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Is there ever such thing as too much chocolate? Is it overkill to make a dense chocolate cake with rich chocolate frosting, creamy chocolate filling, and sweet chocolate covered crunchies on the outside? Personally, I don’t think so.

I have had a chocolate obsession since the womb. Every birthday for the first eighteen years of my life, I made myself a double chocolate cake with a variety of toppings. I have been known to devour truffles, inhale fudge, and eat molten ganache straight up. Nothing to me–and I mean nothing–can achieve that dreaded rumored level of “too much chocolate” that my mother is always going on about. However, I do concede that, were such a horrible myth indeed a truth, that these two cakes might just be examples of chocolate overload–proceed with caution!

 

Cake 1: Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Cake
(Pictured above)

This heavenly creature is, essentially, Ferraro Rocher candy in cake form. I made the Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Cake for my Dad, a fellow chocolate junkie, for his birthday last month.

To make this cake, first bake two layers of your favorite chocolate cake and let them cool. If you want a really elegant cake, you can go ahead and torte them (a fancy word for cutting the layers in half horizontally). For this cake, I used the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa powder–but I used the dark cocoa powder so it was nearly excessively chocolatey, which is just the way I like it and, from a practical standpoint, contrasts a little better with the frosting. I filled the cake with a jar of Nutella, but I’d recommend using two next time, or at least getting the larger jar, because it only made thin layers. I then covered the cake in a milk chocolate ganache (see here for more info on ganache-making–it’s easier than it looks!), reserving the extra for last-minute touch-ups, and packed chopped hazelnuts around the sides. I would highly recommend toasting the hazelnuts, which I didn’t do, and then grinding them in your food processor to a slightly finer texture, though if you don’t have the equipment for such an endeavor or don’t have the time, raw and coarse are fine too.

 

Brownie Cake with Homemade Chocolate-Covered English Toffee

 

 

This cake was, as are many good cakes, simply a “just because” cake. My boyfriend and I had a chicken parmigiana dinner a few weeks ago, something I promised after we salavated over the fancy chicken parm offerings on the finale of MasterChef earlier in the week. I wanted to make something nice for dessert, and I knew that if anyone could appreciate this chocolate monstrosity with me, it would be Steve.

I got the idea for this cake from blogger Annie’s Eats, who made her version with an espresso marscarpone filling and an espresso whipped cream. I love espresso as much as the next girl, but that still didn’t seem like enough chocolate for me. So I decided to frost the dense, chewy-yet-fudgy brownie layers with chocolate fudge frosting. And then cover it in homemade dark chocolate covered toffee. You are perfectly welcome to buy store-bought Heath or Skor bits, but both contain almonds and I wanted to explore a nut-free toffee option, which, ultimately, meant making it myself. Steve’s mom described the cake as “sinful,” which I suppose is quite a natural reaction to have when eating it if, unlike me, your brain isn’t exploding and shouting, “FINALLY! This is getting close to too much chocolate!”

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To say that I love chocolate would be an understatement. My feelings towards chocolate are beyond admiration, appreciation, or even adoration–they approach full-out obsession, but not in a sad, “I’d rather die than give up chocolate!” sort of way. My chocolate obsession is much more of an elitist sort of thing–it’s the kind of obsession that points out the flaws of all sweets non-chocolate and exposes them for being overly sweet, lacking in complexity, and, well, vanilla

Thus, it is rare I find a baked good that has enough chocolate to satisfy my chocolate needs–especially when it comes to cookies. Attempts to make flat yet substantial, chewy but not puffy chocolate cookies all ended in disappointment. It helped–and I all but danced a happy chocolate jig–when I discovered Hershey’s had started making dark cocoa powder, but I still lacked the right recipe to make the crisp-yet-fudgy, deep, dark chocolate cookies I salived over in my dreams. Well, I recently found that perfect recipe–and, as often happens, I have Ina Garten to thank for that. 

These double chocolate cookies are incredible. They almost taste like a complex Oreo with a soft fudge-like middle and crispy, crunchy edges. The white chocolate chips pop, both in flavor and color, against the deep, barely sweet chocolate cookie. The original recipe calls for almond extract, which I omitted, but I’m sure it’s fantastic when produced as written as well. Almond addition or not, these cookies will become a staple in your repertoire (and your cookie jar) in no time at all. 

 

The recipe for these wonderful cookies can be found here. Happy baking!

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And  birthday month continues! In the interest of full disclosure, it’s actually over–I’m just a little backlogged. There is still one more cake installment coming for sure, and it’s chocolately and delicious. But to matters at hand: ice cream cake! I usually start planning the cakes for birthday month around the time school gets out. It’s not so much an organizational thing as one part excitement and one part fear I’ll only be able to come up with something lame and generic and fail as a birthday cake maker. When I make a cake for someone, I really try my hardest to capture their essence in sugar form. I’m highly disappointed when I can’t. 

This cake definitely screamed Chandler. Both my sisters work at a local ice cream shop over the summer, but whereas Chelsea kind of stumbled into the job, working at this particular shop was Chandler’s life goal from about age five. Needless to say, she’s enthusiastic about ice cream. What makes this cake so Chandler, however, are the flavors: cookie dough and Oreo. And, regardless, it’s just a fun combination, excellent for indulging your inner child. The decorations are piped buttercream. It’s a little hard to get things to stick, as they freeze instantly, yet seem to repel the actual cake (see uneven boarder piping!), but it all came out in the end. With a little work (very little, actually, if you opt to use softened store-bought ice cream in place of your own)you can have your own ice cream cake that kicks Carvel and Friendly’s or any other chain’s ice cream cake’s butts. I promise it is worth it. 

 

Homemade Ice Cream Cake

  1. In your ice cream maker, make the first flavor ice cream you wish to use in your cake (this will be the bottom layer). When ice cream is finished, pour into 10″ springform pan and cover with crushed Oreo cookies or prefered “crunch” layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze
  2. Re-freeze bowl of ice cream maker and make your second flavor. Pour on top of first layer, replace plastic wrap, and return to freezer for at least two hours, or until both layers are rock solid.
  3. Carefully remove sides of springform pan, running a little hot water along the edge if cake threatens to crack or otherwise has trouble separating from the metal. Decorate quickly using whipped cream, buttercream, sprinkles, or any other decorations of your choice. Freeze until serving time.

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Cinnamon buns, cinnamon rolls (whatever you call them): just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, you find a recipe like this. I got the idea to add fruit to cinnamon buns for a roasted banana cinnamon bun recipe I found around Father’s Day and made for our Father’s Day breakfast. The filling was out of this world, but the recipe suggested one use canned Pillsbury french bread dough, a suggestion I took even though I knew I should have known better. Lesson learned.

On a recent day off, I treated myself to a nice morning of sleeping in and preparing a tasty breakfast (brunch, really) spread of sweet blueberry cinnamon buns and crispy, salty homefries. This time, I made my own dough. I’ve done this before with varying degrees of success. Yeast doesn’t like me all that much, you see, and often decides not to work–despite being newly purchased, stored in a warm place, and married with liquids of a proper temperature–just to spite me. Usually my cinnamon roll dough doesn’t rise. It still tastes good, it’s just kind of thin and more pastry than bread. But this one rose, yay! All joking aside, dough-making is very temperamental and if you want to use the Pillsbury dough instead I will not mock you–I will only suggest that you use two tubes of the stuff.

And as for the homefries–what can I say? I like my homefries crispy, salty, full of onion flavor, and just barely tasting of potato, so I find these perfect. They are not quite as good as my dad’s–he makes the BEST homefry style potatoes–but they are pretty darn close. An overall excellent breakfast (and life) choice.

Blueberry Cinnamon Buns

(adapted from one of my foremost food gurus, Alton Brown’s, Overnight Cinnamon Rolls recipe)

  • 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 large whole egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 ounces milk, heated to 120 degrees
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
  • 1 package rapid rise yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Filling:

  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 C fresh blueberries, washed and dried

MAKING THE DOUGH:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, combine 2 C of flour, salt, sugar, and yeast, mixing well. In a small saucepan (or glass measuring cup and the microwave), heat milk until it reaches the temperature recommended on the back of the yeast packed, usually 110-130 degrees F. Add milk and melted butter to dry mixture and beat on low to combine. Add eggs one at a time and beat until fully incorporated.
  2. Remove whisk attachment from mixer and attach dough hook. Add all but 3/4 C of the remaining flour and knead on low for 5 minutes, or until dough is no longer sticky. Add more flour if necessary.
  3. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead by hand for 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl and store dough in bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel, until dough has doubled in volume, 2-2 1/2 hours.

FILLING AND BAKING THE ROLLS:

  1. While dough is rising, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Once dough has risen, remove from bowl and roll into an 18″x12″ rectangle (the long side should be facing you). Brush dough with melted butter, leaving about a half an inch of space along the top seam. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving about a 3/4″ boarder at the top. Sprinkle blueberries over filling and press lightly into dough and sugar mixture, mashing gently with a fork if desired.
  3. Roll the dough into a tight cylander, beginning with the side closest to you and rolling upward. Pinch the seam and roll the cylander so that the seam is facing down. Squeeze gently to create a constent thickness throughout. Using a serrated or very sharp knife, cut cylander into 12 pieces. Arrange in a greased 9″x13″ baking dish, cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When rolls have risen, uncover and bake 25 minutes, or until golden but slightly gooey inside. Let cool and cover with icing, which can be made by combining 2 C of confectioner’s sugar with milk or water, which should be added a few drops at a time until a thick glaze is achieved (think the consistency of the icing that comes with the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls).

Best Homefries

  • 1 large or 2 medium russet potato
  • 1 very small yellow onion, diced
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  1. Cook potato(es) in microwave or oven until just the slightest bit underdone. Let cool, remove skin, and large dice.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sautee with a pinch of salt until translucent.
  3. Raise heat to medium high and add potatoes, sprinkling with chili powder and 1 tsp. salt. Allow potatoes to cook (without touching!) for at least five minutes, or until they have developed a very crisp bottom layer. Flip and repeat on opposite side. Flip again or add more oil if a crunchier texture is desired.
  4. Remove from heat and sprinkle liberally with additional salt before serving.

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 A month ago, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bin 100 here in Milford. Bin 100 is an interesting sort of fusion between Asian, Italian, and everything else. It sounds weird, but it’s really good. My main dish was a pork tenderloin with peppers, balsamic vinegar reduction, salty shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a side of baked cheese polenta, which was buttery and fantastic. It was a terrific meal. Steve got some sort of sausage and orichette dish, which he said was also really good. All in all, a tasty experience.

The amuse bouche that night was a cold chickpea salad on some sort of crispy little square. I was mildly terrified when the waiter placed it before us–chickpeas scare me–but I made myself try it, reminding myself that I could always make Steve eat it if it was gross. Well, it wasn’t gross–it was delicious. And ever since then I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to try and replicate the chickpea salad on a side dish scale.

It’s been a while so I can’t remember exactly how accurate my attempt is, but I do know that it is delicious. The raw garlic adds a zesty spiciness. The lemon and parsley add a bright, fresh tone to the dish. The bell peppers and onions are crunchy and refreshing, and the chickpeas themselves lend a filling and substantial body. The chicken, too, is moist and delicious. Serve with some grilled pita brushed with oil and sprinkled with oregano and you have a really great Mediterranean meal that’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require heating up your oven.

  

  

  

Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken

  •  1 pound chicken tenders
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  •  1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a large ziplock bag, combine chicken, oil, juice and zest of one lemon, oregano, and garlic, finely grated or minced. Massage the marinade into the chicken and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
  2. Remove chicken, shaking off excess marinade. Season with salt and pepper and grill approximately 4 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve.

  Chickpea Salad  

  • 2 14-oz cans of chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely zested
  • Zest of one lemon, juice of 2
  • 1/3 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C parsley, chopped
  • 1 very small yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Rinse, drain, and lightly dry chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Let sit or serve immediately.

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This post is really evidence of how well I’m progressing along my journey out of picky eater-dome. I used to hate eggs. I would eat them from time to time because they were part of a few family traditions, but I really didn’ t like them. They were bland and mushy, the thing I had to suffer through before I could scarf my bacon and cinnamon bun. When I studied abroad, I was on a really tight budget, but, being the devout lover of breakfast that I am, I sought to find a way to have hearty breakfasts on the cheap, and eggs were the answer. Somewhere along the line, I began to more than tolerate them, and now I really like them.

Tomatoes, even more so than eggs, were the enemy. I couldn’t eat them without gagging, even bright jewel red cherry tomatoes. While I’m still a little iffy about raw tomatoes, less and less cooking time is required to make them palatable, and I can’t get enough of them when they are roasted.

Granted, tomatoes and eggs are pretty benign stuff. Still, the fact that I would willingly make a dish that incorporates both elements and–GASP!–enjoy them, really shows me how far I’ve come. I couldn’t be prouder. 

 

 

Caprese Frittata

  • 1/2 C cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 large leaves of basil, cut into chiffonade
  • 1/2 C fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. milk or cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  1. Heat a medium sized oven-safe skillet with a metal, not plastic handle over medium heat. Spray generously with cooking spray and sautee tomatoes until just softened, about 2 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add salt, pepper, cheese, and basil and mix well (reserve a handful of cheese and basil). Pour over tomatoes and raise temperature to medium high, cooking until frittata is set, but the top remains raw.
  3. When mixture is almost cooked, sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook under the broiler, set to high, until the fritatta is cooked and the surface is brown. Do not leave unattended or it will burn. Remove from pan, sprinkle with remaining basil and serve.

(Total time: 15 minutes. Servings: 6 slices, which really serves 3-4 people) 

Corn Muffin Recipe

My favorite corn bread recipe is adapted only the slightest bit from this recipe for Homesteader Cornbread from Allrecipes.com. All I do is bump the sugar up to 3/4 of a cup, because I like my corn bread about a step away from cake. To make this into 12 muffins, I just halved the recipe and cooked them for 20 minutes. The toothpick won’t come out totally clean, but I promise you they’re done. This recipe is amazing, but the secret is definitely that overcooking will kill your bread, and that’s no fun for anyone.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.

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Some recipes are born from a concrete concept or list of ingredients; other recipes are born from miscellaneous pantry items and the need to go grocery shopping.

This Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup is one of the later.

My mother has a habit of not warning me that I am expected to make dinner until the meal is upon us. Not that I mind, but I do like a little advance notice. We’re not the kind of house that has all the ingredients of a successful supper on hand at any given time. We’re more the kind of house where someone is invariably sent to the grocery store for a crucial missing ingredient at least once a week.

I was planning on making Chicken Tortilla Soup, but upon the realization that we were out of rice, I changed my plans slightly. Our lack of rice was ultimately fortuitous. Not only is this soup awesome, it’s made all the better for you with the extra vegetables and black beans I added to compensate. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s a really great clean-out-the-fridge dish and you can substitute pretty much anything you want.

Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup

  • Oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or a combination), diced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken broth or stock
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ear of corn, kernels removed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 C fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  1. In a large pot, combine onion, 3 tbs. oil, and a pinch of salt. Sweat over medium low heat until translucent. Add garlic and turn heat to medium, stirring occasionally until softened. Add zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly browned and cooked though. Add peppers and cook until softened.
  2. Add cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. Stir and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and chicken stock. Raise heat to medium high and cover. When mixture comes to boil, cover and let simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  3. While soup simmers, drizzle chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 374 until chicken is just cooked through. Remove from oven, cool, and shred with fingers, discarding bones, skin, and excess fat.
  4. After soup has simmered, add corn, black beans, and shredded chicken. Simmer for 15 minutes then add cilantro and lime juice. Check for seasoning, adjusting as needed, and serve with sour cream, tortilla chips, and/or chunks of avocado, or, alternatively, in addition to small mexican appetizers, such as empanadas or taquitos.

 

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