It's Margarita Time! Secret Recipe Club Reveal Goes Caribbean

Margarita Cheesecake Bars | Taking On Magazines | | Put cheesecake together with the word margarita and one fantastic dessert is born!

You must excuse me while I bask in the glow. I’m sure it’s snowing somewhere; maybe there where you are? It’s not by me. Life is about sunshine and warm breezes here. Sand, gentle surf and, of course, margaritas.

Am I in the Bahamas, you ask. What sandy shore is my lily-white winter body gracing? Actually, none. I’m plopped smack dab in the middle of Keep It Sweet thanks to the Secret Recipe Club.

Yes, Lauren (she’s the one who runs Keep It Sweet) and I are enjoying the sun from under a large umbrella that’s owned by this marvelous club. A place where people like me are given the name of  a different food blog every month. It’s a secret. Lauren didn’t know she’s be joining me until just now. We wander through the person’s blog and look for a dish that speaks to us; then we make it. I love this club.

I spent a long time wandering through Keep It Sweet before I settled here in the tropics. It was hard to decide where to go with all the incredible treats that were there to look at. Even though Lauren focuses on sweets, I’m so, so grateful that there’s a lot more than chocolate offered up.

There were so many mentions of pumpkin (yum), white chocolate (bigger yum) and finally cheesecake (holy cow yum) that I didn’t know what to do. Until I saw the Margarita Cheesecake Bars.

Heaven help me, in the midst of this season of peppermint, gingerbread and chocolate, I wanted a dessert that was light, fresh and whimsical. I wanted summer on a plate. So, I had to head to the tropics so I could have my cake and eat it too.

Care to join me?

The Process

While the oven is heating, combine some crushed lady fingers with vanilla wafers, sugar, salt and melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased baking dish. Once the oven is hot, bake the crust for a few minutes.

Cream the cream cheese until its nice and fluffy, then add sweetened condensed milk, eggs, flour and lime juice. When it’s all incorporated properly, pour it over the crust and bake. That’s it!

The Verdict

This is definitely the tropics in a pan. It has a light, fresh citrus flavor while still letting all the creaminess that is cheesecake shine through. I like the crust for this a lot. It’s probably awesome with Lauren’s pretzels, but since I didn’t have any, I used lady fingers and vanilla wafers instead. I added a touch of salt since a margarita ain’t nuthin without the salt.

Dudette didn’t get to try these. They are, after all, alcohol-related and she’s only five. Hubby and I enjoyed them immensely though.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I had considered adding the zest of a lime to bump up the citrus flavor, but didn’t. Next time I make these I will add the zest.

It's Margarita Time! Secret Recipe Club Reveal Goes Caribbean
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
adapted from Keep It Sweet
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 18 bars
  • ¾ cup Vienna Finger (or vanilla sandwich cookie of choice) crumbs (about 6 cookies)
  • ¾ cup vanilla wafer crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 8-ounce blocks light cream cheese, softened
  • ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice (~2 limes)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine Vienna finger crumbs, vanilla wafer crumbs, butter, sugar and salt. Press crust mixture into prepared baking pan and bake for 7 minutes, or until lightly browned; set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on high for a few minutes until creamy. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until creamy and incorporated. Beat in the eggs, lime juice and vanilla. Stir in flour.
  4. Pour cheesecake mixture over crust and bake for 25 minutes or until firm and edges are separating from pan.
I had considered adding the zest of a lime to bump up the citrus flavor, but didn't. Next time I make these I will add the zest.

Blueberry-Zucchini Bread

Blueberry-Zucchini Bread | Taking On Magazines | | By far the family's most favorite quick bread, this delicious treat was just made for summer.

Would you like to know the best part of this bread? The zucchini and blueberries are fresh picked. Shortly before these berries became bread, they were hanging on heavy-laden bushes just begging for someone to come along and set them free. I was so happy to oblige.

Going through my bookmarked recipes, I came across one for Blueberry-Zucchini Bread that looked perfect for my fresh bounty. There will be plenty of zucchini showing up on my doorstep this summer, I’m sure, and this recipe will get plenty of use over the next few months because it’s fantastic and because it’s easy to make.

The Process

If you like to start by prepping everything first (which is what I do), grate two cups of zucchini and measure out a cup of blueberries. The recipe also calls for a cup of chopped walnuts, but since Dudette doesn’t care for cooked nuts, I left them out. You’ll also need to grease and flour two bread pans.

First off, mix together all the dry ingredient; flour, salt, baking soda and powder and ground cinnamon. In a bigger bowl, combine eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and sugar. Once that’s done, mix the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until combined. This batter is very thick so be ready for that.

Add the zucchini and blueberries (and nuts if you’re using them), fold in carefully but complete and then pour the batter into the two pans. Put them in the oven and bake for 40-60 minutes. It took my breads the full 60 minutes to cook fully.

The Verdict

Dudette’s spidey senses alerted her to the fact that there was zucchini in the bread and she wanted nothing to do with it. Hubby and I both fell in love with it. If you remember, last summer I shared my favorite zucchini bread recipe. That’s not it anymore. This is. We’ve done serious damage to both loaves and I don’t think they’ll last through tomorrow. It’s that good. It’s a good thing I still have more zucchini and blueberries.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

Nothing. But as the summer winds down and the supply of zucchini wanes, I will make many, many loaves and freeze them for winter days when I want to remember how wonderful summer and its produce bounties are.

The Recipe

Blueberry-Zucchini Bread
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (I do half whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (can substitute ½ applesauce for ½ cup oil)
  • 2¼ cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts - optional
  1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon. In a different, large bowl, beat the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar. In batches, add the sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat until well blended. Carefully fold in the zucchini, blueberries and nuts until fully incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  3. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.


Recipe Theft: Caramel Pots de Crème from CaffeIna

The most dangerous thing that someone who has come to terms with their aversion to chocolate can do is to befriend someone who bakes well and also dislikes the brown stuff. Why? Because they know all the recipes that don’t use chocolate and will end up liking another amazing confection. Maybe even caramel. Maybe as much as I love caramel.

This is true of the woman who is behind a blog called CaffeIna.Her name is Sara and she’s a redhead and Italian. When Hubby teases me about being born in France and having a Belgian mother but still not liking chocolate, I point to Sara. She doesn’t like it either. And she’s Italian. I am justified.

 The title of this recipe as seen on the CaffeIna blog is, “Satisfying My Caramel Cravings with Caramel Pots de Crème.” When I was looking through my reading list and saw that title, I groaned because I know the feeling. Caramel is my chocolate. Instead of bookmarking the page like I normally do, I just hit print and put it in the kitchen, knowing I’d be making it sooner than later.

Yesterday ended up being sooner. I was in there anyhow baking other things for the group that comes over every Saturday night so it made sense to add one more pot to to the stack in the sink. Plus, I had seen a container of whipping cream in the fridge that I knew needed to get used up and I had extra egg yolks from another dish waiting to be used. All the planets were aligned.

And aligned they remained right up until the point where I took the whipping cream container out and realized that there wasn’t even a quarter cup in there. The half and half container yielded another half cup but I still remained 1 1/4 cups short of some sort of heavy cream.

I know how to swear in four languages, Italian not being one of them. I went through at least three as I expressed my frustration and then proceeded with the dessert, supplementing 2% Lactaid milk for the missing cream. Fingers were crossed.

The sugar/water mixture is heated to a nice dark amber color and then the hot milk (I’m not going to mention the fact that I let the milk boil over by mistake) is poured into the mixture VERY carefully. Sara mentions that it will bubble a lot at the beginning. She’s serious. It bubbles a lot. Be ready, take it easy, and take it slow.

After the two hot liquids are fully incorporated, whisk them into the egg yolks, starting with a little at a time so the yolks don’t cook and make solids. Pass them through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and refrigerate. I got to that point an things were looking good. Could this actually work with 2% milk? I was hoping.

This is when the oven needs to be cranked up. Once the caramel cream is fully cooled, it gets ladled into ramekins and baked (you’ll have to visit CaffeIna to see the method). When the baking is done, refrigerate overnight. I had the ramekins on a rack late last night and Hubby walked through, asking when they’d be cooled enough to eat. He was a bit disgruntled to learn that he’d have to wait a day (he got over it).

Fast forward to this afternoon and our return home from church and lunch. I took out a ramekin and grated a little very, very milky chocolate on top (the darker, the grosser). And took a bite. Wanting to get a second opinion before I wrote and weighed in, I took the custard down to Hubby in his man cave and asked him what he thought. “It’s good,” he said without thinking after the first bite. Then he took a second and said, “Wow. It’s really good.”

“I’m not getting that back, am I?” I asked as I watched my dessert disappear. “The only problem I can see,” he replied, “is that this little dish is just a teaser. Where’s the rest.” I went back upstairs and got out another ramekin, settling down to enjoy it in peace and quiet.

This is the best caramel custard I’ve ever had in my life. It is silky, smooth, even sensual. The flavor is perfect; caramely and sweet without being cloying or overpowering. I was in heaven and savored every single bite. I will serve this as dessert for my next dinner party, which means I need to plan one soon so I can have it again.

My friends, if I can use 2% Lactaid and boil it over and still have this dish turn out as heavenly as it did, anyone can make it. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that the name of the dessert is foreign and has an accent mark over it. All that means is that you’re supposed to clear your throat when you say “crème.” Head to CaffeIna’s site, print the recipe and make it. You’ll be very happy you did, trust me.

Tell Sara I sent you.

Another Stolen Recipe: Steamed Zebra Cake

Once again I was cruising through other blogs, bookmarking some, commenting on all, reading lots and I landed on Indonesian in Turkey. I know nothing about ElCitra other than the fact that I have an awful lot of the recipe pages bookmarked. The minute I saw the Steamed Zebra Cake I was in love and incredibly curious. A steamed cake? Never heard of such a thing.

Of course, that meant that I had to try it. What better time to do that than when expecting a dozen or so friends over for a nice sedate New Year’s get together. They already know to come expecting some kind of culinary experiment on the table.

Even stranger than the fact that this cake is steamed is that it contains no egg yolks or butter. Do you see this cake? It’s fluffy, moist, beautiful. No butter. It’s not even New Year’s yet. The recipe is very straightforward. About ten egg whites get beaten until stiff along with sugar, salt, lemon juice and vanilla (the recipe calls for powdered vanilla, which I’m assuming is available in Turkey; I used a teaspoon of vanilla extract that I whipped up with the egg whites).

A mixture of flour and baking powder is folded into the thick egg white mixture, then olive oil. If you have it, go without the extra virgin version since that has a stronger flavor than regular pressed olive oil. Once the flour and oil are incorporated, separate the “dough” in half. Add cocoa powder to one half and mix it in well.

Once all that is done, the two batters get poured into a cake pan in alternating layers. If you look at the difference between my cake and ElCitra’s, you’ll see the confidence in preparation there as opposed to my more careful layering. The original version is so much more cool and zebra stripish than mine (just wait til I make it again though).

The last step is to steam the cake. This was my main concern since I don’t have a cake steamer or know what one is. I tried to find a good picture or video on google but came up empty (I was also rushed for time), so I punted. I have a very large high-sided skillet with a nice domed lid. I put an inch or so of water in it and a round steamer tray from my pressure cooker in the bottom. If you don’t have that, metal cookie cutters would work just as well. You just need something that keeps the cake out of the water but allows the water to come up about an inch or so.

The cake went on the tray, the lid went on and the skillet simmered for 15 minutes. I inserted a toothpick, which came out clean so I took the cake out and let it sit on a rack for about 10 minutes and then inverted it onto a plate, at which time I saw that the bottom of the cake was absolutely raw and liquidy. “Huh,” I said, causing Hubby to depart the room rapidly. He knows that “huh” is rarely a good thing.

The beauty of this cake is that I couldn’t mess it up. I put the cake back in the pan, liquidy side up, put the pan back in the skillet and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. When I removed the cake, I re-inverted it so the top was showing and the now-cooked bottom was definitely on the bottom and breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s an incredibly cool cake. I love the fact that the oven’s not used at all. I love the spongy texture (Dudette calls it squishy). All three of us loved the flavor. This is definitely a keeper.

Head over to Indonesian In Turkey and get the recipe for the Steamed Zebra Cake. Tell ElCitra that I sent you.

Stolen Recipe: Mini Sticky Toffee Puddings

I have a thing for gooeyness. It negates my neutral feelings for desserts (meaning that I can usually take or leave them). Add alcohol to the gooeyness and I’m in heaven. If magazines wanted to cater just to me, they’d include a lot of breakfast dishes, tons of grilling ideas and a host of trifles, bread puddings, things with caramel and the like.

But, they don’t do this. In fact, they never call, write or knock on my door to check on my ideas before printing their issues. So, I wander around the blogosphere looking at other blogs, bookmarking things I like and plan to make sometime in the future. Every once in a while I come across something that doesn’t get made so much in the future as NOW. The Mini Sticky Toffee Puddings from Gingerbread Bagels is one of those things. Lindsey, who makes the delicious desserts on this blog posted the little muffins on December 1. I was able to wait all of two days (I made them yesterday) before I had to give them a go. I had to.

Lindsey originally saw the recipe on Martha Stewart and adapted it to her liking, which suits me fine. I did a few things differently, not because I thought I had a better way, but because necessity demanded it. For instance, I didn’t have any dates so I used raisins. I don’t know how the cupcakes taste with dates, but they’re awesome with raisins.

I only had one mini-muffin tin (which I stole from Dudette’s little baking set), so I couldn’t pour the sauce in the bottom of the tins and let the muffins sit in them for 10 minutes. Since I had to keep using the pan for another round of muffins, I would put the ones that were done in a square pan and just pour the sauce all over them. They sat in it for 10 minutes and then got put on a rack set on parchment. There wasn’t much drippage though; those little guys soaked up a lot of the toffee goodness. Did I mention that they have brandy in them?

I ate three before they had a chance to hit the rack (that’s the danger of making mini-things). This morning I found out that they’re also really good with coffee and make an awesome breakfast. Dudette didn’t care for them (which is a good things since they have brandy in them) but Hubby said he could eat ten or so and enjoy getting sloshed (which wouldn’t happen since the alcohol is cooked out, but I’ll let him have his fantasy).

Head on over to Gingerbread Bagels and check out these Mini Sticky Toffee Puddings. Unlike me, Lindsey includes step-by-step pictures of the process and is a much better photographer. Tell her I said hi.