Posts filed under ‘chocolate’

Brownies & Broomsticks – a tasty book review

Well, I’ve been meaning to write for a while but life has intervened this year to keep me from getting anything done – one step forward, two steps back, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I have managed to read a lot and have been keeping track of my books on Goodreads.  If you haven’t been there, then I highly recommend it.  You can get book recommendations that are related to your bookshelf and can be used as an addition to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So… what am I posting about today?  I read a lot of food related non-fiction; however often I read food related fiction, as well.  On Goodreads, you can find a section for people who read food in fiction.  Cooking from these fiction books has only marginally interested me; but, somehow, I just felt moved to try it yesterday.

The book:   Brownies & Broomsticks by Bailey Cates.

Summary:  Katie is left by her fiance and leaves her job to help her aunt and uncle start a bakery.  In a sense, she is starting all over.  Circumstances cause a much disliked woman in the community to be killed outside of the bakery and her uncle is accused of having killed the woman.  Katie is determined to find the killer and clear her uncle’s name.  This is a classic mystery novel scenario; however, a long the way, she discovers that her aunt is a witch and that she may be one, too.

What I disliked:  There was one section right in the beginning that seemed very disjointed.  This may be due to trying to fill in Katie’s background with the current action.

What I liked:  The ending was exciting and the mix of witchcraft did not seem over blown.

The recipes:  There were two recipes at the end.  Both sounded interesting; and, since my sister was bringing lamb chops and I was making sides, these two seemed to fit in with the dinner schedule.

*Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies – These are essentially straight brownies with a peanut butter mixture spread on top. The only change I made to the batter was to add chocolate chips and reduce the amount of sugar.  For the PB mixture, I reduced the butter by one half and mixed in 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.  (This reduces the saturated fat but still leaves the mixture smooth enough to put on top.)  I could not drizzle the mixture.  Instead I made lines of PB mixture across the sheet.  Then I took a knife and went up one way and back down to cover the length.  The pattern caused a lot of oohs and ahs when presented.  The extended family loved it.

*Cheddar-Sage scones:  OK… I don’t like sage – thyme was substituted.  I also wanted more servings and so I cut more triangles.  The baking time was not decreased, however, because I wanted them to be crispy and golden.  The extended family liked the way the cheddar flavor popped and were convinced it was due to baking just a bit longer.  If you try baking longer, be careful; because too much longer can produce a dry scone.  Although the flavor was good the next day, they were really best on the first day.

Take home message:  I think these two recipes were a success.  I think I might now try to make more of the recipes I encounter in the fiction that I’ve been reading.  Hopefully I’ll be inspired by something soon.


July 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

Cooking some meals from Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal

The hardest part of making dinner for the extended family (or even on a regular weeknight with just the 3 of us) is figuring out what to make.  Making meals is not at all difficult.  So, when I saw reviews for Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal, I thought it would be fun to see what set meals he has.

~The beginning of the book describes ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as philosophy.  Clearly, getting everything ready makes things easier.  He also includes basic sauces that are used in many of the recipes.  (One short cut is to buy some of these pre-made.)

~In any case, as would be expected, when you’re cooking for extended family, there’s always food preferences to consider and dietary restrictions, not to mention Lent.  It’s nice to see all 31 meals laid out in a calendar form – You can easily choose things to mix & match meals.  Although the chef discusses side dishes in a small section, each the meal contains an appetizer, main, and dessert; each set has meat or fish.  So, if you’re vegetarian, this would not be the book for you.  Also, given our changes, I have definitely added sides of vegetables or salad to each of the meals I tried.

~What’s nice about the recipes is that each step is shown but you can get this type of cooking notes from looking at websites.  Still, it does give a benchmark.

Caesar Salad

#1:  For my first try, I combined the Caesar salad and Santiago cake from Meal 1 with the Pasta Bolognese from Meal 2.   Both the salad and the pasta were very good.



*For the pasta, I increased the quantities for the recipe to make it a main but not by much and it worked well.  

Rather than increasing all the meat, I added tempeh (steamed and separated) to the mix. The combination of meats in the pasta was perfect; the tempeh added texture but did not add a huge vegetable flavor. (Note that I’m only showing the sauce.)

*The biggest problem I had was with the Santiago cake.  The proportions for a regular pan size seem just off.  The first panel said to grease a 12×20” square pan but the amount of batter seems like too little for that size pan.  I tried a 9” spring form to start but ended up changing it to an 8” spring form.  Without having transferred, I think it would have ended up just a bit better with no altitude adjustment necessary.  The flavor was good and so might be worth trying again.

#2:  For try 2, I made the roasted vegetables and salmon stewed with lentils from Meal 29, and the chocolate cookies from Meal 2.  I made rolls to go with the meal because I thought it would be nice to have something to dip into the stew.  Since I didn’t have much time, I made quick cooking tapioca with coconut milk.

*The roasted vegetables were good but quite standard – nothing special. (I don’t like eggplant and so subbed zucchini.)

*The salmon stewed in lentils were delicious.  This dish required the sofrito and the picada sauces – both smelled and tasted great.  They may have added to the dish’s flavor but also disappeared a bit into the sauce.  It was hard to tell that the extra work had gone into it.

Salmon with Lentils

*The chocolate cookies ended up OK but were again a problem.  The batter was too running to shape into anything.  I added just enough additional flour to get to hold.  As you can see, I rolled and put into a paper towel roll to keep in a circular shape.  However, when I took them out, even after the long freezer stay, they were so soft that I ended up scooping.  If I were to make these again, I would add a lot more flour (and maybe some cocoa to keep the chocolate intensity).  On the other hand, one could just add a bit more flour, as I did above, and then just scoop onto the pans…quite good made in this way, too.

#3:  For try 3, I made the cheeseburger from Meal 1, and the coconut  macaroons from Meal 6.  I served this with a focaccia, details below.

*The cheeseburger mixture is reminiscent of a meat loaf mixture.  The added ingredients help to make the burger stay moister.

*The focaccia I made came from Nancy Silverton that you can find on the Los Angeles Times website ( Nancy Silverton’s foccacia.)  Because I was using this recipe with the cheese burgers, I kept the top simple with fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil on the top and baked as described in the topping recipes.  It was delicious.

*I made the macaroons with the regular sugared coconut shreds from the regular grocery store.  So, I reduced the sugar by a half (and could probably reduce it more).  It turned out perfectly.  As a gluten free treat, it’s also incredibly useful to have in the arsenal.

*I served the macaroons along side some tapioca pudding.  Just to let you know, I’ve been very excited about cooking with small pearl tapioca – as opposed to quick cooking.  While it does take a significantly longer time to cook, the texture is unique and completely worth it.

#4:  For the try 4, I made the roasted chicken and pineapple dessert from Meal 22, and the Tagliatelle carbonara from Meal 2.

*I followed the directions for the chicken as directed, with the chicken placed breast-side down first and then flipped over.  This seemed a bit unnecessary and the top seemed a little flat out of the oven.  However, since I served the pieces sliced on a platter, no one saw the top but me.  (Note that I used a roasting thermometer that lets you set an ending temperature.)  The chicken was juicy and delicious.

*The carbonara is interesting because it’s not exactly like an Italian carbonara but does have some similarities.  I think it relies less on the cheese than on just pure fat.  In the recipe, the bacon is fried and then cream is added.  This is cooked for 20 minutes (which flavors the cream).  If I were making this dish again, I would drain the bacon and then cook the bacon and cream together.  This wouldn’t diminish the amount of fat in the dish by a whole lot and make it just slightly healthier.  I made the recipe for 6 servings but used only 4 yolks.  This was just fine and also reduced some of the fat.  Note that to make the dish even healthier, I really lightly blanched some asparagus to add.  With the pieces of bacon and asparagus, it was so pretty.

*I decided to use honey in place of the molasses for the pineapple dessert.  I also baked the pineapple a little in the oven before cutting into serving slices and continuing with the recipe. I warmed the honey in the microwave and then zested the lime on top.  It was great.

~What do I think?  Nice, instructive, flexible…  Heavy on the protein — The combinations could use more added vegetables.  One could skip the appetizer and add that extra vegetable or add vegetables into the various dishes (as I did with the carbonara dish.

*The dishes with protein work really well.  They work true to the recipe and require a little less intuition.  The baked goods needed a little more cooking by feel in order to make work.  (The pineapple dish obviously didn’t require any adjustments but it’s more of a “way to serve” rather than a recipe.)  I would try some of them again but might research to check proportions before starting.

*Note that the quantitites are a bit large and so you can easily adjust the appetizer recipes up by a little to make them into the main and the main could be adjusted down a little to make normal portion sizes.  (Portion size is extremely important.  You can eat a little bit fattier or “bad for you” things, if you keep the portion sizes reasonable.)

~Would I do any of these menus again?  Well, loosely speaking, I would.  Actually, I didn’t do a single one of the menus as laid out – instead I mixed and matched.  This was easy to do because everything was presented so nicely in the calendar form.

March 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

Chinese New Year 2012 (including Superbowl Sunday)

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year.

This year was different, as I suppose it is most years; but, of course, it was a bit more noticeable this year.  15 days allows usually for 2 weekends with 2 big Chinese banquets.  Since the whole thing started on a Monday, it was hard to justify stopping everything to do a banquet.  Instead I brought lunch in for mother from Zoe Ma Ma (a great local hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in downtown Boulder).  She was confused until she started to eat the noodles…!  After gymnastics, we met my sister and her family at another non-fancy Chinese restaurant in north Boulder.  It was fun all around and with no cleaning.

~Over the course of the next few days, I incorporated the dishes that needed to be eaten and tried new Asian dishes.  (On the first day, we had dan tart – custard tarts, almond jello with fruit, and CNY candy from the red box.)  We ate steamed fish, long noodles, etc.  We brought in many items for my mother.  I made ji (traditional rice noodle dish), orange beef, gai lan, and almond jello; my sister made lamb and broccoli, walnut shrimp, and a Japanese bean/rice mixture.

The last dessert I made for that big celebration with mom was Pichet Ong’s pineapple tarts – that look like little tangerines. (See The Sweet Spot.) I made them last year but this year I made just a few modifications and it seemed to go a bit more easily than the year before.  They tasted amazing.

Then over the whole course of the 2 weeks: dan go (egg steamed sponge cake), almond cookies, Japanese Wagu hamburgers, steamed whole fish, peanut noodles, and steamed fat go little cakes.




~Between Superbowl Sunday and Chinese New Year this year, we also celebrated National Chocolate Cake day!  Here are the cupcakes I made:

~Superbowl Sunday fell the day before the end of CNY.  We (my sister’s family and my family) have a great time making all sorts of bad-for-you-foods – noshing and watching the game and commercials.  This time only one of us was truly invested and so it was a bit more relaxing.  We could enjoy the exciting ending without getting knots in our stomach.  Anyway, my sister used her new 3 crock crockpot for queso, vegetarian chili, and regular chili and she brought 3 other dips with chips.  My daughter made a shortbread sandwich cookie – the first time she did everything with just coaching and hints from me….(She even made her own homemade vanilla pudding mixture to use in the cookie recipe.)

~I made 3 types of wings – 2 different Asian wings and 1 very hot Tobasco wing (using the Tobasco wing sauce, along with another secret mixture) and non-alcoholic sangria.




I also made Boston cream pie (because it was suggested on some site) using Gale Gand’s cake, a pastry cream from some where else, and my own chocolate glaze.  Finally, I usually make regular nachos but decided to make a sweet nacho… crisped tortilla triangles with cinnamon sugar in the oven, sprinkled melted milk chocolate and homemade dulce de leche sauce, finely chopped fruit, and shavings of white chocolate…. The last was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

This was in some ways a more relaxing way to do things and very much more multi-cultural due to Superbowl Sunday coming at the end.  It did feel very much like we celebrated the whole time and everyone left with good feelings…  Gung Hay Fat Choy — I hope your year will be a good one.

February 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

Daring Bakers Challenge July 2011 Fraisier

Daring Baker’s Challenge July 2011


Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

(You can find the recipe here:  57_Fresh_Fraisiers-DB_July_2011.)


For this challenge, we needed to make the chiffon cake and pastry cream from the recipes provided.  From there we could take it in any direction.  (By the way, the cookbook, Tartine, is fantastic.  I have made a few items from it and all have turned out wonderfully.)

*So…  Fraisier is similar to Fraise which is strawberry in French.  While I love strawberries, cherries have also just come into season.  I decided to make a Black Forest version because cherries are in season.

First, I made the chiffon cake.  In order to give the cake just a tiny bit more chocolate burst, I decided to add chocolate extract, as well as the vanilla extract and the cocoa called for in the recipe.

I also didn’t want to bother with dividing the cake and so used 2 cake pans.

While the cake cooled, I made the pastry cream.  This is an incredibly involved pastry cream.  It’s actually a lightened one – that is, whipped cream is folded into the pastry cream base and the pastry cream is mixed with a melted gelatin.  The gelatin is what eventually holds the whole cake together.

Note that in order to cool the pastry cream quickly, I spread the it on top of plastic wrap on a small baking sheet.  Then I covered the top of the pastry cream with another layer of plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from developing).  Using the method of mixing the gelatin into the pastry cream over the bain marie was good, but I had to whisk a lot in order to make sure that the pastry cream was perfectly smooth.

*The cherries took a long time to pit and cut in half.  When I tried to put them around the edges, they didn’t stay up.  So, I piped a thin layer of the pastry cream.  I ended up facing the cherries with the rounded side outward because it just looked better.

To decorate the top, I whipped together some stabilized whipped cream.  Then I spread some on top and piped little rosettes to hold the whole cherries (with stems) that I had kept for decoration.  (I saw a picture of a black forest cake with the whole stemmed cherries and it just looked dramatic.  It made sense to try to re-create it.)

Note that I didn’t use plastic wrap to line the edges.  Instead I had professional plastic strips that are a bit sturdier.  They allowed me to use a slightly bigger spring form pan and just pull the strip tight around the cake (holding it on the outside with duct tape.)  Worked perfectly….

Result:  The cake was tall and miraculously stayed together when cut.  It was extremely dramatic.  While the black forest cakes on the web seem to have denser chocolate cake and vary in decoration widely, I enjoyed thinking about changing the Fraisier to fit the bill.  Everyone really liked this version – They thought that the cake had enough chocolate flavor and the whole thing was a lot lighter than it looks.  That is, for a summer cake, it was perfect – light (not heavy, as a butter cake would be), fruity, and creamy (but not overwhelming like a full-fat custard).

*Summary: While this is quite an involved production, each of the pieces was not difficult (and the pastry cream could be simplified).  I could see myself making it again with the strawberries.  It was a fantastic, light summer dessert and everyone liked it.

July 27, 2011 at 5:57 am 2 comments

Daring Baker’s Challenge Multi-layer Panna Cotta & Florentines

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.


I love puddings.  Panna cotta is wonderful version.  It’s usually made with gelatin rather than cornstarch and this gives it often a lighter feel.

~ For this challenge, I had never made a multi-layered panna cotta and was very excited for an excuse to do so.  Here’s a picture of the 2 and 3 layer versions made with the 2 types of gelatin and 1 type of gelée that I made.

~You can find the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site.  First I made the chocolate panna cotta.  I used 60% Ghiradelli (because I always have this in my house).  I checked it after 1 hour but it took a little more than 2 hours to set.

~While the panna cotta glasses set, I made the Nestle Florentine cookies.  For one set, I flattened as per instructions but parts remained less cooked than others.  Then I made the inside less dense than the outer edge.  This worked fairly well for one batch.  The final batch with only slightly more on the edge was the best.

After 2 hours, I made the almond panna cotta.  The recipe supplied is a vanilla panna cotta.  I replaced the milk with almond milk (unsweetened).  What’s amazing is that the recipe has a vanilla essence without adding any vanilla extract.  To boost the almond flavor a bit, I added ¼ tsp of almond extract.  I let the mixture cool (almost 25 minutes stirring every so often.)  Then I carefully poured the mixture on top of some of the glasses with 2 glasses reserved for just a little of this almond mixture.

~Because the layer was not as thick and the glass/chocolate panna cotta was so cold, it didn’t take as long to set.  I waited about 1-1 ½ hours.  I then made a raspberry gelée.  First I took some frozen raspberries (10 oz although a larger amount would have been better).  I put it through a sieve in order to remove as many of the seeds as possible.  After getting about 8 oz, I made the recipe.  (I did just barely heat the raspberry/sugar until it was melted and heated for 2-3 minutes rather than 5.  I also melted the gelatin and water mixture separately and added to the fruit.  This allowed it take a lot less time to cool.)  After cooling I carefully poured a thin layer on top of the all the glasses.  (I had a lot of extra chocolate mixture and didn’t quite have enough raspberry gelée to give a thicker layer.)

~While waiting for the gelée to set, I drizzled chocolate on top of the cookies.

~I was so excited that I used different types of glasses.  Here’s my picture that is similar to the one in the challenge.

We enjoyed the flavor of all of these panna cotta.  If I made the chocolate one again, I would put the chocolate/cream mixture through a sieve before adding to the gelatin/milk mixture.  I’m not sure I’d make the Florentines again.  I might make some other type of cookie that matched what I was doing in the panna cotta.  The look of the multi-layer was fantastic but took a long time –  Clearly the almond/raspberry was good enough.  The whole challenge was definitely worth the effort.

Here’s a picture with the cookie balanced on the edge – it almost looks like it’s floating above…

February 27, 2011 at 7:50 am 1 comment

Daring Baker’s Challenge Nov 2010 – Raspberry & Nutella Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

[The Daring Bakers are part of the  Daring Kitchen.]


OK… I’m late again.  This holiday season my mother is still in the hospital and my in-laws visited for a week around T-day. My mind has been all over the place.  So, I just wanted to give this tart its due and wait till after T-day.  While I did make traditional pate brisé this week, it was fun to make something related today. (I made a chocolate pecan pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie – with the pumpkin as the favorite.)  Simona provided so many variations that I may have to re-visit this challenge.

~The dough (pasta frolla):  I used version 1 with powdered sugar.  I also added some vanilla and cream because it was far too dry today.  (Dry & cold)

~Rolling & Filling:  I decided to go with the jam tart rather than the custard or the pastry cream version (custard rather than jam) or the fruit tart (similar to the traditional French fruit tart).  Also, I chose to make little heart cut-outs for the top rather than the lattice.  Since I have made a German version of a jam tart before (similar to a Linzer), I decided to break up the flavors by putting Nutella on the bottom.  Because I had leftover dough, I rolled it out and made cookies.  I sprinkled sparkling sugar over the top.






~Overall:  In the baking, the jam bubbled over part of the crust.  So, I probably should  have put in a little less jam.  The dough tasted like a sugar cookie.  In the past, I always thought that there was too much jam in those German jam tarts.  With the layer of Nutella, this was just perfect and a nice surprise after hitting the sweet jam.  The family thought it tasted quite good.  I want to go back and try the pastry cream version now….!

November 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm 4 comments

Daring Bakers Challenge Baked Alaska Petit Fours August

Baked Alaska & Petit Fours

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.


OK…. I admit when I first read this challenge I was really confused – Was I supposed to make an ice cream petit four, was I supposed to make a Baked Alaska, or both? When I read farther into the challenge, it implied that we could choose or make both. So, I decided to make a combination.

~One of my favorite junk food ice cream novelties is that mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. I don’t care whether it’s high end or low end, I just love the combination of the different types of mint and chocolate. So, I thought I’d make a Baked Alaska with mint chocolate chip ice cream. The requirement was to make a browned butter pound cake – rather than making 2 cakes, it occurred to me that filling the cake round with chocolate ice cream and glazed chocolate could make the outside of the mint ice cream sandwich.

First – the ice cream is a mint chocolate chip made with fresh spearmint steeped in the milk/cream mixture for 1 hour before making the ice cream base. The base was made a day ahead. The cake was made the day ahead as well.

~On day 2 I made and placed the mint ice cream directly into the mold and cut the cake and filled it with chocolate ice cream. These were placed in the freezer and left for the afternoon to chill and harden.

~Later I made the glaze, cut the cake, and glazed the pieces. They went back into the freezer until we were ready to serve.

~Because I used silicone molds for the ice cream, they just popped right out and I could easily place them on top of the large “petit fours” rounds.

Then I spread the meringue on top.  (I didn’t like the porcupine look but now think  that these look like odd shaped mountains).  I cut out ice cream petit four hearts and glazed those for decoration.  Sorry I messed up by not taking a picture of one of the mini-Baked Alaska after it was cut to eat.

Bottom line: Doing both the petit fours and the Baked Alaska was fun.  It allowed me to have 2 different ice creams and to play with different shapes.  Even though I enjoyed making this concoction, it was a bit “over the top”. I loved this version of spearmint chocolate chip ice cream. It was delicious and didn’t really need the meringue.  The layer of chocolate from the glaze was perfect with the mint ice cream, though.  The browned butter pound cake was far too dense to be on the bottom of a baked Alaska and the chocolate ice cream was a bit overshadowed. By itself, the chocolate ice cream in the middle of the cake was good and the little petit fours hearts were great, though.

August 27, 2010 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts