November 26, 2016

Chocolate thumbprints with peppermint ganache

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Not to rush from one holiday to another but it is the holiday season and I like to embrace these last few weeks of the year and soak up as much of the spirit and goodwill as possible.  That involves cookies!  Who's ready for holiday cookies and treats?  I know I am!
As we embark on the holiday season, I think about what it is I really want out of it. And basically, it's peace and joy, time with family and good friends.  May it be relaxing and comforting, reminding us of all the good out there and around us.  Of course, I hope it's filled with the sweet scent of cookies and the sight of steaming mugs of hot chocolate!

When it comes to holiday cookies, thumbprints definitely fit the bill because there's something special about the extra treat tucked within the treat!  Here, I made chocolate thumbprint cookies, which have a soft, almost brownie-like texture and a little bit of a crunch on the exterior since they're rolled in sanding sugar.  I filled their centers with ganache - a peppermint one - because mint and chocolate are a inseparable part of the holidays and I'm all for it!
When it comes to holiday baking, you know it's time to roll out the special sugars, the sprinkles, and candies for decorating!  I had fun sprinkling my thumbprint cookies with different decorations.  It's not necessary but the holidays are about adding a little sparkle to everything.
These are fun little bites for the chocolate-lover.  The cookies are soft and rich, with the soft ganache in the center packing a little peppermint twist.  While the holidays are certainly a time for making and enjoying family favorites, I like squeezing in a few new treats.  I always appreciate both the old and the new.

November 19, 2016

Simple s'mores dip

Have you had s'mores dip?  I might be late on this but I made my first recently and my-oh-my, it was delicious!  I hadn't planned on posting it (as evidenced by the paper plate of graham crackers and filtered Instagram photo shown here) but I felt I had to help spread the word.  So here's my quick public service announcement: please make s'mores dip as soon as possible!  
I had the chance to do a good amount of cooking and baking during the weekend I made beignets for my family.  I think we gained a couple of pounds during those 2 days but it was totally worth it.  I tried a recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (it was great) and made risotto for another dinner.  We not only had beignets but also French toast that weekend and in between all that, there was this easy-peasy s'mores dip for dessert.  We loved it so much, and with the cold winter nights ahead, this is the kind of treat to make and dig into with your family.

So let me give s'mores dip a shout-out and encourage anyone who hasn't tried it to do so.  If you don't have a crowd to feed, it's totally worth going out and buying a small 6-inch cast iron skillet just to make s'mores dip!  And this is a wonderful "recipe" with just 3 ingredients!  You need chocolate chips, marshmallows and graham crackers, for dipping!  Some recipes call for heavy cream or butter but this super simple recipe from Dessert for Two worked beautifully - just place chocolate chips into the skillet (you don't even need to grease it) and stack some marshmallows on top. Put it in a 450 degree oven for 7 minutes or so until the marshmallows are browned (there is no need to broil or to torch them).  Then just take it to the table (with oven mitts, of course) and grab your graham crackers and be in for a treat!

November 15, 2016

Honey garlic chicken sliders

Do you know the very sweet Kelly from Life Made Sweeter?  Though Kelly and I have never met in person, I've gotten to know her via this food blogging journey and have the pleasure of considering her a friend.  Take a look at her site and it'll be obvious that Kelly is an incredible cook and baker.  You'll find her making delicious yet easy Asian-inspired meals, whipping up fresh batches of granola for her family, concocting fantastical cakes for her kids' birthdays, or tempting us with glorious desserts.  She's a supermom to 2 adorable little kids, a devoted wife, and a loving daughter.  Kindness just radiates from her and I can't thank Kelly enough for the support and encouragement she's shown me in the last few years.  
Lucky for all of us, Kelly just launched her first cookbook, The Asian Slow Cooker!  I am so happy for all her well-deserved success and it's clear she worked very hard on this book.  It's chock full of easy, mouth-watering, creative recipes with an Asian twist, often using the slow cooker to do the work so we can have more time to do everything else.  
I've tagged many recipes to make from the cookbook so I'll be busy for a while! And although it wasn't easy picking the first recipe to make, I went for the honey garlic chicken sliders...who doesn't love honey garlic chicken!  This is my kind of recipe - an easy one that uses a handful of mainly pantry ingredients with hardly any prep.  After a few hours in the slow cooker, the chicken turns out moist and succulent - and the sauce (which I thickened slightly with a cornstarch slurry to make more of a glaze) lends it a delicious sweetness; my son likened it to teriyaki sauce, which is a very good thing in our book.  Shredded, the chicken is great for sliders, as a filling for tacos, or eaten on its own with some rice or noodles.  
Making this for dinner on a busy weeknight, I used Hawaiian rolls and loaded them up with the chicken and plenty of the tasty sauce.  We had some roasted veggies - as well as tortilla chips and salsa - with it but to kick it up another notch, follow Kelly's advice and make a colorful and crunchy cabbage slaw to go with the sliders.  Either way, you can't go wrong.
There is something wonderfully cozy about a slow-cooker working away in your kitchen, filling your house with delicious aroma as you go about your day.  You can make a hearty, healthy meal to share with your family and often have leftovers to repurpose for another day.  For anyone who likes the idea of Asian inspired slow cooker recipes, or who loves Chinese takeout but is looking for a healthier, tastier alternative to enjoy at home, this is a great book for you!

November 10, 2016

Beignets for breakfast

When the world seems crazy and uncertain, don't you wish you could just shut everything out and hunker down with your family at home, cooking and eating all day?  I do.  And every once in a while, I feel this urge to fry something!  The last time I indulged in this craving to fry, I happily made churros.  This time, we enjoyed some sensational beignets for breakfast courtesy of a recipe from French Country Cooking.
When I think beignets, I naturally think of New Orleans and Cafe du Monde.  While I've had beignets once or twice before, I've never been to New Orleans so I haven't had the pleasure of trying Cafe du Monde's legendary beignets that come loaded with powdered sugar.  Making some at home and enjoying them freshly made and still warm has got to be the next best thing.  
I don't know if it's just me but the thought and act of eating beignets feels like such a treat.  Is it the foreign name that sounds far fancier than merely saying "fritters"?  Or maybe it's because you don't find beignets as easily as you would donuts?  And there is a difference between the two.  
No chicory coffee but I did make cafe au lait (half coffee/half warmed milk) to go with our beignets
I'm no expert but beignets are made with a yeast dough and also resemble choux pastry with its hallow center.  They puff up as the dough hits the hot oil and that deep-frying makes them crisp while the edges have a slight chewiness to it (which I love).  Flavor might not be intense (hence the justification of topping them with plenty of powdered sugar) but you taste the complexity from the yeast and get a little sweetness from the evaporated milk in the dough.  
The hallow center in the beignets lends itself to a filling if you're inclined.  I opted out of the apricot filling in the original recipe and decided to keep my batch plain. However, I couldn't resist making a quick little chocolate sauce - essentially a chocolate ganache I made with equal parts chocolate and water.  It may not be necessary (the beignets are tasty enough on their own with a generous dusting of powdered sugar) but dipping sweet fried things in chocolate is always fun and delicious!
I prepped the dough the night before and we enjoyed beignets for breakfast last Sunday morning.  What a way to start the day!  It was totally worth the effort to fry and I was/am so happy the recipe worked out so well.  My family and I had a fun time indulging in this treat...and we can't wait to do it again!

November 7, 2016

Italian almond cookies, Sicilian style

Speaking of making variations of the same thing, if it's not chocolate cake, it's often some kind of almond cookie of the chewy, almond-paste variety.  I really do just adore almond pastries of all kinds!
So this version comes from the great David Lebovitz, so you know it's going to work and it's going to be good.  And it is.  I added the "Sicilian style" title to these because they're supposed to mimic almond cookies often found in Sicily and plus, they help me differentiate this recipe from other ones I've made before.  And I had fun making (and eating) this batch of almond cookies.  For a switch, these are made with almond meal instead of almond paste.  You kind of make the almond paste yourself when you take the almond meal and combine it with egg whites.  
For another twist, these cookies have a few spoonfuls of apricot jam in them.  Right away, I'm behind this idea because anything involving almond paste/almond cream and apricot jam is always delicious (honestly, I have tested this out many times and it's been proven true over and over again)!  The jam adds extra moisture and makes me think of apricot kernels that are in some amaretti cookies; it's probably why I associate almond pastries with apricot.
These cookies are easy to make.  Once you make the dough (no mixer needed), you shape little rounds into ovals and roll them in some lightly beaten egg white.  Then, roll the cookies in sliced almonds or pignoli nuts (which are great but very expensive), or you could even leave them plain or "nudi".  Instead of oval, you can certainly shape simple rounds but I have to say the shape is a little whimsical and fun to me.  
I thought these cookies turned out so cute!  Maybe it's their gnocchi-like shape (particularly when it comes to the "nude" ones, which I made for my son who had some teeth extractions and needs to avoid nuts for about a week), or the fact that the almond encrusted ones look like little porcupines.  I'm not altogether sure but they made me smile and then made me very happy when I tasted them! These cookies are all kinds of chewy and dense, yet soft and moist...just how I like them!

November 2, 2016

Salted butter chocolate cake

I have to admit that I've made many renditions of this kind of chocolate cake.  This is the kind of dense (no leavening other than eggs), super-chocolaty cake that I'm quite partial to.  It's the kind of cake that needs no frosting - a dusting of powdered sugar, maybe a dollop of whipped cream is all you need.  It feels like a fancy dessert but it's really so simple.
This recipe called out to me because of what it is and also because it's another great back-pocket sort of recipe to have.  When you need a dessert and want a chocolate one (which applies to me in almost all instances, hence, why I need so many of these chocolate cake recipes to rotate through), you can make this with a few eggs, some butter (salted in this instance), sugar, and good dark chocolate.  There's nothing fancy going on here - yes, it calls for fleur de sel French sea salt but if you don't have it, you can use another kind of sea salt.  That said, I do think fleur de sel is a worthwhile investment; not only can you use it for baking but I love sprinkling it on my soft boiled eggs.  
Making this cake does not require any machines and there are no egg whites to whip separately.  You can make the batter very quickly and before you know it, your family and you are enjoying a slice of wonderful chocolate cake and making an occasion out of it. This recipe comes from Mimi Thorisson's new book, French Country Cooking, which I am loving.  If you love cookbooks you can read, I think you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

I divided the recipe in half and made this 6-inch version to share with my family.  I was very happy when I sliced into the cake and saw the soft, fudgy center.  It was just what I was aiming for.  You can bake it a few minutes longer for a firmer, more set, center but my family and I all agree that the gooey center of a chocolate cake like this one is the best part!  It tastes extra rich and decadent for the same number of calories.  Plus, the textural contrast between the middle and edges is nice, too.  And in case you're concerned, it's not too salty.  The salt gives the cake a nice rounded edge but you don't distinctly identify it.
While we were sitting down to cake, I asked my 11-year old son whether he'd prefer this cake or the Victoria sponge for "tea" if given a choice.  He said, fairly diplomatically, that the Victoria sponge is good but he likes this more.  I think maybe, just maybe...I have to agree with him.  For us, it's always chocolate for the win.


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