Berry pretty raspberry soufflés

Fall is undoubtedly cookie-making month for me.  With cooler temps and more time at home now that we're back on the school schedule (more time for me, that is, but busier-than-ever for our high school freshman), I find myself whipping up batches of cookies on the regular.  It's a comforting routine - a mix of baking therapy and a way of expressing love and nurture in a small way.  So I'm all for cookies.  But that said, I try to mix in a little something different once in a while.  Cue the soufflés!
I've made soufflés a number of times but they're definitely not something I do on the regular.  In some ways, you have to hype yourself up a little bit and focus.  It's a little bit of magic and when the spell works, it's a great trick.
A few months back, I spotted a trio of beautiful soufflés on Erin McDowell's Instagram account.  You can see a photo and the recipe, here.  Is it any wonder I ran out and bought a bag of frozen raspberries right away to make sure I try it at home?

I do have this nagging thought that I should've went with the blueberry version to see if I could reproduce that gorgeous purple-blue hue, especially when I realize I'd made raspberry soufflés once before (albeit different), but pink and raspberry won out.  This raspberry soufflé recipe is different from the other I've tried in that it requires an extra step - pureeing the fruit and passing it through a sieve to remove the seeds so that you have a beautiful, smooth, bright red raspberry puree to infuse your soufflés with.  It results in the more even pink hue throughout the soufflé.  
That extra step of pureeing the fruit does take some time and patience but it was worth it.  And when the recipe works just as written, with the soufflés rising steadily and calmly (no tipping over), you feel such a thrill of success.  It's a great sight to behold but, alas, it is a very quick "high", as soufflés begin to deflate as soon as they come out of the oven.  But that's alright...sometimes you just have to life for the moment (and just hope there will be lots and lots of "moments").


Ice cream sandwiches

I know fall is fast-approaching and it's time for pumpkins and earth tones but can we squeeze in one more summer treat?  Let's sit back and have an ice cream sandwich, as we flip through our summer photos and reminisce (because it already feels like a long time ago).
I finally made ice cream sandwiches this summer.  My son adores a good ice cream sandwich and it's one of those things I've been meaning to make - instead of buy - for so long now.  After tackling ice cream tacos, I figured it was past time.  And really, this is just a matter of making the thin, brownie-like, cake layer, then a little quick work (and okay, a teeny bit of mess) spreading some good ice cream in between.  Extra credit if you feel like adding some chocolate magic shell and sprinkles.  

I went with a recipe from The New York Times - it's really simple and I liked the appeal of thin brownie-like cake that's soft, slightly fudgy and chewy, as the cap between some good vanilla ice cream.  And when I conferred with my son, we agreed that a classic vanilla ice cream is the best choice for an ice cream sandwich; it's hard to beat that simple contrast between chocolate and vanilla that somehow seems to make both taste better.  
If you want to make it a real project, homemade ice cream is an option, but to save a ton of time, buy a high-quality ice cream to use here.  You want the denser kind that has a higher fat content and less air/overage.  Not only will the ice cream sandwich taste better and be more substantial, it will be easier to work with and less mess, as the ice cream melts a bit slower.  We liked Haagen Dazs ice cream best for this job; Ben & Jerry's is a good second choice in this case.  

You'll feel great having these treats wrapped up and stocked in your freezer.  They will go quick!


Levain Bakery style cookies

Somehow we went from June to September!  Summer break flashed by all too quickly despite our best efforts to slow it down.
Copycat Levain Bakery style cookies I make at home
It was a busy summer!  We savored the break, took a couple of trips, and got a lot of things done in between.  The big guy started high school!!  I spent the summer trying to come to terms with this huge milestone and all that goes with it.  Now, my nerves are settling down and we're adjusting to fall routines and life with a busy high schooler.  I'm thinking about warm comfort foods - like big, warm, melty chocolate chip cookies!

If you live around New York City or ask New Yorkers about places for great chocolate chip cookies, you're likely to hear about Levain Bakery.  Known for their big cookies (and I do mean, big, as they weigh in at 6 ounces a piece), typically served up still warm from the oven, they have a serious cult following.  To me, the Levain cookies are all about texture.  The huge cookies are crisp on the outside and so soft, gooey, and melty in the center.  This divine texture - served up in a big way - is what makes me crave them.  And as big as they are, these cookies go down easy and are quite easily habit-forming.
Actual Levain Bakery cookies. A box of these were recently gifted to us (what a treat!) so we finally had the chance to taste all four varieties made by the bakery.
Levain only makes 4 kinds of cookies (shown above): chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, and oatmeal raisin.  

I had my first Levain cookies in 2017 (photos of their chocolate chip walnut cookie from that day below) when we stopped by one of their NYC locations (miraculously, no line at the time) and bought the chocolate chip walnut and chocolate chocolate chip cookies.  Recently, we received a box of each as a gift and got to try them all.
I have to say that my favorite is the chocolate chip walnut and it's my favorite one to mimic at home!  I've also made the chocolate peanut butter chip because I couldn't get it out of my head after someone mentioned it was their favorite of the lineup; I made a version before I even had the chance to try the real thing! 

So I'd like to share the two copycat versions of these cookies I make at home.  They are great for when you're in the mood for some seriously hearty, delicious cookies to warm up your fall and winter days ahead.  You can find different renditions of these cookies but I'm happy with the following two recipes I landed on, which are now firmly in my cookie-baking repertoire.   


Ice cream tacos and life in June

June is always a busy month around here, with my son's birthday, Father's Day, and the buzz and activities surrounding the end of the school year falling on this special month.  This year, my son turned 14...
...and he graduated from middle school!
These last 3 years have flown by!  You realize time will go fast going in but it still surprises you.  And it's incredible how much change and growth has taken place during that time.  The kids have worked hard and my husband and I are so particularly proud of our kiddo, who is rapidly growing up before our eyes!
So we've been pretty busy celebrating around here!  We don't want to stop but exhaustion is starting to seep in and we'll take the summer break as a time to chill and relax before gearing up for High School!  There's plenty of excitement (and hopefully, celebrations) on the horizon.

And speaking of celebrations, I sit here typing on the first day of summer.  Rain is coming down (yet again) but sunshine is expected this afternoon and the entire weekend.  It makes me think of upcoming July 4th and what kind of treats we might want to have then.  When it's summertime, I always think ice cream so I'm recommending a batch of ice cream tacos! 
I recently made these for Memorial Day weekend and they went down a treat.  The homemade shells (which are like ice cream cones in the shape of taco shells) can be filled with any flavor ice cream you like; I went with vanilla chocolate chip as well as pistachio ice cream.  Topped with some homemade chocolate magic shell and sprinkled with sprinkles or nuts, they are fun to look at and delicious to eat.  The ice cream tacos are festive and celebratory, and I'm all for celebrating as much as possible (particularly, with ice cream)!


A healthy chocolate chip cookie I *really* like

I'm not a big fan of labeling foods "healthy" or "unhealthy" except in extreme cases.  To me, I say we use common sense and maintain a happy relationship with food as something that nourishes us and provides us with a lot of joy.  When it comes to dessert, I say enjoy reasonably but also, fully.  So I'm not always particularly on the lookout for "healthier" desserts but I am always open to finding delicious recipes that are maybe a bit smarter and utilizes more wholesome ingredients.  It's kind of a win-win.
This recipe is one of those win-win's and I'm really excited to have tried it and to now be able to enjoy it going forward!  

When I first spotted these "best healthy chocolate chip cookies" on Food52, I might have instinctively done a quick eye-roll but their appearance quickly won my interest.  They just looked so good!  Eyeing the list of ingredients, I was happy to see some of my favorite things featured - almond butter, oats, walnuts, chocolate chips (of course).  I've been renewing my love affair with walnuts in baked goods in particular lately - thanks to making and becoming smitten with a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery style chocolate chip walnut cookies (maybe more on that another day), my whole family has come around to toasted walnuts in treats.
I did go rogue and went off-script a little with this recipe.  These cookies were meant to be "gluten-free" but I substituted a couple tablespoons of almond flour for white whole-wheat flour.  From past experience, I've just not been a fan of purely almond flour-based baked goods and I'm not adverse to a little whole wheat flour in my cookies and cakes.  Since I used salted almond butter instead of unsalted (since that's what I use regularly and have on hand), I adjusted the salt in the recipe down slightly.  Sprinkling additional salt on top of the cookies before baking is nice but I find it didn't really need it.  I was a little heavy-handed when it came to the chocolate chunks and walnuts I added into the cookies, and it was the right move. 
I was so happy these cookies baked up firm and sturdy, not wet and almost falling apart as "healthy" cookies sometimes can be.  I was really thrilled when I tasted them!  Coconut sugar lends a mild sweetness and the nutty flavors really come through, along with pops of dark chocolate.  The texture is crisp along the edges and moist and chewy in the center.

As I was eating these, I would say "I think the oats make it"...then I'd change my mind and think, "the walnuts make it".  I finally realized it's the whole package.  It's all the elements working really well altogether.  I'm satisfied eating one of these cookies.  It has me feeling good, not weighed down or sluggish.  This really is a cookie I happily get behind; I not only like it, I love it.  And the fact that the ingredients are a little wiser, and it's a smarter cookie option than most, is a truly wonderful bonus.



Chocolate rugelach

It's always wonderful to try something new in the kitchen and so satisfying when it works out and you discover something delicious to share with your family.  This time, it was rugelach for me!  
I saw Molly Yeh make this recipe for chocolate rugelach on her cooking show recently and I really wanted to give it a try, so I did.  I love it when inspiration hits like that - you see something you think you and your family would like to eat, it looks do-able, and actually turns out to be the case.
I've heard of and seen rugelach before but this was a first taste for me.  Rugelach might be loosely referred to as a cookie but it's really a pastry filled with, in this case, chocolate, but also with many other possibilities such as jam, nuts, cinnamon-sugar, or fruit.  They're a Jewish pastry often made during holidays like Hanukkah but they are surely tasty enough for everyone to enjoy, anytime.  

The pastry is buttery and flaky, unique in that it also includes cream cheese which make it extra tender and adds an extra bit of flavor.  Rugelach are often crescent shaped but these simple rolled pinwheels seem an easier version for me to tackle.  
I tackled it by making a small-batch, which should yield about a dozen rugelach (I ended up with ten but I'll be sure to improve my dough-rolling skills next time because we were clamoring for more).  After making the pastry dough and rolling it out to a thin sheet, it was very satisfying to spread it with a layer of chocolate, then rolling it up tightly and slicing into individual portions that reveal the mesmerizing pinwheel swirl inside.  Prompted by Molly Yeh's love of sprinkles, I decorated some of mine with chocolate sprinkles as well as colorful sanding sugar.  
I had fun making these despite my usual hesitation when it comes to working with pastry dough.  They're fun to look at and so tasty to eat.  If you like hand pies, pastry, chocolate, and having your kitchen smell like chocolate croissants while this is baking - try a batch of rugelach for yourself some time soon!



Bakery style double chocolate muffins

Let's return to chocolate, shall we?  I think that's always a good idea!
While it's pretty quiet here in this little blog space, my kitchen is keeping busy and continues to turn out a fairly steady stream of baked goods.  As always, the majority of what I bake involves chocolate since it's my very favorite thing (and my family is rather partial to it as well).  Recently, I discovered this great bakery style chocolate muffin recipe that I can now add to my muffin repertoire.  And as far as I'm concerned, one can never have too many muffin recipes since they play versatile roles as breakfast, snack, or dessert!
My muffins are baked in standard size tins but if you make jumbo versions of these, they really could slot right onto a bakery or coffee shop counter.  These double chocolate muffins are moist yet sturdy and firm.  All importantly, they have that crusty, firm top that I associate with bakery muffins.  
We love trying new muffins, especially when they're chocolate ones!  These chocolate muffins not only look the part but have plenty of serious chocolate flavor, which is so important.  Dark cocoa, a combination of chocolate chunks and chips, as well as a little espresso powder, really drives the chocolate flavor home.


Dabbling in dim sum, continued

After my last post, I continued to dabble some more in dim sum-making at home.  It's fun to challenge myself to try something new and, lately, it's been dim sum and Chinese food making beyond what I'm used to.  
If you like seafood, chances are steamed shrimp dumplings (or "har gow") are a must when it comes to dim sum.  They're sometimes called "crystal shrimp dumplings", referring to their signature translucent skin from which you can see the coral pink of the shrimp peeking through.  It's a dim sum classic and something I always get when I'm having dim sum at a Chinese restaurant.
This har gow project was definitely a challenge but worth the effort to, in the end, get to sit down with my husband and enjoy our own homemade har gow in the comfort of home.  It's just neat to learn how things are made.  And it turns out, the har gow skin is made from a combination of wheat starch and cornstarch; I had to make the dough three times to get it right but it was due to my own error and mix up.  In the end, I still found the dough difficult/fragile to handle but using a little extra wheat starch helped the maneuverability and I plowed on...
The filling was a lot simpler to whip together.  The shrimp is the star but it's also important to get your hands on a can of bamboo shoots because it's a must in this recipe and not to be omitted, as those bamboo shoots give the har gow a distinct crunch.  
The dough being a lot harder (stickier than I expected, easy to break) to maneuver than I expected, I exercised as much patience and care as I could muster in pleating and shaping the har gow and somehow managed to put some into my steamer basket!  
Luckily, a lot of flaws are hidden after steaming and I thought my homemade har gow looked the part (admittedly, expectations were low going in).  They may not be restaurant-quality (the skin being a little too thick and not as supple as they should be; not to mention general appearance as far as pleating goes) but they were pretty close to the real thing.  I loved the flavor of the filling and thought that was spot on.   

Now bamboo-steamer expeditions aside, sometimes you order off the menu when you go for dim sum.  If it's around the lunch hour, the kitchen opens up to provide heartier fare and they start taking orders for other dishes - particularly noodles.  One of my favorites is saucy beef ho fun (flat) noodles.


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