Friday, April 29, 2011

no bake cheesecake

So I've just returned from Ottawa, Canada (for work not play) and before I left my hubby for a few days, I made him his most favorite dessert. AND since I'm feeling a bit peckish and there's a tiny piece left in the frig I'll have to munch it down to give me some energy to get through the rest of the afternoon.....

In a pinch the Jello-O brand cheesecake is just OK......THIS no bake cheesecake is more than OK, it's deeeeeelicious!!!

I'm a food tv junkie, food blog stalker and a life-long subscriber to many food related mags. I LOVE FOOD!!! And I particularly LOVE "fresh, quick and simple" recipes. I know I've posted about a few semi-difficult ones, but I just LOVE the simplicity of some of Nigella Lawson's dishes that this one I just had to share. She is the ultimate "queen of food porn". Not to mention she's pretty gorgeous too......She is neither a trained chef nor cook but a food writer and journalist and can write and describe food as if you're actually sitting down and eating it. So let's hear it.....

No Bake Cheesecake
via Nigella's website

***In honor of the Will & Kate's Royal Wedding today, please read the following with your best British accent***

This is not the trad baked cheesecake that requires patience and lots of spare time. No, this is fresh, quick, simple and - best of all - irresistibly scrumptious!

Even in the spirit of retro-accuracy, please do not be tempted to open up a jar of cherry pie filling over the cake. I use some French cherry concoction that seems to be pretty universally available and has no added sugar, but anything labeled "conserve" as opposed to "jam" should be safe. And, if you feel like it, when cherries are in season, strew the top with a couple of handfuls of beautiful fruit.  

Serves 6 - 8
125 grams digestive biscuits OR 1/3 of a box of graham crackers (1 package of 9 whole crackers)
75 grams soft unsalted butter OR 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter
300 grams cream cheese OR 10 ounces cream cheese
60 grams icing sugar OR 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
250 milliliters double cream OR 1 cup heavy cream

1 - 284 grams jar of St. Dalfour Rhapsodie de Fruit Black Cherry Spread ***As I said earlier, blueberry cheesecake is my husband's favorite dessert, so I make a blueberry topping instead***See below for recipe***

Blitz the biscuits/graham crackers with a pinch of salt in a food processor until beginning to turn to crumbs, then add the butter and whiz again to make the mixture clump.

Press this mixture into a 20cm (8-inch) spring-form tin; press a little up the sides to form a slight edge.

Beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar (powdered sugar), vanilla extract and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth.

Lightly whip the double cream (heavy cream), and then fold it into the cream cheese mixture,

Spoon the cheesecake filling on top of the biscuit (graham) base and smooth with a spatula. Put in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, release it from it's pan and spread the black cherry jam over the top.

Blueberry compote
3 cups blueberries - fresh or frozen
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Over medium-high heat, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer, 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool and refrigerate.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

sylvie & june

Meet Sylvie & June.....

June was born a little over a month ago and I just don't have a free moment to hold that little love bug. I know June is a little young for sugar cookies, but I'm sure  she won't mind sharing them with her parents. And since you can never ignore the first born, her older sister Sylvie had to have a little cookie action of her very own. 

We can't wait to meet you June Penelope!!! XOXOXO

coconut macaroons

drizzled with bittersweet chocolate 

or with an almond and half dipped

I really do LOVE anything made with coconut!!! So while spending a long and rainy weekend on the tip of Cape Cod my very good friend offered to make me a sweet and special treat. And a sweet and special treat it was indeed!!!

A good coconut macaroon recipe is hard to find. Some have egg whites in them and some call for unsweetened coconut. Well, this recipe is GREAT and it calls for neither. These macaroons are chewy on the inside and have a similar texture to a Mounds candy bar and flavor profile of an Almond Joy.

I love sharing easy recipes as well as receiving them. I'm not entirely sure where my friend got this recipe, but let's just say the person's initials are JZ. And no it's not that Jay-Z.....

Coconut Macaroons
yields 90 

2 (14 oz.) packages of sweetened coconut ***my friend and I both used Baker's Angel Flake Coconut***
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt ***Do not use regular table salt. But if that's all you have, cut the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. This was NOT in the original recipe and it's my own touch, but salt always enhances sweet things***
whole toasted almonds ***optional*** 
1 (12 oz.) bag of bittersweet chocolate

***Before you dump everything in a bowl, you may want to consider doing the following step. It's not needed, but if you want to cut "some" of the sugar out of this recipe, then do it!***

Preheat oven to 250˚.
Dump one (14 oz.) bag of coconut in a mesh strainer or colander. Run water over the flakes to wash off the majority of the sugar. Press out any excess water or spin dry in a salad spinner. Spread out onto rimmed cookie sheet and dry out in the oven, 20 - 30 minutes or until the flakes are dry, but not browned. Once dried, remove from oven and cool completely.

So why don't you use unsweetened coconut???
I love the chewy texture you get from "sweetened" coconut but not all the sugar. Even though you wash off most of the sugar and dry it in the oven, the process doesn't affect it's chewy texture.

Turn up your oven to 325˚. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Toast and cool almonds if using. Combine all of the ingredients (except almonds and chocolate) in a large bowl. With a rubber spatula, mix thoroughly to combine. Using a 1 1/2 inch diameter scoop, scoop macaroons onto parchment lined baking sheets. Space macaroons 1 inch apart. They will not spread. Top macaroons with an almond before placing them into the oven. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until set and some flakes have browned slightly. Completely cool on wire racks before dipping or drizzling.

Over a pot of simmering water, melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Remove bowl from heat and stir until cooled a bit, thick and glossy. I use Ghiradelli chocolate and their website has a "how to" on how to temper chocolate. Or use the microwave technique. ***I realize most of you won't want to temper your chocolate. I don't blame you. It's quite a process and if you mess it up, it's not pretty. But if you're up for a challenge, I challenge you.***

Dip or drizzle your macaroons and place on a clean parchment lined baking sheet. If you've decided to temper your chocolate, leave the macaroons at room temperature. If done properly, chocolate will "set". But if you're in a rush and need to "set" them, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Do not do this for long. Condensation builds up on the outside of the chocolate and dots will appear on the surface. Your chocolate dipped macaroons will look like they have an illness......There could be many reasons why your chocolate will look "ill" but not to worry, it all tastes the same.

The following two images are taken from the same sheet of half-dipped macaroons. The first image are the first macaroons I dipped after tempering the chocolate. These have set and the chocolate coating is firm. I feel comfortable sharing these for Easter.

These macaroons were dipped from the same batch of tempered chocolate, but the chocolate has cooled down considerably and some sort of moisture has gotten to it. This is what chocolate looks like when it has "bloomed". This will definitely happen if you place your chocolate dipped macaroons into the refrigerator. Again, not-so-pretty but still delicious. These macaroons will make it as far as to our bellies at home.

I am by no means a chocolatier, so don't judge.......

Friday, April 22, 2011

poppies & honey bees

I was immediately inspired to recreate these poppies from the latest issue of Martha Stewart's Living magazine, May 2011. Luckily one of my best friends called in a special order for a floral designer, which I feel these poppies are perfect for her and even more perfect to welcome Spring!!!

Since I was already baking and decorating, these honey bees and hives were just begging to be made. Especially when you want to send someone a special treat.....

I know what you're probably thinking....."Those look like bumble bees".....Work with me people. These were just too darn cute NOT to make them a combo......

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

thin & crispy chocolate chip cookies...sandwiched with buttercream

So I decided to make these again because I'm seeing my friend who turned me onto this combo tomorrow AND because "the thin" is my new chocolate chip cookie love.

This time around I used a smaller scoop, which yielded 90 cookies. Yes, 90!!! And then I sandwiched them with an incredibly sweet vanilla buttercream filling.

I won't bother you by reposting the recipe, but in case you're lost, just follow the "recipe" link.....

What you'll need:

- this recipe
- 1 1/4 inch diameter cookie scoop ***for scooping cookies***
-  vanilla buttercream ***see recipe below***

Vanilla Buttercream Filling
Thanks again, MS, for providing me with this recipe. Makes almost enough to fill 2 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and beat in confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down side of bowl as necessary, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat until smooth. Filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days; return to room temperature and stir until smooth before using.

Sandwich cookies with heaping teaspoons (or more) of vanilla buttercream filling. Place in the refrigerator to firm up. Sandwich cookies can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

a bun(ny) in the oven

Hippity-hoppity Easter IS on it's way as well as a baby CROMLETTE. My close friend Sarah and her husband Chris, of CROM Martial Training, are expecting their first child together this summer. I had to miss the baby shower today but I wanted to be there in spirit, so I sent these colorful bunny cookies in honor of their bun(ny) in the oven.

Sarah, Chris and Jube.....I can hardly wait to meet the newest addition to the Romulo clan!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

thin & crispy chocolate chip cookies

So I actually thought I was just a chewy-on-the-inside chocolate chip cookie lover.......I am not!
I have a new found love for the thin and crispy!!! 

Thanks to Tom Colicchio's, 'wichcraft, in West Chelsea's Tunnel, where I've eaten many of these delicious sandwich cookies. I usually go for their peanut butter or oatmeal sandwich cookie until my beautiful friend, Sarah, proclaimed how much she loved the chocolate chip cookie ones. And she was right....The chocolate chip sandwich cookies are da bomb!!! 

I haven't decided what I'm gonna "sandwich" these babies with, but when I do.....That will be another post. 

The Thin and Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookie
This is Alton Brown's recipe

It was an absolutely gorgeous day (and still is as I type) that I was crazy enough to turn on my oven and bake cookies. It was also an ice cream sandwich kind of day.......

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 ounces milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter @ room temp
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips ***I substituted mini chips here***


Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Combine the egg, milk, and vanilla and bring to room temperature in another bowl.
Cream the butter in the mixer's work bowl, starting on low speed to soften the butter. Add the sugars. Increase the speed, and cream the mixture until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the egg mixture slowly. Increase the speed and mix until well combined.
Slowly add the flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. ***AB uses a large cookie scoop here. I used a much smaller one, 1 1/2 inch diameter*** Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for more even browning. ***I definitely baked mine for 13 minutes, rotating halfway through baking***
Remove the cookies from the pans immediately. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

olive bites

So..........I watch and read A LOT of food porn. Many (myself included) are thankful that I do because I come across some REALLY tasty recipes. This time was no exception. I usually post about sweet things, but today I'm gonna highlight something savory. After all, these are wrapped in some sort of "dough".

These warm bites of savory goodness are courtesy of Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix show on The Food Network. After reading some of the reviews, I tweaked the recipe slightly and used my own chef techniques. Even though the original recipe calls for only 5 ingredients, it doesn't hurt by adding in a couple more. 
***See my notes within the recipe***

Olive Bites
makes 15 - 20 bites

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
***I added a heavy pinch of freshly cracked black pepper and Hungarian smoked paprika, but add whatever spices that will float your boat***
5 tablespoons unsalted butter ***cold and cut into 1/2 inch cubes***
1/3 cup grated Cheddar ***I didn't have Cheddar, but I did have Emmentaler which tasted absolutely delicious!***
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
20 olives stuffed with pimientos - drained and dried on paper towels
***if needed, 1 - 2 teaspoons heavy cream or water***

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour (and spices if using) and butter until the mixture resemble bread crumbs. ***I rubbed the flour with the butter using my fingertips, but you can use a fork or pastry blender*** Mix in the Cheddar and Parmesan or whatever combo of cheeses you're using. ***If the mixture seems dry, sprinkle in 1 -2 teaspoons of heavy cream or water*** Form it into a small disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

Unwrap the dough, take a small piece and cover an olive, making sure the pastry surrounds the olive and there are no gaps. ***I did my own thing here and rolled out the dough between a sheet of parchment paper and my recently-used plastic wrap. I rolled it pretty thin, but thick enough so that I completely covered my olive. My olives were also on the larger side and I was only able to get 15 bites*** Flour your hands and roll the olive-encased pastry into a ball; put it on an ungreased baking sheet.  ***I lined my sheet with parchment paper for faster and easy clean-up*** Repeat the process with the remaining pastry and olives. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (Can be made a day ahead and held in refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Put the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake until the pastries are light golden, about 10 minutes. ***I baked mine for 13 minutes*** Remove the bites from the oven and serve warm.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

better bran muffins

Bran muffins are NOT my usual go to breakfast item when I'm staring into a pastry case. My first picks seem to be an almond or chocolate croissant or even a multi-grain bagel if I'm thinking about being healthy.

So I'm a food person and I also attract others who LOVE food and I LOVE THAT! Since Spring has sprung (well, kinda), my girlfriends and I are trying to head down a more healthier track and get our bodies ready for swimsuit season. Don't get me wrong, we eat healthy, but we also like to indulge in a not-so-friendly treat.  

These bran muffins do have their fare share of brown sugar in them, but they also have a substantial amount of bran and whole wheat in them that you'll feel like you're getting a healthy start to your morning.

Better Bran Muffins
This recipe comes from one of my favorite food mags Cook's Illustrated.
These are "better" bran muffins! Moist and full of flavor. Not your dry and tasteless bran muffins that are wrapped in plastic and can be found at the local deli around the corner.  

1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries, cherries or blueberries)
1 teaspoon water
2 1/4 cups (5 ounces) All-Bran Original cereal ***this cereal looks like "twigs"***
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons mild molasses (or light)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), melted and cooled
1 3/4 cup whole-milk yogurt ***you can substitute non or low fat yogurt here, but the muffins will be less flavorful***

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400˚. Spray a standard-sized muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. ***I used my new "tulip" paper liners, but you can use just ordinary paper liners. I also think you might be able to squeeze 18 muffins out of this recipe if your muffin cups seem small. My tulip liners stood way above the muffin cup which held the batter in. Be careful not to overfill your cups or you might have a big mess*** Combine raisins and water in a small microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, poke several steam vents in plastic with a paring knife, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand, covered, until raisins are softened and plump, about 5 minutes. Transfer raisins to paper towel-lined plate to cool.

Process half of the bran cereal in a food processor until finely ground, about 1 minute. Whisk flours, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to combine; set aside. Whisk egg and yolk together in a medium bowl until well-combined and light colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar, molasses, and vanilla; whisk until mixture is thick, about 30 seconds. Add melted butter and whisk to combine; and yogurt and whisk to combine. Stir in processed cereal and unprocessed cereal; let mixture sit until cereal is evenly moistened (there will still be some small lumps), about 5 minutes.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and gently mix with a rubber spatula until batter is combined and evenly moistened. Do not overmix. Gently fold raisins into batter. Using 1/3-cup measure or ice cream scoop, divide evenly among muffin cups, dropping batter to form mounds. Do not level or flatten surfaces of mounds. 

Bake until muffins are dark golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 16 to 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. ***Most ovens are funky, so I baked mine for 25 minutes***  Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

***I didn't love the raisins in these muffins. I've said it before, they are not my faves.....Next time I'm gonna try dried cherries of even blueberries***