Mini lemon phyllo tarts

Aside from all things chocolate, another dessert I often crave is a lemon tart.  There is something great about the balance of tart and sweet, the crispness of the crust versus the creaminess of the filling.   
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and don't mind jumping right back into talking about food and desserts!  Continuing the theme of mini desserts and small bites, and to satisfy my all-too-frequent craving, I recently made a small batch of these easy mini lemon tarts using prepared phyllo cups.  It's a simpler, faster - not to mention, lighter - way to satisfy that lemon tart craving.  And it's the holiday season when party foods, small bites, and variety is the name of the game.  A mini dessert like this brightens up the table and taste-wise, it's light and fresh, packed with a strong lemon punch that provides so much flavor in each small bite.  
These mini phyllo cups from the supermarket are very handy.  I usually use them for savory fillings (I'm thinking of a spin on crab cakes at my Christmas party this year) but they're naturally great for many kinds of sweet filling, including lemon curd.  

I was inspired to make these after watching a cooking show.  From it, I picked up the tip of lightly spraying the phyllo shells with cooking spray and sprinkling them with some granulated sugar before baking for them for a few minutes to help make and keep the shells really crunchy.  I made a small batch of lemon curd for the filling and topped the little tartlets with a little bit of whipped cream, to which I added some fresh lemon zest. You can leave out the whipped cream if you like but I think they make them look extra special.
These phyllo cups are so incredibly crispy, shattering in your mouth, and cushioning all that lovely tart yet sweet flavor of the lemon curd.  It's easy to eat many of these! 

I can't help but think I'd love to make some chocolate mousse tartlets and set them alternating with these lemon ones on a big platter for a holiday party. Don't you love all the food and variety we conjure up during the holiday season? Here's to many, many tasty small bites and lots and lots of celebrations to go with it in the month ahead!  

Cashew tassies

In my chats with people, there seems to be this mutual agreement that while October moved at a nice, healthy clip, November has been zooming by.  We just finished celebrating my husband's birthday and now, we're looking forward to Thanksgiving just a few days away.
We'll be gathering with family and just sitting around to eat, talk, and be in the moment.  This holiday season, from now until Christmas and New Years, I'm determined to enjoy myself, stress less, and just savor the moments.   I look back at last year feeling like I had a little too long of a to-do list, too much of an agenda during the last 2 months of the year.  This year, I'm going to chill a little bit more and when it comes to cooking and baking, I plan to stick closer to old favorites and keep homemade gifts simple.  
That doesn't mean I won't try a few fun recipes that call out to me.  Here's one I made that I thought would be a great dessert option for Thanksgiving or a dinner party.  You often hear of pecan tassies but since my family and I are not huge fans of pecans, I substituted it with one of our favorites - cashew nuts.
I used cashews (ground in the crust and chopped in the filling) in this recipe instead of pecans
"Tassies" refer to the Scottish word for "little cups" and these are basically little tart cups filled with a filling of cashew nuts, sweetened with good things like maple syrup and brown sugar.  It's got the warm flavors you associate with autumn and pie, plus a small presentation that's so nice for times like Thanksgiving when everyone has already enjoyed a big meal and might want to savor smaller bites at dessert (or make room for a greater variety of dessert on their plate).  In any case, if you love small bites and mini desserts like I do, these little tassies are a nice dessert anytime. 
For those a little pie-phobic like me and anxious about making crusts, the crust for these tassies is very easy to make.  Cream cheese - and butter - give it a lovely tenderness.  The dough is easy to handle and you simply roll out small balls and press each into mini muffin tins.  I substituted a little of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour with no problems.  

The filling is even easier to make.  Stir together an egg, the brown sugar and maple syrup I mentioned, a tablespoon of butter, and a good amount of toasted cashews, and simply fill the cups and bake.  The finished tassies pop right out of the tin.
These end up with a tender pastry and a sweet - but not too sweet - filling loaded with toasted cashew flavor.  I made these to enjoy for our "mini" or pre-Thanksgiving dinner at home, just the three of us.  On the actual day, we're getting together with more family and I'm simply on dessert duty.  I'm bringing an ice cream pie and a chocolate-hazelnut torte but now that I've auditioned these little cashew tassies, they just might be a contender for next year's gathering.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Ovenly's (vegan) chocolate chip cookies

Hard on the heels of trying Ovenly's peanut butter cookies (wonderful, by the way), I read about their "secretly vegan" chocolate chip cookies from Food52!  Now, you probably know that the photography over at Food52 is amazing so yes, the cookies looked incredible but, more importantly, the description really intrigued me.
Vegan chocolate chip cookies?  Not being vegan, I never gave the idea much thought. What happens in this case is eggs have been removed from the equation and the typical butter is likewise replaced with oil and water.  How crazy does that sound? And how neat if, in fact, you can make delectable chocolate chip cookies this way because how often do you drop the idea of making cookies when you realize you haven't the time to wait for butter to soften?  

So I entered this little experiment both excited but a little skeptical as well.  However, I held on tight to the promise that these cookies would be good, regardless of the ingredient list and whether or not they were vegan (*note: not being any expert on the topic, you should make sure the sugar and chocolate you use are vegan if that's important to you).
Another thing going for these cookies...they're so easy to make!  As with the peanut butter cookies, you don't even need a mixer.  The only thing you need is a little patience to let the cookie dough sit in the fridge 12-24 hours before baking.

So in case you also saw these cookies from Food52 and wondered about them like I did, I can tell you they are indeed "genius"!  Had I just been tasting them, I would not think they were anything other than a very good chocolate chip cookie (my son and husband agree).  Once baked, they look and feel everything like your "regular" chocolate chip cookie.  If you want to nitpick, I would say you might miss the butter flavor some but these cookies still have plenty of caramel notes and flavor from the brown sugar (I used dark brown).
In the vain of keeping things simple, I used 60% dark chocolate chips (instead of chopping up a bar of chocolate) and these cookies turned out the way I like them. Texturally, they're crisp along the edges and soft and chewy in the center.  There's the caramel flavor I mentioned and plenty of dark chocolate in every bite.  It's really good stuff and a great chocolate chip cookie to add to your rotation.  My family and I polished our little batch of these cookies off in no time.

Orange soufflé

Who doesn't love the theatrics and taste of a soufflé?  I still remember times when I've had it for dessert when eating out.  My husband and I had the best ones at The Four Seasons Restaurant and La Grenouille in New York City and we still talk about it now and then.
Thanks to this blog, I learned to make soufflé at home.  Back in 2011, I started with a lemon soufflé.  It wasn't nearly as difficult as I imagined and it was delicious - it's one of those things that kind of melts in your mouth and disappears quickly.  And I gradually moved on...and tried chocolate soufflé (with orange crème anglaise)a chocolate version with Grand Marnier, as well as a plain Grand Marnier one.

I've had different degrees of success.  Over-whipping the egg whites seems to be my major problem but honestly, when you're not a professional or under the pressure of serving them to paying guests, imperfect soufflés are still really good!  I don't know how restaurants manage to bring soufflés to the table while they're still tall and lofty; my attempts at home start deflating seconds out of the oven.
An orange soufflés flavored with orange zest, fresh orange juice, and Grand Marnier
When wintertime rolls around and the holidays approach, I tend to think about soufflés a lot.  While I love to make and eat them, and I do make the ones I mentioned above occasionally, trying to photograph them to blog about is not so fun. But I was craving soufflé, particularly after looking through a holiday magazine and spotting an orange one (evidently, I have a thing for orange when it comes to soufflé), so I made it and tried to take some pics along the way.

These soufflés rose and rose steadily in the oven, but this is the first time they've cracked as much as they did.  Maybe I over-whipped my whites again, or I was too liberal with my liquid measurements, throwing in a little extra orange juice the way I did?  I'm not sure, to be honest, and as much as I love a "neat" soufflé, there's something kind of endearing about a sloppy, overflowing one as well.  I think so, anyway.
I love digging right into the center with a spoon.  It's steaming hot and so light and pillowy soft inside.  It really is like eating some sort of sweet eggy clouds.  In this case, these were bursting with orange flavor.  A warm soufflé is really good with a cold crème anglaise sauce as a contrast but even without it, they are surely divine just on their own.
My husband and I devoured these.  So I've indulged my soufflé craving, for now...

Ovenly's peanut butter cookies, with chocolate

When Smitten Kitchen wrote about Ovenly's salted peanut butter cookies, I was left with an incredible urge to taste them.  
Sometimes a recipe, and the story, just calls out to you, and for various reasons, this is one of those I had to make quick.  I love peanut butter and I've enjoyed some great PB treats (like these monster cookies and sandwich cookies, for example) but there have surely been times when peanut butter baked goods fall short of the flavor mark and you end up thinking you would've been better off just slathering the good stuff on to your morning toast.

So these highly-touted cookies, which promised intense peanut butter flavor, had to be tried.  There was little standing in my way because they only require a few ingredients and hardly more than a bowl and whisk to do the job.
You do need an ice cream scoop.  Okay, you don't actually even need that but with all the talk about the shape of these cookies (domed) and the marks on them (striations made from scooping cold dough with an ice cream scoop), I was entranced by the whole thing.  Believe it or not, I even went out and bought a new ice cream scoop. For baking, I already had a 1/4-cup scoop and a #50 scoop, which equals to a little over a tablespoon.  The large one is usually too large and I've always thought the smaller one was just a little too small!  Deb used the #40 scoop (1 2/3 tablespoons) for these cookies and I realized that's what I've been missing so I went out and got one!
Grating a little chocolate to add to these peanut butter cookies
I went ahead and added chocolate to these flourless peanut butter cookies.  Typical of me.  While I know that chocolate probably wasn't necessary per se, I simply can't resist the notion of adding chocolate whenever I can.  And the result?  As Mary from The Great British Baking Show would say: "these are scrummy!"  That would be scrumptious or other words, really good!
I was tempted to call these "peanut butter-chocolate truffles" because these little mounds (which look remarkably like large unshelled walnuts, actually) have this fudgy, moist texture very much like a truffle.  The outside is firm and slightly crisp, the inside is very moist and a little chewy.  The flavor is 100% peanut butter, with a hint of chocolate in my case.  If you like peanut butter cups, I think you'll be a fan of these cookies!

Roasted kabocha squash soup

Last year around this time, I learned about kabocha squash.  I'd enjoyed it for ages in the form of tempura at Japanese restaurant without ever quite knowing what it was!
But luckily, Nami at Just One Cookbook revealed the mystery of the delicious kabocha squash, also known as "Japanese pumpkin".  I started experimenting with roasting different varieties of squash last Fall and I discovered that I really love the kabocha above all else! 

What I love most about it is the texture.  It's this wonderful combination of squash-potato, sweet-potato, and chestnut!  It's usually got the texture and flavor of Japanese sweet potato as well, which I absolutely adore (I say "usually" because sometimes you get a drier-denser kabocha and other times, a "wetter", more squash-like, one).  It's sweet and altogether delectable and really satisfying.  Now that it's been in season, I constantly buy this green, knobbly and rough-looking squash to roast.  I can put away a lot in one sitting!  Now given my tendency towards routine, it's hard for me to break away from simply roasting-and-eating, but I managed to try something new - this soup!
There's no cream necessary in making this thick, smooth, and creamy kabocha soup. I started with sweet onions and flavored the soup with a generous amount of grated ginger as well as garlic for a little kick to balance the sweetness.  I add roasted kabocha, cooking everything together, before using the immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth.

This is my husband's kind of way of enjoying kabocha and I also devoured my fair share of it.  It's so hearty and satisfying.  I do love to eat the skin of the kabocha though - amazingly, the rough and tough-looking skin is incredible soft and absolutely edible after cooking.  So while I'm not about to give up on my roast-and-eat routine, I'll be more than happy to make a batch of roasted kabocha soup once in a while.

Halloween peppermint brownies

Time flies and it's already Halloween in two short days!  
I may not be very big on Halloween but it's good to get into the spirit a little bit with some pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and a few fun treats.  I find that as the kids get older, the fervor behind Halloween is quieting down so maybe I should try to enjoy it as much as possible while my son is still dressing up and excited to "boo" his friends and neighbors.  
The kids at school are having a Halloween bake sale today and I made these simple peppermint brownies for the sale.  I considered making a batch of owl cupcakes but when I saw this simple idea for making Halloween "faces" using peppermint patties on brownies from Martha, it seemed like an easy/tasty project to try.  I love an excuse to make brownies!
I took Martha's idea and made it even simpler.  I actually used a recipe from Joy of Baking that makes brownies that are meant to be somewhere between cakey and fudgy.  I wanted a moist brownie and also one that would hold up well.  Since I made sure to take my brownies out of the oven earlier rather than later, mine turned out more fudgy, which is how we like them.  Instead of embedding a peppermint patty into the brownies (as well as using one for the faces) as per Martha's recipe, I just added a little peppermint extract into the batter to reinforce the flavor, keeping things simple and not too crazy minty.  
I don't know if everyone's a fan of peppermint brownies but my son loves it and selfishly, of course, I was thinking of him.  He wanted a batch for himself and after I let him sample one, he really wanted to keep the entire batch.   In other words, these are my kid-approved!  Somehow, I did manage to pack up most of the brownies and they now reside with many other creepy and not-so-creepy treats awaiting the school bake sale.
Have a fun and safe Halloween!  Once Monday rolls around, it's officially time to talk Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can hardly wait!

Cheddar-bacon gougeres

After making various sweet cream puffs with pate a choux dough, I thought I'd make a switch to savory.  I went with that classic American flavor combination of cheddar cheese and bacon.  
Not very surprisingly, the fellas in my house are big fans of this flavor combo (around here, cheers ring out when I make twice baked potatoes with bacon, cheddar, and scallions) so I knew I'd have some ready taste-testers for this.  I baked a handful for lunch the other day and froze the rest of the batch for another time.  The ones I baked were readily polished off. These little mounds of sharp, cheesy, savory goodness are pretty easy to love.  They're ever so crisp yet tender on the inside.

To make, it all starts with the familiar pate a choux dough.  I added a pinch of paprika for a little extra color and you could really flavor it with a touch of whatever spice you want.  The dough is quickly cooked on the stovetop and after the eggs are fully incorporated and the dough is ready, the savory part comes in.  I added shredded sharp cheddar cheese and a few slices of finely chopped bacon.  You could add some chives or scallions if you have it on hand.  
This had me thinking back and remembering that I've actually made cheese gougeres before, years ago.  One Christmas, I attempted them for a family Christmas party. What I remember was how bland those puffs turned out!  For whatever reason that I can't remember now, I'd substituted a mild cheese for whatever it was I was supposed to use and I remember those gougeres had hardly any flavor as a result.  Well, I'm happy to say I made up for the flavor department this time.

And speaking of Christmas, the holidays are coming up!  That has me thinking of parties...appetizers, toasts, and nibbles.  These are just the kind of little bites that would be great for a cocktail party, or they'd just make a nice appetizer to get a party started.  These cheese gougeres would certainly go well with some bubbly (anybody else love the combination of salty potato chips with champagne?).  I like to keep mini bottles of prosecco in my fridge for mimosas or whenever we might want to make a little toast to life.  The next time I bake off the rest of this batch of cheddar-bacon gougeres, I'll be reaching for one of those bottles.


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