I’m as big a fan as anyone of the vague, often times, dark ending to a good novel, but being the old-fashioned girl that I am, who still believes in fairy tale endings, I was so relieved to reach the end of The Precious One and find that it had a neatly wrapped-up, sunny ending. I am just feminist enough to appreciate the fact that it’s popular for heroines in modern women’s fiction stories to save themselves from their own conflicts, and the beautiful characters in this novel do, but with the help of some pretty shiny knights standing beside them. So refreshing.
I had planned to make my own version of the ubiquitous curried chicken salad that De los Santos included in the book, to go along with it, because it made me laugh that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to shop at the same corner specialty food store, and some tried to pass the dishes off as their own, not realizing that the people they served them to would know they hadn’t because they were commonly served on their own dining room tables. I loved that. I just really did. But then lemon ricotta cookies were mentioned at a key point in Taisy and Willow’s story and I decided I just had to have them…in my post and in my belly. When I reached the end, I was so glad that I did because I found it more poignant to turn those cookies into cakes, sweetly shaped and decorated, perfect for a bridal shower.
I used a heart-shaped silicone muffin pan to make my cakes, but a regular cupcake pan or mini bundt pan would also work well. Layered into little petit-four cakes with buttercream in between the stacked cakes would make ideal “eat me” cakes for a tea party. The buttercream decorations just gave them a little more color and interest. Pre-made royal icing flowers that are sold with cake decorating supplies would be a simple, fun substitute to piped accents. It should be noted that the poured fondant takes several hours to harden over the moist cakes, so they should be made a day or two in advance.
Lemon Ricotta Cakes
1/2 cup salted butter
2 c. raw sugar
12 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
The juice and zest of 2 medium lemons
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
Lemon Poured Fondant:
1/2 c. corn syrup
8 T melted butter
2 tsp. pure lemon extract
8 c. confectioner’s sugar
4 drops yellow food color
4 T water
1/4 c. butter
2 c. confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
2 T whole milk or water, more or less as needed
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Grease and flour pans, unless using silicone.
Make the cakes by first creaming the butter with a mixer. Add the sugar and cream together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Whip in the ricotta. Sift together the dry ingredients. Fold into the wet ingredients until just moistened.
Spoon into pan to fill sections 2/3 full.
Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan resting on a cooling rack. Invert to rack and cool completely.
To make the poured fondant, combine the melted butter with the corn syrup. Stir in the color, flavor, and confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the water until the mixture is smooth.
When the cakes are cool, place them on a wire rack and puddle the fondant over each and gently coax it to run down the sides to coat the.
Allow the cakes to dry overnight before adding buttercream decorations.
Yield: 24 cupcake sized cakes
No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a FOOD post, of course…because I’m stress-eating this afternoon, wondering where our country will be tomorrow morning when the votes are in.
I saw Kerrygold Skellig in an ad the other day and thought now why haven’t I seen that in my grocery store?! Then last night, when I ran in to my favorite local shop to grab a couple of things, there it was, perfect for a mid-afternoon Election Day cheese snack. I grabbed a cranberry cheddar and a bag of crackers to go with it. After watching too many hours of election coverage today, I really needed a break and a tasty treat to take my mind off it for a bit.
Skellig was just the thing. It made me think. It made me weigh the differences between it and its sister cheese, Dubliner, which happens to be one of my favorite cheeses. It made me wonder if it was just plain better than Dubliner, or just another option…um…kind of like my choices for the presidency. So much for getting my mind off the voting, but…yum!
Skellig isn’t sweet like my cranberry cheddar, it’s still on the sharp side, but has a pleasant sweet creaminess that makes it just slightly different than Dubliner. The crystallized enzymes that are present throughout a block of Dubliner are also present in Skellig, I was happy to find.
So vote on, America, while I sit nibbling my red and white and blue (packaged) cheeses. See you on the other side!!
Sabotage. I was doing very well in my low carb lifestyle, with a slice of pizza and a glass of soda allotted for the following day, when, while traveling through Pennsylvania one evening, my husband decided he needed to refill our truck’s gas tank, and he to needed to do at the next exit, which happened to be the Chocolate Town (Hershey, PA) exit. I was nervous when, following his fill-up, he headed right into town to have a look around. The next thing I knew, we were getting a hotel room with a view of the old corporate offices and a chocolate kiss street lamp hanging over the road. I knew then that I would be adding chocolate, and probably a lot, to my already overloaded carb plan for the next day. Sigh. I tried to suppress a naughty giggle but…Hershey, Pennsylvania!!!
Everything was closed by that point, but we figured, after doing a quick online check of the hours of all of the attractions in Hershey, that we would have time to squeeze in the museum tour, with a little chocolate tasting, the next morning, if we were back on the road by 11 a.m.
I love how spontaneous my husband is. I grew up with parents who loved to surprise us kids with impromptu or secret trips. I’ll never forget the time they showed up at school in the middle of the day in one of those monster Winnebagos to check us out early so we could go camping about an hour up the road. My sister and I flipped out, thinking they had bought it, but were just as excited when they told us they had only borrowed it from friends for the weekend. Another time, on a trip to visit a former college friend of my dad’s, they kept us distracted by looking for “alligators” on the road. The “alligators” were the shredded semi truck tires that end up all over the highways in Florida. But my sister and I soon recognized the old wooden signs that line the entrance to Disney World before you get to the gate. We didn’t know if we dared hope but asked, “Are we going to Disney World?!” We were. On other trips, Dad would load up our van and we would all pile in with no particular destination in mind. Those were my favorite times. So, naturally, it was important to me, and my husband who very quickly grew to love this family tradition of mine, to raise our kids the same way. The only problem is, our younger son has started trying to put his foot down and now “requires” notice a day in advance of plans we have. But we never know if we will end up doing anything on the weekends or just chilling at home. The best compromise we can come up with to help him out is for me to tell him on Thursdays, “Just so you know, we might be hopping in the truck and heading out somewhere on Saturday or Sunday.” Ha ha. Poor kid. We rolled with his sensitive nature during his developmental years, but then started making sure he was able to deal with being “a little uncomfortable” some of the time, too, even though, with all of his father’s health issues and scares, he’s already had more of that than any kid needs. But to keep that spirit of spontaneity, we still allow ourselves last minute outings, asking the boys first thing on a Saturday morning if they’d like to go with us or hang out at the house, now that they are both almost grown. Or, if it’s a day trip idea out of town that we want them along for, I send my husband to their rooms to break the news to each of them and get them up and in the truck, because our “little guy” grumbles less at his father than his mother, as I’ve always had the honor of being the “bad guy” as the homeschool teacher, scheduler, chore list enforcer, vegetable eating monitor, etc. But whether he grumbles or not, has had advance notice or not, those last minute plans always end with smiles and him saying he had a great time. And my heart swells every single time.
So on our impromptu Chocolate Town trip, I took one for the team (naughty giggle) the next morning and headed down to breakfast with my little family to carb it up. Of course they even had Hershey’s Syrup at the breakfast buffet.
My stomach recoiled when I saw that and all the other sickly sweet things on the buffet, the likes of which I had been avoiding for quite a while, but within an hour we were in the museum across the street and that old craving kicked into high gear, getting my mouth watering for the chocolate we intended to sample at the end of our self-guided tour.
The Hershey Story museum takes you from Milton Hershey’s childhood to how he started in chocolate production.
Then it guides guests past a timeline of world events that coincided with the Hershey Company’s growth, such as the sinking of the Titanic which Mr. Hershey narrowly escaped when he didn’t board with the VIP maiden voyage ticket he had purchased, and on to other endeavors of Mr. Hershey and the company. The timeline was enormous, covering several walls, and so much fun to read!
At the end of the tour, there is a chocolate tasting bar and a hands-on interactive “distribution center” for visitors to “work” in traditional factory waist aprons, to get an idea of what employees at Hershey experienced.
And of course, there is a gift shop loaded with chocolate and chocolate related products such as aprons, mugs, and even jewelry, as well as a cafe so guests can do even more sampling of Hershey chocolate products.
I learned a lot I didn’t know about the Hershey company that day. Two of my favorite things were that they used copper bathtubs, retrofitted with wheels, for hauling ingredients around the factory. That just seemed so Willy Wonka to me, “No other factory in the world mixes their chocolate by bathtub.”, I could imagine Milton Hershey saying to his investors.
I was also surprised to learn on our tour that the first artificial heart, the one I heard so much about while growing up in the ’80s, was invented at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
After being surrounded for a good hour by everything chocolate, we were more than ready to take our flight of “Chocolates from around the World”, with the chocolate tasting bar’s warm drinking chocolates, which were more melted chocolate than the hot chocolate beverages I had imagined. When this was explained to us by our server, we very quickly decided to share one flight, rather than each of us sampling a full set of six small glasses, which were about the size of a double shot.
Boy were we glad we split a flight! That was a lot of chocolate, even divided four ways by a family of chocoholics. In the end, we unanimously decided that “Java”, a rich, creamy 33% cacao blend, was the most fun to sip in liquid form. But we also really liked “Tanzania’s” silky, dark richness. The only downside we could find with our tasting experience, and what seems like a missed opportunity for Hershey, is that you can’t buy samples of the chocolates you tasted to take with you, like you can when you go wine tasting or sample a flight of beer at a brewery. I just found that a little disappointing.
Because we had plans to stop in New York for pizza later in the day, we took pastries from the Hershey cafe to extend our chocolate tasting to finish that meal. Two of us couldn’t resist trying the Chocolate Factory Cupcake, another, the Peppermint Patty Cupcake, with an entire peppermint patty stuck in the fluffy chocolate frosting, while a strip of chocolate covered bacon had my husband’s mouth watering. So off we went, on to other adventures, with a bakery box full of Hershey’s for the road and more sweet memories made for our family.