Friday, September 12, 2014

Flour's chocolate chunk cookies

To me, chocolate chip cookies equal comfort baking and eating.  They're easy to make and delicious to eat so there's a big payoff.  So when I have some free time, I often get the notion to make a batch.  I like to make the dough, let it sit a day or so in the fridge, and bake some up to enjoy with my fellas.  I usually freeze a few to have on standby but they rarely last more than a week or two in the freezer.
Flour's recipe has chunks of dark chocolate as well as bits of milk chocolate that add a deeper caramel flavor to the cookies
Like brownies and oatmeal cookies, I've met many a delicious chocolate chip cookie.  I have my favorite go-to recipes but it's fun to try a different version every once in a while.  There may not be a whole lot of differences among chocolate chip cookie recipes but some little nuance or twist in a recipe can make a difference.

In this case, I thought of the chocolate chunk cookie recipe from Flour Bakery.  I've made a few great recipes from the first cookbook (these milk chocolate hazelnut cookies are incredible, and then there were those surprisingly-easy homemade Oreos).  When we visited the bakery in Boston, we had one of their chocolate chip cookies made with TCHO chocolate.  I'm not sure if it was the TCHO chocolate that made the difference but it was really delicious.  With that memory in mind, I went ahead and gave the chocolate chip/chunk cookie recipe a try.
You have the basics of the classic chocolate chip cookie here: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, chocolate, you know the drill.  The nuances in this particular recipe is the use of some bread flour (which might very well make you think of those thoroughly-talked-about Jacque Torres/New York Times chocolate chip cookies) for extra substance and chew, as well as a little milk chocolate thrown in with the dark.

As a child, all I knew was milk chocolate.  In recent years, my taste preference has definitely gone over to the dark side.  It'd been the same way for my husband but recently, he and the little guy have renewed their affinity for milk chocolate and I have to say that it has its place in many desserts and even works better in some cases than dark chocolate.  In this particular instance, the smaller bits of milk chocolate are a great partner to the larger chunks of dark chocolate.  It adds a caramel flavor and sweetness to the background of these cookies that I was a big fan of.  
You know...I have to say that I've yet to be able to mimic that bakery-style chocolate chip cookie texture that I love.  I'm talking about the hefty ones that are super crusty and firm yet also chewy and melding at the same time.  The home versions are just not quite that extreme somehow.  I keep thinking it has something to do with professional versus home ovens but I'm not sure.  All I know is that at home, I get wonderful oven-fresh cookies and I can do myself the favor of using the best ingredients I can find.  That's especially true when it comes to the chocolate. Use good stuff and what you like to eat because you can taste it in chocolate chip/chunk cookies.  In this case, a darker chocolate (higher % cacao, say 60%-70%) works really well as it contrasts with the smaller bits of sweeter milk chocolate within. 

So while these cookies I made at home aren't precisely the one we bought and ate from Flour Bakery (I didn't notice any milk chocolate at the time), they were certainly delicious.  Crisp and dark at the corners, soft in the center, my favorite thing about them was the flavor - the caramel-butterscotch undertones against the chunks of melty dark chocolate.  Chilling the dough at least overnight, or for a few days, in the refrigerator to develop the flavor and color is a very good thing to do.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chocolate chiffon cake with cocoa cream filling

It's time for a back-to-school cake!  I almost forgot about this little tradition of mine because time has been flying by and there just doesn't seem to be much time to think or plan too far ahead.  Luckily, I remembered in time.  What we usually do is very simple...we have a little celebration dinner after the first day of school.  The idea of having a "back-to-school" cake to cap it off is just a fun excuse for us to make and enjoy a cake together.
I was inspired to make a chocolate chiffon cake for this year's back-to-school cake for a few reason.  I just love plain chiffon cake - the fluffy, light, moist texture with the lovely richness from using not only egg whites (i.e., angel food cake) but also egg yolks.  I'm devoted to its simplicity though I've made (and adored) a banana-chocolate version as well.  And not long ago, someone asked me about suggestions on how to make a chocolate chiffon cake.  That got me thinking that I would like to try a full-on chocolate version myself!  Being that the little guy loves chocolate almost as much as I do, I thought I'd make it for our back-to-school cake.  
Since my now fourth-grader adores frosting and creamy fillings (way more than I do!), I thought I'd add some to this chiffon cake.  The original recipe for this cake suggested mocha whipped cream as well as a chocolate glaze.  My son's love of coffee-flavored treats seems to have waned recently so I went with cocoa - rather than mocha - cream.  To keep things simple and a bit less decadent, I opted not to glaze the cake.  This had me thinking about a delicious cake, called the "Windmill" at New York's Veniero's that I love and have not had in way too long.  This isn't quite the same but will do until I get a chance to go there and share a slice or two of it with my fellas.

I'm glad I decided to skip the chocolate glaze.  I mean, it would take a lot to cover this tower of a chiffon cake!  And seeing how lofty it turned out, I decided to slice it into 3 layers to divvy up the cocoa cream between.  I used a cup of cream and you'll have just enough to give it a relatively modest coating between the layers.
I may be firmly on team "plain chiffon" but if you're looking to change things up or hankering for a light, spongy cake with some chocolate flavor (instead of a dense chocolate overload - which is not by any means a bad thing, in my book), this is one to consider. 

The cake is as light, moist, and bouncy as you'd expect and require a chiffon to be.  The chocolate flavor is relatively mild. For more of a chocolate hit, adding a chocolate glaze or grating some chocolate into the batter (like I did hereare good options.  Whereas I would not want to detract from a plain version in any way (I adore the pure egg flavor of it without cream or other accompaniments), I think the cream filling works really well for this chocolate rendition.  My fellas (my husband and my son) certainly enjoyed it.
This is a lot of cake, yes, but you'd be surprised by how easily it goes down and how quickly a big slice disappears!  Back-to-school day this year also happened to be my brother's birthday and I was able to deliver a few slices for the birthday boy to enjoy at his leisure.  There was plenty of cake to go around and that's a good thing because cakes are made for sharing (I only hoard occasionally).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Simple spaghetti aglio e olio

Tomorrow, my son heads back to school.  For us, it's the unofficial signal that summer is over...and, as usual, the feeling is a little bittersweet.  

I'll miss the freedom of summer, that attitude of not taking anything - from schedules to "to-do" lists - too seriously.  We trade that in for a world filled with a little more structure and routine once again. I'm not altogether against that so I have mixed emotions.  What I resolve to do is accept and appreciate.  I actually enjoy the change in seasons, having different things to look forward to at different times of the year.  And as we all know, the clock continues to tick (quickly) and given the inevitability of it, it's best to simply embrace it.
It's time for simple - simple and easy meals like spaghetti with garlic and oil
While I'm sorting out all my feeling and organizing schedules, I thought I'd drop in here with a simple pasta dish.  Spaghetti aglio e olio, or spaghetti with garlic and oil, is one of my all-time favorites.  This version calls for anchovies and I think it's all the better, more flavorful, because of it.  It's one of those almost-pantry pasta dishes that I love to whip up when I want something easy yet hearty and comforting to eat.  I call it "almost" pantry pasta because of the parsley - it's kind of a must-have in this dish and for me, that often requires a trip to the grocery store.  Since I go to the grocery store several times a week, it's not much of an issue for me.  

All the talk about spaghetti carbonara recently had me thinking about this simple pasta - inexpensive and quick, yet tasty and reliable enough for company or just as a quick dinner when you're busy like we all will be heading into the Fall.
The pasta is really flavorful all on its own but add more protein if you like
The last time we had this, about a week or so ago, I had some meatballs on hand so I plopped a few on the side for the fellas.  This pasta is great with some protein but I love it just as it is, with nothing else.  The anchovies and garlic, not to mention some good olive oil, packs the pasta with a lot more flavor than you might expect.  

Maybe this is already a family favorite of yours...or maybe you have other quick-easy-and-delicious dishes up your sleeve for the busy months ahead.  If that's the case, please share!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kid in the kitchen (summer edition)

A few years ago, if you had told me that my son would be interested in helping out in the kitchen and cooking with me, I would have been skeptical.  He wasn't one of those kids who jumped at the chance to get his hands dirty in the kitchen.  But I have to say that things have changed quite a bit. 

Wanting to share one of my interests with him, I've been luring him into the kitchen, bit by bit, in the last couple of years.  And now, having him there, helping me crack some eggs or completing a whole recipe together, is not uncommon.  He might not have a big passion for cooking or baking but I think he's figured out that working/playing in the kitchen can be a lot of fun.  I like to think that he learns a little something in the process when we make something together, and I know he appreciates the sense of accomplishment and the tasty reward at the end!
Spaghetti Carbonara: one of the simple dishes my little guy and I made together this summer
So this summer, I made a goal.  I wanted to get the little guy in the kitchen for a few cooking "sessions".  Beyond one-off projects or just stepping in to help me whisk something or to spread a batter here and there, I wanted to teach him how to make a few simple dishes from beginning to end.  We get to spend time together (cooking and eating) and longer-term, I hope that by cooking more and more, he'll be able to make basic meals for himself down the line as an adult.

Well, the summer flew by fast.  It can be hard to carve out time for "cooking lessons" but we managed when I look back at it.  As I've posted before, we were in the kitchen making fun things like pudding pops and grilled chocolate sandwiches but we also collaborated on a few others, including some savory dishes.  The trick was finding easy and relatively quick dishes that the little one would enjoy because then there'd be motivation to keep going.  I think we did all right since he was a big fan of everything he cooked up.

So you know how moms do - we talk about our kids!  In that spirit, please bear with me as I share some of the cooking sessions I had with my little guy this summer... 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Easy coconut milk ice cream and sesame wonton crisps

I have Kelly at Life Made Sweeter to thank for today's tasty kitchen experiment.  A week or so ago, she posted some delectable-looking toasted coconut banana bread ice cream sandwiches and I spied a recipe for coconut ice cream within it that I just had to try.
The ice cream takes 3 ingredients to make: coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Who can resist something that simple!  Clearly not me because I was pulling out my little ice cream machine in no time.

This may be an odd time to say that I'm actually not a huge fan of coconut...but I just love coconut milk.  The aroma and taste of it is nothing short of intoxicating.  
While I have been getting into the habit of cooking with light coconut milk and it works really well in many cases, this is definitely not the time for it.  You need to use full-fat coconut milk since you're making ice cream and want as much creamiest as possible.  I went digging in my pantry and actually found a can sitting there waiting for me so it was surely meant to be.

True to expectation, the finished product tasted like delicious coconut milk in ice cream form!  If you love coconut milk, there's nothing not to love about the taste of this.  And you'll love that it takes little more effort beyond dissolving some sugar in the coconut milk and letting it chill before churning.  

I do want to point out that, in my experience, the ice cream freezes very hard (it comes out like soft-serve fresh out of the ice cream machine if you'd like to dig in then) so you need to let it sit out for a bit to soften before scooping. I did make a small batch using only one can of coconut milk so maybe that didn't help my case. I needed to give it a few really good scrapes to pull my ice cream together. Assuming that's not a deal-breaker for you, the flavor is sensational.  (I do wonder if a little alcohol like vodka would soften the texture but that's an experiment for another day...)
And in the spirit of simple and easy, I decided to whip up some sweet sesame seed wonton crisps to go with the ice cream.  They are really easy to make!  Take a few wonton skins, lay them on a baking sheet and brush them with a little egg wash before sprinkling with sesame seeds and a bit of sugar.  Then bake until browned and crispy.
The sesame flavor really pops in these wonton crisps and went really well with the coconut milk ice cream.  The two pack a lot of flavor individually but worked well together to bring each forward. You could serve one alongside or even lay some ice cream right on top of one like I did.  It's fun either way because it ends up being finger food.  And when you're done, you can take your extra wonton wrappers and make a batch of savory wontons like I did!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chocolate chip cookie icebox cake (with homemade cookies)

I may very well have defeated the purpose of an icebox cake by making the cookies myself.  After all, the appeal of the icebox cake is its simplicity and the fact that it requires no baking.  Well, what can I say...baking is what we do here.
My 6-inch icebox cake: Five individual layers of chocolate chip cookies and cocoa whipped cream-mascarpone filling
This is my first icebox cake.  It's the first time I'm making and eating one.  This 6-inch icebox cake of mine is a bit of a mashup between Ina Garten's mocha chocolate icebox cake and Martha Stewart's chocolate chip icebox cake.  A few years ago, a friend told me how good Ina's recipe was and ever since then, I've thought about trying it.  Ina uses Tate's chocolate chip cookies - those shatteringly crisp cookies are terrific (my son is a big fan) but I had a hankering to make my own and that's where Martha comes in.  
Homemade chocolate chip cookies - thin and baked until crisp, ideal for icebox cakes
I rarely make thin and crisp chocolate chip cookies (thin and chewy ones, yes) but this was a nice experiment.  I found the crispiness a nice change.  And the handy thing about it is you can simply bake the cookies a couple of minutes less and end up with a softer, chewy cookie instead.  For the icebox cake, you do want to make sure and use crispy cookies since it will do its thing and soften with the layers of cream in between it.  

For the creamy filling, I decided to go with cocoa-flavored whipped cream instead of mocha and I tweaked Ina's recipe by using a little less mascarpone cheese, reducing the amount of sugar, and skipping the liqueur.  Since the little guy would be digging into this cake with us, I omitted the liqueur but I think it would be a safe bet to say that it'd be delicious with it. 
I divided the recipes I used in half to make my scaled-down version.  Unless you're feeding a crowd, it may be wise because we're talking layers of chocolate chip cookies, with a rich (though deceptively light-tasting) whipped cream and mascarpone filling.  I find this is the kind of cake that you put on a plate and you polish off whatever's on that plate, so a small slice may be the way to go when it comes to enjoying this.

Most icebox cakes are freeform and I like that casual simplicity but I think I prefer Ina's way of making it in a cake pan.  You need a springform pan, or as in my case, a 6-inch cheesecake pan (one with a removable bottom).  I think it makes for a neat presentation.  Plus, it's super easy and convenient to assemble that way.
I think my first icebox cake gets a thumb's up.  Like I said, once you take a bite, it's hard to stop eating.  Funny thing...when my son tasted this, he told me "mmm, it's really good!  I thought I would hate it, but it's really good!"  That gave me a good laugh!  I think the sound of "cheese" (i.e., mascarpone cheese) threw him off a bit but the taste won him over.  I always know something is good when he asks me how much of it is left...needless to say, he wanted dibs on the last piece though he was willing to share.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two more ways with miso

Only three more weekends until school starts.  I know I always say it but this really is one quick-flying summer!  I'm taking it easy and making a point to savor some lazy days of summer.  Before we know it, some of us will be back in the throws of back-to-school nights and juggling homework and schedules again.

So while I'm "busy" chilling, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes I tried recently that have been both easy and delicious.  Remember my recent foray into using miso?  Besides the noodles, I used my container of miso paste to make two other tasty dishes.  
Miso-glazed broiled salmon
First up, miso-glazed broiled salmon.  I'd spotted a recipe in the July/August 2014 Food Network magazine for "asian salmon rolls", which was actually a sandwich with a wasabi dressing and greens.  I abandoned the sandwich idea but the simple miso-based marinade for the salmon interested me since I did have that container of miso paste from Trader Joe's in my fridge.  Also, my son loves salmon so I'm constantly roasting it one way or another and could use new ways to serve it.

I adapted the recipe a little bit and it turned out great, something I've made a couple of times already and will continue to as part of my salmon-cooking rotation.  Miso paste, mirin, and bit of brown sugar in the glaze makes for a nice, subtle, salty-sweetness that's very tasty on the salmon. I discovered that I really like broiling makes for a leaner, less-fatty, end result.
Oven-broiled garlic-miso chicken wings
Secondly, my family and I enjoyed garlic miso chicken wings.  I have been eyeing the recipe for a while, one of many dishes I've discovered from Just One Cookbook, a wonderful site for easy Japanese recipes.

These wings are marinated with plenty of minced garlic, miso, soy sauce and mirin.  Those 4 ingredients make for an incredibly flavorful coating on the chicken.  You broil the wings using the broiler plate that comes with your oven (the first time I put that thing to use and it worked wonderfully!) and the result is some crispy wings that are super moist and juicy on the inside and packed with flavor.  What more could you ask for.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Chocolate pudding pops

Somehow, we're well into August and summer break will be over before we know it.  It's been a busy - but very productive - summer for us but I'm looking forward to a slower pace in the next few weeks.  We just got back from a very relaxing vacation in Turks & Caicos.  It takes some adjustment to come back from paradise but it's always good to be home!

Before we left, my little one and I made some popsicles for our latest kitchen collaboration.  We made some delicious, relatively light yet seriously satisfying, chocolate pudding popsicles.  I mentioned that I've been doing some cooking projects with my little guy.  I've been trying to build his interest and attempting to teach him some basic skills and ideas about cooking.  So I try to entice him with simple cooking projects that can hold his attention (a 9-year old boy's attention span is short!) and will result in things he likes to eat.
In the kitchen this summer...thoroughly enjoying the fruits of our labors
Well, this time it was chocolate pudding pops.  My son loves chocolate almost as much as I do, and he particularly loves this chocolate pudding pie that I've been making on repeat lately so it got me thinking about making some chocolate pudding pops with him.
I've made fudge pops before and, to be honest, I'm not altogether sure if there's a difference between "fudge pops" and "chocolate pudding pops" when you hear those terms being used.  The two recipes I've now tried are a bit different but I think we tend to use the two names interchangeably.  Anyone care to enlighten me?  

Anyway, maybe it's the magic of working with your child but all I can say is these were the best chocolate pudding pops I've had and helped to make.  I decided on a simple recipe from Cooking Light, which calls for low-fat milk, a good dose of cocoa, and some bittersweet chocolate.  A touch of cornstarch and an egg yolk give it some more body.  The result is a creamy yet icy popsicle filled with deep chocolate flavor.
My young "chef" was pleasantly surprised by how good his popsicles were.  I think he was a little worried and skeptical after having a taste of pure unsweetened cocoa (he asked to try it so I let him!).  But once these pudding pops were done and he sunk his teeth into it, he resoundingly approved and wanted two popsicles in one sitting!  This batch of popsicles went quickly.  

My husband and I were swooning a bit over these simple pudding pops ourselves.  While it's entirely possible that our response had something to do with the fact that they were made by a very special fella, I think you'd agree they're better than any chocolate pudding pops you'd buy at the grocery store.