Raspberry Black Pepper Champagne Cocktail

I don’t think there’s anything better than meeting up with a few friends for Sunday afternoon brunch. The idea of doing nothing but eating and chatting and drinking and eating and chatting—and did I mention drinking, yet?—is just too good of a opportunity to pass up. “Fun to be had by all. Don’t miss out,” should be Sunday’s new slogan. Perhaps you have a go-to spot for your Sunday Funday festivities. I know I do. Maybe there’s a place out there, where you’re a regular and they know you on a first name basis because you’re always there drinking. I’m not judging. I just wish I knew the name of the establishment so I can be right there drinking with you. No one should be day drinking alone, that’s my motto. You can always count on me to help out a friend. With my assistance, we’ll conquer those endless pitchers of mimosas or bloody marys. Two at a time, of course. I’m willing to take one for the team. 

I recently met up with a few friends for brunch. We sat down and I immediately scanned the “Brunch Cocktail” menu and pretended not to. “Oh, you think we should get a drink? I haven’t even looked at that section yet!” That’s pretty much how the conversation went down. It was my first time at this particular restaurant and apparently they’re most known for their mimosas (and blueberry lemonade but that didn’t have any alcohol in it so I wasn’t interested). No thank you. One of the mimosas that kept calling out to me, “Jonathan, drink me! Drink me! DRINK ME,” was a raspberry black pepper mimosa. My boyfriend and I pretty much devoured the entire pitcher ourselves (looking at our friends like where did it go?), but only after we licked off all of the black pepper and sugar that coated the edge of the glasses. Yes, our friends’ glasses as well. We sent a silent note to each other through telekinesis where we vowed to recreate the drink at home. So recreate we did. 

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Cranberry Raspberry Pavlovas

Now that the holidays are long gone, I have no excuse but to jump back into work and start making (aka eating) a bunch of new recipes. All for you, of course, because that’s the type of person that I am. I’m willing to sacrifice everything by stuffing my face, day in and day out, just so that you can have something to look at. Something new to try out in the kitchen and something to look forward to. With the new year, comes a promise to post more because I know I’ve been slacking, somewhat. But believe me it’s all for good reasons and exciting new prospects—both in my personal and professional life. I think that this year should be all about breaking out of our comfort zones in the kitchen and trying out new recipes and techniques. Let’s stop being scared of certain dishes or ingredients and just dive into a new us. That new us being fearless cooks and bakers because this year, we’re going to be the best cooks and bakers we can be.  This year, we’re going to wow our friends, family and loved ones with dishes that aren’t only delicious but look incredible as well. This year, is going to be a great year because we’re going to make it a great year.

It was difficult for me to think of the first post for the new year. Well, if I’m being completely honest, it was hard for me to jump back into work altogether. My brain was still on holiday mode and the yearning to continue doing nothing at all. Bowling, museums, movies, drives through the coast for Friday morning hikes, spontaneous homemade meals and lounging around on the couch watching movies with that special someone, makes it somewhat difficult to want to do anything else. Am I right, ladies and gentlemen? It wasn’t until I actually got back to working that I realized how much I missed it. “Welcome back, Jonathan,” I told myself. To which, I of course responded, “Thank you! It’s good to be back.”Sometimes I have conversations with myself because I’m weird like that, but we’ve already established that, haven’t we? Don’t judge.

Anyhow, enough about that. So here we are, the first post of January 2014. A dessert post at that, because I know how much you all love dessert posts. I wanted to share one of my favorite desserts with you but with a winter twist because although it might not seem like it’s winter here in Los Angeles (80+ degrees and all), I know for a fact that it feels like winter has taken over all around the midwest and east coast. It’s not a winter dessert in that it’s warm and comforting but more so about the ingredients we’re using. If you’ve ever had a fear of separating eggs and whipping the whites to make meringue, well then you’re in luck because this recipe is all about that. Let’s take a step towards that 2014 resolution we were talking about earlier. It’s time to get over that fear and conquer it like no one’s business. Like we’ve been conquering fears all our lives, and to a certain degree I guess we have been. We do it every day, even when we don’t think we are. It’s the way of life. Just like it’s the way of life for me to eat a dozen pavlovas and not feel any guilt whatsoever. Come on, let’s make some pavlovas together and then we’ll eat them all because that’s the way life wants it to be.

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Lemon Raspberry Plum Galettes

I’m going to paint you a picture here, so let’s visualize together. I want you to pretend for a second that this post has no butter or sugar in it. Take those two ingredients away, and we’re left with nothing but fruit. Healthy, unadulterated fruit. Well, if we’re getting technical, we’d also be left with flour, salt, a few almonds and some ice water, but that’s neither here nor there. That’s if we’re getting technical, which we’re not. So we’re just left with fruit. Delicious, guilt-free fruit. That isn’t so bad right? The point is that this is a healthy post. Or as healthy as it’ll get around this here parts. This isn’t a rich dessert by any means. It’s not too sweet, heavy or decadent, which is the kind of desserts my mamma loves. She tells me all the time, “Jon I really like this. It’s not super sweet, heavy or decadent, which you know I love.” Yeah I know that (because she tells me all the time) and because I don’t really like sweet desserts myself. She must get that from me. She also tells me, every time she eats anything I make, “This is why you’re my favorite son!” I have to remind her that I’m her only son, so it totally doesn’t count. I guess what I’m getting at is that you should take advantage of this sort of healthy-ish dessert while you can. They don’t come by too often but when they do, they look something like this. And if they don’t, they should.

Now I’m no fool. I’m not saying that this recipe is so healthy it will cleanse you and make you lose weight. No dessert has that sort of magical power, or else I don’t think it would be considered a dessert at that point. Don’t go around telling people that Jonathan created a healthy weight-loss dessert. Although how cool would that be? Don’t get me wrong, this is still a treat because of the butter and sugar and flour all up in it. But when you look at it in perspective to other things in life, like cookies and cakes and doughnuts and ice cream. Well this here galette is a diet drink compared to all that. So I reiterate my statement from earlier, this is a healthy dessert. I strongly believe that everything should be eaten in moderation. We should be able to eat what we want, when we want. Granted, just as long as we can control ourselves. It shouldn’t matter whether something is too rich or decadent. Don’t go into it asking, how many calories is in this? Go into it with the mindset that that you’ll enjoy just one or two small pieces and not feel guilty about it. Life is worth enjoying every now and then with a few guilty treats. When you deprive yourself from something, that’s when you want to eat it all and all at once. So if you have a small sliver of something rich and decadent that you love every now and then, you’ll learn how to have self-control because you won’t want as often. Food is too good to have a bad relationship with. We already overthink and worry too much about so many other parts of our life, like dating. Food shouldn’t be an added stress to your life on top of everything else. So that’s my two cents on the entire matter. I know you were just dying to read about it. I’ll get off my soapbox now. Arms raised in the air; union union UNION! Oh wrong demonstration.

The other day I was sitting around thinking to myself, “Self, you really need to have more fruit desserts on your blog. I’m sure people would enjoy it. Give them some variety.” So I decided to listen to myself. I’m very smart, what can I say? I took a step back from all the chocolate and peanut butter and frosting and cookies and cake, as of late, and came up with this not-too-sweet-not-too-rich-not-too-decadent dessert. Did you know that’s my mamma’s favorite kind?

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Banana Pecan Raspberry-Swirl Crumb Cake

Let’s take a moment to discuss our options. Each morning we get up—slip out of our comfy beds and our warm sheets and our loved one’s arms—with big stretches and yawns and growls that mimic those of a lazy lion in the zoo. A quick glance in the mirror only confirms this. Our hair, wild and crazy, going in all sorts of directions. Untamable, however, we proceed unfazed and without a thought in our heads, other than wanting desperately to get back into bed. Half asleep and unwilling to compromise, we find ourselves at a fork in the road. Having to make choices so early in the morning should be illegal. We can grab that boring box of cereal. The one that’s been sitting on top of our fridge for weeks getting good and stale on us, because someone left it partially opened. We can reach into that refrigerator and grab the just about expired milk—regular, soy or almond or maybe even settle for a yogurt—plain or greek infused with fruit. Perhaps we don’t have the luxury of time because we woke up late or decided to spend all our time getting ready (we have our lion selves to thank for that) knowing that our allotted breakfast eating time would suffer and diminish. So because we’re running late we proceed to reach into a box of granola bars. We fool ourselves into believing it’ll be a good enough morning meal. We get a hold of the box, grasping inside, only to come up empty handed. We make a mental note to reprimand the person who took the last bar and left the empty box in the cabinet, reminding us of yet another thing we can’t have. Spontaneity and unpredictability aren’t traits we posses this early in the morning nor do we want to, so what next?

If only we had some sort of morning pastry to cut, grab and go. Something tasty that would fit the breakfast bill. A delicious treat to eat alongside our coffee, tea or juice on our drive to work or school or whatever other activity that doesn’t occur to me at the moment. What we really need is a banana bread kind of a thing. A banana bread meets coffee cake. And if said cake happened to have a raspberry-swirl filling in the middle and a pecan crumb topping, well then, we wouldn’t be angry about that. Who are we to complain about such things? Yes, a hybrid breakfast cake slash dessert meets decadent treat is just what we need in the morning to lift our spirits up, but where do we get such a delight? Where do we come across such a marvel?

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PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jam) Cupcakes

5:50 in the early morning, 1996. The sun has just begun to rise over the rows of houses in a tiny and quiet neighborhood. Dawn is taking shape. High above—it spreads it’s light into the sky—casting with it’s descent, a colorful hue that mimics a cacophony of sound and color beyond the mountains. 6:20 in the morning. The sun has brightened and its warming rays slither through the far off distance, past the empty school, across the street. It finds its way through a white picket fence, and creeps over the trimmed lawn, painting its yellow color on the white walls of a modest family home. 6:40 in the morning. Tiny streaks of sunlight gleam through closed blinds illuminating certain areas of a disheveled and disorganized room. Remnants of a once-clean abode can still be seen beneath all the clothes, toys, and books that are thrown about littering the floor, shelves, and desk. Crowded, picture-laden, walls go undisturbed by the light that has made its way inside the unsuspected domain. As time ticks, by the light, emitting from the outside world, begins to grow stronger. It fights off the darkness within, and fills the room with a warmth that is not welcomed at this early hour. 7:00 in the morning and the alarm buzzes for the fourth time. Something stirs on the bed, and the sheets begin to rustle. Beneath the crisp bundled mounds of striped cloth lies an eight year old me awakening from a deep sleep. A tired, limp hand emerges from underneath a giant pillow, hitting the alarm clock. The buzzing sound ceases and the room is quiet once again.

7:20 in the morning. The boy dashes from the closest to the bathroom, back and forth. Rapidly brushing his teeth, combing his hair and putting on clothes, he prepares for school. The mad dash only intensifies as time slips away becoming more apparent that a tardy is in store if he does not hurry. He enters the kitchen and sees his sisters dressed and ready to go. Just waiting for him to finally make his appearance. He ignores their stares and scoffs—for the school is right across the street—and goes straight to the breakfast table where his morning fare awaits. No time to enjoy it at a reasonable pace, he practically swallows it whole without breath, without hesitation, giving off the impression that this is a daily occurrence. He has become accustomed to it. Only when stripes of maple syrup are left alone, on the plate, are they ready to depart. Ready to go to school and learn. One by one they each pick up their sacked lunches. Their names neatly written across the front brown paper, allows for no confusion as to which bag belongs to which sibling. The contents within are always the same. Expected and required. A fresh fruit, a string cheese, frosted circus animal cookies, a juice box and a delicious sandwich.

The sandwiches vary from child to child revealing that their tastes and sophisticated palates are unique to each sibling. For the girls, a turkey with swiss on wheat, no crusts and a provolone and tomato no mayo, with plenty of mustard. The boy’s is much more simple and modest in flavor. Peanut butter (crunchy) and jelly (raspberry) on whatever bread, slightly toasted. The salty and sweet sandwich give him something to look forward to among the long hours stuck in a classroom. Each day he awakens not wanting to go to school, dragging his feet as he gets ready and makes his way to the kitchen where his sisters await impatiently. The only salvation that comes his way is knowing that his lunch will always be the same. Right there on the counter waiting for him to pick it up and take it to school. Waiting to be eaten and enjoyed. Only when he walks out the door with his brown sack—”Jon” written in block letters—can he face the day. Only then is he willing to make the best of what lies ahead, PB&J in hand.

These cupcakes were inspired by that infamous PB&J of my early years in school. Flavors that mimic and recreate my childhood are paired together to construct a treat that brings us all back to the days of our youth. We begin by making the jam. Yes, the jam. You might not want to take this extra step in making your own jam, but I think you should! It’s super easy and a lot healthier. Healthier because you know all the ingredients that are going inside. Healthier because it is made without any weird preservatives or thickeners.

If you make your own jam people will look at you as if you are a master in the kitchen. It works. Let’s make jam together. I’m using two types of fresh berries for this one. Blackberries and Raspberries. Why? Because I like those two flavor profiles together. But also because they were the best looking ones at the farmer’s market that week. You can use whichever fruit you prefer or whatever is in season.

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