¡Hasta luego!

June 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

I’m on the eve of a 2-month blogging hiatus.  In a few hours I’ll be boarding a plane, zipping southbound to Guatemala.  I’ll be spending my summer eating corn tortillas, exploring lakes in the highlands and immersing myself in Guatemalan culture while beefing up my Spanish.  My mom promises to experiment with sorbets (and possibly a guest post or two!) in my absence.  Wishing you all wonderful summers (and culinary explorations) in the meantime.

Xo, Regina

P.S.  This chocolate sorbet was a dream!

Granola Bar Cookie Bites (also vegan!)

June 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

These little guys might not look like much, but I’ve eaten four “trial” batches of them for two consecutive weeks and have yet to tire of them.  While they’re great for dessert, I prefer popping one in my mouth before early morning jogs and in the late afternoon, before I pick 726 tomatoes from the garden.  They’re unintentionally vegan, which is a plus for some, and they have a warm flavor from the mild, molasses-y brown sugar and cinnamon.  The texture is what really knocks my socks off — the unsweetened, natural coconut flakes are a must!  If you don’t have almond butter, swap it out with natural, chunky peanut butter.  I’ve done both, but prefer the subtler taste of almonds in this granola bite.

Ingredients:
1 cup quick oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons real coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons dried berries (I enjoy the varying size and sweetness of dried cherries mixed with dried blueberries)

1/3 cup almond milk or milk equivalent
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or any neutral-flavored oil)
3 tablespoons almond butter, natural & chunky


Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees on convection (or 350 in a standard oven).  Grease a baking sheet and set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine dry ingredients & sugar and toss with a fork.  Add dried berries and chocolate chips to the flour mixture and toss.  (This will help them adhere to the dough.)

3.  Add almond milk (or milk equivalent), oil and almond butter to the mixture and stir with a spoon until combined.  Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for a few minutes, until the oven is heated.  Shape into small balls, about half the size of a golf ball, and place about an inch-apart on a cookie sheet (they don’t spread).  Bake for 11-13 minutes until slightly golden on the top.  Remove from oven and let sit on the cookie sheet approximately 3-5 minutes, until set.  Remove from sheet and cool on a wire rack.  They keep well on the counter for several days and freeze-and-thaw without fault.

Diet Notes: Vegan

Pomegranate Pops with OJ, mint & chocolate nubbins

May 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

With projections of 95-98 degree highs by our local weather forecaster, there’s no time like the present to start guzzling smoothies and making popsicles.  I’ve made many-a frozen treat in my day but these little pops (inspired by Giada) might be the most refreshing frozen bites yet.  This icy snack is a bit tart thanks to the pomegranate and has great texture from the cocoa nibs.  (Note: If you can’t find cocoa nibs, try dark chocolate shavings.  I tried both, but the former adds a delightful crunch.)  The OJ balances out the pomegranate juice with a summery sweetness.  But it’s the mint that makes makes this dessert sing!

Ingredients:
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup evaporated cane sugar
3/4 – 1 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
1/2 cup cocoa nibs/shaved dark chocolate

Methods:

Heat water, cane sugar and mint on the stove until sugar completely dissolves and the mixture just comes to a boil.  Take off the stove, remove mint and cool.  Meanwhile, measure juices and combine in a large bowl.  When minty-syrup has cooled to room temperature, combine with juices.  Ladle a few spoonfuls of mixture into each pop container.  Sprinkle chocolate chunks into each cup and using a spoon, stir to let some of them sink toward the middle.  Insert plastic attachment or popsicle stick all the way into the cup/container.  Freeze at least 6 hours before serving.  When ready to serve, dip molds/cups in warm water briefly before unmolding.  Don’t feel daunted if you’re lacking pop containers — instead, use small, freezer-proof plastic cups or disposable paper cups and popsicle sticks.

Diet Notes: Vegan, nut-free, gluten-free

Espresso Double-Chocolate Cookies

April 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

It has been eons since my last cookie bake-off.  This winter I used my oven for two primary purposes: to test out a new grapefruit sourdough muffin and to roast about 10 too many rutabagas.  Suffice it to say, I’m glad to be back in the kitchen whipping sugar into butter.

Trial 1 of my Chocolate Espresso cookie experiment was a flop even though my dad loved them!  Now, let me back up a second.  Generally speaking, my dad is my recipe barometer.  He loves to try new foods and he’ll also tell me if my bowl of quinoa tastes like pebbles.  But no one in my family (save my grandpa and perhaps a smattering of cousins) likes or has ever liked coffee, save moi.

Knowing I was solo on the coffee-fan bandwagon, I made these cookies one afternoon when I was home alone; I planned to tote them to a gathering with friends later that night.  But, as luck would have it, my dad arrived as I was scraping the cookies off the sheet pan.  “Oo!” he said, eyeing the cooling rack.  “Uh, just warning,” I said, pointing my spatula at the cookies, “These are espresso cookies.  They’ll taste sort of like coffee.”   My dad hesitated and then picked up a cookie.  Taking a tremulous bite he chewed a moment and then, to my surprise, he grabbed two more: “I love them!” he said, “They don’t taste like anything!”

Sigh.

Back to the drawing board.

Clearly, the flavor in those cookies were lacking – not enough coffee and definitely not enough chocolate.  I also found the texture to be a bit off; they were gooey in the middle when they were warm, but resembled fossilized pancakes after they cooled.  So, I started tweaking.  I doubled the cocoa powder; I added more chocolate-covered espresso beans.  I let the dough rest longer in the fridge.  I added brown sugar and whole wheat flour for good “chew,” but balanced both with their respective counterparts – a bit of white flour to add a little airiness, plus a bit of evaporated cane sugar (you can use white sugar if that’s what you have handy).  Several batches and 2 pounds of chocolate-flavored espresso beans later, I found a winner.  Each bite is speckled with crunch (both from coffee bean and chocolate) and the surrounding cookie dough has flavor.  And an added bonus: I can eat three cookies without any caffeine-induced jittery aftershocks.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-2 tablespoons espresso powder (*err on the lighter side if you want a stronger chocolate flavor)
1/2 cup cocoa powder, high quality
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons almond milk (or milk alternative)

1 cup chocolate-covered espresso beans
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Methods:

1.  Cream butter and sugars for several minutes, whipping air into the mixture so that it turns creamy-colored and fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla and almond milk.  Beat an additional minute or two.

2.  Combine flours, baking soda and powder, cocoa and sea salt in a separate bowl and mix with a fork until combined.  Slowly fold flour mix into the wet dough and, if using an electric mixer, stop just before the dough is fully incorporated.  Stir the remaining few times with a spoon and hand-mix chocolate-espresso beans and chips into the dough.

3.  Chill dough a minimum of 6 hours, preferably over night.  This is key – allowing the dough to rest will yield a lasting, chewy texture.  After chilling, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a greased baking sheet, scoop dough into balls.  For large cookies (approximately the size of a large lime) bake 11-13 minutes.  For smaller cookies (approximately 3/4 the size of a golf ball) bake 8-10 minutes.  The edges won’t appear brown and the center will appear gooey and underdone – don’t fear.  Let them sit (and continue baking) on the warm sheet for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Peppermint Bark

December 26, 2009 § 2 Comments

A couple of days ago, my mom and I pulled out tubs of flour and cane sugar to commence our annual Baking Extravaganza.  Each year we make snowball cookies, raspberry oat bars and my mom spends a long time over a stove burner stirring milk and marshmallows for multiple batches of her rich chocolate fudge.  After a full day in the kitchen, we often resort to eating something ho-hum for dinner, like take-out from a nearby shop.  But this year I decided instead to make a batch of Minestrone soup and buttermilk corn bread instead.   For dessert – probably unnecessary after a full day nibbling sweets in the kitchen (but one can never have too many sweets in my book!) – I aimed for something light, a palate cleanser.  I melted down some high quality chocolate from my pantry and whipped up a sheet of peppermint bark for my mom.  After I broke the bark in big hunks, I popped them in the fridge and served them cold (but not frozen).  This recipe is a cinch and down-right addictive.  I’d say it’s as addictive as the “Matzoh Crack” from Passover of last year, and that stuff was gone in less than 12 hours.

I have one caveat: the expense.  To be blunt, the peppermint bark is really only so good as the chocolate you use.  The peppermint extract does overpower some of the flavor, but it won’t cover up a yucky-tasting bar of chocolate.  I used a fairly dark (71%) variety of Valhrona, which is mucho buckos.  If you feel you can splurge, take the plunge for some good chocolate.

Ingredients:
7 oz. high quality dark chocolate
1/3 cup crushed peppermints (or candy cane pieces)
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract

Methods:

1. Break peppermints into fine pieces.  (A handy trick I use is to place whole peppermints in a sealed ziploc.   Then I wrap the entire bag with a towel, place it on top of a cutting board and bang the heck out of it with a meat-pounder.)  When finished, set aside.

2.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper.

3.  To melt the chocolate you can try using the microwave, but I shy away from that method because chocolate easily burns.  Instead, I create a make-shift double boiler.  Here’s how: heat a small pot of water on the stove until lightly simmering.  Place a heat-proof dish over the boiling water.  The bottom of the bowl should not touch the boiling water.  Place broken chocolate in the bowl and stir until melted.

4.  Once melted, stir in peppermint extract.  Pour melted chocolate on top of waxed paper and spread with a spatula until even, approximately 1/4″ thick.

5.  Lightly press broken peppermints into the melted chocolate.  Cool at room temperature for two hours or pop in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Diet Notes: Nut-free, gluten-free

Pumpkin Apple Crumb Cake

December 22, 2009 § 2 Comments

pumpkinapplecrumbcake

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: in my book, dessert for breakfast is ideal, not a no-no.  This cake is perfectly suited for the wee hours and it makes a lip-smacking after-dinner treat, too.  Inspired by Everybody Likes Sandwiches and Gourmet magazine, this sweet is bookmarked into my breakfast recipe bank with zeal!

Ingredients:
For the apples
2 cups crisp apples, chopped (peeled & cored, approximately 3 medium-sized apples)
2 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cake
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup plain yogurt, whole-milk preferred
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Apple Prep:
In a brimmed skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter on stove over medium-high heat.  Add chopped apples and saute until they start to caramelize and turn a golden-brown color (approximately 4-6 minutes).  Add cinnamon and sugar.  Saute another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Cake Prep:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9″ cake pan.

2. Mix flour, brown sugar and salt.  Break-in butter until the mixture becomes crumbly (about the size of pebbles).  Set aside 2/3 cup for crumb topping at the end.

3.  Beat pumpkin, yogurt, spices, baking soda and evaporated cane sugar until smooth.  Add room-temperature eggs.

4.  Fold in apples (and all the butter-sugar juice from the pan) into the batter.

5.  Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture on top.  Bake approximately 1 hour or until golden-brown around edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan for at least a half hour.  Using a dull knife, run around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake.  Serve warm with homemade whipped cream or enjoy at room temperature.  This cake freezes and thaws well, too.

Diet Notes: Nut-free

Chocolate Cupcakes

November 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

halloweencupcake4

My family has endured many “doorstop” cakes from my kitchen.  For my birthday this year, I made a vanilla buttermilk cake that claimed to be “fluffy and light,” but in fact, turned into a gigantic paperweight, dense as a brick.

This past weekend I wanted to make spooky cupcakes for Halloween.  I flipped through a book my aunt gave me a few years ago called “Crazy About Cupcakes” by Krystina Castella.  Krystina’s cupcakes are detailed and gorgeously decorated – the perfect inspiration for my bake-a-thon afternoon.  I decided to try one of her chocolate cupcakes; I halved the recipe and made a couple of minor tweaks.  Two hours later, iced with a pumpkin-y shmearox and dotted with festive candy corn, I had fifteen dark chocolate cupcakes waiting for neighbors, family and friends.

The verdict!?
These cupcakes were so light, they seemed to evaporate in your mouth!

I’ve been researching different ways to change cake and muffin crumb-size and fluffiness.  This recipe includes several techniques I learned from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and Krystina (Crazy About Cupcakes).  Be sure to read the methods all the way through before pulling ingredients out of the cupboard, just to make sure you know the order of the steps.

Ingredients for 15 medium/small cupcakes:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup evaporated cane sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, room temperature

1/4 cup good quality cocoa*
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate

*These cupcakes are only as good as the quality of chocolate you put into them.

halloweencupcake1

Methods:

1. Remove 3/4 stick butter and two eggs from the fridge.  Measure yogurt.  Allow all three ingredients to reach room temperature, about an hour.

2.  When liquids are no longer chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil water on the stove.  Remove and whisk in cocoa powder.  When smooth (no powder chunks), add chocolate chunks and whisk until completely melted and glossy.  Set aside.

3.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy – at least 3 minutes.  Add in eggs, one at a time, and beat for another minute.  Add vanilla.

4.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda and salt.  Whisk with a fork.  Return to the mixing bowl and add a third of the flour mixture to the bowl, mixing slowly.  Then add a scoop of yogurt.  Add a bit more flour; add a bit more yogurt.  Add back-and-forth additions of flour and yogurt until the mixture just comes together.  Scrape down the sides of the pan and be mindful to see that no butter has stuck to the bottom of the mixing bowl.  Stir briefly once more but be wary not to over-mix.

5.  Pour chocolate mixture into the mixing bowl and mix, just until combined.

6. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.  Cool cupcakes completely before frosting.

Note on the frosting: I made up an autumn-y shmear (butter, powdered sugar, canned pumpkin, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, vanilla).  I liked it because it didn’t overpower the chocolate flavor.  These cupcakes would be especially good with a plain butter-cream frosting or – what I want to try next – a butter-cream frosting with a hint of mint.

Diet Notes: Nut-free

Orange Creamsicle

October 3, 2009 § 3 Comments

orangecreamsicle

Last weekend my mom decided to organize the kitchen cupboards.  Three hours later, I walked into the kitchen and saw her hovering over a small pile of Tupperware lids without bottoms, bottoms without lids and a bunch of marred cutting boards. She quickly ushered me over to another pile of “cool stuff” which included some terrific “finds” —  junk we vaguely knew we had in the house but weren’t quite sure where to look for it.  Highlights included a single-serving casserole dish (!) and six, small popsicle containers.

There are about five gazillion combos of flavors you can attempt when making your own popsicle, so don’t feel like you have to stick strictly to these proportions below.  Also, don’t feel daunted if you haven’t found six random pop containers lurking in the back of your cupboards.  Just use  small, freezer-proof plastic cups or disposable paper cups and popsicle sticks.

Small recipe for three little pops:
1/2 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3+ teaspoons dark chocolate, slivered
1 teaspoon orange zest

Methods:
Mix OJ, yogurt and zest in a bowl.  Once combined, ladle a few spoonfuls of mixture into each pop container.  Sprinkle chocolate chunks into each cup and using a spoon, stir to let some of them sink toward the middle.  Insert plastic attachment or popsicle stick all the way down, into the cup/container.  Freeze at least 6 hours before serving.  When ready to serve, simply dip molds/cups in warm water before unmolding.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free, nut-free

Blueberry Compote (a little bit of heaven)

August 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

blueberrycompote3

Blueberry compote is simple to make with just a couple of must-have ingredients.  It’s not as complicated as jams or jellies, and while it doesn’t have the shelf life of canned fruits, I promise, you won’t need a good expiration date.

Ingredients:
2 pints blueberries
1 tablespoon lime juice (1/2 lime)
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1/3 cup evaporated cane sugar

blueberrycompote1

Methods:

1. In a wide-brimmed skillet, heat blueberries, lime juice, zest and sugar.  The berries will soon loose their shape and their skins will burst, revealing pearly-green underbellies.  Just before boiling, the pot will turn a deep purple color, almost black.  Boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Spread a bit of jam on a plate and place in the fridge for about ten minutes.  After ten minutes, take out and spread your forefinger across the jam.  If your finger leaves a clear path, the compote will set up nicely.  If the compote is still liquidy, put the pan back on the stove and cook another minute or two.   Let the compote set for at least 20 minutes before spooning on top of bread/yogurt.  Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free, vegan, nut-free

Pretzel Chocolate Blondies

July 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

pretzelchocolateblondie4

I adapted this recipe from the August 2009 “Dining and Wine” issue.  I crunched up a quarter pound of homemade pretzels from the local farmers’ market (obviously, non-homemade pretzels will work just fine; just make sure whatever kind you buy has big hunks of sea salt!).  I used large chunks of pretzel and chocolate, but if you prefer a less-funky texture, feel free to chop up the toppings smaller.

Ingredients:
1 + 1/2 sticks unsalted, organic butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup pretzels, coarsely chopped
1 cup dark chocolate chunks, coarsely chopped

pretzelchocolateblondie1

Method:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13″ baking pan.

2.  Fork all dry ingredients together in medium-sized bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Combine wet and dry and stir until incorporated.  Fold in pretzel chunks and chocolate.

3.  Spread dough in the baking pan and smooth out any rough edges with a knife.  Refrigerate until oven has pre-heated.

4.   Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden-brown around the edges.  Let stand on a wire rack for about 10 minutes to set.

Diet Notes: Nut-free

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