Frittata muffins

The other day, I found myself with a couple ounces of leftover pancetta (after making spaghetti carbonara for dinner) and decided to use it to make a few mini frittatas for breakfast the next morning.  I'm calling them frittata muffins, and I baked them in a regular-sized muffin tin.
Mini frittatas have been one of those things I've wanted to make and possibly have extra to freeze and have handy for a quick weekday breakfast.  Somehow, I'd never gotten around to it but here was my chance to whip some up.  I didn't have enough ingredients to make a big batch to stash any away in the freezer but it was just right for a fresh, hot breakfast.
I cooked and rendered the leftover pancetta and added it to the basis of 4 eggs and about a quarter-cup of milk.  The fun thing about frittatas is the flexibility for customization; add any ingredients - as much or as little - as you like.  In this case, I kept it pretty simple by adding the pancetta, a few tablespoon of Parmesan as well as Gruyere cheese, plus a little parsley I plucked from my herb box.  
I placed my frittata mixture into 5 muffin cups and watched them puff up and set, ready in less than 15 minutes.  Add a few slices of toast and breakfast was ready! These little frittata muffins are easy to make and another great way to enjoy eggs for breakfast.  



Pinata cupcakes

This past weekend was a very eventful one.  My son turned 11!!  It's incredible how quickly each year flies by, and equally shocking to see the little guy growing by leaps and bounds before our very eyes yet seemingly overnight.
We were lucky to enjoy a gorgeous weekend - sunshine, low-humidity in the high 80's, with a light breeze - the perfect backdrop for a little birthday barbecue we had for the birthday boy on Saturday.  

Dad was on the grill and the kids were busy working up an appetite playing and just being kids.  This year, I bought a classic ice cream cake for our birthday boy but I made him some fun cupcakes.
They're chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting...but there's a little surprise inside. They're stuffed with some celebratory goodies...in the form of sprinkles, miniature m&m's, and other colorful candies!
They're pinata cupcakes!  Slice them open and let the colorful treats spill out!  They are such fun!  When I first saw them a couple of months ago on the Food Network show, The Kitchen, I knew I wanted to make them as a little surprise for my son's upcoming birthday and that's what I did for him and the other kids at the party.
The little guy thought they were just regular cupcakes but I gave each child a plastic knife and asked them to slice their little cakes open for a surprise.  And seriously, the best reward for this small effort of mine was the smile that came to the birthday boy's face and the look of surprise, and happiness.  It was such a great feeling and a wonderful moment.
My birthday boy loved the pinata cupcakes and said they were the best thing at the party.  I think he was just saying that to be nice but it was lovely how appreciative he was.  And I know he did enjoy them because I turned around to slice his ice cream cake and when I looked down again at his plate, his cupcake - including the pinata filling - was all gone.  He ate it all! Somehow, I had envisioned the candy and sprinkle filling as more of a decorative element as opposed to for eating.
These were such fun and easy to do.  I'm really glad I made them and thankful for another year of happy birthday memories.



Devon (British-style) scones

Having a jar of homemade strawberry jam on hand was the perfect reason to bake up a batch of scones.  It gave me an excuse to try my hand at British-style scones and I made a British-themed breakfast out of it; I love a good theme to a meal!
For a while now, I've been intrigued with the idea of baking up a different kind of scone.  Now, I speak with no authority whatsoever on this - having never had the pleasure of sitting down to a proper tea in the U.K. - but it is my understanding that British style scones are very different from American ones.

Cook's Illustrated has an excellent article that outlines the difference between the two. To sum up, British-style scones use less butter, are more cake-like, on the more light & fluffy side, and are less sweet than American-styles scones. American scones are more buttery, flaky, and biscuit-like.  While American-style scones often incorporate all kinds of add-ins (from fruit to chocolate chips), British scones are generally plain or simply include currants or raisins.
It's not to say that one type of scone is better than the other; they're just different. And for me, different is good; there's a time and place for everything.  British scones aren't necessarily "better" or more virtuous simply because they're lighter. There's actually a reason for the restrained use of butter...British-style scones are meant to be split open and topped with an ample slathering of butter, jam, cream (clotted or otherwise), and/or other equally tantalizing things like honey or golden syrup.  I can remember watching Nigella Lawson eating a scone in such a way on one of her television programs, and being totally mesmerized.
British-style scones are more cake-like, lighter, and crumbly in texture than American ones
When it comes to American-style scones, on the other hand, we rarely need anything to go with it because they are so buttery and flavorful all on their own.  So it's essentially about different philosophies.  Why not try both and enjoy them in their own way?

Today, it's British-style scones.  I used Mary Berry's Devon (or Devonshire) scone recipe.  Are you familiar with Mary Berry?  I came to know of her after I started watching The Great British Bake Off (where amateur bakers take on baking challenges, very often amazing me with their abilities).  
Now is the time to admit, again, that I am really not good at handling dough, as in scone or biscuit making.  I'm pretty sure the dough can sense my fear.  Take a look at the scones above...only one baked up with a fluffy height and, ironically, it came from some re-rolled dough!  It's all a bit of a mystery to me and I just can't seem to get a good handle on it.
Luckily, despite the general lack of height, the scones turned out light and fluffy - definitely more cake-like than we're used to when we think of scones.  They were a great canvas for the homemade strawberry jam, and other things, we decided to spread on.
The "ceremony" of sitting down, splitting our scones, and deciding what we wanted to spread them with was a nice way to slow things down.  I would definitely say our British-themed tea breakfast was a fun hit!



Easy strawberry jam, and vanilla-strawberry swirl ice cream

I finally got to put one of my wreck jars to its intended use by filling it with a small-batch of homemade jam!  It is easy to make, beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat.
I've had easy strawberry jam, or "refrigerator jam", on my to-try list for a long time but it was Tricia's beautiful post on her blog, Saving Room for Dessert, that motivated me to finally do it.  Take a look at her gorgeous photos and I challenge you not to want to go straight out to buy some strawberries and make this jam.  

Tricia, I hope you agree that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because I tried very hard to imitate you and your results in this case.  Since this was as easy to make and as tasty as you said it would be, I think I did pretty well!
I followed Tricia's sage advice to use Grand Marnier (instead of lemon juice) in the jam.  Maybe you can't exactly pinpoint the liqueur but I know it does something magical in there.  This was definitely a worthwhile use of 2 cups of strawberries.  In a matter of 10-15 minutes, I had a thick, vibrant-red, sweet jam - ready to be enjoyed for breakfast.  My husband, who loves strawberry jam, was very impressed and we are both enjoying the fruits of my minimal labor.  I only made one cup so it's going went fast!
There are many ways to enjoy this homemade jam - from simply spreading it on top of toast or biscuits, to serving it with pancakes or crepes.  I took a few spoonfuls and stirred it into a batch of homemade Philadelphia-style vanilla bean ice cream!  
My husband loved this ice cream.  The eggless vanilla ice cream really showcases the vanilla flavor while the strawberry jam adds a level of sweetness and fruitiness.  Both have strong flavors but stand on its own as well as combined nicely together.  



Cheese soufflé

I've always wanted to make a cheese soufflé.  Maybe it's the fantasy of channeling my inner Ina Garten...I'd have a few people over for lunch out in the garden on a beautiful sunny day...there'd be a big charcuterie board and I'd serve cheese soufflé and a great big green salad.  Then, we'd make ice cream sundaes for dessert.
It's a funny image but for various reasons - probably because we already know how amazing sweet dessert ones are - I've wanted to try a savory soufflé.  I am finally checking it off my bucket list and honestly, it turned out so tasty that I may well be making it more often than I would have imagined before having tried it.
This gruyere cheese soufflé is cheesy, nutty, and eggy.  It's fluffy and light.  To me, it's like the flavor of the best homemade cheese cracker in soft, pillowy form.  A simple salad (and maybe a glass of crisp white wine) is the perfect accompaniment to it.  

I followed this Judith Jones recipe via Martha Stewart for a single-serve cheese soufflé.  I will likely have to double-up the recipe in the future because even our 10-year old liked it, and frankly, I hadn't anticipated sharing with him.  I can picture making this in the morning and serving it for breakfast with some plain multi-grain toast, and a strip of bacon!  
I did make this for lunch but we didn't sit in the garden.  It's been hot lately and I'm content to stay indoors when the sun is blazing and I can just enjoy the sunlit view from the cool of my dining room.  However you eat it though, I highly recommend you try it.  It was better than we expected!



Chocolate financiers

Whenever I make custard-base ice cream and have leftover egg whites, I often make financiers - those little French tea cakes made with almond meal, egg whites, and brown butter.  We love these little cakes dearly, and I have to say I'm a little amazed it took me this long to make a chocolate version!
Sometimes, it feels like it's this little blog's mission to talk about chestnuts and financiers!  Those topics come up a lot.  Honestly, these humble looking little cakes are one of my favorite things.  I urge you to try it and I think you'll see why I'm so crazy about them!  Because looks alone don't do them justice.  Bake a fresh batch at home and you end up with these warm little cakes that have a crunchy crisp texture on the outside, along the edges, and an incredible hazel-nutty, buttery flavor within. 

I love the basic almond financiers so much that it's the one I make most often, usually with a spoonful of chestnut cream tucked inside (I can combine two favorite things together!). But I've also swapped out the ground almonds for pistachioshazelnuts, and cashews to make those variations; plus, I've also made matcha financiers. Clearly, I'm a little financier-crazy!  And to further this madness, I went with a chocolate version this time.  I think it was long overdue.
All I did was add a couple of tablespoons of Dutch-process cocoa to the basic recipe I always use.  This simple move yielded these decadently-dark cakes, which have the same familiarly delicious nutty, buttery flavor, just now with a blanket of chocolate encasing the whole thing.  To get a little "fancy", you can grab some fresh berries - like I did with raspberries - and top a few on top of the cakes.  Add them about midway through baking so they don't sink into the batter.
I've mentioned before that I can never quite bake my financiers without a bit of a liquid center; I suspect it's because my batter is chilled.  It isn't a problem though. In fact, we love that slightly under-cooked center (it's the best part, tied with the crispy crust) so if you're willing, give it a try and see what I mean. 

These delicious chocolate financiers will be a part of the regular financier-making and eating rotation in our house going forward!  



Pistachio ice cream, with chocolate soufflé

My family and I had the best time sitting down to this dessert last Sunday afternoon. It started with a batch of homemade pistachio ice cream, then I made chocolate soufflé to go with it.  Boy oh boy, was it a treat!
I had a moment of pride bringing this to the table, feeling a little amazed I made it with my two little hands.  A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible to create so many restaurant dishes and desserts at home.  But now, I know that many things that seem hard aren't so hard at all; it just takes a little planning and concentration.  
It actually started with the ice cream.  Months ago, I was looking through this breakfast cookbook and among the recipes, I found one for pistachio ice cream.  Like I've said before, pistachio desserts are always especially good for some reason!  I love everything from pistachio cake to macaronscookies, and biscotti, and a scoop of pistachio ice cream/gelato is always a treat when I can get my hands on it.  So I was very interested in this relatively simple pistachio ice cream recipe I found myself looking at. 
Funny thing though...when I set out to make the ice cream, I looked up pistachio ice cream recipes online to do some comparison and found the exact same recipe on epicurious.com that's credited to a different source.  It made me scratch my head a bit but I'll just leave that alone and say that as far as results go, I am very happy with this pistachio ice cream!  It turned out full of pistachio flavor - with a little almond extract in the background that I think compliments it quite well.  
The pistachio flavor comes from grinding pistachios with some sugar and flavoring/cooking the milk with this mixture (which is later strained and discarded). Stirring some chopped pistachios into the ice cream adds texture and reinforces the pistachio flavor. This recipe leans closer to gelato given more milk than cream (2:1 ratio) in it, and I think it works really well in cases like this where you want the delicate nutty flavor to shine through.  So basically, I can now have excellent pistachio ice cream/gelato at home anytime I feel like it!  
I was thinking a special ice cream/gelato flavor like pistachio needed to be used or showcased somehow.  I noticed that the epicurious recipe, which is sourced to a restaurant that was once in PA, mentioned that the ice cream was served with warm chocolate soufflés.  Well, it took me no time at all to decide to copy that idea!

I made chocolate soufflés using a David Lebovitz recipe I've posted about in the past.  All in all, the chocolate soufflé with the pistachio ice cream was just...fabulous.  I made four of these and the three of us wiped the ramekins clean in no time at all. That's the thing with both soufflé and ice cream - they're meant to be devoured without hesitation.
When it's all gone, it leaves you wanting more but I can savor the memory of this for a while yet...



Tate's (crispy) chocolate chip cookies

So far, this spring is passing by in a happy blur.  There's always something on the calendar and it's good to be busy and have things to look forward to so I can't complain. 
Even with things going on, we make time to cook, bake, and of course - eat! Nothing could be easier and more relaxing than making cookies so I'm dropping off a batch of chocolate chip cookies today.  I seem to be on a chocolate chip cookie kick lately but as far as I'm concerned, it's always fun to try another chocolate chip cookie recipe and one cannot live by strawberries and raspberries alone no matter how good they are right now!

This time, I tried to take a step back for a moment from those much-loved soft and chewy cookies to something different - thin and crispy cookies, studded with dark chocolate chips.  Its dark brown hue hints at its deeper caramel flavor.
These cookies were made from Tate's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Are you familiar with Tate's?  They are known for their thin, distinctively crisp and crunchy, chocolate chip cookies and this is the recipe the owner, Kathleen King, shared in her cookbook for them.  

I've wanted to try this recipe at home for a while now because my son loves those Tate's cookies.  I remember he first tried them a couple of years ago when we were out shopping and he was given a sample.  He really took a liking to them.  I was a little surprised but I shouldn't have been when I think about his preference for Oreo cookies and crunchy snacks in general (I think most of us can relate). 
So we're happily munching our way through this batch of cookies and leaving crumbs in our trail but are these homemade cookies like Tate's?  Frankly, no.   At least my batch wasn't.  They sure are good cookies, with that nice familiar caramel flavor, but as far as comparison to the "real" thing, it's in the texture.  Mine didn't have that same uniform, all-through serious crunch you get when you bite into one of those thin Tate's cookies.  Baking a few extra minutes may be in order though I have to admit to a fear of veering too close to burnt rather than browned!  But though the recipe doesn't turn out the same thing as the cookies from a Tate's bags, I can't say it was a wasted effort given the tasty flavor and well, the general goodness of homemade chocolate chip cookies, period.  No one complained.



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