Sour cream pancakes

After making the mini chocolate-hazelnut cheesecakes, I had a bit of sour cream leftover.  I try not to waste if I can avoid it so I used some as a topping for chicken quesadillas one night for dinner. The rest, I decided to use for pancakes!
I don't know about you but if I see a recipe from someone named "Edna Mae", I automatically assume it's going to be good and worth a try.  And these are, specifically, Edna Mae's sour cream pancakes, brought to us by The Pioneer Woman - Edna Mae being her husband's grandma.

The title says it all.  These are all about the sour cream, which replaces the typical milk and melted butter.  Besides plenty of sour cream, the pancakes are bonded together with just the slightest amount of flour (just 7 tablespoons with a cup of sour cream!), eggs, and a few other ingredients - some sugar, baking soda, salt, and a touch of vanilla extract.  
It's truly amazing how rich, "heavy" ingredients can make for the lightest result (think: whipped cream).  That's the case with these pancakes.  These sour cream pancakes are soft, really light and fluffy in texture.  You'd never think they were so decadent, which could be rather dangerous! Without much flour, you can clearly taste the flavor of the eggs, which I personally like.  It has a nostalgic flavor to it somehow.

My fellas helped me polish off our batch of these sour cream pancakes in a jiffy last weekend. Without a waffle maker, making pancakes has become my "thing" and since my little guy loves them, I'm happy to whip a batch up (very often!) so I'm always ready to try a new version.  I have to say that these deceptively light pancakes are probably a teeny bit too indulgent for every Sunday morning but they're a great treat when you have some extra sour cream around to use for a good cause.  



Mini chocolate-hazelnut cheesecakes

I'm going to sound like a killjoy when I tell you, at the very beginning of a post about cheesecake, that I actually don't love cheesecake.  Not a great way to start here but I have to be honest and the truth is I've never been a cheesecake lover and it's not something I've made much effort, or dared, to explore since there are so many other ways to fill my daily caloric intake.

Maybe you feel a "but..." coming on right about now?  I guess if there's going to be a caveat, it's that the idea of a chocolate cheesecake is far more appealing to me than a plain one.  And one that's both chocolate and hazelnut is infinitely more so.
Everything is better with chocolate, in my humble opinion.  So when it comes to cheesecake, I'd prefer chocolate, please.  If we find ourselves at the Cheesecake Factory, it's going to be a slice of the Godiva chocolate cheesecake to share for dessert.  My little one and I are in sync on that one. My husband, who enjoys cheesecake far more than I do, would likely prefer classic cheesecake with some strawberries on top once in a while but he is far too agreeable a person to say so to us.

So it won't come as a surprise when I tell you this is the first time I've ever made cheesecake.  I've wanted to try it in the past since my husband enjoys it but the idea of a big, hefty cheesecake always seemed too overwhelming.  I came across this recipe some time ago and it really appealed to me.  It's got all the flavors my family and I enjoy, it's in small quantity, and it's easy to make!   I'm so very glad I finally tried it because this really is a delicious, very easy-to-make dessert for anyone who loves cheesecake or that combination of chocolate and hazelnut.  I think that covers just about everybody!
These little cheesecakes are baked in a standard muffin tin.  Mini desserts are always cute and convenient.  I know true cheesecake lovers appreciate the pure tang and flavor of a good smooth, plain, cheesecake but I just love the irresistible combination of chocolate and hazelnut. And yes, there's Nutella involved!  

Mini treats can be time-consuming to make but these are not.  They really were surprisingly easy to put together because the crust and filling are both prepared in the food processor in a matter of minutes.  They're a great make-ahead option since they can be stored in the fridge for about 3 days. I divided the recipe in half and made 6 mini cheesecakes for this first trial.  It was just too tempting to have a dozen sitting in our fridge; I could see my husband polishing most of them off.
The bottom of these mini cheesecakes are made with ground Oreo cookies and some hazelnuts.  It makes for a delicious crust - the hazelnuts really infuse it with an oomph of flavor and fragrance. The filling is classic cream cheese, sour cream, and...a healthy dose of delicious Nutella!  Taking pictures of these mini cakes was torture - they smelled incredible!  This delicious aroma of chocolate and hazelnut kept wafting up at me and it made me a little weak.
To summarize this story, this is good cheesecake.  I know that comes from a cheesecake novice but if you need an "expert" opinion, my cheesecake-loving husband loved these!  He polished two off in his first sitting.



Zucchini-almond cake

I enjoyed those zucchini bread cookies so much, I decided to try another zucchini recipe.  This time, a cake.  A very moist, gluten-free (though that's not a requisite for me...in fact, I enjoy gluten a little too much) cake.  It's another Martha recipe; I wasn't specifically looking for it but just like the cookies, I found it while browsing the site and it appealed to me so here we are.  (And by the way, Martha Stewart Cakes is finally coming into existence and I've already pre-ordered it!)
This zucchini-almond cake is basically a foam cake so it has a bouncy texture to it and is very moist, thanks in part to the zucchini.  It's made much like a genoise (except it's not quite one because there's baking powder in it) so you start by whisking eggs and sugar in a bowl set on top of a pot of simmering water to dissolve the sugar and get the eggs ready to be whipped in the mixer to its loftiest potential.  Then you fold in the other ingredients: almond meal mixed together with some potato starch (which I now know helps make a tender cake), melted butter, vanilla, and the grated zucchini.
When it comes to cake, I'm always chasing "moist" and this one definitely fits the bill.  If I have any qualms about it, it's that I've come to discover that gluten-free cakes made wholly with almond meal instead of flour makes for a heavier (albeit, moist) crumb that just makes the cake more filling.  It's light and heavy at the same time, if that makes any sense.  

This may sound crazy because I love almonds but I've now figured out that I, personally, prefer most cakes made with some component of flour instead of all almond meal (I'm not talking about flourless chocolate cakes though - I love those).  So I do wonder what this cake would taste like with some or all of the almonds replaced with, say, cake flour.  It may be a little less moist but I envision a lighter crumb akin to a chiffon cake, which is one of my favorite kind of cakes.
This cake is altogether very different from the zucchini bread cookies. While those are warm, nutty, and slightly spiced, reminiscent of a morning muffin or coffee cake, this zucchini-almond cake is likewise moist but on the side of an eggy-vanilla cake.  It gives off a wonderful perfume of eggs, sugar, and vanilla as it's baking.  It set my brain up for chiffon cake but as I mentioned above, the almond meal makes for a different texture and feel.  My husband didn't find it too heavy so it really is a matter of preference.
I had some cream in the fridge so I whipped some up for my husband to have with the cake.  He never says no to a little whipped cream on top of a piece of cake!  I often hear "this is really good with the whipped cream" from him.  

Making these zucchini recipes makes me wish I had a home garden of my own but, unfortunately, I am no gardener.  Not at all.  I'd love to have just a simple herb box (not even a "garden") but I'm the type of person who can't even keep a simple basil plant alive!  It's safe to say the farmer's market and Whole Foods can continue to count on my business.



Project Pretzel

I had so much fun working on "Project Pizza" earlier this summer with my son that we decided to pick another project to play with together in the kitchen. This time around, we have Project Pretzel!  It's really chocolate brioche bread twisted into pretzel shape.  I picked it because my son loves pretzels and chocolate (of course), and I'm happy to try a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook
I've only worked with yeast twice and only in the last month or so, and both times with my little one at that!  I was thinking it's a little strange to pick these more complicated recipes to do with him but I think they're a little more interesting and allow for more hands-on experience.

I'm really excited because recently, I sense a shift in my 8-year old's previous disdain for things cooking-related. I've got my fingers crossed that it'll continue in that direction.  When I get my monthly Food Network magazine, I like to save the quizzes to go through together with him.  We get a good laugh out of it; he's really into learning about little-known food facts and trivia.  He was actually a bit obsessed with a previous issue featuring the 50 ice-creams of the 50 states.  It just goes to show that love of ice cream is a universal thing and you can always count on it to bond people together!
The little guy says it's like a "chocolate chip brain"!  How's that for appetizing. : )
Luckily, the little one is a hearty eater (particularly when it comes to desserts) and has a surprisingly sharp palate - though maybe children just generally have a keener sense of taste.  So even if he might not want to cook quite as much as mom does in the future, hopefully, we can still talk about food all the time together!

Now back to this pretzel project of ours.  I took a risk and divided the recipe in half to make 4 pretzels.  Can you even do that with yeast recipes?  I was about to find out.  And luckily, the answer is yes - at least it worked in this case (huge relief)!  I'd heard about this brioche dough being very thick, and it needs a long mixing/knead time using the stand mixer.  I'd actually read a few tales of broken mixers (that made me seriously nervous!) so I really wanted to turn the volume down and hopefully have an easier time with it. 
We were very excited when it worked!  The "brain" about doubled in size...
I'm glad we divided the recipe.  It was more manageable for the two of us to do it that way. But let me tell you something.  The mixing process for the dough?  The best word I can think of to describe it is...violent!  Seriously, the mixer is rocking and knocking like the bowl is about to fly out!  I used my large glass mixing bowl and I think the regular stainless steel might have been a better choice given how much rocking was going on.  I literally had to hold on to the bowl the whole time.  My son got a kick out of the drama, of course, and I am just happy to report that the mixer and bowl survived and all is well in the end.
After getting our hands dirty, rolling and twisting, the pretzels are ready for the oven.
I'm amazed we actually managed to make brioche and even got some of those signature long strains in the dough.  It's pretty neat for a little home project. These pretzels were really good warm from the oven and has that signature brioche flavor.  I'm admittedly not be a huge lover of brioche and while my son definitely enjoyed his creation, he probably prefers the typical salty pretzels given a choice.  The process itself was the highlight of this project.  We just had a really great time doing this project together!  My son tells me he doesn't really like to cook but he likes these kinds of projects.  Well, I'm willing to call it whatever he wants!

This specific project might be a one-time event (I can't live through the drama of that dough mixing again) but the amount of fun the little one and I had making these together, the chance to laugh and learn through it, was truly priceless.  
Apparently, the long mixing time creates the brioche strands in the dough
When I asked, my little one said he thought this project was even more fun than Project Pizza, which says a lot since I know, taste-wise, he preferred chowing down on that homemade pizza more.  I think getting the chance to roll the dough and shape the pretzel - all those steps - really made it fun for him, and definitely for me!  Plus, all that knocking and rocking of the mixer provided a lot of excitement.
We had 4 pretzels from our wee project.  The two of us enjoyed one fresh out of the oven and packed one up to bring over to his cousins (his youngest cousin was the biggest fan of it).  We saved the other two to share with Daddy.  What we had left over the next day, I refreshed by warming back up in a low oven for a few minutes.  It made a very good breakfast!



Zucchini bread cookies

Getting back from vacation and trying to wind down, it's amazing how quickly I get the urge to head back into the kitchen to bake a little something sweet. The craving to cook and eat are forces to be reckoned with. I've been cooking non-stop since we got home from California since we missed simple, lighter home-cooked meals, and it only took a few days before dessert came back into play again.
I've got vegetables on my mind and I've been thinking about zucchini bread after seeing them on blogs recently.  It made me remember how surprisingly good it is and how I've not tasted it enough. Since I didn't think we could handle a big loaf of zucchini bread right now coming off of vacation, I thought a small batch of zucchini bread cookies would be just the thing to try.  And what do you know! Just like zucchini bread, these cookies took me by surprise - as in being really surprisingly good.
I tweaked the original recipe a bit by substituting half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I went light on the cinnamon since I prefer it in moderation.  As far as spices go, I suspect a little touch of nutmeg would go very well with the cinnamon here if you want even more depth. I was generous with the toasted walnuts but omitted the cream cheese filling and kept these as simple cookies rather than sandwich cookies.  Together with oats and the zucchini, I think these pass for fairly healthy cookies to munch on - even right after a vacation! I even managed to restrain myself from adding chocolate chips and I'm glad I did because these cookies were full of flavor.
I didn't tell my son about the zucchini in these cookies.  In fact, I called them "muffin cookies" because they do indeed taste like a muffin, or the muffin top! He saw me taking pictures of the shredded zucchini and I made no bones about it but he's an 8-year old boy and just doesn't pay very close attention to what mom's cooking and doing. I knew we had a winner when I held out a bite to him and he took a larger bite and kept going - even with the walnuts! These cookies are really moist, with just enough sweetness. They're aromatic with the cinnamon and toasted walnuts, and I love the texture contributed by the oats. You don't taste the zucchini but it's worked its magic in there somehow.
These cookies made me think of those delicious banana bread cookies I've made in the past.  In both cases, taking a classic for a little spin turned out to be very rewarding. These zucchini bread cookies are something I'm glad I tried and I'll be making again.



Tale of two popsicles

We recently returned from a busy, fun-filled vacation in California!  It was great but this East Coast girl is also happy to plant her two feet back home. We started our trip in San Diego, picked up our rental car and eventually drove our way through to San Francisco - and many places in between.  It was really nice to visit the other side of the country and watch our 8-year old experience it for the first time. Now, after the theme parks (Legoland, Disneyland, Sea World, oh my!), fast food (In-N-Out Burger for one) and ice cream (Ghirardelli ice cream shop - we love you!) consumption, I can tell you that we've been settling back to normal life and eating our weight in vegetables and fruit to balance out all that vacation excess.

The last two of my posts were scheduled before I left and these popsicles were actually the last sweet things I made before our trip.  While I've been cooking up a storm the minute we got home (don't you miss home-cooked meals after traveling?), I'm taking a short hiatus from baking - at least when it comes to dessert - while we work on eating those veggies. In the meantime, I'd love to share this little popsicle "story" with you.  I decided to make them because summer is flying by and before we know it, it'll be too cold to truly enjoy popsicles.  Since I'd only made a batch of fudge pops this season, I wanted to put my popsicle molds to more use before it was too late. So here's what I did...

Vietnamese Coffee Popsicle

First up - something for coffee lovers! I was never much of a coffee drinker at all until I had a child and then, well, everything changed. This is a Vietnamese Coffee Popsicle. It's made with just 2 ingredients: super strong coffee (or espresso) and sweetened condensed milk.
I made it with double-strength coffee (brewed using 4 tablespoons of coffee grinds per cup). I like using a combination of dark French roast and Columbian coffee.  I'm no coffee expert whatsoever but it's a mixture I've tried in the past and liked over using all dark roast.  Since we like Vietnamese coffee ice cream, I figured I'd try the popsicle version. 

It is so easy to make!  Simply stir sweetened condensed milk into the freshly brewed coffee and pour the mixture into your molds.  And the result is just like having a frozen form of the strong, sweet coffee drink!

Red Bean Popsicles

Next up, we have Red Bean Popsicles!  If you're Asian, chances are you're more than familiar with red bean desserts, made with Azuki or Asian red beans. They are typically cooked down into a paste and sweetened, then used in a wide variety of desserts. One of my favorite childhood treats growing up in Hong Kong was red bean pudding cakes, which I tried my hand at making last year!
These red beans are featured in a whole host of Asian desserts.  It's found in simple red bean dessert soups, could be made into gelatin-like cakes, or stuffed into buns and breads.  It might also be used as a filling in cakes, and layered with ice and condensed milk into what we simply call, red bean ice. I absolutely love all these uses for red bean paste.  Name one red bean dessert and you'll likely find me oohing and aahing about how it was my favorite growing up! You see...I do have a passion for something other than chocolate!

And red bean popsicles were indeed one of those beloved treats I had as a child. I've devoured many in my day and it was cool to learn how to make them myself.  You can start with azuki beans and make your own red bean paste (here's a recipe posted by Amy that shows you exactly how it's done) but for speed and convenience, I went with the shortcut and bought cooked, sweetened red bean paste (it comes in cans and is available at most Asian markets).  This recipe will require the blender but there's actually no cooking involved if you go the store-bought red bean route.

Mixed with milk (you could certainly try coconut milk or almond milk) and some cream, it is a luscious, delicious treat that's filled with sweet red bean flavor. I adore it and it was fun making another childhood treat in my own kitchen. (And if you've never had one of these, consider picking up a box from the freezer aisle of the Asian market and give them a try! : )



Mango-yogurt parfait

I've got something healthy and super simple to share today.  As a little balance against that rich triple chocolate mousse I made recently, I'm offering another parfait - but one that's far lighter. This everyday parfait is perfectly good for you and makes a beautiful and very tasty breakfast, snack, or even dessert.  It so simple - just pureed mango and Greek yogurt.
Yes, it's totally like the yogurt cups you buy with the fruit at the bottom or in a separate compartment, but homemade, without all the added sugar. It's the best kind of DIY because it tastes better and is better for you, plus it doesn't require a lot of work.  All you have to do is puree some mangoes until smooth and you can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week to enjoy with your yogurt as you like.

I'm actually amazed I'm writing about yogurt like this because I didn't start eating it - really eating, not just baking or cooking with it - until just a few months ago. I didn't think I'd ever get into that extreme tang or tartness, and the whole idea of dousing it with sweetener seemed to defeat the whole eating-healthy purpose. I don't know what's happened to me but this chocolate "junkie" has turned into a bit of a health-food junkie as well in recently years so I gave yogurt another try and now I'm fairly hooked on Greek yogurt (and going broke buying those big tubs every week)! My standard way of eating it is without any sweetener but with crunchy toppings like nuts, sunflower seeds, and a little flaxseeds thrown in.  

I love mangoes so when I came across this mango-yogurt parfait idea from Martha, I had to try it.  Now that I've made it and been enjoying it thoroughly, I'm reluctant to eat my yogurt without some mango puree these days.  It almost tastes too good to be natural and good for me but it truly is.
Let me make a little confession: I didn't have any ripe fresh mangoes on hand and impatient to give this a try, I simply used frozen mango chunks. Yes, I did! To be specific, I used Trader Joe's organic frozen mango chunks, which I heard and can now confirm is very good. I simply defrosted the mango overnight and gave it a blitz in my blender in the morning with a splash of water.

And would you believe I did not add any sugar to my mango puree!  Seriously. Essentially, my parfait is a 2-ingredient one of pure mango and Greek yogurt. You may choose to add sugar but I encourage you to taste the puree before sweetening it. I realize it's a matter of preference and it all depends on how much sweetness you need/want to go along with your yogurt.  It also depends on the mangoes. The frozen mango chunks were truly sweet enough on their own for me and I imagine it'd be even more so if I'd been using some fresh ripe Champagne mangoes (my favorite).
I'm sure you could try this with other fruits.  I just love mangoes and with the frozen chunks working so well, I can make this year-round.  

Now I know why those fruit yogurt cups are so popular.  I hope you give this simple homemade version a try.  It's really delicious, with minimal work. The healthy aspect is a huge bonus.


Pistachio financiers

Just in case I haven't yet persuaded you to use your leftover egg whites to make financiers, here I am again with another version.  I went with pistachio this time.
Is it just me or do you also gravitate towards things pistachio-flavored when you go to a bakery or pastry shop?  Is it the color?  Or maybe just that it's a little bit more unusual, a flavor we're less likely to make at home?  Whatever the reason - when we go to a bakery, it's always chocolate, coffee, and pistachio that we go for (and hazelnut as well for me)!  Like with macarons - we can never resist trying a pistachio one and for some reason, we always end up raving about it (whereas chocolate macarons can be unpredictable and even disappointing)!
I went with my favorite financier recipe from Paris Sweets and simply made a little change using mostly ground pistachios instead of almonds in the batter. I could have swapped out all the almonds with pistachios but decided to keep a little bit of almonds in the batter to anchor the whole thing.  I was thinking about macarons and how even if you're making a flavored macaron, like hazelnut for instance, you often still use a bit of ground almonds to balance out the higher fat content from the other nut.  I don't think that's a concern when it comes to financiers but I was in the mood to mix things up.

I like making the batter the night before (or up to 3 days ahead) and baking these tea cakes fresh for breakfast the next day.  My fellas love them!  I generally prefer savory when it comes to the first meal of the day but this is one sweet item I enjoy savoring over breakfast.
So...pistachio financiers with a cup of coffee for breakfast, it was! They were just delicious.  Now, I know you have no problems using up any egg whites you might have for omelets and whatnot but...please...give financiers a try one day if you haven't already.  I don't think you'll regret it!


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