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.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Affogato float and a grilled chocolate sandwich

Let's have a little fun, shall we?  In this case, let's go a little crazy with desserts!

Let's start with something cold.  We'll make an affogato float...with coffee ice cream, a shot of espresso, some milk, and seltzer.
Affogato float with coffee ice cream, espresso, milk, and seltzer
Then, we should have something to eat so let's make a sandwich.  Not just any sandwich but a grilled chocolate sandwich!  Because...well, why not!  And I'm telling you, this sandwich is totally delicious!
Grilled chocolate sandwiches made with crusty French bread and bittersweet chocolate 
I was feeling a little "crazy" so we made both these things one recent afternoon and it was so much fun! 

Affogato Float
Shall we talk float first?  Now, ice cream floats are the best - it's sometimes my dessert of choice on my birthday.  For a twist, this is a chilled affogato float - made with coffee ice cream, espresso...
...and topped with a touch of milk and finally, some plain seltzer.
I seriously love myself an affogato so when I spotted a little recipe (more like some quick directions) for a chilled affogato float in the July/August 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Living, I had to try it.  This is just totally fun and a great afternoon treat for a coffee lover. 

For kids, take the seltzer you're using for this recipe and make chocolate egg creams.  That's what I did for my little guy.  We love egg creams in our house.

Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches

Grilled cheese sandwiches are great but how often do you have a grilled chocolate sandwich?  This was a first for us and honestly, it turned out totally delicious!  Picture crusty slices of baguette, smeared with salted butter on one side, filled with your favorite dark chocolate, and then toasted on the griddle til golden brown, crispy, and warm.  It's crunchy, chocolaty, and slightly salty in every other words, it's really good!
This was one of my kitchen projects with my little guy.  I've made it something of a small mission of mine to do some cooking "lessons" with him this summer.  We've been making simple savory as well as sweet dishes and I'm trying to come up with ideas that are fun, do-able, and quick that he would enjoy (and love to eat).  This was definitely on the fun side of things.

When I told my son we would make grilled chocolate sandwiches, his reaction was: "what?"  He thought his mother had possibly lost her mind and wasn't convinced by the idea.  But going through the steps and tasting it, he (and the rest of us) were totally on board.  Not only is it a fun idea, it's really a very tasty one! 
You could serve the sandwich alone as a sweet snack or round it out with some ice cream for a full-on dessert!  Talk about an ice cream sandwich!  This makes for a whimsical kind of unexpected dessert.

Now these are my ideas of summer fun!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Roasted spiced chickpeas

Don't you find it amazing how much food we consume every day?  I'm reminded of that every time I see a depleted fridge and reload with bags and bags of groceries, only to do it again within a week.
So, we need fuel and we need snacks.  And healthy snacks are always welcome, right?  When it's hot out, it's nice to have something other than store-bought chips to munch on with your cold drink. Since I'm too lazy to make kale chips (delicious, for sure...but the thought of washing, chopping, drying, spreading, and roasting to make a batch that I'll likely devour in 3 minutes discourages me), I've been interested in roasting chickpeas.  It sounds far less labor-intensive!
Roasted chickpeas, spiced with curry powder, paprika, cayenne, salt & black pepper
There is a little draining, drying, and rubbing involved in prepping these chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), but it's hardly arduous.  Unfortunately, it does require cranking on the oven.  I don't know what the deal is but my old oven used to put out maybe a third of the heat its replacement currently does.  It gets hot in the kitchen and that's not all that welcomed during these summer days.  But even so, I find it really hard to avoid my oven for long.

So these chickpeas go in the oven to roast for about half an hour until they're dry and crisp.  Then, I immediately tossed them in a spice mixture of salt, sweet curry powder, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne.  The fun thing about making these is you can try any combination of spices you like.  Or it's a fun way to try out a new spice or two.
These were as easy to whip up as I envisioned.  I think it makes a filling and healthy snack that's a good alternative to nuts or pretzels.  They're best eaten, or freshest-tasting, the day they're made. The exterior is at its crispiest while the inside has a bit of that signature butteriness to them.  That said, any leftovers can be stowed away in an airtight container.  They won't be as crispy but we still enjoyed them the next day.  In addition to popping them straight into your mouth, consider tossing some into a salad or plopping some on top of soup.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vietnamese corn, coconut, and tapioca dessert soup (Che Bap)

I'm circling back to corn.  As I mentioned, seeing and tasting the amazing fresh corn available right now had me thinking about different ways of cooking with it.  One of the things that popped into my head was the memory of a Vietnamese cooking show I'd seen where the host was scraping corn and using the corn milk to make some kind of sweet dessert soup (I don't remember what it was exactly).  That got me searching for Vietnamese dessert soups featuring corn and I ended up here with a delicious one, called "Che Bap" ("che" refers to a sweet dessert soup or pudding, and "bap" means corn).  
A chilled dessert soup, made with fresh corn kernels, light coconut milk, tapioca pearls, and topped with toasted sesame seeds
Dessert soups are very common and beloved in Asian culture - both hot and cold.  Once in a while, you might find an Asian dessert house that serves only that.  I love nearly all varieties of these soups and I can now add this one to the list!   

So this isn't the recipe I vaguely recall from the cooking program but I'm happy that it inspired this discovery.  This Vietnamese corn pudding, or dessert soup, features fresh corn kernels as well as coconut milk and small tapioca pearls.  When I hear there's coconut milk involved in a dessert soup, I'm fairly confident it's going to be good.  In fact, coconut milk and tapioca pearls make a great base for many kinds of dessert soups.
I used light coconut milk in this recipe.  It may sound silly but I'm quite proud of that because I did it despite seeing recipes that specifically said not to.  I'm a very reluctant rule-breaker, you see!  I used Trader Joe's light coconut milk, which I really like and have had a lot of success cooking with.  It's not as thick and rich as regular coconut milk but it's still so flavorful and fragrant.  And get this: you're consuming 70% less fat and 65% less calories by using the light version!  I didn't miss the extra fat at all, and you're not sacrificing flavor or texture.  In fact, you don't feel weighed down after eating this.
I had some tapioca starch on standby in case I needed to thicken the soup with a slurry.  I decided I didn't need it and I'm glad I held back.  The soup is relatively thin when it's hot off the stove but this kind of soup made with coconut milk and tapioca pearls thickens pretty significantly after it's been refrigerated.  While you can certainly enjoy this hot or warm (both good), I prefer it cold in this instance.  It is summer, after all.  

After it's chilled, the soup is thick but not so thick that you need to dilute it with water (what you'd likely need to do if you went with the full-fat coconut you see, the light version actually works better!).  I wasn't sure I'd like the toasted sesame seeds suggested as a topping for this che bap but I did.  It adds a nice nuttiness to the sweet soup.  And this is indeed a lovely dessert soup, mostly sweetened by the fresh corn kernels.  The natural sweetness from the fresh corn was seriously intense!