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Hazelnut Tarlets

Tartlets

Forgive me in advance for my lack of precision.  We have several sets of measuring cups in a kitchen drawer.  We have two sets of measuring spoons.  We have a kitchen scale.  All of this aside, I like to cook by taste.  I do not really measure.  Well, when I am making quick breads, cookies, and those sorts of things, I will measure the flour and butter, but the rest just gets thrown in.  Vanilla - a pour will do. Cinnamon?  Depending on the recipe a heavy handed shake or a gentle sift will often take the recipe to a better place.  And when it comes to chocolate and cream?  I just kind of make it happen.  Sometimes my ganache is a little soft for the truffles, but they are going into one's mouth, so who really cares?  I do not run a pastry shop, and I am not a trained chef.  I am a person who loves to be in the kitchen and play with the ingredients that I have around me.  After all, if I spent my live measuring every last drop my life would not be very fun.

However, there times when measuring is critical, and making any kind of pastry dough is one of those times. Dr. H gave me Joanne Chang's Flour Cookbook as a birthday present, and I ordered a set of tartlet pans for myself, so thought that her pâte sucrée recipe would be the perfect fit for the pans and that the tartlets filled with a hazelnut ganache would work perfectly for a party we had some time ago.  No surprise - her recipe was a success, and not difficult to make.  The dough tastes like a mix between shortbread and pie crust, and has a wonderful buttery flavor and delicate crumble when bitten.

I chose to make a hazelnut ganache for the filling because I love the flavor of the liquor with the melted chocolate, and it is just strong enough to cause a bit of attention.  You can make a plain chocolate ganache, use amaretto, rum, etc.  While the ration for ganache tends to be 8 oz of chocolate to 4 oz of heavy cream, if you are going to use liquor to flavor the ganache, cut back on the cream a little bit (this is where my measuring because a little less than exact to say the least...)

Joanne's recipe was for a large tart - I made it per her instructions, but just filled out the smaller pans.  Due to the fact that it is a crust, I made several pricks in the bottom of the tartlet pan with fork tines, and halfway thru baking, I gently pressed the crust back into the tarts as is does rise a bit.

Pâte Sucrée Recipe

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg yolk

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pale and light. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds. The mixture will look like wet sand. Add the egg yolk and continue to mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough comes together.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap (I like Glad Cling Wrap) and refrigerate for about 1 hour. (If you are not going to use this straight away, you can place in a Freezer Safe bag and freeze for up to a month.) Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to soften for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work space (I like our marble slab in the kitchen because it keep the cool temperature). Once you roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick, take the little tart pans and turn them over on the dough. Press them down like cookie cutters to get the exact shape and size you need.

Press the pan down and shake it gently to losen the dough, then flip the pan back right-side-up. 

Mold the dough into little tartlet pans - I like to use various shapes to add a variety...

Pans

Once you place the dough in the pans, place in the fridge for about 30 minutes so the dough can rest. Once the dough is rested, place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts to turn golden brown.  If necessary, check about halfway through, and press the dough down into the pan if it is rising too high.

Once baked, place the pans on a cooling rack and allow to completely cool before filling.

Hazelnut Ganache

8 ounces high quality dark chocolate (I like Callebaut chocolate - 60% and buy most of my chocolate at Chocosphere) chopped into small pieces

3 1/2 ounces heavy cream

3-5 tbsp of Frangelico (depending on taste)

Place the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.  Heat the cream until it is almost boiling, and then pour the cream over the chocolate.  Stir the chocolate and cream until well combined and the all of the chocolate has melted.  Once the chocolate is melted, add the Frangelico and mix well until everything is combined (it does not hurt to taste along the way in order to ensure you have added the right amount of liquor...)  Once the ganache has cooled, cover and allow it to set.

Using a pastry bag, pipe the ganache into the cooled pastry shells.  Allow the ganache to set in the shells, and then serve.  They are best if eaten the same day!


Boys Prefer Blondies

Blondies

I promised my nephews that we would make brownies - any kind that they wanted to make. In fact, we could make several different kinds in the course of an afternoon. The older one informed me that he wanted to make blondies. He thought that it would be fun and a nice change from the dark chocolate richness that make up brownies. His brother stayed with a more traditional brownies recipe.

It had been some time since I made blondies, and in preparation for the event, I ordered my supplies from Chocosphere. I got a 16 oz bag of Guittard Butterscotch Chips that would make me a hero for the afternoon.

The recipe (which is adapted from Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes) could not have been better or more of a success! I made several changes due to my taste (and the fact that I wanted to focus less on measuring and more on having fun in the kitchen). It was easy to follow and held the attention of both my nephew and me. Because the butter is melted, I decided not to use the mixer, and stir everything by hand. This made things a bit easier in the end and more fun for us as well. My nephew informed us all that the end result "Tasted like heaven." Well, that is good enough for me! Thank you Elise!

Blondie Recipe - Adated from Elise Bauer

  • 1/2 cup of butter (salted), melted
  • 1 cup of tightly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 egg
  • Dash of vanilla (small amount poured into the bowl)
  • Small pinch of baking powder (1/2 tsp if you REALLY must know)
  • Smaller Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3 -4 small handulls of butterscotch chips (this measuring method worked well for us!)

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a pan for the blondies. Ideally you will want an 8x8. I did not have one on hand so instead used a loaf pan, which ended up working out well. Stir together the melted butter and sugar in a bowl.

2 Add the egg and vanilla extract and whisk.

3 Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, mix it all together. Add the butterscotch chips and lightly mix until they seem pretty well incorporated.

4 Pour into the pan and spread evenly (I used my hands here, which made it a bit easier). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes about 12 blondies. 

 


Chocolate Spiced Torte

Chocolate cake
It was a formidable task, and one that I was not sure I could take on.  However, I had spent most of the past 10 days sitting around - literally.  After undergoing a serious knee operation, my Dr told me that I could not place any weight on my right leg for almost two months.  However when the December Bon Appetit magazine arrived in the mail, I knew that the cake on the cover would take center stage at Christmas dinner.  I needed to figure out a way to both make and assemble the cake. So my husband and I took on this task, and managed to have fun doing it...

I was nervous - making a complicated torte that consisted of layers, ganache, glaze, and chocolate ribbons would not be easy on one leg.  It looked so gorgeous that it had to be done.  Perhaps it was the fact that I could not last very long standing on one leg, but I found that this cake was best done in stages - we did the layers on day and the buttercream the next.  We then assembled everything the day before we wanted to serve it.  The ribbons on top proved to me a new challenge in the kitchen, but one that was fun and something that I plan to do again.

When our family saw the cake there were lots of "oohhhs" and "aaahhhhs", and it actually tasted as good as it looked (I have to admit, I was not really sure how it would taste... After all, I am not a big fan of this particular kind of buttercream, and when I was assembling everything, the torte seemed overly dry. The ribbons themselves do not have a lot of flavor but pull the whole thing together. I will use this technique again for creating chocolate ribbons.

Spiced Chocolate Torte from Bon Appetit - December

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 eggs, seperated, room temperature
  • 10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted, lukewarm
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, sifted (measured, then sifted)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cream of tartar

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 4 jumbo egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled (but still pourable)
  • 1/4 cup dark rum

Chocolate Glaze

  • 12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder

Chocolate "Ribbons"

  • 14 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped (the original recipe calls for 7 ounces but I did not find that it was enough)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup, divided
  • 14 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), broken into pieces (same thing here re:  the amount as in the white chocolate...)
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 11/2-inch-high sides. 
  • Using electric mixer, cream butter in large bowl. Gradually beat in sugar until smooth. Beat in egg yolks 1 at a time. Blend in melted chocolate. Slowly mix in pecans, vanilla, and spices. Gradually add in flour in 3 batches (batter will be very thick and dense).
  • Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry beaters, beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar in another large bowl until medium peaks form. Gently fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites. Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Run knife around sides of each cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks. Cool to room temperature. The cakes can be made in advance and frozen if wrapped well (up to several wks...)

  • Chocolate Buttercream

    • Stir sugar and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes. Beat in butter a few (2) pieces at a time, incorporating the pieces completely before adding next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5 to 10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth.)
    • Reserve 1/2 cup buttercream. Set 1 cake layer, flat side up, on rack; spread with half of remaining buttercream. Top with second cake layer; spread with remaining buttercream. Top with third cake layer; use reserved 1/2 cup buttercream to fill in seam where cake layers meet. Freeze cake until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours.

    Chocolate Glaze

    • Stir all ingredients in top of double boiler over gently simmering water until mixture is smooth. Remove from over water. Stir until glaze is thickened, about 5 minutes (do not allow glaze to set).
    • Pour 3/4 of glaze over top of cake. Carefully and quickly tilt cake back and forth so glaze coats sides; smooth sides with spatula, adding some of remaining glaze where necessary. Chill cake until glaze is set.



    Chocolate Ribbons

    • Melt white chocolate in top of double boiler over gently simmering water; stir until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup corn syrup. Pour onto baking sheet. Chill until firm, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer white chocolate to work surface and knead several minutes. Shape white chocolate dough into ball. Wrap in plastic. Let white chocolate dough stand at room temperature 1 hour.
    • Repeat with bittersweet chocolate and remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup.
    • Cut white chocolate dough into 4 pieces. Flatten 1 piece into rectangle. Turn pasta machine to widest setting (if you do not have a pasta machine, use a french rolling pin - you will be fine, no worries!). Run chocolate through 3 times, folding into thirds before each run. Adjust machine to next narrower setting. Run chocolate through machine without folding. If chocolate is more than 1/16 inch thick, run through next narrower setting. Lay chocolate piece on rimless baking sheet. Repeat flattening, folding, and rolling with remaining chocolate pieces. Repeat process with bittersweet chocolate dough.
      The recipe called for several technical details with regard to assembling the ribbons so that they looked just like the cover recipe... We went our own way and had fun.  You will want (and need) and ruler for this.  Have fun with the ribbons and arrange them in a way that makes sense for you.  

    Enjoy!

     

    Cake-2


    Red Velvet Cupcakes

    Cupcakes-red

    I am not from the South - no where close. I am from quite North of the Mason Dixon line, however I chose quite deliberately to go to college South.  Now I could come up with some amazing story about why I chose to go to the South for college, but really it all comes down the culture, and the culture behind the Belles of the South.  One of the things I learned while living in the South is the importance and the tradition of food - good food (that you Margaret!).  For some reason, whenever I think of Red Velvet Cake, I immediately think of the South even though Red Velvet Cake traditionally comes from NYC (I hear gasps from Belles all around!).

    So when my husband told me that Red Velvet was his favorite cake (, I had to find a way to make and perfect it. I searched for recipe after recipe, both in cookbooks and online.  I am sure that I could have made a quick phone call to Georgia, Louisiana, or Texas, and received some passed down family recipe, however I finally settled on Bakerella's recipe, and it was due in large part to her photos, which had me scrambling to my mixer in seconds to whip this baby up.  

    The cake is light and moist and not intensely sweet - that is the job of the cream cheese frosting.  However, I have taken out some of the sugar so that there is a bit more tartness to the rich toping and I found that there is more of a balance.  I also made a few adjustments to the recipe to give it a slightly more healthy spin.  No one will notice these subtle changes, but you can feel a little less guilty when you reach for that second (or third) cupcake!

     

    Red Velvet Cake (adapted from Bakerella)

    2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    1 tablespoon cocoa
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 eggs
    1 cup oil + 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 cup buttermilk
    1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    red food coloring (add in enough to give a rich red color - more or less depending on your preference)

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    • Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners or lightly grease the pan.
    • Beat eggs in a bowl and add remaining liquid ingredients (except for food coloring) and stir together with whisk/mix until blended. Set aside.
    • Place all the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and stir together really good with wire whisk.
    • Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on medium-high for about a minute or until completely combined - now add the food coloring.
    • Pour about 1/4 - 1/3 cup into each cupcake space and then drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.
    • Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
    • After about ten minutes, remove the cupcakes from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. 
    • Then make the frosting.

     

    Cream Cheese Frosting

    16 oz. light cream cheese, room temperature
    1/2 cup butter, room temperature
    2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
    8 cups confectioners’ sugar

    • Beat cream cheese and butter on high until creamy. Add vanilla.
    • Slowly add the sugar to the mixture and scrape down the sides of the bowl in between each addition if needed.  It is probably a good thing to taste test along the way... : )
    • Place the frosting in an icing bag and through a frosting tip (1M) on it and get going - to make the cupcakes extra fun, push the tip into the top of the cooled cupcake and squeeze out some of the frosting so that the cupcake with be filled inside with the frosting.  You will notice the cupcake start to expand a bit.  Once you have squeezed a little in (about 2 tsp) frost the top.
    • It is important to note that this will make more frosting than you need - but I like to have some on hand for late night snacks... a spoonful or two is really satisfying!

    DELICIOUS - and very hard to stay away from!

    Cupcake filled


    Chocolate Creme Cookies...aka "Oreos"

    Oreos
    Sure I liked oreos when I was a kid, but they were by no means my favorite cookie.  I did not like how crunchy the cookie was, it crumbled everywhere and made a mess.  I also never found the cookie too satisfying.  I tend to lean toward double chocolate chip, chocolate chip, molasses ginger, or even the vanilla oreo cookies.  I just had a problem with the chocolate cookie - I preferred the chocolate covered cookies with the thin mint cream inside - fresh from the freezer.  But people go crazy over these little oreos.

    We never really had them around the house when I was a kid.  Occasionally, I would eat a few of the double-stuffed oreos, but once the cream filling was gone, I left the chocolate cookies on the plate with the half-empty glass of milk and I went about my business.  About two months Dr. H and I stopped by Flour to bring a box of treats to my parents' house and I saw a plate of gorgeous chocolate cream-filled cookies.  Joanne Chang had outdone herself again with her rendition of the oreo. These were definitely NOT the oreos that I grew up with.  The crust was sweet, crunchy, and had a hint of salt.  The cream was silky and ultra rich.  And the two together tasted like lust and the most gorgeous dirty secret your best friend ever told you.  I mean these were so good that my father was thinking about how to make them last - should we freeze them, and eat them frozen?  Should we try to cut them in half?  And then I found him and my nephew hidden reading books and sitting together with a plate of the cookies like 2 yrs old laughing.  They were nothing less than pure joy.

    About two weeks ago I received King Arthur Flour's weekly email and the message contained a recipe for "Faux-Reos" and let me tell you, there is nothing FAUX about these cookies.  They tasted quite a bit like Ms. Chang's and this is the highest compliment.  After reading through the recipe, I figured out that they were easy enough to make and would probably make a great hostess gift to a dinner party that Dr. H and I were attending.  So, the decision was made.

    The cookie itself is dark chocolate and cold also be used for a pie crust (think ice cream cake, cheese cake, etc). And as for the cream filling?  Well it tasted almost exactly like my wedding cake frosting which left me speechless - in the best possible way.  Do not overmix the frosting, or it will become too soft.  Less is more here.  However, you can always put it in the fridge to stiffen up.  We decided that these taste the best the day after as the filling has the chance to soften the cookies a bit and stiffen up.  I also like the combination of sweet/savory so I increased the salt from the King Arthur Flour recipe.

    Cookie: (makes about 22-25 cookies - or 11 to 12 sandwiches)

    1 cup sugar

    ¾ cup butter

    ¾ teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon espresso powder

    1 large egg

    1 tablespoon cold water

    1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

    1 ½ cups All-Purpose Flour

    3/4 cup black cocoa (can be found at King Arthur Flour)or Dutch-process cocoa (I like a combination of ½ C of black cocoa & ¼ C of dutch-processed)

    Cream Filling:

    2 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

    ½ cup vegetable shortening

    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    2 teaspoons cold water

    Preheat the oven to 325F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or use a silpat sheet.

    Mix together the butter, sugar, salt, and espresso powder in a bowl.  Once combined, add in the egg, water, vanilla, flour, and cocoa powder (the dough will be very stiff).  Once the dough is mixed, start to fill the cookie sheet.  Each cookie should be about 2 tablespoons worth of dough.  I like to use a cookie scoop to make this easier.  Roll each piece into a ball.  Line the sheets with the dough leaving about 1 1/2 inches in between each cookie.  

      Cookies-balls

    Use the bottom of a glass to flatten out the cookies.  If you place a piece of wax paper underneath the glass, the cookie will not stick to the glass.  

    Cookies-flat

    Bake the cookies for about 18 minutes.  It is important that you do not over bake them, as they will be too crunchy once you assemble them.

    As the cookies are baking, you can make the filling.  Beat together the sugar, shortening, and vanilla until smooth (again, do not over mix).  If needed, add the water.  You want to have a stiff frosting. Once the cookies have cooled completely, you can fill them.  Put about 1 1/2 tablespoons of frosting in between each cookie.

    Oreo-two

    Enjoy!


    Travel Treasures

    We love to travel.  In fact, travel and cooking are the two things that keep us going, and often we find ourselves leafing through cookbooks or travel sites looking for the next exotic location.  With the rise in travel and globalization, some of the mystery of traipsing off to far away and remote locations is gone.  

    I remember when I traveled as a child we were told that we had to dress up (skirts, tights, our fanciest shoes), and my grandmother would make a bag for my sister and me to bring on board.  She would find pieces of cloth and sew them together and add in a string so that we could carry the bag over our shoulder.  Inside the bag were card games, mini-board games, small edible delights, crayons, Mad-Libs, and other toys that would keep us preoccupied while my parents tried their hardest to pretend that we were the ideal travel companions.  We had to wait until the plane took off before we were allowed to open our bags, and for the first 10 minutes anyway my sister and I would compare our items.  We anticipated these trips since the preparation itself was such a joy - playing dress up and receiving a bag of treasures?  Unfortunately, it is not really like that anymore.

    We would return from our holidays with little gifts that one could only find in those areas - honey and tea from London wrapped in the green and gold bags of Harrods.  Bars of beautiful chocolate from Switzerland when they were truly a specialty item.  Aluminum tubes of mustards from Austria, cheeses from Italy, handmade shoes, perfumes, and the latest in fashion from France.  Most of this now seems silly since so many of these foreign items can be purchased at food shops in large cities merely minutes from our city dwelling.  

    That being said, there is still a single shop in all countries that holds a magical appeal for me and for Dr. H.  The food market.  Worldwide, local food stores, more than any other kind of store, convey the the true culture of any place.  So instead of bringing back trinkets that will just collect dust on a shelf (expect for the 3 brass camels we bought in Tangers that I still love), we bring back items from the market.  All legal of course...

    On our most recent trip, which also happened to be our honeymoon, we spent our last day in London.  My mother, Dr. H and I perused the aisles of Waitrose on Kings Road and I stopped.  A little item peaked out from the refrigerated section and yelled out Dr. H's name.  I stepped back in disgust, I will admit, but I could not deny him this joy.  A little pot of goose fat, in fact, several pots of goose fat sat lined up all in a row.  And next to the goose sat the duck fat.  

    Imgres-2
    (www.ocado.com) 

    I beckoned Dr. H over and a smile slowly spread across his face.  He looked like a little boy who had just received the most prized item on his Christmas list. We had both heard on several occasions just how good french fries or potatoes tasted after having been cooked with either duck or goose fat, so I tried my hardest not to take away this moment of delight. That being said, I walked over to the household items, bought a giant box of Fairy Laundry Detergent, 2 kilos of chocolate, and called it day.  

    Imgres-3
     


    Bewildered by Bacon

    I used to eat it.  In fact, I liked it quite a bit.  It had to be cooked extra crispy - not burnt - but extra crispy so that it would crunch each time my teeth bit into the extra salty bits.  At some point it touched the sweetness of maple syrup when they both mingled on a plate years ago, and then I took my bacon with a touch a sweetness.  However, as time went on, I lost my taste for bacon.  And bacon was really the only pork item I ever really liked, so I now stay away from all pork products.  The texture, the smell, the taste... there is really nothing about this particular food item that I find appealing.

    Shocking - I know.  Perhaps I am an anomoly.  A one of a kind.  People love this cut of meat - there is truly an obsession around bacon, and I just for the life of me cannot understand it.  I fully understand the allure of all things pork - I mean I do not think that there is any other animal that can offer so many different kinds of cuts.  However recently, there has been a disturbingly high amount of buzz around what can be "done" with bacon, and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who finds this buzz bizarre (Steevy...)

    Take, for example, chocolate.  Pure, rich, and smooth.  OK, so someone somewhere thought it would be a good idea to throw in some bacon.  Add a little smokey flavor, a little crunch, and I am all for the sweet/savory thing.  But it has not stopped there.

    Next came the cupcake.  There is an obsession with cupcakes, and with it comes the growing need to improve on an already great thing.  So why not add bacon?  Well, because it just sounds wrong.  OK - no, I have not tried it and I have no intention of trying it.  I have already had one open heart surgery and have no plans for another. Bacon, butter, oil, sugar, more butter, flour, more sugar, chocolate, more bacon.  No, there is just something truly wrong with this concept.

    Bacon_cupcake 

    (photo from Mr. Baconpants http://www.mrbaconpants.com/about/)

    If sweet is not your thing, I came across a heart stopping (literally) artery clogging dish called "Bacon Explosion".  Essentially it is bacon and sausage all rolled up (or "weaved together - and here I thought weaving was only for baskets and hair) and rubbed down with your favorite BBQ sauce (make sure that you use your favorite, because it could very well be your last meal).  And then it is bake in the oven or cooked on a BBQ.  Not sure why it is baked.  At this point, the whole thing should just be deep fried...

    http://www.bbqaddicts.com/blog/recipes/bacon-explosion/

    If people love bacon so much, why can't you just eat it as is?  The taste is complex enough that it does not need to be "weaved" into a sausage roll up.  Yes, a good BLT is something to write home about, but why add all this extra stuff with it?  My husband loves the stuff, he loves pork, and I often hear the phrase "Bacon makes it better..." but I really do not buy it.    

    But don't be upset with me - think about it - it only means that there is just that much more bacon for the rest of you.


    Getting Cultured

    Yogurt-bw

    I have eaten yogurt for as long as I can remember - all kinds of yogurt.  When I was little, I would scrap the bottom of the plastic containers to ensure that every bit of the Dutch Apple did not go to waste.  My mother's favorite yogurt was Coffee.  It was a simple, rich flavor that had the deep undertones of coffee and the tartness of the yogurt that one comes to expect.  For an extra special treat, we would all walk down to Thayer Street in Providence and go to a little restaurant called Penguins, which served up the most amazing frozen yogurt I have ever had.  If you have tried Pinkberry, that would be the closest think to what Penguins served - but Penguins really served the real thing.  This was real, unadulterated frozen yogurt.  Topping included honey, shredded coconut, and granola.  None of this Captain Crunch stuff.

    There are many different kinds of yogurt out there, and I find that it always tastes better someplace else.  Let me explain.  When I travel, which I do quite often, yogurt is a very recognizable food that is found in almost every culture.  It is different from what we have in the United States, and I often find it better.  In the markets in London, entire rows in the Dairy Section have yogurt varieties.  The same is true in France.  The options are truly endless.  I also found this to be the case in Canada.  (Visiting grocery stores in foreign countries is one of my favorite things to do - I think that you can learn more about a place by its food and what is found in the local markets than the local museums...) 

    Several years ago, my aunt invited me to southern Italy, where we drank prosecco, sipped limoncello, and licked gelato.  She planned an amazing trip, and part of her planning included a visit to an organic buffalo farm.  The farm was in Paestum, which is known for its Greek Temples.  However, since 1988 Tenuta Vannulo has been producing mozzarella and it is Italy's only organic buffalo farm.  This is not your typical farm... it happened to be the cleanest farm I ever stepped foot on.  There was no "farm" smell.  The grounds, in typical Italian style, were stunning, pristine, and inviting.  Even more inviting were the flavors of the mozzarella, which we were able to taste the second it was made, the gelato, and the yogurt - all from buffalo milk.  Buffalo milk has a higher fat content that cow's milk (almost double), so it yields a creamier richer product.  And did I mention the yogurt???

    Buffalo 

    More recently, Hector and I traveled to Morocco, and one morning while in Tangiers we received little glass jars with white plastic lids on top.  Each jar held about 6 ounces of creamy yogurt.  There were six of us traveling together, and one person in our group opened up the jar, peered in, and put the lid right back on. "I am not eating this."  I was stunned.  "Why not?" I asked. "I am sure that I will get sick."  I had already spooned some honey into mine and was more than half-way through.  It was the second time I had tasted fresh yogurt.  Her rudeness made me forget my manners and I reached across our little table which overlooked some open markets that had fresh loaves of bread drying on top... I took her yogurt and it straight away.

    Since then I have not tasted anything as good, but I have tried to recreate the flavor since we recently received a yogurt maker as a wedding present.  It is worth it - it really and truly is.  While sitting in Italy or Morocco might be a little more romantic than Boston, I am still able to get cultured in this city after all.


    Flying Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Cookies-choc

    I have never meet anyone who has not liked chocolate chip cookies.  I have met many people whose opinion differs as to what kind of chocolate chip cookie they like - chewy, crispy, full of chips, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, etc.  But never, ever, have I met anyone who has not liked them.  With this post, I am sure that they will make themselves known, but until they do, I will hold tight to my convictions.

    I have tried many, many different kinds of chocolate chip cookie recipes in my 30+ years, and have found some that I like more than others.  Perhaps the best kind are those that are made with someone else, whether it be a good friend, or the help of little hands...

    Little-hands

    I recently started baking with more non-traditional ingredients and incorporating these into my cookies, cakes, and confections.  Whether it be agave nectar for sugar, whole wheat flour for white flour, or even coconut oil for butter, I wanted to see what I could do to "bake better" for myself.  Sure, I am positive that many people would disagree, and tell me that it is a waste of time, money, and energy to stray away from butter and eggs and good old flour.  But I actually enjoy the chemistry that goes into finding out why the ingredients react - or fail to react - based on what goes into the mix.  I also tell myself that I am doing something good for myself, and whether this is the case or not, that is my story, and I am sticking to it so there!

    It actually all started with a chocolate chip cookie you know... A coconut chocolate chip cookie that led me down the path to baking without eggs, and trying out alternative recipes.  I then stumbled on the Baby Cakes NYC Cookbook and made several batches of those cupcakes, which are perfect little snacks (I make mini unfrosted ones, keep them in the freezer, and defrost a few when I need something sweet).  For full disclosure, following my Baby Cakes post, I was contacted by a publicist for the new cookbook "The Flying Apron", which is a vegan and gluten free bakery out in Seattle.  I received a copy of the book, and looked through it nightly for several weeks until today, when I opened it up and finally decided to make the chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I had the ingredients all collected, so I really had no excuse to not give it a go.

    Following recipes to the 1/8 of a teaspoon in gluten free / vegan baking is critical, and I tend to not be the best at that.  I like to add a little here and a little there, and make things up as I go.  However, if I plan to post things on a blog, and expect people to follow a recipe, that will not really work.  So, when I opened up the Flying Apron's Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book I already started to see substitutes for ingredients listed in my mind... coconut oil instead of the recommended canola oil.  Agave nectar instead of the recommended organic cane sugar, almond milk instead of the recommended rice milk etc.  So there was really only one solution - I have both recipes below for you... you can do either one, or you can make them both!  I made the one in purple, and the cookie is not the crispy one that you might find with heaps of butter, but the result is a cookie, a substantial cookie, with a small hint of the coconut and crispy edges, with a soft middle.  Enjoy, from the bottom of my heart...

    Flying Apron Chocolate Chip Cookies (with adaptations...)

    2 3/4 cups brown rice flour

    1 1/2 cups + 1tbsp garbanzo bean flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/2 tsp baking soda

    3/4 tsp sea salt

    1 c canola oil [1/2 c canola oil+1/2 c coconut oil]

    1 c organic whole cane sugar [2/3 c agave nectar]

    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1 c rice milk [1 c almond milk]

    1 c vegan chocolate chips [1 1/2 c vegan chocolate chips]

    optional: 1/4 c chopped nuts

    Preheat the oven to 350F.

    Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  The a standing bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment add the oil(s), sugar (agave nectar), and vanilla and combine until well mixed.  With the speed on low, add the flour mixture and the milk (almond or rice) and mix until well combined - this will take about 2 minutes.  Add in the chocolate and nuts if you are using them.  Scoop out the dough onto a greased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart...

    Cookies-ram

    and bake for about 14-16 minutes until the top is golden brown. (I like to under bake my cookies, so I bake them for 14 minutes).


    Recession - of the Daring Kind

    I never expected it to happen.  I can honestly say that I never saw it coming.  For years I have been so careful with the numbers, and I have reviewed every single step.  I still cannot believe that it happened to me.  It started with the walls.  They held the smallest cracks that grew deeper until they could not support the roof.  Piece by piece they started to fall. Now really, how could this have happened?  I might spend a bit more than I should on certain things, and I do like name brand items, but as I reviewed the history, the steps, the process, and I everything I did along the way to get to this point, I could not figure out the hows and the whys.  I would have to start over - from the beginning, and build it all over again, from scratch.

    Bad-house

    And that is exactly what I did.  Upon starting all over again, I learned that I should NOT attempt a recipe while recovering from the flu and in the midst of pneumonia - because that is exactly what I did.  And I neglected to count and measure accurately and that is when it happened... the recession affected Gingerbread Land.  Sad, so very sad.  So after I paid the price of screwing up, really screwing up and admitting defeat, I started all over again.  From the beginning, and I yielded a much more promising recipe.

    House

    The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

    I chose to follow Y of Lemonpi, and here goes (note: follow the recipe EXACTLY!)

    Y's Recipe:
    Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
    from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas 
    http://astore.amazon.com/thedarkit-20/detail/0816634963

    1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
    1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
    2 tablespoons cinnamon
    4 teaspoons ground ginger
    3 teaspoons ground cloves
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    ½ cup boiling water
    5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

    1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

    Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface (the dough will be tough at first).  Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, etc.  You can do a search on line for houses, and place the paper up against the house and cut around the edges.  I then placed each piece of the house on a cookie sheet and baked.  It will be easiest if you use a spatula to place the pieces on a cookie sheet so that when you pick the pieces up they do not rip.

    Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

    Royal Icing:

    1 large egg white
    3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon white vinegar
    1 teaspoon almond extract

    Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe the icing on the pieces if you want to make windows, a door, siding, etc, and allow to dry before assembling (otherwise it will run down the house!) If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.  If you want to add decorations, use slightly dried (but still wet) icing as this will allow the decoration (candy) to better stick to the house.

    Enjoy, and Happy New Year!