July 29, 2011

Chocolate egg cream

I wish some old-fashioned things would come back into fashion.  For instance, don't you wish you had a nice ice cream/dessert parlor you could take your date or kids to?  The kind where you sit in a booth or at the counter and order an ice cream sundae, a shake, or some other kind of drink from the soda jerk.  I vaguely remember the old Woolworths stores having a counter like that and once in a while you still see a retro ice cream parlor around.  My husband and I used to go to one in Brooklyn (it could still be there) and I loved seeing the waitresses in their white uniforms and ordering some ice cream that came in one of those cold stainless steel bowls. 

One of my favorite things in the world is ice cream soda.  I love a Coke float!  A couple of scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream with Coke poured over the top in a freezing cold glass makes me so happy.  But now that I'm older, I've cut back significantly on treats like that (soda is pretty much out of my diet).  However, I'm always on the lookout for lower calorie alternatives.  I think the old-fashioned chocolate egg cream is a great option.  It is so delicious and a much lighter alternative to a milk shake.
I always thought an "egg cream" would have eggs in it.  Apparently not.  In fact, there's no eggs, no cream, no ice cream even.  I remember watching a cooking show a while back where they talked about this and I was intrigued, thinking "I have to get me one of those!"  I never got around to it but with this blog in my life now, I've been motivated to try all these things I've been meaning to so here we are.  The only things in the chocolate egg cream are milk, chocolate syrup (make it with a little cocoa powder, sugar and water), and seltzer.  If you like chocolate and fizzy drinks, this is something for you.  If you have a hankering for a milk shake, give this a go instead.

July 27, 2011

Taro tapioca dessert

I'm taking dessert on a different tangent today.  If you're familiar with the Chinese food culture, you'll know about the many varieties of sweet  dessert "soups".  They're called "tong shui" in Cantonese, which literally translates to "sugar water."  I love these sweet soups and there are many kinds.  I love to eat them hot during the cold months but they are usually amazing chilled and served cold...great for the summertime.  
Chilled Taro Tapioca Dessert
One of my favorites is taro tapioca dessert.  Taro is a root vegetable, with a mild flavor.  It's like potato or sweet potato and its mild flavor lends really well to this dessert where it can absorb and sort of balance the sweetness, I think.  Its starchiness also helps thicken the "soup".  And tapioca pearls are just plain fun.  Admittedly, they have very little flavor but the texture of the soft little bubbles floating around in your dessert soup is rather addicting.

I've had varieties of this dessert (Malaysian restaurants, for example, serve it with a few additional ingredients and it's very common to add some cubed sweet potatoes/yams as well) but this recipe comes from my sister, who has made this for us for years now.  Whenever I'm visiting her, I dropped hints about her very delicious "sugar water" that I love so much and I am often rewarded with a sweet surprise.  Not to mention, I usually get some extra to take home and store in the fridge. 

Somewhere along the lines, my sister learned how to make this dessert and unlike me, who generally needs and prefers to work from a written recipe, she has always made this from her head so there are no actual proportions to follow.  It's the kind of recipe you have to feel your way through and get to know.

I wanted to learn to make this because I love it and my husband does too.  And I think my husband would enjoy a little change from all the cakes and cookies I put in front of him!  This was my second attempt at making this dessert and I thought I'd try my best to pin down some semblance of a recipe this time.  That way, I can refer back to it here when I want to make it again and hopefully, it will make things easier.  I had many questions and phone calls back-and-forth with my sister and this time, my dessert came out a lot closer to how it should be!  The first time I made it, I put way too much water in it and it was just too watery.  I still prefer to eat this at my sister's house though.  Somehow it tastes sweeter when someone else makes it for you.  * hint, hint *

July 25, 2011

Chocolate cups

I love the idea of making edible things to dress-up or hold our desserts like the lace cookies or tuiles, for instance.  When I order a dessert at a restaurant, I love the little chocolate garnish or piece of brittle on top of a slice of cake or tart.  It's a nice presentation and makes the dessert just a bit more special.  And I think desserts are special and something to be savored.

At home, I'm looking for simple and quick ways to dress up the ordinary.  I don't have the skills or time to do anything too fancy.  So how about just making some chocolate cups to hold your ice cream next time you scoop some for your kids or yourself.  Or they could be used to hold some chocolate mousse or summer fruit with a little whipped cream.  They're fun to make and eat, and I'm a fan of any way of adding even more chocolate onto the plate.  I also love that crisp texture of the little chocolate cups against the smooth ice cream in this case.
These don't take long to make and all you need is some bittersweet chocolate.  This was my first attempt and it worked out fairly well.  My son loved it and that's always a good thing in my book.

July 21, 2011

Almond sponge cake

Despite the hot weather, I keep having a hankering for cake lately.  I want to bake cakes!  I guess they just make me happy.  Plus, I like sitting down with a small slice on a neat plate and giving myself a treat.  As a compromise to the season though, I decided to try a recipe for a light sponge cake and as a little twist, an almond version.  I love plain sponge cakes.  I don't generally need a thick frosting on my cakes (well, unless it's chocolate ganache) and I really enjoy that lightly sweet egg taste.
This is also similar to the angel food cake except we're using both egg whites and egg yolks here.  This is definitely more up my alley since I missed the fat that was missing in the angel food cake.  I also love that smell and flavor of the eggs in the sponge cake.  But like the angel food cake, this sponge cake relies on the eggs for all it's volume and contains no other fats (i.e., no butter or oil). 

I decided to top the almond sponge cake with some almond-flavored whipped cream and toasted almond slices.  Frankly, I liked eating it plain with nothing at all as well.  It's sturdy enough that you can cut a wedge and grab it to go for breakfast.  And being the serious chocolate lover that I am, I also tried it with some dark chocolate sauce but I found that overwhelmed the sponge cake too much so I'm saving the sauce for ice cream.  I also discovered this cake would be the perfect base for strawberry shortcake.  The texture is moist in the center but also surprisingly firm (in a good way).  It would hold up well sliced across into two layers and filled with lightly-sweetened whipped cream and strawberries.  Whipped cream and strawberries would be a great option to have alongside this cake as well.

July 19, 2011

What's for dinner

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that given the right fresh ingredients, simple food can be the best food.  A few weeks ago, I took a break from all the sweets and posted some of my favorite pasta dishes.  I mentioned a dish with roasted tomatoes I made and just loved late last summer after picking some grape tomatoes fresh from the vine.  I recently made this for dinner and while it's such a simple thing, I wanted to post it here in case you're looking for an easy dinner idea.  It's so simple and so good.

I picked these tomatoes up at the local market.  Admittedly, they're not as good as the pick-it-yourself variety but it's still a delicious option this time of year.  If you see grape tomatoes on the vine for picking at your local farm, load 'em up!  Also, if you can get your hands on the yellow variety (which are a bit sweeter), I very highly recommend a mixture of red and yellow grape tomatoes for this dish.

All I do is roast these tomatoes in the oven with some olive oil, crushed garlic, salt & pepper (and basil if you have it) for about 45 minutes.  It will make the kitchen smell amazing.  Toss in some pasta and it's time for a hearty and delicious dinner.

July 16, 2011

Lemonade granita or frozen lemonade

Run out and get some extra lemons because this lemonade granita (or frozen lemonade) is worth making.  It's lemonade, intensified...a combination of sweet and tartness in each icy bite.  It's so refreshing, it makes a perfect ending to a summer barbecue.
Lemonade is one of the things I associate with summer.  Although in our household, a certain six-year old would love to have lemonade any time, all year round.  As a result, I barely got a taste of this frozen lemonade during our initial taste-test since the little one hogged it all up.  I wouldn't pretend that the little guy loves everything I make but he loves chocolate and is a fan of lemon.  This was right up his alley since he loves lemonade and cold things so much.  And there's something about lemons, isn't there?  It wakes everything up and makes things better.  A freshly made ice-cold lemonade is hard to resist (I love it mixed with iced tea) on these hot summer days.  A frozen lemonade just might be even better. 
If you feel like taking the additional step, the granita can be mixed in a food processor to give it a smoother texture to be scooped out like you see in the glass upfront.

Even though I'd just made watermelon granita very recently, I had to try the lemonade version when I saw this post on thekitchn.com.  I had a feeling my son would love this more than the watermelon version and I was right.  It was as good as the post from the kitchn promised.  I'm really glad I tried it and for the lemon/lemonade lovers out there, maybe you'll want to give this a go...if you have a bunch of lemons, you're in business.

July 13, 2011

Angel food cake experiment

For the longest time, I've wanted to make an angel food cake.  I've been a little mesmerized by the general idea of a cake made basically from egg whites.  It's essentially fat-free (plenty of sugar though) and sounds as well as looks like a nice light treat.  Ironically, I don't think I've ever eaten angel food cake before I made this one and I was curious.  It sure looks pretty but would I like it? 
Practically speaking, I never got around to making this cake until now because it sounded a little complicated since we're dealing with a large amount of delicate egg whites and there are a few tricky steps involved (not to mention a new pan to invest in).  Also, I've heard angel food cake described as tasting like cotton candy, not a very good image in my mind.  But I had to figure it out for myself so I finally buckled down and experimented with the angel food cake. 
Remember that bittersweet chocolate sauce I made in my prior post?  I had an ulterior motive in making that.  I thought it would be a nice accompaniment to this cake.
So here are my conclusions from this angel food cake experiment.  Well first, it turned out to be fairly easy to make and I'm assuming I did everything correctly since the cake came out tender, fluffy and light (I have nothing to compare it to having never had one before).  The stand mixer does the work of whipping the egg whites and there's just a bit more steps involving sifting and gentle folding of the flour into the whites.

As for the taste, the angel food cake itself is, well, bland.  It sort of tasted the way it looked but a bit stickier.  I honestly thought I was eating nothing in a sense but then the sweetness left an aftertaste behind that I wasn't a big fan of.  I enjoyed the bittersweet chocolate sauce with the cake and it's such a blank canvas that it's nice to pair the angel food cake with something strong like that or maybe some fruit if you prefer that.  I've also seen recipes incorporating a bit of chocolate or even toasted coconut in the batter to add another dimension of flavor.  Overall, I thought it was alright but it definitely needs a partner or accompaniment to go with it.  I guess I miss the fat - there, I said it.  But it is a pretty thing to look at and I had fun making it and trying it out.  Who knows, I may experiment with another version one day...

July 10, 2011

Lighter chocolate sauce

We recently returned home from vacation, having had a great time in a land of sunshine, palm trees, and turquoise seas.  It's so good to get away...and for a few days, I just stared at this...
and lounged around looking at this...
It's so good to be on vacation, with someone else to cook your meals and clean your room.  It also seems like an excellent excuse to eat more ice cream -I mean, is it me or does Ben & Jerry's ice cream just taste even better on the road?  Well, the trip was a blast but believe it or not, I missed my little kitchen and kept thinking of all the things I wanted to make when I got home.  I have developed a serious sweet tooth!

So here we go! 

To honor all the ice cream we ate while on vacation, I thought I'd make a chocolate sauce that I've wanted to try for some time.  When I first received David Lebovitz's book, Ready for Dessert, I tagged a number of recipes I wanted to try.  I've already made a few of them but this is another entry that caught my eye right away.  It's a bittersweet chocolate sauce.
As much as I love chocolate, it's no surprise that the words "chocolate sauce" would get my attention.  But what really did it was the fact that this particular sauce has no cream or butter in it (thus, the "lighter" label) and I am always on the lookout for ways to lighten things up a little so I can have more of it.  Seriously, though, this recipe for bittersweet chocolate sauce is so easy to make, requires just 5 ingredients, and you can keep it around for a couple of weeks in the fridge for when you'd like some over your ice cream or a slice of cake. 
I love a hot fudge sundae!  As a kid, I loved the one from McDonald's...you know the one with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge and you can get peanuts in a little packet.  Who am kidding - I still love it.  As with any sundae, I think the chocolate sauce is the best part, although the crunchy peanut topping comes in at a close second for me.  I had to make myself a little one today.

July 8, 2011

Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

I know it's hot out there and you may not want to turn on your oven but I crave a good homemade cookie all year round so I'm willing to do it.  And remember my search for a great chocolate chip cookie?  Well, I'm always interested when someone says they've found a great chocolate chip cookie recipe. 

I was introduced to this one a few months back via the great blog, Orangette.  These cookies really caught my eye.  Firstly, it's a whole wheat chocolate chip cookie.  Sounds a bit boring and may admittedly make you think of a dry, dense type of cookie but the potential for a great whole wheat, and dare I say, healthier, chocolate chip cookie was very alluring indeed.  Secondly, she (meaning, Molly, the author of the blog) mentioned they reminded her of digestive biscuits.  Well, coming from Hong Kong and with our exposure to British food, digestive biscuits conjure up a pleasant taste memory for me.
I'm so glad I tried making these cookies because they've staked a permanent place in my cookie-making repertoire.  Using white whole wheat flour is a great suggestion Molly made because it produces a milder whole wheat flavor but is still whole grain and gives you that nuttiness that balances out the sweetness.  The dough does taste like a digestive biscuit!  The cookies are crisp on the outside, soft in the center.  The dough is not too sweet and a terrific balance with the chocolate throughout.
So if you like digestive biscuits or a cookie dough that isn't too sweet, you might want to check these whole wheat chocolate chip cookies out.  They are very tasty.

July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Independence Day!

I had intended to make some red-white-and-blue mini fruit tarts (what would have been a new endeavor for me) to mark the fourth of July holiday.  But with the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks and keeping busy with my little one now that school is out, that exciting project had to be deferred.  In its place, I decided to make a little birthday cake to celebrate our nation's birthday if you will.  Yes, I admit I'm always looking for an excuse to make a cake. 

This relatively simple one-layer cake is chocolate, of course.  The recipe for the cake batter is the same one I used for my very first post on chocolate cupcakes.  I think it's fun to use one recipe but mix it up between cupcakes and a traditional cake.  Chocolate ganache frosting is my absolute favorite frosting and I'm using it again here.  I think "ganache" may be one of my all-time favorite words because it conjures up that incredible taste and texture for me.  It's amazing what chocolate and cream can become together.
On Independence Day, I think a little about my life here in the States.  Not having been born here, I occasionally wonder what my life would have been like had our family stayed in Hong Kong, where I'm from.  No doubt, that life would've been vastly different from the one I'm living now and there's really no way to know just how.  It's interesting to think about all the forks in the road during our lives and how one turn, one decision, can lead to an extremely different path and outcome.  All I know for sure is I'm glad to be where I am and couldn't imagine or want my life any other way. 

July 1, 2011

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

To me, everyone could use not only a standby chocolate chip cookie recipe but an oatmeal one as well.  This is one of the first cookies I ever made that I thought was a success.  I've since discovered other great cookie recipes, oatmeal and otherwise, but it still has a special little place in my cookie repertoire for being a first - it made me think it was worthwhile to make cookies from scratch at home. 
This oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with toasted walnuts (you could use another type of nut or omit them altogether) is soft and chewy.  A bit of maple syrup in the cookie dough adds a different dimension of sweetness and extra moisture.  With a good 2-cups of oats, it's a great way to get a little extra fiber into your diet.  I like making these cookies for my son, who loves them but wouldn't eat oatmeal on its own.  Yes, I realize there's also butter, sugar, and chocolate chips being consumed here but we are talking about sweets and I'm a firm believer in balance.  Personally, I enjoy a bowl of creamy oatmeal with a little bit of honey and walnuts as breakfast or an evening snack (more so during the colder months) but a good oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is just the ticket on many other days.  Besides, you can't exactly pack a bowl of oatmeal and go on a picnic but these are just perfect for that summer picnic you might be planning.


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