Dispensing Happiness

A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.-Elsa Schiapirelli

That's me, the magical good cook.

Borrowing from my friend Dexygus, I've created my own food blog.

Read of my exploits in the kitchen! Salivate over the descriptions of fabulous desserts and savory meals I've concocted!

No, seriously...go ahead. It'll make my day.

Saturday, November 29, 2008



Roasted Capresse Salad

So, while the rest of you were brining your turkeys and candying your yams, I was shopping & cleaning.

I've mentioned before that we don't really 'do' Thanksgiving. Matt doesn't really care for turkey. Neither Alex nor I eat it, obviously. When I met him, Matt had already created something he called the Two Days After Thanksgiving Dinner; a feast for friends taking place, as the name suggests, the Saturday after.

Deviled Eggs

These dinners were perfect; those who'd been out-of-town were usually back, and many who'd come in for the holiday weren't leaving till Sunday.

Cold Chipotle Fried Chicken

The meals were generally themed; I remember him telling me about one built around 'things inside things'.

Baked Potato Salad

When I moved in, we continued the tradition, and served up some fabulous dinners. Skipping turkey day, we had Wed-Sat to clean & cook. So we turned out amazing, authentic Mexican feasts, and Indian buffets.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Cotton Candy Pink Frosting

When we moved to Tennessee, I was pregnant, and we were living in a small apartment that first year. The next, Alex was small and we were still renovating the house we'd just bought.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Three years ago, we were finally able to resurrect TDAT. That first year, we did Caribbean food. Last year, we went super-fancy, and elegant, to celebrate Matt's 40th birthday (just weeks prior to the TDAT).

Blueberry Pie

This year, we thought we'd do something different. We had a picnic.

Turkey-Avocado Club Sandwiches

Serving up sandwiches and cold sides, with long tables covered in checked tablecloths. We had a vintage baseball game playing in the background.

Pan Bagnat

We had a perfect day: cold, grey and rainy. Lemonade & iced tea, various pops to drink.

Italian Sub

Just like any other holiday dinner, everyone ate too much. That makes me happy.


We even scattered tiny plastic ants across the tables...

The Food

Drinks & Dessert

And when they left, guests took home a plastic bucket filled with bubbles, water gun, sunglasses, a special-ordered Yankee Candle to commemorate the night, Pixy Stix and Off! brand wipes.

Everyone had a good time, we got to see our friends, there's enough food to (at least) keep Matt going for a few days, and clean-up was minimal.

That's my kind of party.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Under "Likes": Chocolate


She said she liked chocolate. So I gave her chocolate.

A double-dark chocolate cake, topped with a thick & shiny ganache and Jackson Pollocked-white chocolate. 'Paisley' shaped cake.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jelly on the Fast-Track


Black Currant Jelly with Biscuits

I grew up watching my Grammy slave over a steaming hot stove each summer & fall, 'putting up' tomato sauce, pickles, pickled beets, jelly...pretty much anything that came out of the garden.

I remember running in to get a drink or ask her something, in the middle of some deeply important activity like kick ball (I was really good at that) or playing 'War', or swinging on the swingset, and she'd be taking jars out of the pot, or stirring the blackberries I'd helped pick. Her face would be flushed, and her clothes drenched in sweat. She was Grammy, it was what she did.

Canning & preserving were just part of our lives, and when I was older, with a household of my own, it was what I wanted to do, too.

No, I don't have a garden as wide as the backyard, as my grandparents did. No plentiful cucumber plants, ready to trade perky veggies for jars of bread & butter pickles. And no, I don't have access to miles of lush blackberry plants, nor do I have endless free afternoons to spend picking them.
Instead, I buy the best whatever-I'm-planning-to-can, and fill my own jars with pretty preserved food.

I'm mentioned to Matt, on more than one humid day, that it's absurdly unfair that the time to make pickled & jellied foods is always during the hottest times of the year. Late summer in the South? Not when you want to stand over a pot of boiling fruit, trust me.

So when I was contacted a few weeks ago, and asked if I'd like to try an easier way to make jelly...now, with temps in the 40's...I had to say yes.

Actually, it had a bit more to do with the fact that I was being asked to make this jelly with juice from R.W. Knudsen.

I have always loved their juices. So when I got the chance to try this myself...make jelly from a jar of juice, skipping the cooking step...using Knudsens, well, I was game.

My juice arrived, and after some delay, set out to test this 'easy' jelly recipe.

Oh, my god. They weren't kidding!

Juice goes into a pot. Pectin stirred in. Bring to a boil. Add in sugar, boil another minute...done.


Take it off the heat, skim if necesary, and pour into jars.

It was the easy, and that fast. Just...done.

I don't own a canner, myself, so I sealed my jars with parafin. I'm not worried about them going bad, though; at least two jars will be gifts. The rest? I don't think it'll last long.

I made biscuits the next morning, so Matt & Alex could do a taste test. Initially, Matt was impressed with how well the jelly spread. Then he ate it. And liked it.

Alex loved it. I mean really liked it. He specifically asked for the jelly Mommy made on his PB & J sandwich. There's about a quarter less jelly in that jar then there was Friday.

This is such a neat way to make jelly, and I think the method could easily be applied to other juices, as well...so far, Knudsens only has a recipe for the black currant. Just adjust the amount of sugar. The black currant is extremely tart, so it took a lot of sweetening up.

I would definitely do this again. So long as you're using a good, pure, quality juice like Knudsens, you'll wind up with extremely flavorful jelly.

Black Currant Jelly

1 32 ounce bottle of R.W. Knudsen Family’s Just Black Currant (4 cups juice)
1 1.75 ounce no sugar needed pectin
2 ½ cups sugar

Pour juice into 6-quart pan.
Gradually stir in pectin.
Bring mixture to full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
Stir in sugar and return to full rolling boil.
Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Skim as necessary.
Fill, seal, and water-path process according to instructions included with pectin.

Yields 5-6 8 ounce jars.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blog Party#40: The Holiday Edition 2.0---The Round-Up


Burl Ives sang of "Silver & Gold", for me though, it's all about Silver & Blue.

Welcome to the Holiday Edition of Blog Party, version 2.0!
I've spent the week turning this place into a bit of a party palace; silver & blue decorations everywhere, touches of greenery, maybe even a little snow (What? I'm a Yankee living in the South. I miss it.).
Fantastic tunes to help the festive mood along, and of course...incredible holiday bites & beverages!
And I must add: you ladies look gorgeous! Bold colors, lots of sparkle...you girls know how to dress up, that's for sure.
I found this pretty set of plates and cups and more, all in that cool winter blue & silver, and I think it looks fantastic.

Ignoring that 'sensible' voice in my head (one of several, to your complete non-surprise!), I've scattered this wonderful, retro fake snow over mantles and table tops...it's as close to the real thing as we're likely to get here! Hey, that's what shop vacs were created for, right?

The rooms have been strung with these lovely blue party lights.

For me, it's music that really gets me in the mood, and weather you celebrate Christmas, Chanunakah, or Christmakuh, you can't deny the all-around good vibes given off by those classic tunes. And when they're performed by such hip acts as Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and the like, well...I don't know you much more 'Holiday' spirit you could cram into a room!
So tonight, we're listening to:
Ultra-Lounge: Best of Christmas Cocktails

Rhino: Swingin Christmas

Christmas with the Rat Pack

Ok, we've seen the decor, we know what's playing on the stereo (yes, a stereo...no iPods here!), now it's time for the good part: the food!

Our first guest tonight, Judith starts things off with a trip down memory lane;; perfect for the holidays!
Food is deeply connected to memory, so what better way to evoke a bit of home than be sharing these tasty Parmesan & Rosemary Shortbreads?
She's also ready to pour you a glass of Arbor Mist, which just seems to darn friendly, if you ask me.
It's always a pleasure to see you, Judith!

Mary returns,just in time to wish us all a happy holiday!
She not only got all dolled up for us tonight, she managed to clear a bit of space in freezer getting here! Surprisingly staying within the bounds of her inspirational Pantry Plan, Mary's serving up some rather elegant fare: Crab Wontons & Spinach Pockets. Yum!
Adorable single-serve bottles of Prosecco are on hand for all; how perfect.
So very good to see you, Mary!

Natashya's next, but decided to leave the puppies at home this time...too many fancy dresses tonight, I suppose!
She may have left the dogs behind, but she's certainly brought on the sweet with these diet-tempting Big Soft Ginger Cookies. Matt's been eyeing them since they showed up on the table!
Natashya claims they're 'grown-up' cookies, but there's no mistaking the adult-ness of her Mother's Little Holiday Helper!
I hope I didn't disappoint too much, with my semaphore-led carols; day 4 of Laryngitis Watch!
Thanks so much for coming, Natashya!

Deb's here!!Don't mind us; we start talking about our love of those Southern vampires, and kind of lose track of time...fortunately, Deb's brought some wonderful little bites to tide you over: Cured Salmon Morsels & tiny Cheeseballs with Pignoli Nuts. I was hoping someone would bring salmon! Keeps the hubby happy.
I love it when you guys bring a bit of 'local' to the party, and these Guava Bellini's don't disappoint! (glad it came in handy!)
Great to see you, Deb!

Sarina is back!!!
After an incredibly long absence, she's back, and I know you're as happy to see her again as I.
For her return, she's offering up these not-too-sweet Chocolate Fruit & Nut Cookies; looks wonderful!
It's considerably warmer in Trinidad than Tennessee, and while my throat doesn't hurt, the coughing is driving me nuts. Warm beverages soothe, so I'm going straight for Sarina's Iced Lemon Ginger Tea...and sticking it the microwave!
Welcome back,Sarina!

It wouldn't be Blog Party if J didn't come rushing in at the very last minute, right? But no matter how by-the-seat-of-her-stylish-trousers her arrival, her party offerings make us forget all about space & time. Like those eye-catching Mini Christmas Puddings, or the Smoked Salmon-laden Trees. Don't forget the Pesto-Topped Rare Beef Bites on Salt & Pepper Crisps (that's potato chips for our US guests). Or the Cheese & Cranberry-Stuffed Chicken Bites.
Then there's the Clementine Fizz,served alongside some Dark Chocolate-Dipped Clementines.
Whew! No wonder it takes her so long to get here...she's carrying a lot of food!
Great to see you, J, as always.

It's funny; I thought I had a plan for the food tonight, but the whole house got sick & I found I'd left it to the last possible minute. Not good hostess behavior, I know & I apologize. Also, not contagious, so you're all fine.
When your RSVP's started coming in, I of course was awed by all the amazing dishes you'd come up with, but I think I was most impressed...or perhaps most Inspired by, Mary. Coming up with the entire party spread with items already in her kitchen.
So last night, that's what I did. I took stock of what was in the kitchen and pantry area, and I must say...I'm rather pleased with the outcome!
It may be elegant and/or decadent, but by golly...it was useful, too.

First, wonderful little Cheese Tart Bites. I love cheese tarts, and they're so easy to make. Using puffed pastry from the freezer, the remnants of at least eight kinds of cheese, some thyme from the garden (still going strong!), a few of the remaining eggs in the refrigerator, and pine nuts, also from the freezer. Not too rich, slightly smoky. Very good. Too good...I ate three before I set them out tonight!

Fried Black Bean & Habenero Ravioli, with Salsa. Not much to say about this, except I once again used something from the freezer. We bought these raviolis months ago; we keep a few flavors around for emergency dinners. Thawed & fried briefly in a hot oil, and served alongside a spoonful of some chipotle salsa left from another meal. Good crunch, a nice heat but not too spicy. And fun to eat!

Deep-Fried Chocolate-Hazelnut Purses
Taking advantage of the phyllo I bought for something I never got around to making. And that jar of Nutella in the cupboard.

Several squares of dough, a dollop of that wonderful hazelnut-chocolate mixture, pull the sides up & together, twist, and fry till golden. Words don't do this justice...

Spiced Vanilla Brittle
Another case of using it all up...in my refrigerator, I found a container of crystallized vanillas sugar syrup. Generously flecked with seeds, it had been left over from something I made earlier in the year. I hadn't the heart to throw it away at the time. It got pushed to the back of a shelf, behind 'things'...and well, you know the rest.
Found it, and decided to get it boiling, add the odds & ends of various nuts, and make a candy. It was already vanilla-y, and we decided to add a bit of cinnamon and cayenne. It's lightly sweet, with just a hint of heat & spice. Crunchy.

And finally, from bottles already in the pantry, a Sparkling Black Currant-Pomeganate Punch; sweetened a bit with sparkling apple juice. Almost tart, but very refreshing.

Well, ladies...it's been a fantastic party! I can only hope you've had as enjoyable an evening as I have. Keep yourself sane during the next few weeks, and I hope to see you all back here in December!

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While You're Waiting


for Blog Party to get under way, you can 'awwww' the adorableness that is my family.

No, seriously...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shells with Grilled Chicken & Mozzarella


This one was only a few months old; it wasn't spectacular, but Alex rather liked it. It had cheese, tomatoes and basil. Veggie 'chik' for us. All things he already ate, but first time in this combination.

I wasn't impressed with it, but Alex ate a fairly large helping. So I guess that's all there is to say about that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thai-Style Beef with Noodles


Here's another photo languishing in the 'to publish' pile.

It may be a Donna Hay recipe; I'm not sure.

I guess I didn't think it looked that good. Although the bowl is quite lovely, isn't it? My sister-in-law made it...Ilove being related to a potter!

The draft had been around nine months; time to see the light...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So Maybe White Chocolate Doesn't Hate Me, After All


It's not the prettiest picture I've taken, nor is it the most attractive cake I've ever made.

But here's the thing: It's made from white chocolate, and it's in one piece, it didn't crumble, it didn't seize. It's a functional...and hopefully tasty...cake.

Despite my love, nay, my unparalleled infatuation of white chocolate, alas...that white & glossy substance has never reciprocated.

Despite my best...and many...efforts, any attempt to bake with white chocolate has resulted in tears, kitchen & baking implements being thrown across the room, anger, disappointment and resentment.

I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong. I got the basic chemistry, I can follow directions. I understand the principles. I even turned to my chef mother for advice, but still met with failure.

Alex really connected with last year's teacher; in fact, at his suggestion we invited her over for dinner during the summer. He's still quite fond of her, as are we, and I remembered her birthday was today.

Over the weekend, I asked Matt to grab a couple of cake books, and one was a massive tome, something like '1000 Chocolate Cake Recipes'. I got it a few years back at a used book store. It was cheap for the size, so I hadn't much hope. Surely, a book this large, this comprehensive could only sell for so little if it were a dud?

I suppose I'd forgotten about that, as I searched for a white chocolate recipe (I just knew it had to white chocolate): there it was: White Chocolate Truffle Cake.

The cake base is little more than eggs & sugar, flour & melted white chocolate. This came out just fine.

Then, heated cream gets poured over white chocolate and stirred and stirred and stirred, till smooth & cool. Marscapone is added in, repeat. This gets poured over the cake (which is still residing in a springform pan), and cooled.

I waited for the dread to creep into my heart, for the truffle mixture to seize or go horribly wrong. It didn't.

The whole thing chilled overnight, and this morning..well, it looked funny.

Somehow, the cake had risen to the top. We still can't figure that one out.

Matt suggested inverting it, I was cranky & didn't want to listen. He was right, and I told him so.

Once it had been flipped and the parchment peeled off...it looked OK. Still softer than I wanted, but by golly...it resembled a white chocolate truffle cake, alright.

Bits of chocolate grated for decoration, and a bit of engineering wonder in the way of packaging & transport, and the cake should be at the school by now.

I'll have to wait to hear if it was indeed any good, or complete crap. But for once, white chocolate gave back a little love, and it feels good

November brings a bit of the glitz & glamour to Blog Party, as we celebrate The Holiday Edition, 2.0, this month. RSVP no later than THIS Thursday, 20 November...hope to see you there!

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where Did This Come From? Cashew Chicken


Realizing I hadn't posted in almost a week (it's not from lack of cooking, but rather a lack of...oh, I don't know), I looked through my drafts, and found this photo.

I really can't recall what it was: it was from January! Don't know if we liked it, or where it came from, or why I never got around to posting.

The year's coming to an end, may as well clean out the files.

November brings a bit of the glitz & glamour to Blog Party, as we celebrate The Holiday Edition, 2.0, this month. RSVP no later than Thursday, 20 November...hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Attack of the Pod People


Three Nut & Wild & Brown Rice Pilaf Stuffed Acorn Squash

(Hee hee. Visitors will think this post was written by Stephanie. They'll never guess that it is, in fact, an impostor!

The blog looks the same. The writing style, as well. There's nothing here that could point to the truth: this is actually being typed by a copy! The real Stephanie has been duplicated, and hidden away...

If they wanted proof, I suppose they could find it. Three clear signs this could not be the work of Stephanie.

1. This dish wasn't something that's just 'thrown together'. It required a couple of hours of prep & cooking & baking time. And as you well know, Stephanie doesn't really cook for herself. She'll slave over a hot stove for just about anyone else, but she can barely be bothered to boil water to make pasta, if it's just for her. So clearly, this dish couldn't have been made by her hand.

2. It's a Squash! If you've spent any time getting to know Stephanie, you'd already know she never eats squash of any kind. No zucchini, acorn, butternut...eggplant makes her run away. So, a recipe for a baked squash would never ever show up on Dispensing Happiness.

3. You're about to hear how good the squash was. Seriously. Stephanie hates squashes, of any kind. So a rave review of an acorn squash, much less a stuffed acorn squash, could never have come from her. It's simply not possible. Only a doppelganger would say such things.

I wonder what other hated foods we can feature while Stephanie's, uh...'sleeping'? A baked fruit dessert? Mushroom soup? Oooh...I know! We can slowly incorporate cilantro into every dish! Brilliant...

What the frak is going on here!? Gross...what is this stuff? No, not the squash; this gooey stuff all over me. Oh, my god...I've been replaced by a pod Stephanie!

YOU! Get your vegetative fingers off my keyboard before I grab the (totally organic) pesticide!

That thing is so going to pay for this...I like the color green, but not being encased in it!

Yeah, sorry about that. One minute I'm sitting down, eating an amazing baked acorn squash (warning: audio), the next thing I know, I'm staring out a Matrix-like people-pod.

We'd purchased an acorn squash to serve as the body of a vegetable-composed, dip-holding, dinosaur for Alex's school Halloween party. As time ran out & things piled up, the dino got the ax. Um...what I mean is, we nixed the idea. No dino-cide here.

I hate to waste food, particularly dairy & produce. I have been, over the past how-many-years, working to try & re-try food I'd disliked or feared. And I really did like the filling, at least, of a baked acorn squash my mom served two Christmases ago...

And yes; I did cook for myself. I don't know why I don't make a habit of it (ok, actually I do...but that's much too long a story & this is already a considerably long-winded post, by my standards). If I can warm something up, or use bits of what's hiding in cupboards, I'm fine. It's twisted, sure. But I'm used to it.

I had a basic idea of what I wanted: I love rice, and the nuttiness & crunch of both wild & brown rices would be ideal. Pecans are fantastic, but walnuts & cashews make things even better.

Some onions, celery, a bit of oregano, salt & pepper...and into two halves of a partially baked acorn squash. Finished off in the oven.

I knew the pilaf would be good; I'd had a small bowl with the squash finished baking. What I hadn't anticipated, though, was how good the acorn would be!

Seriously. I sat there, alone save for the puppies, saying 'I can't believe how good this is!'.

And I ate it all. I really did. I'm stunned.

I don't know if it's something I ate as a child, or misconceptions...what. But I've refused to even try squash.

No, that's not entirely true. I will eat butternut squash, in a soup, or as a pasta filling. But it's the squash in it's whole form I've turned away from.

I keep working on my hang-ups; every so often, I give a 'hated' food another go.

I'm not saying squash will be on our menu every week, but after this experience, it will show up.

What's that? Oh, Wicklow! Drop it! I mean, her! It...? No, bad dog...bad...ewwww. That was just sick & wrong. Well, on the plus side, I don't think I have to worry about that 'thing' coming back.

Maybe it's compost-able???

November brings a bit of the glitz & glamour to Blog Party, as we celebrate The Holiday Edition, 2.0, this month. RSVP no later than Thursday, 20 November...hope to see you there!

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Let there be S'mores!


They said it couldn't be done.

A gelatin-less marshmallow simply couldn't work. Straight up agar agar substitution didn't quite cut it.

So, vegetarians & vegans looked on with sad faces & hungry bellies while others toasted their marshmallows for campfire treats, or whipped up crispy rice snacks, or simply decorated their hot chocolatey beverage.

Sure, there are quality vegan marshmallows available for purchase, but the cost per square is close to outrageous (which, sadly, hasn't stopped me from buying them).

I was browsing the new items at Vegan Essentials (a pretty nifty place for hard-to-find veg & vegan food items, as well as a slew of cruelty-free products) when I discovered Vegan Marshmallow Kits by Angel Food (click on Food & Sweets, then vegan marshmallow products).

Everything you need to make your own gelatin-free puffs, you just add a few ingredients like sugar & water.

Amazing, how simple they are to make. Very little time involved, actually. Mix one component, move on to cooking another, then a third. Add 2 & 3, cool, add to 1 and mix; put that in a pan, then they set.

Smells like marshmallows. Tastes like marshmallows. Feels like, looks like.

The kits makes a huge amount; claims to produce 50. Though I didn't count, I dare say it's accurate. You can eat them right away, or let them sit out 24 hours, and they'll keep 2 weeks.

Alex is spending tomorrow night at school, for a big indoor/outdoor sleep-over. They're going to make S'mores. This time, he won't miss out, because Super-Mom will have packed up a couple of these cruelty-free clouds, along with a veggie dog, for the night.

And while he's away, I will be curled up on the couch with Matt, catching up on "Pushing Daisies", and enjoying my vegan-marshmallow topped cocoa.

November brings a bit of the glitz & glamour to Blog Party, as we celebrate The Holiday Edition, 2.0, this month. RSVP no later than Thursday, 20 November...hope to see you there!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wartime Wednesdays: Coffee Cake


A sample menu for trying times. You know, war time, shortages...hmmm; maybe this is more timely than I thought!



Grapefruit Juice
Toast, Dried Fruit Jam
Milk, Coffee



Boston Baked Beans
Carrot Sticks
Brown Bread
Canned Plums



Beef Chuck Roast
Whipped Potatoes
Whole-wheat Bread
Buttered Beans
Tossed Greens Salad
Chocolate Pudding
Milk, Tea, or Coffee


The Victory Binding of the American Woman's Cook Book, Wartime Edition---1943

I'll be honest: I made this coffee cake months ago, but got so busy setting up BBM and getting into the swing of the new school year, I allowed Wartime Wednesdays to lapse.

So...I can't really say much about it. It was a breakfast cake, it got eaten.

A return to new WW dishes next week...

November brings a bit of the glitz & glamour to Blog Party, as we celebrate The Holiday Edition, 2.0, this month. RSVP no later than Thursday, 20 November...hope to see you there!

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