Puff Pastry

I love this time of year. Putting up our Christmas lights, decorating our tree, drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music.

This time of year is always busy for us, as it is for everyone. So, I'm always looking for ways to make things easier. Puff pastry is one of those things. You can use it to make a quick tart crust, top a pot pie, make cheesy bread sticks, bake a brie in it, and so much more.

My favorite way to use it is to make palmiers, those lovely French elephant ear cookies. Think of these as the easiest cookies ever. Just keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer and you'll be ready to go anytime you need to serve something. They're great after dinner with coffee or tea.


1 16 or 17 ounce box puff pastry, thawed
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½  teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt

Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the cinnamon sugar mixture onto a clean work surface. Remove one sheet of puff pastry from the fridge and place on top of the sugar. Sprinkle another 1/4 of the sugar mixture on top of the puff pastry. Roll the puff pastry into a 12 x 12 inch square pressing the sugar into the dough as you go. Working with two sides, fold each halfway to the center of the dough. Then fold again until the edges touch in the center. Fold one side over the other. Place on a plate and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate. Repeat with remaining sugar and second piece of puff pastry. Chill both for 30-60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Remove from fridge and slice into 3/8" thick slices. Place, cut side up, on baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes until golden on the bottom, rotating sheets halfway through. Flip each over and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until golden on the other side as well (you may need to rotate your sheets again halfway through the second side). Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 40 cookies. 

Notes: Thaw puff pastry overnight in the fridge. You still want it to be very cold when you begin to work with it. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. 


Easy As Pie

Where did that saying, "easy as pie" ever come from? Pies are not actually that easy to make if you want to get them right. You know that I'm a pie fanatic, but I'm the first to admit that they can be a bit tricky and time consuming.

So, while I love making pies, I don't always have time, and I realize that a lot of you don't either especially during the holidays. If you want a recipe this fall (perhaps for Thanksgiving?) that really is quick and easy then look no further than this cranberry apple cake from Ina Garten. That lady never disappoints. This is like a cross between a cake and a pie and it literally takes 15 minutes to make (okay, plus an hour to bake).

Oh, and now I'm curious about the phrase. If you are too, here you go, easy as pie.

Cranberry Apple Cake

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and diced (you should have about 1 cup)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (from 1 or 2 oranges)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 orange)
1 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Vanilla ice cream for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine cranberries, apples, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in large bowl. Pour into 10 inch pie plate (or similar sized pan).

In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment beat the eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup granulated sugar, butter, vanilla, and sour cream and mix until combined. Add flour and salt and mix until combined.

Pour batter over fruit and spread evenly. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle over batter. Bake 55 - 60 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and fruit is bubbling around the edges.  Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

Serves 6-8.


Hello Fall

It finally felt like fall to me this week for two reasons: 1) I made pumpkin cake, and 2) we took Miles to the pumpkin patch this morning.

He was pretty excited by our load of pumpkins. I can't wait to carve one with him on Halloween. He's been into all things Halloween this year, happily pointing out our neighbors' ghosts or pumpkins when we drive by their houses.

Now, back to the cake. I adapted the cake from an old recipe in Gourmet magazine, and I was really happy with how it turned out. It was exactly what I wanted - very moist and pumpkiny and perfumed with fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice.

Miles has also been into taking pictures latey, now that I sometimes let him press the button on the camera. He really wanted to take a picture of this little ghost candle, and I like how it turned out. So, enjoy his first "published" photo and the recipe below, and happy fall!

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Vanilla Glaze

1½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
½  teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (grate it fresh yourself if possible)
15 oz can pumpkin (not pie filling)
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk (any kind is fine)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the cake: Spray a 10 inch Bundt pan with cooking spray. Set oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in large bowl. Set aside. Whisk together pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla in another bowl. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. On low, add the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Still on low, add the flour and pumpkin mixtures in alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing just until the batter is smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth the top and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Then invert cake out onto rack and cool completely.

Make the glaze: Once cake is completely cool, whisk together glaze ingredients. Place cake on platter. Tuck in small strips of waxed paper around the cake to catch excess glaze. Using the whisk or a spoon drizzle the glaze all over the cake. Allow to set for 15 minutes. Then remove waxed paper strips.

Serves 12.


Frozen Desserts: Part 7

I used to live in Santa Ana, which is a city with a very large Latino population. In almost every neighborhood you would see paleteros pushing carts full of paletas to sell in the afternoons. I'd often hear them ringing their bells as they passed by my office or house, and if it was a hot day I'd go out with a dollar and come back in with a coco or sandía flavored one. It was always the perfect snack to get through a hot afternoon. 

Where I live now there is still a significant Latino population, but there is no paletero that comes down my street. So, I make my own. Luckily they are quick and easy. I've been enjoying these a lot in the past few weeks with the super hot weather we've been having. Make them now and enjoy these final days of summer.

Watermelon, Mint and Lime Paletas

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
3 heaping cups cubed watermelon (seeds are okay)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine sugar, water and mint leaves in small saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Strain the mint syrup into blender. Discard mint leaves. Add watermelon and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher or large liquid measuring cup. Pour mixture into ice pop molds and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours.

Makes 6-8 depending on the size of your molds. 


KCRW 5th Annual Pie Contest

I'm interrupting the frozen dessert series to share good news. I got 3rd place again at the KCRW Good Food Pie Contest!

Anyway, the contest was much the same as last year although there were a record 350 entrants this year. Last year my prize was in the nut category. This year I entered the cream category with my Toasted Coconut & Banana Cream Pie. It is an all-butter crust filled with a coconut pudding that is studded with toasted coconut. It's got a layer of sliced bananas in the middle and is topped with whipped cream and more toasted coconut. With 68 contestants in that category alone I am very happy to have placed third.

Toasted Coconut & Banana Cream Pie

I also entered a Cherry Pie with Coconut-Almond Crumb Topping in the vegan category. It didn't place, but I was happy with the way it turned out. That pie (including the practice ones I'd made in the weeks before the contest) was my first time making a vegan pie. I'm just excited that Moby may have tasted it; he was one of the judges in the vegan category.

Vegan Cherry Pie with Coconut-Almond Crumb Topping

I took my customary picture with Evan Kleiman, the host of Good Food. At least I hope it becomes customary.  That's two gold ribbons. Do you think I can get a blue ribbon next year? Looks like I've got a year of yummy pie baking ahead of me to find out.

Evan Kleiman and me

Celebrating with my boys again.
Thank you KCRW!


Frozen Desserts: Part 6

If you read my last post or gave the recipe a try, I'm going to give you another recipe for your ice cream maker. It's a bit different: dark chocolate and chile ice cream from Rick Bayless. This is a fantastic flavor combination that's great to make at home, as you probably won't see it in your local ice cream shop. Don't be put off by the chile. It's not spicy and it lends a warm note to the rich chocolaty ice cream.

Pasilla negro chile and chopped bittersweet chocolate

Dark Chocolate Chile Ice Cream

1 large pasilla negro chile
4 ounces bittersweet (preferably 60-70%) chocolate, chopped
1 1/3 cups half and half
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon espresso powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Place a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the top off the chile with a pair of kitchen shears, then cut the side and remove the seeds. Using tongs, toast the chile by pressing the it into the skillet until very fragrant, about 10 seconds per side. Place the chile into a small saucepan and pour in the half and half. Heat over medium until tiny bubbles begin to form around the edges (do not boil). Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a double boiler:  fill a medium saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Choose a large heat-proof bowl that can easily be nestled into the saucepan with out touching the water. Place the egg yolks into this bowl and set aside on the counter.

Place the chopped chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Transfer the chile-half and half mixture to a blender. Blend until smooth. (Take out the center of the blender lid to allow heat to escape after you've turned it on). Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the saucepan and heat until steaming (do not boil). Rinse the strainer as you will need it later. Once it's hot, pour over the chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Then whisk until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is melted.

Whisk the sugar into the egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in the chocolate mixture until smooth. Reduce the boiling water to a simmer and place the bowl of egg-chocolate mixture on top. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until thickened, about 5 minutes. You will know it is thick enough when you can dip the spoon into the mixture, run your finger along the back and the line stays. This will be about 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer if you have one.

Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Place the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice water and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in heavy cream, vanilla and espresso. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately if you prefer a soft texture, otherwise freeze in air-tight container to allow it to firm up a bit.

Makes approximately 1 quart.

Note: Store in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to three days. 


Frozen Desserts: Part 5

It's time to break out your ice cream maker. I normally don't like to give you recipes that require special equipment, but I think homemade ice cream is the exception. Like so many things made from scratch it is so good if you can make it yourself. Plus ice cream makers are pretty affordable, so if you are an ice cream aficionado like me, you'll be glad you got one. 

I'm going to start by giving you my recipe for the most basic of homemade ice creams: vanilla. If you read my blog regularly you know I'm a chocolate person. I would never order vanilla at an ice cream shop. But homemade vanilla I love. Mostly because it takes something like a piece of apple pie and makes it that much better. Or chocolate cake. Or cookies. You get the point. 

After trying many recipes and having them come out too icy, I've finally come up with this one. You'll notice that I stir in the heavy cream at the end. I've always done this with my blueberry ice cream and the texture of that one is great. So, one day I decided to do the same thing with the vanilla and it also came out with a great texture.  


Once you've mastered the vanilla you can easily add other ingredients to the vanilla base to create other flavors. A syrupy fruit compote can be stirred in at the end. You can add peppermint extract and crushed peppermint candies. And of course you can add chocolate.  So, as a bonus I give you a technique I learned from my Williams Sonoma Ice Cream book where you melt chocolate with a bit of vegetable oil and add it to the ice cream machine in the last minutes of churning it. You end up with lovely slivers of chocolate throughout the ice cream. 

Chocolate Chip

Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks

1. Place the whole milk in medium saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds with a small knife into the saucepan. Add bean pod to pan. Place over medium heat and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes (do not let it boil). Turn off heat.

2. Meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and half and half in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the vanilla bean-milk mixture into the yolk mixture until well blended. Pour the yolk mixture into the milk in the saucepan. Place over medium heat, and stir slowly and constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thickened, about 4 -6 minutes. Do not boil. You will know it is thick enough when you can dip the spoon into the mixture, run your finger along the back and the line stays. This will be about 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer if you have one.

3. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Place inside a larger bowl filled with ice water until cooled to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Once cool, whisk in heavy cream. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on surface of cream to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.

4. Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately if you prefer a soft texture, otherwise freeze in air-tight container to allow it to firm up a bit.

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

1 batch vanilla ice cream, prepared through step 3.
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

About 1 hour before you are ready to churn the ice cream, melt the chocolate and vegetable oil together in small microwave safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds. Set aside to cool completely.

Process the vanilla ice cream in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Once the ice cream is thick like soft serve ice cream, keep the machine running and drizzle the chocolate mixture over with a large spoon. As soon as the chocolate hits the ice cream it will start to freeze and form silvers of chocolate in the ice cream. Serve immediately if you prefer a soft texture, otherwise freeze in air-tight container to allow it to firm up a bit.

Each batch makes approximately 1 quart of ice cream.

Note: Store in the freezer in an air-tight container for up to three days. 


Frozen Desserts: Part 4

I've introduced you to a granita before. But, it's so light and refreshing that I wanted to include it in the frozen dessert series. Last month Bon Appetit had a recipe for a blackberry one with lemon cream. I tried it and to be honest I didn't like the lemon cream. It was too thick and greasy as it was made with mascarpone (though I normally love this cheese it didn't work with the granita for me). The blackberry granita was very good though, so the next day I served it again with whipped cream and a sprinkle of lemon zest. Perfect.

Blackberry Granita

18 ounces blackberries (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon creme de cassis (black currant liqueur, optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup water
Whipped cream, for serving
Lemon zest, for serving (optional)

Combine all ingredients, except whipped cream and zest, in blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a 9 x 9 metal baking pan (or similar size shallow pan). Freeze, scraping the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes until it resembles fluffy ice, about 2 - 4 hours. Cover until ready to serve. Scrape with fork again before serving. Spoon into small bowls and top with whipped cream and lemon zest if desired.

Serves 6.

Note: Can be made three days ahead. 


Frozen Desserts: Part 3

And now, on to the fun stuff.

I can't very well go ahead and do a frozen dessert series and not include ice cream cones, now can I? What is more fun than eating an ice cream cone? Do you remember the Drumstick ice cream cones you ate as a kid (and maybe still do)? Well, these are like those - a sugar cone lined with chocolate, filled with ice cream, dipped in chocolate again and rolled in nuts. But these are much better because by making them yourself you can use good quality chocolate and ice cream. And did I mention the flavor combinations are endless?

I'm going to give you the basic recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit, and then you can make it your own.

Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream Cones

9 standard sugar cones
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/3 cup coconut oil
3 pints ice cream, flavor of your choice
Toasted nuts of your choice, optional

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl set over simmering water. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile take out 9 cups to hold the cones. Bunch up some strips of foil into a ring shape and fit into each glass. This will help hold the cone upright after you dip it.

Holding one cone at a time over the bowl of chocolate, pour about a quarter cup of the chocolate into the cone. Swirl to coat the entire inside of the cone, then let the excess drip back into the bowl. Then dip the top half-inch of the cone into the chocolate and let the excess drip back in again. Place the cone back in the foil ring in its cup and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. 

Working one cone at a time pack some ice cream into the cone, then top with a small scoop of ice cream. Place the cone back in the foil ring in its cup, then freeze one hour.

Rewarm the chocolate mixture if it's gotten hard again. Set out toasted nuts in shallow bowls. Again, working one cone at at time dip the ice cream into the chocolate mixture rolling to coat. Immediately roll in nuts, if using, before returning to it to it's cup and placing in the freezer for another hour.

Makes 9 cones. 

Note: You can make up to one week ahead. Once the cones are finished and completely frozen, wrap each in foil and stack them on a platter in the freezer.

Vanilla ice cream with almonds, dulce de leche ice cream with cashews, and
chocolate ice cream with toasted coconut and pecans.


Frozen Desserts: Part 2

Banana Ice Cream. It's rich. It's creamy. And it happens to be vegan.

But, don't let that detour you. I think I made it pretty clear in my last post that I am an unabashed ice cream lover. Ice cream that's skimping on flavor and texture just won't cut it for me. But this banana ice cream fulfills all my requirements. It is the texture of soft serve ice cream with hints of vanilla and a bit of extra sweetness from the maple syrup. It's good on it's own, but it's absolutely delicious with the sweet and salty almond topping. If you don't believe me, then you can trust Roy - a man who would probably never intentionally choose something vegan off of a menu. He had it the other day, and mentioned three separate times throughout the evening how much he liked it. If you don't believe either of us, then you can trust Miles who said "Mom, this ice cream really yummy!" when he tasted it.

So, thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow and her new book It's All Good where I got the recipe. I'm loving this book as it's filled with light and healthy recipes that I can make all the time. Like the banana ice cream. Seriously, I make it all the time now.

Banana Ice Cream with Sweet and Salty Roasted Almonds

½ cup finely chopped toasted almonds
4 teaspoons real maple syrup
Big pinch flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside while you make the banana ice cream.

Banana Ice Cream:
4 ripe bananas sliced into thin rounds, frozen (see note)
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until the mixture is the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, scraping the sides as necessary. Don't worry if it's not totally smooth at first; the heat from blade of the food processor will defrost the bananas slightly and an ice cream texture will take shape.  Serve immediately with almond mixture sprinkled over the top.

Serves 4.

Note: After thinly slicing the bananas into rounds, place in single layer (as best you can) in a large zip-top bag. Place in the freezer for at least several hours. Then proceed with the recipe. Now that I make this recipe regularly, I like to keep bags of frozen bananas in the freezer, so I can make it whenever I want. 


Frozen Desserts: Part 1

There was a bit of an ice cream issue when I was a kid. Well, actually, even until I was in high school. The thing is our family would fight over ice cream. Once the ice cream carton had run out we'd start blaming each other for taking more than their fare share. Hmm, maybe we had too much time on our hands.

My mom got so sick of us fighting over it that she literally got out five plastic containers, wrote each of our names on them in permanent marker, and starting dividing the ice cream evenly between each member of our family. So, every time she bought ice cream it would be divided between the containers before it even went into the freezer. Then we each had to monitor our own ice cream consumption. Once the ice cream in our container was gone, we'd have to wait until she bought more and refilled it to have it again.

You might have thought that this would have solved the problem, but I remember once accusing my sister of stealing mine. I'd waited all week to eat my ice cream and when I opened the container it was half gone. I rounded up both of my sisters and interrogated them until I figured out that it was the youngest one who'd taken the ice cream. On the verge of tears, she said that she'd meant to trade the flavor in her container with the flavor in mine and didn't know what had happened. I said, "I'll tell you what happened, you stole my ice cream." And I was mad at her the rest of the day.

Recalling this story makes me happy that I don't have a bunch of teenage girls. Also, sorry Em for being so ridiculous. We all laugh about the ice cream dividing today. And now as adults, we pretty much only eat ice cream out or bring it into the house for special occasions. I suppose it's best to not bring in something that has the power to tear me, and Roy and Miles apart.

Because of my extreme love for ice cream and really all frozen desserts, I decided that I'd do a whole series dedicated to some of my favorites this summer. Don't worry, most of the treats that I'll post will not require an ice cream maker and for the most part they will be simple. So, to kick off the series, here is an easy yet indulgent treat. It's an amazing and quick chocolate peanut butter sauce from Nigella Lawson.

Ice Cream Sundaes with Chocolate Peanut Butter Sauce

4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use natural peanut butter here)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
Vanilla or chocolate ice cream (or both), or flavor of your choice
Chopped salted peanuts

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the milk chocolate, peanut butter, heavy cream, and corn syrup until smooth. It will take just a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly while you scoop the ice cream. Place 2 scoops of ice cream in a bowl, drizzle desired amount of sauce over, and top with peanuts. Repeat for remaining guests. Serve immediately.

Makes enough sauce to serve 4 - 6 people generously.

Note: You can make the sauce a few days ahead and keep in a glass container in the refrigerator. Reheat in microwave until warm and smooth again.


The Birthday Boy

Miles is two!

His birthday was last week, and I'm still feeling a little bit shocked by the fact that I have a two year old. Time goes by really fast and I've enjoyed this past year with him so much. He continues to get more and more fun so I'm sure age two will have even more funny moments.

Like when I took him for his two year check up, and the doctor asked, "Do you like Snoopy?" because he was wearing a Charlie Brown shirt. Miles enthusiastically replied, "I LOVE Snoopy!"

Or when we read his Spaceships book and he says "fuel tank!" and "rocket booster!" as we look at the pictures. Is it obvious that he has an aerospace engineer for a dad and rockets all over his room?

Or when we're driving in the car and he sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. For some reason he tries to sing it as fast as he can over and over, so it comes out as "TwinkleStarHowYouAreLikeDiamondSkyTwinkleStar!"

Since Miles is no longer allergic to anything I let him look through my Flour cookbook and pick out the cake he wanted me to make. He chose the yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Okay, I may have steered him toward that one, but he was very excited about it.

I'm not going to post that recipe here. But, I did make cupcakes to celebrate with our Bible study later that week. I made chocolate cupcakes and decorated half with vanilla frosting and raspberries and the other half with the chocolate-hazelnut frosting that I've been promising you since last year. So, finally, here is that recipe.

 Chocolate-Hazelnut Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)
Pinch of salt

Mix butter in bowl of stand or hand-held mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds until smooth. Add powdered sugar and cocoa and mix on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Add vanilla, chocolate-hazelnut spread and salt and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy about 4 minutes more.

Makes enough to decoratively pipe 12-14 cupcakes.


Play Time

A few months ago I started making play dough for Miles. We were bored one afternoon, so after a quick internet search and a few minutes of stirring ingredients in a pot, we were rolling snakes, making snowmen and pressing it into car shapes. Since that day Miles asks to play with the dough, or "colors" as he calls it everyday. Now he's advanced. He likes to use my cookie cutters to make star cookies. Stars are also very popular in our house right now.

This morning Miles wanted his play dough right after breakfast. 

Play dough sometimes makes a nice hat.

Or you can even stick it to your cheek if you're in that kind of mood. 
Play Dough

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Food coloring

Mix together the flour, water, salt, oil, and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan. Place over low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until dough forms a ball and stops sticking to the pan. This will take a few minutes. Let cool in pan 1 minute. Then place the dough on counter or cutting board. Apply several drops of food coloring to the dough and knead it in with your hands (be careful as it will still be warm when you first start to knead it). Add more food coloring and continue to knead until you get the desired color.

Store in a plastic bag for several months, or until your little one has pressed too many pieces of dirt, lint, food, etc into it and you decide it's time for a a fresh batch.


Strawberry Jam

Homemade jam is really quite easy. Throw some fruit, sugar and lemon juice into a pot and boil for a while until jam-like. You're done. And you end up with a jam that tastes like fresh, sweet fruit reminiscent of the season in which it was picked.

I stared making jam a few years ago. Before that I had always thought that making jam would be a daunting and time-consuming process. Fortunately, there are two ways to get around that:

First, you don't need to use pectin, the powdered gelling agent, to thicken your jam. Your grandma probably didn't use pectin. Fruit, plus lemon juice, plus sugar, and a long enough boil is all you need to make jam. Using pectin is totally fine (and in fact my brother-in-law made a great strawberry jam last summer using pectin), and doing so will give you a more firm consistency like the jam you buy from the store. But, I like to take a more simple route and just throw the fruit into the pot and get a softly-set jam that is great for spreading on toast, scones or even stealing a spoonful straight from the jar.

Second, canning a big batch of jam is a great way to enjoy your fruit all year long. Most summers I buy big batches of fruit and do just that. But, for a small batch of jam this really isn't necessary.  It can last for several weeks in the fridge, so you can save yourself all the time of the boiling jars, and just and chill it there. I like to store it in 1/2 pint mason jars, but any glass container will work.

Easy Strawberry Jam

3 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
2½ cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a heavy medium pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 90 minutes.

Ladle jam into jars, cover with lids, and screw on bands gently. Allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.

Makes approximately 3½ cups.

Notes: You can purchase with mason jars with the lids and rings at most major grocery stores.  You'll need four half-pint jars to store this jam. Even though you are not preserving this jam I still like to run the jars, lids and rings through the hottest setting on my dishwasher to sterilize them. Store for 2-4 weeks in the refrigerator. 

Here's a bonus recipe. Strawberries generally pair well with basil. And black pepper. And goat cheese. So, I like to combine all three, spread them on toast and top with the jam. It's a yummy and hearty breakfast.

Toast with Basil-Black Pepper-Goat Cheese and Strawberry Jam 

2 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon freshly chopped basil
1 grind black pepper
1 piece of whole-grain bread
Strawberry jam

Toast the bread. While the bread is toasting mash together the goat cheese, milk, basil, and black pepper in a small bowl with a fork. Spread goat cheese mixture on toast. Spread strawberry jam on top.

Serves 1.



Confession: I usually make brownies from a box. Gasp! I know, you think I make everything from scratch and that's mostly true. But the thing is, I actually like brownies from a box better than homemade. I've tried to make brownies from scratch several times because I really want to find THE perfect brownie recipe, but each time I'm disappointed. They come out a little cakey and definitely not chewy enough for me.

Luckily, America's Test Kitchen solved this dilemma for me. (note: I learn so much from that show. You should watch it on your local PBS station if you don't already). They did a show about chocolate a couple of years ago and it featured a chewy brownie recipe. They explained why homemade brownies are not chewy but boxed brownies are. It has to do with the amount of saturated vs unsaturated fat in a brownie. If you've ever made a homemade brownie, you probably used butter (a saturated fat), but if you've made a box brownie you know you use oil (unsaturated). A higher ratio of unsaturated fat is what produces a chewy brownie. You can read more about it here.

So, since watching the show I now use their recipe every time I bake brownies. Whew! Now, I can really say that I do bake everything from scratch. The great thing about this recipe is that it's almost as easy as using a brownie mix. There is no mixer required and it's made in only one bowl.

Well, make that two bowls, if you choose to add this decadent peanut butter filling (and you should). To make the ultimate brownie, I like to add a peanut butter filling that I've been using for a while from Martha Stewart.

The nice part about the recipe I have below is that you can make it as is for the best peanut butter brownies, or you can omit the peanut butter filling and just make the rest of the recipe and you'll have the best chocolate brownies (you may need to reduce baking time by a few minutes). Or, if you are pressed for time, there's no shame in using a boxed brownie mix. Just whip up the peanut butter filling and swirl it into the batter as I've stated below and people will still be thanking you for the great brownies. I like to use Ghirardelli brownie mix as I think it has better chocolate flavor than other grocery store brands.

Peanut Butter Brownies

Brownie Batter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups sugar
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate cut into ½" pieces

Peanut Butter Filling
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (do not use natural peanut butter)
¾ cup confectioners' sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Adjust rack to lowest position in oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch metal baking pan with foil leaving an overhang on all sides (this will help you remove the brownies from the pan later). Spray foil liberally with cooking spray.

Make brownie batter: Whisk cocoa, espresso powder and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk in butter and oil (it's okay if the mixture looks curdled). Whisk in eggs, yolks and vanilla until smooth. Whisk in sugar until incorporated. Whisk in salt. Fold in flour with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in chocolate chips or pieces.

Make peanut butter filling: Whisk together all ingredients until smooth.

Pour half brownie batter into pan. Dollop half of peanut butter filling on top of batter in 12 evenly spaced mounds (no, it doesn't have to be perfect). Pour remaining brownie batter into the pan. Dollop the rest of  the peanut butter filling on top of batter in 12 evenly spaced mounds. Using a butter knife swirl the batter to create a marbleized effect, being sure to gently touch the bottom of the pan to ensure that all the peanut butter is swirled into the batter.

Bake for 30 -35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted halfway between the center and edge of the pan (you can see where I inserted the toothpick in the photo below) comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Let cool in pan on rack for 90 minutes. Using sling, remove brownies from pan and allow to cool in the sling on the rack for another hour. Cut into 24 squares.

Makes 24 brownies.

Notes: Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days. If you use a glass pan instead of a metal pan, remove the brownies from the pan (but keep in sling) 10 minutes after baking otherwise the heat retention of the glass can cause them to over bake.


Snack Time

We eat a lot of yogurt at our house. Everyday when Miles wakes up from his nap he and I both have a yogurt. He gets to choose between blueberry (which he calls "boojew") and strawberry (shaboo). I usually have Greek yogurt. I love that it's so packed with protein - if I have it as an afternoon snack it really tides me over until dinner.

Lately, I've been loving my yogurt with a sprinkle of homemade granola on top. This is a great recipe from Bon Appetit. The nice thing is that you can adapt it anyway you like - switch out the almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds for your favorite nuts, the maple syrup for honey, or the cranberries for another dried fruit.

For me though, I'll have to to stick to the cranberries. Miles loves when he shouts "ceeboo!" and I fish out some cranberries and toss them into his yogurt.


1 large egg white
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup roughly chopped, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup roughly chopped, unsalted pecans
1/2 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut shavings (sometimes called coconut chips)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients except cranberries in a large bowl and stir to combine. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden, stirring every 10 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet. It will crisp as it cools. Mix in cranberries.

Makes approximately 8 cups.

Notes: If you don't have kosher salt, you can use 3/4 teaspoon table salt. Store in air-tight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. 


Happy Valentine's Day

At our house Valentine's Day consists of...absolutely nothing. I know, we're so boring, but the thing is that neither of us cares about Valentine's Day. So, every year it comes and goes with nothing special... except that I do manage to sneak in some sort of chocolate dessert. I mean, come on, it's Valentine's Day, you have to eat something chocolaty! I realize that I sound like a crazy person right now - not caring about Valentine's Day, but also insisting on a chocolate dessert. I guess I just need to get chocolate any time that I can.

It's best to make something simple on Valentine's Day as it most often falls on a weeknight. This year, I think we'll be having the recipe below for chocolate affogato. Affogato is an Italian dessert that is typically made by pouring a shot of warm espresso over a scoop of vanilla gelato, and it's absolutely perfect just like that. I like to take it up a notch though by using chocolate gelato and topping it with softly whipped cream and toasted, slivered almonds. It only takes a few minutes to make so you can easily do it after your kids go to bed.

And, if you're in the mood for a different, but still chocolaty dessert, luckily I have plenty including: chocolate peanut butter toffee cookies, fudge, maple chocolate pecan pie, chocolate zucchini cake, Texas sheet cake, coconut cake with dark chocolate chunks, chocolate caramel treasures, hot chocolate, flourless chocolate peanut butter cookies, banana streusel coffee cake, chocolate crinkle cookies, chocolate pots de creme, chocolate pecan macaroons, and chocolate chip cookies - two ways.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Affogato

1 pint chocolate gelato or good quality ice cream
6 tablespoons hot, freshly brewed espresso
1/4 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons toasted, sliced almonds

Beat the cream, sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Set out two bowls and place two small scoops of gelato into each. Pour 3 tablespoons espresso over each. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with almonds. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.


Good Morning

If you read this blog regularly, you may be under the impression that I sit around eating desserts all day. I wish! No, in reality, while I definitely have a sweet tooth, I also enjoy eating light and healthy. I guess growing up with health conscious parents made a good impression on me. Often the dessert you may have been reading about here was preceded by something like kale and bean soup for dinner.

On Saturday mornings as a kid, sometimes my dad would make us a treat: pancakes. But, we always got whole wheat pancakes via a mix from the health food store. It didn't matter that they weren't the buttermilk pancakes that I ate at my friends' homes after sleepovers. They were delicious, and to this day I still prefer the nutty flavor of whole wheat pancakes over other kinds.

So, when I opened my Whole Living magazine several months ago and saw a recipe for whole grain waffles/pancakes, I knew I had to try it. I've adapted it, and it has become my go-to pancake recipe for the Saturday mornings when we want a departure from cereal.  Since it's fully whole-wheat I even feel okay giving Miles a pancake...without syrup that is, at least for now.

Whole Grain Pancakes

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for coating the pan
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pure maple syrup for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, canola oil, egg, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

Heat a nonstick pan or griddle pan over medium heat. Lightly coat with canola oil. Pour batter in 1/3 cup portions into pan. Cook until the tops of the pancakes begin to bubble and the underside is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes until second side is golden. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Makes approximately 10 three-inch pancakes. 



First rule of blogging: Post often!

I know, I've been totally absent lately. Between traveling and illnesses, I'm not really sure where the month of January went. 

Fortunately, I got back in the swing of things this week and made some cookies. These are the types of cookies you want to keep in your freezer when you need a chocolate fix, and only a warm cookie laced with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and toffee will do. This makes a large enough batch that you'll probably want to freeze a portion of the dough anyway, which is good; you'll be ready when the mood strikes. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup chocolate chips
1 2/3 cups peanut butter chips (a 10 ounce bag)
1/2 cup toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set rack to middle position.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed mix in egg and vanilla until combined. Mix in flour cocoa mixture until combined. Stir in chips and toffee bits.

Place rounded tablespoonfuls on to baking sheets lined with parchment spacing them two inches apart. Bake one tray at a time until the tops of the cookies just begin to crack, about 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes. Then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 40 cookies.

Notes: Store baked cookies in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to three days. Or wrap portions of dough in parchment or waxed paper and freeze in a Ziploc bag for up to three months. When ready to bake thaw overnight in the refrigerator or very briefly in the microwave before continuing with the recipe as directed.  Adapted from Gourmet magazine.