Baked chocolate chocolate-chip donuts

It's been a while since I last used my little donut pan (maybe due to the lack of snow days) so I thought it was time to take it out for a spin.  Baking a batch of donuts also served the purpose of helping me use up some of the buttermilk in my fridge. Whenever I buy buttermilk to make pancakes or a cake recipe, I'm on a mission to put as much of it to good use as possible.  
Baked chocolate chocolate-chip donut with peanut butter glaze/icing
Well, the buttermilk went towards a very good mission here.  These baked chocolate chocolate-chip donuts are essentially a fun way to enjoy a few bites of chocolate cake! Handheld, portable, fun, and, most importantly, tasty - they made me glad I hadn't forgotten about my little donut pan.
We already love chocolate chip donuts but hadn't tried chocolate chocolate-chip ones until now, and we may have found a new favorite.  I used Christina's recipe from Dessert for Two and it turned out great; I love the lady - when she says the recipe makes 6 donuts, it really makes donuts!  And they're tasty little things - moist chocolate cake rings imbedded with mini chocolate chips.  The donuts are good enough on their own that you almost don't need a glaze.

Have fun with the glaze! 

Much as I could eat these donuts all on their own, you have to admit that the glaze on a donut (like icing on a cupcake) is half the fun and most people wouldn't want to go without it...so add a little extra flavor, and have fun!  I loved Christina's original recipe of making mint chocolate chip donuts (and I knew my son would love it) but I had a strong hankering to make peanut butter glaze.  Really, there are many varieties you can make by simply tweaking what you add to the powdered sugar for the glaze - it can be anything from a little maple syrup, to cocoa powder, fruit juice, or peanut butter.  It's fun to customize!  
I have to fess up to the obvious: my peanut butter "glaze" was more of an icing. I have trouble gauging just the right consistency for my donut glazes so I thought I'd experiment with making it a little thicker and spreading the icing onto the donuts. Since they are called "frosted" donuts and we're basically looking at chocolate cake here, a thicker icing totally works, right?

Besides the peanut butter glaze/icing, I also felt like making a coffee glaze for these donuts...so I did!  I glazed 2 of the six donuts from my batch with a coffee glaze (pictured on the round plate below; you can tell it's a thinner glaze there).  The coffee glazed donuts were quite popular at my house!
In front, donut with a coffee glaze
And you know something?  These donuts were so enjoyable, they disappeared so fast, and I was feeling so guilty about not making the mint chocolate chip donuts my son really wanted that I made a second batch in the same week!
Mint chocolate chip donuts, with a mint glaze
I'm glad I did!  The mint chocolate chip donuts were much-appreciated by the little guy.  It tasted a bit like you're having chocolate chip ice cream somehow!  And so I've now learned...a dozen baked chocolate donuts is totally reasonable for a family of 3 to enjoy in a few days!


Multigrain pancakes and making buttermilk pancakes with a twist

The topic of pancakes comes up quite often here, and frankly, I'm at it again!  There are a million variations to everything and I'm happy to try as much as humanly possible when it comes to food. That goes for pancakes and other things.  The way I look at it, it's a good thing we eat so often!
For today's "pancake talk", let's chat about two things...

Multigrain Pancakes

Let's start with these multigrain pancakes, a recipe that caught my eye in the latest issue of Cooking Light.  I'm reluctant to label things with titles like "healthy" or not (to my way of thinking, use common sense and enjoy everything in moderation) but it's more than fair to say these are a terrific, feel-good, option when it comes to pancakes.  It's made with both old-fashioned oats as well as white whole wheat flour.
The only unusual step in making these pancakes is first soaking old-fashioned rolled oats in buttermilk for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.  This gives the oats a chance to soften and bloom slightly (very smart).  The process is easy enough but I was a little skeptical about how these would turn out...would they actually taste good because not only are we using oats and whole wheat flour, there's no butter/oil in the batter and just a tablespoon of maple syrup to sweeten the batch.
Well, my family and I were very pleasantly surprised.  Somehow, these pancakes turned out creamy in the center (thanks to the soaking process, according to Cooking Light).  Soft and fluffy, they were perfectly tasty.  They might not be very rich in flavor on their own but paired with some fresh berries and/or bit of maple syrup, it is a very well-balanced pancake breakfast!  You can also follow Cooking Light's cue of making a nut butter sauce to go with these (more on that later...) for a fantastic, healthy pairing.  

My son finished his 3 pancakes in no time and I was impressed with how much he liked them.  These pancakes are both kid- and adult-approved!

Making buttermilk pancakes, with a twist

Now for this second segment of our pancake talk, I didn't try a new recipe per se...I tried a new technique.

I recently read this article from Food52 about a genius tip on how to make fluffier buttermilk pancakes.  I'll cut straight to the chase and tell you the "trick"...you know how you separate an egg and beat the egg white to fold into a pancake/waffle batter to make an extra fluffy result?  Well, this tip suggests you put the whisk down and skip the whipping, and simply stir in the egg white at the end of making the batter.   
I don't know about you but I don't often take the extra step of whipping egg whites when I make pancakes because it's extra work and cleanup.  This idea of stirring in the egg white without whipping sounded like a perfectly easy twist to try, so I did. Instead of using the recipe provided, I took a basic buttermilk pancake recipe I often use at home and simply followed the technique of separating the egg and reserving the white to stir into the batter at the very end.  
I had some blueberries on hand so I made blueberry buttermilk pancakes.  I'm afraid I didn't go so far as to do a side-by-side comparison to show you (you can see a comparison at Food52but I can tell you that we had a very fluffy batch of pancakes using this egg white technique.  My husband definitely thought they were fluffier than usual.  I don't know if it's positive thinking on my part but I also thought they were fluffier than the norm.  It sure doesn't hurt to give it a try so the next time you make pancakes, consider making them with this little twist and see what you think (I'd love to know)! 

In conclusion, all these fantastic pancake recipes and cooking techniques give us more reasons to enjoy pancakes for breakfast.  That's a very good thing!



Easy chocolate hazelnut cookies - small batch, in a flash

It's the day after Valentine's Day and I found myself in the kitchen making chocolate cookies.  We seriously don't need more chocolates or treats after indulging (more than usual) the day before but I couldn't help myself.  I got my hands on Christina Lane's latest book, Sweet & Simple, and these chocolate hazelnut cookies were just too easy and promising to resist.  In my defense, it takes hardly any work and results in a very reasonable 6 cookies, which are sure to vanish quickly.
I hope you had a sweet Valentine's Day!  I loved seeing all the expressions of love and chocolate everywhere leading up to it.  And speaking of things I love - I'm a big fan of small-batch baking and while I often just scale down recipes/divide them in half, I adore so many of Christina's recipes from her books and her blog, Dessert for Two! I've made many of her recipes - both sweet and savory, often on repeat. So I was eager to dig into her latest book, and it didn't disappoint.  It's got all the straight-forward, simple recipes for small-batch baking that I've come to love.  
So despite our tummies being sufficiently filled with chocolates and biscuits (and with more standing by in our cupboards), I made room for these cookies, which are seriously easy and fast to make.  Follow the recipe exactly and you only need 6 ingredients (Nutella/chocolate-hazelnut spread, sugar, egg, flour, chocolate chips, and salt for sprinkling), a few minutes to mix everything up, and 10 minutes in the oven. I had time to "complicate" matters slightly...
I decided to add some chopped toasted hazelnuts into the dough along with the chocolate chips (I used miniature ones).  I always keep a jar of mixed nuts in the kitchen to snack on everyday so I just went and pilfered some of the hazelnuts for these cookies (I was in the mood for some extra texture and I think nuts help balance the sweetness).  Instead of all-purpose flour, I used white whole wheat flour (these cookies are so moist, they can take it) and rather than sprinkling the baked cookies with sea salt on top, I added a pinch into the dough. 
In a flash - I had 6 fudgy, moist, chocolate-hazelnut cookies on my counter. They are chewy and sticky (my husband likened it to marzipan), and on the sweet side so the hazelnuts were a welcome addition of texture and flavor as a bit of a contrast. Because these cookies are so fudgy in the center (thanks to the chocolate-hazelnut spread), you might want to be a little patient and allow the cookies to cool and firm up fully before removing them from the baking sheet.  
My husband brought home some sweet strawberries for me on Valentine's night (incidentally, I took a few and dipped them in dark chocolate; they were so good and easy to do, making me wonder why I'd never done it before!).  And so I thought a few strawberries with one or two of these cookies would make a well-balanced snack/dessert.  I hope you agree.


Almond paste waffles

This breakfast comes to you fresh from yesterday's snow day.  We finally had a snow day!  I didn't think I'd say or think this but I missed having a snow day this winter and was actually hoping for one - emphasis on "one".  Well, my wish came true - snow fell and we were all home, from school, from work, and got a chance to enjoy a little hush and quiet, and to huddle around in the house on a weekday (before it was time to get busy and start shoveling).  
With a snow day, it's important to have plenty of food!  It's also a great time to try a new recipe.  For me, I jumped at the chance to make these almond paste waffles!  

If there are a few food items I really love, it's got to include things like chocolate, eggs, almond paste, nuts in general, and sweet potatoes.  Almond paste is right up there.  We love it in baked goods and I've used it in all sorts of ways but not in waffles so when I saw almond paste waffles on Food52, I couldn't wait to try it!
These waffles turned out crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with a bit of chewiness to its texture, and nice almond flavor.  It's basically how almond paste waffles should taste, I think.  

Almond paste is incorporated into the waffle batter by stirring/dissolving small pieces of it into some warmed milk and butter.  I used whole milk instead of the buttermilk listed in the recipe, and I would strongly suggest the swap out because buttermilk has the tendency to curdle when heated.  I didn't have buttermilk on hand so I made a proxy using milk and white vinegar; the homemade buttermilk quickly curdled as I heated it and I had to restart using milk instead.  You might have less of an issue using actual buttermilk rather than my substitute but I'd bypass the risk and go with milk.
To amp up the almond flavor, I added a touch of almond extract.  The batter is on the thick side and when cooked, you end up with familiar waffles that have a distinct almond flavor and a little chewiness that we really like.  Ironically, the waffles tasted a lot like this almond bread I adore and which I happened to have made a loaf of just 2 days earlier!  It's been an almond breakfast kind of week!
As you know, Valentine's Day is coming up.  How about having an early celebration this weekend with a nice breakfast on Sunday?  If you have an almond lover among you, these almond paste waffles might be just the right treat!  Otherwise, you can always make a batch of chocolate chocolate-chip waffles instead!



Soft chocolate frosted cookies

We've come to February (already)!  I can't seem to let the second month of the year slip away without taking advantage of upcoming Valentine's Day to present a chocolate treat here on the blog.  Truth be told, we're still working our way through our stash of chocolates and biscuits from Christmas.  On top of that, we have treats from Chinese New Year so there is really very little need for making chocolate cookies except it's certainly not about need...
A batch of soft chocolate cookies, frosted with creamy chocolate frosting, and decorated with a few Valentine's Day sprinkles is an easy way to say "Happy Valentine's Day".  I think it's particularly cute for kids so I made them with my son and his cousins in mind.  I also had my husband in mind; he's a big kid at heart, with a bigger sweet tooth than most children, so he got a fair share of these.

You might know I'm always looking for an excuse to try a different chocolate recipe of some kind!  This one came my way via Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  When I saw "super soft" chocolate cookies, with chocolate frosting, I thought my family would enjoy them and I wanted to give it a try.  Apparently, these cookies are a homemade rendition of "Swig" cookies.  I have no personal knowledge but it seems Swig is a sweet shop in Utah and their signature Swig soft sugar cookies have a big following.  
I just saw super-soft chocolate sugar cookies and thought my husband, who prefers thick, soft cookies above all else in terms of texture, would really dig them.  And true to the description, as long as you make sure not to over-bake them, you end up with a chocolate sugar cookie that has a wonderfully unique soft texture.  The cookies might lean on the sweet side but there's also plenty of deep chocolate flavor to balance it out.  My fellas and I enjoyed them very much.  Though I've never heard of or had a Swig cookie before, there is a familiar flavor to these cookies that my husband and I had to smile at.  
You can leave your frosted chocolate cookies unadorned (the way my husband likes it) or I think it's great how you can essentially dress them up/customize them for any holiday with some sprinkles!  So make these cookies for no particular reason or for a holiday like Valentine's Day, Easter, or Halloween by simply mixing up the decorations you place on top.  How fun and versatile is that! 
I packed a few of the cookie individually in small clear cellophane bags, sealed with a heart-shaped sticker, to give to my nephews and niece as a little early Valentine's Day treat.  It's a fun little gesture - I think it's always nice to spread the love with cookies. I also think if there's any group of people who deserve love and sweetness on Valentine's Day (and any other day), it's got to be kids!  



Easy baked flautas (taquitos)

I think the first time I had flautas, I was in my early twenties (which is longer ago than I want to believe).  It was over dinner with co-workers at a Mexican restaurant; our boss had taken us out for a holiday meal near year-end.  The main things I remembered about that meal were the excellent frozen margaritas (the kind that came out of a machine, very much like a slushy) and the delicious flautas.  I'd never had them before and was smitten with the crunchy, meaty, and cheesy bites of what is essentially a rolled up taco.  They went very nicely with the frozen margaritas but since I'm not much of a drinker, it's the flautas that stayed with me most.
Whether you call them flautas or taquitos, they're basically small rolled tacos, filled with meat and cheese, commonly fried to give them an irresistible crispness.  You might know you can find them in the freezer aisle at the supermarket.  I used to stock my freezer with ready-made flautas and occasionally heat up 2 or 3 to have as an evening snack (after dinner), with a soda!!  I was young and "wild" once upon a time.

I don't know when I gave up eating flautas.  The time right after my son's birth and the early years after that are a little bit of a blur to me, to be honest, and everything was reset in many ways.  But I often find myself telling people I love flautas even though I rarely eat them!  Mexican food, which I always think of as "fun" food, is something I want to get to know better beyond making quesadillas and having occasional taco nights at home.
Eating at Mexican restaurants is certainly a fun way to learn more about the cuisine but sometimes you have a great meal and other times, you end up a little disappointed.  That happened recently when I thought I'd finally introduce my son to flautas; when we tasted them, they were disappointing (sadly lacking in flavor and cheese) and he probably had to wonder why I keep saying they'd be so good.

If you're like me, you're often tempted to try to make for yourself the things you like to eat or foods that you remember fondly.  So this was my stab at flautas.  This homemade version couldn't be easier, in my opinion!  I took Giada De Laurentiis' recipe, which includes a genius shortcut filling made with: shredded rotisserie chicken, prepared salsa (that's the genius part!), cheese, and a little seasoning.  But instead of frying the flautas like she does, I decided to simply bake them in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so.  
I tell you what...these satisfied my flauta fix!  The fellas loved them and my son tells me they were far better than the ones we had at the restaurant.  There's no reason not to make them - they are fast, easy, and no-mess (not to mention, lower calorie and better for you) when you skip the frying.  With the Superbowl coming up, I know we're all thinking about finger foods and fun foods.  I think these definitely fit the bill.



Oatmeal crepes

Admittedly, these crepes were a bit hard-fought to get on the table but it was worth it.  I found them a bit tricky to flip but once I got the hang of it - letting the pan gets nice and hot, and allowing the crepe to fully cook through before flipping - I managed to serve these oatmeal crepes for a weekend breakfast.
Weekend breakfasts and brunch are special, no matter what we're eating.  That time around the table is something I look forward to all week!  And I love trying something new so I can talk about it here.  This time, I thought I'd make oatmeal crepes.  We all know and love crepes but I was especially drawn to this recipe from Lidia Bastianich that incorporated oat flour for a little touch of nuttiness and texture.  
I made oat flour by simply grinding old-fashioned oats until very fine (almost powdery) in a processor.  This addition of the oat flour, with regular all-purpose flour, is what sets these crepes apart (and what likely contributes to them being more tricky to handle/flip).  Additionally, fresh lemon zest adds a great pop of citrus flavor.  With the lemon, these crepes pair nicely with jam.  I tucked strawberry jam into some and filled others with Nutella.

As with others crepes, these are perfect little holders for the fillings you tuck within. Texturally, these stand out with the slight nuttiness, along with a great crispy edge. With the liquid in the recipe being water, they are fragile.  I may have lost a couple of crepes in the making but they were so tasty, my husband wished I'd saved the scraps and allowed him to have those, too!



Cauliflower fried rice, and the beauty of mixing things up

There was a benefit of going through our recent kitchen renovation that I wasn't expecting.  It forced me out of my routine and, surprisingly, I kind of liked it!
Cauliflower fried "rice", with chicken, peas, and scrambled eggs, makes a great hot lunch
I'm big on routine and I'm loyal to things I like; basically, I'm pretty cautious and unadventurous.  Even when it comes to food, I stick to much of the same things. I generally eat the same things for breakfast and lunch (a bit less so when it comes to dinner but even that can be predictable) but when the kitchen was out of commission and I had to wing it, I was forced to mix it up.  Instead of a big roasted sweet potato and veggies for lunch on repeat, I was eating a sandwich, or having a soup & salad, grabbing sushi, or digging into some Vietnamese spring rolls I picked up.  I was at the Whole Foods prepared food buffet a lot but I still got variety and, overall, I nixed the old routine and ate different things.

It was good to change things up and I realized I didn't need to eat the same things all the time.  In fact, it's fun to do otherwise!  So I'm making a conscious effort to mix things up a little - particularly my lunch, which means eating something other than roasted sweet potatoes and veggies - at least 2-3 times a week.  To that end, we come to this recent lunch I made for myself: cauliflower fried rice!   
Okay...let's talk about this phenomenon of subbing carbs with non-carbs.  Cauliflower has been out there - think mashed "potatoes" and pizza crust.  While I love cauliflower and cook it (either steaming or roasting) often, I haven't been attracted to this idea of using it for fried rice and whatnot.  Maybe to my mind, you don't mess with something like fried rice, which is a sacred comfort food to me.  Plus, it sounded like a lot of work!  I don't know about you but the whole idea of processing a big cauliflower before even getting down to making the dish isn't all that appealing.

So there were 2 reasons why I decided to make and try cauliflower fried rice after all. One, I discovered prepared riced cauliflower.  You can now find it in the grocery freezer aisle, though you might have to dig around in a few stores (so far, I've had luck finding it at Whole Foods and only one other supermarket.)  And knowing I have this shortcut is a huge motivation because even if I do take the time to make my own cauliflower rice by breaking it down in a food processor, it would likely be something I'd only do once.
Secondly, I was watching The Kitchen last weekend when I saw Katie Lee make this fried "rice".  She started with ginger and garlic and that is exactly how I love to start my fried rice - I think the grated ginger totally makes it.  The dish looked delicious and I saw how easy it would be with the prepared cauliflower so I was on a mission to find it and make the dish.
I'll finally cut to the chase.  Not only does this look like "real" fried rice, it tastes like it.  Is the cauliflower rice exactly like actual rice?  No, it's not.  It's a bit more moist and holds a bit of a crunch (though it's tender) than rice would but the flavors you associate with fried rice - in my case, the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil... - are all there and frankly, it is all very similar and familiar in your mouth.  The fried rice was delicious!  It made a great lunch and I can tell you that I will definitely be making cauliflower fried rice again and often.  I simply used leftover rotisserie chicken this time and I have been craving shrimp fried rice so that's up next.
If you've been on the fence about trying cauliflower fried rice like me, pick up a bag at the supermarket and give it a try.  This turned out to be a great food/ingredient discovery for me in 2017!  There is definitely a beauty, and benefit, to mixing and shaking things up a bit.



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