Thursday, May 27, 2010

Move Over Nutella

Well, not quite. It'd take an awful lot to displace it in my mind, I mean it does combine two best things that were ever spread on a piece of toast. But this! Have you ever flown on one of the European Airlines and received those spiced cookies in place of the peanuts? The ones that kind of reminded you of molasses cookies, but better? Well, imagine those cookies blended into a luscious spread that you can cover a banana waffle with. That's what David Lebovitz talked about a few weeks ago, and he painted such a fantastic image, that I had to go and get a jar for myself. Well, they were on sale...and then I found a coupon...and then I had to justify now I'm the proud owner of 4 jars of this stuff and I must say, David did not disappoint.

Biscoff Spread Waffle

So while I don't really have a recipe for you today, I do have a recommendation. Go here and get a few jars for yourself. Believe me, you'll be glad you did.

Biscoff Spread Jar

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Breakfast Time...Again

French Granola with Milk

I know I already wrote about making granola, but I have a new favorite and I had to share. It's lighter, easier and faster, plus if you allow for a small degree of whimsy, it's French. I found the recipe a while ago and it seems that like with a fine wine, I let all my recipes "age" before I actually pull them out and try them. But I've now made this twice and shared it with friends, and it has come out a hands down favorite. The tiny bits of chocolate make it indulgent without being over the top and the honey gives it all the sweetness it needs. I added some wheat germ to the mix to round out the health benefits, and as long as you don't fill up your bowl too much, it makes for a fantastic everyday cereal. I may never buy Honey Bunches of Oats ever again.

French Granola

French Chocolate Granola
adapted from Orangette
Yield: about 5 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 Tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
7 Tbsp mild honey
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate or mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, coconut, wheat germ, sugar, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking gently until the honey is loose. You can also do this in the microwave, just make sure that you take it out whisk every 20 seconds. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. You may need to bake it for a few extra minutes to get an even golden color, but make sure you don't let it go too long or it will burn. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag. Add the chocolate, stir (or shake, if using a jar or bag) to mix and store in an airtight container. Don't worry, it won't last long.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summer Makes an Entrance

Cranberry Sorbet

If you live anywhere near Chicago you know that summer is finally here, and with a vengeance. I don't remember the last time I had my air conditioning on this early in the year. The farmers markets are filling up with bright and fresh produce and I am making room in the freezer for what summer pickings will provide. And that means the cranberries have to go, and what better way to use them up in this heat then with ice cream? I tagged a recipe a while ago from Annies Eats and mixed in the last bottle of POM pomegranate juice I had left and maybe a bit too much Grand Marnier then was strictly called for and I had two pints of beautiful sorbet to cool down with. One more batch and I'll be ready for strawberry season in June.

Cranberry Sorbet

Cranberry Pomegranate Sorbet
adapted from Annie's Eats

1 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups pomegranate juice
2 tsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Cook cranberries, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan until liquid begins to boil. Let simmer for a few minutes until the cranberries have popped, then remove from heat and cover. Allow the mixture to cool, puree a food processor or a blender, and then pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove any large bits of cranberry skin. Stir in the juice and the liqueur. Chill the mixture thoroughly and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Scoop some out into a pretty bowl, find a nice air conditioned spot in the sun and enjoy.

Cranberry Sorbet

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reckless Pasta Sauce

Usually I scour the internet and my vast collection of cookbooks whenever I want to make anything. I read over the recipe start to finish at least once, usually twice, making notes of any ingredients I will need to pick up and making sure that no steps get skipped. I find comfort in the process. I have learned how to adjust things if I see problems in advance, but usually I'll just stick to the recipe because if I follow the instructions and it still comes out wrong, it wasn't me, it was the recipe and I will toss it immediately.

However, every once in a while I start to feel reckless. Usually it's when no one is coming over, I'm not making dinner for anyone, the kitchen is all clean and begging to be messed up a bit, and I just don't feel like going grocery shopping. The stars align and creativity kicks in. There's no fear of failure, because it's just me and should things go irretrievably bad, there's always take-out. And while I'm not confident yet to try anything too crazy, for me working without a recipe is like tightrope-walking without a net...I may not be doing cartwheels up there, but it's still thrilling.

This is how this recipe came to be. I defrosted a small package of ground pork and started tossing ingredients into the pot. I kind of wish I had mushrooms to add to it too, but ladled onto some spaghetti, it was a very tasty and a very filling dinner for three days.

Spaghetti 1

Meaty Spaghetti Sauce
by Me

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb lean ground pork
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp garlic powder (I'm a garlic junkie, what can I say)
1 tsp onion powder (um..just 'cause)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 can crushed tomatoes (I think mine was 12oz)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
mushrooms if you have them
1 cup water

Sautee the onions with the olive oil in a large pan until soft, then add the minced garlic and sautee for another minute. Add the pork and cook till it's no longer pink. If you have mushrooms, slice them up and add them now as well. Add everything else, stir thoroughly to combine, lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, for about 45 min. That's it! Scoop some onto some pasta of your choosing and Mangia, Mangia!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I don't really have any fun stories to tell you today, and it's well after midnight, but I wanted to make sure and wish you all a very happy Cinco de Mayo! In honor of the occasion, and for a potluck at work, I made three dozen Margarita cupcakes. I looked around and found a bunch of recipes, but...ahem...they didn't use enough tequila to really make the cupcake taste "festive". The closest recipe I found was for Mint Julep cupcakes (which sound awesome as well, especially for the derby folks) and this time there was a full cup of booze involved. Now that's more like it! I made a margarita and lime spiked cream cheese frosting to match, topped them with sugar coated lime slices and called it a night. I won't know till tomorrow how they came out, but they sure smelled sweet and boozy, which will make work pretty interesting come tomorrow.

Margarita Cupcake

Margarita Cupcakes
adapted from Hostess Blog
Makes about 30

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lime oil
4 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 cup 1800 Margarita Mix

- Preheat the oven to 350ยบ F, and grease or line 30 cupcake cups.
- Combine salt, baking powder, and flour in a bowl.
- Combine the milk and margarita mix in a container with a spout (the mixture will curdle, but that's okay).
- Cream butter and sugar in the mixer and then add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add lime oil and mix to incorporate.
- Gradually beat in the flour mixture and the liquid mixture, alternating them, making sure to start and end with the flour mix. Beat as little as possible, just until the batter comes together.
- Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake cups.
- Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool.

2 packages cream cheese
1 stick butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons 1800 Margarita Mix
1/2 tsp lime oil

Whip everything together, adding a drop of green and yellow food coloring for affect. Pipe onto the cooled cupcakes and top with slices of sugar coated lime slices or if you prefer, rim with coarse salt. Make a toast and enjoy :D

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Totoro Birthday Cupcakes

Before I get into the cupcake fun, I have to share something. A few weeks ago I received an email from POM asking me if I'd be interested in giving their pomegranate juice a try. Why not? I like pomegranates, and while I'm not a huge fan of "from concentrate" type juice, I shouldn't count it out just yet, so when I got a box of juice in the mail, I popped open a bottle and set about searching for recipes. I guess it tasted okay, but I was sure that it would be even better if properly treated, besides, it's good for you, so I had to give it another chance. I found a recipe from Alton Brown for pomegranate molasses, so I dumped 4 bottles of juice, some lemon juice and sugar into a pot and got to simmerin'. Now I don't know if I messed something up or if that's what the recipe was supposed to turn into, but the thick syrup just didn't smell or taste right. The jar is still in the fridge waiting for me to either try doing something with it or waiting to be tossed.


I wasn't ready to throw in the towel and I still had 2 more bottles in the fridge, so when my sister asked me to make cupcakes for my nephew's birthday I decided to give the kids something that seemed like a chocolate cupcake on the outside, but was secretly a little healthy for them. Not much, mind you, it's still cake, but a little helps, right? I found a great recipe on Whipped a while ago and decided to give it a try. I won't retype the recipe here because I made it exactly as is, not changing a thing. I was a bit tentative about messing with something when the happiness of two dozen kids was at stake. I did switch out the frosting for the one from the same blog, but a different post and I gotta tell you, the cupcakes were good, but the frosting was super easy, gorgeously glossy and very chocolaty with a very pleasing tang from the sour cream. While I was a bit apprehensive about the corn syrup, I'm glad I gave it a try. I just might have found my favorite chocolate frosting outside of straight up ganache, at least for now.

I also had another recipe hanging out on my "to bake" list for a vanilla almond cupcakes from Love and Oil and the flavor combination seemed just too good to pass up. Besides, I had everything it called for in my pantry, which was definitely a bonus, but once again, I changed the frosting. I liked the idea of a berry frosting to match the coconut and almond, so I just tossed a few blocks of cream cheese, a stick of butter and a mess of strawberry jam I had made earlier into the mixer and hit the go button. It came out a bit too tart and thin, so I mixed in just enough powdered sugar to adjust the flavor and texture. Oh, and a few drops of food coloring to make the icky fleshy tone go away. One of these days I'm going to have to actually calculate an exact recipe for my cream cheese frosting, but at this point, this is the one thing I make where I don't even bother to measure, and that feels just reckless enough for me to keep doing it by taste.

Totoro Chocolate

Oh, and to add onto the list of other people's recipes that I referred to last night was this wonderful tutorial from Cake Journal for Marshmallow Fondant. It was easy to make, and while not exactly gourmet, it tasted miles better than the store bought variety and was very easy to work with. It made the perfect medium to make several dozen of little Totoro's, which my nephew loves. Have you seen the movie My Neighbor Totoro? It's very cute, it's no wonder my nephew and his friends went nuts over it.

Totoro Almond

All in all, I'd say the day was a success and while I'm still on a search of the next great chocolate cupcake recipe, the almond vanilla one was a drop dead gorgeous success and it's going into the keeper file, so go ahead. Head over to Love and Oil and whip up a batch for your friends. You won't be sorry.

Cupcake Display