Oatmeal crepes

Admittedly, these crepes were a bit hard-fought to get on the table but it was worth it.  I found them a bit tricky to flip but once I got the hang of it - letting the pan gets nice and hot, and allowing the crepe to fully cook through before flipping - I managed to serve these oatmeal crepes for a weekend breakfast.
Weekend breakfasts and brunch are special, no matter what we're eating.  That time around the table is something I look forward to all week!  And I love trying something new so I can talk about it here.  This time, I thought I'd make oatmeal crepes.  We all know and love crepes but I was especially drawn to this recipe from Lidia Bastianich that incorporated oat flour for a little touch of nuttiness and texture.  
I made oat flour by simply grinding old-fashioned oats until very fine (almost powdery) in a processor.  This addition of the oat flour, with regular all-purpose flour, is what sets these crepes apart (and what likely contributes to them being more tricky to handle/flip).  Additionally, fresh lemon zest adds a great pop of citrus flavor.  With the lemon, these crepes pair nicely with jam.  I tucked strawberry jam into some and filled others with Nutella.

As with others crepes, these are perfect little holders for the fillings you tuck within. Texturally, these stand out with the slight nuttiness, along with a great crispy edge. With the liquid in the recipe being water, they are fragile.  I may have lost a couple of crepes in the making but they were so tasty, my husband wished I'd saved the scraps and allowed him to have those, too!



Cauliflower fried rice, and the beauty of mixing things up

There was a benefit of going through our recent kitchen renovation that I wasn't expecting.  It forced me out of my routine and, surprisingly, I kind of liked it!
Cauliflower fried "rice", with chicken, peas, and scrambled eggs, makes a great hot lunch
I'm big on routine and I'm loyal to things I like; basically, I'm pretty cautious and unadventurous.  Even when it comes to food, I stick to much of the same things. I generally eat the same things for breakfast and lunch (a bit less so when it comes to dinner but even that can be predictable) but when the kitchen was out of commission and I had to wing it, I was forced to mix it up.  Instead of a big roasted sweet potato and veggies for lunch on repeat, I was eating a sandwich, or having a soup & salad, grabbing sushi, or digging into some Vietnamese spring rolls I picked up.  I was at the Whole Foods prepared food buffet a lot but I still got variety and, overall, I nixed the old routine and ate different things.

It was good to change things up and I realized I didn't need to eat the same things all the time.  In fact, it's fun to do otherwise!  So I'm making a conscious effort to mix things up a little - particularly my lunch, which means eating something other than roasted sweet potatoes and veggies - at least 2-3 times a week.  To that end, we come to this recent lunch I made for myself: cauliflower fried rice!   
Okay...let's talk about this phenomenon of subbing carbs with non-carbs.  Cauliflower has been out there - think mashed "potatoes" and pizza crust.  While I love cauliflower and cook it (either steaming or roasting) often, I haven't been attracted to this idea of using it for fried rice and whatnot.  Maybe to my mind, you don't mess with something like fried rice, which is a sacred comfort food to me.  Plus, it sounded like a lot of work!  I don't know about you but the whole idea of processing a big cauliflower before even getting down to making the dish isn't all that appealing.

So there were 2 reasons why I decided to make and try cauliflower fried rice after all. One, I discovered prepared riced cauliflower.  You can now find it in the grocery freezer aisle, though you might have to dig around in a few stores (so far, I've had luck finding it at Whole Foods and only one other supermarket.)  And knowing I have this shortcut is a huge motivation because even if I do take the time to make my own cauliflower rice by breaking it down in a food processor, it would likely be something I'd only do once.
Secondly, I was watching The Kitchen last weekend when I saw Katie Lee make this fried "rice".  She started with ginger and garlic and that is exactly how I love to start my fried rice - I think the grated ginger totally makes it.  The dish looked delicious and I saw how easy it would be with the prepared cauliflower so I was on a mission to find it and make the dish.
I'll finally cut to the chase.  Not only does this look like "real" fried rice, it tastes like it.  Is the cauliflower rice exactly like actual rice?  No, it's not.  It's a bit more moist and holds a bit of a crunch (though it's tender) than rice would but the flavors you associate with fried rice - in my case, the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil... - are all there and frankly, it is all very similar and familiar in your mouth.  The fried rice was delicious!  It made a great lunch and I can tell you that I will definitely be making cauliflower fried rice again and often.  I simply used leftover rotisserie chicken this time and I have been craving shrimp fried rice so that's up next.
If you've been on the fence about trying cauliflower fried rice like me, pick up a bag at the supermarket and give it a try.  This turned out to be a great food/ingredient discovery for me in 2017!  There is definitely a beauty, and benefit, to mixing and shaking things up a bit.



Chestnut and mushroom ragù

Happy New Year! 

I hope things are going well so far in 2017!  I'm happy to step back into this space after taking a little break.  It means things are back-to-normal - the kitchen makeover has been completed!  It took about a month and while there were a couple of inevitable snags along the way, we're very happy with the outcome.  Now...after all the dust, the fuss, and the cleanup (special thanks to my husband who did most of it!), we're simply enjoying the result.
Despite the somewhat relentless string of colds and viruses my family and I seem to be coming down with this winter, we've managed to stay functional and to hold on to our appetites.  So I've been pretty busy in the kitchen since we've been up and running again, making up for lost time and comforting ourselves with home cooking. Taking a break and changing things up is good (I feel a renewed energy in the kitchen) but it's amazing how quickly we got tired of take-out and restaurant meals, and how much we missed simple home cooking!

I've been able to cook since New Year's eve so I've had a good amount of time to load my family up on our favorite stir-fries and rice dishes; we've enjoyed a few lingering pancake breakfasts and I even got to make some Christmas cookies that I didn't get a chance to whip up before the holidays.  While we've generally been sticking to family favorites, I got a chance to try a new recipe in the form of this ragù I'd like to chat about today.  
You might expect a meat sauce when you hear ragù (and doesn't anything "ragù" sound especially appealing in the wintertime) but this one is made with chestnuts and mushrooms, and these two ingredients truly are the stars of this dish, which comes from Lidia Bastianich.  I have been watching Lidia's PBS cooking shows for many, many years and her food - especially, her pasta dishes - are always mouthwatering and calling my name!  And this particular dish - this chestnut and mushroom ragù she made and served with spaghetti on the show - really had me swooning and running into the kitchen at the first opportunity!

It may be my love of chestnuts, or my general partiality to anything "ragù", which in turn conjures up pasta, that had me itching to try this.  It's easy to make with a handful of ingredients (aside from the headliners, you need only a few other mainly pantry ingredients) and you end up with this unusual "sauce" that's deliciously earthy yet slightly sweet from the chestnuts.  
It's satisfying and hearty but light at the same time.  It's not only great with pasta (I paired it with pappardelle) but also excellent as a side with meat (because you have the mushrooms and some carbs in the form of the chestnuts), as a topping for bruschetta, or frankly, eaten all on its own!

I hope you're eating well so far in 2017 and I wish you many happy meals with loved ones around the table this year!



Chocolate Dutch baby pancake

The holiday season is reaching a crescendo!  Are you busy wrapping gifts, baking cookies, hosting/attending parties, and just generally checking your to-do lists twice? My holiday is a little different this year.  It feels like one or all of us have been sick since Thanksgiving though luckily, we're all on the mend and feeling much better now. Also, cooking/baking is on hiatus due to our kitchen renovation.  
Chocolate Dutch baby pancake served with fresh raspberries and whipped cream
That said...we're still keeping up our Christmas spirit!  There are still goodies to eat, presents to wrap, hot chocolate to sip, and gingerbread houses to decorate.  We're being a little creative making the best of things though I'm counting down to the day when I can get back in the kitchen to make things like weekend breakfast.  Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.

Before cooking halted, I whipped up a chocolate Dutch baby pancake for one of our weekend breakfasts and I wanted to share that with you now before taking a little holiday break and waiting for our kitchen to be operational again.  Now, a regular Dutch baby pancake - which is like a cross between pancake, thick crepe, souffle and popover in one - is one of our family's favorite things!  I make it at least twice a month for breakfast on the weekends.  I've tried talking my husband into trying a savory one but he's been reluctant to change a good thing.  But when I saw a chocolate version over at Mel's Kitchen Cafe, I had to try it; I mean, it's chocolate! Everyone was on board with that.  
Moments out of the oven, the chocolate version isn't quite as lofty as the regular but has a great chocolate-cake like flavor
I love the recipe I use to make my regular Dutch baby pancake so I actually leaned on that for this chocolate version, adapting it to include cocoa powder to make this chocolaty treat.  Mel's recipe is actually a bit more restrained when it comes to sugar and butter so you might want to check that out.  
Just like a regular Dutch baby, the lovely thing about this is the texture...crisp edges and a soft, thicker, custard-like center.  While we savor the eggy, sweet vanilla flavors of a regular Dutch baby, this chocolate version is like having a light chocolate cake-pancake.  You can embellish it however you like; I served mine with a spoonful of freshly whipped cream, a handful of fresh raspberries, and a dusting of confectioners' sugar.  It was a wonderful treat that my family and I were happy to polished off in no time.  



Millionaire's shortbread

As I type this and think about these tasty millionaire's shortbread I made recently, our kitchen is a gutted, dusty space...renovation has begun!  I'm taking it one day at a time and trying to just go with the flow.  I'm thankful to be able to have an updated kitchen to cook and bake from soon, and also grateful I had the chance to make a few more delicious things to eat before we packed up the kitchen and got things ready for the construction!
I've heard about millionaire's shortbread for a while now and I figured it was a great indulgence to attempt to make during the holidays to share with friends.  It's made up of a base layer of buttery shortbread, a center of soft and chewy homemade caramel, and a top layer of dark chocolate.  It's essentially homemade Twix bars.  As my husband says, it tastes like a "fresh Twix bar" or a "fresh, gourmet Twix bar".  Well, I think Twix bars are pretty good as it is - it's a childhood favorite of mine - but this homemade millionaire's shortbread is a knockout indulgence!
This is the recipe from Cook's Illustrated.  It's actually fairly easy to follow - the only "must" is a candy thermometer for cooking the caramel layer to ensure that it turns out smooth, soft, and chewy.  Using melted butter for the shortbread base, you can just stir the ingredients together and then simply press the crumbs into the pan. Finally, it takes a little time and effort to finely grate some of the dark chocolate that goes on the top layer and then to carefully - and slowly - melt the chocolate in the microwave for you to end up with a firm coating of chocolate that has a nice snap and won't bloom (turn gray).  Following the directions, this was as close as I ever got to tempering chocolate and I was very happy!
My bars aren't nearly as neat as the ones made by Cook's Illustrated but I can't say I'm too surprised.  I had trouble slicing the bars without making a ton of crumbs in the shortbread layer (and frankly, I was too impatient to try a little harder).  I'm fine with a little mess.  I packed up most of my batch for a few friends (the recipe makes a generous 40 bars so it's great for gifting) and I don't think my friends minded the mess, either.
I don't often eat a Twix bar these days but making these homemade bars was a great reason to indulge.  These millionaire's shortbread bars were so addicting.  The combination of buttery crunchy shortbread crust, with stretchy, sweet, and chewy caramel, wrapped up with a firm snappy dark chocolate top is a really winning combination.  This is the perfect time to make a batch!



Gingerbread biscotti with hazelnuts

Come November, I start craving those holiday spices we're all familiar with.  Since we're comfortably into December already, those cravings are at a peak!  It's so wonderful to bake something and have the aromas of warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger swirling in the air.  Sugar and spice really does make everything nice!
To get some of those holiday spices in the air - and for a taste of those yummy flavors - I made a batch of gingerbread biscotti.  To me, biscotti is just a great snacking cookie to have around all year round.  I really love making and eating them; they're not too rich but so satisfying, and go ever so very nicely with a warm drink.
I added toasted hazelnuts to these gingerbread biscotti, which are flavored with ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and a few grinds of black pepper.  The mix of these spices with dark brown sugar as it bakes makes an intoxicating aroma. The holiday flavors definitely come through!  

You can the hazelnuts but I think biscotti and nuts just go together.  The hazelnuts add a layer of richness to the cookies in a healthful way. Since this batch of biscotti has a little bit of butter in it, they are crisp and crunchy, as you'd expect, but maybe not quite as intensely hard as the biscotti that do not have butter.  I used to be firmly in the "no-butter in biscotti" camp but I've come around and now really enjoy both. 
I couldn't resist dipping some of my gingerbread-hazelnut biscotti in dark chocolate.  I think that white chocolate might have been more visually appealing but I'm all about the dark chocolate so I went with what we like to eat.  And I must say...I really, really loved the chocolate dipped ends of the biscotti!  That's probably not surprising given the well-established delicious pairing of chocolate and hazelnuts.  

If you're looking for a cookie option that's fit for the holidays but not quite so rich, gingerbread biscotti is a great one.  It's also just a great cookie to have on hand right now for snacking or everyday dessert...the gingerbread flavors put me in the holiday spirit while the nice crunch of these cookies always perk me up (so I'm ready for more holiday shopping)!



Cinnamon rolls with chestnut cream and chocolate

Recently, my husband celebrated a special birthday.  We'd made lunch and dinner plans out but I asked what he'd like for breakfast since we'd be home together and he requested financiers.  I popped open a jar of chestnut cream for filling the financiers and that got me thinking about how I should use the rest of the precious jar.  Then I got to thinking...the other thing my husband often requests for breakfast are cinnamon rolls...
A couple of years ago, I had a craving for cinnamon rolls and found a small batch recipe that I adapted.  Since then, my family and I have been hooked and you may have seen me make versions from Nutella-hazelnut to one featuring an almond paste filling.  With the holidays, I always think about chestnuts and I got to thinking that I should use some of my chestnut cream as a filling for my next batch of cinnamon rolls.  So this batch of cinnamon rolls with a chestnut cream filling - and a little chocolate - was born and it was a hit at my house...though I have to say that every version of homemade cinnamon rolls has met with approval here!
It's a special morning we look forward to when there are homemade cinnamon rolls coming out of the oven for breakfast!  There's nothing like enjoying them warm.  The rolls themselves are super soft, tender, and squishy.  The filling here is simply chestnut cream, with a modest amount (a scant ounce is enough) of finely chopped dark chocolate, and, of course, a touch of cinnamon.  My family and I really enjoyed the flavor; the chestnut cream provides a wonderful nutty sweetness and the chocolate melts and turns the filling into a marvelous chestnut cream-chocolate paste, that is very enjoyable.
To make things extra sticky, sweet, and tactile, I topped the warm rolls with a simple chestnut glaze I made with a little confectioners' sugar, low-fat milk and a little more chestnut cream.  Oh my...this was another great use of my chestnut cream stash. 

Like all delicious things, these cinnamon rolls vanished all too quickly.  We find ourselves whipping at the last bit of sticky glaze from our plates and wondering when we can have cinnamon rolls again...it's a recurring thing around here.


Chocolate thumbprints with peppermint ganache

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Not to rush from one holiday to another but it is the holiday season and I like to embrace these last few weeks of the year and soak up as much of the spirit and goodwill as possible.  That involves cookies!  Who's ready for holiday cookies and treats?  I know I am!
As we embark on the holiday season, I think about what it is I really want out of it. And basically, it's peace and joy, time with family and good friends.  May it be relaxing and comforting, reminding us of all the good out there and around us.  Of course, I hope it's filled with the sweet scent of cookies and the sight of steaming mugs of hot chocolate!

When it comes to holiday cookies, thumbprints definitely fit the bill because there's something special about the extra treat tucked within the treat!  Here, I made chocolate thumbprint cookies, which have a soft, almost brownie-like texture and a little bit of a crunch on the exterior since they're rolled in sanding sugar.  I filled their centers with ganache - a peppermint one - because mint and chocolate are a inseparable part of the holidays and I'm all for it!
When it comes to holiday baking, you know it's time to roll out the special sugars, the sprinkles, and candies for decorating!  I had fun sprinkling my thumbprint cookies with different decorations.  It's not necessary but the holidays are about adding a little sparkle to everything.
These are fun little bites for the chocolate-lover.  The cookies are soft and rich, with the soft ganache in the center packing a little peppermint twist.  While the holidays are certainly a time for making and enjoying family favorites, I like squeezing in a few new treats.  I always appreciate both the old and the new.



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