Ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote

I spend a lot of time thinking about weekend breakfast...they make me happy and I think it's natural to want to think about things that bring you joy.  I love that first meal of the day, sitting down to something savory or something sweet and unwinding over a few cups of coffee.  We're always digging into a constant array of pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs, or something similar.  I love making all our family favorites (it's a good thing there are quite a few) and I also love it when I get to try a little something new.
This was my first time making ricotta pancakes. I had them once in a restaurant and I remember the lightness to them.  I hadn't really thought about it but after making sour cream pancakes recently, I thought "how about ricotta?".  Inspired by that whim, I bought some whole milk ricotta and we enjoyed a batch of ricotta pancakes last weekend.  
Ricotta pancakes are light and fluffy, yet rich and hearty.  They're a little extra moist and a bit creamy.  In other words, they make a lovely weekend breakfast.

They taste great with the usual drizzle of maple syrup but I topped them with a blueberry compote, which is very easy to make using straight-from-the-freezer frozen blueberries.  I was inspired by the signature pancakes I see on my instagram feed from Clinton Street Baking Co., a restaurant in NYC.  I've yet to eat there (warnings about the long wait deters this homebody) but the photos of their pancakes topped with blueberry compote, as well as their other comfort foods, totally call out to me!
Pancakes are a great canvas - fine eaten plain but better with maple syrup, spread with jam or Nutella, or topped with fruit or a berry compote like this.  I recommend them all on weekend mornings!  And I counted this as another happy breakfast I was grateful to share with my family.  

The food isn't as important as the company and conversations that go with it at the breakfast table but it sure helps to have something yummy to gather over.  To that end, I'm always open to new inspirations! 



One-bowl oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (made with oil)

In general, I'm a fan of baking with oil and those recipes always appeal to me.  I suppose I feel somewhat "virtuous" using oil instead of butter, plus there's the convenience factor of not having to bring butter to room temperature, as you often need to do before the mixing and baking can begin.
Honestly, it doesn't take all that much to tempt me to bake a batch of cookies!  And this recipe from Half Baked Harvest was particularly tempting since it's just so simple - one bowl to mix everyone up, as you see below. And when a recipe is touted as a mom's specialty and one of the best around, I know I have to try it. 
The secret's in the oil.  The lineup of ingredients include the typical roster you'd expect in an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie but instead of butter, softened and creamed with sugar, you stir in canola oil.  The result is a somewhat crumbly, moist dough.  

I'd say the only tricky part of the recipe is molding the dough balls.  It doesn't want to stick together so you can't simply scoop the dough.  Instead, take spoonfuls of it and squeeze it together in your palm to pack it into a ball.  Be mindful to take some of the chocolate chips and incorporate it into the dough and on top to make sure you evenly distribute them among the cookies.
The little bit of finagling with the cookie dough balls was certainly a worthwhile effort.  In about 12 minutes, I had lovely little mounds of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter.  The cookies have a great texture - thick, chewy, and moist.  They are chock full of chocolate from a generous amount of chocolate chips.   
I liked these cookies best a bit warm...the chocolate flavor is more intense and the caramel notes in the cookie seem to stand out more.  Enjoy them fresh from the oven if possible but you can always warm them for 10 seconds or so in the microwave.  Cooled, the cookies are still great - with a firm yet moist and chewy texture.  

My son is a big fan of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and these have his stamp of approval - whether warm or cooled!  That always makes a mom feel like she's accomplished a mission.  


Dinner lately ...

My, how time flies!  I hope life has been good lately.  I'm nestling into fall and in this sometimes crazy world that we live in, I find comfort and a little insulation in a good book and, of course, in the kitchen - by cooking meals to enjoy with my family.  

Recently, I've been trying some new things on the savory side.  I'm still baking but leaning on the treasure trove of great recipes I've already discovered from the past 6 years of blogging.  Since I wanted to pop in here and say "hello", I thought I'd indulge in a little dinner "show-and-tell" today. No specific recipes per se (in most cases, I took ideas from several recipes at a time) but just a little walk through of dinner lately around here...please pardon the hodgepodge of different-quality photos; many of them are my casual Instagram snaps, taken when lighting is not at its best around dinnertime.  

First up, there was my stuffed peppers project.
When we went to Charleston, we had a lovely dinner at Magnolia's where I had the most amazing vegetarian dish.  I wasn't exactly sure what would arrive but it turned out to be stuffed peppers, filled with the chewiest rice and topped with pepperjack cheese and a sweet tomato chutney.
It inspired me to make my own at home.  While the version I came up with was quite different from the amazing restaurant dish, it had similarities and I was very happy with dinner that night!  I filled my peppers with jasmine rice (cooked in chicken stock and some saffron), onions and corn sautéed with a touch of curry powder, garlic, and herbs, diced tomatoes, and some ground turkey.  The pepperjack cheese adds just the right touch of richness, making them all the more satisfying.


One-skillet beef mac & cheese

This easy, one-pan, beef mac & cheese immediately became a favorite at my house after I tried the recipe a few months back.  It is one of my son's favorite dishes and he can devour it in minutes (and could likely eat the entire pan himself if you let him). So after making it so many times, I thought I'd post it here on the blog for quick reference; I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots before the sunset as I plated it for dinner last week.
And with summer essentially in the rear view mirror (how did that happen!) and the change to cooler temps making us crave heartier meals, macaroni and cheese comes to the rescue.  This one-skillet dish comes together in less than 30 minutes so it's easy enough for busy weeknights.  

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Christina Lane's blog, Dessert for Two.  My son loves a bunch of her recipes, which I make over and over again. This skillet mac & cheese recipe is one and it comes from her savory cookbook, Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two. Honestly, my son could eat the entire skillet so as time went on, I've snuck in a bit more meat and pasta (as much as I can without overflowing my 10-inch skillet) to amp up the portion.  If you're feeding more than two people as a main for dinner, I suggest some garlic bread and/or a big platter of roasted vegetables to go alongside.  
This macaroni and cheese gets its creaminess and thickness from a combination of milk, water, cornstarch, and, of course, cheese - cheddar cheese, to be exact.  The cheddar gives it such a great familiar flavor but I've also made this with some pepper jack cheese thrown in, and since it melts so well, it gives the mac & cheese a great texture.  In other words, don't be afraid to personalize it.  

I think the same goes on the flavor front when it comes to the spices.  A mix of spices including chili powder and smoked paprika give this mac & cheese a nice smokey flavor but I've experimented with different proportions and I sometimes throw in other spices from my spice box. When I first made this recipe, the flavors were a bit too strong for my son so I tampered down the spice levels.  But now...he's grown used to it and I'm pretty heavy handed with the spice.
Another way to mix and bulk this up - add some vegetables into your mac & cheese.  I often toss in some broccoli and when all else fails, there's always frozen peas on hand. It's fair to say that almost everything tastes good in a creamy cheese sauce!



Tiramisu

A couple of weeks ago, I made tiramisu for a very special occasion.  Not only did I recently celebrate a big birthday, my brother - who's ten years old than I am - marked a milestone birthday of his own!
About a week before my brother's big birthday, my sister in law planned a family gathering to celebrate not only his birthday but ones for two of my nephews (late August and early early September is a busy time!).  There was champagne and nibbles, ice cream cake for the kids, and we planned to go out to dinner.  I wanted to contribute a little something to the at-home festivities and I knew it would be tiramisu.

My brother orders tiramisu for dessert almost every time we go out.  It might well be that we tend to go to an Italian restaurant when my siblings and I go out to dinner together but all the same, tiramisu is just a favorite dessert of his (and my husband, too; it seems to be a "guy" thing). Before this, I'd made individual tiramisu but I'd never done the traditional classic version in a larger serving pan.
I was a little nervous about this.  Making something you haven't really made before for a special occasion - even when it's just family who wouldn't mind if things aren't exactly stellar - is a bit daunting.  This is the time when you do some homework, cross your fingers, and get to work.

Making this tiramisu wasn't without some minor hitches but all was well.  My tiramisu, with amaretto as the liqueur of choice, turned out just fine.  I'm told it was quite tasty, actually.  I have to say I enjoyed what I tasted very much even though I'm no expert.  The important thing is that the birthday boy said it was as good as any restaurant's, and I have to be satisfied with high praise like that!
The tiramisu I turned out is a compilation of a few recipes, leaning heavily on David Lebovitz's recipe I used previously for the individually portioned ones.  It uses egg yolks as well as egg whites (as opposed to heavy cream), which I think makes for a lighter texture and flavor.  We don't personally have issues with using raw eggs but you have to decide on your comfort level in that regard.
It's no wonder so many people love tiramisu.  It's rich and creamy, yet so light.  The coffee flavor, as well as amaretto liqueur in my case, gives it just the right kick.  
Photos of the sliced tiramisu above are actually from the second tiramisu I made.  My husband angled for his own "personal pan" and I was happy to oblige.



Chocolate Heaven in a cupcake

I realize it's not exactly a novelty for me to be here, ranting and raving about chocolate cake.  I mean, it was just a few months ago when I was swooning over those amazing ultimate chocolate cupcakes.  I can only assure you that I'm always sincere!
While I do like to "play the field" when it comes to chocolate cakes/cupcakes (and chocolate desserts in general), I have a lot of room in my heart to love a lot of recipes!  This gets proven again and again as I eat and discover all the wonderful chocolate cake renditions out there.  It's all about diversity and mixing things up.
So today, let me add another chocolate cupcake love affair to my list.  In a roundabout way, these cupcakes come by way of Savannah, Georgia.  You see...my family and I went to Charleston, S.C., recently on vacation.  During that trip, we drove to Savannah one day.  Aside from wanting to see the lovely city, I really wanted to visit Back in the Day Bakery.  I am so happy we made the pilgrimage (particularly as I learned that they would be closed the following week for summer vacation)!  The place was as charming as I expected and the people might well have been sweeter than the treats.

While we were there, we tasted these mind-blowing Chocolate Heaven cupcakes.  We tried one and went right back for another!  They were amazingly moist, with a super fluffy, tender crumb.  The cupcakes packed some wonderful chocolate flavor and somehow the cap of chocolate sprinkles on top of the creamy frosting was just right. I fell hard for these chocolate cupcakes.
The amazing Chocolate Heaven cupcake at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia
We didn't make it to the bakery that day until early afternoon.  By then, and given the fact that August is a slow month for Savannah, there wasn't a ton to choose from and I can only say that I'm so grateful there were still some of these chocolate cupcakes in the case!  Chocolate Heaven, indeed!  I wish we'd had time and space to try more of their treats but we'd just eaten lunch in Hilton Head, had plans to visit Leopold's next for ice cream, and had dinner reservations.  To say that I'd want to go back to Savannah just to have more food from Back in the Day Bakery is not an exaggeration. Hopefully, someday...

In the meantime, you know what I love to do...try to recreate something wonderful I ate on vacation, back home!  Since one of the lovely women working at the bakery told me these cupcakes were a relatively new addition, I didn't have high hopes of finding the recipe...until I looked and realized there is a Chocolate Heaven cake recipe in the first cookbook!!  Bingo!  I realized this would take me pretty close to what we enjoyed in Savannah so I took the cake recipe, reduced it down from a 3-layer cake, and turned out some cupcakes!
So how did my homemade version compare to the ones at the bakery?  The good news is they taste very much alike.  I realized that to make a good old-fashioned bake, it takes good-quality ingredients, time and love in the way of patience in the process.  Here specifically, I also think sour cream is one of the "secrets" as well as really good chocolate in the form of Scharffen Berger, and coffee.  
Not surprisingly, the ones at the bakery were superior.  While the home version were moist, the bakery cupcake was fluffier, with more of an open crumb.  My cupcakes baked up with slightly rounded tops while the bakery's were flat, making a great base for an even and generous layer of frosting.  I skimped in comparison when it came to frosting on my cupcakes but for all that, these cupcakes still transport you to heaven for a few moments while you're devouring them.  I would surely love to eat them again and again!
Don't skip the chocolate sprinkles on top of these cupcakes because for some reason, they are just so right here!  They somehow reinforce the whole chocolate experience. 



Vanilla cashew clusters

I adore cashews and I love making easy snack mixes that involve nuts - whether as a nibble for a party, to pack up and gift to friends, or just to have around as a snack.
These vanilla cashew clusters I spotted from The Kitchn were too easy to resist.  Did I mention I love cashews?  I really do, and these simply involve a bag of cashews that you toss with an egg white, (brown and granulated) sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and vanilla extract to give them a fun sweet flavor with a little spice.  Let the oven do the rest of the work, toasting the nuts and setting that sweet coating on top.
I made these for friends and I'm hoping they like cashews as much as I do.  I also brought some along to a gathering with my family; they're terrific with drinks.  You can also enjoy them with yogurt for breakfast, as a topping for an ice cream sundae, or just pack up a bag and take them along on a road trip or as a snack on the go.  

In other words, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these and plenty of reasons to make a batch!


Simple chocolate party cake

It's been a busy couple of weeks, filled with celebrations and a vacation. I recently celebrated a big birthday and we just got back from a wonderful trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  
Before all that, I happened to be looking at some beautiful bakes from Style Sweet CA on Instagram and then spotted a simple chocolate cake on the site that I thought would be fun to make with my son.  It reminded me of the Texas sheet cake we made together last summer and it, in fact, is that with a different type of chocolate frosting on top.  
Instead of making a sheet cake, we divided the cake recipe in half and made a single-layer 8-inch cake (I made just 1/3 the recipe for the frosting and it was more than enough).  I decided to tag this as a "simple chocolate party cake" instead of "easy chocolate sheet cake" as the original is called since I baked it in the round, which I think is a bit more formal looking.  If you bake it in sheet cake form, it's great to slice into small squares or rectangle servings for a crowd. 

The chocolate icing - given the high ratio of confectioners' sugar in it - is the kind that forms a bit of a dry crust on the surface.  It's not what I'd call "fudgy" (which I think of as a smoother, more creamy, chewy texture like this) so instead of calling it a fudge frosting recipe as I found it, I'd say it's more a classic American-style chocolate frosting/icing on this cake.
My son and I had fun in the kitchen preparing this cake.  It's nice to sneak a few moments together doing something simple like baking or cooking.  And the final reward of having a homemade cake can't be beat.  As with all things homemade with care, it seems to taste all the better.
His shirt says "Never Skip Cake" (not true, but would be a good line)
Incidentally, I realized that we made this cake just a couple of days before my birthday (okay...not so coincidental...I may have planned it that way!) so I can say my son helped make me a birthday cake this year!  If I sound desperate, sometimes I am.  



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