July 30, 2013

Triple chocolate mousse parfait

I was in the mood for a parfait recently and being the chocoholic that I am, I dug up a recipe I've long tagged for triple chocolate mousse.  It's got all the bases covered with milk chocolate, white chocolate, and dark chocolate mousse all together in one glass.  
When I think parfait, I see layers of cold treats - anything from ice cream to pudding, custards, whipped cream, fruit, or even jello.  It might have made sense to go with something light and fruity given how incredibly hot it's been but you know me...I always think chocolate.  I know I really should have worked "chocolate" into the title of my blog since most of my recipes feature it!
Here's the rundown on this triple chocolate mousse.  It contains heavy cream and egg whites (no yolks). If using raw egg whites bothers you, you can look for pasteurized egg whites.  You can refrigerate or freeze these parfaits, and the texture of this mousse is actually quite firm (as opposed to airier versions like this French chocolate mousse), which makes sense since we're stacking them here.  In fact, you can actually make this into a triple chocolate mousse cake - literally sliced to serve - if you're so inclined.  The cake idea is an impressive one but I like the simplicity of the little parfaits.

For my own needs and preference, I scaled the original recipe way down to one-third the original, using 3 ounces of each chocolate.  This made about 2 1/2 parfaits in my case but it all depends on the size of the serving dish you use.  If I had smaller glasses, I would've liked to make a few more, smaller portioned ones. 

Working on a small scale makes the process more manageable and it really isn't as involved as it might seem. If you have three mixing bowls and spatulas, you're in business, because all you're really doing is folding whipped cream, then egg whites, into each melted chocolate to make the mousse before layering them on top of each other.
I considered making a bit more of the dark and milk chocolate layers and going light on the white since I'm not a big fan of white chocolate. The idea seemed a little complicated so I abandoned it, thinking I could always use a little less white chocolate mousse when I assembled my parfaits. I probably should have gone with my original inclination because I have to say the white chocolate layer on its own was my least favorite.  I do realize, however, that it's not intended to be eaten alone and the white chocolate does work in combination with the dark and milk chocolate mousse.  Like life, it's about balance.

As you can see, my intention of using less of the white chocolate mousse did not pan out. While I made the same amount of each chocolate mousse, the dark chocolate is denser (so it looks like less) and I really didn't make enough all together to skimp on the white chocolate if I wanted to make full parfaits in the glasses I used.  Plus, I think the white chocolate looks kind of nice and makes for good contrast.

July 27, 2013

Almond bread

This is an almond quick bread recipe I made a few days ago.  It was one of a handful of recipes I keep in a manila folder in my kitchen cabinet filled with recipes that I rip out from magazines.  This recipe dates back to the Oct. 2012 issue of Cooking Light.  It caught my attention because I love baked goods with almonds and almond paste is one of my favorite ingredients.  I love trying recipes that use almond paste because I'm rarely disappointed, and this one didn't either.
I'm undecided as to whether this should be called almond "bread" or "cake" because I enjoyed it like cake but then I think of banana bread, which I enjoy in a similar way but would never think of calling cake.  I have actually made a version of almond cake before, which does have more fat and sugar than this recipe so maybe bread is the right term to use in this case.

All that confusion and rambling aside, I'll just say this bread/cake was moist, with a really good dense (not heavy) texture thanks to the almond paste. That almond paste really gives it a bite, almost a chewiness, that I just can't get enough of.
If you're interested in a lighter alternative to pound cake, this is a wonderful option.  It tastes a lot like a light pound cake - something a bit less sweet and rich.  It's full of fragrant, almond flavor instead of being buttery (though there's nothing wrong with that).  It's also like a heartier chiffon cake, one of my all-time favorites. I added a dash of almond extract out of habit to underscore the almond flavor.  For another dimension, you could certainly throw in some lemon or orange zest.

I omitted a glaze on top of this almond bread based on personal preference; I'm not big on glazes. What I did keep was the sliced almonds on top, which add a great crunch.  If you bake the almond bread and allow it to cool to room temperature, please cut yourself a slice while the outer crust is altogether crisp and crunchy, shattering under your knife.  I just love that contrast in texture.
My fellas enjoyed this for breakfast (it's "bread", right?) but also being very similar to a classic Italian almond cake, I like it as dessert.  Don't you love it when you make something that can be enjoyed any time of day!

July 22, 2013

Affogato with chocolate gelato (and amaretto)

When I made this affogato the other day, it was late afternoon after a fairly long, hot, and busy day. I was tired but wanted to put one together so I could take a few clicks while it was bright out. Well...let me just tell you that I dug my spoon in, took one bite, and the world was right again.  I think I felt the earth shift back into place like a puzzle piece slotted into its proper home.
Maybe it was just the caffeine-sugar-chocolate-slightly boozy hit that I needed that late afternoon but I put the camera down and just sat back and enjoyed my first affogato - which translates into "drowned" in Italian.  It is simply gelato (or ice cream) topped with a shot of espresso.    
I highly recommend adding a splash or two of liqueur.  I'm not automatically one for alcohol in my desserts but the amaretto liqueur I went with works really well here.  The combination of rich chocolate gelato with the almond flavor of the amaretto, together with the hot espresso and teeny bit of fresh whipped cream created a little bit of magic in a glass.

I asked myself: How have I not only never made, but never had, this before?!
The marvelous thing is this is very easy to make.  I used homemade chocolate gelato, a wonderful recipe I blogged about here but you (and I) could certainly use store-bought gelato or ice cream, and any flavor at that.  For me, chocolate reigns supreme and we all know how wonderful the combination of chocolate and coffee is!

Once your gelato/ice cream is in place, all you need to do is pour a shot of hot espresso over it.  To make my espresso, I simply used espresso powder, which I always have in my pantry for baking. I'm no coffee connoisseur and while I realize that a true espresso with that coveted crema on top would make a far better affogato, taking this necessary shortcut more than sufficed (in fact, was excellent) for me.  Espresso is normally way too strong for me to drink straight-up but in this dessert, it's a whole other happy story.
Next, I added a healthy splash of amaretto liqueur and topped the affogato with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.  If you have any biscotti, ladyfingers, or amaretti cookies lying around the house, this is a great place to serve one alongside.  

Everything melds together - it's cold, it's warm, it's smooth and soothing.  It's sweet yet a little bitter.  It is a wonderful grown-up dessert.  As you can probably tell by now, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.  I love a happy discovery!  My husband agreed with my assessment; when I made him his first one that night, his only complaint was that his portion was "too small"! 
I waited too long to have my first affogato but now that I'm in on the secret, I'm quickly making up for lost time.  Better late than never!

July 18, 2013

Peanut butter-stuffed French toast

Add a little peanut butter to your weekend morning French toast?  Why not!

The other night, the boys went camping...right in our own backyard.  Yes, mom (that would be me...) was not a good sport and prefers the comforts of home - particularly during a heatwave - so it was a boys' outing.  By "boys", I mean my husband and our one and only 8-year old (I still can't believe he's 8 already!).  For my part, I thought I'd stick with what I know best and that's provide the meals.  I made French toast for breakfast the next morning and decided to stuff my husband's with peanut butter since I know it's a combination he enjoys. 
As you can imagine, it couldn't be simpler, which made me wonder why I'd never done it at home before.  I suppose it's because I've only started cooking much more regularly in the last couple of years; we ate out and ordered takeout a lot more often.  Though I've barely scratched the surface in terms of learning, it's pretty amazing to think about how far I've personally come (which is to say, probably not very far by most standards - as shown by this simple French toast - but a long way for me).  I love being able to provide my family with basic meals...and desserts.

For this breakfast, I basically took the last French toast recipe I made and instead of banana and nutella, I slathered a combination of creamy and chunky peanut butter onto the bread before proceeding.  It's sort of an ode to something my husband occasionally orders at Hong Kong style cafes - a type of restaurant I have a deep love for (being from Hong Kong and a big fan of cafe culture in general).

When we do visit one of those casual cafes, we order milk teas and enjoy any number of small plates. Once in a while, my husband will order the peanut butter French toast as dessert!  My version here is far lighter compared to the deep-fried square that comes to the table laden with extra butter. (Check out this article to see what I'm talking about.)  Nothing wrong with sharing one of those on the rare occasion but one of the best things about cooking at home is being able to make healthier versions of our favorite restaurant dishes.  
An icy homemade mocha frappucino to go with the French toast
And instead of milk tea, I suggest another frozen beverage to go along with this breakfast.  I've been making those mock mocha fraps almost daily now that summer is here and it's so hot!  We love it, and I can't get over how much money I'm saving (or how much money I used to spend)!

The little guy got plain French toast sticks (he can be such a purist in many way - he is the only kid I know who forgoes toppings at the frozen yogurt shop!) and chocolate milk made with homemade chocolate sauce.  The campers were early risers and hungry after a night in the great suburban outdoors!  I'm told the birds start chirping at 4am.

July 15, 2013

Chilled Spanish flan

I had a few inspirations for making flan.  Way back in the day, my brother used to work in a Spanish-Asian-American restaurant.  We're talking roughly two decades ago, before "fusion" was hip and then commonplace. It was a restaurant owned by relatives of ours actually, and my brother worked there part-time as a waiter while going to school.  I imagine it was hard work, with late hours and weekend duty, but I think one of the perks of working there had to be the food.  I remember he loved their flan.  When I was making this, I was thinking about that...
Essentially a cold egg custard with a soft caramel top that provides a ready sauce
For my own part, I'm less familiar with flan than I am with another similar dessert, crรจme brulee. Unless you're in a Spanish restaurant, flan isn't something you see often on menus.  So I haven't thought much about it but when I did give it some thought recently, I realized that flan is simply an egg custard (a cold one) sitting below a layer of soft caramel.

And that brings me to a second motivation I had for trying flan at home.  I love egg custards - it's my idea of sweet comfort food - so why not try a cold version for a change! Without exaggeration, I make this warm/room-temperature egg custard all the time.  When I have whole milk in the fridge that I want to use up - and that happens quite often - I whip two of them up to enjoy with my husband in the evening.  It's smooth creaminess always feels both nurturing and nourishing and I love the flavors of the eggs and milk together with the hint of vanilla.  I have to say - if there's one ingredient I really appreciate, it's eggs.  They are quite possibly the most crucial thing I use when it comes to cooking and baking, and I always marvel at what the egg can do and help you create.  
Lastly, I made flan because I was thinking about cold desserts in these endless days of heat and humidity.  I was also looking for something I can prepare in advance.  With the busy summer schedule, it's nice to be to cook ahead when you have a free moment so that you can simply eat when the time comes.  Flan fit the bill nicely for our dessert rotation.

Like with most things, there are several versions of flan.  This one is on the lighter end of the spectrum - the custard base being essentially the same as the egg custard I make often.  That is, it's made with the foundations of whole milk, eggs and egg yolks. Some richer versions call for cream, condensed milk, or evaporated milk. 
The main deterrent against making flan must be the caramel coating.  I admit it can be tricky (the major issue being it hardens very quickly, making it difficult to distribute evenly in your ramekins) but don't stress about it!  Just expect it and do the best you can, like I did.  Because, quite frankly, it really doesn't matter all that much.  Once the custards go into their water bath and cook, that caramel redistributes.  When you turn it out, the caramel will, magically, be evenly coated and the caramel sauce will flow and pool before your eyes.
Being able to prepare these in advance is a huge plus.  I made these one rainy Saturday morning and stowed it away in my refrigerator.  It can stay there for up to 3 days.  I love opening up my refrigerator and seeing plenty of ready-to-eat foods.

July 10, 2013

Easy chocolate-almond croissants

I'm sure you've seen many recipes for making shortcut croissant or pain au chocolat using store-bought puff pastry.  So while this is hardly earth-shattering, I'm actually pretty psyched about it because this almond version has a baton of almond paste tucked into it that makes it a world better (in my opinion, anyway) than those without.  Admittedly, I'm biased because almond paste is one of my favorite baking ingredients.  Hopefully, you enjoy it too...
This was really just an exercise on my part to use up ingredients.  I have puff pastry in the freezer after my last experiment and thought I'd use some of it to make a simple breakfast.  Not surprisingly, my son enjoys pain au chocolat so I thought I'd make a few.  To make things a little more interesting, I went with this chocolate-almond version.  They're filled with dark chocolate and a baton of almond paste (just almond paste rolled into a baton or log shape).  It's convenient that I often have leftover almond paste in the refrigerator so this all came together very easily.
Dark chocolate and almond paste filling
The almond paste warms but stays intact after baking and in a bite, the fragrant, sweet almond flavor plays really well with the dark chocolate.  It also adds a touch of chewiness against the crisp, flaky texture of the croissant.  There's certainly nothing wrong with a regular pain au chocolat - in fact, I made an extra, plain one for my son - but the almond paste inside and the sliced almonds on top add another layer of flavor that we really, really liked.
A plain pain au chocolat on the left
Since I have no faith in my ability to produce that croissant shape, I went with the simple fold/roll-up method that's the signature shape of pains au chocolat anyway.  I've attempted the croissant shape before, with embarrassingly unattractive results.  I never can seem to get the hang of twisting the dough correctly so that it comes out looking like a croissant rather than a twisted crab.  I'll be sticking with this simple method from now on.

I literally made just 3 of these babies for our breakfast.  If you're using a sheet of puff pastry, you can make 6, cutting the dough downward along the folds into three pieces first, then slicing again crosswise to make a total of 6 rectangles.  I assembled them the night before and covered them snugly with plastic wrap before storing in the refrigerator.  In the morning, I topped them off with a little egg wash and sliced almonds before baking.
I believe that traditional, or "true", almond or chocolate-almond croissants are made with day-old croissants that are split in half and filled with almond cream and topped with almond slices before baking again.  To me, using almond paste and store-bought puff pastry is a good shortcut.  No doubt, these chocolate-almond croissants would be markedly better made with homemade puff pastry.  If you've done that yourself, I applaud you.  But since making puff pastry is not on my to-do list, this is the kind of recipe for me.

July 5, 2013

Project Pizza

Hi, there!  I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July, filled with good food, surrounded by good people. This year, instead of grilling or having a cookout, we took some time out to do a little something different on the 4th.  My little one and I embarked on a little project I called, Project Pizza!

We finally made homemade pizza - as in dough and all.  It's been something I've wanted to try for a long time.  I think I first put pizza on my to-do list when I saw this post from Joy the Baker. Subsequently, there have been many hunger-inducing homemade pizza tutorials and posts that I've come across.  But things really tipped the scales when I saw pizza week over at little kitchie.  That did it, and I had to check it out for myself!
I procrastinated a long time because there are plenty of terrific pizza options around so I wasn't sure it was worth going to all the trouble (gotta be honest)!  I guess the same can be said of homemade ice cream and look how that turned out.  In other words, I had a sneaky suspicion that, like most things, homemade has its own rewards.  So to satisfy my curiosity, to finally try out Jim Lahey's famous no-knead pizza dough touted by the world and see if it really is as easy and sublime as everyone says, we got to work.
And with pizza being my 8-year old son's favorite food on earth, I thought I'd get him involved and make a little "project" out of it.  Pizza is the one thing he's expressed an interest in making.  So armed with recipes and my young helper, we made a date to work on our project, and it was a lot of fun!
No doubt, we had to make my son's favorite - Pepperoni!
When we talk about making pizza, I think we're really talking about going to the effort of making the dough.  I knew I wanted to try Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe but to confuse me further, it seems there's an original no-knead recipe and then there's the "updated" no-knead recipe, which requires a longer - as much as an 18-hour - rest time.  I planned ahead and opted to go with the updated version.  I've heard raves about it and given the choice, I assume updated is better, right?  We wanted to have pizza for lunch on the 4th so we started the dough the afternoon prior so that it'd be ready for lunch the next day.

As it turns out, making this pizza dough really is pretty easy.  Now that I've done it once, it'll be even easier next time.  The idea of working with yeast has always been daunting but this has gone a long way towards slashing that "fear" for me.  I think I may be on my way to bread-making soon!
This pizza dough needs just four ingredients and you don't do much beyond mixing it together.  Then, you just wait.  Actually, you simply set it aside and forget about it.  It looks like a mess of nothing at first but grows and comes alive, becoming bubbly and more than doubling in size.  My son was pretty amazed and I think it turned out to be a fun lesson for him. 

It's neat to do something you've never done before, and this was all the more fun since I got to learn along with my son.  And we really did learn as we went along.  The dough was a little stickier than I expected so I used a little more flour when handling it.  I had a big hole in the first pie so I just pinched it together - repeatedly - and took my time with it.  The one thing I've learned and that seems to hold true is: don't be afraid.  It's like turning over a fragile cake; it can sense your fear so be confident...at least, that's what I tell myself!
For the adults, a classic Pizza Margherita
Our first pizza-making endeavor was very successful!  The little one gives the homemade pizza a "9"!  We didn't burn anything (what a relief!) and got to have delicious homemade pizza for our 4th of July lunch.  This may sound crazy but the pizza tasted...light and clean.  I know we're talking pizza but there is something about homemade, where you control and know exactly what goes into it, that makes the food simply fresh and good.  The dough turned out better than I expected.  I was worried it'd be soggy but it turned out crispy, with a nice bit of chew to it.  Placing the dough on top of some cornmeal works really nicely and adds a bit more texture to the baked crust.

Our homemade pizzas might not beat one of those pies from a brick oven but I was very impressed by what we could do in our little home oven at 500 degrees.  Having a bite of the pepperoni pizza really took me back to being a kid in Brooklyn, and made me think about all the times I'd go out for pizza with my friends after school.  Food does that, doesn't it?  It creates and melds together with memories, and I have very fond memories surrounding pizza...and I know my son will too. 

July 1, 2013

Let's make frrrozen hot chocolate

For this upcoming Independence Day, might I suggest that your celebration include a frosty glass of frozen hot chocolate?
That would be "Frrrozen hot chocolate" because this is the drink made famous  by Serendipity 3 in New York City.  It's been a while but I've been there a few times - waiting on those long lines - for this very concoction!  There have been times I've scratched my head wondering why we endured the wait.  But it all comes down to their frozen hot chocolate because I can barely remember what I actually ate there.  If you're a chocolate lover like I am, it is impossible to resist, and it's as good as it looks.  
At the restaurant, the frrrozen hot chocolate comes to you overflowing in a round, wide glass goblet.  Topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, a few straws are tucked into it because it's meant for sharing.  It might seem huge at first but you quickly realize you could easily down one of them all by yourself.

The recipe for Serendipity 3's frrozen hot chocolate has been around for years...maybe you've already made it yourself?  It was first published in their book in 2004.  But what can I say?  I didn't even get a blender until late last year!  But better late than never and I will likely be making up for lost time with many batches of frozen hot chocolate for years to come.  

So you might be wondering if this recipe is the real deal - the "same" drink as the signature one that arrives at your table at Serendipity 3.  Well...it's fantastically close if my memory serves me right (the last time I went there was probably 4 years ago; we have a picture the little one and I slurping away together).  But you know how it is...things tend to taste differently when someone else prepares it for you and there are bound to be some differences.  Maybe that's why my husband says the one I made was better than what he remembered having at Serendipity.  I am well aware that he would say that though!
There's more for refills...
And the recipe does leave room for interpretation that will inevitably make your frozen hot chocolate different from mine and the one at the restaurant.  It's the chocolate.  The recipe calls for a total of 3 ounces of your favorite chocolates (any mix) and does not disclose what blend or brand the restaurant uses.  So that, along with the kind of milk you use, will create different results.  I used a combination of milk, semi and bittersweet chocolates (just chocolates I like to eat) and 1% milk for my version.  All I can tell you is it made one delicious drink that's sure to satisfy the chocoholic!  

The recipe makes a lot - enough to generously serve 2 thirsty, chocolate-loving adults, or up to 3 or 4 more "normal" individuals.  I say it's perfect for 2!  I hope you give it a try!

Happy 4th of July!  


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