la-la-la-head holiday. In a shoutout to one of my fave Twitter follows, @ASourAppleTree, cue the Layla outro.