May 26, 2011

Classic brownies

What do peonies have in common with brownies?
Well, nothing really...Except that when I think of peonies, I call them paper flowers because I remember making these flowers out of different color tissue paper when I was a kid at school.  They were so pretty.  And I'm nostalgic about brownies in a similar way.  I only spent a part of my childhood here in the States, having just arrived here from Hong Kong at eight years old.  But I'll be forever thankful that I met the very awesome, American brownie.
As a chocolate lover, brownies are one of my favorite treats of all time.  I am no snob but I'm generally pretty picky about dessert (and food in general).  But I have rarely met a brownie I didn't like.  To me, even the bad ones are pretty good.  I guess it's the simplicity that I love and the fact that it's all about the chocolate.  I also love that brownie texture, or that chewy bite you get when you sink your teeth into it.  It also helps that whenever you see brownies on the dessert menu - pretty often at one of the restaurant chains - it always comes with a scoop of ice-cream on top and maybe some chocolate sauce too.  Now, who can complain about that... 
I love anything that gives me an excuse to eat ice-cream.  Whenever my son gets a brownie dessert as part of his kids' meal, I can't help but sneak a few bites. 

May 25, 2011

In search of a great chocolate chip cookie

I have yet to find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe.  But admittedly, I haven't spent much time pursuing it since we have the double chocolate cookies that we love to make and I'm distracted by so many other goodies.  I have a few oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipes that I rely on but I think a great oatmeal cookie is an easier goal to attain because the oats take center stage and its inherent chewiness almost guarantees satisfaction if you're looking for a soft chewy cookie.  And my family and I definitely fall into the "soft" chocolate chip cookie camp. 

Being such a classic, I think any home-baker would want to have an excellent chocolate chip cookie recipe in his or her repertoire.  So in my search here for a great chocolate chip cookie, I am starting with a recipe featured in the book, Ready for Dessert.  After making and tasting the cookies, I've tweaked the measurements a bit but here is my conclusion:  It makes a delicious chocolate chip cookie where the chunks of chocolate steal the show.  Making sure to remove them out of the oven before they crisp up too much (if you are looking for a soft cookie like we are), it is best slightly warm out of the oven.  The cookie dough is not too sweet and a nice canvas for the chunks of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate.  My only personal wish would be for a bit more robust flavor in the dough itself.  But overall, I was very happy with the result.
These are the plain chocolate chip cookies a few minutes out of the oven.

These chocolate chip cookies have the addition of toasted walnuts.

May 20, 2011

Molten chocolate cake

Remember when I said that I was ready for a chocolate cake any time of day/year?  I really meant it.  Whatever the season, there is always time for chocolate in my book.  It's imperative to a balanced lifestyle.

Once in a while, I want to go for something a little richer, a bit more decadent.  I go for a molten chocolate cake.  Chances are, you've ordered one of these before in a restaurant since it became popular in the U.S. starting in the late 80's.  It might come under the guise of warm chocolate cake or lava cake or even chocolate soufflĂ© cake (though I get a little upset when it arrives and it's not an actual soufflĂ©) but it's essentially that small individual moist chocolate cake you get that when you break into, a little flow of warm liquid chocolate oozes out. 
For whatever reason, I like to eat these cakes at night.  My husband and I have a habit of having date night at home about once a month.  I'll cook dinner or very often, he brings something home after work on a Friday night and once our little guy is asleep, we can eat and really chat leisurely.  When we're short on time, it's great to have a couple of these chocolate cakes and sit down together and talk over dessert.  It's the kind of cake you sit down at the table to enjoy.  The cake doesn't last long but you can linger over a cup of tea or coffee.

May 18, 2011

French yogurt cake with lemon

I started thinking about baking a yogurt cake when I was reading A Homemade Life and Molly Wizenberg had a recipe for it in the book.  Then one day recently, I stumbled upon this post from  With the arrival of spring, I guess it was time to start thinking about lighter, fresher dessert options (although I'm ready for a chocolate cake any time of day/year).  So I mentally filed the yogurt cake as something to try soon and I finally got around to it.  Remember that recipe for banana bread with chocolate?  Well, I'm happy to report that it has become a new family favorite and I've made it several times since that post.  I just baked a few loaves recently and had plenty of extra yogurt on hand so it was the perfect time to tackle the French yogurt cake.
I did a bit of research and consulted a few recipes before starting on this cake.  It's a simple cake but there are many variations from a plain one to lime, lemon, and vanilla or almond scented options along with glazes or fruit sauces as accompaniment.  But first, I learned that this is a French yogurt cake because it's often the first cake a French child learns to bake.  And I also read somewhere that this is one of just a few desserts a French family will make at home since there are so many amazing patisseries in France.  This makes total sense to me.  I'm not sure I would bake as much as I do if I had access to the caliber of pastry that's so widely available in France. 
In the end, I decided to make a fairly plain French yogurt cake, accented with a bit of lemon, which I love.  Specifically, I used the zest and juice of one lemon to add just a little bit of zip.  This cake is quite similar to the Italian orange cake I wrote about last month.  I would say that the yogurt here makes this cake a bit more dense but in the most moist way possible.  The yogurt and lemon give the cake a bit of tang but it's not overpowering and the cake by no means tastes like yogurt.

I also decided to forgo any type of glaze or fruit sauce (well, initially...see details at the end of the post).  I wanted to keep it straightforward and simple and I'm just personally not into fruit sauces/jams/marmalade although it certainly looks beautiful.  However, my husband was tasting this and he could totally visualize this cake being accompanied by a raspberry or strawberry sauce.  In fact, it could even take a chocolate glaze or whipped cream.  The cake, being relatively neutral and "clean", is a good partner for any number of creative accompaniments.  I would be interested in making this cake again with an almond twist, using some almond extract.  In some recipes, a portion of the flour is substituted with ground almonds; that would obviously be more work but I have a feeling it would be quite tasty.
Although there is no raspberry in the cake itself, I think lemon and raspberry are a good flavor combination

May 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sis!

Today is my sister's birthday! 
The two of us used to drink Cherry 7UP out of champagne glasses with our lunch when we were kids.  I don't think it's available anymore; this is as close as I could get to that very pretty pale pink color that I remember.

I won't mention what birthday this is for her but suffice it to say she is my older sister, older by a good 7 years.  However, I can't tell you how many times throughout my life I've had to endure people asking which one of us is older.  It was kind of cute when I was younger but nowadays, it's not so funny anymore.  But it's true, sis, you don't look a day over 25! 

Maybe it's because she's the middle child but my sister is like the mediator - the helpful, nice one.  She's always there to help me when I need her and one of the best dinner companions.  We share a lot of food memories together.  Many afternoons when we were growing up, she would make us a huge pan of spaghetti and I remember it was so heavy, she'd need my help to hold the pan with her so we could spill it out onto a platter.  And afterwards, we'd have that Rocky Road ice-cream I mentioned before.  One thing we laugh about a lot is how we used to drink Cherry 7UP in champagne glasses when we were kids!!  We were so fabulous!  And many years later when we dine out, which is often, we laugh about how far we've come and how we get to have the real thing these days. 

As a child, I used to follow my sister around all the time and I'm sure she was glad to see me grow up and get my own life.  Imagine yourself as a teenager trying to maintain a social life with your friends but having a nagging little sister shadowing you - that was her burden for many years.  In fact, I used to taunt her and sing a song (I think it was from some commercial) that went something like: "kid sister, kid sister, wherever I go, she sister and me!"  I always wanted to tag along with her whenever she was going out.  I didn't see anything wrong with that at the time (if she didn't want to take me, I thought she was cruel) but I feel terrible about it looking back now and can only blame my youthful ignorance.  The funny thing is when my sister would really have somewhere she wanted to go on her own, she used to appease me by cooking me something to eat or buying me some donuts or something to sweeten the deal.  It always involved food and that's one thing we share...our love of food.  Maybe we also share a love of shopping too but while she's shopping for shoes, I'm at William Sonoma looking at bakeware.

So cheers to sisterhood!  Happy Birthday to my sister!  I hope you have a wonderful day and may you continue to look 25 for many years to come!

May 13, 2011

Very quick and easy oatmeal crisps

I'm always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes to make in the kitchen.  Sometimes, you just don't have the time or feel like making cupcakes from scratch or a two layer cake.  So I was going through my Martha Stewart Cookies app the other day and saw some simple oatmeal-almond crisps I wanted to try.  I guess I'm on an almond kick lately but frankly, I wanted to find a recipe to use up the leftover almond slices I have from baking the macaroons.
I figured it was pretty safe that I would like these crisps.  I love oatmeal (ok, maybe love is too strong a word for how anyone feels about oatmeal but I do like it a lot) and almonds.  It basically just uses a little bit of butter and egg to bind the two together, along with some brown sugar to sweeten it.  It's a very simple, quick mix-together recipe that you might want to consider if you are looking for a healthier alternative and something easy to whip up for yourself or your kids.

The result is a somewhat delicate crisp...not very crunchy since the oatmeal give it a nice chewiness and just mildly sweet with a hint of caramelized flavor.  It's like granola and also reminds me of my favorite Kashi cereal.  This might be the reason why my son asked if he could have some for breakfast.

May 10, 2011

Almond macaroons

I don't know who invented macaroons but it's genius.  When I say macaroons, a few things come to mine but I'm talking in general about that cookie with a crackly, somewhat crisp, outer shell that gives way to chewiness in the center.  I love to make this simple almond macaroon that's packed with almond flavor.  It's another cookie on my personal top-ten list.

This cookie gets its great flavor from almond paste, which I love in cookies and cakes.   I started making this cookie about a year ago and I just crave it every so often for that fragrant, sweet almond flavor and that chewy texture.  This cookie is similar to the one featuring pignoli or pine nuts that we see often in Italian bakeries.  I haven't had a chance to try making the pignoli version since I'm hooked on this one but I'll get to it eventually.  This cookie is great with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011 is a wrap

Hi everyone - I hope my fellow moms had a fantastic Mother's Day!  
We had such beautiful weather here in NJ and it was a lovely Mother's Day weekend.  I want to thank my always-very-thoughtful husband and our lovably rambunctious son for making Mother's Day so special for me.  I loved all my treats...from the cookbook to the delicious french macarons (almost too pretty to eat) and hazelnut paste covered almonds (ridiculously good), the trip to Sur La Table in Soho so I could shop til I drop, the breakfast/lunch/dinners, and the handmade card and gifts.  After all the festivities, I am exhausted!  I also feel very lucky...and grateful.

May 5, 2011

For Mother's Day

This Sunday is Mother's Day!  I want to wish all moms out there a very happy and relaxing day! 
Becoming a mom has certainly changed my life for the better.  I'm never bored and my son has given me a gift that I can't repay him for.  So I don't need anything for Mother's Day but I wanted to make something special for the occasion.  If you're looking for something sweet to make for mom, consider this raspberry napoleon using the chocolate pudding we made earlier.  But if mom doesn't like sweets, take her out to dinner instead.

May 3, 2011

Chocolate pudding

You knew it wouldn't be long before the topic returned to chocolate.  Today, it's chocolate pudding.  There's something comforting about good old-fashioned pudding.  I ate my fair share of it growing up and it was mostly from those little plastic pudding cups.  Now I can make the homemade version for my family.

As the weather warms up (finally!), a nice cold chocolate pudding from the refrigerator makes a great afternoon treat for the kids...and adults.  A dollop of fresh whipped cream never hurts, although my son dislikes adding anything that will take away from the chocolate.

May 1, 2011

Almond biscotti

There are so many things I've yet to bake that I would like to try.  I have quite a long list and biscotti is one of the things on that list.  After the somewhat decadent chewy chocolate cookies, I thought it would be nice to change things up and go for something lighter and with a far different texture.  The result is this almond biscotti.
While a biscotti hardly ever makes anyone moan with pleasure, it's a nice accompaniment to a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.  That crunch and the nuts make it a great little pick-me-up.  Can't you see yourself on a Sunday afternoon sipping a coffee with an almond biscotti or two?


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