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Molten Chocolate Cakes

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Valentine’s Day is about love…and love of chocolate.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post.  What better way to re-start my blogging than with chocolate!  In honor of the holiday, I made these super easy molten chocolate cakes (originally a Martha Stewart recipe).  If you’re short on time and still want a lovely dessert for your Valentine, these are easy, have few ingredients and come together quickly.  So, whether you’re celebrating love with spouse, partner, family, friends or yourself, love who you’re with and celebrate with some chocolate!

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Super Easy Molten Chocolate Cakes

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for muffin tins
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for muffin tins
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • Whipped cream or ice cream, for serving

 

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Butter 8 cups of your muffin tin.  Make sure there are no globs of butter in the cup, because it will make your cake mushy.  Spoon some granulated sugar into each cup, swirling to make sure the cup is completely lined.

2.  Next, cream the butter and granulated sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating them into the butter after each addition.  Beat in flour and salt on low speed until combined.  Then add in the molten chocolate, and beat until combined. 

3.  Divide the batter among the muffin tins using a 1/4 cup measure, or until 3/4 full.  These will rise some, so make sure you leave extra room.

4.  Put the tin into the heated oven and bake until the middle of the cakes no longer jiggle, about 8-12 minutes.  Make sure you don’t overcook!  Remove the tin from the oven, and let sit for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out.

5.  Place them wide side down onto a plate, dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

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Eat well.  Travel often.  Live your passion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pigs, Twigs and Garbage Tour?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

— Margaret Mead

Carbonera School RecyclingResponsible travel.   I have a twinge of guilt when I get on an airplane and think about all the carbon-based fuels that are used  to transport me from Point A to Point B.  What can we do to be more eco-conscious and assuage some of that guilt, aside from not traveling (not an option for me!)?  For starters, we can stay at one of these 30 Gorgeous Eco-Friendly Hotels.  Two of my favorites on the list, Lapa Rios and Finca Rosa Blanca, are properties managed by Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, which takes sustainability very seriously.  This is not just “green-washing,” which refers to the spin some companies put on their minimal efforts to be eco-conscious.  For Cayuga, sustainability is very much a part of their vision and mission, and they have the awards and recognition to prove it.

Pigs 1Pigs 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do pigs have to do with eco-tourism?  Quite a bit, as I found out on the “Pigs, Twigs and Garbage Sustainability Tour” at Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica.  It’s an odd name for a tour and I’m not sure I’d normally sign up for something like this, but I was sure glad I did.  Sustainable tourism is a reality at Lapa Rios.La Brisa AzulLapa Rios pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For starters, towels and sheets are changed every other day, unless requested by guests.  Water conservation is highly encouraged, and they have reduced the use of disposable plastic water bottles by 90% by giving guests refillable bottles.  Biodegradable toiletries are in packaging-saving dispensers and hot water is solar-heated.  The bungalows are not air-conditioned, but open to the air, as is the fantastic restaurant, La Brisa Azul – which makes for better wildlife viewing during meals.  Alongside trash bins are recycling bins, lamps have low-voltage bulbs, and guests are encouraged to turn off lights and fans when leaving their rooms.  The pool is maintained with salt and ionization systems instead of chlorine or any other toxic chemicals.   Bio-diesel generators are necessary for power, but all dishes are washed by hand and laundry dries in the sun.  Instead of plastic straws, we drank from bamboo straws, even out of coconuts.  What struck me the most on our tour was seeing a week’s worth of trash for the entire resort in just a few regular-size trash bags.

Which brings us back to those happy pigs.  And how can they not be happy?  They get to roll around in cool mud in the middle of a rainforst and eat table scraps from an amazing restaurant.  All leftovers go either to the compost pile or to the pigs.  The manure produces methane gas, which is piped in to the staff kitchen, where it fuels the stove used to cook daily meals for all of the employees!

Lapa Rios also reduces waste by having their guests pre-order dinner, which not only reduces wasted food, but also reduces energy, so that the kitchen can do prep work and wash dishes with solar-heated water during the day.  Speaking of dinner, food is fresh, authentic and locally-sourced, including herbs and vegetables from the organic garden.  Every day we were treated to yuca chips with salsa and new refreshing juices made from indigenous fruits.Yuca chips and salsaCooking classJuiceWaterfall lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to its environmentally friendly policies, Lapa Rios also supports socio-cultural activities, such as the local Carbonera School, which we visited on another tour, cooking classes on site, and local artisan demonstrations.  Please visit Cayuga’s website for more information about their sustainability practices.  The Sustainability Tour is free to all guests at Lapa Rios.  Many thanks to Lapa Rios Ecolodge and Cayuga for modeling sustainable tourism at its best.  Please see this post about our stay at Lapa Rios.  Remember to reuse, reduce and recycle – make every day Earth Day!Carbonera School Girls

Eat well.  Travel often.  Live your passion.

Sunshine Smoothies and Tiki Treats

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Red barn in the snowDeer in snowOkay, Old Man Winter, I have a bone to pick with you.  You have overstayed your welcome and it is high time you leave.  We should not be having 18 inches of snow and below-freezing temperatures in April!  How ironic that the mountains are getting pounded with snow, just as most of the ski resorts have closed.  Yes, we live in Colorado and could use the moisture, but can’t we just have a little break?  I just need a little sunshine, a little warmth, a little flower peeking out from the ground, something that will give me hope that spring is here and summer is right around the corner.

Oh, it is beautiful here.  Just when I tell myself I’ve had enough of the snow, ice, cold, horrible roads, the driveway of death, etc., etc., a herd of deer shows up in the yard, a beautiful red fox runs on our road, and I notice how much the red barn looks like it belongs in a snow globe.  Colorado may not be the tropics, but it is still a magical place…

However, times like this still have me climbing the walls, sick of wearing sweaters (and parkas and boots and hats and mittens), dreaming of a simple life on a tropical island.  This is when I tell my daughter that some day I will live on a beach and sell “sunshine smoothies and tiki treats.”  So, if I can’t escape to the tropics, while I watch the snow pile up outside, I do what a girl’s gotta do.  I bring the tropics home:  cue the Bob Marley playlist, make a mango smoothie, bake something with tropical flavor, turn up the heat, and dream of sinking my toes into the sand next to my little beach house…

Hope you enjoy this little tropical side trip, without getting on a plane.  Drink umbrellas are optional.

Peach Mango Smoothie 1Peach Mango Smoothie 2

 

Peach-Mango Smoothie (from Cooking Light – makes 2 servings)

  • 2/3 cup frozen sliced peaches
  • 2/3 cup frozen mango pieces
  • 2/3 cup peach nectar
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 (6-oz.) container organic peach fat-free yogurt

Place all ingredients in a blender; process 2 minutes or until smooth.  Serve immediately.

 

Tropical muffins 1Tropical muffins 2Tropical Muffins with Coconut-Macadamia Topping (from Cooking Light – makes 1 dozen)

Muffins:

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 oz.)
  • 1 cup regular oats
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple in juice, drained
  • 1/3 cup flaked sweetened coconut
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped macadamia nuts, toasted
  • Cooking spray

 

Topping:

  • 2 Tbsp. flaked sweetened coconut
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. regular oats
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To prepare muffins, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl.  Make a well in center of flour mixture.  Combine banana and next 5 ingredients (through egg) in a medium bowl; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.  Stir in pineapple, 1/3 cup coconut, and 3 tablespoons nuts.  Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
  3. To prepare topping, combine 2 tablespoons coconut and the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
  4. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of topping over each muffin.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.  Remove muffins from pans immediately; place on a wire rack.
Eat well.  Travel often.  Live your passion.
Tropical Muffins 3Hawaii Sunset

The Natural Dyed Eggs-periment

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Yes, we could have easily and (far more) cheaply bought one of those Paas Easter Egg kits.  We could have finished those colored eggs in a matter of minutes.  But I had to try it.  I wanted to see what actually happened if we tried all natural, plant-based ingredients to dye our eggs this year.  Like a chemistry experiment or processing prints in the darkroom, the anticipation of what we would discover surpassed the instant gratification of coloring eggs with a kit.  We had to be patient and wait a while for the payoff.  Check out our results:Colored eggs in nestColored eggs in bowl

With the help of my daughter, I gathered the ingredients and went to work, chopping and peeling and boiling water.  We waited about an hour to extract as much color from our ingredients as we could.  We then strained the solid material, added some vinegar and dropped the eggs in.

Natural Dye IndredientsEggs in Dyeing LiquidBut we were far from finished.  We had to let the eggs sit in the dye overnight (or at least 4 hours) in the refrigerator.

Bowl of Colored EggsNow on to the fun part.  The next morning we took the eggs out and put them on a wire rack to dry.  We thought that was it and we were done.  The colors were vibrant and beautiful (for the most part).  Some did not turn out the way we thought.  Well, after sitting and drying for a few hours, the colors had transformed!  Blue eggs became bluer.  Some that came out of the dye a violet color were now a faded magenta.  Some that were magenta were now an avocado green!

Spring Colored EggsEggs in CartonNo matter what the results, my daughter and I had a great “eggs-perience,” had fun with the process and enjoyed the surprises we received from Mother Nature.

Here are some instructions on how you can make your own colored eggs:

Natural Egg Dye (adapted from Eating Well magazine)

1.  Hard-boil eggs and let cool.

2.  To prepare the dyes, set out as many bowls as colors you want to prepare.

For different colors:

  • Blue:  1/4 head of red cabbage cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Violet:  1 large beet, cut into chunks
  • Green:  outer loose skins from 8 red onions
  • Orange:  outer loose skins from 8 yellow onions
  • Yellow:  1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
  • Red-orange: 2 Tablespoons paprika

 

3.  Pour 2 cups boiling water over each natural dye; let steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours to extract the color.  Strain the dyeing liquid from the bowls (except for the turmeric and paprika).  Stir 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar into each color of dye; add eggs to each color.  Refrigerate the eggs in the dyes for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.  Longer soaking will give a more vivid color, but limit soak time to 24 hours.  Remove eggs from the dye with a slotted spoon.  Let dry on a wire rack.  If you plan to eat the eggs, refrigerate for up to one week.

Happy Easter!

 

 

Eat well.  Travel often.  Live your passion.

Chocolate Matzoh

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Matzoh in napkin (Afikoman)Seder TableHappy Passover!  The Jewish holiday started on Monday night and continues for a total of 8 nights, in order to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt.  Although our family is not Jewish, we have close friends who are and they kindly include us in their seder dinner.  The Passover seder is a special dinner that incorporates readings from the Haggadah, which retells the story of the exodus from Egypt and why it is important to remember.  Traditionally, someone hides a piece of matzoh (the afikoman) for the children to find for a prize.  For more information on Passover, click here.

Every year, we look forward to an amazing feast, good wine, and a wonderful time with great friends.  I usually contribute a dessert, which should be made with unleavened flour.  Since matzoh is the symbol of Passover, I think it is quite appropriate to add some chocolate and make it into a delicious, easy dessert!  This recipe is from my dear friend Tami, who got it from a mutual friend, Amy, who has had it at her own family seders for years.

Chocolate Matzoh IngredientsChocolate Matzoh

  • 3 sheets of matzoh
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 12 oz. chocolate chips
  • Chopped nuts (optional)

 

Place 3 sheets of matzoh on a foil-lined 11 x17 cookie sheet (with sides).  Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil for 3 minutes.  Pour over the matzoh.  Bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes (or less, depending on your oven).  Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Let stand until chocolate chips soften and spread with a spatula.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts (I like to do half with nuts and half without).  Place in freezer to cool.  Break into pieces and store in an air-tight container.

Enjoy!Chocolate Matzoh 2

 

Eat well.  Travel often.  Live your passion.