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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spicy little numbers..



I thought a chocolate cookie with a touch of spice would add a little kick to this year's holiday collection..I found this recipe on Savour-Fare which apparently is originally from Martha Stewart. Be careful about overcooking these...my cookies turned out a bit on the hard side while the description said they should be soft and chewy. Also, I was out of chili powder due to a recent chili cook-off at work (no, I didn't win), so I decided to go with some cayenne pepper instead. Fresh out of the oven, I felt like I could really taste the cayenne pepper but the spicy bite seemed to mellow the next day (in other words, don't be afraid of the cayenne).

Aztec Chocolate Cookies

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Hershey's cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup sugar

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, spices and cocoa powder; set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add honey and vanilla.

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 tablespoon of boiling water (I am not really clear on the significance of this step but I did it anyway).

Add 1/2 of flour mixture to butter/sugar mixture. Beat in dissolved baking soda, followed by the rest of the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll dough into 2 inch balls, roll in sugar and place on prepared baking sheet. Using the bottom of a clean glass, slightly flatten the cookies before putting in the oven.

Bake 18-20 minutes or until surfaces crack slightly (note: my surfaces didn't really "crack" which is how I ended up over cooking them. I would recommend cooking 15-18 minutes and then checking to see if the tops of the cookies look done.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 2011 Holiday Cookie Collection...



I tried to shake it up a bit this year...although nothing is really crazy unusual, I still ventured a bit off my selections. This year's cookies are:

Recipes to follow....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sticky Buns for a Sweet Morning Treat


I have been looking forward to making sticky buns for a long time. I love sticky buns but I haven't had any for some time since they are a bit of a rarity in LA. Doing a quick google search revealed that sticky buns seem to be another Philadelphia/Pennsylvania Dutch specialty...I had no idea!

For those that have never had sticky buns, they are most definitely NOT the same thing as cinnamon rolls. A cinnamon roll is pastry, rolled up with cinnamon and sugar and covered with confectioner sugar icing. A sticky bun is actually a bread base, drenched in a butter and brown sugar (some recipes also use molasses) with either raisins, nuts or both. Sure, both are delicious but they are very different.

The best sticky buns I have ever had came from Mallon's in Avalon, NJ. These buns were so fresh and doughy, that they actually made the top of my mouth ache....but they were also so mouth watering delicious, I couldn't stop eating them. I haven't been back to Avalon in a few years but I dream about those buns! Sure, Mallon's will ship anywhere in the country, but fresh out of the oven is the way to go...so I had to make my own. Below is the simple, tried and true recipe my mom has used over the years. This recipe is actually more of a monkey bread style than rolled up buns, but it's the buttery, sugary topping that matters!

NOTE: these taste best the day you make them...the next day, they will still be sweet and gooey, but the dough won't melt in your mouth the way it does when they are fresh out of the oven.

Sticky Buns
1 bag of Rich's Frozen dough balls
1 box butterscotch pudding (not instant)
1 cup of brown sugar
2 sticks of butter
Raisins (optional)
Nuts (optional...I used pecans)

Grease bundt pn. On bottom of greased pan, sprinkle raisins and nuts to cover pan.

Arrange frozen balls on bottom of pan. Arranging one on top of each other until you finish all of the dough balls.

Sprinkle the box of Butterscotch pudding to cover balls.

Cover pan with towel overnight. Next morning, melt butter with brown sugar. Pour mixture over buns.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Let the buns rest in the pan for a minute or 2 and then invert onto a large plate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Surviving the move!

As I stated in a previous post, we recently moved. Moving was so much easier as a college student with just a bed and clothes...I love being an adult with nice furniture, but it sure does make moving a bigger (and more expensive) chore.

One of the hardest things for me to deal with was not being able to cook at home since everything was in an upheaval. But in temporary situations like getting the kitchen remodeled or moving, you do the best you can. One of the restaurants that helped get us through our move week was All About the Bread, a sandwich shop located on Melrose. The angle they are promoting is that the basis of any great sandwich is the bread. Their "artisan, handcrafted" bread is a nice chewy sour dough, hearty enough to support all the good stuff they pile on top...

The first time we tried their sandwiches was back in the summer when we were headed to the Hollywood Bowl. For this outing, I opted for the Caprese (heirloom tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and sun dried tomato dressing). After parking and schlepping up the hill to our seats, we were plenty hungry. Eating in darkness is a bit of a leap of faith, relying only on your sense of smell and taste. The first bite of the Caprese was an explosion of fresh tomato and mozzarella on a slightly (appropriately) chewy roll. A tomato and mozz sandwich can be pretty wet, but the bread staunchly supported the sandwich contents to the end.

On one of our move nights (and there were a few), we got a large Godfather sandwich and split it. The Godfather is an Italian meat and cheese sub (Spicy Capocollo, Mortadella, Prosciutto di Parma, Ham, Genoa Salami and Provolone) loaded up with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and hot peppers. The default condiments are mustard, vegan mayo and Italian dressing; we passed on the mayo. In the future, I would pass on the mustard as well...it's just not necessary with all of the flavors that are currently going on. The artisan bread easily held this masterpiece together as it had the Caprese months earlier. I am looking forward to trying a meatball sandwich next time....

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dutch Baby Disappointment


For the uninitiated, Dutch Baby is a type of German pancake. Although individual sized pancakes can be made, the term Dutch Baby generally refers to one big puff pancake made in the oven. The "Dutch" part is a nod to it's Pennsylvania Dutch roots...which, or course, refers to immigrants from Germany and Switzerland who settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. "Dutch", when used in the Pennsylvania Dutch context, is actually a bastardization of the word "deutsch"....hence, the German connection explained.

Growing up in PA, I have been privy to Pennsylvania Dutch treats for some time...Shoofly Pie? Homemade jams? Check and check...but the Dutch Baby slipped by my radar somehow. According to legend, the idea of making one single big pancake started at a cafe in Seattle called Manca's Cafe. The Dutch Baby entered my universe via an email I received from America's Test Kitchen. In classic Kristen style, I followed the recipe directions very loosely...and of course, ended up with questionable results. My main beef with this recipe is that I expected something like a huge light and fluffy pancake...and my end result was eggy, dense and doughy. It puffed up in the oven while baking but then fell as soon as I took it out. I think my big mistake was using an electric mixer to mix the ingredients...I think I over mixed. My husband said he liked it....but I think he was being polite. If anyone is interested in giving the recipe a whirl, it can be found here at Cook's Country. I think I need to order a Dutch Baby at a restaurant to get a proper sense on how it's supposed to turn out before I attempt to make one again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting into the Halloween spirit








Unfortunately, it's been a while since I have posted...but I have good excuse: we moved! So, pretty much the entire month of October flew by with out much baking, creative cooking, etc. It's really hard to cook at home while you are in such a major transition. In the upcoming days, I am going to post a list of favorite restaurants that helped us survive the whole moving experience. For now, however, I wanted to share some of the great Halloween decorations we found walking around discovering our new neighborhood.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

No weep, no fail

I had some left over lemon curd (store bought) from the cake I made for Victor's birthday, so I decided to take another stab at making a "homemade" lemon meringue. Saying this was a homemade pie is quite a stretch being that I used jarred lemon curd and a pre-made Keebler low-fat graham cracker crust...but the meringue was truly made with my own two hands.

My last attempt at lemon meringue pie was a few years ago. That pie looked great fresh out of the oven, but the meringue split and "weeped" after it cooled. So, mastering the meringue was really the goal this outing....via the wonders of Google, I found "Mama's No Weep, No Fail Lemon Meringue pie" recipe. The meringue turned out beautiful, light and airy, never split and never weeped! Given the success I had with the meringue, I will need to try Mama's full recipe for curd and crust!


No Weep, No Fail Meringue
adapted from Experienceproject.com

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
3 egg whites
6 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, mix cornstarch and cold water. Add the boiling water, constantly stirring until thick. Set mixture asided.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks start to form. Add cooled cornstarch mixture, beating until stiff. Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Add vanilla.

Gently spread meringue over lemon curd, sealing the pie completely at the edges. Bake for 15-20 minutes until meringue is browned/toasted as desired.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A re-creation with mixed results

The last few years, Victor has wanted the jello poke cake as his birthday cake. I have tried a few variations, even making my own strawberry jello once (so refreshing!) but I wanted to switch it up. He agreed to a lemon cake...lemon mousse, lemon filling, so many choices! I decided to try to re-create the lemon curd cake we had from the Night Kitchen in Chestnut Hill (Philly suburb): yellow cake, lemon curd and cream cheese icing. Of course, I tried to make my own lemon curd and of course, it didn't quite work out. The curd's consistency seemed pretty good when I took it off the stove top but once it cooled, the butter separated out and become a thick lemon butter layer with a way-too-liquidy lemon juice trapped underneath. Deciding I didn't have the time or patience to try it again, I bought a jar of pre-made curd at the grocery store which I put between the layers and on top of a yellow cake. The rest of the cake was covered in a homemade cream cheese buttercream frosting which got a little droopy as you can see in the lower right of the picture above. Below is the cream cheese buttercream frosting recipe I used. Usually, if a frosting is too loose, you just add more powdered sugar, but that just wasn't helping in this case. The next time I make a cream cheese frosting, I will decrease the butter to about 5 tablespoons. If you are not going to try to pipe the frosting, this recipe will work, but if you want to do any trimming or anything, the frosting needs to be firmed up.

Overall, the cake was moist and refreshing despite it's somewhat lackluster appearance. NOTE: Due to the cream cheese and lemon curd, it's important to keep this cake refrigerated.

Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Simply Recipes

8 oz of cream cheese
8 oz unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups of powdered sugar

Combine cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla. Slowing add in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired spreading consistency is reached.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another recipe for left over bananas...

I feel like I am always dealing with leftover bananas! Once those bananas get a certain number of brown spots on them, you just know that no one is going to touch them. I found this Peanut Butter Banana Bread recipe on Cooking Light. The batter was easy enough to whip up and the bread smelled amazing while baking in the oven. The bread had a nice moist consistency with a nice balance of the banana and peanut butter...a bit dense but no more than other banana breads. Even someone like my mom, who is not the biggest peanut butter fan, would enjoy this. I opted to skip the glaze since I feel a good banana bread should be able to stand on it's own...and once you put a glaze on it, it becomes a little harder to wrap up for storage.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
adapted from Cooking Light

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup vanilla fat-free yogurt (original recipe calls for plain but I used what I had)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (I used Jif Creamy Natural)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar (granulated)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice (I used Chinese Five spice since I didn't have allspice, I'm sure pumpkin pie spice would work as well)
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted peanuts
Olive Oil cooking spray (Trader Joe's has a good one)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x5 loaf pan with olive oil cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine first 5 ingredients and beat with mixer. Add white and brown sugar and mix until well blended.

Combine all dry ingredients in a small bowl and then add dry ingredients to wet banana/yogurt/peanut butter/butter/egg mixture. Stir in nuts and then pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 60-65 minutes or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove bread from pan and allow to cool on cooling rack.
Enjoy!




Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Dogs Rule at "Real" Food Festival




Victor and I attended the Eat Real Food Festival here in Los Angeles this past weekend. It was a beautiful sunny July day which brought out a nice crowd of Los Angeleans mindful of what they consume. The festival had all of the things that you would expect:
  • beverages sweetened without corn syrup
  • cooking/jarring/pickling demonstrations
  • bales of hay to lounge around on
  • a few chickens and a pig
The event was a combination of vendor stalls selling their artisan wares (Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen hot sauce, P.O.P's corn syrup free nut brittle, Marge's Bakery's sweet treats are a few that stood out to me) as well as a bevy of food trucks (Nom Nom, The Hungry Nomad and Me So Hungry to name a few).

While the eats varied from sliders to sushi to banh mi, we decided on some hormone and nitrate free hot dogs from the Let's Be Frank truck. The hot dog we tried was a combination of beef and pork...nice level of spice in the meat, generously sized dog on a fresh, soft bun. I typically feel the smell of a hot dog is more appealing to me than the taste but the Let's Be Frank dog delivered on both smell and taste....definitely a dog I would seek out again which would not be difficult since they are parked at the Helm's Bakery location Wednesday through Sunday 11:30 to 3:30 (4:30 on the weekends).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Culinary Delights....Squirrel Style!




Typically I concentrate on human treats but today I wanted to highlight what apparently is a culinary delight for a squirrel: my carnation plant. This little guy has been visiting our patio for the last few weeks and slowly destroying my plant. I caught him taking a nibble here on Thursday...after these pictures he took off. I didn't clean up his mess off the table thinking maybe he would came back on Friday to eat the loose stuff...apparently, I overestimated the tidiness of my little squirrely friend. He did indeed return on Friday while I was work, but rather than eat the stuff he left on the table, he decided to go hog wild on the rest of the plant. Below is what I found when I got home from work....looks like he quite the TGIF party!


Monday, July 4, 2011

The various treats that convey "Independence"!



I am a sucker for seasonal themed foods. 4th of July easily conjures up thoughts of burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, maybe some apple pie or a berry crumble...but what I am referring to here as "seasonal foods" are those 4th of July themed cookies at grocery store. "Patriotic" cookies if you will. Nothing says Happy Birthday America like red, white and blue sugar cookies, right? They are the quickest way to convey "I didn't have time to do some more unique or homemade, I am not too cool to be caught up in the excitement of the holiday so I grabbed a six pack of Pacifico and these cookies". And when you bring these treats to a BBQ, no one goes crazy with the compliments saying "ohhh, thanks! I was hoping someone would bring these cookies that I saw in every store for past week or so"...BUT everyone is eating one or grabbing a few on their way out by the end of the party. So, if you are short on time, don't be ashamed, just grab that hard to open plastic tray of cookies in the market and get the party started!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hmmmmm....Hummingbird cake!

Victor and I hit up the Magnolia Bakery on Beverly Blvd here in LA a few weeks ago and they had a Hummingbird cupcake. Honestly, until we walked into Magnolia, I had never heard of Hummingbird cake (not sure how I missed this?). Apparently it is a southern creation that dates all the way back to....1978 when Helen Wiser's recipe won the Favorite Cake Award at the Kentucky State Fair! At least that is what my "extensive" internet research is showing. It is a banana, pineapple and pecan cake typically served with a cream cheese frosting. Magnolia's Hummingbird cupcake was moist and full of banana and pineapple flavor. I would not describe the cake as dense, but it was not the lightest either....it was more the consistency of banana bread. Actually, it reminded me of my friend Alex's carrot cake since she adds crushed pineapple to her recipe. Next time I have some overripe bananas on hand, I am going to try my hand at making my own hummingbird cake.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sweets from The Sweets Truck

About once or twice a week, some of LA's trendy food trucks make their way down to my office. The Buttermilk Truck comes quite often...but I confess I have never tried them. My co-workers had described their food as "good but not exactly good for you"...I try to eat a good healthy breakfast Monday through Friday , so I have been unable to bring myself to order red velvet chocolate chip pancake bites on a Tuesday morning.
Last week, The Sweets Truck rolled into the area. Basically, they are a mobile bake shop selling the sweet wares of some independent bakers. They also serve up some fancy coffee drinks. I was a little weirded out on the coffee thing due to the mobile nature of their operation (where does the water come from? how do they clean the pot before making a fresh batch?). I am sure the truck has all of these little issues worked out but it just wasn't for me. However, I decided to get some things that Victor and I could enjoy for dessert that night. I got the S'mores Chocolate Ganache Cookie Sandwich (pictured above on the left) and a red velvet cupcake from Auntie Em's (pictured on the right).
  • The chocolate chip cookie part of the cookie sandwich was average; the most memorable part of this treat was the rubberiness of the marshmallow...and I mean "memorable" as in I remember I wasn't impressed and probably would never buy another one of these cookie sandwiches. Maybe it was a bad choice of flavor on my part but at $3 a pop, I probably won't bother to try another flavor.
  • The Auntie Em's cupcake on the other hand was super moist and delicious. I had read some positive reviews online about their cupcakes when they first opened (the yelp reviews are pretty mixed now) but it seems like every time we are in Eaglerock, the store is already closed (8 am - 7 pm M to F, 8 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday). Although tasty, the presentation was a bit underwhelming. That may sound harsh, but if you are going to charge $3.50 for a cupcake, which is what some professional bakeries are charging these days, you need to compete visually on that level as well. If your goal is an authentic "homemade" look, then maybe alter the price down to $2.50 or $2. On Auntie Em's website, it appears they have small ($1.25), medium ($2.50) and large size ($3.50) cupcakes...The Sweets Truck only had one size which I paid $3.50 for so I am assuming the truck was carrying the large size.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Applesauce oatmeal mini muffins

I made an apple pie this past weekend to use up a ready-made pie crust. Since I only had one crust, I made a quick crumb topping for the top of the pie....which left me with about a cup of leftover crumb topping! Not wanting the crumb topping to go to waste, I whipped up the applesauce oatmeal mini muffins you see above (based on a recipe I found on SparkRecipes). They are low calorie (due to the oats) and low fat (only fat in them in is in the crumb topping). Super moist with a nice apple cinnamon flavor, they were a breeze to pull together. It's crazy how the oats virtually disappear into the muffin...the oats are there bringing all their oat goodness but you are not biting into pieces of rolled oats. Victor and I have been eating them as a little post breakfast treat all week!

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins - adapted from SparkRecipes
Crumb topping
1 cup of flour
1 cup of brown sugar
3 generous tablespoons of butter, soften

Mix flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter to make crumbs. The mixture will be crumbly without being overly buttery....of course you can add a little more butter if you choose but this amount was fine with me.

Muffins
Soak 1 cup of rolled oats in 1 cup of milk for 1 hour (I used non-fat organic milk)
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sweetened applesauce with cinnamon (you could use regular applesauce, I just happen to always buy applesauce which already has cinnamon in it since I LOVE cinnamon)
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (you could use table salt but I used sea salt)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Spray 2 mini muffin pans with olive oil spray and set aside.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
Mix the applesauce and egg whites into the milk/oats and then add to the dry ingredients, mix by hand until just combined.
Spoon batter into mini-muffin pan, top generously with crumb topping.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack.

Yields about 30 or so mini muffins.




Monday, May 16, 2011

Chico's Tacos: An El Paso institution

Chico's Tacos is a local El Paso fast-food style restaurant which has been around since July 4, 1953. While there are a few other items on the menu (hot dogs, french fries and I am pretty sure I saw beef stew listed), the most popular item by far is the tacos (rolled and beef only). They come in a single (3 tacos) or double order (6 tacos), covered a thin soup-like mild tomato sauce and about a 1/2 to a cup of shredded American cheese and spicy green salsa on the side (which still had some bubbles along the edges like it had been poured fresh out of the blender). The double order was like $1.33 or something crazy like that... But are they good? While I have had better quality tacos for sure, I like them for what they are. As you see in the picture above, the tacos come in a little red and white cardboard boat and are served with a pretty ineffectual plastic fork. Stab a taco in the middle with the fork as soon as you get your order and the fork will inevitably bend or break. I try to slide the fork in the side and lift the taco to get bite...the key with this approach is not to drop the taco and splash sauce everywhere (which I have done). I rarely can get enough cheese on my taco as I am eating, so I end up eating forkfuls of cheese at the end and promising myself that I will stop after one more bite. One guy on Yelp recommended picking up the boat and drinking the sauce at the end...while tempting, I can't bring myself to that though as you can see the residual grease in the sauce from the now consumed tacos. While I know the tacos are probably cooked by throwing them in the deep frier, they don't taste overly greasy....although the tomato sauce is probably masking that.

My impression from conversations with folks is that everyone in El Paso has had the tacos and likes them against their better judgement. When you say that you just went to Chico's, people give you this look like "Aww...I wish I just went as well but I am watching my weight/sodium intake/etc". The yelp reviews are split pretty dramatically: people love or hate them. Seems like the Yelp haters are primarily out-of-towners who heard the hype, had their expectations too high and were disappointed. Go in there thinking this is a comfort food treat and I think you will really enjoy the experience. Oh....you should know: they may have some secret addictive ingredient in them because the day after I have the tacos, I am thinking about them again and craving more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nothing says Easter like chocolatey, coconut goodness

When I asked my brother what type of cookies he would like for Easter he simply said chocolate...which provided me with much flexibility. I selected Sunset Magazine's Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clusters. These cookies were a breeze to make and had a rich chocolatey flavor. Between the chocolate and the coconut, they are pretty sweet, but the macadamia works perfectly to offset the sugar overload. As is par for the course, I messed up the recipe the first time round: instead of melting the butter and chocolate together, I melted the chocolate by itself and creamed the butter with the sugar. It all ends up in the same bowl, so no harm done. Creaming the butter with the sugar is a pretty common, basic step in the cookie dough making world, hence an easy mistake to make. I did melt the butter with the chocolate on the second batch I made and there was no discernible difference in final product. Note that for the mixed in chocolate chips and coconut, I used semi-sweet mini chips and grated (not long shreds) sweetened coconut. I found this worked better than big chips and big shreds of coconut.

The other cookies in the photo are sugar cookies with royal icing and white sanding sugar. I had intended to roll out the cookies to make bunny and egg cutouts, but the dough simply would not roll; it kept cracking and falling apart. The dough was just too dry. With no other options, I just rolled the dough into balls and then pressed them down with the bottom of a glass.

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clusters (adapted from Sunset Magazine)
8 oz of chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup of butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted roasted macadamia nuts
1 cup grated sweetened coconut

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a heat proof bowl, melt chocolate and butter together over simmering to boiling water until smooth. When completely melted and smooth, remove bowl from heat and let cool 15 minutes or so.

With an electric mixer, mix sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add in melted chocolate/butter mixture. Add in flour and baking powder until just combined (don't over beat). Stir in chocolate chips, coconut and macadamia nuts.

Drop 1 tablespoon at a time onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake until edges are firm but middles are soft about 10 minutes or so (I went about 12 minutes in my oven). Remove from oven and let sit approximately 5 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to wire rack.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Low Fat Banana Soda Bread


I saw this other ("other" simply meaning not the one I always make) Irish Soda Bread recipe on Food.com that had all these glowing reviews. What intrigued me was that the recipe did not call for butter or buttermilk...which is what I believed made the recipe I learned in Camp Fire Girls so great. I went out and bought a pint of sour cream to make this soda bread....but on the same day I decided to try the recipe, I stumbled onto a low fat beef stroganoff recipe which also needed sour cream. I wanted to make both recipes but I was going to end up 8 ounces short on sour cream and I did not want to make another trip to the store (gas prices are outrageous right now!). So, I compromised and substituted 8 oz of sour cream in the soda bread with 1 medium overripe mashed banana resulting in......low fat banana soda bread! The first day, the banana flavor really wasn't apparent but on the second day onward, the banana flavor started to come through. The bread baked up really nicely and made a huge loaf but to me was missing that little something that butter brings to the table. Would I make it again? Sure, if I have some left over sour cream that I am trying use up...but for my yearly 3/17 Irish Soda Bread, I am going to stick with my buttermilk based recipe.

Low Fat Banana Soda Bread (adapted from Rosie's Irish Soda Bread on Food.com)
3 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces low fat sour cream
1 medium mashed banana
2 eggs
About 1 cup of raisins

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray (I use Trader Joe Olive Oil spray) and set aside.
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and then add in sour cream and mashed banana.
Stir egg mixture into the dry ingredients (batter will be thick). Add in raisins...turn into prepared pan and using your hands, form into a mound (flour your hands a little if the dough is too sticky). Using a knife, press a cross into the top of the loaf and then place in oven.
Back for about 45-50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake



Seems I am always making something to use up something else. This a result of my upbringing to minimize waste I suppose and I totally see it as a good thing. It's like this grand cosmic linking of ingredients. The ricotta for the lasagna leads to ricotta pie with mini chips which were leftover from making Rice Krispie Treats. Overripe bananas leads to banana scones using the wheat pastry flour purchased for the triple ginger cookies. Buttermilk leftover from Irish Soda Bread leads to buttermilk pancakes and now a blueberry buttermilk cake....

Buttermilk is such a great ingredient. It's really versatile. It can be a great addition to cakes, cookies, biscuits, marinating meat, etc. After making buttermilk pancakes and waffles, non-buttermilk versions just seem to lack any flavor. So, I was looking for a cake or cupcake recipe utilizing some buttermilk and found no shortage of options! Although a buttermilk enhanced chocolate cake with buttercream icing sounds decadent, I was seeking something a little healthier. This recipe utilizes fruit to bring the sweetness rather than icing which appealed to me. The original recipe I found on Epicuious used raspberries but I wanted a more straightforward sweetness rather than the sweet/tart you get with raspberries. I was really excited about how great this cake turned out: light, fruity with a little bit of a crispy crust on top. Victor and I topped with a dollop of whipped cream but it is good on it's on as well.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake (adapted from Raspberry Buttermilk Cake on Epicurious)
1 cup of flour (all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk (shake to make sure it's combined)
2/3 cup sugar + about 2 tablespoons for dusting over the top of the cake
Approx 4-5 oz of fresh blueberries (rinsed and dried).

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in vanilla and egg.
Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk in 3 separate batches mixing until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and scatter berries on top. Finally, sprinkle with reserved sugar.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until top of cake is golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool on wire rack.






Bananas for scones



I have been on a scone kick since the end of January...sampling them from various bakeries as well as whipping up my own at home. This latest batch was initiated by one lone overly rip banana. Sure, it's common to make banana bread with overripe bananas, but most recipes call for 2-3 bananas. My goal was to fine a recipe that only utilized 1 banana and perhaps some buttermilk which I am trying to use up before it goes bad. Using a few different recipes for inspiration (but mostly one on Food.com), I came with the below concoction. These were a little dense but had a nice nutty flavor. To be honest, the banana flavor was a little weak but I think the banana was being overpowered by all the walnuts. I put in 1/2 cup but would scale back to 1/4 cup in the future. I hesitate to suggest adding more bananas because that may make the dough too wet.

In a nutshell, these were just ok. Definitely a nutty, healthy taste to them but I don't think they would appeal to everyone.

Banana Walnut Buttermilk Scones
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons cold butter
4 tablespoon buttermilk (well shaken)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 small-medium overripe banana
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and ginger. Cut in the butter, rubbing it in with your fingerstips.

In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture. Add mashed banana and chopped walnuts.

Form into a round 1/2 inch thick disc and then cut into 4 sections.

Bake on parchment paper lined cookie sheet for approximately 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The 2011 Soda Bread


My husband loves when I make Irish Soda Bread...truth be told, he seems to take a liking to anything made with buttermilk. However, I only seem to think of making Soda Bread around St. Paddy's day. There is no good explanation for this (the ingredients are always available) except that I tend to forget how good it is! The recipe for the Bread pictured can be found here. I am going to try a new recipe in a day or two just to switch it up a bit...stay tuned!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Braised cabbage



My mom introduced me to this Braised Cabbage recipe back in January that she found on The Nourishing Gourmet (the above pics before and after cooking). She served it with some chicken made in white wine (I don't have that recipe yet). The cabbage, carrots and onions were so tender, slightly sweet and melted in your mouth. I bought a head of cabbage about a week ago in anticipation of making some corn beef and cabbage for St. Paddy's day....but alas, I could not find any corn beef! I saw some in the store the week before the 17th, but it was pretty expensive so I was waiting for it go on sale....seems that the sale must have come and gone without me knowing. No worries, there are a zillion things you can do with cabbage (one of my recent favorites being throwing it into a stir fry but I think Victor was getting tired of that).

I ended up serving this with some chicken and potatoes.

Braised Cabbage (adapted from The Nourishing Gourmet)
1 medium head of green cabbage
2 large carrots
1 large yellow onion
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes

Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with some non-stick spray (I use Trader Joe's Olive Oil spray).

After rinsing and taking off some of the outer leaves, cut the cabbage into 8 wedges and arrange them in the baking dish. Cut up the carrots into rounds and sprinkle around the cabbage wedges. Cut up the onion and sprinkle over the cabbage and carrots (how large you leave the onions is really up to you but since they are going to be slow cooked, they will have a nice sweetness, so I would slice them rather than dice). Drizzle the chicken stock and olive oil over all of the ingredients. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove foil and let bake an additional 15 minutes to allow the veggies to brown a tiny bit.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A lil' Irish Treat!


Rather then make the old shamrock cutouts this year, I decided on Bailey's Irish Cream Chocolate Chip cookies. I found the recipe on Cooks.com. Note that the cookie uses cake flour instead of All Purpose. I too used cake flour...I know, I know, when do I typically follow a recipe completely, right? I had some on hand from a previous sponge cake recipe. Otherwise, I probably would have used All Purpose Flour. The cake flour gave the cookie a really fine crumb which worked well with the coconut and pecans.

I mixed the batter up after work one night with the intention of actually baking them the next day..but I did bake up a test batch of about 6 cookies immediately. Although the original recipe indicated that an ungreased cookie sheet would be fine, my test batch stuck a bit, so I used parchment paper when I baked the rest of the cookies.


Bailey's Irish Cream Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Cooks.com)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients in medium sized bowl and set aside. In a separate, larger bowl, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg. Add in Bailey's and Vanilla. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Stir in coconut, chocolate chips and pecans.

Drop cookies (about 1 tablespoon in size) onto parchment covered cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes (if you want them a bit browner, go for 12 minutes). When cookies are done, remove from oven and cool on wire rack.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Butter cookies...good for the heart!




Everyone tends to have their own specialty dish. I have written previous posts about my mom's Almond Crescents, my Aunt Anne's mini-cheesecakes, my Grandmom's fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches...well, 2 dishes that my Aunt Janet is known for are pineapple stuffing (which I will post closer to Easter) and her amazing butter cookies. She makes these cookies every Christmas. They are crisp buttery goodness. At first glance, one might assume it's just another sugar cookie, but once you take a bite and that buttery flavor melts in your mouth, you know there's a little something special going on....

There are two notable things about this recipe: one, you mix everything with your hands! This means perfectly mixed batter and not a lot of clean up (I am not a big fan of recipes that require a ton of gadgets, bowls, etc). Two, the recipe makes a TON of cookies (11-12 dozen). So, it's a great cookie to make at the holidays, along with your other family favorites, to round out the packages you are sending to friends and loved ones.

I made these cookies for a Valentine's Day treat using my Wilton cookie gun. Anyone that has used the cookie gun can tell you that it's a great concept but all batters do not work well in the gun....this butter cookie batter, however, worked perfectly.

Butter Cookies
1 lb Butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs beaten
4 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar with hands. Add eggs, flour, vanilla and baking powder. Continue to mix with hands. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet approximately 2 inches apart.
Bake 15 - 20 minutes or until edges start to brown.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mo's Smoked Gouda Dip


The El Segundo Whole Foods has this fabulous product called Mo's Smoked Gouda Dip. Victor and I think it's limited to that store as we have looked for it at other Whole Foods to no avail. The package pictured above is the Mild but they also produce a spicy version as well (which I prefer...I didn't know that I had picked up the mild until I got home). The dip is made up of chopped gouda, mayo, cream cheese, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and black pepper. Smoked gouda itself has an interesting flavor. I would describe as a mild to semi-sharp cheese with a smoked flavor and creamy texture. The green onions, jalapenos and black pepper add some kick while the the cream cheese and mayo provide a hint of sourness in addition to acting as a binding agent to make it a proper dip. Since the dip has a lot of flavors going on, we serve it with plain crackers or homemade tostadas (which is sticking out of the dip in the top picture). At $10.99 a pound, this is not something we buy every week...but it is a good weekend treat. I am going to try to make my own version in a few weeks....

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Science of the scone

Before I went to work, I decided to make scones with left over sour cream I had on hand. I settled on cranberry orange scones since I also had some cranberries in the freezer from Thanksgiving. I let the cranberries thaw overnight which was mistake #1: they were very moist and some were soggy (I should also mention, the majority of the recipes that I saw called for dried fruit, but I was sure fresh fruit would add better flavor). The cranberries were also super tart and somewhat large. I couldn't see how biting into one of these things in my scones would be a pleasant experience. I considered throwing the cranberries in the food processor and then allowing them to drain for a bit, but frankly, I didn't have that kind of time since I need to be at work around 9ish. At the last minute, I decided to switch from cranberries to blueberries since they were smaller and sweeter. The blueberries were also frozen, so I took them out of the freezer, ran them under cold water and let them drain until I was ready to throw them into the mix....but apparently I did not drain them enough (mistake #2). As soon as I added them, my mixture went from the right consistency to a wet doughy mess. I added a little more flour which helped a bit but there was no way I could get the dough rolled out to cut into triangles...hence the mini-blob loaves you see above.

My results were tasty: a nice tang from the orange zest and sour cream balanced with the sweetness from the blueberries and cinnamon sugar. I doubt my creation qualified as a scone...they were too moist. They were like some sort of mini sour cream breakfast bread. So, apparently the science of the perfect scone has to do with keeping the dough on the dry side...more experimentation at a later date!

Sour Cream Blueberry Orange Breakfast Sweet Bread (poorly adapted from a Sour Cream Cranberry Orange Scone recipe on Big Oven)

1/2 cup frozen blueberries (they recommended coating the fruit in a mixture of flour and sugar...a step I sadly skipped)
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 cups flour
6 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream)
1 egg

Topping
Little bit of milk to brush on top
Cinnamon Sugar

Preheat oven to 400
Mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into the flour mixture until crumbly (I used my fingertips a bit to sort of work the butter in).
Stir in the orange zest and blueberries (again, this is where things fell apart for me...I would try dried blueberries next time).
Turn out on to floured board. Form into 6 round mini-loaves or, if dry enough, roll out and cut into triangles.

Brush a little milk on each scone and sprinkle some cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.



Saturday, February 5, 2011

Malbec the wine, not the band

A friend of ours gave us a bottle of McKenzie-Mueller Malbec over the holidays which we just consumed the other night. Let me say, I enjoy wine, but I am not very knowledgeable in the wine department....I get very excited when I meet someone who knows what they are talking about and can make good recommendations as I am interested in expanding my understanding of wine. I had never had Malbec before. Apparently Malbec is a specific variety of purple grape and is one of the six types of grapes allowed in red Bordeaux wine. It is frequently used in blends due to the deep, inky red color and intense flavor the grape produces. While originally grown in France, it was introduced to Argentina in 1868. While the acreage of Malbec appears to be decreasing in France currently, it is increasing in Argentina and the US (mainly California but also a number of other states).

The McKenzie-Mueller winery is located in Napa Valley. The (empty) 2006 Malbec pictured above had a rich color and an accessible, full bodied flavor with hints of berries and spice and a smooth finish. Priced at about $30-35 a bottle, I felt the wine delivered quality for the price.

How did I come up with this assessment being the novice wine drinker that I am? Well, I could tell this was a nice wine from the first sip. In my limited experience, the more expensive the wine, the smoother the finish but I could never articulate that until my research today. Thank you Wikipedia Glossary of Wine Terms and Zerbrafish.

Oh, there is an LA based band called Malbec as well. Seems they have had some songs on various soundtracks (One Tree Hill, My Best Friend's Girl). Not bad either....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The family business



When I was a kid and my world was very small, I knew of 2 bakeries: Eiselen's and Roma's. Since we never shopped at Roma's, I thought Eiselen's was the best bakery in the world. Just walking through the front door, my mouth started to water at the sight of the cookies and danish in the cases combined with the smell of the cakes baking in the kitchen. Even if we weren't buying anything, I stopped in to soak up the environment. I wanted to work there. I wasn't concerned at that point in my life about how much bakers pulled in annually, or how much time they spent on their feet...the sweet smells and beautiful colored baked goods was all I was concerned about.

I never did end up working there at Eiselen's. I learned early on that waitressing was a bit more lucrative than working retail. I moved away from the area, so despite the fond memories, I haven't been in the shop for years. My sister forwarded me an article today written by Dana Eiselen, daughter of the owner. It seems the future of the shop is uncertain as the owner's kids are looking at careers outside of baking. It's a good read. I think the owner spoke very eloquently about how people love the flavors that have become familiar to them over the years.

Philly has a fair amount of family run bakeries, probably more than most cities these days. The cookies pictured above, which we picked up over the holidays, are from Isgro's bakery in South Philly. These family businesses provide you with a little slice of local flavor...you might love their stuff from the first bite, you might grow to love it or maybe just you eat it because it reminds you of home. My point is, when you are about to buy that Cinnamon Chip scone at Starbucks or drive to Krispy Kreme, take a second to see if there are any mom and pop shops around and sample their goods instead. You might just discover something wonderful!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Easy but satisfying weeknight soup

Soup rocks no matter what time of year it is but when the temps are low, a steaming bowl of soup is the order of the day. This is a great homemade (sort of) soup that can easily be made on a weeknight.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of chopped garlic
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 - 20 oz can of College Inn Chicken Broth
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1 bag of frozen cheese tortellinis
1 cup of fresh or frozen chopped spinach
1 can cannellini (white kidney) beans
Fresh shredded Parmesan

In a soup pot, saute garlic and onions until onions are translucent. Add chicken broth and chopped carrots.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer about 20 minutes or until the carrots are cooked.
Add cheese tortellinis and spinach and bring back to a boil.
Reduce to medium heat, add cannellini beans and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Garnish each bowl some fresh shredded Parmesan.

This is also good with some hot pepper flakes added....

Snowballs

While the Mid-West and East Coast get pounded with snow and ice, it's been relatively calm here in LA with temps in the mid to upper 60s. The only snowball I have encountered recently is the UK version pictured above.

Burns' Day was last week so a Scottish co-worker brought in a few UK treats to help us celebrate. January 25th is Scottish poet Robert Burns' birthday. To mark the occasion, the Scots have a "Burns Supper" of haggis, mashed potatoes and mashed turnips. Given that haggis is currently banned in the US, my co-worker brought in some slightly sweeter treats to share. Tunnock's Snowballs are soft marshmallows dipped in chocolate and then covered in coconut. They are insanely sweet and literally melt in your mouth. Brilliant!