red beet and ricotta lunch muffins

I realize that homemade chocolate chunk fudge rounds are far more desired baked goods than muffins made from mashed up pickled beets. You probably either detest pickled beets or devour them (like I do). I am spoiled by the fact that every summer my grandma cans several batches of homemade pickled beets grown by local Amish farmers. She stores them in her cellar and will often give them as gifts to neighbors and relatives. My packed lunches often include a short stack of these beets alongside cottage cheese. The tangy pickled flavor is cut by the creamy curds, with a pinch of ground black pepper to round it out (I also think it is fun to watch the cottage cheese turn a glowing rosy scarlet color as the two mingle).

If you have made it this far, then you will probably be interested in the recipe that I came up with that was inspired by these flavors.

Red Beet and Ricotta Lunch Muffins

Makes 12

Preheat oven 350-degrees.

2 C self rising flour
1 t cloves
2 eggs @ room temp
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 C ricotta cheese + more for serving
1/2 C mashed beets*

Sift together flour and cloves (or cinnamon, depending on your taste). Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk eggs together and add the sugar in several steps. Whisk in melted butter. Add ricotta cheese and mashed beets alternately until combined.

Fold flour mixture into batter just until incorporated. Scoop out into muffin tins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick test comes out clean.

Serve with ricotta cheese.

*I used pickled beets. They were quite tangy! I imagine straight roasted beets to be more mild and probably more appropriate with cinnamon.

oscars style popcorn balls

Tonight is Oscar night, and this year I made Popcorn Balls to celebrate the Best Picture Nominees84th Annual Academy Awards Sweets: Toasted Coconut Popcorn Balls for “The Descendants,” Black and White Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn Balls for “The Artist” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Marty and Woody Popcorn Balls for “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris,” Salted Cocoa Popcorn Balls for “The Help,” Baseball Popcorn Balls for “Moneyball,” Apple Chip Popcorn Balls for “The Tree of Life,” and Pretzel Barbed Wire Popcorn Balls for “Warhorse.”  I realize that a few are a stretch, but popcorn balls were a much easier feat than movie-themed cupcakes (which is what I did back when there were just five nominees in the category).  Besides, what goes better with the movies than popcorn?  Next year, sugar paper ballots!

chocolates and succulents

My living stones are outgrowing their egg cups! Isn’t it just when you think something is not going to change, you blink and it has? If nothing else, time changes things. Even when it’s misty and foggy, things grow, reproduce, or die. So I am propagating my succulents in the spirit of growth. If all goes well, I will share them with those of you who like the little muted water retainers as much as I do. If only chocolates could be propagated…

i see your true colors

When I taught preschool art classes, I did a spin-off unit involving one of my favorite books: Harold and the Purple Crayon. Kids made “Harold-sized” crayons as thick as their grips and used them to create new worlds all over the stark white walls.  By the day’s end, we were surrounded by colorful cities, jungles, rivers, stars, and abstract environments.  It was wild and cozy.

Though I am not currently teaching any art classes, I still save paper tubes and broken crayons. Using those supplies, along with Mod Podge, tissue paper, and tape, I made hollow container versions of the big crayons for my niece and nephew in their favorite colors. Once everything dried, I filled them up with coordinating goodies and sent them in the mail for Valentine’s Day presents. Those two sweet rascals color up my life so much. I hope they always stay true to their colors while their hearts and imaginations continue to grow.

P.S. Yes, I am a child of the ’80s and have a Cyndi Lauper sing-along every now and then. Keep ’em shining through!

P.P.S. Melt down your own old crayons into exciting new shapes and colors: peel away the papers (great way to occupy little ones while encouraging sorting, recycling and fine motor skills) and put the colors in an oven-safe form. I have used muffin tins, cups, flowers pots, etc. Place in 275-degree oven for up to 30 minutes. Allow to harden, then pop out of form.

my spicy valentine

I think Indian food is a nice choice for Valentine’s. Inspired by that idea, and a trip to the local Indian food grocer (that actually had Bird’s Custard Powder on the shelf!) I put together this sandwich cookie. It’s a mash-up of recipes from Aarti Sequeira and Nigella Lawson. Custard Cream-Filled (link to recipe) Garam Masala-Chocolate Gingerbread (link to recipe) Sandwiches. Long name, lots of flavors and textures.  All squeezed together in one smooth, rich and spicy cookie sandwich. xoxo, Amy

s’more soul cookies

The honey graham dough I made over the weekend was a sort of “healthier” version of shortbread. I added fresh ginger to the recipe and sprinkled demerara sugar over the tops before baking them off. Honestly, I would have been happy stopping there, but remember the mallow bits? I melted some chocolate over the stove in my homemade double-broiler, drizzled it over the grahams, and stuck the mallow bits on top. They turned out to be easy-to-package, simple self-contained s’mores.

Honey-Ginger Grahams, adapted from

2 C whole wheat flour
1 C unbleached flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C butter
1/3 C honey
2 t freshly grated ginger
1 t vanilla
1/2 C milk

Sift together first 4 ingredients & set aside. Cream together brown sugar and butter until smooth. Add honey, ginger, and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Add dry mix to creamed mixture, alternately with milk. Chill dough. Roll out onto well floured surface, cut into shapes, and score cookies with a fork. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

The ancient Greeks maintained that the seat of the soul was in the stomach. If I had a cookie cutter in the shape of a stomach, I would use it.

irish coffee oatmeal pie

I decided that if that stinker groundhog goes back into his home tomorrow, then I am going to have a slice of this pie for breakfast every morning for the next six weeks. My new recipe was initially inspired by Sophie Leavitt’s Oatmeal Pie in the All New Penny Pincher’s Cookbook (my mom told me that she purchased the cookbook after Ms. Leavitt appeared on Phil Donahue’s program!). I made a few versions, one with strawberries and this one with espresso, steel cut oats, and less sugar. Definitely a sweet cafe, hearty, and high-in-fiber pie. Make it an all-the-way Irish dessert by topping it off with whipped whiskey cream and serving it alongside an Irish coffee. Happy February. Is it March yet?

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Beat 3 eggs.
Mix in 1 C brown sugar, 1 t cinnamon, 2 T instant espresso powder, and 1/2 t salt.
Stir in 1 1/2 C quick-cooking Irish Oatmeal.
Melt 2 T unsalted butter.
Stir in.
*Pour in 9″ unbaked pie shell.
Bake 40 minutes.

Emeril’s Irish Whiskey Cream
1 C heavy cream
1 T sugar
2 T Irish whiskey

Whip the cream until it begins to form soft peaks. Add the sugar and whiskey and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover and chill until needed. Plunk as much as you please on the pie or in your coffee.

*you wouldn’t have to use a pie shell… but before baking I like to brush butter on the dough and sprinkle with brown sugar and sea salt.