~ "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." ~ "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" ~ "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." ~ "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."~

Monday, April 14, 2014

Apple Pie Cookies... and a gluten-free version.


Apple Pie Cookies... and a gluten-free version. I'm sorry I don't intend on posting too many dessert recipes one after another... but I've had a few sitting in my draft that I should post. So bear with me as I "clean" my draft folder.

If you remember I posted a make-ahead pie crust recipe some time ago... a pie crust you could store in the freezer for future use. Well, I wanted to show you what I ended up doing with half the batch. I made these apple pie cookies last year, for a church Christmas hymn sing, but I'm finally getting around to posting the recipe.

The idea of making apple pie cookies might not be so new, as I'm sure many of you have seen apple pie cookie recipes floating all over the internet. Personally, I've always wanted to make them. I thought they were the cutest of things:).

Since I always make my own pie crust, I ended up using my homemade version, but this recipe can easily made with any pie crust really. You can use a ready-made store bought pie crust, or even use your own pie crust recipe that's special to you... maybe handed down from your mother or grandmother. The recipe I use is an all-butter crust...  which makes for a tender and flaky pastry-like crust.

I love adding a nut filling to my apple pies, as it gives it extra flavor and a bit of texture. It also holds the bottom of the pie crust from getting too soggy. I applied the same idea when making these pie cookies, but you can certainly skip the nut filling if you want... or you can add a bit of caramel.

While you can make simple, round, double-crusted apple pie cookies, I rather like the lattice look. It makes the cookies look a bit more elegant... more pastry-like, rather than cookies. But feel free to make the cookies without the lattice top.

And since I also made a gluten-free version, I thought to post that as well. The lattice for the GF apple pie cookies were quite a bit harder to make. I'd recommend crisscrossing the lattice part, without interweaving them, or even skipping the lattice part completely and using just round pie circles(double-crust). The GF crust is much more fragile... prone to breaking, and giving you a headache:).

Hopefully, the apple pie cookie idea is seen in this post, my intention was not to make it look too complicated:).... because it really isn't.  They're just mini apple pies... flatter... to take on the form of cookies. You'll  have a few scraps from the cutouts, but you can bake them as is, or place the scraps in x-small muffin tins.... makes really good mini "tarts". Of course, you can skip the cutouts and  make one large lattice apple pie cookie. Actually, I thought of  making one large cookie myself... but I'd probably call it an apple pie tart:).... especially if you cut it in wedges. Maybe next time. Hope you enjoy...    

You will need: makes about 20 ( 2-3 inch) apple pie cookies

Ingredients For Making Pie Cookies:

2 pie crusts
apple pie filling
nut filling, or can use a caramel filling
cinnamon, nutmeg sugar
raw sugar crystals
icing, optional
beaten egg for brushing top of pie cookies

Nut Filling: For one regular apple pie cookies recipe. Will need to make another 1/2 of the recipe for a GF version 

1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 TBS brown sugar, or to taste
1 TBS beaten egg
1/8 tsp vanilla

Apple Filling: will need only 1/2 of the filling to make the regular apple pie cookies recipe... can freeze the rest or use the rest to make the GF version below

2 large apples*
1 TBS cornstarch
4- 5 TBS sugar
2-3 TBS lemon meyer juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
* I used 1 large fuji apple + 1 large pink lady apple= 4 1/2- 5 cups sm. dice apples



Directions:

Make Nut Filling:
1. Beat egg, and remove 1 TBS beaten egg and place in a bowl. Reserve the rest of the egg for brushing the top of the cookies.
2. To the 1 TBS beaten egg, add the ground walnuts, brown sugar and vanilla. Combine all ingredients. Set aside. This nut filling makes enough for just the regular pie  cookies, but if you would like to make a gluten-free version, then you will need to make another 1/2 a batch. Set aside.

Make Apple Filling: 
1. Peel and cut apples in small dice pieces( 1/4 inch or so)... you should have about 5 cups.
2. In a medium saucepan, add diced apples, cornstarch, sugar, and cinnamon. Heat on med-low and mix ingredients until combined. Cook, stirring often... till apples slightly soften and thicken. This will take about 10 -12 minutes or so. Taste filling, adjust for sweetness and add the lemon juice. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.


Make Cinnamon Sugar + Icing:
1 TBS sugar+ 1/4 tsp cinnamon+ a few gratings of nutmeg
Powdered sugar+ a bit of water + lemon/vanilla extract to drizzling consistency

Assemble Apple Pie Cookies:
  • Preheat oven to 375 deg F
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

1. Roll out one pie crust to about 12 inches in diameter... or so. 
2. Spread nut filling on bottom of crust... all the way to the edge.
3. Place about 1 cup of the diced apple filling and spread on top of the nut filling. You will have some apple filling leftover. You may freeze the rest for another use,  or use it to make another small batch of GF pie cookies , as I did.
4. Roll out second pie crust to about 12 inches and cut 1/2 inch strips. Place strips in lattice design on top of the apple filling. 
5. Brush lattice top with beaten egg, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, can add a bit of raw coarse sugar as well, if desired.
6. Using a 2 1/2- 3 inch sharp round cookie cutter, cut out cookies... making sure to leave as little a space between cutouts to maximize the number of cookies you get.
7. Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet. With scraps, I like to use a mini muffin tin and bake them... this way I don't waste the scraps and turn them into mini muffin pie scraps.  You can see this in the GF version photos below.
8. Bake in preheated 375 deg F oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden.
9. If you like, you can drizzle some cookies with a powdered sugar icing. 

Gluten- Free Apple Pie Cookies
Note: It is best to keep pie crust cold, as it is difficult to work with if dough is soft. And use a bit of GF flour to dust work surface as you roll out dough.

You will need:

1 GF pie crust recipe, 4 pieces, rolled in 6 inch circles
1 cup diced apple pie filling
1/2 nut filling(recipe above)

Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 deg F
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
1. Cut pie crust in 4 pieces. You will need to work with smaller pieces, as the crust is quite fragile. Roll out one piece of the dough to about 6 inch or so.
2. Spread about 2 tablespoons or so of nut filling on crust, then add about 1/2 cup of apple pie filling and spread it to the edge.
3. Roll out another 6 inch pie crust, cut in strips and form lattice top.... 
Now, I must admit this was quite challenging as the dough breaks easily. I used a knife to lift up the strips and had many broken pieces. In the end it turned out ok. It's doable, but if you want to make it easier, you can opt to cut out small shapes and use those instead or even placing another rolled out crust on top as you would when making regular pies(w/out any lattice work). 
4. Brush top with beaten egg, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, can add a bit of raw coarse sugar as well, if desired.
5. Using a 2 1/2- 3 inch sharp round cookie cutter, cut out cookies... 
6. Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet.
7. Repeat the process with the other 2 pieces. 
8. With scraps, I like to use a mini muffin tin and bake them... this way I don't waste the scraps and turn them into mini muffin pies. 
9. Bake in preheated 375 deg F oven for 15 minutes or so... or until golden.
10. If you like, you can drizzle some cookies with a powdered sugar icing.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Opera Cake... with recipe for joconde almond cake and French/Swiss buttercreams.

Opera Cake... with coffee buttercream, ganache and coffee soaked almond jaconde. I have to caution you before scrolling down... this post is VERY, very long. Probably the longest post ever! 

I debated if I should split the recipe... with a separate post for the different cake parts... the joconde layer, the French buttercream, and the Swiss Meringue buttercream. Because if you wanted to, you could use the individual recipes for other types of desserts. But in the end, I decided to put every part of this cake recipe under one post ... just because I personally like to have everything in one place without having to go back to another part in another post. It would be too complicated that way.   

In any case, this particular cake has been on my mind for a VERY long time! It's a cake we often order when travelling... because when we travel, we don't set too many restrictions on the foods we eat. We really enjoy trying out as many new or different foods as possible... We'll share most times, this way we don't overeat and get sick:). Actually, it's a good thing we don't travel often:). But if we see an Opera cake offered in a bakery, or if it's on the menu, we most likely will order a piece:).

I love to challenge myself from time to time with certain recipes that are a bit more complicated... recipes that include a variety of baking techniques, like making croissants, danish pastry, puff pastry, baguettes, various desserts, etc. But for some reason, I tend to stay away from challenging myself in the cake department. However, I love European desserts.... anything multi-layered will get my attention. This Opera cake has been on my mind for so, so long. Like a really long time.

So one day, when my husband was busy travelling with work, I decided to attempt making the cake... I wanted to surprise for him when he came home. 

When making the Opera cake, I  tried going the traditional route ... however, I ended up making mine with 4 layers, versus the more traditional 3 layered cake. AND I didn't skimp on the butter or eggs... can you believe that:)?! To make me feel better, I did cut the sugar down a tiny, tiny bit:). 

The post is long because I wanted to be detailed a bit, in case some of you might want to try the recipe as well. It's not a complicated recipe, but it is best if you bake the joconde a day before... this way when you make the buttercream and assemble the cake it won't be overly tiring. I'm thinking you can even make the buttercream ahead if you like... just bring it back to room temperature.

This recipe makes quite a bit of cake, so you could easily make a half batch if you like... or you can freeze the rest. And because it is a rich cake, I suggest cutting the cake in small pieces. 

One thing I would like to do next time is to bake the cake layers a but thinner ... maybe similar to the Dobos cake. Oh, and make the chocolate top much, much thinner... because when the chocolate hardens it is really hard to cut through the cake. You want it thin... mine was quite thick, due to me fumbling with the camera and allowing the chocolate to cool down too much, making it harder to spread thinly.  But as it was, my husband really enjoyed the cake:). Another cake crossed off my bucket list:). Hope you enjoy...         

You will need: inspired by Joe Pastry

NOTE:  You will have 6 egg yolks leftover from the joconde... it will be perfect to make a whole batch of the FRENCH buttercream.... and that will be enough buttercream for the whole Opera cake recipe. I ended up making my Opera cake a few days later... so I used up my egg yolks ( didn't want to leave the yolks in the fridge for too long) and made some fresh pasta dough. 

When I finally made my buttercream(s), I ended up using just 3 whole eggs...  with the 3 yolks I made a half batch of the FRENCH buttercream... and with the 3 egg whites I made a half batch of the SWISS meringue buttercream. I figured I'd show you both buttercream techniques... you can choose to use either/or.
  
JOCONDE (Almond sponge cake) 
Note: use scale amounts for better accuracy

6 egg whites ( room temp)
1 ounce(2 TBS) granulated sugar
8 ounces (2 cups) almond flour
8 ounces (2 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
6 large eggs (room temp)
2.5 ounces( 8 TBS) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 ounces (3.5 TBS) melted butter
1.5 oz melted chocolate

COFFEE SYRUP... if you want the cake to be really, really moist, you may want to make another batch(or half a batch). 

1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
3 TBS instant coffee ( I used 1.5 tsp instant + 2.5 TBS ground espresso powder)

CHOCOLATE GANACHE

10 oz semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz heavy whipping cream
1 tsp rum extract(or vanilla), I used rum

FRENCH BUTTERCREAM ( can use all of it for the whole cake... or halve the amount + use 1/2 of the SWISS buttercream). I cut the recipe in half and used it for 1/2 of the cake.  

6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
16 oz butter, room temp.
1 TBS coffee extract + 1 tsp espresso powder (can use instant coffee here to taste) 
1 tsp vanilla

SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM (can use all of it for the whole cake... or halve the amount + use 1/2 of the FRENCH buttercream). I cut the recipe in half and used it for 1/2 of the cake.  

6 egg whites
1/2- 3/4 cup sugar ( I used 1/2 cup)
16 oz butter, room temp.
1 TBS coffee extract+1 tsp espresso powder
 1/2 tsp rum extract + 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (can use all vanilla)

CHOCOLATE GLAZE

6 oz chocolate, melted
1 oz melted butter

********************************************  

Directions:

JOCONDE:
  • I like to bake the cake a day before assembling.
  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Line 1 or 2 sheet pans (jelly roll pans 13x17 inches) with parchment and brush with melted butter. 
~NOTE: If baking joconde in 1 pan, you will need to split the cake in two. I baked mine in one pan and cut the layers in 2. BUT you can bake the cake in 2 pans and not have to deal with splitting the cake. Baking time will differ by a few minutes. 

~Gather your ingredients, weigh each one... and allow ingredients to get to room temperature before starting.

1. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the egg whites to soft peaks... about 1 minute on high speed.  Add the sugar, and continue to whip until you get stiff peaks.... another 30 seconds to 1 minute on high speed. 
2. Remove meringue into another bowl.
3. Wash, clean and dry mixer bowl. 
4. Add eggs, almond flour and powdered sugar  to mixer bowl whip on medium/high until light and increased in volume... about 3 minutes. 
5. Sift the flour over almond egg mixture. Fold the flour in until it just disappears.
6. Add 1/4 of the reserved meringue and mix in. Gently fold the rest of the meringue in 3 subsequent batches. 
7. Remove 1/4 cup of the batter and mix with melted butter. Pour this over the rest of the cake batter and gently fold it in.
8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans ( or 1 pan like I did)... spreading it as evenly as possible over the two pans... or the single pan.

 9. Bake for 5-7 minutes ( if using 2 pans)... or about 8-10 minutes if using 1 pan.... until the cake is lightly browned. 
10. Remove from the oven and place the pan(s) on a cooling rack. Cover cake with a sheet of parchment, then flip the pan over. Carefully peel off the baked layer of parchment, then turn the cake over and allow to cool completely. 
11. If baking only one sheet, then cut cake layer in 2, width wise(short side). Using a very long serrated knife split(cut) the cake pieces in 2 horizontally.... this will give you 4 cake layers that are about 8x11.5 inches.... and about 1/2 inch thick.
If freezing, wrap cake layers tightly with plastic wrap, making sure you place a piece of parchment paper between layers so the cakes don't stick together. The cake layers can be frozen for up to a month. 

COFFEE SYRUP
Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan, add water, sugar, and coffee. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat off.
2. Allow to cool completely. Set aside. 

CHOCOLATE GANACHE
Directions:
1. Place cream in a medium sauce pan. Bring cream to a simmer, turn heat off and add chocolate. 
2. Allow chocolate to sit in the hot cream for 3-5 minutes.
3. Whisk chocolate ganache until smooth and add rum extract... or vanilla to taste. Set aside to cool and thicken, until you can easily spread it. I left mine at room temperature for a few hours.... so it thickened to a frosting consistency. 
FRENCH BUTTERCREAM: ( I ended up making half the amount (for one set of cake)... using only 3 egg yolks)

Directions:
1. Place your room temperature yolks in a mixer  bowl. Using the whisk, whip the yolks for five minutes on high speed... or until they appear light in color and a bit foamy.
2. In the meantime, while the mixer is going... make sugar syrup. 
3. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan with a spout ( if you have one). Heat syrup to 248 degrees F. If you don't have a saucepan with a spout, then immediately pour the syrup into a pyrex measuring cup with a spout. 
4. With the motor off, start drizzling the syrup into the yolks a little at a time, then whip the mixture for a bit on low(gently)... so as not to splatter it all onto the sides of the bowl, as it will harden and make sugar threads. Then drizzle a little more of the sugar syrup, run the machine a little, stop, drizzle... and repeat until all the syrup is incorporated. Whip the yellow egg foam until it’s cool to about room temperature.
5. When egg foam is cooled, start adding your butter, a piece or two at a time until it’s all in. Add the coffee extract, espresso powder and vanilla.

SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM ( I ended up making half the amount (for one set of cake)... using only 3 egg whites)

Directions:
1. Place the egg whites and sugar in a large metal or glass bowl (can use your mixer bowl). 
2. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and whisk, continuously, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture looks opaque.... around 160 deg F.  
3. Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer it to your mixing bowl...  only if you've used another bowl. 
4. Whip on high speed until completely cooled and meringue is at a medium soft peak. Add coffee extract, espresso, rum and vanilla. 
5. Whip in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until thick and fluffy. If it begins to look curdled (it probably will), continue to whip until it comes back together...  then add in the remaining butter. This process took close to 10- 15 minutes... don't fret if the mixture starts out looking curdled... the longer you beat it, the quicker it will come out smooth and silky.

ASSEMBLE OPERA CAKE

Directions: 
1. Melt 1.5 oz of chocolate until fluid... then take one cake layer, which will be your bottom layer for the Opera, and spread a thin coating of melted chocolate all over all the way to the edges. Place chocolate side down unto a piece of parchment paper. 
Note: The chocolate on the bottom layer will help the joconde cake to release and not stick later on when you cut the assembled Opera cake... it makes it really nice to lift the cake pieces from the plate without any cake pieces being stuck. 
2. Allow chocolate to cool and harden, then remove parchment paper and  cut cake layer in 2 ... to yield 2 pieces that are about 8x11.5 inches. 
3. Cut the rest of the cake layers to the same size. You will have 2 sets of 4 cake layers that are about 8x11.5 inches.
4. Place a piece of parchment paper(or foil) on large plate or tray that is big enough to hold the cake layers flat and leveled. You could use a plastic/wooden board as well.  
5. Working with 1 set of cake layers(4), place the chocolate covered cake layer on the parchment lined plate... chocolate side down.
6. Using a pastry brush soak cake layer with some of the coffee syrup... making sure all the layer brushed well. 
NOTE: Make sure you divide the syrup( I sort of eyeballed it) so you have plenty to go around for all 8 cake layers (both sets)... you don't want one cake layer to be overly saturated while one is barely soaked. 
7. Place about 3/4 cup of the buttercream unto the soaked cake layer... and using an offset spatula spread buttercream evenly to the edges of the cake.... making sure the buttercream is as level as you can get it to be. 
8. Add a second layer of cake, soak with coffee syrup and add about 1/4 cup of the chocolate ganache (which has thickened and is spreadable). Spread ganache evenly to the edges.
9. Add a third layer of cake, soak with coffee syrup and add another 3/4 cup of coffee buttercream, spreading the buttercream evenly to the edges.
10. Add the last layer(4th) of cake, soak with coffee syrup and spread a VERY thin layer of ganache,..  this is just to smooth out the cake layer to an even and smooth surface... so it will be ready for the melted chocolate glaze. Place in the fridge to chill and harden.
11. Repeat process with the second set of cake layers....
Note: you may have some buttercream and ganache leftover, just freeze those for another use.
CHOCOLATE GLAZE... to be made only after both sets of cakes have been layered and refrigerated.

Directions:
1. Melt chocolate and whisk in melted butter. Spread about half  the chocolate glaze on one set of cakes, Using an offset spatula, carefully spread the melted chocolates evenly over the entire surface, working quickly so that the chocolate doesn't harden( I left my chocolate to cool down a bit and it is a bit harder to spread cleanly)... try not to go over it too much with the spatula, so it stays shiny.
2. Repeat the process with the second cake and spreading most of the remaining chocolate glaze you .. you probably won't use all of the glaze. I reserved some and placed it in a small sandwich bag to use for the top decoration( writing out the OPERA name, you could do whatever decoration you like, a music note, a few lines, etc... or you could add an edible gold leaf).
3. Using a long sharp knife trim the edges of the cake.
4. Allow the chocolate glaze to set a little, and then using a knife, score the cake in whatever size pieces you want. Write the Opera word, if desired, with the chocolate glaze or any other melted chocolate (can use white chocolate), or decorate as desired. Repeat the process with the second set of cake.
5. Place Opera cake in the fridge to chill further... the cake is easier  to cut when buttercream is chilled and layers are set. The top chocolate glaze will harden, but you can use a sharp knife dipped in hot water (then wiped) for an easier and cleaner cut.  Wipe knife between every cut. The opera cake is always best after several hours (overnight is best)... 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cornflake-Crusted Baked Chicken

Cornflake-Crusted Baked Chicken. Sometimes I crave a good fried chicken. You know, the kind with the crunchy battered crust. I'll be honest, I don't remember the last time I had a good 'ol fashioned fried chicken. Not the healthiest of things... but tasty-good nonetheless:). 

So I set out to mimic the fried chicken somewhat... I say somewhat, because I ended baking my chicken. I decided to use a cornflake-panko crust rather than a flour based, just so the crust would have that extra crunch. 

And even though I ended up using boneless chicken (it's what I had in the house at the moment), I much prefer the bone-in chicken as it keeps the meat juicier and doesn't dry out as fast. The boneless works too, though you'll need to watch the baking time, so as not to over bake the chicken.

The spices were something I sort of grabbed from my pantry, but I loved the flavors. You can easily adjust the salt to  taste. I found the salt I used was minimal, but maybe it was better that way:).

While the fried chicken has a crispier topping, the baked version manages to get some crunch (from the cornflakes) without the need to fry. I ended up processing my cornflakes in the food processor... making the crumbs quite small.... letting the processor go too long(!). But if you just crush the cornflakes with a mallet, you'll get a a more scraggly sort of crust with a bit more texture.... reminiscent of the fried version. It's probably a better way to go about it:). 

Oh, and if you have a baking rack with large open grid space, use that instead...there will be more airflow around the chicken= crispier crust. It would be better than what I used:).  In any case, we enjoyed this somewhat healthier version... great with any sauce you like. Hope you enjoy...

Note: While this chicken is not gluten-free, you can opt to substitute the panko for extra cornflakes, or use a GF panko to make it  totally GF. 

Tip: You can make this ahead by marinating  the chicken in the buttermilk mixture... and combining the dry ingredients in a zipper-lock bag (all but the oil) the night before. When  ready to bake,  heat the oven, toss the crumb mixture with oil, coat the chicken, and bake.

You will need: 

6 chicken breasts (you can use bone-in, or even dark meat)
1 1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk and some plain yoghurt mixed)
2 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika, or to taste
2 tsps onion powder

Crumbs:
2 1/2 cup corn flakes (I used unsweetened)
3/4 cup plain panko bread crumbs
1 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
salt/pepper to taste

Moisten Crumbs with:
2 TBS oil

extra oil as needed to brush wire rack

Directions:

1. Whisk buttermilk(or milk with yoghurt), salt, pepper,  paprika and onion powder  together in large bowl. Add chicken, turn to coat well, cover, and refrigerate at least  a few hours... preferably overnight. 
  • Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position
  •  Heat oven to 400 degrees F. 
  • Set wire rack on rimmed baking sheet and coat rack with oil.  (I used a broiler rack with minimal airflow, but if you have a traditional cooling type of rack with wide open grids, use that instead...  as you want to have enough airflow go around the chicken for maximum crispness)
1 Process  crumb mixture in a food processor for  just a few seconds...  until crumbs are  medium sized.

Note: I processed mine a bit much, made finer crumbs, but I think it would be better if cornflakes are crushed by hand and mixed with the rest of the ingredients to get a coarser crust. Though if you like a finer crumb, you may do as I did:)

If crushing corn flakes by hand,  place cornflakes in a ziploc bag and run a rolling pin gently over them, then mix the corn flakes, bread crumbs, and spices in a shallow dish until combined. 

2. Drizzle  2 TBS oil over crumbs and toss until well coated. 

3. Remove one piece of chicken at a time from marinade and dredge in crumb mixture, firmly pressing  the crumbs  to adhere on all sides of chicken. 

4. Place chicken on prepared  oiled rack... hopefully you have a better rack than I do:).  

5. Bake until chicken is deep golden brown, juices run clear 20-45 minutes or so.... just check because boneless chicken breast bakes quicker than bone-in or dark meat. Just try not to over bake and dry out the chicken.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Chocolate Covered Figs... easy and healthy.

Chocolate Covered Figs... as a snack or perfect for gift giving. I think the title of this recipe is all the information one needs to make these delicious treats.  There's nothing complicated in this recipe... well, as long as the chocolate doesn't burn in the melting process:). 

In any case, I thought to share with you a simple recipe... I feel as I don't have too many quick and simple recipes here on this site:).... and I have a recipe I'll be posting soon that will probably take the prize for the longest recipe ever. But for now, this one is definitely uncomplicated...  quick and simple! It's great as a snack, a breakfast treat, placed next to a fancy dessert.... or simply given out as gifts, all wrapped up nicely.

Last week  while on a weekend drive out of town, my husband and I stopped at a CO-OP. Love the CO-OP... because you can feel like a kid again.... it's where you can pick all sorts of treats from a variety of bins and you don't feel bad about your selection. It's usually healthy:). So both my husband and I picked out our favorite treats... dried figs for my husband... and chocolate for me:).  

When we got home, we snacked on the figs and chocolate... found out that chocolate and figs taste incredibly well together. So the next day, I put the 2 flavors together and made these little treats.  I left them simple... just chocolate and figs, but you can easily add some chopped nuts to the dipped chocolate base, or even dried coconut. I think green pistachios would bring a nice bright pop of color. 

If you're looking to add an edible treat to brighten up a gift basket or cookie plate, you might want to try these simple chocolate covered figs. They are gluten-free... and you can use a good chocolate to make them free of most allergens. Hope you enjoy...  

You will need: you can make a few or as many as you like

dried calimyrna figs
melted chocolate

Optional:
chopped nuts
dried coconut 

Directions:

1. Melt chocolate... either in a double boiler or the microwave in 30 second increments.
2. Dip dried figs in chocolate.... and if you like, in chopped nuts or coconut. 
3. Place dipped figs on a plastic lined plate ... or parchment lined plate and allow chocolate to harden in the fridge (if chocolate isn't tempered). 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Chia Seed Pudding... Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free

Chia Seed Pudding (No-Cook)... Dairy-Free. When I made the Brazilian-style shrimp stew recently, I ended up having quite a bit of cashew milk leftover. Since I had a big bag of chia seeds in my fridge, I decided on the spur of the moment to turn the nut milk into a quick and healthy dessert... a pudding that could double up as a snack or breakfast item.   

This is a simple, no-cook type of pudding and it happens to be gluten-free and dairy free. A pudding that's great all year round( I can only imagine how nice this could be during the summer months with fresh fruits)... and is adaptable to a wide variety of toppings or add-ins. I used cashew milk, but you can use whatever milk you like... even a combination of milks.

For my version I chose to go with  middle eastern flavors... and really enjoyed it. I know chia seed puddings aren't something new, but I thought to share this recipe, last minute, in case some of you have never tried it. Hope you enjoy...    

You will need:

2 cups cashew milk (can use almond milk, coconut milk or milk of choice)*
1/4 cup honey, to taste (or other sweetener of choice)
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamon, optional
a few gratings of orange peel (or citrus of choice)
1/3 cup chia seeds, can use a bit more if you want it much thicker
vanilla, I didn't use, but it would be great

*to make nut milk, soak nuts(if desired overnight) add 1 cup nuts to about 3 cups water, blend till smooth and creamy

Toppings and extra sweetener of choice, if needed:

*dried chopped fruit~ dates, raisins, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, apricots, etc
*chopped nuts~ walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, toasted coconut flakes, etc
*maple syrup, honey

Other ideas~ chopped chocolate, cacao powder, fresh fruits

Directions:

1. Combine nut milk with honey ( or sweetener of choice) until  honey is dissolved. 
2. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel. Stir to combine.
3. Sprinkle chia seeds over milk and whisk  to combine well.
4. Place chia seed milk mixture in fridge for a few hours till thickened... preferably overnight.  
5. Add any toppings of choice... you can layer the pudding with toppings for a pretty presentation.... and add extra sweetener if desired.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brazilian-style Shrimp Soup/Stew...

Brazilian-style Shrimp Soup/Stew... with onion, peppers, tomatoes and rice. Not too long ago, a reader(Yung) recently commented on my Spanish Marmitako dish and shared with me her tip for adding some coconut milk to the stew to make it creamy. I loved her suggestion, as variations to the dishes I post are always, always welcome... I really enjoy hearing from all my readers when they have a tip or suggestion, it makes me learn as well:). In any case, the comment had instantly reminded me of a Brazilian dish which uses coconut milk ... and it's somewhat similar to the Marmitako I made recently. So I thank Yung for her suggestion... because I made the Brazilian dish not too long after :)!

I thought to share this Brazilian-style dish as well... only because it's quite simple to prepare and it can come together in no time at all. If you have a few ingredients you can make a dish that's quite healthy, filling.... and it's gluten-free as well. The only thing that made this dish more of Brazilian-style, (emphasize the style) is that I substituted the usual coconut milk for cashew milk. Now, you can easily sub in the coconut  milk if you like... I just didn't have it on hand, as I don't normally buy canned coconut milk( but I'm wanting to one day... for the mere fact of making some whipped coconut frosting:)). The coconut milk will definitely make the soup more creamy than the cashew milk... but it's good with the cashew milk as well.

Now, I always like to quickly brine my frozen seafood, but you can easily skip the brining if you like... just season the shrimp with a bit of salt/pepper and proceed with the recipe. While I used only a couple of garlic cloves, you can definitely increase amount if you like more garlic. This dish was a welcome meal on a cold rainy day. Hope you enjoy... 

Note: The soup will thicken as it sits... the rice will absorb some of the liquid...  and will make a stew-like dish.

Tip: The soup can easily be eaten without the acidity... it will taste more like a seafood chowder... but the lemon juice brightens the dish and makes it taste "alive" .  

You will need: inspired by Epicurious

Cashew Milk :  need only 1 cup for this dish,  this amount makes more than enough, so opt to freeze the rest... or use some coconut milk instead... or you can even scale down the recipe.

1 cup raw cashew pieces
3 cups water

Shrimp Brine

5 cups water
2 TBS kosher salt
1 pound medium (26 count) frozen raw shrimp

Soup Base:

1 onion chopped fine
1 bell pepper chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, grated (can use more if you like)
2 TBS chill olive oil (can use regular)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cups crushed canned tomatoes (I used whole in juice and processed)
4 cups water
1 cup cashew milk from above, or use coconut milk
1 lb brined shrimp from above, cut  in pieces if too big
1-2 TBS lemon juice or to taste ( I used meyer lemon, can also use lime)

Topping:

chopped green onion/ parsley/cilantro, etc.
drizzle of olive oil

Directions:
Make cashew milk... this step can be skipped if using coconut milk.
1. Soak cashews in water  while getting everything ready. Can soak overnight or soak for a few hours.... if not in a hurry:). 
2. In a blender( I used  my Vitamix ), place soaked cashew, add water and blend until smooth and milky in texture... a couple of minutes or so. 
3. Remove 1 cup and set aside... freeze the rest in small batches (or use in other dishes, smoothies, etc).


Brine Shrimp: Can be skipped as well, though brining makes the shrimp taste great as well as makes them plump and juicy. If you don't want to brine, season shrimp with a bit of salt and pepper and set aside. 
1. Dissolve salt in water, add frozen shrimp(with shell on) and allow to sit in brine for about 30 minutes or so... the shrimp will defrost almost completely, if it is still frozen,  you can start to clean the shrimp, removing shell and deveining... by the end of the cleaning, the shrimp should have defrosted completely. Set aside.

Note: if using deveined shrimp that has already been cleaned, allow to sit in the brine no longer than 20 minutes as the brine will penetrate the shrimp much quicker.  

2. Process the canned tomatoes to a puree.... I used a large 28 oz can and had leftover, but you can use a smaller can. Remove puree and set aside 1 1/2 cups. 
3. Chop onion, and bell pepper. 
4. Heat oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Add chopped onion, chopped bell pepper and garlic. Stir to combine and season with about 1 tsp kosher salt.
5. Saute vegetables for 10-15 minutes... stirring often so as not to burn. Lower heat if necessary. 
6. Add rice and saute for another minute or so. Then stir in crushed tomato.
7. Add about 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover with lid lower heat to a simmer. Cook for 12-15 minutes or so.... or until rice is almost done. Yo don't want the rice to be too mushy.
8. Add milk (cashew or coconut) and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Note: The picture shows I added the milk and shrimp at the same time, I plumb forgot as I was taking the pictures to add the milk first... but do add milk first:). 

9. Add shrimp and cook for another minute or so, then turn heat off... the residual heat will continue to cook the shrimp. 
10. Add lemon juice(or lime) to taste and top with fresh green onion and/or parsley/cilantro.