Posts Tagged ‘entertaining’

quick and easy chocolate dessert

Mom called it Fudge Crud--but it's delicious and festive enough for any dinner party.

When I was a kid, my mother made an easy, inexpensive dessert that was officially known as Hot Fudge Sundae Cake; Mom called it Fudge Crud. It was one of those science-experiment desserts: you made a cake batter (one without eggs), spread it on the bottom of the pan, then topped it with a mixture of cocoa and brown sugar and poured hot water over the whole thing.

And, miraculously, as the cake baked, the water and cocoa thickened into a sauce and the cake rose to the top, becoming a sort of chocolate floating island in a sea of fudge sauce. It never failed to amaze me–as they say, science works even if you don’t believe in it. There was just one little problem: It wasn’t chocolate-y enough. So this winter, when chilly nights made me think fondly of warm gooey desserts, I remembered Fudge Crud.

And I decided to tinker with the amounts of cocoa until it was chocolate-y enough. When I made the most recent version for friends last week, they declared that I had achieved my goal.

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake

1 cup flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa (good cocoa – I use Valrhona)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 3/4 cups hot water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the first five ingredients, then stir in the milk or water, the oil and the vanilla. Stir until smooth, then mix in the nuts. Spread the batter in a baking pan.

Yes. Now, about that baking pan. The original recipe claims that you can make this dessert in a 9x9x2 square pan. And you can–but you will have chocolate goo all over the bottom of your oven if you do. I use a lovely 9x10x3 Le Crueset baking dish I received as a gift a few years ago. It’s perfect. If your friends don’t know you well enough to give you lovely deep baking dishes, try a 9×11 pan.

Anyway, you spread the batter in the pan. Mix together the half-cup of cocoa and the brown sugar and sprinkle it over the batter, then slowly pour the hot water over all. Bake for 40 minutes, until the cake floats to the top and firms up.

Spoon the warm cake into dessert bowls, making sure everybody gets plenty of sauce, then top with ice cream. Yum.



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I make lasagna for parties and potlucks; I often make it for the first night of our annual girlfriends four-day Cambria road trip, but I’m fairly sure my honey has never had it for a dinner with just the two of us. Mostly because, in true Perry fashion, I only know how to make a batch for 10 or more guests. I’m sure you can make smaller amounts, but why? The leftovers are even better for lunch or dinner the next day and the rest freezes perfectly for that night you are just too exhausted to prepare dinner. So here you go – dinner for 10 – just add salad and garlic bread.

Good friends, a bottle of red & Red & White Lasagna

This lasagna uses both a red sauce and a faux bechamel/white sauce–it’s not a true bechamel because I don’t adorn an onion with whole cloves and steep it in hot milk for an hour. (That makes for a delicious sauce, yes, but I have a day job. And a life.)

Easy Red Sauce

1/2 small onion, chopped
1-2 tbls olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lg cans Italian stewed tomatoes (try to find Italian, they’re better!)
1/2 cup red wine (good wine, follow my mantra – if you can’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute*
2 tsp Trader Joe’s Pasta Seasoning Blend
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet; warm the olive oil (you want medium heat–olive oil burns if your heat is too high), then add onions and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes). Pour in the tomatoes and smash them until they’re in smaller chunks. Add tomato paste, spices and red wine. Simmer with a screen cover (so it doesn’t splatter all over your stove) for about half an hour. Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy White Sauce

1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1/3 cup flour
1 qt half and half
1 tbls Knorr Caldo de Pollo powder
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (or to taste; sometimes I use more)

Melt butter in large saucepan until bubbly. Add flour and stir in; the flour should be absorbed. Stir for about 3 minutes; don’t allow to turn brown! Add wine and then the milk until the mixture is thick and starts to bubble (it might not take the full quart). Then add in the pollo de caldo powder. Last, turn off heat and stir in nutmeg.

Hazel’s Red-and-White Lasagna

Red and white sauces (purchased red is ok if you have a favorite, although I prefer my own)
1 package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formagio cheese mix
1 8-ounce package of sliced white mushrooms
1 small onion, halved and thin sliced
1 package TJ’s Italian sausage (Chicken)
Olive oil
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1 tub Ricotta

Bring a large sauté pan to heat and splash in a couple tablespoons olive oil. Squeeze the chicken sausage from its casings and crumble into the pan. Sauté til cooked through, crumbling into big chunks. Remove from pan and add the sliced onions and mushrooms. Sauté til golden, then remove from heat.

In a large deep lasagna baking pan splash the bottom with olive oil, and smear over the bottom and sides of pan. Ladle in approx 1 cup of your red sauce and add the first layer of dry, uncooked lasagna noodles. Add another cup of red sauce to the top and spread roughly with flat wooden spoon. Sprinkle half your sausage over that layer. Add half the mascarpone by teaspoonfuls across this layer and then add about a cup of the cheese mix. Add another layer of noodles, this time covering with a cup of the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle this layer with half the onion-mushroom mix and the balance of the mascarpone and another cup of cheese mix. For the next layer, red sauce and the balance of the sausage and another cup of the cheese mix. For the final layer, cover with noodles, the last of your béchamel sauce and mushroom/oinion mix and the last of the cheese mix. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!


*Another WordPress blogger who is equally devoted to Trader Joe’s seasoning blends notes that Costco carries a similar product–in, of course, a much larger package. Check out Carrol’s comments in What I Crave here. I too run out of 21-Seasoning Salute all too often, so this is info I can use!

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The holidays may be over, but, as singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen observed some years ago, the party never ends. And you always need appetizers. Guests drop in, and it’s nice to have something special to serve with a glass of wine. I’m partial to palmiers, especially because I can make them when I have a free half-hour and stick them in the freezer. They’ll keep for a month, well wrapped.

I almost always have a package of puff pastry dough in my freezer (it’s a thin box and only sucks up a very small portion of that precious freezer real estate)

Choose Your Own Filling Palmiers
Roll out one square of the two in the package. If you wet your work surface with a damp sponge and cover with plastic wrap, this job is achieved with very little mess.

Rolling toward the center

I always layer my dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out so it becomes about two inches longer than it was when I started. Try to roll so the dough becomes more rectangular in shape.

Take off the top piece of plastic wrap and brush the entire flat piece of pastry with olive oil. Now here’s the fun part. Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and – you choose! I’ve used caramelized onions, olive tapenade, crumbled bacon, my honey’s smoked tomatoes minced fine, minced garlic – the variations are as big as your imagination. The only caveat: use only a couple ingredients.

Now, starting at the left edge, start to roll your pastry toward the center. Use your plastic wrap to help in this process. Once you have reached just to the center, do the same on the right side of your pastry. Your pastry should look like two small rolls lying next to each other, and they will be about an inch tall. Wrap it with the same plastic wrap that you just used for your counter covering. Put in the refrigerator for an hour and then stash in the freezer somewhere where it will be able to keep its shape. If it’s cold from the refrigerator, it won’t form ice crystals after it hits your freezer.

When you’re ready, pull the dough out and let thaw for only 10 minutes (make sure to keep it firm) and then slice to about 1/3 inch thick pieces. Lay the slices flat on an ungreased baking sheet about a half-inch apart. If you have time, you can let them rise for about half an hour at room temp. Pop them in a 400 degree oven till golden brown and serve hot. They’re crisp, delicious and easy!


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A crunchy crust, a gooey caramel layer and a ganache topping--the perfect toffee bar at last.

By Laurie A. Perry
I’ve been making toffee bars since I was nine years old–but not the same toffee bar. I’ve tried a dozen recipes by that name, and I started numbering the ones I liked enough to make twice. Toffee bar number one had coconut and brown sugar. Toffee bar number two had a brown sugar and butter crust and a topping of melted Hershey’s milk chocolate (milk chocolate–no wonder that one fell by the wayside). Number three, from an ancient Better Homes and Gardens cookie cookbook, calls for a sweetened condensed milk filling and a fudge frosting. I liked it–and Mel really liked it–but it never quite worked.

So I’ve been tinkering with the recipe, and I think the current version is pretty darn good. Try it; see what you think. I’m taking a batch to a New Year’s Day gathering. Because, you know, there just aren’t enough sweets this time of year.


2 cups flour
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Ganache topping
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup cream

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×11-inch baking pan with foil.*
Make the crust: stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter; add the vanilla to the butter, and mix both into the dry ingredients. Pat the mixture into the prepared pan; it will be soft and easy to spread out. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
While the crust is baking, make the filling. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a medium saucepan, add the butter and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about five minutes, stirring to keep it from burning. The mixture will thicken. Add the vanilla.

Pour the filling over the baked crust, making sure to cover all of the crust. Bake for another 20 minutes. It will bubble and turn a lovely golden brown (toffee-colored, in fact).
Remove from the oven and let cool for about half an hour. Make the ganache: break up the bittersweet chocolate and place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; pour in the cream, and put the pan over low heat. Melt the chocolate, stirring. When the mixture is nice and smooth and glossy, it’s ready to pour gently over the first two layers. Once again, go for coverage–you want the ganache to cover the entire surface.

Chill. Remove the confection from the pan, using the overhanging foil as a handle. Cut into bars. These are rich, so don’t make the pieces too large.

*Maida Heatter’s fool-proof method for lining a pan with aluminum foil: Turn the pan upside down. Tear off a large piece of foil and press it over the pan, so you have the basic shape. Then press the foil into the pan, using a dish towel to keep the foil from tearing.

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making ice cream with a Cuisinart ice cream maker

Buttermilk gives this ice cream tang and reduces the fat content--a little. After all, ice cream is supposed to be delicious, not health food.

I’ve been promising myself all summer that I’d make ice cream. I even remembered to put the Cuisinart canister in the freezer…months ago. But somehow, one thing or another prevented me from spending a happy day creating a decadent, or even semi-decadent, treat. Finally, on the first day of autumn, I got around to it. Now, I know some people have fall weather by the end of September, but it hit 95 in the San Fernando Valley, so ice cream was definitely appropriate.

Some years ago I made an ice cream with sour cream that had a lovely tanginess, and I wanted to re-create that flavor with, ideally, a little less butterfat. Low-fat buttermilk sounded like a good substitute. No one could call this a low-fat dessert, but I guess you could describe it as a reduced-fat ice cream. After all, it’s only got two cups of heavy cream, not three. The brown sugar adds to the rich flavor, I think. And I think it would be pretty damned good on a late-season-peach cobbler for my next dinner party.

Buttermilk Brown Sugar Ice Cream

2 cups of heavy cream
2/3 cup brown sugar
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup buttermilk

Bring the cream to a low simmer in a saucepan. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and brown sugar with the pinch of salt. Pour a little of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper it, then slowly pour the remaining cream in, whisking until smooth.

Mel gave me this for my birthday a few years ago. It was not entirely a self-serving gift--but nobody loves ice cream more than Mel does.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and reheat gently, stirring continuously. Do not let it come to a boil. When the custard base has thickened somewhat, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the buttermilk. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then process according to your ice cream maker’s directions.


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These cupcakes are filled with a cream cheese and chocolate chip mixture. They're perfect for picnics: they're sturdy, they pack well and they have no icing to get all over everything. The only challenge? Bringing enough for all your envious seat neighbors at the Hollywood Bowl.

We love the Hollywood Bowl. We look forward to it every summer. Not only do we hear great music under the stars, as the ads say, but we have great picnics under the stars–and the helicopters and airplanes, of course. We like to grab a table on a hillside overlooking Hollywood, with a view of the Capitol Records building, open a bottle of wine and dig into the feast we have packed.

Our first concert–finally!–is Thursday. Needless to say, we’re planning our inaugural picnic supper with some care.
There are certain essentials for the first one. Later we’ll branch out, but here are the items we must have to start:

Ripe, homegrown tomatoes
Ryan’s grilled artichokes
Black bottom cups

We’ll be writing about a number of picnic supper items, but in the certain knowledge that life is short, we’re beginning with dessert. This recipe came from Mary McGinnis years ago, and I’ve tinkered with it a bit. It comes under the category of crazy cake, meaning it’s a cake batter made without eggs.

Black Bottom Cups

16 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
2/3 cup sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and fill 29 muffin cups with cupcake papers.

Beat the cream cheese until it’s soft and smooth, then beat in the egg and sugar. Stir in the chips. Set aside while you make the cake batter.

Combine the dry cake ingredients thoroughly (to distribute the baking soda throughout). Pour in the vanilla, melted butter and buttermilk. Stir until smooth.

Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake cups, filling each one about half full. Add a heaping spoonful of filling to each cup, dividing the filling among the 29 cupcakes.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling is barely tinted brown.


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I am notorious for losing my wine glass at a party. I put it down somewhere so I can pick up a platter of appetizers, answer the door or take something out of the oven–and it’s gone. All too often, I pick up a glass I’m sure is mine and Hazel says, “Unh-unh–that one’s mine!”

So we started using wine charms to identify glasses. They can get pricey, however. And we like them to

Custom-made wine charms for the Queen of Hearts party.

coordinate with the theme of the party. For the Queen of Hearts party, we wanted Alice in Wonderland charms. They are not to be had, not even for ready money.

Laurel wanted to try her hand at making some. She downloaded some images and sized them to fit on tags, which she bought at Staples, and then inserted jump rings. I picked up earring hoops at Michael’s and used my needle-nosed pliers to bend back one end of each hoop, so it would stay hooked. We slipped the tags on hoops and, voila! Cute, unique and theme-coordinated wine charms. And we didn’t pay twelve bucks for eight of them, either.

You can find great photos for the step-by-step process of making your own here at Not Martha, an always interesting site.

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