Thirty Minute Thursdays: Cajun Turkey Chili & Cornbread

I don’t make soup all that often, but I do make chili. I’ve even made it in the dead-heat of summer in an un-air-conditioned beach house, so it’s not uncommon for me to bring this well-loved dish into the warmer months. To me, it’s one of the perfect comfort foods, and unlike lasagna, macaroni-and-cheese, fried chicken and cream of ____ soup, it doesn’t have to kill your good dietary intentions – that means it earns double points in my book. I can only indulge in heavy, cheesy casseroles so often before I feel like my stomach is a bag of bricks – mushy, cheesy bricks.

Now that we’ve established that image, let’s get back to the task at hand – this turkey chili adapted from Rachael Ray. It’s simple, though not the kind of simple I was talking about on Tuesday. It’s got some heat behind it, enough to make me smile but not enough to make my mom push her bowl away politely. It was also really fast and easy to make, and keeps the dirty dishes to a minimum (a must if you’ve ever witnessed the aftermath of my cooking endeavors). The only change I would make would be to get rid of some (or all) of the turkey and swap in some crumbled tofu and beans. I’m not-so-slowly moving towards total veggie-dom, so lately I’ve been treating meat as a side dish. In this meal, it’s definitely the main ingredient, and I know some people will like that. It does keep it low-carb, if that interests you. Plus, I think ground turkey breast is some of the leanest meat out there (the original called for ground pork), so if you’re up for omnivorism, it’s still a pretty healthy choice. We can’t all be veggie-vores, right?

I made a healthy cornbread for dunking/topping/side-ing, after Rachael’s recipe instructed me to make corn cakes via a box mix. Right. So I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to try one of the several cornbread recipes I have saved, and figured starting off with a healthy one would be good. The recipe comes from Food Stories, and it has several perks – it’s vegan (not that that matters if you’re pairing it with a turkey chili like I did – though it does mean my dad, who doesn’t mix meat and dairy, could enjoy it), easy to make, and does taste like cornbread. However, there is no mistaking this for its full-fat, full-sugar, down-home-cookin’ original. It tastes healthy, so I’m still on a hunt for a spot-on recipe. But this is good to keep in your back pocket. All I did to change the recipe was to add chives (as Rachael asked me to – or, well, she asked me to add scallions and I said absolutely not, I don’t have any, but I do have chives) and reduce the baking time to 15 minutes (all it needed). It finished baking just as I was finishing up with the chili, so dinner was ready in one fell swoop.

Two Years Ago: Grilled Herbed Turkey

Turkey Chili with Cornbread
This chili is definitely for meat lovers, but it uses a hefty serving of vegetables and spice to deepen the flavor. It’s comforting enough for winter and light enough for even moderate summers, proving that there just may be no better meal than chili.

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ⅓ pounds ground turkey breast
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
hot sauce, to taste
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 rib celery, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ beer bottle1
14 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 batch CJ’s Vegan Cornbread, chopped chives mixed into batter before baking

The Method
Heat a large skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add in the ground turkey. Season with chili powder, cumin, and hot sauce and cook, breaking up the meat as you go, 5 minutes. Once most of the pink is gone from the meat, add in the onion, garlic, celery, and peppers; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes.  Pour in the beer and use it to scrape up anything that has stuck to the bottom of the pan, then stir in the tomatoes. Allow the chili to come to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes before ladling into bowls to serve with the cornbread.

Source, adapted: Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals

1I used a Hoegarten – it was either that or Corona, and L (since I know nothing about beer except that the only 2 I’ve ever tolerated are Guinness and some coffee-flavored winter flavor) recommended the Hoegarten. He was also responsible for drinking the other half, so I decided his opinion mattered on this one.

I also want to say that I had the honor of being one of Lauren (of NutriSavvy)’s 15 nominees for the Versatile Blogging Award! There’s a whole bunch of fun questions and pay-it-forward type nominations that I’m supposed to do, but I didn’t do a Thirty Minute Thursday post last week so I wanted to at least get today’s entry in. I will spend the next day or so thinking about all of the amazing food bloggers I watch (some from afar, admittedly), and be back. I just wanted to make sure I thanked Lauren before too many days went by! And if you haven’t checked out her blog, you should!

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"Plain" Chickpea and Vegetable Penne Toss

Do you think that “plain” is a negative word? I know it has its connotations – Plain Jane, plain looking – but for me, it really isn’t an inherently bad adjective. I get into a little bit of trouble sometimes when I go to refer to something as plain without intending it to be interpreted as a bad thing. For example, plain food. That sounds bad, right? But it doesn’t have to be. It could just mean simple. Clean. Some people get offended when I call a food plain, or if I say that they tend to enjoy plainer foods. Apparently, it can be synonymous with bland – and that, my friends, is inherently negative. But as my 12th grade English teacher said, there’s no such thing as a synonym.

An overcooked chicken without anything on it is bland. Mashed potatoes are bland. Those really cool rice puffs from Wegmans or Whole Foods, without peanut butter spread on them, are very bland.

But a bowl of fresh pasta drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil is plain. A homemade dinner roll fresh from the oven is plain. Even a well-cooked fillet of tilapia with a side of steamed vegetables and a spritz of lemon juice is plain.

This Chickpea and Vegetable Penne Toss is also plain, but if you think that’s a reason not to make it (again and again and again), you would be sorely mistaken. This recipe is simple anddelicious. It’s far from extravagant, yet one of the most perfect meals I can think of around this time of year. It’s filling and quick to make, too.  And no one – and I mean no one – will call it bland. 

Two Years Ago: Israeli S’mores

Chickpea and Vegetable Penne Toss
This pasta dish is simple and light, yet will keep you full and satisfied. It’s the perfect dish for Spring or Summer, and can be infinitely adapted based on your taste preferences and what fresh produce is available in your area.

Yield: 3 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes

The Ingredients1
1 cup whole wheat penne
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 ⅓ cups broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
¾ small zucchini, chopped
¼ cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup mushroom stems, sliced thin
¼ cup halved grape tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
14 ounces chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
¼ cup reduced-fat crumbled feta cheese

The Method
Set a pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, prepare all of the vegetables as indicated. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and lower the heat to medium-high. Cook until al dente, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, broccoli, zucchini, and pepper and allow to soften, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, tomatoes and oregano and cook, continuing to stir occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Add in the chickpeas and toss to combine, cooking another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes have begun to break down.

When the pasta finishes cooking, drain and add to the vegetable mixture. Toss together to incorporate well, then sprinkle with feta cheese and serve.

Source, adapted: Diabetic Cooking Magazine

1I served L’s with sliced chicken, which you can certainly do, but personally I loved it as a vegetarian dish.

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Let's Do the Mash; Let's Do the 'Nana Mash

Today, I have a quickie for you. You see, I’ve been up since 7 and apart from a 15 minute jog, a hop in the shower and an oh-so-necessary baking venture consisting of chocolate and raspberries (can you blame me?), I have been up to my elbows in research about cinnamon and Type 2 Diabetes. All of this effort and time, just to come to the conclusion that more research is needed. So needless to say, my brain is deepfried, and it’d probably be wise not to launch into some long, complicated recipe. My summer course ends on Tuesday, so pretty soon I will be back to my old, totally sane self. Do not make any jokes.

This little gem is something I like to call Banana Mash Frosting. And yes, about 90% of the time I refer to this dish I start singing the Monster Mash song in my head. I just can't help myself. It (the recipe, not the song) is similar to a technique I saw over at Chocolate Covered Katie, which is one of the most fabulously creative blogs ever. Basically, this “recipe” came out of the realization that if you freeze a banana and then thaw it (something I do all the time for banana bread), it completely changes textures and turns much more liquidy than any regular banana ever could. When mixed with the right ingredients, it becomes this creamy, naturally sweet and unabashedly healthy spread. Think pancakes, waffles, yogurt, oatmeal, toast, fruit salad, granola – this baby can top or be topped with just about anything your heart desires. That little blob of a picture at the top of this post would be the mash atop a pumpkin pancake; I'm sure you can do a more artistic job than I did on this particular morning. You can also make riffs on the original with different nut butters, cocoa powder, and even other thawed fruit. So what are you waiting for?

Two Years Ago: Zucchini Oven “Chips”

Banana Mash Frosting
This technique yields as a creamy mix of real fruit and healthy fats, perfect for spreading, topping, or mixing into your favorite breakfast or snack items.

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes

The Ingredients
1 frozen banana, thawed
1 tablespoon ground flaxmeal
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt

The Method
Whisk all ingredients together until well-blended. Voila!

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Perfect Pizza Portobellos

I think I might be on a sugar high from all of these desserts I’ve been telling you about lately! 13 dozen cookies, the most outrageous layer cake I’ve ever made, Nutella FroYo – is it just me, or can you feel your pancreas begging you to give it and its poor insulin-generating cells a bit of a break? What do you mean, your pancreas doesn’t talk to you? Oh, nevermind…

To hush my internal organs and prevent them from staging an uprising, and to hopefully do the same for any of you with equally unruly body parts, I have something that is not at all a dessert. In fact, it can even be low-carb if you want it to be (as in, if you don’t decide that serving it with a side of warm, crusty Italian bread isn’t an absolutely fantastic idea), so we’re really pulling a 180 here.  You’re welcome.

I’m kidding.

No but really, these pizza portobellos are fabulous and the perfect remedy for a prolonged period of culinary indulgences. As it stands, it’s not vegetarian, but don’t let that dampen your spirits too much, all of my veggie-vore readers. Take out the turkey entirely or swap it with a crumbled veggie burger instead – I’ll bet most people will hardly know the difference. I used a turkey burger because that’s what I had. In fact, I described this dish in my notes as meaty, and I wasn’t even talking about the burger – I was talking about the mushroom. This dish is also kind of warm and comforting, so maybe wait until this heat wave rolls on by (come to think of it, a clean, crisp salad would have made a more seasonally appropriate blog detox than this, but alas, I’m doing the best with the busy hand I’ve been dealt) before hunkering down in your kitchen to make this. The good news is that if you’re not cooking for a crowd, you could totally make this on the stovetop and bake it in the toaster oven, no full oven heat required….which means no excuses. Unless you don’t own a toaster oven. In which case I need to ask why…no, no, that soapbox should be saved for another day.

Two Years Ago: Pizza Muffins

Pizza Portobellos
This dish is versatile – treat it like your favorite personal-sized pizza and add in whatever toppings you like. Make it vegetarian. Stuff it with meat. Either way, dig in and enjoy!

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

The Ingredients
¼ onion, chopped
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 precooked (turkey)burger, crumbled
1 cup whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 large Portobello mushrooms
2 cups spinach
3-4 tablespoons parmesan cheese

The Method
Prepare the sauce by adding the onion and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a small sauce-pan and sautéing for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the minced garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Stir in the crumbled burger, 2 minutes, followed by the tomatoes, basil and oregano. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until it has reduced by about one-half to three-quarters. Break up the whole tomatoes as it cooks.

Meanwhile, remove the stems from and clean the Portobello mushrooms. Dry them well and brush with ½ teaspoon olive oil each. Broil for 5 minutes. While the portobellos are broiling, sauté the spinach in a lightly greased pan until it has started to wilt.

Assemble the pizzas by dividing the spinach evenly between the two portobellos, which should be flipped so their undersides are now facing up in order to stuff them properly. Top each with ½ cup of the sauce – you don’t want this to be a particularly liquidy dish – followed by 1 ½ - 2 tablespoons of the cheese each. Bake at 350° Fahrenheit, until the cheese has melted.

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Fancy Schmancy White Chocolate Champagne Layer Cake, At Last

Enough is enough already! My graduation cake has been dutifully transferred from fridge to freezer to preserve its integrity (really, it’s a sin that there’s any left over to go in the freezer at all, but such are the habits of my family when it comes to my baked goods – and I can only eat so much cake myself at any given time), and that means this post is long overdue. This cake…oohhh, this cake. My uncle ate 2 slices at my party. I sure as heck wanted to eat 2 slices at my party. I considered making a smaller cake for fear that we wouldn’t go through a full one, and that full-size cake was just shy of devoured in 20 very short minutes. Maybe less. This is just ultimate indulgence in cake form. It’s the reason why full-fat, full-sugar is sometimes necessary in life. This cake would not exist in a world of diet food, and as much as I love fresh vegetables and minimally sweetened oatmeal, that is just not a world in which I care to live.

This cake is a four-layer cake, divided between the glorious flavors of white chocolate butter cake and champagne sponge. Both are subtle and they blend together into one unbelievable cake so, so beautifully. The fresh strawberries on top and the deep chocolate ganache in between the layers give pops of vibrance to an otherwise pure white cake. The ganache is barely sweet, adding a depth to the cake and cutting the sweetness to be anything but cloying. The white chocolate layers are slightly denser than the fluffy champagne sponge layers, giving it a quiet complexity without calling too much attention to the different textures themselves. It reminds me of the white chocolate cake I made for my sister’s graduation party two years ago, which was received equally well. Both were labors of love – this is no cake walk, as you can tell by the 3 ½ page recipe below, but you also don’t need to be a seasoned baker to make it. Well, maybe you do – although people claimed it looked straight from a bakery, I (my own worst critic) saw the leaning-tower-of-pisa action resulting from a harried car ride to the party, and scrunched up my nose at the drippings from the strawberries, which macerated slightly under the champagne syrup glaze. So my decorating skills could use some work, my finesse could use some finesse-ing, but if the cake that I put on the table can elicit such complimentary responses, I know yours can, too. So maybe you need to be a seasoned baker, much moreso than I am, to perfect the presentation of this cake. But you certainly don’t need overwhelming experience to impress both the people you’re serving and your own taste buds. You just need fortitude, a positive attitude and, well, a veryfree schedule.

One Year Ago: Pasta with Meat Sauce

White Chocolate Champagne Layer Cake
This layer cake is sophisticated and indulgent, and is sure to steal the show wherever you take it. It’s sweet as dessert should be, but not so much as to be a turn off. It’s rich, so a smaller slice is certainly enough, but I double dare you not to go back for more anyway.

Yield: 1 8-inch layer cake, approximately 16 servings
Prep Time: Don’t think about it. Just don’t. This is a commitment. Don’t make this cake if you’re concerned about prep time. But if you really want to know, I’d say it’d take about…3-4 hours of prep time, start to finish. I didn’t time it. I did it over the course of 3 days: (1) Make the batter & bake the cakes (2) Make the filling and frosting (3) Assemble the cake. It’s worth it, I promise. It really is.
Cook Time: 1 hour, approximate

The Ingredients, White Chocolate Cake
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
¼ cup hot water
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon white chocolate liquor

The Ingredients, Champagne Sponge Cake
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar, divided
2 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons champagne

The Ingredients, Chocolate Ganache Filling
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons room-temperature butter, cut in half
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

The Ingredients, White Chocolate Buttercream
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons white chocolate liquor

The Ingredients, Assembly
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thinly vertically
¼ cup champagne
1 ounce white chocolate, chopped

The Method
Prepare the white chocolate cake: preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit and grease two 8x1 ½ inch round pans, lining the bottoms with cut-out parchment rounds. Sift together  the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate using a double-boiler method along with the hot water, stirring until fully melted and smooth. Set aside to cool t room temperature. Mix together milk with lemon juice and set aside to sour slightly.

Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, allowing full incorporation between each addition. By hand, alternate stirring in the flour mixture and homemade buttermilk. When both are completely mixed in, stir in the melted and cooled white chocolate, followed by the white chocolate liquor. Divide the mixtures evenly between the two prepared pans and bake in the oven 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool completely in pans.

Prepare the champagne sponge cake:  reduce the oven temperature to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease and line bottom with parchment either two 8x1 ½ inch pans or one 9x3 inch pan1 and set aside. Briefly whisk together the cake flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until they become foamy, then add in 2 tablespoons of sugar and increase the speed to medium-high to form stiff peaks. Set aside the whipped whites in a separate bowl and rinse and dry out the mixing bowl. Switch to the paddle attachment and beat the yolks with the remaining sugar – 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons – oil and vanilla. By hand, alternately stir in the dry ingredients with the champagne until just incorporated. Fold ⅓ of the reserved egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated but not deflated, then continue with the remaining ⅔ of the egg whites. No whites should remain visible but batter should be noticeably fluffy and voluminous still. Pour the batter into the pan(s) and bake for 20-25 minutes.2Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Prepare the chocolate ganache: set a heat-proof bowl with the chocolate chunks near the stove as you bring the heavy cream to a boil. Pour half of the cream over the chocolate and leave alone for 30 seconds. Then, gently and slowly, working in concentric circles moving outwards, stir the chocolate and cream until mostly blended. Pour in the remaining cream and continue your circular stirring until it is smooth and shiny. Add in the butter and stir until just melted, then, finally, stir in the powdered sugar until just combined and no clumps remain. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then refrigerate until it reaches the desired spreadable consistency for the filling.

Prepare the white chocolate buttercream: beat the butter until light and fluffy before gradually mixing in the powdered sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once fully incorporated, stir in the liquor until well combined. Set aside (refrigerate if not using right away; allow to come to room temperature before attempting to spread).

Assemble the cake:
Place 1 white chocolate layer on your flat decorating surface and spread evenly with approximately ⅓ of the ganache, leaving just a fraction of an inch of un-filled cake around the perimeter of the cake. Place either ½ of the 9x3 inch champagne cake3 or 1 of the 2 8x1 ½ inch champagne cakes.4 Spread another ⅓ of the ganache over the second layer and top with the second white chocolate layer. Spread with the remaining ganache and, finally, top with the last champagne layer. Using an offset spatula, apply a thin crumb coating of the white chocolate buttercream over the tops and sides of the four layer cake. Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes, until the buttercream has firmed up considerably. Ice the cake with the remainder of the icing, smoothing it out as you go and once more at the very end.

Set the cake aside in a cool place while you prepare the toppings. Place the champagne in a small saucepan over medium heat and simmer until it has reduced to a fairly thick syrup, watching closely since such a small amount of liquid will thicken and even evaporate in the blink of an eye. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool to room temperature. Arrange the strawberry slices on the top of the cake with the points pointing outwards, starting with a large single-layer ring around the perimeter and working your way in with increasingly smaller, slightly overlapping circles. Brush the strawberries lightly with the champagne syrup. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate using the double-boiler method – very slowly and gently – then transfer the melted white chocolate to a plastic bag. Snip off a small corner and use it to drizzle the white chocolate decoratively over the strawberries. Chill the cake until ready to serve, though I would recommend these final assembly touches (re: the strawberries & white chocolate drizzle) until fairly close to serving time to prevent maceration, dripping, and otherwise unpleasant results.

1I only own 2 8x1 ½ inch pans, which were being used for the white chocolate cake, so I used to 9x3 inch pan. However, if you do this, you’ll need to halve the cake later on, which can be scary to some people (aka me).
2Alright, so confession time: I made extensive notes on these recipes, as I adapted them all to the point where baking times and some other components had to be adjusted. And then in the shuffle of strewn papers in the kitchen, my notes were thrown away. The original recipe for the champagne sponge calls for 13 minutes of baking, but that’s for cupcakes, so for cakes it will be longer. I believe this is how long they baked for, but please be vigilant. I will update this the next time I make this cake with more exact numbers. Sorry about that!
3If you need to halve the cake, here’s how I’ve learned to do it reasonably successfully: using a ruler, insert 4-6 toothpicks halfway up the cake in order to designate two equal layers. Using a large serrated knife, begin making your cut on one side, using the toothpicks as your guide. A rotating surface helps, as you start by going all the way around the cake shallowly, and gradually as you continue to rotate the cake, you move deeper and deeper into it until it’s fully cut in half. I, however, do not have a rotating surface, so I use my free hand to rotate as best I can – it’s not a perfect method, but once you fill the cake you can often correct any minor issues from slightly uneven cuts.
4Another disadvantage of choosing the 9x3 inch cake pan over the 2 8x 1 ½ inch pans: your champagne cake will be 1 inch larger. Not a big deal. Position the cake so that one side is flush with the bottom white chocolate layer. Using the same sharp, serrated knife you used to halve the cake, slowly cut around the overhanging edge until you’re left with some delicious cake scraps (mix it with leftover buttercream – almost makes the extra fuss of making this size cake worth it!) and an otherwise even set of cake layers. You will need to repeat this process with the final champagne layer.

So you see, that wasn’t so bad, right? I know, I know, it’s like a full-on novel going through the steps of this cake (and I probably should have thought to make some step-by-step pictures for this doozy), but this is not the kind of cake you make because you randomly get a case of the Baking Bug and want to make something on some uneventful, rainy Sunday afternoon. This is a special occasion cake, intended for those moments that don’t come by all that often.  After all, special occasions call for special food, and that’s exactly what you’re getting with this recipe. And the effort you put into it will show, pinkie swear.

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The Cherry-Buttermilk Trifle (not to be trifled with)

I can’t tell you about that amazing layer cake that I made for my graduation party last week. You’ll have to wait just a little bit longer. Today is National Cherry Tart Day and it just so happens that yesterday for Father’s Day I made a really delicious cherry buttermilk trifle, which is kind of like a cherry tart (re: there are cherries in it), only so, so much better. (Can you tell I’m not a big pie person?) I seriously debated telling you about it just yet, first because I thought it might be cruel and unusual punishment to tease you on Saturday with one of the best cakes I’ve ever made and then hold out on the recipe, and second because I didn’t quite nail it. In the end, though, I know it’s going to be a long, long time before I get around to making this a second time, and whether you know it yet or not, you just can’t wait that long for this one.

Everyone at Father’s Day went nuts about this – there were only 5 of us, but even so, it was unanimously well received. There’s this layer of orange sponge cake covered by a thin layer of tangy-sweet buttermilk pudding, topped with dollops of cherry compote and sprinkled with chocolate chips, slivered almonds and fresh cherries for garnish. I meant to put chocolate chunks in the actual trifle layers, and my sister wisely noted that white chocolate would taste heavenly, too; but alas, I didn’t remember that I wanted to incorporate chocolate until the trifle was fully assembled, so I had to relegate them to garnish status. After making the cherry compote, I’m convinced that simply simmering cherries without any of the sugar would be equally successful, but I also had relatively sweet and decidedly un-tart cherries on my hands. I also wasn’t going off of one recipe, but rather pulling from many recipes and my own thoughts, so I wound up with not quite enough pudding to generously coat the cake (which would be the #1 reason why I hesitated telling you about this yet). Double the pudding recipe and you’ll be golden (the recipe below will make the quantity that I made). As it was, it still tasted good and didn’t stop my mom or me from going back for seconds. I would say that it makes 12 servings easily, and it’s filling – that second serving was probably not the best decision I’ve made, but boy did it taste good…

One Year Ago: Lemon Asparagus Ribbons with Pesto

Cherry-Buttermilk Trifle
This trifle layers sweet orange sponge cake cubes with a mild yet tangy buttermilk pudding and a simple cherry compote, all garnished with chocolate chips and almond slices to make you feel like you’re getting a spoonful of heaven in every bite.

Yield: 10-12 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour plus 5 minutes plus 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes plus 25 minutes plus 20 minutes

The Ingredients
6 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ¾ plus ⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon orange zest (from 2 oranges)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sweet cherries, pitted1
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
fresh cherries, for garnishing

The Method
Prepare the cake: separate 6 eggs and allow both the whites and yolks to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Beat the 6 egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed of a stand mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly add in ½ cup sugar and increase the speed to high until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit and grease a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray.

Add 6 egg yolks to the stand mixer (you don’t need to worry about washing because you did the whites first), and beat on high speed until thick and lemon-colored, approximately 5 minutes. Add in the orange zest, juice, water, and vanilla extract and lower the speed to medium just to combine the new ingredients. Gradually add in 1 cup of sugar before increasing the speed again to medium, and continue beating until the mixture thickens slightly and doubles in volume, approximately 5 minutes.

Mixing by hand, sprinkle ¼ cup of the flour at a time over the egg yolk mixture, folding until combined between each addition. Next, fold 1 cup of the beaten egg white mixture into the yolk mixture, and then gently fold the yolk mixture into the remaining whites. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and place in the oven for 27-30 minutes, or until the cake springs back lightly in the center upon being touched. Remove from the oven, run a knife or soft spatula around the edges, and invert immediately onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cake is baking, move on to the cherry compote: combine ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and watch carefully until the mixture has taken on a light caramel color, 5-10 minutes.2Add in the cherries and simmer for another 2 minutes before stirring in the balsamic vinegar. Allow this mixture to bubble and thicken, approximately 10-15 minutes (or longer if you have the patience). Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Cover and set aside to cool, refrigerating once it has come down in temperature enough.

Next, move on to the buttermilk: combine the low-fat milk with the lemon juice and set to the side to create buttermilk, at least 5 minutes. Whisk the remaining 3 egg yolks (reserve the 3 remaining whites for another use) together in a medium-large mixing bowl and set by the stove. In a medium-large saucepan, combine the corn starch and remaining sugar (⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon). Whisk in the heavy cream in a steady stream until no lumps remain. Stir in the prepared buttermilk and then turn the heat on to medium-low. Heat gently, stirring often, until the mixture has begun to simmer and has turned noticeably thicker, at least 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add ¼ cup of the hot buttermilk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking vigorously as you pour to temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling. Repeat this two more times before adding the warmed egg mixture into the remaining buttermilk in the sauce pan. Return to medium-low heat and whisk vigorously and constantly until the pudding has thickened appropriately. Signs that this has occurred: your arm has literally fallen off and is lying sore and useless on the kitchen floor; at least 10 minutes but possibly closer to 15 have gone by;3 and/or a spatula leaves a defined trail in the pudding when dragged through. Transfer to a medium-large bowl, press plastic wrap up against the surface of the pudding to prevent skin from forming, and cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to finish setting up, 1-2 hours.

When all ingredients are fully cooled/chilled/set, cut the cake into cubes of desired size (I aimed for bite-size, maybe ¼ inch). Arrange half of the cubes in a large trifle dish or punch bowl. Top with ¾ of the buttermilk pudding and spread evenly across the cubes. Add ¾ of the cherry compote and spread evenly across the pudding. Repeat with the remaining cake, pudding, and compote. Garnish with the chocolate chips, slivered almonds, and fresh cherries.

Sources, adapted: Annie’s Eats4(cake), Apples and Butter (cherry compote), and Food52 (buttermilk pudding)

1This took me 10 minutes easily, perhaps as much as 15, but check out the original recipe blog post (above) for a neat trick for this. It uses a decorating tip – just be warned, I completely mutilated mine going through all of those cherries and now need to buy a new one. I admittedly didn’t pit it exactly according to instructions so you may not run into the same problem, but I thought I should give that disclaimer just in case.
2This will take a seemingly long time, but once it starts to turn, it’ll go from light-caramel to burnt in no time, so really do watch it fairly vigilantly.
3Ok, ok, no you do not need to whisk vigorously and constantly for 15 minutes straight. I took breaks and towards the end of it just stirred it around in a slow, gentle manner with the occasional strong whisk to prevent burning or sticking – but by breaks, I mean that I stood over the mixture staring at it intently, ready to spring back into action if necessary. Do not walk away. Be patient, be persistent. You can do this. Your arm will not actually fall off onto the kitchen floor, I promise.
4I also used this cake as the base for the Cranberry-Orange “Petits Cakes” with Buttercream Filling that I made last December.

This sounds like a very labor intensive recipe. It kind of is. I had the cake already made and cut into cubes in my freezer from a fondue party canceled at the last minute months and months ago, which really helped to reduce my prep time. But really, it isn’t a difficult dish to prepare, it just takes a little bit of dedication, and the pay off in the end is definitely worth it.

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Floptimism's Graduation Party Recipe Round Up: Hors D'oeuvres and Cake

I mentioned in Monday’s post from L’s graduation party that I get a kind of thrill out of planning events. I love to think up themes and create a party around them, from the food to the decorations and everything in between. Unfortunately, I rarely get the opportunity to implement such extravagant plans – I’m almost never the actual hostess, and my family seems to be less and less into actual festive gatherings now that there really aren’t any kids running around. It’s really a shame, but I know that in time, when I own my own house and start my own family, I’ll have the chance to throw the kind of celebrations the nerd-factor-ten part of my brain loves to imagine.

My graduation party last weekend gave me the opportunity to throw one of these celebrations on a miniature scale – I couldn’t go all out on decorations and other thematic elements, but I could create my own menu, and I definitely took advantage of it. Being early June, I felt like it was the right time to do a pseudo “afternoon tea” spread, just, you know, without the tea. I wanted to capture an elegant Sunday brunch in hors d’oeuvres form, and I think it turned out pretty well in the end.

So without further adieu, after much anticipation, here is the Floptimism Graduation Party Recipe Round-Up:

These little brunch appetizers were my favorite of the entire party. The pancake was soft and pillowy, not incredibly flavorful yet certainly not bland, making it the perfect base for the flavorful 1,2 punch of the horseradish sauce and salty-sweet lox. The only true changes I did make were to use lower fat cream cheese in the pancakes and to substitute plain Chobani yogurt for the sour cream in the horseradish “cream;” and the only changes I would make if I were to make these again would be to buy nova smoked salmon to cut the saltiness just a little bit. I also would like to know why my pancakes didn’t puff up as nicely as the ones in the original post’s pictures, but that’s ok.

This almost didn’t happen, but at the last minute my mom decided that we didn’t have enough food, and I pulled out a dip mix that I had bought at a craft show earlier that year. The link is to the company’s site. I’m usually all about 100% homemade, but this dip turned out pretty well and the ingredients are impeccable. It was a good, quick fix to the solution of not-enough-food without needing to panic, run out to the store, or scramble for a recipe when I was already knee-deep in cooking tasks to get everything done in time. I ignored the instructions on the package and made it with 100% plain Chobani instead of a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream, and I have to admit that I found it to be a littletoo potent with that Greek yogurt tang, but everyone else fawned over it. You can without a doubt get away with making these dips with partial Greek yogurt, but some people might prefer it with at least the addition of a more subdued base to even it out.

Caprese Bites
This recipe was the simplest to think up, the easiest to execute, and bar-none one of the most popular. One thing I’ve learned in planning parties is that as intrigued as people get by the fancy, sophisticated, and intricate dishes, it’s the simple ones that really light their sparks. At least, that’s what I’ve learned from my experiences. The two biggest hits of the day? Store-bought crackers and brie cheese, and these caprese bites. Here’s what you do: (1) Buy 1 pack of cherry tomatoes, 1 pack of mozzarella balls, toothpicks and a few sprigs of basil. (2) Halve the mozzarella balls and any large cherry tomatoes. Cut little leaf-shapes or strips out of the basil leaves. (3) Stick a mozzarella half through the toothpick, followed by the basil, followed by the tomato. (4) Refrigerate or serve. It takes a little bit of time to assemble since everything is so miniature, but it’s easy as pie and totally stress-less. I think a little cup of balsamic would be great for dipping, but everyone seemed to enjoy them perfectly fine on their own.

The above link will bring you to a much more gourmet-looking “Puff Pastry Squares with Pea and Tarragon Puree,” but I wanted to offer some gluten-free options (as one of my relatives has Celiac) and overall wanted something a little lighter and less indulgent than the puff pastry. I immediately thought of endive, and simply used an endive leaf as a boat for the dip. I look each leaf, smeared it with a scant ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard, and topped it with about 1 teaspoon of the dip. Overall it made around 16 endive boats of varying sizes (I just used 1 endive). And let me tell you, this dip is fabulous. It’s not a very overtly flavorful dish – all of the flavors are somewhat demure – but calling it plain would practically be blasphemy. This dip is naturally sweet with salty-savory undertones from the cheese and a hint of almost licorice from the unique flavor of tarragon. I couldn’t get enough of this dip, and spread the extra on crackers and raw vegetables long after the endive boats themselves were gone. Ok, not long after – both the endive boats and leftover dip were mostly eaten that day and finished off by yours truly less than 48 hours later. Further proof of how delicious this was.

My family member with Celiac also has an egg allergy, so I thought these egg-less and crust-less quiches would be the perfect addition to my spread. It uses lite firm silken tofu (it’s the Mori-Nu shelf-stable kind; the recipe is very specific about the type of tofu used, as apparently other varieties fall apart) instead of the eggs, and turmeric to give it a yellow color. I think some of the party-goers were slightly suspicious, as the texture is not quiteeggy, but no one questioned me and I suspect that no one knew that what they were eating was not actually egg* (except my family member with the egg allergy, who I very quietly told off to the side and who graciously helped cover for me whenever someone inquired about the recipe). I did run into some snags with this recipe and want to play around with making it again before I say too much, but I did provide the link to the original in case you wanted to take a stab at it yourself.
*Note: as soy allergies become more common, be very vigilant about serving this without full disclosure of the ingredients. I know that no one in my family has a soy allergy, so I chose to pass it off as a regular quiche to encourage more people to at least try it, but if you’re unsure, please don’t risk this.

 White-Chocolate Champagne Layer Cake
And then there was dessert. You don’t get a link because I took about 4 different websites and smooshed them together into one fantastic cake. Except, you have to wait for the recipe – la piece de resistance – because it deserves its own post. This cake is phenomenal. It rivals the one I made for my sister’s graduation two years ago, and that was truly one of my finest “creations” (as in, I followed the recipe well – I still can’t take credit for creating the recipe itself). It was certainly sweet enough to be addictive and qualify as dessert, but it wasn’t overtly or overpoweringly sweet. The cake was soft in texture and flavor, pairing well with the frosting and ganache which explode on your taste buds with decadence. I mean really, this cake is out of this world, and I promise that you will be hearing from it again many times on this blog. First, of course, I’ll give you the recipe. But then…ohhhh, then. I have this scheme that I’ve been devising for the most decadent, extravagant cake imaginable, and it involves these two cakes plus five more. That’s all I’ll say for now. 

 So there you have it, after nearly a full week of taunting and teasing you with the promise of revealing my graduation party spread, I’ve finally come through. I hope it was worth the wait!

*Note: I have since re-tried this recipe and blogged about it. See the improved version here.

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Thirty Minute Thursday: Walnut-Sage Corn Cakes

I make to-do lists with goals to accomplish on any given day. Monday, for example, I wanted to have the recipe round up from L’s graduation party posted: check. Tuesday, I wanted to spend time working on my summer graduation course and finish before my dietetic internship conference call at 3pm: check. Wednesday, I wanted to finish up some graduate class homework, write a recipe round-up for my graduation party, have a lovely dinner with L and my aunt and uncle, and drive out to the mountains for a mini vacation get-away with L and my mom.

Wednesday is where it all fell apart.

I didn’t wake up early enough. L’s car inspection that I was driving him to and from took longer than anticipated. When I finally finished my homework I looked at the clock and realized it was 4:30pm. I hadn’t packed yet. I had to leave for dinner at 5. I had to leave straight from dinner for the mountains. I threw everything together and ran out the door and yes, did have a lovely dinner, but was more than a little exhausted by the time I arrived in the mountains at 9:40pm. I can’t remember if I did a #365thanks twitter post last night. I think I did. I should check. I definitely posted on Twitter that the recipe round up wouldn’t happen until today.

And then today is where is fell apart. Again.

I got 2 paragraphs into my post for the recipe round up when a ton of bricks came proverbially crashing down on top of me with one sudden realization: all of my pictures from my graduation party, food included, are on my dad’s camera card. In his camera. At home. 2 ½ hours away. And he’s at work and has much more important things to do than respond to my photo-less crisis.

So you see, I can’t write my recipe round up yet. Or at least, I couldn’t write a very exciting one. After all, it’s the pictures I know you really care about. A recipe round up of only words just wouldn’t do. I promise to have the recipe round up posted on Saturday, but until then, I thought I would tide you over with a Thirty Minute Thursday post. After all, it is Thursday!

Before the school year ended, I turned to Rachael Ray’s recipe for walnut-sage corn cakes. I made several changes to the recipe and the only one I regret is ignoring the suggestion to serve them with a drizzle of honey. You know me; I get so stubborn about added sugar in any form. I just thought that eating the cakes plain or even with a dollop of salsa, they’d be fine, but in my head I can taste the flavor of the corn cakes meeting the flavor of sweet honey drizzled on top, and it’s magical. It really is. The cakes themselves are subtle, almost buttery from the walnuts that brown slightly when they contact the pan while cooking. And if you just add that touch of honey, that little touch of sweetness, you’ll have something truly special. If you make these before I have a chance to try them again, please let me know how they are, how they were intended to be. 


Walnut-Sage Corn Cakes
These griddle-cooked cakes are subtle and simple, versatile in their plain palate but begging for a little drizzle of sweetness to take them to the next level.

Yield: 4 servings (3 corn cakes each)
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cook Time: 10-12 minutes

The Ingredients
1 ½ cups water
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs
½ cup milk
¼ cup walnut oil
1 cup (white whole wheat) flour
2-3 teaspoons ground sage
2 ounces chopped walnuts
honey, for drizzling

The Method
Set a nonstick griddle over medium heat to warm.

Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a small sauce pan set over high heat. Pour the hot water into a large mixing bowl along with the cornmeal, and stir until combined. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and walnut oil, then stir that mixture into the cornmeal. Sift the flour into the corn cake mixture, sprinkle with sage, and stir just to combine.

Ladle or spoon the batter onto the heated griddle in 3-inch rounds, allowing space between them. Scatter the walnut pieces over the wet batter and allow the cakes to cook, untouched, 2-3 minutes or until golden-brown. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until that side is also golden-brown. Repeat as necessary to finish the batter. Serve with drizzled honey.

Source, adapted: Rachael Ray’s Classic Thirty Minute Meals

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Cookie Recipe Round-Up: Peanut Butter, Cookies & Cream, Snickerdoodle, and Strawberry Shortcake

There’s a part of me that dreams of becoming a caterer. I briefly considered that career path, until I realized how much I value my weekends and holidays. The hours just aren’t for me, yet I still get so excited when I have to opportunity to plan and execute a menu for an event, no matter how big or small. Usually, that’s pretty limited, but L’s and my graduations gave me two new excuses to get in the kitchen and bake/cook up a storm. Unfortunately for my sanity, they fell on the same exact weekend. Fortunately for my sanity, I was only taking care of a portion of the desserts and none of the main dishes for L’s, and although I was “catering” my own from start to finish, it was a much more intimate gathering and therefore significantly less stressful. And since I’m sitting here typing this update for you, it means I survived to tell you all about it.

Almost all of the recipes I made were a success, yet I didn’t really change much about any of them so I thought rather than featuring each individual recipe on this blog, I would write two round-up posts: one for L’s graduation from Saturday, and one for mine, which was yesterday. I have plans to tweak and play with some of the recipes so you’ll surely be seeing more of them and in more detail in the future, but for now, you can at least see all of the delicious food that tore me away from blogging this weekend!

So for L, his mom had ordered a cake from a local bakery and had asked me to supplement it with essentially whatever else I wanted. This, I translated to whatever else L wanted. He had previously told me that he wanted gingerbread, but I teased him into embarrassment accidentally because I thought it was endearingly uncommon to choose such a Fall-associated flavor for early June. I threw out a ton of options, mostly focusing on his school colors as my inspiration, all of which were met with total unenthusiasm. Needless to say, it took some back and forth before we settled on a sure crowd (and L) pleaser: cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

The first request was for a peanut butter cookie, one of L’s favorites yet one that he doesn’t get to eat all that often. I made him a batch for a birthday a few years back (one of the most popular recipes on the blog!), but used Jif peanut butter because people swore to me that my beloved all-natural varieties would crumble to pieces when used in a cookie. And while L loved them and they looked beautiful, it was time for me to defy all the nay-sayers and give my natural peanut butter a chance to shine. I found a recipe from Joy the Baker for cookies that specifically called for natural peanut butter, and decided that was the one. The ingredient list was short and the preparation was simple – what more could you ask for? Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of them because I knew they weren’t blog ready after I snuck a bite from the cooling batch. Don’t get me wrong, everyone loved them, but they’re not quite it. The recipe isn’t perfect. I found it a little too sweet, and although L didn’t use those same words, he did say that the peanut butter flavor could have been stronger. The dough wasn’t the easiest to work with, either – the cookies did not crumble in the end, but the dough was delicate and not as cohesive as I would have liked. I think I can remedy this without adding chemical-laden artificial peanut butter to my dough, so I’ll be experimenting with those little tweaks and hope to have The Perfect Peanut Butter Cookie for you in the somewhat near(ish) future.
Note: the picture above is from the last time I made peanut butter cookies. As I said, I don’t recommend them because they call specifically for non-natural varieties of nut butter, but other people did enjoy them and I know not everyone buys into the must-eliminate-all-hydrogenated-oils thing so…there you have them.

Next, we pinpointed a dining hall favorite of L’s: Oreo cookies. No, I don’t mean actual Oreo’s or homemade versions of actual Oreo’s. I mean cookies, coated completely in Oreo crumb deliciousness. These were hands down the hit of the party. People couldn’t get enough of them! The dough is pillowy and rich – breaking one in half is like eliciting a symphony straight from heaven, and taking that first bite brings you one step closer to nirvana. And believe me, it is with great pain that I say this, because I recently gave up high fructose corn syrup only to find out that Oreo’s contain it, meaning I let myself try half of one (for experimental purposes, folks! The things I do for you…), and then cut myself off. I’m not really sure what to do about it, either, because these cookies are absolute perfection and there’s no way around the HFCS. For the Oreo crumbs I bought an Oreo pie crust and crumbled it with a fork, and though there may be knock-off Oreo cookies, there are not knock-off Oreo cookie crusts. I also don’t think it’d be possible for me to go the rest of my life without ever having these again. It’s quite a conundrum, but I’m actually considering breaking my rules for the occasional batch of these beauties. Me, little type A personality, stick-to-the-rules-for-the-sake-of-sticking-to-them, me. If that doesn’t convince you how good they are, I really don’t know what will.

After the Oreo cookies, we decided on a Snickerdoodlerecipe. If there’s one thing L loves, it’s cinnamon, and a soft and chewy cookie rolled in the stuff is right up his alley. I ran into some snags with these – to be fair, already that day I had baked up nearly 7 dozen cookies and was probably not in the clearest state of mind. I was pulling out raw cookie dough from the oven thinking they were done, knocking a few of the unbaked dough balls right off the cookie sheet and onto the scorching hot oven floor (and then nearly blinding myself when later trying to reach into the oven only to be met with stinging smoke from the burnt cookie remnants from those dough balls), running out of oven space, baking them for nearly twice the amount of time the recipe indicated…I was terrified that I was going to wind up with little saucer bricks of cinnamon and sugar. They weren’t as pillowy as the ideal snickerdoodle is (in my book), but people still loved them and could not say enough nice things about them. They were not little sauce bricks – they were soft, cinnamony, and enjoyable. I just don’t know if the recipe has a few flaws or if I need to give them a second try on a day when I’m not on cookie overload, so I don’t want to feature them on here just yet. You’ll definitely be seeing versions of these in the hopes of redemption in the future of Floptimism, though – I promise.

And, finally, I was given Baker’s Choice – I could choose any fourth cookie I wanted. I still wanted L to be pleased with the results, so I settled on this little gem – a Strawberry Shortcake Cookie. These were the last cookies to be baked on Friday. By the time they went in the oven I had been in the kitchen for 12 hours and had over 10 dozen cookies packed up in Tupperware. If I thought my mind was elsewhere with the Snickerdoodles several hours earlier, I was really in questionable shape by the time this dough was ready to come together. Still, it was easy to do, and interesting in that it employed mixing techniques more akin to a pie crust or scone than a cookie. They wound up being like little cakes in cookie form, very delicate but ultimately a pleasant surprise that everyone raved about. The strawberries had a bit of a tang to them, a little bite that was almost reminiscent of a cranberry baked good. It really countered the sweetness of the cookie itself beautifully. I wonder if the cookies were meant to be sturdier, but then I added a little too much extra heavy cream and consequently changed the texture a little bit. Like I said, I was more or less delirious by the time I was going through the motions of this dough so, like the Snickerdoodles, I want to play around with the dough more before I devote an entire entry to them. However, people also went crazy over these, so I couldn’t leave them out of this round-up. In fact, last night L was just slightly hungry so he opened up the container, took one out, closed the container, and ate it…and then opened the container back up and ate three more because they are “so good that they make you hungry.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So there you have it, the 13+ dozen cookies from L’s grad party in all of their glory. I couldn’t have been much more pleased with how they turned out, and hope to have the opportunity to play around with them and share the absolute, hands down, perfected versions with you later on.

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