Sparkling gelatin

Happy New Year's Eve!
I hope you have some lovely celebration in store today, whether it be a simple cozy evening at home or a large get-together to attend!  We prefer New Year's eve in so my family and I will be huddled together, enjoying the simple life that will include some good meals, a few games, and lots of relaxation.  We're getting together with more of our family on New Year's day and the weekend so there's look of fun to look forward to.

As we take a moment to look back at 2015 and forward to 2016, I'm grateful for the wonderful year we had and hopeful for more of the same in the new year.  So let's have a toast ... to a peaceful, healthy, and happy 2016! 
Thank you for stopping by during 2015 to take a peak into my kitchen ramblings and for all the words of encouragement and support!  I really appreciate it and I'm excited to continue to learn and discovery more great eats to share with my family in the new year.  Food nourishes us in more ways than one and I think time spent at the table is the very best...those are the memories I hold dear and love to create and savor.  May 2016 bring us all around the table, filling the air with the aroma of good food and the sound of laughter and chatter!

I'd like to share a toast with you but instead of pouring out a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, I made sparkling gelatin!  I think it's fun and festive, and this is a great time for both.  
I hope your 2016 shines and sparkles!  May there be peace and camaraderie over our shared passion for food.  


Coffee crème brûlée

Hello there! What are you up to right now?  Still kicking back and savoring memories from Christmas day?  I hope you had a great day, no matter what or how you celebrated.  We had a wonderful holiday.  The day started off early, with a super-excited ten-year old.  After presents were unwrapped (I know presents shouldn't be the focal point of Christmas but it is a pleasure to be able to surprise your child a little bit), we sat down to breakfast.  Despite my attempt to whip up something different for Christmas morning breakfast, the little guy wanted his usual "pancakes and bacon" so we had Dutch baby pancake with a side of bacon, washed down with Barcelona hot chocolate (regular hot chocolate for the little guy).  Ultimately, everyone was happy!
Our Christmas morning toast
The rest of the day is something of a happy blur!  It involved plenty of playing, talking, and eating!  I remember lots of Christmas cookies and what feels like meal after meal. The last few days have essentially been this way on repeat.  We're having fun sitting around the table playing monopoly, Ticket to Ride, and Jenga - mixing old-school games in with xbox time - while munching on all the Christmas goodies Santa and others brought us.  This is indeed a precious and wonderful time.  
I'm still kicking back with my family until New Years and enjoying every moment.  Are you going out for New Year's eve?  Planning a romantic dinner at home, or a loud family gathering?  We stay in, keep things simple, and celebrate the imminent new year with a good meal around the table.  I haven't quite decided what I'm going to cook but I'm thinking seafood.  Dessert is also very important so I have a lot to mull over in the next two days.  
In the meantime, I'll finally get to the subject of my post - a coffee crème brûlée.  It's adapted from My Paris Kitchen, one of the cookbooks I'm getting a chance to visit more thoroughly now that things are quieting down a bit.  Crème brûlée is a great make-ahead dessert and the taste is usually nothing short of luxurious and delightful. This one tastes like Vietnamese coffee, with a delectable flavor combination of sweet caramel from the top layer and a coffee custard beneath.  We use instant espresso (or coffee) powder and Kahlúa to produce the coffee flavor so it's quite simple.  

I love having my husband home during the holidays so I can whip up different treats to share with him.  He is my best taste-tester and cheerleader!  He also has an abundant appetite, and I'm amazed he's been able to maintain his weight in the last few years without much effort or conscious thought.  Let's hope that remains the same in the New Year! 



Almond-orange shortbread

Holiday baking and food-gift making went into high gear last week.  I have gone through quite a few pounds of flour, butter, and chocolate!  In other words, I've been in a happy place and having a lot of fun. 
Let's talk about shortbread cookies.  They truly get their moment in the spotlight at Christmastime.  A lot of people tell me that shortbread is their favorite cookie and for some reason, I'm always a little surprised.  But each time I eat it, I can see why.  So this year, while I was trying to decide on the items to make for my homemade food gifts, I decided shortbread had to be on the roster.   

I think the beautiful thing about shortbread is it's delicious at its most basic, in its very essence of butter and vanilla, but it's also a great canvas for lots of flavorings and customizations.  I've wanted to make an almond and orange version from Martha Stewart for some time so I went ahead and did it.
In this case, the sandy, melt-in-your-mouth, shortbread is wrapped up in nutty almond slices and the perfume of fresh orange zest.  It's the kind of simple flavor that appeals to me when I'm looking for an alternative to chocolate.  That said, I also made last year's chocolate chip shortbread, which was too delectable to forget!  With two options, I had my chocolate-loving and maybe not-so-chocolate-loving friends covered.  
This almond-orange shortbread dough a cinch to make.  It's a slice and bake type of cookie so once you shape the dough into its log, store it in the freezer until you need it, and you have ready-to-bake cookies on standby.  I love how shortbread/icebox cookies are not only delicious but so flexible; you can make the dough well in advance and bake it when you need it.  Plus, they keep well for a long time stored in an airtight container, making it perfect for gift-giving.  So come Christmastime, it's definitely shortbread for the win!


Chestnut pudding

It's no secret that I absolutely love chestnuts and jump at the chance to enjoy chestnut desserts.  So when I saw an easy chestnut pudding recipe from Saveur recently, I had to set the Christmas cookies aside and make time to try it!
I popped open one of my prized jars of Clement Faugier steamed chestnuts (I stock up when I see it in sale at Williams-Sonoma) and made the pudding in no time.  You basically blend chestnuts with milk, making a chestnut milk, in effect.  Since I love the simple combination of chestnut with vanilla, I sliced open a vanilla bean and added the seeds to this milk.  This is then cooked with a thickener of cornstarch and eggs until a pudding forms.
Once the pudding chills and is ready to serve, I whipped up some heavy cream to dollop on top.  Instead of garnishing with a dusting of grated nutmeg as suggested, I continued with the vanilla theme and added some more vanilla bean seeds into my whipped cream.  Since the chestnut pudding itself is so flavorful, the vanilla-scented whipped cream is a welcome contrast.  
My one regret is not cooking my pudding a little longer because mine wasn't as thick as it should have been.  It's pretty typical of me; once a pudding mixture thickens and I spot a speck or two of cooked egg white in the mix, I get nervous and end up taking it off the stove a little too early.  It's something for me to work on in 2016.  But flavor-wise, this pudding is bound to put a smile on any chestnut-lover's face!  

This pudding was described as the best part of a mont blanc and I totally agree.  What a simple, do-able, way to enjoy the flavors of that classic (and complicated) dessert! Every spoonful of the pudding packs a ton of chestnut flavor - it's sweet, creamy, and just delicious.  If you want to stretch the mont blanc theme a little further, how about sprinkling some crushed meringue cookies on top?
So amidst all the Christmas cookies we're baking and eating, I'm glad I took a little break to enjoy something slightly different, this full-on chestnut pudding! 


Chocolates Andes mint cookies

'Tis the season for chocolate and peppermint, and lots of it!  It is quite possibly my son's favorite holiday flavor combination so it's well represented at my house right now and I'm always on the lookout for more spins to try. 
One of my little one's favorite treats is this peppermint brownie concoction I cobbled together a few years ago.  He just loves it and I usually make a batch for him at Christmastime.  But this year, I swapped it for something different but still very familiar. 

We're having chocolate Andes mint cookies instead.  We are fans of those green foil-wrapped Andes mints, which also play a prominent role in those brownies that my son adores.  These cookies have largely the same flavor - moist chocolate with a big splash of mint.  
I spotted the recipe in the most recent Food Network magazine.  I think I've mentioned before that my son and I like to do the quizzes in the magazine together when there is one.  Well, there was no quiz in this issue but this recipe caught my eye.  As you can see, it's a chocolate base cookie and it's studded with an equal amount of dark chocolate chips as well chopped Andes mints.

These cookies were a big hit at my house and I'm already making a second batch to share with friends.  It's a moist cookie filled with chocolate flavor (from cocoa in the dough as well as the chocolate chips) and mint (from the Andes mints and peppermint extract) - an easy combination to love.  
Since it's Christmastime, I couldn't leave well enough alone so I melted some white chocolate and drizzled it over the top of some of the cookies.  For even more color, I sprinkled some candy cane bits on a few of the cookies using the white chocolate as "glue".  Taste-wise, the cookies don't need the embellishments but I love a little festive decoration on our treats at this time of year.  



Almond crescents

With the little one hankering for more of those Italian almond star cookies, I thought I'd give another type of almond cookie a try.  I'd never made almond crescents until now.
The cookie dough is super simple to make.  In fact, the recipe I started with seemed almost too easy.  It called for 4 ingredients - ground almonds, butter, flour, and some sugar - that you simply mixed together.  So I tinkered a bit, adding a pinch of salt, and some vanilla and almond extracts.  I also decided to add a little lemon zest to subtly brighten up the flavors.  In the spirit of embellishment for the holiday season, I dipped half the crescents in chocolate ganache.
Without any eggs in the recipe, I expected a challenge in shaping the cookies into their crescent shapes.  It did turn out to be a little tricky but do-able and not an issue if you're not overly concerned about some cracks at the bends. A great big dusting of powdered sugar would distract you from that imperfection if it's a concern.  The most important thing is they turned out really tasty!  I'm not sure why I was kind of surprised by how much I liked them.  
The texture is nice and sandy.  Around the holidays, I embrace these buttery, crispy, sandy-textured cookies and welcome them as cookies I don't eat often enough. They are excellent with a cup of tea or with your mug of hot chocolate.  
My son might not have devoured these crescents quite as greedily as he did the almond stars but they were still very appreciated.  I really enjoyed the ground almond texture and flavor, with the hint of lemon.  I am very thankful for the holidays for the gift of Christmas cookie variety!



Barcelona hot chocolate

A while ago, I saw a recipe from Cooking Light for "Barcelona hot chocolate".  I've never been to Barcelona and I wasn't familiar with the drink but, apparently, it refers to the combination of hot chocolate and espresso (or coffee) that's popular in Spain and Europe.  
Hot chocolate and coffee, infused with fresh orange, is wonderfully delicious
Well, as a girl who makes herself a mocha frappucino almost every morning, I was definitely interested in this combination.  In fact, I've also tried stirring cocoa powder into my hot coffee but could never quite get the ratio right.  

Since it is most definitely hot chocolate season, my Christmas mugs and cocoa-making equipment have been out and in use.  And because I couldn't really stop thinking about this Barcelona hot chocolate, I decided to give this somewhat more grown-up version of hot chocolate a try and I am really happy I did!
What's better than eating chocolate with your cup of hot chocolate
This recipe definitely has the ratios right, in my opinion.  It starts with making some delicious hot chocolate with a little bit of bittersweet chocolate, melted down with water, a couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and mixed with 1% low-fat milk.  The coffee (or espresso; I choose strong coffee) comes next, followed by some sweetness from a couple tablespoons of brown sugar.  That's not it...add a strip of orange rind and after about 5 minutes on the stovetop, you have this rich, full-flavored hot chocolate-coffee concoction that's infused with orange flavor!  It was a very pleasant surprise.
I topped my cups of Barcelona hot chocolate with some milk foam, latte style.  I have a very inexpensive handheld milk frother that does a very good and quick job of frothing up some warm milk.  I ladled a bit on top, dusted some cocoa powder over it, and added a little bit of orange zest to give you an idea of what's in the drink. 

It's so, so good.  You have rich hot chocolate, not overly sweet, blended with deep notes from coffee and made even more interesting and delicious with the orange flavor.  If this appeals to you, do give it a try! 


Italian almond star cookies

One of the best things about the holidays has got to be the cookies!  I love thinking about, looking at, making, eating, and sharing all the colorful, festive, lovingly decorated cookies we conjure up. 
I think you'll agree that this is the time of year when we pull out all the stops - out come the cookie cutters, the star tips and piping bags, the sprinkles, frosting, candied cherries, nuts, and all sorts of other embellishments.  It's just a fun time to savor!

As much as I love French patisseries, when it comes to Christmas, I think of Italian-American bakeries and those festive cookie platters wrapped in cellophane and ribbon that are ready to be brought to someone's home.  Growing up in Brooklyn, I would pass by many of these bakeries and admire their cookies.  So when I was thinking about trying one or two new holiday cookie recipes (new to me, at least), I tend to think along the lines of those Italian-American offerings.  So now, here's another one I can recommend: almond star cookies.
These cookies are like a mix between classic butter cookies (like the ones from the blue tins) and almond paste cookies.  I'd say it's like 60% butter cookie and 40% almond. They are quite similar to the Italian-American butter cookies I posted last year except these have almond paste in them.  If you love almond paste as much as I do, I think you'd expect deep flavor as well as moisture and a little chewiness from it in your baked goods.  True to form, it does that for these cookies.  
I dare say my family and I prefer these cookies over the plain butter ones.  The little guy was practically shoving them into his mouth at an alarming rate so I'm glad even a half-recipe made a lot (about 40) since they were so popular.  I shared some of this batch with a friend of mine.  She told me she especially loved them because they were soft as opposed to hard, like she's used to when she buys them from a bakery.  These cookies are buttery and almond-y, softer than what you'd expect, and with a slight chew, thanks to the almond paste. 
The recipe for these cookies comes from Saveur though my version is somewhat different since I made a few changes to suit my needs.  I reluctantly omitted the kirsch since I don't have it, and added a splash of almond extract.  And instead of maraschino cherries, I used candied cherries (sliced in half) on mine.  I also opted to make thumbprint impressions on some and filled them with a swirl of chocolate ganache.  I love Ferrera bakery in NYC's Little Italy and they have cookies topped with a round of piped chocolate ganache that always looks so good, so here is my take on it.
I don't know if I'll have time to try any other 'new' cookie recipes since there are many family-favorites to make but I'm glad I finally tried these since I'd bookmarked the recipe for years now.  I have a feeling I'll be making them again.



Chocolate roll cake with mocha cream filling

Instead of kicking off the holiday season with cookies (though there will surely be plenty of those), I decided to make a roll cake, which I associate with the holidays since it makes me think of yule logs.  
There's no fancy woodland decorations here, I'm afraid, but let's just take a dusting of powdered sugar and a handful of imagination, and fit this cake into the holiday theme. Everything seems to take on a special holiday glow this time of year and I just love it!

Now, you might call this a roulade, a jelly roll, or a swiss roll, but I'll just call it a roll cake for simplicity sake.  I only very recently ventured into making a roll cake with the matcha-red bean version but I feel like this is my first "official" roll cake endeavor and I think I just may have overcome fears of making this type of cake.  
Since my desserts have about a 90% likelihood of involving chocolate, it's not surprising I made a chocolate roll cake.   I started with a recipe that caught my eye in a recent issue of Cooking Light.  I thought I'd make a smaller version so I took the base chocolate sponge cake recipe and divided it in half.  I baked my cake in a quarter - as opposed to half - sheet pan so the roll is 9-inches long.  I like making small batches, especially when I'm first road-testing a recipe, but I have to say my husband suggested I make a regular size of this next time!  Instead of following through with the suggested lemon filling, I thought, more chocolate...because that's just how we roll!  In the end, I decided to make a mocha whipped cream filling to give the cake a little bit of dimension beyond pure chocolate.    
I had no issues making this cake, even adjusting it for a smaller version.  It takes a couple of steps to separately whip the egg yolks and whites, and to ultimately incorporate everything together, but with a gentle hand (and a clean dish towel), there were no mishaps like cracks in the cake to worry about.  I wound up with a light, moist, spongy chocolate cake, and a creamy, soft chocolate-coffee cream filling; it was just as it should be.  In other words, I had a great dessert to share with my family.

I have to agree with my husband...I should have made a bigger roll!  Next time, it'll be a regular size roll for sure.




LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...