Pizza pinwheels

We've had more than 9 weeks of summer vacation.  By that, I mean that's how long my 10-year old has been out of school.  That sounds like a long time but it's gone by so fast.  We have just one week left to savor the ease of summer before heading back to school and all that it involves.  I've been thinking that the little one and I haven't been cooking in the kitchen together enough so I thought we'd make some lunch.  
Presenting some very easy pepperoni pizza pinwheels for lunch
These are pizza pinwheels, a fun and easy twist on pizza.  I saw them on The Kitchn and they looked and sounded like just the thing to whip up with my fella because he loves pizza so there's basically no better thing to cook with him!  They also reminded me of some very similar - and very delicious - pinwheels we used to get from a pizzeria in Brooklyn where we lived at the time.

Of course, these cheesy pinwheels are stuffed with pepperoni.  As much as I'd love to get creative with toppings on homemade pizza, my son will vote for pepperoni every single time so that's what we'll stick with.  Thinking about those pinwheels we used to get at Nino's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, I remembered theirs' were coated in sesame seeds (which somehow seemed to make them extra good) so I took that inspiration and rolled a few of our pinwheels in sesame seeds.  They add a little texture and I'm a big fan of it.  
These pizza pinwheels were incredibly easy to put together, thanks to plenty of shortcuts with store-bought ingredients.  We just got home from vacation (plenty of beach and pool time, as well as delicious Cuban food, in Miami Beach) and as usual, I find myself in a little bit of a cooking rampage when I get back on home turf.  That said, I am definitely looking for quick meals since there's always so much to do after being away even for a little while.

So we used store-bought pizza dough and fixings and we just had fun pressing, rolling, and assembling.  Since my son still has a rather short attention span in the kitchen, it's just the right amount of kitchen action for him.  My husband was our photographer, cheerleader, and eager taste-tester.  It was a fun time!



Chocolate profiteroles with vanilla fudge ripple ice cream

I made chocolate crepes so why not make some chocolate cream puffs this time.  You definitely don't need to twist my arm to try chocolate versions of our favorite desserts - in fact, I look for every opportunity to do it.  
So this time, it's the cream puff's turn to make a chocolate transformation.  It's amazing what a tablespoon and a half of cocoa powder will do.  It makes regular cream puffs into chocolate ones that you can do many things with.  

You can split them and fill them with some type of whipped cream for chocolate cream puffs, pipe the choux pastry dough in "finger" length shapes and make truly chocolate eclairs, or do like I did here and make profiteroles for dessert.  
I think "cream puffs" and "profiteroles" are sometimes used interchangeably but for me, profiteroles are choux pastry puffs filled with ice cream.  I tend to think vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce (just like I made them here before).  But this time, instead of topping the profiteroles with a fudge sauce, I imbedded the fudge right in the profiteroles by filling them with homemade vanilla fudge ripple ice cream!
Philadelphia-style (no-egg) vanilla bean ice cream with swirls of fudge ripple
This was an easy leap for me.  I've been making vanilla fudge ripple ice cream - it's one of my family's favorites and it's nostalgic for me because I used to buy these little plastic cups of vanilla ice cream with fudge at the corner grocery store growing up. I'd eat them with a wooden spoon and dig into the fudge pockets and be in a very happy place.  Homemade vanilla fudge ripple ice cream seems to put everyone in my family in a happy place so I've been making it and I thought it would be a good idea to set some aside for these profiteroles.  

I think this ice cream is such a compatible filling for the profiteroles.  The Philadelphia-style (no eggs) vanilla bean ice cream has a very clean, dominant vanilla flavor coming through.  I make the fudge ripple separately and layer it into the ice cream as I transfer it to the container after churning.  When you scoop into it, you get these delicious swirls of fudge mixed with that pure vanilla flavor.  It packs a lot of flavor into each profiterole.  For comparison purposes, I tried the profiteroles with plain store-bought vanilla ice cream and while it was good, it cried out for some chocolate sauce whereas you don't miss it with the vanilla fudge ripple. 
I think this is not only a fun dessert but a great marriage of chocolate and vanilla together.



Caramelized figs...with ice cream

Figs are one of those things I've only started to eat in the last couple of years.  In the past, my only familiarity with it was in the form of dried figs, which my mother used to make one of her signature soups.  Growing up, no matter the temperature, my mother would make a big pot of soup weekly.  These Chinese soups started with either a whole chicken or chunks of pork (no boxes of chicken stock) and involved hours of simmering on the stove; one of my favorites was one with dried figs.
But fresh figs?  I was a picky eater (and still admittedly selective to this day) so they were not something I'd voluntarily eat, to be frank.  Now, I realize figs are not only nutritious but add a lovely touch of sweetness to anything from salads to savory meat dishes. 

When I saw a feature on figs from one of the recent issues of Cooking Light, it really got me thinking about them and I started keeping a lookout for figs at the market.  I finally spotted some the other day at Whole Foods so I bought a few.  I went with mostly black mission figs as well as a couple of brown turkey figs (which I'd never heard of until the article).  I looked for soft, ripe figs since I learned that they will not ripen any further after picking.  In my case, as I somewhat expected, the mission figs were sweeter than the brown turkey ones.
I was wondering what to do with the figs.  In the end, we just ate some plain, and then I decided to broil a few for dessert (to have something other than chocolate once in a while).  I sliced the figs in half, topped them with a little bit of brown sugar and broiled them for about 5 minutes or so.  I made a dessert for two by placing the softened, caramelized figs on top of some vanilla ice cream.  For a healthier route, and more of a breakfast spin, I think the caramelized figs would make a great sweet topping for yogurt or a bowl of oatmeal.
I also sprinkled on some toasted walnuts.  The earthy nuts are a nice contrast to the sweetness of the figs, and add some texture. 
Of course, figs are great, as I've learned, in savory dishes as well.  It's a great way to incorporate a little natural sweetness to your dish.  In fact, I'm now daydreaming about a nice green salad with salty prosciutto and a few wedges of figs, drizzled with balsamic vinegar...



Chocolate fudge brownie ice cream

Summer and ice cream, they go hand in hand.  Eating ice cream becomes a bona fide activity during the summer (particularly if you have a child) and you feel this need to go out for ice cream and load up like it's going to disappear on you!  This is especially the case when you're on vacation; I can almost guarantee you ice cream is part of the day's dietary consumption during a summer vacation. 
Is it me or does ice cream just taste better on vacation?  We were reminded of this on a recent road trip to Newport, Rhode Island.  After the time spent touring The Breakers and other mansions, admiring the shoreline and views, the other priorities were to get a good meal and to find some ice cream!

We discovered this place, Kilwins, right in the center of Newport, and had a few scoops of fantastic ice cream.  Maybe it's the heat and exhaustion of a hot day of sightseeing and the excitement of trying something new but this ice cream tasted particularly good - it almost made us regret the Ben & Jerry's we opted for the day before.   Despite all the colorful options and flavors on offer, we're always drawn to old favorites and predictable flavors.  We can highly recommend the cappuccino chocolate chip and...the "fudgie brownie" flavor.
A chocolate fudge brownie ice cream is hardly unusual, I know, but it was so good that we immediately headed back to the counter for seconds once the first cup was done!  I knew I had to come home and make a batch myself in an attempt to impress my son.  It helps that I make brownies every now and then (okay, very often...) so all I did was set some aside in the freezer for the centerpiece of my homemade fudge brownie ice cream.
Cubes of frozen homemade fudge brownies to be stirred into the ice cream
Maybe ice cream is a bit of a misnomer here.  I actually started with David Lebovitz's chocolate gelato recipe, which relies on a milk-based custard, and is one of my favorites because it's rich yet light, without being overly chocolaty and pudding-like.  I tinkered with the recipe a bit - holding back an ounce of chocolate in the base to make room for all the brownie and chocolate bits of goodness to be stirred into it - and adding a touch of vanilla extract.  
So this is my homage to our fun little road trip to Rhode Island and to that delicious ice cream break at Kilwins.  It's a creamy chocolate ice cream/gelato with plenty of dense, fudgy brownie chunks (a lot more than Kilwins' had, actually) and some bits of dark chocolate.  I wanted to tamper my son's expectations but luckily, it turned out really well.  I was told that this homemade version was very much like Kilwins.  For my part, I have to say it's really quite good.  I won't say it's as good as Kilwins but it definitely holds its own.
And here's the fun thing; I looked online and discovered there's actually a Kilwins in New Jersey!  I plan to surprise the little guy with a drive out there in a few weeks.  He will get such a kick out of that!



Easy sandwich bread

It was a little like déjà vu.  The scenario leading up to me trying this sandwich bread recipe was very similar to what happened when I first learned about the super-easy English muffin loaf bread recipe.
Just like last time, I was watching a show from America's Test Kitchen on PBS. The subject was an easy-to-make sandwich bread - one that's a no-knead batter bread. In essence, it was the same promise (just a different kind of bread this time) - an easy, tasty, homemade bread without a lot of time or effort.  
I might have been calmer this time, not quite as fanatic as the first time I heard of this notion of a batter bread recipe (basically, a bread dough that's mixed together like a batter without any kneading) that I could actually tackle.  All the same, I still went in search of my notepad, wrote down the recipe, and got in the kitchen within a few days to give it a try.

Just like that English muffin bread recipe, this one looked so easy and I had to see if it would pan out that way in "real" life.  Hooray...it really did!  I may not have the skills to get the top of my bread even or looking as smooth and lovely as it turns out on TV but as I went through the steps of making this bread, everything happened as it should have.
So the story with this sandwich bread recipe is simple.  The recipe relies on more water and more yeast to create a wet, sticky, batter-like dough.  Mixing happens in the stand mixer but you don't even need the dough hook, using the standard paddle attachment instead. Because of the higher than typical amount of yeast and water, you only need two short rises - about 20 minutes each - before popping it in the oven.

There really weren't any surprises and the dough behaved just the way I saw it unfold on the show.  The result was a fragrant bread with a soft texture and a nice, mild flavor.
I'm thrilled to know I can practically whip up a loaf of sandwich bread at home as long as I've got some instant yeast and basics around the house!  I may not bake my own bread regularly but whenever I do, it feels like I've managed some sort of magic trick. I'm glad so many "magicians" are willing to share their secrets with us.



Chocolate crepes

Today, let's talk crepes!  I've made regular ones but this time, we're having chocolate crepes.  In general, I think the idea of making crepes sounds difficult because we envision special crepe pans and wooden spreaders, and think about techniques we need in order to make these wafer-thin pancakes.  In reality, crepes are not very hard to make, without special tools, when we're talking about homemade ones that don't need to be perfect.
I think the notion of making chocolate crepes for Valentine's Day has gone through my head at least a couple of times in the past but it's happening now, in the very throws of summer, because I always tend to think of crepes with ice cream.  I spend a good chunk of the summer daydreaming about ice cream.
For this chocolate version, the chocolate comes from some 70% dark chocolate.  For a deeper color to drive the chocolate theme home, I added a tablespoon of Dutch-process cocoa.  And when it comes to ensuring easy crepe-making, I think the key is to strain the batter and to let it rest a good half hour to an hour before cooking.  Do that and the crepes should be easy to flip, as these were.
Each crepe cooks up quickly and what I like is you can make them, stack them, and then store them in the fridge for a few days (or even freeze them for a longer period of time).  I simply warm them up in a warm skillet and I can pull together a "fancy" little dessert in a few moments.  

I'll be frank...I thought these crepes were a bit bland on their own but I suppose that's alright since crepes are meant to go along with fillings, whether it be chocolate or fruit or any sort of delicious combination you can come up with.  Once the crepes come together with your fillings or accompaniments, something magical appears on the plate.  
Since I had ice cream in mind, that's the road I took with this batch.  Each crepe I served up came with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and sometimes, a bit of strawberries and cream on the side.  My fellas were more than happy to dig into their crepes for a few days in a row!  I don't think I fully appreciated how much my husband enjoys eating crepes but this cemented it.  He was so happy digging into these and seeing that, and hearing his appreciation, is such a nice feeling.



Garlic-tomato (paste) pasta with peas and basil

Once in a while, you find yourself at home without a lot of groceries on hand and you need to make a quick dinner.  You haven't thought much about it in advance so you need to come up with something using what you have in the house and you want it to be relatively quick to prepare.
Using tomato paste is not only convenient but gives the sauce a deep, rich flavor
That was me last Sunday night.  It was a busy weekend, mostly because my husband and I were tackling a little home project of painting one of our rooms in preparation for new carpet installation.  

Even when it's busy, I still like to cook for my family on the weekends as much as I can.  In recent years, our cravings for take out and eating out has dwindled so much and weekends are when I get the chance to make hot meals we can all dig into together at the same time.  So last Sunday, I started thinking about dinner and remembered a pasta recipe I'd pulled out from a magazine recently.
Here's what I like about this pasta dish...you use tomato paste as the basis for the sauce.  So no tomatoes, no problem!  When I buy a new container of tomato paste, I like to portion out the extra in tablespoon mounds and freeze them.  This way, I can grab what I need from the freezer when a recipe calls for it.  I often use tomato paste - loosened with a bit of hot water and seasoned with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and dry oregano - to make a tomato "sauce" base for pizza at home.

This dinner comes together in under 30 minutes.  Olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, tomato paste, and some red pepper flakes get cooked down with some pasta water.  Finish cooking the pasta - thin spaghetti in this case - in the liquid and stir in some peas (always in my freezer) and a handful of fresh basil (which I snip from my little herb box).  If you like and have time, add a little protein like I did with shrimp.  I also grabbed that from the freezer and simply cooked it up in the same pan before starting the sauce.

The pasta turned out flavorful and hearty.  I served it with garlic bread, which I'd made a few days earlier and tucked away in the freezer (maybe I was subconsciously planning this meal, but my son loves garlic bread).  That went in the oven while I made the pasta and we had a fortifying dinner!



Whoopie pies with peanut butter filling

I'd never eaten or made whoopie pie before, until now...
I suppose I never really came across them and not being a huge buttercream fanatic, they haven't been on my radar.  I also thought they would be tricky to make.  I'm glad to learn that they're actually not tricky to make, even without special equipment like a whoopie pie pan.

So while whoopie pies have been something of a mystery to me, I came to realize that they're just this funny amalgamation of cake, cookie, and cupcake.  You basically have two cakes in the guise of cookies sandwiched together with a filling or frosting in the center.  In this case, this moist, fluffy chocolate cake is sandwiched with a peanut butter filling.
When I saw this whoopie pie recipe, with the peanut butter filling, in Baking Chez Moi (so many great recipes in that book!), I knew it was a good one for me to make. This girl loves peanut butter, and that flavor is the star of the show here.  The chocolate cake is perfectly soft, moist, and fluffy - and would, in fact, be great for any number of buttercream or traditional marshmallow fillings for those looking for something else - but one bite of these and the taste is full-on peanut butter thanks to that creamy filling.
Another thing I realized is you can store whoopie pies in the fridge and they hold well for a few days.  From personal experience, I can tell you they're a great treat for a playdate but they're fun to eat for adults, too!  I'd say this whoopie pie baking-and-eating experiment was a good call.



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