Grandpa John’s Flourless Chocolate Cake

WIN_20160130_121602Grandpa John likes chocolate cake. No, Grandpa John loves chocolate cake… but Grandpa John is watching his carbs. No worries. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we love a good baking challenge!

This cake was inspired by the Chocolate Heaven Cake posted at Suspecting that Grandpa John’s sweet tooth was just a bit stronger, I used dark chocolate chips with a lower cacao content to cut the bitter undertones. I also added a bit of almond extract and peanut butter, because we love peanut butter around here!


10 oz bag of dark chocolate chips (53% cacao)

3/4 cup real butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 eggs

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon sugar or other sweetener (I used stevia crystals)

1/4 cup “real” creamy peanut butter (not hydrogenated)


Step 1) Melt chocolate chips and butter together in a large skillet over low heat (you’ll be glad you used a LARGE skillet later). Stir constantly to avoid burning the chocolate.

Step 2) Once chocolate is melted and mixture is completely smooth, remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Step 5) In a separate bowl, whip together eggs, whipping cream, and sweetener on high for 5 minutes. The mixture will fluff up very slightly and will turn a pretty lemon yellow color.

Step 5) After the egg mixture is beaten, your chocolate mixture will have cooled enough to proceed. Stir your extracts into the chocolate mixture.

Step 6) Take your time here… slowly fold the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Add about 1/4 of the egg mixture at a time, carefully whisking everything together before adding more egg mixture. Aren’t you glad you used your larger skillet now?

Step 7) Once your batter is thoroughly mixed (you shouldn’t see any streaks of egg), carefully pour your mixture into a well greased baking dish. I’m using a 9 inch Springform pan, but a pie pan ought to work just as well.

WIN_20160130_103911Step 8) Spoon peanut butter into a snack size bag and snip off one corner of the bag as shown above. Use this homemade pastry bag to draw a design with peanut butter onto your chocolate cake batter.

Step 9) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until set.

This cake slices easiest when very cold. Enjoy!WIN_20160130_121719

No-Fuss Jambalaya

WIN_20160126_191619Jambalaya originated in the bayou region of the American South, a one-pot creation offered up by Cajun cooks with whatever ingredients they had on hand. Creole cooks in the New Orleans region add tomatoes to this dish, which add color and depth of flavor. This is peasant food, and like all peasant food, it’s as flexible as it is delicious. Don’t be precious about the ingredients… if you don’t have something handy, do as a good Cajun cook would, and substitute!

Whether you’re cooking up a pot of Jambalaya as part of a Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras celebration, or just looking for a way to use up some leftover meat on a random Tuesday night, you’re sure to love this dish!

WIN_20160126_180715Ingredients (Makes 1 big ol’ pot, plenty for friends!)

1 tablespoon butter

2 stalks of celery, sliced 1/3 inch thick

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced green pepper

2 cups diced tomatoes and juice (fresh or canned)

4 cups chicken broth

3 cups uncooked rice

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (more if desired)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dried, crushed thyme

1 teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon file powder (optional; also called sassafras “gumbo” powder)

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or red cayenne pepper)

2 cups cooked, sliced sausage (Andouille sausage or whatever you prefer)

2 cups cooked chicken (shredded, cubed, whatever you prefer)

2 cups cooked shrimp


Step 1) In a large pot, saute celery, garlic, and onion in butter until onion is soft.

Step 2) Add green pepper, tomatoes, chicken broth, rice, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and spices. Stir. Bring to a boil.

Step 3) Reduce heat and cover the pot. Gently simmer until liquid is almost all absorbed and rice is cooked, approximately 15 – 20 minutes. CHECK the rice after 10 minutes, and again after 20 minutes. If liquid is mostly absorbed before rice is cooked, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of additional broth or water. Jambalaya is “mostly dry” when finished – the rice should be a little bit saucy, but not drowning in liquid like soup.

Step 4) When rice is tender, gently fold in the sausage, chicken, and shrimp. Serve Jambalaya hot and enjoy with friends!


Free Book Giveaway ends SOON!

[2/2/16 Update: Congratulations to Louise Reyna, winner of this giveaway contest!]

lemon cakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

Contest Ends January 31st

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Enter as many times as you’d like before January 31st!


“My mouth – always so active, alert – could now generally identify forty of fifty states in the product or meat I ate. I had taken to tracking those more distant elements on my plate, and each night, at dinner, a U.S. map would float up in my mind as I chewed and I’d use it to follow the nuances in the parsley sprig, the orange wedge, and the baked potato to Florida, California, and Kansas, respectively. I could sometimes trace eggs to the county” (p. 95).

As a child, I loved reading The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling. To me, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the grown-up, quirky distant cousin of a childhood favorite. Instead of a greedy little boy who learns it really is possible to have too much of a good thing when everything he touches turns to chocolate, Aimee Bender offers us Rose Edelstein, a precocious little girl with a most unusual and unfortunate gift. To Rose’s great dismay, she learns she can taste emotions cooked and baked into her food.

Rose’s peculiar and unshakable ability might be tolerable if she weren’t surrounded by such an odd cast of characters. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story, would it? Instead, Rose lives with a detached and clueless father, a melancholy and secretive mother, and an older brother who blends into the background most extraordinarily well. Rose finds grains of sanity in her friendship with Eliza, whose mother can be relied upon to cook happy tasting food, and her unlikely alliance with George, the surprisingly normal friend of her very strange brother.

In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender accomplishes the extraordinary… she gives her food characters the same depth and development as many fiction authors give their human characters. The textures, flavors, scents, kitchen environment, and baker of Rose’s favorite lemon cake are described in several pages of detail, and lemon cake is just one food of many to receive such grand attention to detail. Foodies and fiction aficionados alike will enjoy this eccentric tale.

Here is a link to purchase this book online:  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Seafood Enchiladas

WIN_20160123_132223This recipe begins with precooked seafood, and is surprisingly quick and easy to prepare. Grab a few ingredients on your lunch break, and you can have a fancy dinner tonight in less than 30 minutes!

WIN_20160123_130528Ingredients (Makes 16 enchiladas)

16 flour tortillas (10 inch diameter)

1 pound cooked shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails removed)

1 pound cooked, flaked fish or imitation crab

4 ounces cooked bay scallops

1 cup corn kernels

1/2 cup diced green and/or red bell pepper

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1 1/2 cups red enchilada sauce, divided

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided (use more if desired)

For the top sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon mild chili powder (or use hot chili powder if desired)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1 cup sour cream


Step 1) Combine cooked shrimp, fish, scallops, corn, bell pepper, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of enchilada sauce and 1 cup of Monterey Jack cheese. Mix well. This is your seafood enchilada filling.

WIN_20160123_130506Step 2) Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and chili powder. Stir constantly over medium heat for three minutes, to form a roux-style base for your top sauce. Reduce heat to low; whisk in milk and salt. Stir in sour cream. Remove from heat. This is your top sauce.

Step 3) Add approximately 1/2 cup of seafood enchilada filling to the center of each tortilla. Fold tortilla in thirds, keeping the filling in the center, and place enchiladas folded sides down on a baking sheet.

Step 4) Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the tops of your seafood enchiladas with the remaining red enchilada sauce. Place a heaping teaspoon of top sauce on top of each enchilada. Spread top sauce over the length of each enchilada using the back of a spoon. Finally, sprinkle the remaining cup (or more) of Monterey Jack cheese over the tops of your enchiladas.

Step 5) Bake enchiladas in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the cheese on top of the enchiladas is melted and bubbly. Enjoy your seafood enchiladas!

Great Grandma’s Baked Beans

WIN_20160105_180014I’ve had this recipe for almost 20 years, but this is the first time I’ve prepared it myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Great Grandma’s Baked Beans, but rather, the recipe is such a classic that a big Nesco of these Baked Beans reliably pop up at big family gatherings brought by someone else. I’ve come to associate Great Grandma’s Baked Beans with summer cookouts, paper plates, and conversations with first- and second-cousins. Like all recipes which begin with dry beans, this recipe takes time. However, that doesn’t mean it’s complicated! I hope you’ll give them a try.

WIN_20160105_111349Ingredients (feeds a crowd)

2 pounds (1 quart) dry white Northern beans

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

10 tablespoons molasses

1 pound bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces*

1 tablespoon dry mustard

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce


*Great Grandma used a whole pound of bacon, but I only used 1/2 pound. Also, I cut the pieces smaller.


Step 1) Soak dry white Northern beans in water overnight. They will expand a LOT! Place your beans in a 3-quart bowl or larger, and cover with several inches of water.

Step 2) The next day, drain the beans and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Cover beans with boiling water and let stand for 5 minutes.

Step 3) Drain the beans again and transfer them to a large pot. Cover with fresh water and simmer (don’t boil) for 15 minutes. Drain the beans one last time, and transfer them to a Nesco or other large slow-cooker.

Step 4) Add all remaining ingredients to the Nesco, and cover the beans with water. I added approximately 6 cups of water.

Step 5) Bake in the Nesco or other slow-cooker at 300 degrees or “high” (if your slow cooker only has “low” and “high” settings) for 4 to 5 hours, or until beans are very soft. Add more water as needed so that beans don’t get dry. I added approximately 2 cups of water after 3 hours of cooking, and allowed the beans to cook for 5 hours total.

Step 6) Enjoy with paper plates, family, and friends!



Vanilla Pear Bread


Vanilla Pear Bread is a light colored quick bread with a subtle, vanilla laced flavor. For me, this recipe offers a refreshing change from the more common zucchini breads and pumpkin breads. Like it’s more common cousins, Vanilla Pear Bread makes a lovely gift to wrap in foil and deliver to a neighbor or old friend. Give it a try – bake a loaf for someone you haven’t seen in a while, drop by, and say “Hello.” Happy Baking!

WIN_20160104_114918Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 cup canned pears, pureed

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/3 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Step 1) Puree one cup of canned pears (such as Vanilla Spice Pears) until it looks like chunky applesauce.

Step 2) In a large bowl, whisk together pureed pears, sugar, eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla extract.

Step 3) Combine all remaining dry ingredients and add, a little at a time, to the wet ingredients. Mix well.

Step 4) Transfer batter to a greased bread pan. Bake your Vanilla Pear Bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Get-Well-Soon Chicken Soup


This is a classic recipe without any weird ingredients. It’s a perfect soup to ladle into quart-size containers and leave on the doorsteps of loved ones who are either fighting an illness or just need a little rest and relaxation. I recommend delivering this soup with a loaf of homemade bread. Alternatively, consider adding rice or noodles just before serving.

WIN_20160104_094311Ingredients (Makes 1 big pot)

1 rotisserie chicken

2 quarts water

1 tablespoon butter

6 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick *SAVE PEELS!

3 celery ribs, leaves included, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/2 large onion, peeled and diced *SAVE PEELS!

1 large potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1 cup green beans, sliced into 1 inch pieces *SAVE TRIMMED ENDS!

1 cup firmly packed, sliced greens (such as spinach or chard)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt


Step 1) Pull apart rotisserie chicken. Shred meat into bite size pieces, cover, and refrigerate.

Step 2) Place bones and skin in a large pot along with carrot peels, onion peels, and green bean ends. Add 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for one hour.

Step 3) In a second large pot, sauté onion in butter. After 5 minutes,

Step 4) Pour contents of pot through a strainer, catching the liquid in the second pot with the onion and butter. Voila! Free chicken broth! Discard strained bones, etc. and keep the broth.

Step 5) Add carrots, celery, beans, and potatoes to the pot of strained broth. Simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender – check after 10 minutes. [Side note: using small pieces of potato instead of larger chunks will also help to thicken your soup a bit.]

Step 6) Add shredded chicken and sliced greens to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Don’t get carried away with the salt… it’s easier to add more than it is to take it back! Heat through and serve with your favorite bread.


Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese

WIN_20160106_180537Mac ‘n Cheese is the ultimate Midwestern American comfort food. If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we have a big old foodie crush on Paris… but not even Paris does Mac ‘n Cheese as well as the American Midwest. We’ve been experimenting with recipes for Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese for a while, working to create a recipe that just simply doesn’t need to be improved any further. This is it. Enjoy!

WIN_20160106_170048Ingredients (Fills a deep dish pie plate)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/3 cup light cottage cheese

1/4 cup light sour cream

1/2 teaspoon sweet curry powder

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound box of medium shells or macaroni noodles


Step 1) Pour chicken stock into a large saute pan and boil for 10 minutes or until reduced until only about 1/2 cup of liquid remains. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Step 2) Add shells or macaroni to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until al dente, or just a bit chewy – don’t overcook! Drain when al dente is reached.

Step 3) While pasta is cooking, add mild cheddar, Monterey Jack, and sharp cheddar cheeses to the saute pan with the reduced chicken stock. Heat on a low setting, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted.

Step 4) After shells or macaroni are cooked and drained, add the cottage cheese, sour cream, and curry powder to the melted cheese mixture. Stir over low heat until thoroughly blended.

Step 5) Combine the cooked, drained noodles and the cheese mixture. Stir until noodles are evenly coated, and transfer the mixture to a greased deep dish pie plate or casserole dish. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Step 6) Cover with foil and bake your Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese in a preheated 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve immediately with a fresh green salad.

Easy Chocolate Fondue


This chocolate fondue requires only three ingredients – what could be easier? While a fondue pot works wonderfully, it isn’t essential. A double boiler or even a small saucepan can work just as well (use a low heat, to avoid scorching). Try chocolate fondue for your next party, movie night, or stay-at-home date!

WIN_20160101_200024Ingredients (Serves 6)

1 pound milk chocolate

1 cup half-and-half

2 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur

Treats for dipping (marshmallows, pretzel sticks, and strawberries work well)


Step 1) Combine chocolate and half-and-half in a fondue pot (or top of a double boiler). Melt over low heat, stirring constantly.

Step 2) Just before serving, stir in Irish cream liqueur. Enjoy!



Cranberry Cheese Ball

1231151714aIt’s football season, and this Cranberry Cheese Ball would make a perfect halftime snack! This recipe is easy to make, easy to transport to your next party, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. You can even make a Cranberry Cheese Ball ahead of time. This will keep in your refrigerator for several days. Alternatively, you can freeze it for several weeks. It will thaw nicely if left in the fridge for 24 hours.

Ingredients (Makes 1 large Cranberry Cheese Ball)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup finely chopped scallions

1/3 cup finely chopped fennel (or substitute celery)

1/3 cup chopped nuts (hazelnuts and walnuts work well)


Combine all ingredients except chopped nuts; mix well. Shape into a ball (or a log shape, if you prefer). Roll in chopped nuts. Wrap Cranberry Cheese Ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. To serve, allow Cranberry Cheese Ball to come to room temperature. Serve on a platter surrounded by crackers.


Brandied Raisin Pumpkin Bread


Brandied Raisin Pumpkin Bread is an easy to make quick bread (meaning it does not contain yeast) perfect for sharing with friends. I like to make several loaves at a time and deliver them fresh from the oven! This bread also freezes well, and is tasty in bagged lunches.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

2 cups flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup all natural applesauce

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons brandy

1/3 cup raisins


Step 1) Place raisins and brandy in a microwave safe container. Microwave, loosely covered, for about 30 seconds or until brandy is hot. Leave covered and allow to cool. This will plump up the raisins and infuse them with brandy flavor.

Step 2) Whisk together eggs, pumpkin, and sugars. Add milk, oil, applesauce, and spices.

Step 3) Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. When flour is fully incorporated, fold in brandy-soaked raisins (add everything; don’t drain the raisins).

Step 4) Transfer batter to a greased bread pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

BBQ Potato Soup

WIN_20160103_110443Hot. Soothing. Simple.

Whether you’re nursing a winter cold or simply trying to avoid one, BBQ Potato Soup makes a lovely lunch or simple supper. This soup is delicious all by itself, but if you’d like to dress it up a bit, try sprinkling with sharp cheddar cheese and pairing with crusty French bread. Happy Winter!

Ingredients (Makes 2 hearty dinner portions)

3 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 onion, peeled and quartered

3 cups pork stock or beef stock (I like pork stock)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

pinch dry mustard


Step 1) Combine onion, potato, and stock in a medium size pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and simmer until potatoes are very tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Step 2) Remove from heat, remove cover, and allow to cool for five minutes.

Step 3) Add remaining ingredients to the pot and carefully puree with an immersion blender. Serve immediately.

Three Recipes in One: Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

An oldie but a goodie, because this weather is perfect for baking!

Crowded Earth Kitchen


Yes, I’m giving you sugary goodness two posts in a row. The cold weather has addled my brain… I’ll make up for it next week.  For now, we’re going to make seriously fabulous Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins using homemade Cranberry Pumpkin Sauce and homemade Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting.  The Cranberry Pumpkin Sauce is delicious on its own… Half-Pint calls it “Pie Sauce” and will clean up his toys for a dish of this as a reward.  The Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting, well, if you just eat it with graham crackers or a spoon, who am I to judge?  Let’s get started!

WIN_20150122_210432Cranberry Pumpkin Muffin Ingredients (Makes about 15 muffins)

1 cup Cranberry Pumpkin Sauce (see below)

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt


Step 1) Whisk together first five…

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Marmalade Glazed Pork Tenderloin


When you can find it on sale for a reasonable price, pork tenderloin is a wonderful cut of meat. Lean, tender, and juicy, pork tenderloin needs nothing more than a tasty glaze and a hot oven to star in a dinner fit for company. Be sure to let the roasted pork rest under a loose cover of aluminum foil for 10 minutes before serving – don’t skip the last step, below! This keeps the pork juicy even after slicing.


Orange Marmalade

Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

1 pork tenderloin, approximately 1 pound

1 orange or lemon, sliced thin

1/4 cup orange marmalade

2 tablespoons white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Step 1) Whisk together marmalade and wine. Set aside.

Step 2) Line a baking pan with shallow sides with citrus slices. Place pork tenderloin on top of slices. (In the photo shown, I’ve doubled the recipe and used two pork tenderloins.)

Step 3) Sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper. Use a basting brush to coat tenderloin with half of the marmalade mixture.

Step 4) Roast tenderloin in a preheated 425 degree oven for 30 minutes, brushing with remaining marmalade mixture after 15 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer to make sure that the internal temperature of the pork has reached 160 degrees. If it hasn’t, return pork to oven and check again after 3 – 5 minutes.

Step 5) Remove from oven and cover with foil for 10 minutes before slicing and serving your Marmalade Glazed Pork Tenderloin.

Pilar’s Spinach Noodle Casserole


If you don’t have a friend like Pilar, you don’t know what you’re missing! Pilar is the type of girlfriend with whom you can have a serious, soul-searching conversation one day, and know she’ll never break a confidence. The very next day, you might find Pilar wearing a tiara while mixing blue cocktails never-before-enjoyed by anyone over the age of 21 (and somehow, she won’t look ridiculous). Pilar keeps her friends guessing – and laughing – and isn’t that what makes life fun? This is Pilar’s Spinach Noodle Casserole recipe. Like Pilar, it is fabulous. Enjoy!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

8 ounce package of frozen spinach

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

8 ounces of wide egg noodles, cooked

8 ounces sour cream

1 pound container of cottage cheese

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon tarragon

salt and pepper to taste

bread crumbs and parmesan cheese to garnish


Step 1) Sauté onion and garlic in butter until golden. Add frozen spinach and cook until thawed. Allow excess liquid to cook off of spinach mixture.

Step 2) Add nutmeg, tarragon, salt and pepper to spinach mixture and stir well. [Note: I substituted herbes de provence for the tarragon because it’s what I had on hand, and this recipe still turned out lovely.]

Step 3) Add spinach mixture, sour cream, and cottage cheese to the cooked noodles. Stir gently and ladle into a greased casserole dish.

Step 4) Sprinkle with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. As Pilar says, “Bake at 350 degrees until golden, eat until you are full.” I baked this Spinach Noodle Casserole for approximately 20 minutes.


Pilar’s Spinach Noodle Casserole