Raspberry buttermilk cake

This simple raspberry buttermilk cake recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen was recommended to me a while back and I've been wanting to make it ever since.  I filed it away in the back of my mind and when I walked into Whole Foods the other day and spotted a sale on organic raspberries and remembered the buttermilk I had in the fridge at home, it was my chance.
I suspected this simple cake would be good and it truly was.  In short, I could sum it up by saying this is just a wonderful everyday cake and a great one for summertime.  The buttermilk cake base itself is a great canvas for whatever seasonal fruit you might want to drop within.
The cake is moist and tender, light, and not overly sweet or rich.  A little lemon zest might be considered optional but I think it adds a great extra level of flavor.  As the raspberries bake, they intensify and the result is a candy-like smell and taste that makes this a great afternoon treat or a lovely summertime dessert after dinner.
I may be a chocoholic but I do enjoy a little variety.  And I love everyday cakes like this one that are a bit lighter and no-fuss to put together.  It's all the better when you can play around with the ingredients a bit.  I foresee blueberry and strawberry buttermilk cakes in my future.    


Caramelized banana split

I'm going to be forced to be concise today.  As I type this, my computer is moving at a snail's pace and making funny noises; I'm just hoping to complete this post before it crashes completely.  It's just one of many things going on lately.  This past month has been a full one - filled with good things like birthdays, family gatherings, school activities, and weddings, as well as some not-so-great things like dealing with home maintenance issues (let's just say Roto Rooter was involved). 
With so much going on, this dessert was a belated Father's Day treat for my husband.  The little one (he might be 9 now but I'll still be calling him my "little one" for a while) helped me make this caramelized banana split and it was a hit with my banana-dessert-loving husband.

It's really simple to make by slicing up a slightly under-ripe banana, coating the pieces in some brown sugar and caramelizing them in a little bit of butter.  Top it with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and toasted almond slices.  And I don't know about you but I can't envision anything called "banana split" without ice cream so I added a scoop of neapolitan ice cream alongside.
It's a fun, tasty, as well as quick-and-easy dessert to whip up for anyone who love bananas.  


Oreo mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cake...and a birthday shout-out

My son is officially *9*!  I'm a bit shocked just thinking about it! 
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY" to my little guy!!
(I think he's now officially earned big guy status!)

I think a birthday is the ultimate reason for celebration and all the more so when it's a child's special day.  So it's time for another ice cream cake!  I've gotten into the habit of making some sort of ice cream cake for my son's birthday in the last few years.  They're easy to make (I keep it simple), delicious (because we're talking ice cream so you just can't go wrong), and perfect for summer - or near-summer - birthday boys and girls.
Oreo cookie crust, plenty of mint chocolate chip gelato and whipped cream frosting
I stick to basic flavors my son enjoys.  This year's ice cream cake is made with an Oreo cookie base, topped with homemade mint chocolate chip gelato, and iced with whipped cream.  It may be just a 6-inch cake but I packed a good quart of gelato/ice cream in there!  My boy likes ice cream and plenty of it!
Knowing that I'm not exactly deft at cake decorating, I was a little concerned about frosting the ice cream cake.  I used stabilized whipped cream, or whipped cream with some bloomed gelatin added, to make sure it would hold up and not separate.  I managed the stabilized whipped cream and I got through the frosting.  No one will say my homemade cakes don't look homemade!  The main thing is the birthday boy approved!  He took a look at my concoction after school and wanted to dig into it right away because "it looked so good" (yay!).  In fact, we actually did slice into this homemade birthday cake a bit early.  Since dad has to work late on the actual big day, we started the cake-eating early.
To be honest, it feels like we've been in birthday celebration mode for a while.  I think children's birthday celebrations always seem to stretch at least a week or more!  This year's celebration included an early birthday party two weekends ago with a group of buddies.  This year, my son opted for a noise-infused gathering: think bumper cars, arcade style games, capped off with pizza and ice cream cake.  Having a party outside of the house sure makes for easy clean-up!  The party venue doesn't allow you to bring any food except for a cake or cupcakes.  My son wanted the ice cream cake they serve there but I couldn't resist bringing a little something extra, even if it was totally unnecessary. I thought I'd bring mini cupcakes, and the birthday boy settled on yellow cupcakes with his favorite chocolate frosting.  I was surprised by his yellow cake selection but I suspect the cake was secondary to the frosting!  Here are some of those cupcakes...the one with the gold stars was special for the birthday boy:
Meanwhile, I think June rivals December for "busiest month of the year" status.  It's been a crazy month or so and I'm sure many of you can relate!  The school year wraps up very soon and I'm looking forward to a slower pace.  


All-whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes (and bonus: Korean-style filled pancakes)

Evidently, we eat a lot of pancakes at our house because here I am again with another version.  I've been making these whole wheat pancakes since I found the recipe back in January.  I first spotted it on Inquiring Chef in a favorite-recipes roundup. These light and fluffy whole wheat buttermilk pancakes were the top pick with tons of endorsement.  I had to try it...and I became a big fan.
These light, fluffy, and flavorful pancakes are made entirely with white whole wheat flour
I wasn't planning on posting this since I somehow figured many people have seen the recipe but I'd really like to have it here in my archives since I consider these a part of our regular pancake rotation now. It doesn't hurt to spread the pancake love, right?

So if you're looking for an all-whole wheat pancake recipe that really tastes good, here it is!  These pancakes are made solely with whole wheat flour and that's what really attracted me to them, much like I was drawn to the cookies.  I really wondered if pancakes made solely with whole wheat flour could be as good as advertised.  Honestly, this recipe really does turn out fluffy and light pancakes even entirely using whole wheat flour (white whole wheat, as usual, for me)!
I really like the use of brown sugar, instead of granulated, in this recipe
A generous amount of baking powder deserves a lot of credit for the fluffiness, and I think buttermilk is always something of a magic ingredient.  Interestingly, I like using canola oil in these pancakes.  I usually prefer butter in pancakes for that bit of extra flavor.  Turns out, the oil works great with the brown sugar in these pancakes.  I think the brown sugar makes a huge difference - it gives these whole wheat pancakes a deeper, more caramel-like flavor so that I don't need/miss the butter at all. These are just good pancakes that my family and I really enjoy.  Did I mention they were whole wheat?  ; )

"Bonus" Time:  Filled Pancakes

I thought I'd add a little twist to this pancake post with a little "bonus" segment.  I took this pancake recipe, thinned it out a bit with a few extra splashes of buttermilk, and filled them with a sweet nutty filling.  It turns pancakes into an on-the-go breakfast or snack!
Whole wheat pancakes filled with a brown sugar-peanut filling - inspired by the Korean-style filled pancake, "hotteok", a popular street food item in South Korea
It's a funny thing about these Korean-inspired filled pancakes...I first saw the idea in the back page of the May 2014 issue of Cooking Light.  Then, wouldn't you know it, I saw them again, featured in a Korean cooking show I've been watching, about a week or so later!  They were memorable because the Korean filled or stuffed pancakes are called "hotteok", which sounds a lot like "hot dog" to an almost-9 year old (and his mom)!  So they stuck in our minds and I had an inkling to make an easy version of "hotteok" with this whole wheat pancake batter.  My son and I had fun walking around all day saying we made, and ate, hotteok!
Filled with a mixture of dark brown sugar and chopped roasted peanuts
Traditional Korean hotteok is a snack made with a yeasted dough, filled with a sweet mix of things like brown sugar, honey, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon.  This is a take on Cooking Light's version (they call it "inside-out pancakes"), which starts with pancake batter.  They used brown sugar, pine nuts and cinnamon for the filling but I choose to go with a mixture of dark brown sugar and chopped peanuts for mine.

And I have a tip:  For an even quicker, easier, and I even daresay, tastier, filled pancake...use chunky peanut butter for the filling!  I kept thinking that I wanted to try chunky peanut butter as a shortcut; I figured it would pack a ton of flavor in an easy way if it worked.  I was a little worried that PB might be too thick as a filling but I knew I wanted to give it a try.
A delicious short-cut: use chunky peanut butter to fill these pancakes!  It packs a ton of flavor and makes it even easier. 
Happily, my gut was right in this instance.  The pancakes filled with chunky peanut butter were so flavorful and it couldn't be easier with nothing to mix or chop!  My son, my husband, and I all preferred the one with peanut butter! 

Unfortunately, I was running low on pancake batter by the time I got to the peanut butter filling but I am so, so glad I managed to try it that way.  It'll be my go-to filling whenever we get a hankering for an easy version of hotteok!



Smoked salmon eggs "Benedict"

I am a little smitten with Sweet Paul right now.  I'd known of the man peripherally, having seen the pretty magazines here and there and vaguely associating the name with pretty food and things.  But recently, I was at the library and picked up a copy of Sweet Paul's book, Eat & Make.
A lighter take on Eggs Benedict; this with spinach, smoked salmon, and a poached egg
Now I know a lot more about Sweet Paul (or Paul Lowe) and I feel like I found something of a kindred spirit.  When it comes to food, his philosophy of few ingredients, simple and easy with delicious results, is exactly what appeals to me!  His love of eggs and insistence that only amaretto would do in tiramisu pretty much sealed the deal.  Seriously, the book is beautiful and the recipes are so do-able and concise because of that very food philosophy.  I know I wanted to celebrate this discovery and make something from the book.

I settled on this smoked salmon eggs Benedict to start.  It's a twist on the classic eggs Benedict. Instead of Canadian bacon, there's smoked salmon, reflecting Sweet Paul's Norwegian upbringing.  It sits on top of some sauteed spinach (which basically makes this something of an eggs Benedict-eggs Florentine hybrid) and under a poached egg.  There's something about a poached egg that just takes things to another level of special! 
I made this for myself last Monday morning to shake up my usual breakfast routine.  It was a lovely breakfast for one and would make a terrific breakfast for two or however many you like.  Some might miss the Hollandaise sauce, of course, but this lighter version is just right for me.  The egg yolk and the smoked salmon provide plenty of richness.  

I lightened the dish further by cooking the spinach in a little olive oil instead of butter.  Instead of toasted white bread, I opted for the traditional English muffin.  I seriously love myself some English muffins!  I choose to just serve the muffin top alongside to munch on.  It made for a hearty yet light breakfast - a great way to start the day and week.
A really good Monday morning breakfast for yours truly
Another quick word on the subject of Eat & Make - the book is divided into recipes and craft projects.  Sadly, I'm no crafter.  In my mind, I can imagine myself in a beautiful Martha Stewart-esque craft room rocking a glue gun but that's pure fantasy and not my reality.  So while the craft part doesn't call out to me, the whole aesthetic of the book as well as the simple but beautiful recipes really do.  (How did this turn into a quasi book review?!)



Poached saffron cod with burst tomatoes and white beans

This cod poached in saffron broth is crazy delicious!  It's light but full of flavor, tasting like a fish stew you'd order at a restaurant and can't believe you actually made yourself at home (that's my reaction, anyway)!  It's not hard to make and you get a big reward for your effort.  If you want to cook more fish at home, this is one to try.  It tastes better than it looks.
I'm feeling pretty productive these days...at the beginning of the year, I started getting a little more organized.  Nothing fancy - I got a dedicated notebook and started jotting down my meal plan for each week.  I love making lists (and checking them off) so it was no real burden but as it turns out, the simple act of sitting down for a few minutes, sketching out meal plans, noting recipes I wanted to try out and actually putting them on the schedule, made them happen!!  So many of those recipes ripped out of magazine pages and stuffed into a folder, or pinned/bookmarked for cooking/baking at "some point" have actually been happening.  I'm amazed when I look at my "recipes I'd like to make" pin board and see that I've actually made a good number of them.

This recipe is an example of that.  I saw it in the May 2014 issue of Rachael Ray magazine - that's this May, practically real time!  Normally, there'd be something like a 2-year lag time between seeing a recipe and trying it out (if I get to it at all) so I essentially made this dish two whole years early thanks to a little planning and organization!  ; )  
I took a few liberties with the recipe.  I skipped the gremolata topping but added an anchovy in the poaching broth to boost the flavor (I love how an anchovy or two does that so well).  The all-important poaching broth is also made up of chicken stock, white wine, onions, garlic, and saffron, which needs no introduction and is essential to this dish.  All of that, with the tomatoes, makes for an incredibly flavorful base for the fish to infuse in (and add even more flavor to).  It's savory and full of the flavors of the sea.

The original recipe doesn't include beans but I decided to add some cannellini beans to bulk it up.  I made a little extra broth and my husband took advantage of some leftover brown rice to sop it all up. I just made use of my spoon because you really shouldn't waste any of that aromatic, flavorful broth. Some crusty bread would be great to have nearby.  And finally, to let you know how do-able this is, I have to tell you...I used frozen cod fillets (thanks, Trader Joe's!) and it worked beautifully.  Now that's convenience!  


Spelt chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts and sea salt)

Doing that last brownie taste test had me thinking about chocolate chip cookies.  Now there's another classic we've all tasted innumerable variations of.  I'm sure you've made, eaten, and enjoyed more than a few versions.  Like brownies, it's hard to pick a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.
These cookies are made with whole grain spelt flour, with dark chocolate chunks, toasted walnuts, and sea salt
Maybe it's a good thing we can't - and don't have to - pick favorites.  We crave different things at different times and our own taste preferences can change over time, too.  So while I'm not prepared to name a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, I can tell you what I really like.  

It might be a little surprising that one of my very favorite chocolate chip cookies is actually a whole wheat one.  It's a recipe from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain that I learned about via Orangette. Maybe it's my history and appreciation for digestive biscuits but I was first drawn to it by that comparison.  I was also attracted to the all-whole wheat flour recipe; there's no all-purpose flour involved.  Could it really be good?  Long story short - it's been a favorite of ours since I first tried it and it makes frequent appearances in our cookie jar.

So I thought I'd take that whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe for a spin.  Instead of white whole wheat flour, which is what I typically use (because it imparts just enough texture without being too heavy/overwhelming but provides all the same benefits as regular whole wheat), I substituted with spelt flour.  
Valhrona 64% Manjari feves, and toasted walnuts for half my batch of cookies
Spelt flour is often touted for its mild and slightly sweet flavor.  It's known to be a lighter, maybe "more-agreeable" option as far as using whole grain when baking.  Using it here in these cookies showcased to me the difference between spelt and the white whole wheat flour that I normally use. I'd say that, in comparison, these spelt flour cookies turned out a chocolate chip cookie a bit closer to the typical ones made with all-purpose flour.  That is, it's a bit less grainy, a little milder, a teeny bit lighter than the ones I normally make with white whole wheat.  In other words, I can agree with what the whole grain experts have been telling us.

I would eat these cookies any day and I really savored this batch, as I plan to do any and all future batches!  That said, my husband and I both feel that we actually prefer using white whole wheat flour if we're going to be picky about it.  We love that slightly more grainy, digestive biscuit-like texture to them.  That might not be everyone's cup of tea so if you prefer something a bit lighter, try this spelt version.

I wanted to use really good chocolate for these cookies (I was inspired after eating a delicious one made with TCHO chocolate at Flour Bakery in Boston recently).  I used Valhrona 64% dark chocolate feves, coarsely chopped for big chunky effect.  I was in the mood for some nuts so I added toasted walnuts to half my batch (the little one prefers his without nuts) and then I topped the cookies with a sprinkle of sea salt.

I topped the cookies with sea salt before baking...just don't be too heavy-handed if you have an opinionated 8-year old, with a sensitive palate, in your house!
My son ate these, telling me "mmm...they are so good with that salt".  Then, true to form, the (brutally) honest little man immediately went on to say..."maybe you should use just a little less salt next time."  Apparently, I had been a tad heavy-handed with the fleur de sel.

These chocolate chip cookies, whether you use spelt flour or white whole wheat flour, are really delicious.  They are a sturdy cookie (great to pack for a picnic) - crisp at the edges, moist in the center, with a somewhat grainy texture and earthy flavor to it.  They keep really well, stored in an airtight container, for a few days and is one of the few chocolate chip cookies I actually prefer eating at room temperature rather than warm, straight from the oven.  It's low-maintenance.   

Tasting chocolate chip cookies sure is fun!  Please share if you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, or two!  For a more traditional, soft and melty, kind of chocolate chip cookie, I love David Lebovitz's recipe.



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