Friday, February 28, 2014

Lamb Stew

This is a really new recipe my parents decided to try to surprise me, based on something they saw on television (and surprisingly not on a cooking show). We rarely eat lamb, and this stew contained some other unique flavors as well. However, there is a special component to this dish. Of course the stew could just be made as is, but the real interesting technique will be shared tomorrow, which makes this a complete dish. 
Lamb Stew
1 1/2 pounds lamb pieces, cut into one inch cubes
salt and pepper to season
1/2 slab bacon or turkey or chicken bacon, sliced in small pieces 
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with liquid
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
3-5 medium white potatoes, cut in one inch cubes
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion, roughly diced
2 stalks celery, chopped (optional)
1 cup small olives (optional)
1 1/2 cups red wine

The day before serving:
Season lamb with salt and pepper and combine with the bacon. In a separate bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and onion, and celery and olives if using.
Create three layers in a 5.5 quart (approximately) Dutch oven or large pot - a third of the meat, followed by a third of the vegetables, and repeat. Pour the wine over top, as well as any other spices you would like to add, depending on your personal tastes (cayenne pepper, fennel, cinnamon, coriander, bay leaf, basil, rosemary, mint, etc.). Cover and refrigerate overnight.
About 3 1/2 hours before serving:
Preheat oven to 400F. Bake stew, covered for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 275F and bake for an additional 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving (unless you are in a hurry). 

Just a few hints and tips on this dish: we found this dish incredibly salty. It is the combination of seasoning the lamb, the salty bacon, and the canned tomatoes. I would recommend using much less bacon and more lamb, using fresh tomatoes or a can for extra liquid with no salt added, only seasoning the meat with pepper, or a combination of these steps. Adding more potatoes would also bulk the dish up and absorb some of the salt. There can be plenty of flavor coming from a variety of your favorite spices. The wine adds an interesting depth of flavor, but I am no wine expert, so I cannot advise you on what type of red wine is best. This is definitely a stew, not a soup, so be sure to keep the vegetables and meat chunky. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sundae (Restaurant Food)

I haven't done a restaurant food review in a while, alors voilà!
This is an incredible gelato sundae I ate at a restaurant for dessert. Because the meal was so incredible, so much so I cleaned my plate, I knew I couldn't skip dessert, even though I didn't have much room left. This was one of the two desserts I sampled, and I ate most of this one myself. This sundae is called Bianco e Nero, which is Italian for black and white, and refers to the two contrasting colors and flavors of this sundae. It consists of some very chocolatey brownie pieces at the bottom, a few scoops of house made vanilla gelato with thin chocolate chunks, more like chocolate shavings, rich chocolate sauce, and some white choclate shavings to top it all off. It is absolutely divine. Both the gelato and the chocolate sauce have a satiny smooth texture, while the chocolate chinks and shavings, are slightly crisp and crunchy. These two flavors contrast yet pair together perfectly. The brownie at the bottom is incredibly rich and holds the entire ensemble together. The restaurant had a large selection of house made gelatos. Gelato is Italian ice cream, but is different than regular ice cream because it is lighter and creamier due to its lower fat content. Despite less fat, it is incredibly rich and refreshing. This vanilla chocolate chunk gelato was very good in this sundae, but would have been great on its own as well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cappuccino Royales

My grandmother made these cookies after copying the recipe from a cookbook we had at our house. They are a very nice cookie - plenty of chocolate flavor, plenty sweet, with just a hint of coffee flavor! They also have a very nice texture and appearance. They are great with milk or a cup of coffee.
Cappuccino Royales
1 cup (two sticks) butter or hard margarine, melted
2 Tablespoons instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated (white) sugar, plus extra for rolling
2 large eggs, lighlty beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
2 3/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, mix the butter, coffee and vanilla. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs. Add the soda and chips. Mix in the flour in three additions. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in granulated sugar, if desired. Place on prepared cookie sheets and flatten gently with the palm of your hand. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until almost set. Let cool for two minutes, then transfer from the cookie sheet to cool completely. 
Makes approximately 6 to 7 dozen cookies. Recipe is easily halved or doubled.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lemon Coconut Muffins

Lemon Coconut Muffins
1/3 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 large egg
1 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose (plain) four
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut + extra for topping, if desired
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons lemon zest
GLAZE
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line muffin cups.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg.
In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, coconut, and baking powder.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions, alternately with the milk in two additions, stirring until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among muffins cups. Sprinkle with a little additional coconut if desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
GLAZE: In a small saucepan, boil all ingredients together, then reduce heat and cook, stirring, for about two minutes until thickened. Spoon over hot muffins and allow to stand for a few minutes to set.

These are some easy lemon coconut muffins my mother made recently for a little something different since we had a lemon on hand. The coconut really gives it a nice texture and adds a little extra flavor, and the glaze keeps the muffins moist and makes them extra special. I didn't find the lemon flavor very strong, so more zest could easily be used, and I would recommend adding some lemon juice to the batter too. A dash of lemon extract would also do the trick. Therefore, I would recommend using more than one lemon for this recipe. We found the recipe in Company's Coming "Mostly Muffins."

Paré, Jean. "Lemon Coconut Muffins." Recipe. Mostly Muffins, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 2007. 14

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dumplings

Dumplings
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated (white) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Stir in milk to make a soft dough. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto a boiling soup or stew. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes with lid closed. Makes about 8-10 large dumplings.
Large, fluffy, moist and buttery dumplings are the perfect accompaniment to a piping hot bowl of soup or stew. They are also very convenient because they easily cook right on top of the stew. It is so quick to whip up a batch of them - much quicker then rolling and cutting biscuits. The recipe can easily be altered to change quantities. Although these biscuits only contain a small amount of butter, they are fairly rich. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Coconut Candy Squares

Sometimes, I create my own recipes using inspiration from others I saw as the basis for my creation. Sometimes I create my own recipes completely on a whim. This recipe is a combination of both, but my real inspiration came from the cupboards. I like to try to use up what I consider my "basket ingredinets" - those are those small quantities of random ingredients you have lying around that you would like to use before they go bad. I combined cracker crumbs, cereal, coconut, and milk chocoalte into this very rich, very very sweet candy-like bar that is sticky and ooey-gooey delicious. 
Coconut Candy Squares
CRUST
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup honey nut flavored oat cereal O's, crushed
1/4 cup honey graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
COCONUT FILLING
2 cups flaked coconut
1 can (300mL or 10 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
CHOCOLATE TOPPING
1 1/2 cups chopped milk chocolate (or milk chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
CRUST: In a medium bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Press firmly into prepared pan. Bake for ten minutes.
COCONUT FILLING: Sprinkle one cup of the coconut evenly over the hot crust. Drizzle evenly with the milk. Sprinkle evenly with remaining one cup coconut. Bake for another 15 minutes.
CHOCOLATE TOPPING: Melt the chocolate until smooth. Pour evenly over coconut filling. Let cool, then chill until firm. Cut into squares. 

These are messy and soft, so they are better kept in the refrigerator but they do keep well. Don't wait too long to cut them or the chocolate will get too hard and crack, though milk chocolate does tend to stay softer. A long, sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped off helps. Although these have three layers, they don't require a lot of ingredients and are quick and easy to make. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sunny Morning Pancakes

Sunny Morning Pancakes
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons oats
1 scant Tablespoon each: shredded coconut, sesame seeds, chopped pecans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon raisins
1/2 Tablespoon ground flaxseed + 1 teaspoon water
1/3 cup milk

Heat a little oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix together the first seven dry ingredients. Add the flax and milk mixture and mix until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, this can make one big pancake or several small ones. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden.
For crispy pancakes: Heat the pan to medium-high and spread the batter thin.
For soft and fluffy pancakes: Keep the pan on medium and make the batter thicker. 
Spread with: yogurt, nut butter, honey, maple syrup, molasses, or jam.
Top with: fresh fruit, nuts, chocolate chips. 
These are sort of like a morning glory muffin, but with less tropical flavors. Different fruits and nuts may be substituted as desired for different flavors, but the principle idea here is a pancake with some texture, crunch, and lots of flavor. They are hearty and tasty and make one good-sized breakfast serving. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Machine Honey and Oat Bread

Machine Honey and Oat Bread 
1 cup warm water (30-40C)
1 large egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons butter or hard margarine, softened
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup oats
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons yeast
Place all ingredients in bread machine pan in order given, or according to manufacturer's instructions for whole wheat cycle. This makes one large loaf, although size setting will depend on machine. 

This bread rose really high considering it is a whole wheat loaf with the addition of old-fashioned oats and no added gluten. I think its success can be attributed to the small amount of ground ginger I added along with the cinnamon. I read in my bread maker's manual that a pinch of ginger, not even enough to change the flavor of the loaf, will promote rising. Garlic on the other hand, inhibits rising. I think I'll add a little ginger to all my loaves from now on. It certainly can't hurt!
This may be the best loaf I made yet - large, light, fluffy, with a nice hit of honey flavor!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mom's Chocolate Cream Cheese Loaf Cake

Remember the {Cinnamon Cream Cheese Loaf Cake} my mother created not too long ago? (If not, just click the title for the link). She creatively manipulated an existing recipe to create something new and tasty. Well, she took that same recipe and changed it yet again, and of course, this time she used chocolate. Since it was chocolate, of course I enjoyed it, though I did notice some differences between this one and the cinnamon version. This version is less sweet due to the addition of cocoa and no additional sugar, which doesn't bother me because dark chocolate is my favorite. This version also seemed slightly drier, which may be due to the addition of cocoa as well, but it was not a big difference. My mother also had a bit more difficultly spreading the layers, maybe because more than half of the chocolate layer was spread on the bottom, but I really like the look of the swirl effect. Next time, I think she may try adding some miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips to the cream cheese filling to amp up the chocolate flavor and add a little more sweetness. 
Chocolate Cream Cheese Loaf Cake
2 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
CREAM CHEESE FILLING
1 package (8 ounces / 250 grams) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 inch square pan.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the oil, milk, and vanilla. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients. 
In a separate small bowl, beat the filling ingredients together until smooth.
Spread half of the batter in prepared pan. Top evenly with the cream cheese mixture. Spread carefully with remaining batter, or gently swirl them together. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This can be served warm, but is much better well chilled just like a cheesecake. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How To Temper Chocolate

Here are some instructions on how to temper chocolate. It seems lengthy, but is easy and very straight-forward. Tempered chocolate is a way of melting it that makes it shinier and easier to work with. It is great for chocolate decorations and candy making. This is the method I used for my chocolates and chocolate box for Valentine's Day. 
  1. Place a pot half-full of water onto the stove top and bring it to a simmer. Take care not to let it boil, the vapour will cause the chocolate to seize, as will any drop of water.
  2. Place a bowl inside the saucepan, so that the rim of the bowl is larger than the pot and holds it above the water, not touching. (A double boiler may also work for this, as long as the bottom is not heavily insulated).
  3. Chop the amount of required chocolate required and place two-thirds of it in the bowl. It is ideal to temper approximately eight ounces of chocolate at once, so place two-thirds of this in the pot.
  4. Stir the chocolate constantly using a rubber spatula, scraping the sides of the bowl often, until smoothly melted. 
  5. Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the chocolate. Milk and white chocolate should be heated to approximately 105F, dark chocolate 115F.
  6. Once chocolate reaches temperature, immediately remove the bowl form the pot and stir in the remaining third of the chocolate until smooth.
  7. Continue to stir the chocolate until it reaches a temperature of less than 90F. 
  8. Chocolate should be immediately used. Pour into molds, over desserts, or into a piping bag for drizzling. For the construction of a chocolate box, continue with the following directions: 
  9. Immediately pour chocolate onto a flat, transportable surface lined with waxed or parchment paper, and spread smooth. It helps to tape the paper to the surface. The chocolate should be about 1/8 inch thick. too thin and it will break, too thick and it won't set properly.
  10. Chill the chocolate briefly until just set. The amount of time depends on the temperature of your refrigerator and the type and thickness of chocolate. If it is not set enough, it will not be able to be broken into shapes. If it is too hard, the chocolate will crack. Continue to chill or let the chocolate stand at room temperature briefly accordingly. 
Tempered chocolate that has not been poured out to set can usually be gently reheated to the required temperature using the above method and used again with success. However, tempered chocolate is always best used when freshly tempered, and should never be stored in the refrigerator - store in a dark place at a cool room temperature. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sweet Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Sweet Chocolate Ganache Frosting
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the butter, sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to medium and cook for exactly two minutes. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate chips until smooth. Stir in vanilla. 

This is a great ganache-like frosting that could be used for cakes, squares, brownies, even cookies. It is also delicious eaten warm from the spoon. Poured into dishes and chilled, it could make a very rich and chocolaty pudding. I find this ganache to be a little too sweet - so I would reccommend either reducing the amount of sugar a little, since semi-sweet chocolate is used, or using a dark or bittersweet chocolate. If you dare, try both, especially if you are a deep and dark chocolate lover like me. I also find this much sugar tends to make the ganache a little bit gritty, so reducing the amount or using superfine sugar, which more easily dissolves, may help. 

This is the frosting that was on the squares from yesterday, but could be used for many more desserts as well!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Berried Treasure Bar Cookies

This is the Valentine's dessert my mother made. It essentially consists of a shortbread base, a strawberry custard-like filling, a strawberry jam glaze, and a chocolate ganache frosting. The recipe came from one of our mystery cookbook novels, which has never failed us with a recipe yet and contains many decadent, often chocolaty delightful desserts. This dessert has several steps, though none of them are very difficult, so the dessert needs to be made in advance to allow for setting time as well. The crust is baked, then the filling is baked. The bars are then glazed with the strawberry jam and chilled, then the chocolate is placed on and chilled again. Actually, the original recipe called for raspberry jam, but we prefer a seedless strawberry jam. I am sure any other jam would work too, but a red jam is nice for Valentine's Day. The bars would also be nice garnished with some fresh strawberries or raspberries. Because these squares are fairly rich, one 9x13 inch pan can go a long way, but it may also be cut into large hunks for a satisfying dessert for your Valentine. 
These bars are pretty tasty. They have a great composition and stay together well. The shortbread crust makes a firm base that holds the entire square up. The filling does not have an overly strong strawberry flavor, so I would have liked to taste some more strawberry. My favorite part is the chocolate topping, which is something like a sweet ganache, and it firms up on top of the squares. Actually, I preferred eating this when it was hot from the pot, but it really does make the squares delicious, as they aren't overly sweet on their own. The book also featured another recipe similar to this one, the basic change being that the base is a brownie base instead of a shortbread base. I bet I would enjoy these even more, since I am definitely a chocoholic! 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Homemade Chocolates

Here is a little more on the homemade chocolates I featured yesterday that were put inside the chocolate box. Homemade chocolates, unless making actual chocolate from scratch, always begin with good-quality chocolate. Evidently, the better quality chocolate you use, the better your final product will be. Big hunks of chocolate, sold in bulk stores, can be good options, as can squares and bars of fine European chocolate. Commercial chocolate squares also work. However, chocolate chips are not ideal because they are specially formulated to maintain their shape even with high heat, and will not melt properly. Homemade chocolates may be made with any type of chocolate - milk, white, dark, semi-sweet, but keep in mind that for constructing, darker chocolate works better than softer milk chocolate. Once you have decided on your type of chocolate, it must be appropriately melted:

Chocolate Melting Wafers: These are basically chocolate-flavored candy melting wafers. Flavors are limited, and usually only include light and dark cocoa. White chocolate wafers are not available but vanilla-flavored white wafers are. These wafers are incredibly versatile and easy to work with, and are just made for melting. However, they are not pure chocolate and therefore their flavor is poor for quality chocolate making. The taste very sweet and artificial. They are good to use as modelling chocolate though (see {Candy Clay} ).
Melted Chocolate: Any type of chocolate may be melted in the microwave, on the stovetop, or over a bowl of hot water. In order to avoid overheating or unevenly heating the chocolate, the bowl of hot water is the best way to go. 
Tempered Chocolate: Tempered chocolate is the best way to go. Tempering is essentially a precised way of melting any type of chocolate is order to ensure proper melting. Tempered chocolate will be shinier and ore stable than just regular melted chocolate. It is also quite easy and takes no longer than any other method of melting. 

I used tempered dark chocolate for my chocolates, as well as a little melted white chocolate. Because I only used a small amount of white chocolate and the shine does not come through the white color, I didn't bother tempering it. Then I piped some filigree shapes onto waxed paper - doing some outlines in one color, allowing it to harden, and piping or filling in more with the other type of chocolate. I also used some flower shaped candy molds to make some flour chocolates. I used a piping bag to fill the centers with white chocolate, then piped dark chocolate into the molds once the white hardened to fill the flower petals. I tried both piping and spoon chocolate into molds, and found piping to be faster and easier. Chocolate-making is fun, and you can make any shapes imaginable so be creative. It doesn't require special molds either, you can make flat shapes on paper or go fishing around in cupboards and use whatever items you have on hand to create something unique. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Box of Chocolates

This is a homemade box of chocolates I made for my boyfriend for Valentine's Day. Why buy a box of chocolates from the store when you can easily make one yourself, and make the box edible too? Well, that's how feel because I am creative and ambitious and like to make everything homemade that is possible, so this was fun for me. Unfortunately though, now I've set very high standards for myself, and I will never be able to give storebought chocolates again. Just kidding, I'm not at all bashing commercial chocolates, as some are incredibly delicious, and chocolate is chocolate right, any type is better than none? But I wanted to try something new and make homemade chocolates with a homemade box, as I saw the idea for this in two of my favorite chocolate cookbooks. Obviously I didn't make the actual chocolate myself from scratch using cocoa beans and cocoa butter, but I did completely compose the box and chocolates inside. 

The box is made of tempered dark chocolate, though most types of chocolate as well as chocolate melting wafers would also work. I tempered the chocolate, then spread it out and chilled it. Then I tried to cut out the rectangles that compose the box. Originally I was going to go with a cube-shaped box, that way I could easily cut out six equally-sized squares of chocolate, but I ended up being a little short on chocolate to do this. I also think I may have chilled the chocolate a little too long, so it did crack in some places when I went to cut it, which explains the lack of symmetry in the sides. However, I was able to cut out a base, four sides, and a top, and I think the unevenness of it gives it more of a rustic, homemade look without appearing too choppy. I was just really happy the box actually stayed up and together. This is accomplished by using a small amount of additional melted chocolate and a pastry brush and "painting" the hardened sides together, then quickly chilling the box again to stabilize it. 

Once the box is made and hardened, it is quite stable to move, but if the sides are thin it may crack if not handled carefully. I then filled the box with some homemade chocolates I had made; which I will likely feature more on within the next few days. The outside of the chocolate box may also be decorated with additional melted chocolate piped on, but again I was a little short on chocolate. One think to remember for next time is chocolate making requires a large quantity of chocolate! 
Does anyone have any Valentine's chocolate left or is it gone already? 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Parfaits

Well, I'm not sure these exactly fit the definition of a parfait, but the name did rhyme off the tongue nicely, and it also happens to be the French word for perfect, which I thought fit nicely. Anyways, I strongly believe there is not better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with chocolate (and a loved one of course) so I always make Valentine's desserts that are heavy on the chocolate. I created this dessert collection from an idea I saw in several different places - basically a type of chocolate parfait, that contains chocolate as well as other flavors such as fruit, nuts, coffee, vanilla, and more in an edible dish that is essentially a bowl or cup made out of chocolate. Each parfait has a unique, special title or flavor profile, and the general structure of the parfait consists of a base ingredients, add-ons, a filling of some sort, and garnish. The base ingredients could include pieces of cake, cookie, or nuts; the add-ons could be fruit, nuts, or chocolate pieces; the filling could be a mousse, yogurt, ganache, or whipped cream; garnishes could be chocolate shapes, caramel shapes, mint leaves, or more; and flavor options include vanilla, mocha, fruit, and chocolate. Here are the creations I came up with:


Chocolate Champion: chocolate brownie pieces, chocolate ganache, chocolate flakes, chocolate filigree.




Fruit Fiesta: oranges, strawberries, blueberries, cherries yogurt, honey. 

Nice 'n Nutty: whole almonds, ground walnuts, pecan pieces, shredded coconut, peanut butter chocolate ganache, hazelnuts.

Strawberry Shortcake: shortbread cookie pieces, strawberries, yogurt, cinnamon, honey.

These are all served in edible white and dark chocolate lace cups, which I featured yesterday! Happy Valentine's Day everyone, and enjoy some chocolate! < 3 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate Lace Cups

These are some edible chocolate cups, or miniature bowls, I have made that will serve as the base of my Valentine's dessert tomorrow. Chocolate cups are a great way in which to serve a completely edible dessert - dish in all, and further incorporate the use of chocolate. They are also incredibly easy to make. Tempered chocolate, chocolate melting wafers, or plain melted chocolate all work well for this technique. There are several different styles of chocolate cups, all of which basically involve pouring, painting (using a pastry brush), or piping melted chocolate into the cup or bowl mold. Any size muffin liners, and ramekins, cups, and bowls of any size lined with either plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or parchment or waxed paper work well as molds. For fancier or neater designs, balloons may be used to dip in the chocolate to create uniquely shaped cups. The cups I made are a little bit different. They are lace cups made by piping chocolate in a random design, and allows more room for error as there are supposed to be holes to give the lacy appearance. This can be done with just one type of chocolate, as can any of the cups, but I like the contrast of creating a design with two different types of chocolate. Any of these cups could be designed more creatively by using several different types of chocolate. This lace cup design is a bit more difficult to create good sides, which are why mine appear a little flat, but they will do they trick for my purpose. The lace cups also are not as stable and therefore cannot be made as large as solid chocolate cups, and keep in mind that foods like ice cream will melt through the holes. Lace cups however, do have their good uses and certainly have a dainty appearance.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kiss Me Chocolate Cookies

Valentine's Day is coming up - so what better way to show your sweetheart you love them than triple chocolate cookies with a kiss in the middle? These are what my mother made to show her compassion around this time of year, though my father and I tried to convince her these cookies were awful, and she shouldn't share them but instead give them all to us. It didn't work. She saw past our fibbing faces and tasted the chocolaty goodness of these easy-to-make, delightful-to-taste cookies. 
Kiss Me Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon milk
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
miniature chocolate kisses (approximately 48)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, Beat in eggs and milk.
Stir in cocoa, baking soda, and salt, then gradually stir in flour until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips. 
Roll dough into one inch balls. Place a few inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for about ten minutes until set. Immediately press a kiss in the middle of each cookie and allow to cool.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sole Special

This is a delish fish dish I wish my mother made more often. She made this a little while ago, and it is quick and simple but incredibly different. It was also a little something different for us because sole is not a type of fish we consume very often, so it was a change from the typical haddock, tuna, and salmon. Basically, she took some fresh sole cut into strips, put it in a casserole dish with some sliced onions, a little olive oil, and ground black pepper, and baked it until it was cooked to perfection. Pretty basic, right? Well, sometimes the basics are the most successful and the tastiest, and why there are, essentially, the base of great dishes. Therefore, this dish is very versatile and can be served with a variety of different side dishes. Any types of vegetables - salad, ratatouille, roasted vegetables, stir-fry; and with potatoes, rice, pasta, polenta, bread, or a pilaf as a starch dish. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Espresso Chip Muffins

This is a muffin recipe my mother sort of created with an idea from other muffin recipes in a magazine. These muffins are extremely moist and certainly chocolaty, with a subtle coffee flavor that'll surely wake you up. They are absolutely delicious warm from the oven. To make these muffins healthier, whole wheat flour, or one cup each of whole wheat flour and natural wheat bran may be substituted for the all-purpose flour. Olive or coconut oil may be used for some additional health benefits. The amount of chocolate chips may also be reduced if you dare. Other than that, these muffins are relatively low in fat and sugar, thanks to the applesauce, which also makes them nice and moist.
Mom's Espresso Chip Muffins
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line muffin cups. 
In a large bowl, stir together the first seven dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. In a separate medium bowl, mix the next four wet ingredients. Add to well, stir until just moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips. 
Divide batter evenly among prepared cups. Bake for about 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes about 12 muffins. 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Machine Country Seed Bread

This is a bread machine recipe that I made a very similar version to in the traditional way once upon a time. It has a nice texture and flavor due to the added seeds and a nice crispy crust. I decided to try making a small loaf this time, but I discovered I would much prefer the large loaf setting. It is the same amount of work, but makes a larger loaf that rises better, forms better sandwiches, and lasts longer.  

Machine Country Seed Bread
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons honey
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
4 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
1 1/4 teaspoons yeast

Place all ingredients in bread machine pan in order given, or according to manufacturer's instructions for whole wheat cycle, small loaf.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Nutella Milkshakes

Nutella Milkshakes
1 large frozen banana
heaping 1/4 cup Nutella (regular or homemade)
1/4 cup plain Greek Yogurt
1 Tablespoon skim milk powder (optional)
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
about 2 Tablespoons honey, optional (not needed if commercial Nutella is used)
1/2 -1 cup almond milk (depending on how thick you would like it)

Blend all together in a blender until smooth. Makes two servings.

This is my final entry for my Nutella Day posts. I don't post many drink recipes on here, but you definitely need a Nutella drink to go with all the Nutella sweets. I used my own homemade Nutella for this too, which worked well, but I did add a little honey for some sweetness. If the milk powder is left out and a different sweetener is used, these milkshakes could be vegan. Otherwise, regular milk may be used as well as soy milk or whatever type you would like. Use ice cream for something really decadent. This could be classified as either a milkshake or a smoothie, depending on how thick you make it. I recommend using a frozen banana for the best texture and to keep it colder. 

This is a very healthy recipe and also quite satisfying. Following this exact recipe, it contains about ten grams of protein per serving! Almond milk is actually very low in protein, so using soy or cow's milk instead would actually increase the amount of protein further. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

No-Bake Nutella Oaties

No-Bake Nutella Oaties
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup homemade or regular Nutella
1 1/2 cups oats (I used old-fashioned, but for a less chewy texture use rolled)

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, oil, and milk and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes. Stir in the Nutella until melted, then the oats until coated. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill until set. Makes as many or as few as you want, depending on size. This makes about 16 tablespoonfuls of dough. Can be doubled or halved. 

This is an extremely quick, easy, adaptable, forgivable recipe, that is vegan if you use homemade vegan Nutella and gluten free if you use gluten free oats. They are also fairly healthy, very tasty, and addictive. Whole oats are more nutritious, and I like the chewier texture but if you don't use rolled oats. Feel free to add some coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, etc. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Homemade Vegan Nutella

So with World Nutella Day approaching and me being the ambitious baker who wants to try everything homemade, I decided to try making my own Nutella this time. Not only is this spread healthier than the commercial variety, lower in fat and sugar, it is also vegan. It is not quite as smooth as regular Nutella, which I think is because it is impossible to remove all the skins from the hazelnuts, they must have machines for that at the factory. Plus my food processor is not as powerful as their's would be either. However, this Nutella can be used just as the original - by the spoonful, as a spread, or in baking. 

Homemade Vegan Nutella
2 cups raw whole hazelnuts
1/3 cup dates
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
approximately 1/2 cup almond milk
2 - 4 Tablespoons honey, maple syrup, agave, or sugar*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch salt (optional)
2 teaspoons coconut oil (optional, buts adds to smoothness)

OPTIONAL STEP - ROAST AND PEEL THE HAZELNUTS: 
Preheat oven to 400F. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for ten minutes, stirring after five minutes. Remove the peelings from the hazelnuts. This may be done easily by using a dish towel or paper towels to rub the hazelnuts on the baking sheet, which will easily pry off the skins. It may be necessary to take the hazelnuts between the towels in small groups or individually to remove some skins. Don't worry about removing every single piece of skin, they are certainly edible, and a few stubborn ones won't matter. If a thick enough towel is used, it is not necessary to cool the hazelnuts first and it warms up the hands nicely.

Process the hazelnuts in a food processor for a few minutes until the mixture turns into hazelnut butter. Add remaining ingredients and process until very smooth. Add more milk if it is not smooth enough. That's it, you have some Nutella! Eat immediately, use as desired, or store in the refrigerator for about a week or so. 

*The dates in the recipe already contribute to the sweetness of the spread without really changing the flavor or texture. I suppose a greater quantity could be used if desired, or they could also be omitted in lieu of another sweetener or completely. The sweetness of this spread depends on your personal tastes. With dates, the recipe does not require more sugar, but more may be added. Maple syrup or honey will make a thinner texture and impose a stronger flavor, but will require less quantity. Sugar will not make as smooth a texture and may not dissolve as well, but will not change flavor and will require more. Use you sweetener of choice and taste as you go along, as you can always add more as you like. 

Roasting the hazelnuts: This is not a necessary step, so raw hazelnuts may be used, but I think the spread is more flavorful and the oils release more easily if the nuts are roasted. This also allows easy removal of the skin, though this is not necessary either, it will make the texture a lot smoother. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Molten Chocolate Nutella Cakes

Happy World Nutella Day 2014!!! The dessert I am featuring today is a molten chocolate Nutella cake. These are basically individually-sized chocolate cakes with the flavor of Nutella, and a liquidy chocolate center. I have made molten chocolate cakes before, but they did not turn out as well as these did, and not only because these are Nutella-flavored. I used my own homemade Nutella for these cakes. One word of caution: I erred on the side of baking longer, because I would hate to serve a cake raw, especially one containing eggs. Therefore, I may have overbaked mine a tad. There was still a molten center, but not as molten as it could have been. Be sure to take the cakes out when the tops are just set and begin to crack, as they need to rest for five minutes before serving and will continue baking inside the ramekins. Of course, this is for optimal molten centers; it still tastes great, but will just be a simple cake if baked longer. The cake is also good cold or reheated in the microwave. Enjoy with a dusting of icing sugar and/or a dollop of extra Nutella!
Molten Chocolate Nutella Cakes
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup Nutella
1/4 - 1/2 cup icing sugar, optional*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour four ramekins and place on a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and yolks with an electric mixer until pale yellow-colored and frothy, about three minutes. Mix in the flour. Mix in remaining ingredients. 
Divide batter evenly among ramekins. Bake for 12-14 minutes until cakes are just set and begin to crack on the top, do not overbake or the centers will not be molten. Let cool for five minutes. The cakes may then be loosened gently with a knife and turned onto a plate for presentation, but can also be served directly from the ramekins if preferred. 

*The amount of sugar depends on both your personal preferences and the type of Nutella you use. If commercial Nutella is used, no added sugar is necessary but 1/4 cup may be used for those with sweet preferences. If homemade Nutella is used, it depends of course on how sweet you made that, it it has almost as much sugar as normal Nutella, than it can be treated as normal Nutella, but if you held back on sugar like I did, 1/4 cup of sugar will do, but those with a sweet tooth may prefer 1/2 cup. 
Here you can see the molten center. On the back of the plate (it is more visible in the first photo) you can see a Nutella cookie. I will be featuring this soon! 

For more information on World Nutella Day, please visit: http://nutelladay.com/, as well as the blogs
 http://msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/ 
and
 http://bleedingespresso.com/

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

World Nutella Day 2014

Maybe you remember my string of Nutella posts from last year. February 5th has been pronounced World Nutella Day (no, not by me), and I like to celebrate because I love excuses to bake something yummy and Nutella is a spoonful of chocolate hazelnut heaven. 

Last year I made several Nutella recipes, and I have provided the links for them here. Not all of them were made around Nutella Day, but at different times throughout the year as well.
{Striped Nutella Cheesecake Squares}
{Triple Chocolate Nutella Kiss Cookies}
{Nutella Swirl Muffins}
{Nutella Muffins Re-done}
{Nutella Hot Chocolate}
{Nutella Kissed Brownies}
{Nutella Chocolate Cake}
{Chocolate Nutella Frosting}
Some other posts explaining a bit more about World Nutella Day may be found here: 
{Nutella Galore}, {World Nutella Day} and {Nutella Wrap-Up}.
This year I will not make quite as many Nutella recipes, but this year I have also made my own, homemade Nutella. 

I really wanted to try my own Nutella because I love to experiment and make everything from scratch, and homemade Nutella is also healthier and less processed. Homemade Nutella allows you to control the amount of sugar you put in, and I put in a lot less. It doesn't taste as sweet as Nutella, which you may or may not mind depending on your sweet tooth. However, when used in baking it is almost preferable, because I find recipes made with Nutella are usually too sweet; they contain the regular amount of sugar called for in the recipe along with the sugar from the Nutella. Homemade Nutella also isn't quite as smooth as commercial Nutella, but you also won't notice this in baking. 

Try some Nutella cookies, cakes, squares, brownies, shakes, smoothies, pies, tarts, pastries, pancakes, mousse, pudding, truffles, pizza, crêpes, fondue, dips, breads, muffins, or simply by the spoonful today!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Crispy Peanut Mallow Bars

I had four small amounts of slightly random ingredients in my cupboard that were staring me in the face and needed to be used up. Luckily, I came across a recipe that incorporated all four of them: graham cracker crumbs, marshmallows, peanuts, and crisp rice cereal. These bars are easy to make, and taste sort of like a type of chocolate bar - they are not too sweet and can be cut as big or as small as you wish. Just make sure they are chilled when you cut them, and they cut very easily. They will hold up at room temperature for serving. 
Crispy Peanut Mallow Bars
CRUST
1 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
1 large egg, beaten
TOPPING
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup golden corn syrup
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup peanuts (I used whole, lightly salted)
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Line a 9x13 inch rectangular pan with foil and grease foil. Preheat oven to 350F.
CRUST: In a large bowl, stir together the flour, crumbs, sugar, and baking powder. Make a well in the center and add the butter and egg. Mix well until combined. Press mixture firmly into prepared pan. Bake for 12 minutes. 
TOPPING: While crust is baking, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the chocolate chips, corn syrup, and butter until smooth. Stir in the cereal and nuts.
Sprinkle marshmallows over hot crust and return to oven for two minutes until puffed. Spread evenly with a knife to cover crust. Spoon topping over top and spread evenly. Cool squares, then chill for several hours until firm before cutting. 

Paré, Jean. "Chocolate Peanut Squares." Recipe. Chocolate Squared, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 2009. 4.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Apple Split Pancake

Apple Split Pancakes
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup milk of choice
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
handful blueberries, fresh or frozen

Heat a little oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, flax, baking powder, and cinnamon. Stir in the applesauce, milk, oil, and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. I just made one large pancake, but several mini ones would also work. Sprinkle the blueberries over the batter. Cook for a few minutes until golden, then flip and cook again. Flip over onto a plate to serve blueberry-side up. Garnish as desired. 

I love breakfast, in case that wasn't obvious by now! I don't mind taking a little extra time and effort in the morning to try a new recipe and make something a little special for myself. I especially like these recipes that make individual servings - not because I don't enjoy sharing, but usually everyone fixes their own style of breakfast in the house. That's perfectly fine, and I like hearty, well-rounded breakfast like this one. I call this an apple split pancake because I got the idea from a banana pancake topped with cherries and chocolate chips. Instead, this is a pancake made with applesauce and topped with blueberries. A single pancake doesn't take as long to make as you may think, and makes for a warm, yummy breakfast. Top it with some Greek yogurt and fruit/nuts to add some protein or spread it with almond butter and enjoy with a glass of milk, for an easy breakfast that includes all four food groups. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 white potato, cubed
½ large sweet potato, cut into short sticks
1 carrot, cut into short sticks
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ can diced tomatoes, undrained
½ can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the next eight ingredients and cook for ten minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Add the chickpeas, broth, turmeric, and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
This is an easy vegan supper dish that does not require too much attention, and fills the air with a spicy aroma while it simmers. It is a hearty dish for a cold night, and with two types of potatoes, it makes a very substantial full meal. There are plenty of vegetables in it and some chickpeas for protein. This could be served alone as a complete dish, or with a side salad, bread, rice, pasta, or meat side dish.