The lingering days of my childhood, when I would immerse myself in little-girl-imaginings of being Cinderella sweeping the cobblestone floors of my little cottage in the countryside, vibrate with the rosy hue of a young heart’s willingness to create and share, freely. Self-doubt didn’t seem to have a place at the table back then, as my young soul was still so blissfully unaware. In childhood we seem to operate out of a purer place, a point in the heart where we still remember the sound of our Creator’s voice and long to love and be loved. We find comfort and coziness in the much less obvious, and desire to give to those around us the simple pleasure of ourselves. We don’t trouble ourselves with perfection or the notion of “not good enough”, but are motivated rather by the sheer act of spreading joy. Cooking can be such a spectacular vehicle for connecting people to one another in the spirit of childlike creativity. Dishes may not always turn out exactly as we’d like them too, but the essence behind the preparation is of servitude and play. I remember having such enthusiasm to share an edible creation made with my own hands, using my own imagination, with someone else; it seems to always have been a part of my makeup and my spirit long before I ever had any thought that I would one day work with food for a living. As I reminisce about that time of life, I can see that so much of my drive to be creative had everything to do with sharing that creation. Creation for the sake of connection was my “why”. And I want to preserve that.
I smile and cringe just a bit too, when I reminisce about one of my innocent shenanigans from those early years when I was just learning how a “pinch of this” and “a pinch of that” comes together to make something good to eat. I decided to make a sweet treat from scratch using elements that I had seen my mother use when she made her recipes; then, I would in turn sell my goodies to our neighbors. After all, Girl Scouts were always going door-to-door selling their cookies, putting smiles on people’s faces, so why shouldn’t I also exercise my entrepreneurial spirit and spread some love? I decided that I would use whatever items I had on hand such as cereal, wafer cookies, chocolate chips; and then add to that what I had seen mom adding to her recipes when she prepared something good. How hard could it be, right? I remember adding several cups of cereal to a mixing bowl (Fruity Pebbles if I recall correctly, as they were so colorfully pleasing to the eye), a few crushed cookies, a couple cups of flour, several eggs, chocolate chips, a pinch of baking powder, baking soda, some salt and sugar, and some vanilla for good measure; and then, I mixed this gooey concoction together with my wooden spoon. It seemed to resemble a dough-like consistency, something close enough to what a pre-baked dessert batter looks like anyway, and though I was a bit leery of it, I poured my mixture into a glass baking dish, placed it in the microwave and cooked it until it looked done. Then I cut this “dessert” that smelled slightly of cooked eggs and flour into little squares, sprinkled the tops of each with powdered sugar (again for good measure), put them on a paper plate and readied myself to go knock on the neighborhood doors. I was so excited! Ah, the sweet bird of youth! The neighbors smiled when they opened their door and saw me standing there with my little paper plate of weird “squares” for sale, but were wonderful sports by playing their part to the hilt. They’d take their time selecting the perfect piece, pull out their change purse, hand me a quarter, and watch me smile as I proudly skipped away to the next house. I’m sure they appreciated my pre-school-aged chutzpah, though most surely and promptly pawned my inedible “goody” off to Fido! When I really consider it, I can’t help but shake my head in embarrassment at the thought of what I tried to pass off as an edible dessert to my poor neighbors. And how precious they were to buy my strange concoction from me at twenty-five cents a pop!
We all begin our lives possessing the beautiful innocence of a child; a child who’s desire to create and share, and bring joy to those around, is something that never needs to be manufactured. I hope to carry these tiny seedlings forever in my heart that they may continually sprout and shape my cooking and my life as a whole. I still want to get into my kitchen and play, to get my hands good and dirty, and to do this for the sake of my own joy, and for someone else’s. What a thing it could be to combine the wisdom of time’s experiences with childhood’s whimsy!
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Mocha Caramel Brownie Cake with Cappuccino Whipped Cream
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Mocha Caramel Brownie Cake
Ingredients: ( serves about 8 )
1 tablespoon butter for greasing baking dish
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
4 whole eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee combined with 1tablespoon hot water (coffee “extract”)
1cup butter (8 ounces), melted
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, plus 1 square for garnish curls
1 (10 ounce) jar caramel sauce (I prefer Trader Joe’s “Fleur de Sel” Caramel Sauce)
8 fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease a 9 ½ “ x 12” (roughly) baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter.
-In a small bowl, combine the flour, the cocoa and the salt with a whisk to combine, and set aside.
-Next, in a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the eggs until fluffy and pale; add the vanilla extract and the coffee “extract”, and whisk to incorporate; next add the flour/cocoa/salt mixture to the sugar/egg mixture a little at a time, whisking to blend thoroughly, until all is incorporated; next, slowly drizzle the 1 cup of melted butter into the batter, whisking gently until well blended in; finally, add the chopped chocolate and fold together to combine.
-Pour the batter into the greased baking dish, and bake for 35 minutes; once baked, allow brownie cake to cool for about 20 minutes.
-Spoon the caramel sauce out of the jar into a small saucepan set over very low heat; warm the sauce for a few minutes, just until slightly loosened; turn off heat and keep warm until ready to serve with brownie cake.
Cappuccino Whipped Cream
Ingredients: ( serves about 8 )
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream, cold
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee combined with ½ teaspoon hot water (coffee “extract”)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
-In a bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer and a bowl), add the cold, heavy whipping cream and on medium-low, begin to whip; when the cream begins to thicken, add the vanilla extract and the coffee “extract” to the cream; next sprinkle in the sugar, and finish whipping until fluffy and stiff peaks (do not over-beat as cream will begin the “break” and become butter); place bowl into fridge to keep cold until ready to serve.
To Plate Dessert:
-Using a tablespoon, drizzle some of the warm caramel sauce onto a serving plate and top with a piece of the brownie cake; drizzle one more tablespoon of the warm caramel sauce over the brownie cake, then top with a large dollop of the cappuccino whipped cream; using a vegetable peeler, shave a few curls of chocolate from the remaining chocolate square, and garnish with mint.