I have already used the term ‘magic’ in several previous posts. But, once again, the term seems appropriate.
My best friend, Ellen, wasn’t feeling well as we toured northern New Mexico together. We, of course, spent time in Santa Fe and Taos. We also visited tiny Chimayo, along the ‘High Road to Taos’ when driving from Santa Fe. The town is full of amazing weaving, paintings, pottery, and jewelry, which artist Ellen appreciated despite her illness.
Chimayo is also the home of legendary El Santuario de Chimayo. Nestled among the Sangre de Cristo mountains, El Santuario de Chimayo has been a place of worship since the early 1800s, drawing American Indians, Hispanics, and other people of faith. Today, this ‘Lourdes of America’ attracts more than 300,000 visitors, annually.
The compact adobe sanctuary, with its resplendent altar, invites private worship and attendance at services, while many visitors also ask for healing. In fact, numerous discarded crutches, canes and even wheelchairs filled a small room off one side of the sanctuary. There is also a small circular pit of dirt – or el pocito – in the anteroom floor, which many people believe has amazing curative powers.
After about an hour at El Santuario, we decided to dine at the nearby, iconic Rancho de Chimayo. It had been decades since my first visit there. After a devastating 2008 fire, the restaurant underwent a massive restoration that preserved original adobe walls, structural elements, and authentic building features. Dozens of red chile ‘ristras’ decorated the restaurant’s exterior and large old trees provided shade.
The family-owned restaurant celebrated 50 years of operation during 2014. By 2016, Rancho de Chimayo achieved rockstar status as it received the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award. Changing seasonally, the menu may feature anything from shrimp blue corn enchiladas, and prickly pear margaritas, to delicate flan, and Carne Adovado Burrito.
I couldn’t wait for Ellen to taste this delicious food, while hoping that it might also help her feel better. Over the years, one thing that had bonded the two of us was a shared awareness of energy changes in the environment, largely through practicing energy healing.
But neither of us was prepared for what happened immediately after we placed our orders. I noticed that Ellen’s table setting was vibrating near her hands, and she said, “I feel like a million bucks.” That’s when she realized her foot had inadvertently dipped into el pocito during our visit to Santuario de Chimayo. And she remained healthy for the rest of our trip.
Please note: As is common in the travel industry, I may have received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this post, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
I remember driving towards La Chiripada Winery, between Santa Fe and Taos, during my first trip to the area. I also remember carefully driving across dirt and gravel, only to find the winery wasn't open.
Imagine my delight when I bumped into a winery tasting room, in the heart of Taos. A confirmed white wine drinker, at the time, I sampled several reds too. Much to my amazement, La Chiripada's port captivated me so thoroughly that I purchased a bottle to enjoy at home.
Established in 1981, New Mexico's oldest winery still has a Taos tasting room, although it has long since moved from the original location. The winery's name, “La Chiripada” means, “a stroke of luck” or “a lucky fluke”.
Now a confirmed red wine lover, I always look forward to my tasting room visits, which I have enjoyed during trips with several different female friends. Rio Embudo Red was another favorite on my next visit, which occurred many years later, after our daughters became young teens.
Often voted New Mexico's best winery, La Chiripada creates its multi-award-winning wines using regional grapes that can withstand the area's severe climate, while complimenting the state's signature cuisine. In fact, at 6,100 feet, La Chiripada remains one of the world's highest commercial grape growing entities.
Whether you visit the winery or sample La Chirapada wines in their Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Embudo, or Pojoaque tasting room, the delicious results will speak for themselves.
My Northern New Mexico Love Affair: Relaxing at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa
A two-lane road flanked the gurgling, tumbling Rio Grande. The road began a measured and then steep ascent through a spectacular valley of plunging inclines and breathtaking, massive rock formations, as pavement gave way to gravel. After climbing for 20 minutes, we wondered why we hadn’t seen any signs for Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, or whether we would ever see a paved road again.
We stopped for snacks and directions at a tidy little roadside store. The owner said there were no signs along our cliffside drive because most people take a longer highway route to Ojo Caliente, and the pavement on our route would soon reappear.
We arrived half an hour later. One copper circle inside another decorated a gushing stone-faced fountain at the entrance. Mirroring a petroglyph found in nearby ruins, the logo springs to life at night in ethereal spot lighting. This is the ‘hot eye’ and the springs’ namesake.
The magic here begins with the unique collection of four geothermal mineral springs in a single location. And traveling through endless acres at Ojo Caliente was like driving through a Cezanne painting.
Weathered and pock-marked rock walls in muted shades of brown and rust shielded the springs, while pale lavender and buttery yellow flowers, and olive green multi-branched cacti dotted the late-summer landscape. Near the adobe Round Barn, micaceous clay dust that remained from pottery classes painted headlight-illuminated windshields gold.
During the winter season, Mother Nature drops sparkling snowflakes into the steamy pools. At Christmastime, Ojo Caliente’s staff has been known to provide hot chocolate for guests, and then ring tiny bells through the frosty air of each New Year’s Eve.
Although Ojo Caliente offers complete spa services, from massages to pedicures, it is the natural springs that draw many visitors. At 105 degrees, the arsenic pool is reputed to heal a variety of skin conditions and decrease arthritis and stomach ulcers.
With a temperature of 109 degrees, the iron pool is said to benefit the blood, while the Lithia spring is considered a digestive aid and reliever of depression.
Bathers whispered their conversations as they enjoyed the steamy waters. A spout between two pools ran warm and soothing against my neck and we floated almost effortlessly in the soda pool.
One of many available spa treatments, preparation for the detoxifying Milagro Relaxation Wrap required a dip in a mineral pool to help raise our body temperature. In a therapy room, minimal light and soothing music greeted us as we laid quietly on massage tables, tightly wrapped us in blankets.
My toes become immobile, and I could barely wiggle my fingers. But I drifted into meditation and felt surprised when an attendant loosened my blankets, 25 minutes later.
After dark, Ojo’s pools became private grottos with an otherworldly quality. As we slid into the warm individual pool we had rented, a dense blanket of stars filled the sky and a blazing piñon-wood fire burned in our small horno (fireplace). Backlit cliffs sent shimmers across the water.
It was the perfect end to a day of rest and relaxation.
Please note that eco-friendly Ojo Caliente offers multiple lodging options and a full-service restaurant. In addition, these are older photos that may not accurately reflect the resort's current appearance. Finally, Ojo Caliente has completed a major reconstruction project following a massive fire that took place there, in August 2020.
Also, as is common in the travel industry, I may have received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this post, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
My Northern New Mexico Love Affair: Sante Fe's Native American Artisans Portal Program
The ring I bought during my first visit to Santa Fe remains a fixture on my right hand, though the bird tracks have long since disappeared after decades of wear. But this isn't the only jewelry I bought from a vendor with the Native American Artisans Portal Program, at the Palace of the Governors.
During a later visit, I purchased a pair of hammered silver earrings. I happily wore them numerous times, in the next several months, until one disappeared. Another few months passed as I retraced all of my steps in search of the missing earring, with no luck.
That's when a bit of New Mexico magic kicked in again. A business card told me the name of the jewelry vendor, but provided no contact information. On a whim, I got in touch with the Portal Program office, provided the name of the vendor and sent them a photo of my remaining earring. Within a few weeks, Miriam contacted me, and sent a matching earring alongside a small bill. I was thrilled!
Open daily, most vendors sell at the portal from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Customers can purchase Native American items here, handcrafted by dozens of artisans or their family members.
Items for sale include pottery to textiles, and silver jewelry decorated with turquoise to coral. Prices are good and there's no tax. Portal artists must also sign every piece of work. Although many vendors now take credit cards, others still do not.
Somewhat shy, Gloria Goldtooth, of the Navajo/Diné tribe, began coming to the portal in the early 1980s. When we met, she sold at the portal once or twice a month. Selling the jewelry and beading that she and her mother made supplemented her full-time job.
"We must use natural stones – not stabilized – and no plastic beads, just glass," she said. "We have to label our work to inform people what they are buying. Most vendors talk about their artwork and say, ‘Hello. If you have questions, ask us.’ It’s interesting to meet people from all over the world. Some people buy again and you develop a friendship."
From the Zuni tribe, Phyllis Coonsis sold sterling jewelry with multiple stones and colors, under the business name, Swirl of Colors. "My grandmother taught me and my brother is a master jeweler. I joined the program about one year ago. This is my primary income and I can make $500 on some days. I also do major art shows. I help my mother financially and support my son."
A Pueblo of Laguna tribe member, Edward Platero started coming to the portal in 1990, at age 18. On the day we met, he was selling jewelry with his girlfriend. His sole source of income, Platero typically sold items at the portal 3-4 times per week.
‘It can be difficult because we don’t take credit cards," he said. "But some people make as much as $1,000 on a good day. Summertime is better for sales."
Fran Loretto had brought her pottery, sculpture, drawings and paintings to the portal for decades, from Jemez Pueblo. "I helped my grandmother when I was very young, and sold drums for my grandfather on the portal."
Loretto also studied traditional pottery making and two-dimensional drawing at the Institute of American Indian Arts, a local four-year fine arts college. A 9-inch-tall female sculpture took two days to sculpt, 1-1/2 weeks to dry, a day to sand, and an hour to fire, over wood; kiln firing was forbidden for sales at the portal.
A member of the Navajo tribe, Ronald Toledo had learned sand painting from his parents, selling at the portal for more than 20 years and two to three days per week. Toledo often described the sand painting process to customers.
"Each item has two to four layers of sand and all of the sand color is natural," he said. "For instance turquoise stone is ground down to make the sand. The only non-natural feature allowed is a clear acrylic spray to help maintain set of the sand. We can create 6, 8 x 8 tiles or 20-30 magnets per day."
For anyone who wants an exquisite artistic souvenir of their Santa Fe visit, the Native American Artisans Portal Program is a must do. Just be sure to carry plenty of cash!
Please note: Photos in this story do not necessarily reflect artist profiles offered immediately before or after an image. They provide a general look at the variety of artistic expression available.
This week marks 40 years since my first visit to New Mexico (other than pass-throughs, during childhood). How do I know that? The life-changing trip took place several months after I met my now-husband. A friend and I had also planned our visit to coincide with Cinco de Mayo. It would be my first long-distance road trip in nearly a decade.
But plans changed about two weeks before departure. My friend cancelled and my then-boyfriend couldn't reschedule his life on such short notice, to go with me. I wasn't ready to drive that far by myself so I booked trips to and from the state with Amtrak, and then rented a car in Santa Fe.
For the next week, I explored the area near Santa Fe and Taos, from Bandelier National Monument (currently closed due to the Cerro Pelado fire) and El Rancho de las Golindrinas (closed, until June 2022) to Philmont Scout Ranch BSA and Santa Fe's Plaza.
I gritted my teeth and gripped the steering wheel as snow fell during my descent from Philmont. I marveled at ancient homes built in formidable rock walls, at Bandelier. An unexpected festival and parade met me, at El Rancho de las Golindrinas. I bought a small rug from Ortega's Weaving Shop, in tiny Chimayo, before visiting the holy site of Santuario de Chimayo.
In Santa Fe, I purchased a delicate silver ring, decorated with three-pronged bird 'tracks,' from a Native American vendor at the Palace of the Governors, before visiting the remarkable 'floating' staircase inside the Loretto Chapel. And I savored New Mexico flavors in what was then the open hotel courtyard and restaurant at La Fonda on the Plaza.
The Rio Grande rushed by, to my left, as I drove from Santa Fe to Taos, where a massive breakfast awaited, at Michael's Kitchen Restaurant and Bakery. My next stop was Taos Pueblo (closed until further notice, per COVID concerns).
Four decades ago, visiting the Pueblo was a completely different experience from my later visits. There was no ticket to buy or entry gate and no photography fee. No doors opened to individual craftspeople and their wares. And I saw no other visitors on that chilly spring weekday morning.
But as I set foot onto Taos Pueblo land for the first time, an odd thing happened. From somewhere deep inside, I had the sense that I had literally lived here, in another life. On May 5, I raised a glass to northern New Mexico in a local restaurant, declaring, "I'll be back." And I have - at least eight times.
Stay tuned to Visual Traveler throughout May, for more stories about this place that has thoroughly touched my heart.
Please note: As is common in the travel industry, I may have received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this post, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
Here’s another early recipe with the holidays in mind – and the final post in this October-December series. I’ve had a blast making, photographing, and writing about chocolate and can’t wait to do it again next year.
This luscious breakfast item languished in my files forever and I felt daunted-over and over again-by how much work was involved. But with fond memories of baking bread weekly for 2 ½ years after I moved to Kansas City (several decades ago), and the urge to make a chocolate recipe that isn’t about dessert (Hello, New Year's Day Breakfast!), I gave it a shot earlier today.
Boy, was this recipe worth the effort! These rolls are surprisingly light in texture and chocolaty without being overpowering. The glaze doesn’t overpower the finished rolls, either. I fell right back into kneading the dough as I had in the 1980s and this dough responded well to my touch.
Perhaps my only complaint with prep was when the buttered foil tried to skitter across the counter as I rolled out the risen dough. I had to anchor each end, to get the job done. One other thought. Because I generally prefer to use bittersweet chocolate chips and could only find semisweet minis, I might chop and use regular chips for a deeper flavor, next time.
Wishing all of you a wonderful (remaining) holiday season and the very best for 2022!
GRAM’S CHOCOLATE CINNAMON ROLLS
Makes 10 rolls
1 package active dry yeast
½ stick butter
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 cups regular flour (or 1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour)
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons softened butter
¾ cup miniature chocolate chips
2 heaping tablespoons crumbled brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (because our family loves cinnamon I used more)
2 tablespoons soft butter
½ cup powdered sugar
Cream or whole milk
1. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Stir the yeast into ¾ cup warm water and set aside.
2. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat together butter, cocoa powder, sugar, egg, salt and 1 cup of flour. Stir in the yeast mixture and continue beating 2 minutes at medium speed.
3. Remove the beaters and mix in 1 ¼ cups more flour with a wooden spoon or your hands. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Return to bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
4. Punch the air out of the dough and place on buttered foil. Roll into a 12x9 inch rectangle. Spread softened butter over the dough, sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, chocolate chips and nuts.
5. Roll up lengthwise. Cut into 10 equal slices and arrange, cut side down and sides touching, in prepared pan. Again, cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again. In the meantime, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
6. Bake rolls for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and spread tops with 2 tablespoons soft butter. Combine powdered sugar and enough cream or milk to make a glaze; spread over the rolls. Serve warm.
Adapted from Celebrations, A Menu Cookbook for Informal Entertaining, by Diana and Paul von Welanetz
I decided to ‘run’ this post a little earlier than usual, so you have plenty of time to make the dessert for Christmas, if you like. My original recipe for Cranberry Chocolate Torte is another tried-and-true flavor sensation, printed on yellowed newsprint.
The original recipe calls for whole cranberry sauce. But this year, supply chain issues resulted in no remaining cans on my favorite grocery store’s shelves. What I did have was two bags of fresh cranberries in my freezer and a dynamite Cranberry Orange Sauce recipe that has become a holiday staple for our family.
But since the original torte recipe does not feature orange, I left out orange zest and substituted water for fresh-squeezed orange juice. The resulting torte flavor is very similar to the original, while my homemade cranberry sauce introduced extra texture to what is typically a smoother dessert.
I also tinkered with the glaze this time. Using currant jelly results in a smooth and tasty glaze. However, I don’t otherwise use currant jelly so went a different route this time. Again, the results aren’t as smooth, but the taste is dynamite.
Whichever versions of this torte and glaze you choose I think you’ll love this decadent dessert. And I hope it brings you much joy during the remaining holiday season.
BTW, I absolutely love the convenience of this little device, when working with eggs. Mine is ancient, but you can find your own, easily, when you search for an egg separator.
CRANBERRY CHOCOLATE TORTE
Makes 10 servings
16-ounce can of cranberry sauce with whole cranberries
OR make your own Homemade Cranberry Sauce (see below)
1/2 cup ground walnuts or almonds
1/4 cup sifted flour
7 ounces dark sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
1/2 cup currant jelly (if you can’t find this, you may substitute fruit jelly without seeds)
2 tablespoons cranberry juice cocktail or red wine
Ground almonds, optional
(OR use ½ cup of a second cranberry sauce recipe + 2 tablespoons red wine.
To any leftover sauce add 3-4 tablespoons of orange zest
and serve as a side for your holiday meal)
1. Place canned cranberries or homemade cranberry sauce in a small bowl and stir gently until slightly liquid. In another small bowl, combine almonds and flour. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally to blend. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and light. With mixer on low speed, add flour and nut mixture to egg yolks, beating until just mixed. Add chocolate-butter mixture and blend gently. Stir in cranberries and almond extract by hand.
3. Beat egg whites until they hold their shape but are not dry. Fold egg whites into cranberry batter. Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
4. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 50-55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely while still in pan. Place in refrigerator until chilled (about 1 hour). When ready to serve, use a knife to release the edge of the torte, and remove it from the springform pan.
5, As the torte cools, combine jelly and cranberry juice in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Brush the chilled torte with warm glaze and allow to set. Give the top of the torte a second coating. Sprinkle with ground walnuts or almonds if desired.
HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cup water
12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, stir together, cover and bring to a boil.
Leave on high heat until you hear berries popping open.
2. Reduce heat to simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. Remove lid and simmer for another 15 minutes, to reduce liquid. Cool to room temperature and then add to recipe according to directions.
It’s been several years since I made this luscious cheesecake, which tastes just as rich and decadent as my ‘regular’ cheesecake. But egg whites and low-fat cream cheese make all the difference in the amount of fat.
I don’t even remember when or where my original copy of this recipe came from. But, of course, I’ve tinkered with it quite a bit. And the original is old enough that it assumed easy availability of chocolate graham crackers. When my large grocery store didn’t have any, I felt fortunate to find a chocolate version of teddy bear graham crackers. A pleasant ‘side effect’ of using them was the touch of crunch they added to this cheesecake crust.
Making this dessert requires much more kitchen equipment than I remembered. Two mixing bowls, my food processor, a double boiler bowl, two measuring cups, two mixer blades, a spatula, and measuring spoons helped me to pull everything together. Is it worth the cleanup involved? You bet. In fact, this is one of my favorite chocolate recipes. Let me know if you agree.
Reduced Fat Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
Makes 12 servings
Safflower or mild olive oil
½ cup walnuts
¾ cup chocolate graham crackers
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 ounce bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
¾ cup sugar
12 ounces low-fat/Neufchatel cream cheese, softened
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso or coffee powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. To make the crust, combine walnuts, graham crackers, and sugar in a food processor until chopped ultrafine. Add melted butter and combine thoroughly. Press onto the pan bottom to just cover the ‘seam’ at the side.
3. Melt chocolate and set aside to cool. Beat together cream cheese and sugar. Add the melted chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Beat thoroughly.
4. In a grease-free medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Add egg whites to other batter ingredients and beat together, without overmixing.
5. Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
6. Bake until the edges of the cheesecake are slightly puffy and browned, about 25 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean. Cool on a rack until it reaches room temperature. Using a knife, carefully separate the filling from the side of the cheesecake pan. Gently remove the pan side and then chill until ready to serve.
From the moment when I first tasted Tres Leches (three milks) Cake, I was smitten. So as I 'collected' recipes to include in this chocolate blog, I couldn't resist trying out a new-to-me recipe for Chocolate Tres Leches Cake. It's important to know this isn't a typical cake in terms of texture. In fact, even after refrigeration, it remains VERY moist and even a bit like bread pudding. As with last week's post this one got its start when I found a link: https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/a36319250/chocolate-tres-leches-cake-recipe/
But those who know me personally and/or through this blog know that I rarely use a recipe the way I found it. The same holds true here. Take a look at how I made this decadent cake but found ways to change it for our tastes. Most of all, enjoy!
Here are the dry ingredients, for which I made no changes in quantities.
Although I didn't change anything about the wet batter ingredients this time around, I would reduce the amount of coffee from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, the next time that I make it.
When I combined the milks I also added about 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon - a favorite family flavor. Although I didn't reduce the amount of milks when I made this recipe a few days ago, I found myself 'pouring off' what appeared to be excess milk from the cooling cake. I believe I will reduce the quantity of milks by 1/3 to 1/2, in the future.
Here's the cooling cake.
You'll notice some 'sprinkles' on my version of this dessert. As ultra-rich as this recipe is, I decided to skip a top layer of whipped cream. Instead, I lightly sprinkled confectioner's sugar immediately on top. After that, I pulverized a small handful of bittersweet chocolate chips and then sprinkled some across the sugar. The results were still decadent and delicious!!
Chocolate 2.0: Teddy Bear Cookies
A great recipe is always worth making again and again. But a great recipe with a great history to match MUST be made again and again. Such is the case with Teddy Bear Cookies.
I discovered this no-bake recipe in the 1990s, as our daughters, Stephanie and Jessica attended elementary school. It included chocolate sandwich cookies, completely covered in melted chocolate and peanut butter chips. A cute teddy bear graham cracker topped each coated cookie.
In a few short years, the cookies became a holiday staple for our daughters and all of their friends. Despite the fact Jess never really liked peanut butter, she made an exception for this seasonal treat.
Decades later, our grown daughters weren't the only ones looking for Teddy Bear Cookies during the holiday season. Five or six years ago Steph arrived from the Kansas City airport two days before Christmas, thanks to a ride from her childhood friend, Kalissa.
After a quick hug, Kalissa headed to the kitchen. Inside a refrigerated tin she found Teddy Bear Cookies, grabbed one and smiled broadly. The next day, Natalie and Skylar picked up Jess at the airport. After a flurry of hugs in our front hall, the girls found the Teddy Bear Cookies and devoured them with the delight of small children.
The original recipe gradually evolved from semi-sweet to bittersweet chocolate chips. The cookies also showed up at a Chicago baby shower for Jessica. Then last year, our two-year-old grandson, Emmett, enjoyed his first Teddy Bear Cookie in our home, after his family moved to Kansas City.
Over many years of trial and error, I developed more efficient – and less frustrating – ways to make the cookies. Putting parchment paper atop foil (or using my newer silicone baking sheets) minimized the possibility of the warm coating sticking as it dried. And stirring the chips multiple times, as they melted together in the microwave, smoothed the texture.
I piled sandwich and teddy crackers into separate bowls, rather than grabbing new ones from the box as I made each cookie. I also learned I could completely cover several cookies in the melted chips before the coating hardened too much for teddys to stick. And the more patient I was, the more cookies I could cover in chocolatey, peanut buttery decadence.
I still occasionally refer to my fragile, yellowed recipe, but I've pretty much committed it to memory. Now, it's time to share this iconic family treat with you, too. Here's an easier way to read it:
Teddy Bear Cookies
Makes 3-4 dozen
1 1/3 cup peanut butter chips
1 1/3 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
1 box teddy bear shaped graham snack crackers
Cover tray or cookie sheet with wax paper (or silicone baking sheet). In a medium microwave-safe bowl, place peanut butter and chocolate chips, and butter.
Microwave at high for a total of 1-2 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred. Stir 2-3 times while microwaving the mixture.
With a fork, dip each cookie into mixture until completely coated. Allow excess mixture to drizzle back into the bowl, through the fork. Place coated cookies on prepared tray and top each one with a graham cracker before the coating solidifies. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set; about 30 minutes. Keep stored in refrigerator until ready to eat. If possible, allow them to 'thaw' for 15-20 minutes before eating.
I am blessed to have a large collection of paper recipes that showcase chocolate. But that doesn't stop me from adding new options to my repertoire, as I find them online. Such is the case with these Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars. Yes, I know - this post is a couple of days earlier than most of my others. But in case you need a super easy/wonderfully delicious last-minute Thanksgiving dessert, this is it.
First, you'll need to follow along via the link for the original recipe: https://spoonuniversity.com/recipe/ditch-the-reeses-for-no-bake-chocolate-peanut-butter-bars)
Here's the crust combo (above), in my kitchen. FWIW, I used natural peanut butter whose only ingredients are peanuts and salt. I love the fact this p.b. doesn't add a bit of sugar to the recipe. And I chose crunchy peanut butter, to incorporate a little more texture.
Here's the chocolate layer, coming together in the microwave. I used (and always do!) bittersweet chocolate chips, which further reduced the sugar from the levels in other chips. I suggest heating the combo in 20-30 second increments and stirring after each increment. This took me four go-arounds at around 20 seconds, each.
Spreading the chocolate layer atop the crust layer is a breeze. And once these babies are fully 'hardened' it's incredibly tough to stop at just one. Depending on how much indulgence you want in each serving. I also recommend cutting 18-24 squares.
ABOVE ALL, A VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE!!
This year's pie began with a small 'pie pumpkin' and canned pumpkin from my pantry. After I roasted and scooped out the pie pumpkin, I pureed it in the food processor with just a little water.
The result? Enough puree for a whole pumpkin pie. But I've only used a pie pumpkin once before-a long time ago. So I blended it with my canned puree and added half to the recipe. Now I've also got enough puree in my freezer to make a Pumpkin Cheesecake or Pumpkin Muffins, sometime soon.
Although I do like traditional pumpkin pie, this chocolate lover decided to create a hybrid that would cover all the bases. It turned out so well that this simple and delicious recipe later won a contest sponsored by Kansas City, Missouri Chef Jasper Mirabile, Jr., with Jasper's Italian Restaurant.
Chocolate Lover's Pumpkin Pie
Makes 12-16 servings-this is a very rich dessert!
9-inch pie crust
1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
15 ounces/1 can pumpkin puree
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips, ground fine in food processor
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crust 10 minutes while melting chocolate chips. Allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Using a pastry brush, spread half of the melted chocolate across the entire crust, including the edge.
2. Combine all other ingredients except ground chocolate chips. Fold in chocolate chips and fill the crust; it will be very full. Bake pie approximately one hour or until filling surface is slightly firm to the touch.
3. Cool one hour on wire rack and then for 1/2 hour in refrigerator. Reheat melted chocolate in double boiler. Use pastry brush to 'paint' the pie top with remaining chocolate. Cool at least 15 more minutes before serving.
Chocolate 2.0: Nanaimo Bars
I hadn’t thought about Nanaimo Bars in many years. That is, until last week, as I shared lunch with other travel writers and public relations people at a sleek, contemporary *Nashville restaurant called Roze Pony. And there they were in the bakery case-those decadent, three-layer bars full of chocolate, nuts, coconut, and creamy richness. Each bar looked to be about 3 inches long, per side.
That’s a big difference from the recommended size of a one-inch square per serving, in this recipe that Mom used decades ago. She’s still going strong, at 90, but doesn’t recall how she came upon this recipe. So, I did a little digging, myself. Turns out this decadent no-bake dessert was named after the city of Nanaimo (pronounced nuh-NYE-mo), in British Columbia, Canada, on the east side of Vancouver Island. And the bar has been a beloved staple of big celebrations there, for more than seven decades.
Since I typically tinker with recipes, I’ve been trying to decide if a little less butter might work. I don’t want to change the custard texture (#2, below) so would keep the butter there. But I think the crust might also perform well with 4 tablespoons of butter and three tablespoons of mild extra virgin olive oil or safflower oil.
See what you think of this time-honored recipe and enjoy!
½ cup butter
1/8th package unsweetened chocolate
1 egg, beaten
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding (many Canadians use custard powder, instead. It creates creamier texture & distinctive yellow color, but it’s hard to find in the U.S.)
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3-5 tablespoons milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
#1 – Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler. Add egg slowly and stir in. Add remaining ingredients and fold together. Press mixture into buttered 9 x 9 pan. Let cool and harden in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before adding #2.
#2 – Cream together butter, vanilla and pudding. Slowly add and incorporate confectioner’s sugar until well blended. Add milk slowly, as needed, to achieve thick, smooth consistency. Spread mixture on first layer. Allow to cool and harden in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
#3 – Melt chocolate chips and butter in double boiler. Spread across first two cooled layers. Add more chopped nuts as garnish, if desired.
Let cool for several hours before cutting. These bars are very rich so cut small - at least 24 bars per pan. They freeze well too.
*Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
Greetings from Nashville! No, I’m not baking in somebody else’s kitchen today. I actually baked this recipe and then took photos, several days ago, before I headed out. I had big plans to create a chocolate recipe that includes many steps, plus it would be my first time using yeast in forever (stay tuned – that recipe is still on my list)!
But after making 100+ brownies last week, for the No Kid Hungry Kansas City fall bake sale, this quick yet delicious chocolate recipe called my name, instead. Another great thing about this recipe? You can easily freeze some unfrosted muffins/cupcakes, for later use.
It’s been a long time since I made these muffins/cupcakes, and this recipe does make an ENORMOUS number of treats. Call me a little impatient, but after I filled 24 regular-sized silicone baking cups with batter and still had plenty left over, I pulled out and filled my mini muffin pans. I didn't want to wait for the large ones to bake and cool before reloading. I also iced only about half of the large muffins/cupcakes, making freezing more viable for some of these goodies.
Chocolate Muffins or Cupcakes
Makes 24+ regular size cupcakes
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup cocoa
1/3 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
2 cups (whole wheat pastry) flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup hot water
Paper or silicone baking cups
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line muffin tin with baking cups. In a mixing bowl beat together sugar, oil, and cocoa until smooth.
Add eggs, mixing well. Add sour cream, flour, baking soda and salt, beating to mix well. Add vanilla and hot water. Batter will be runny. Use a ladle to fill your baking cups.
Fill baking cups half full. Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa
1 tablespoon chocolate balsamic vinegar or chocolate liqueur
Cream together cream cheese and butter. Beat in sugar and cocoa to completely blend. Stir in balsamic and then spread on cupcakes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Chocolate 2.0: Ultra Fudge Brownies
I've been making variations of this brownie recipe for so long that I don't even remember when I first found the original version. It featured white chocolate chips in the batter with dark chips on top.
I'm not a big fan of white chocolate so, instead, I put loads of the dark stuff right in the batter. I've also reduced the amount of batter sugar, in favor of more dark chocolate bits. Here is my current Ultra Fudge Brownies recipe, just in time for National Chocolate Day (October 28) :)
Ultra Fudge Brownies
Makes 2-2 ½ dozen
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter + 3 tablespoons mild olive oil or safflower oil
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or microwave the chocolate
and butter in a large microwaveable bowl at HIGH, until butter and chocolate have completely melted).
Mix in sugar and vanilla thoroughly, and then stir in eggs, one at a time.
Incorporate flour and blend well.
Mix in chocolate chips (and nuts). Spread in greased 13 x 9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool completely before cutting.
Chocolate 2.0: Chocolate Hummus
If you’re already a fan of chocolate-nut flavored spreads, consider making this healthier version that allows you to control the amount of sugar and salt. As always, I’ve tinkered with this recipe since I encountered it in a magazine, many years ago. Although I have reduced the amount of sugar from the original, this recipe readily accommodates more, if you simply must have sweeter results.
Not planning to eat your hummus within about four days? It will freeze and thaw beautifully, for your next chocolate fix.
Makes 24 servings
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I recommend using the low salt variety)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar, with more, to taste)
3 ounces peanut butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt, with more, to taste
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder (optional)
5 to 8 tablespoons water (I used 6 tablespoons for this batch)
1. Put chickpeas, peanut butter, olive oil, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, coffee powder and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse, scraping down the sides; continue mixing until well blended. While the processor is running slowly add water by the tablespoon and check frequently until you reach the desired texture.
2. Refrigerate and use within 4-5 days and/or freeze until ready to defrost. Use as a dip/spread for toast, fruit, or graham crackers.
I've always appreciated well-made truffles. Rich flavor and soft ganache create the ultimate sweet bite. But that sweet bite is also typically full of (delicious!) saturated fat, from heavy cream. So I decided to adjust an existing truffle recipe a bit, by substituting avocado for half of the cream.
Because avocado deserves to play with spicy flavors, I also added cinnamon and chile powder to the ganache and coating powder. The results are delicious and not quite as decadent as the original. In fact, after a friend of our daughter's tasted one of these delicious treats, she asked if I would make them for the dessert buffet at her wedding. What an honor!
A word of 'warning' before you start. This is a lengthy process, including the wait time between individual steps. So set aside about three hours, find your favorite movie, and hit pause as each step begins. It's worth the effort.
Avocado Chile Pepper Truffles
Makes 18-24 truffles
3/8 cup avocado
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ cup cocoa powder
¾ tsp. ancho chile powder
1. Puree avocado in food processor. In a saucepan, combine it with cream,
chile powder, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.
Cover and let steep for one hour.
2. Reheat the mixture over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, stirring
occasionally. Pour mixture over the chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir until the
chocolate is completely melted, and the mixture is smooth.
3. Pour mixture into a shallow glass pie pan. Chill for two hours, until firm.
With a 1-inch scoop or tablespoon, scoop out chocolate and roll in the palm
of your hand to create a rough ball. Shape and place on a sheet pan covered
with wax paper. Chill for 5-10 minutes.
4. In a shallow dish, combine the coating ingredients. Roll balls in mixture
until coated, place the truffles back on the sheet pan with the wax paper.
Chill until ready to serve.
5. If chilled longer than 2 hours let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature
before serving. Store truffles in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks.
Although the calendar says this is fall, October temperatures in the Kansas City area can still fluctuate wildly, from the 40s to the upper 70s. With this crazy weather in mind, here’s a cold, sweet treat for you to enjoy on those days when you don’t even need to wear a jacket.
This inaugural blog recipe is a riff on a very old L.A. Times recipe, called Mayan Chocolate Pops. The original recipe featured espresso or espresso powder, plus two cups of half-and-half. But my husband isn't a coffee fan so I nixed that ingredient, and reduced the amount of half-and-half slightly, to help with freezing.
The L.A. Times version did include cinnamon, but I increased the amount for my cinnamon-loving family. Finally, I added chile powder, another family favorite and quite appropriate for cuisine from this part of the world. Please enjoy my:
Spiced Mexican Popsicles
Makes 6, 3-ounce servings
¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon chile powder (I use Ancho chile powder)
¾ cup sugar
1 3/4 cups half-and-half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Combine the cocoa, chile powder, cinnamon, and sugar, in a saucepan. Whisk in enough of the half-and-half to make a paste, then gradually whisk in the rest of the half-and-half. Gently bring to a boil, stirring often.
2. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature; you can pour the mixture from the hot pan into a bowl, to reduce cooling time. Then use a ladle to gently pour the mixture into and freeze in molds (I use 3-ounce Dixie cups as my molds).
3. Add wooden/popsicle sticks when mixture is slushy, after about 1 ½-2 hours. Freeze for at least two hours more, before serving.
How to Fully Experience Chocolate
As mentioned in my previous post, Gail Ambrosius (owner of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, in Madison, Wisconsin) has created an information sheet regarding how to judge every piece of chocolate that you encounter. I’ve summarized her terrific tips here:
Is the chocolate shiny or dull? Mahogany, dark brown or even black? These characteristics reflect the type of beans used to create the chocolate, plus their source and processing.
When slightly warmed between your fingers, is the aroma delicate or potent? This will give you a ‘tip’ regarding potential flavor.
Does the chocolate you are tasting ‘snap’ as you bite into it? That’s a sign of proper chocolate tempering.
About tempering: https://www.ecolechocolat.com/en/chocolate-tempering.html
As the chocolate melts on your tongue what flavors do you think of and how does that change over time? When you exhale through your nose, how does the flavor shift and linger?
Notice the chocolate texture in your mouth. Is it sandy/grainy or smooth/silky?
Chocolate Production and Climate Change
The previous post also mentioned Ambrosius’s concern about her company’s carbon footprint. To learn more about climate change and cocoa production, visit http://www.confectionerynews.com/Commodities/Climate-change-and-cocoa-Chocolate-firms-action-to-temperature-rise/?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=30-Apr-2015&c=OquP9o9q%2B29WTWa2qvZGiJTc6C3zptEU& .
Definitions Associated with Ethical Chocolate-Making
SINGLE ORIGIN CHOCOLATE: Cacao beans in a chocolate product that came from only one location, whether from the same country or the same individual property.
ORGANIC CHOCOLATE: This chocolate variety must feature certified organic ingredients, with no pesticides or genetically modified elements included.
FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED: Farmers who grow the cacao used to make chocolate receive a 'living wage'
A Little Chocolate History
Father of modern-day taxonomic plant classification, Carolus Linnaeus named cacao ‘theobroma.’ From ancient Greek, it means ‘Food of the Gods.’
Cacao is a Mayan word the Spanish colonizers of Mesoamerica retained to describe the tree and its produce. This plant grows around the world in a band spreading 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
As the nineteenth century began technology made it possible to transform chocolate into bars and other sweets. Developed by Rodolphe Lindt, his ‘conching’ technique allowed chocolatiers to create smooth melted chocolate from cacao.
Learn more chocolate history here: http://blog.oup.com/2016/07/chocolate-facts/
Dark Chocolate’s Health Benefits
A fermented edible, cacao is also considered a health-promoting super food. And this article, 7 Heart-Healthy Perks of Dark Chocolate, details how cacao:
-Prevents Heart Disease
-Powers Heart and Blood Vessel Cells
-Boosts Blood Circulation
-Calms Blood Pressure
-Lowers Stroke Risk
-Helps You Meet Cholesterol Goals
-Relieves Stress on Your Heart
It's no small honor to be listed among the top 10 sweets destinations across the nation, in Food Network magazine. But that's exactly where chocolatier, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, found her stellar dark chocolate creations, when the publication named hers the 'Best Little Box of Chocolates,' in 2010.
Ambrosius and her staff create unusual flavor combinations that have also landed this popular shop on Best of Madison lists, multiple times. She has appeared on the Today Show and on various cooking shows. Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, and Travel + Leisure have also praised Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier.
Not bad for a business that opened in 2004 and an owner who previously worked as a cartographer (mapmaker) for the state of Wisconsin. But Ambrosius only made the leap into chocolate making after she studied the art in Paris, fulfilling a decades-old dream. During a Wisconsin press trip, we sampled many of Ambrosius's dark and decadent single origin and blended chocolate truffles.
Photo courtesy of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier
Ambrosius’ inventive truffle flavors included shiitake mushrooms, which enhanced the chocolate flavor of 65 percent cacao (cacao definition). Chocolate from an heirloom cacao bean combined with lemongrass and ginger to create a smooth, seductive filling with just a little 'kick.' Sweet curry with saffron incorporated an unusual heat in one truffle, while Cinnamon/Cayenne truffles added sweet and savory spice to dark, rich chocolate.
In addition to truffles, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier crafts decadent caramels, fruit and nut-filled bars and barks, and chocolate-dipped orange peels. There is premium hot chocolate mix as well as chocolate tree frogs, or Buddhas, and Tumbled Bites – roasted Colombia espresso beans or cacao nibs enrobed in luscious Colombian dark chocolate.
During our visit, Ambrosius regaled us with stories about the warm relationships she has developed during her visits to various cacao farms, especially with Costa Rican farmers. She sources chocolate from Hawaii, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, creating a smaller carbon footprint than if she purchased it from Europe.
Photo courtesy of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier
Finally, as we tasted her truffles, Ambrosius encouraged us to experience chocolate tasting through multiple senses. To learn her tips about tasting chocolate (abbreviated from her printed info), as well as some chocolate history, stay tuned for the next Chocolate 2.0 post.
Photo courtesy of Tim Chattman.
Please note: As a travel writer, I received accommodations, entry fees, etc. while visiting this area, in advance of reviews and/or profiles. I do my best to remain impartial and offer full disclosure to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Welcome to Visual Traveler.
I love crafting stories about fantastic food & beverages, must-visit destinations & eco-friendly topics. I wrote a 350+ page book about Kansas. And I've worked with dozens of additional clients - from Fodors.com & AAA magazines to USAToday.com & WanderWithWonder.
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In summer 2021 I shut down several old blogs after retrieving some favorite posts. Then I reclaimed my favorite name - Visual Traveler.
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