Cruise Cuisine – Supper in Sapphire

On our third day of the cruise, we were back in Sapphire for dinner. Things were pretty relaxed, and while there was a dress code, no one was really enforcing it.

We were getting more into the swing of things and finally noticed this little addition to the menu that featured an unusual appetizer: “Rare Finds”. My partner in food was much more willing and able to take advantage of this particular little gem. While I returned to the shrimp cocktail, he adventurously ordered the Escargots Bourgignonne (snails in Burgandy). They were not presented in shell, but on a special plate with numerous cups around the rim, each holding a snail. The flavor of the sauce they had been cooked in was outstanding, the heartiness of wine mixed with spices and butter. I was at least brave enough to try that, if not the gastropods themselves.

Sadly, in our excitement, neither of us remembered to take photos of the appetizers.

Our main courses were more mainstream, being beef and chicken, but were as delicious as everything else we had been served to date.

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Chicken Milanese with charred lemon, sautéed green beans, and steamed vegetables.

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Flat Iron Steak with au jus, a baked potato and steamed veggies.

On we went, after a measured pause, to dessert. One of the selections truly surprised me, being lower calorie and having no added sugar. Of course I had to try it and I was not disappointed.

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Chocolate Panna Cotta. A deliciously chocolate dessert with lowered calories and no added sugars.

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Cheese Plate with whole grain bread, blueberries and strawberries, A Swiss-type cheese, a bleu cheese, a Gouda, a Cheddar and a Brie.

If for nothing else, time spent together with excellent food readily available made this trip more than worth the price.

— Ann Cathey

Candy Cane Snack Mix

There are tons of variations on the home-made holiday treat known as Chex Mix or Texas Trash. Most of them are a salty collection of cereals, nuts, pretzels, and spices. Have you ever considered a sweet version of this snacking treat?

Candy Cane Snack Mix
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes, plus refrigeration
Servings: Approximately 8

Ingredients:
5 cups rice cereal
1 cup mini pretzels
1 cup crushed candy canes
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2-1/2 cups white chocolate morsels (cookie chips)
2 cups popcorn
1/2 cup dark chocolate morsels (cookie chips)
1/2 cup mini marshmallows (any color)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios

Place cereal and pretzels into a large bowl.

Melt white chocolate morsels in microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring between rounds, until completely melted.

Pour melted chocolate over cereal. Stir and fold until lightly coated.

Fold in crushed candy canes.

Place confestioner’s sugar into a large zip-top bag.Add cereal mixture to bag, seal and shake until the mixture is coated with the sugar.

Refrigerate contents of bag until the chocolate hardens.

Turn out content of the bag into a large bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Place the mix in a serving bowl for immediate use, or measure into airtight containers as gifts.

Store at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Obviously, there are a lot of variations for this tasty treat, just as with the salty versions.

  • Mini marshmallows now come in different colors and flavors. Mint and pumpkin spice have been spotted locally.
  • Pistachios are not the only nut out there, though the greenish tint does add a bit of holiday color to this type of mix. Try different nuts for different flavors. Crushed hazelnuts or chopped pecans will lend themselves to exciting flavor variations.
  • Cookie chips also come in a wide variety of flavors. Dark, semi-sweet, white and milk chocolate, butterscotch, pumpkin spice, peppermint and others are available in my area at local chain grocery stores.
  • Candy canes are also available in a lot of flavors! From the traditional peppermint though a range of modern candy flavors, all the way to dill pickle falvored, you can find just about any flavor base you desire.

 

For the coffee lovers in your family, you might try this:

  • Hazelnuts or almonds in stead of pistachios
  • Chocolate flavored candy canes
  • Add a quarter cup of instant coffee to the confectioner’s sugar

 

For the pumpkin spice crowd, you migth try this:

  • Pecans instead of pistachios
  • Pumpkin spice, clove, or coffee flavored candy canes
  • Add a touch of pumpkin pie soice or cinnamon to the confectioner’s sugar
  • Butterscotch or pumpkin spice cookie chips in place of the white chocolate morsels

 

For the lovers of fruity flavors:

  • Small jelly beans instead of nuts
  • Crushed hard candy of a fruity flavor (or several) instead of candy canes
  • Add lime salt (a dry powder) to the confectioner’s sugar for some zing
  • Add a bit of shredded coconut
  • Colorful mini marshmallows

Any way you put it together, this recipe is bound to be a crowd pleaser over the holidays!

— Ann Cathey

Crock Pot Desserts

I was amazed to find quite a number of warm dessert dishes that can be cooked in a crock pot or other slow cooker. I bet you didn’t know that brownies and cobblers can be prepared in a slow cooker rather than in a conventional oven. Here are a few recipes to get you started.

These recipes are written more like concepts than with the usual ingredients list due to the many variations that are available for each.

BREAD PUDDING
Nothing is a better dessert on a cool fall evening than a warm gooey bread pudding – and it will make your house smell absolutely wonderful. Into a buttered slow cooker put eight cups of cubed day-old bread. In a separate bowl, combine four eggs, 1 1/2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of cream, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of Nutella, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until smooth, pour over bread cubes, and press cubes until all liquid is absorbed. Cook on low for three hours and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

BROWNIES
The best part about brownies made in a slow cooker is you can cook them without the panic of leaving your oven on – and, of course, how gooey and delicious they get. Spray your slow cooker with cooking spray and pour in your favorite brownie recipe. Cook on low for three hours. Drop crumbled chocolate or other candies across the top of the brownie batter and cook normally. Serve with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s seriously decadent.

COBBLER
Peach cobbler is an amazing dessert, and this slow cooked cobbler will delight you. In a buttered crock pot, put four cups of sliced peaches mixed with 1/4 cup of sugar. In another bowl, mix one cup of yellow cake mix, 1/2 cup of sugar and one cup of milk until just blended. Pour the mixture over peaches. Cook on low for three hours or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Spoon it into bowls and dust lightly with cinnamon sugar for an added treat.

Apples, pears, and all kinds of berries may be used instead of peaches for this recipe. You might even use several at one time for a great mix of flavors and textures. You might also use a different flavor of cake mix, such as lemon or orange, to create even more tasty treats.

PUDDING CAKE
Set this to cook in the morning and have an amazing dessert waiting for you when you get home from a long day at work. Mix together one box of chocolate cake mix, one package of chocolate instant pudding, two cups of sour cream, four eggs, 3/4 cups of oil, one cup of hot water and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Coat the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray and pour in the batter. Cook on low for five to six hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Give these warm desserts a try and let us know how you enjoyed them. See if you don’t agree that the crock pot method is a time-saving twist on these home-made favorites.

–Ann Cathey

Pillsbury has Gluten-Free Products!

Realizing that gluten free does not mean carb free, I still keep my eyes out for products that might serve well on both dietary lists: the gluten free and the diabetic.

A few months ago I stumbled upon a gluten free product that actually managed to lower the carb count for some foods I adore. Pillsbury offers a line of gluten free doughs for cookies and pie crusts. They are in the refrigerated section of the grocery, near the other cookie, pastry, and biscuit offerings.

Pillsbury has been kind enough to share some recipes that make use of these products. I recently stumbled across one that sounds quite tasty, and I plan to try it out.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cups
Ingredients:
1 container Pillsbury TM Gluten Free refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough

24 miniature chocolate-covered peanut butter cup candies, preferably also gluten free, unwrapped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F.

Place mini paper baking cups in each of 24 mini muffin cups. Spray paper baking cups with cooking spray.

Place 1 level measuring tablespoonful of cookie dough in each paper baking cup.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until dark golden brown. Immediately press one peanut butter candy into the center of each cookie cup.

Cool 10 minutes. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

Bon appetite!

–Ann Cathey

Amazeballs! is Amazing!

I wrote about a cottage industry business on Galveston Island a couple of months ago: Amazeballs! I’m writing about them again because they pulled a rabbit out of the proverbial hat this last weekend for the birthday of my partner in crime, Christopher.

Allow me to introduce you to their idea of a birthday cake, in five taste-bud pleasing versions of chocolate.

11693828_926019154123770_3760396705015053560_n 11705186_926019267457092_2726921586160241547_nThe top center cakeball is a cool and luscious lemon. The next layers down in order are Mocha Brownie (a requested experiment), Roxy’s Mahem (chili lime), and Chocolate Chocolate, with some test subjects thrown in with alternating colors. I can’t spill the beans on those yet, as they are not part of the official flavor lineup just yet.

Yes, there is a cake beneath all those cakeballs! It is also chocolate, as requested, topped with chocolate fondant and a chocolate glaze. Can you tell the birthday boy likes chocolate?

While this cake may not look terribly large, there are about 20 small servings of the cake along with 29 regular sized cakeballs (about 2 ounces each?) and 10 half size balls. That’s 35-40 small serving of extremely rich sweetness.

If you need an original design, or just want a chocolate mountain like this one for any occasion, give Amazeballs a call and get your order in today!

–Ann Cathey

BBQ Chocolate!

Bar-B-Que or BBQ is a great tradition among the southern states in the US, from Kansas down to Texas and all the way to the Virginias. Each region has it’s own way of making BBQ sauce (sweet, spicy, savory, thick, thin…) and different woods used in pit (mesquite, hickory, pecan, apple…). You get the idea. The same is true for all the many variations of beef and other meats as jerky.

The new wave of where to find BBQ and jerky flavors has gone beyond the potato chips we’ve seen for many years. These days, they are a gourmet flavoring for all kinds of treats.

At this year’s Apollocon in Houston, Texas, some brought along a couple of chocolate bars to share in the ConSuite. They were not what you would expect to see at a sci-fi/fantasy con. Or maybe you would given the eclectic mix of people and the foodie reputation Apollocon now has. These chocolates are from Wild Ophelia, and are guaranteed to be all natural with no preservatives and gluten free.

In both cases, the flavors were astoundingly correct. It was a pleasant surprise for my taste buds to say the least. The chocolate itself was of a smooth consistency, darkly rich and an excellent carrier of the BBQ and jerky flavors, respectively.

Ophelia BBQ ChocSmokehouse BBQ Potato Chip Dark Chocolate (70% cacao)
From the website:
Featured Artisan: The Billy Goat Chip Company
Varietal: Russet Burbank Potatoes gown in Idaho
Where: St. Louis, Missouri

Flavor Profile: A sweet, savory and spicy warm-the-back-of-your-throat chip entrenched in dark chocolate.

Craft: Billy Goat Chip Company hand selects, slices and seasons their potatoes to ensure the highest quality craftsmanship. Their chips are made with NO added preservatives, MSG or gluten. Their Kicker seasoning is the magical powder that flavors the chips with a zing unlike any other. A ripple cut potato slice that “holds” more seasoning is a crucial characteristic of the Kicker chip, adding increased flavor to each bite. With so many snack foods relying on salt and artificial flavorings, it’s refreshing to taste a superior chip that’s all natural.

Ophelia Jerky ChocBeef Jerky Milk Chocolate (41% cacao)
From the website:
Varietal: Piedmontese and Angus Cattle
Where: Plains of Idaho

Flavor Profile: Natural smoked fruit woods and peppered spices perfectly match our rich milk chocolate.

Craft: As far back as the late 1800s, cattle ranches have been an important part of the agricultural economy of Idaho. The cattle are treated humanely, raised in lush green pastures. They are accustomed to crisp, clean air and wide-open spaces as nature intended and have never received growth hormones. With a grass-fed, 100% vegetarian diet, the end result is a gluten-free product with no artificial ingredients. With minimal processing, it is surely the purest transition from pasture to plate.

The Wild Ophelia website also touts a New Orleans Chili Dark Chocolate Bar, Peanut Butter & Banana Milk Chocolate Bar, Salted Chowchilla Almond Milk Chocolate Bar, and a good half dozen other quixotic flavors. To help you get your hands and lips on these delectable goodies, a store locator is available.

Keep these delectable taste treats in mind when looking for something new to try or even as gifts for the holidays. They are sure to please the adventurous foodies in you life!

— Ann Cathey
Photos by Christopher

Quick Eggless Brownies

I’ve been playing with recipes to create goodies for friends who are allergic to specific foods like eggs or nuts. This particular research was geared towards making brownies for a little boy who is allergic to eggs. I found a lot of helpful suggestions out there. After test cooking what I felt were the best of them, this is the simplest idea I came up with.

In choosing the brownie mix to be used, check the packaging to make sure that no eggs are either in the mix or have come in contact with it. Generally if a brownie mix calls for eggs, there won’t be any egg in the dry mix. Sometimes, however, the allergy statement may mention eggs.

No-Egg Pumpkin Brownies

Take 1 package of dry brownie mix (10-15oz) and one 15oz can of pure pumpkin. Mix them thoroughly. At first it may seem like there is not enough moisture, but you should find that there is plenty.

Turn the mixture out into a 9×9 pre-greased pan. Make sure to spread the dough around evenly. Bake in a pre-heated 325F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the dish comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes before turning out or cutting into servings.

The resulting brownies are not cake-like. The finished confection has a dense, bread-like texture that is chewy without being tough. The pumpkin flavor is evident without outweighing the chocolate. The brownies are surprising in quality and level of satisfaction according to a est audience of more than 30 individuals.

If you prefer to make your brownies from scratch, go get your favorite recipe. Mix us all the dry ingredients and use a can of pumpkin in place of the wet ingredients. Nuts, chocolate bits, mini marshmallows, and even a bit of cinnamon may be added to taste for a variety of brownie options.

If you give this no-egg recipe a try, please drop a line here and let us know how it turns out!

— Ann Cathey