Monday, September 27, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

We are having a blast with our out of town visitors and I apologize for my lack of commenting on other blogs but I will be back full force once my visitors leave in early October. For all of my Foodbuzz friends, rest assured I'm still keeping up as much as possible on the challenges and will be voting for all of you! 
My post today was inspired by my little sister who is here visiting from Germany. My sister was diagnosed with Celiac disease almost 10 years ago. In case you haven't heard of it, it is a autoimmune disorder which causes her to not be able to eat anything containing gluten (this includes wheat, barley, oats etc.) Considering that I don't usually have to cook gluten free, it is quite a challenge to cook for someone like this. Luckily, a lot of my day to day meals are already gluten free or can be made gluten free by a few substitutions. So far we have had my Ragu alla Bolognese (she used special noodles), my Tandoori Chicken, Taco Salad,  and a few other things she thoroughly enjoyed. I'm convinced that cooking meals from scratch helps a lot since you can control what is put into a dish. 

Unfortunately, things get a little bit harder when it comes to dessert. If I lived closer to my sister I would most definitely use and experiment with different gluten free flours, but since she is only visiting for a short time I needed to find a fuss-free recipe that would work for her and be equally tasty for everyone else eating it. Looking through a few of my books I remembered seeing a recipe for flourless chocolate cupcakes in Martha Stewart's cupcakes book. The recipe is truly super easy, requires only a handful of ingredients and turns out an amazing flavor experience. The original makes 22 cupcakes but I went with half the amount since the recipe states they are best eaten the same day and by doing so I was rewarded with exactly 12 cupcakes. Butter and bittersweet chocolate are melted in a double boiler and slightly cooled down before adding the egg yolks. Meanwhile egg whites and sugar are whisked stiff and then folded into the melted chocolate mixture. That's it! The batter is divided into paper lined muffin tins and baked at a very low temperature for about 25 minutes or until the middle is set.

The cupcakes once baked are not show pieces. In fact, they are quite ugly. At first, taken out of the oven they look like pretty little souffles but once they cool down their tops start to sink and they crack everywhere and forget about getting them out of the tin perfect looking. That's why even in the book their tops are disguised with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, which is how I served them as well. Crunchy tops, tasting like meringue with a wonderful fluffy and rich interior. This was a fantastic dessert that all of us enjoyed. It especially made me feel good that I was able to produce such a great tasting cupcake my sister could eat. She was in love with this recipe and already copied it down so she can fix it for everyone back in Germany when she gets home.

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 22)

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips)
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
Ice Cream, for serving (optional)


Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Melt butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Stir to combine, then remove bowl from heat and let cool slightly. Whisk in egg yolks.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until peaks are stiff and glossy but not dry (do not overbeat). Whisk one quarter of the beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten; gently fold mixture into remaining whites.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cupcakes are just set in centers, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.( their centers will sink). Cupcakes are best eaten the same day they are baked; keep at room temperature until ready to serve, topped with scoops of ice cream, if desired.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ragù alla Bolognese

Want to know how I spent my weekend? Besides hanging out with wonderful friends who came to visit we were also baking in the heat and jumping in the pool just to get the slightest bit of relief. Oh yeah, fall is in full swing in Arizona and blessed us with record temperatures of 109 degrees F over the weekend. My head keeps saying, "but it is fall, I want to to wear sweaters, and jeans and eat soups and stews" and my body keeps screaming "cool me off, it's another scorcher, find me the tank top and only feed me ice cream and salads". Quite the conundrum, don't you think?

So seriously, what's a woman (or man) to do when the rest of the country is begging for comfort food, and you as a food blogger have a responsibility to appeal to the crowds? You have to find a happy medium. Something that is comfort food, but also won't make you sit next to your open freezer while you eat that steaming bowl of soup. This is were one of our favorites always helps. Ragù alla Bolognese IS comfort food, but by adding a nice big bowl of salad on the side it fits the "scorcher" requirement as well.

I found this recipe a while back on one of my favorite blogs "Crepes of Wrath". If you haven't visited there, you should. Anyway, I only slightly adapted Sydney's already fabulous recipe to fit our taste and the result ended up "being on the money" as Guy Fieri would say. The recipe starts by sauteing onions, along with celery and carrots in butter. You add in some garlic and bacon, glorious bacon! This gets cooked until the bacon is slightly crisp. Ground beef is added and cooked until no longer pink. Then you throw in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and your usual Italian suspects of basil, thyme and oregano. Season with salt and pepper, some nutmeg, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. This mixture then gets a good dousing of white wine and finally some heavy cream or half-and-half (if you must). The sauce will then hang out for a good hour on your stove which will give you plenty of time to make your salad, cook your pasta and grate your fresh Parmesan (step away from the green can on this dish).

This sauce is out of this world and there are hardly ever any leftovers, but if there are, it tastes just as good if not better the second time around. The sauce is flavorful, rich and has you smacking your lips while eating it. I've served this to friends and family and everyone keeps asking for the recipe which to me always means it is a keeper recipe. I hope you'll give this recipe a try, it is one that works wearing fall gear, but also works while baking in the sun!

Ragù alla Bolognese

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I use 93 % lean)
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine (don't use cooking wine!)
1/3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 pound Pasta
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Melt your butter in a large pot or pan over medium heat. Turn the heat up to medium-high heat and then add in the diced onions, diced celery and diced carrots. Cook for 5 minutes until softened then add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.

Add in the bacon and cook for 5 minutes or so until slightly crisp. Add in the ground beef and cook for another 5 minutes or until cooked through. Add in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano, basil, thyme, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, and bay leaves. Stir to combine.

Add in the white wine and heavy cream (or half-and-half) and stir. Bring the bolognese to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook for an hour, stirring every so often so that it doesn't burn.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and add to the bolognese. Stir to combine. Serve and top with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Adapted from: Crepes of Wrath

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nutella-Pistachio Biscotti

I'm here to tell you about my absolute biggest weakness ever. Nutella! This delectable chocolate hazelnut cream might as well be my drug of choice. I adore any and everything containing the brown gold, but honestly in a pinch a spoon and the jar will suffice. I'm pretty sure you remember one of my favorite ice creams this year: Nutella Ice Cream. What a treat this was and since it is so easy I have made it several times more since it was featured on my blog. In fact, my sister who is visiting has been begging me to make it so she can try it as well and I might just have to oblige.

I'm sure you are wondering where I'm going with this declaration of addiction love but I do have a point for admitting my weakness in a public forum. See, I was craving something with Nutella a few days ago and knew I had to satisfy the monster or it would only get worse from there. My husband (bless his heart) knows about this obsession all to well and being the good man he is, he went on the internet to find me a recipe I could not only eat, but also blog about. Now, that is what I call love! This is how he came about this biscotti recipe and I was immediately sold, especially after I remembered that biscotti could very well be consumed with a cup of coffee for breakfast (lunch or dinner), just don't tell anyone I encourage this.

The recipe is again super easy (see a trend here), but since the cookies are baked twice (hence the name, which means "twice baked" in Italian) it is a little time consuming. I think this was truly the first time I made a biscotti recipe and it just "worked". In the past I didn't have problems with baking it the first time, but once I had to slice the cookies for the second round of baking, disaster struck and the biscotti always fell apart unless I cut them way thicker than they should have been and then you might as well keep your dentist on speed dial. Well, that all changed with this recipe. Eggs and sugar are whisked in a stand mixer (or you can do the whole recipe by hand with a little muscle power) Nutella is incorporated until the mix is emulsified. Flour, baking powder, and a little salt are added and finally shelled, rough chopped pistachios are thrown into the mix. The dough is pretty tough and sticky at this point but you turn it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat, grease your hands a little and form the dough into two equal logs. They are baked for about 25 minutes, then cooled for 10 before slicing and baking them again. The final step, once the cookies are cooled, is to make a glaze for the biscotti out of Nutella, powdered sugar and boiling water. As you can see by the pictures, I made some drizzled with the glaze, but also left about half of them plain and I almost like them better that way even though my kids are protesting right now as I'm typing this since they liked them glazed better.

This is my favorite new biscotti recipe and I might just have to have a tin filled with those around at all times. Even my chocolate hating husband snuck a few for breakfast and loved them. I also think they look really pretty with the green pistachios poking out here and there and I'm planning to make them around Christmas time again to add to my cookie plates, but with the addition of cranberries or cherries for an even more festive look. So, all my Nutella loving friends and readers out there, I hope you'll give this recipe a try and love it as much as we did!

Nutella-Pistachio Biscotti
(adapted from
(Printable Recipe)


4 large eggs, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Nutella, divided
1 cup unsalted pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons boiling water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together 3 eggs, 1 egg yolk (reserve the extra egg white) and 1 cup granulated sugar until well mixed. Add 3/4 cup Nutella; mix well. Gently stir in flour, salt and baking powder along with the pistachios.

Divide dough in half and form into two 12 x 2-inch logs on prepared baking sheet. Brush logs with remaining egg white and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating baking sheet once after 15 minutes to ensure even baking.

Turn oven down to 300 degrees F. Remove logs from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. While warm, cut logs  width-wise on slight diagonal to form  1/2 inch-wide strips. Lay on sides on baking sheet. Bake cookies for another 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from baking sheet.

When cool, in a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup Nutella, powdered sugar and boiling water until smooth. Drizzle glaze over cookies with fork or dip one end of each cookie into glaze. Dry at room temperature for at least 1 hour to set the glaze.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Savory Cheese and Chive Bread

A couple of weeks ago I found out on Twitter that Dorie Greenspan's brand new book "Around My French Table" had been released earlier than expected and since I had pre-ordered it a long time ago I received my copy a couple of days later. As I opened the cardboard box I could barely contain my excitement. This was like birthday and Christmas rolled into one. I have been a huge fan of Dorie's ever since I first received my copy of "Baking: From my home to yours", and holding her new book in my hands was so much fun. I started flipping through the substantial book, and almost immediately felt overwhelmed. There are so many incredible looking recipes in this book; anything from hors d'oeuvres, to soups, salads, meats and best of all, desserts.

I really had a very difficult time to decide which recipe to make first. I mean do you start in the front and work your way through? Do you randomly pick a recipe by closing your eyes and poking your finger on a recipe in the index? I just didn't know which direction to go. Then my youngest son decided to take the book and started flipping through the pages and found this recipe for cheese and chive bread. I guess the picture "did him in" and I don't blame him, it looked scrumptious. After looking over the recipe I knew I had my first recipe to try out. This bread is about as easy as it gets. A two bowl recipe that is literally put together in 10 minutes flat.

The recipe starts by measuring flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a big bowl and whisking them together. In a second bowl, your wet ingredients of eggs, milk and olive oil get a good whisking as well. The wet mix gets quickly incorporated into the dry ingredients before adding in the grated and cubed cheese along with chopped chives and toasted walnuts. The finished batter gets spread into a greased loaf pan and is then ready for the oven. Now this is where this recipe gets tough. I had every single person in our house come into the kitchen during the baking of the bread with their mouth watering and wondering what smelled so incredible. I wish I could bottle this smell, which is simply drool inducing and makes the waiting time for the bread to cool very, very cruel.

This bread is so simple, yet absolutely amazing and flavorful. Ms. Greenspan did not disappoint with this recipe either, and I'm excited to be introducing my family to more french inspired dishes.  Best of all, in true Dorie fashion many of her recipes have side notes or what she likes to call "Bonne Idee" that will give you further options of how to change up already wonderful recipes. This bread was gone so quickly in our house that the next time I'm making it (and there will be a next time) I'm doubling the recipe! This is a great dish to serve along side a hearty stew or soup, and I hope you'll be giving this one a try and adding some "French flair" to your dinner table as well.

Savory Cheese and Chive Bread
(adapted from "Around my French Table" by Dorie Greenspan)
(Printable Recipe)


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt (depending on what cheese you're using)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or more to taste)
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 generous cup (about 4 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyere, Emmenthal, or Cheddar (I used Emmenthal)
2 ounces Gruyere, Emmenthal, or cheddar cut into very small cubes (I used Emmenthal)
1/2 cup minced fresh chives or other herbs (or thinly sliced scallions)
1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and 8 -x- 4 1/2 -x- 2 3/4 -inch loaf pan. If your pan is slightly larger, go ahead and use it, but your loaf will be lower and you'll have to check it for doneness a little earlier.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and white pepper together in a large bowl.

Put the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk for about 1 minute, until they're foamy and blended. Whisk in the milk and olive oil.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and, using a sturdy rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gently mix until the dough comes together. There's no need to be energetic - in fact, beating the dough toughens it - nor do you need to be very thorough: just stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the cheese, graded and cubed, the herbs, and the walnuts, if you're using them. You'll have a thick dough. Turn the dough into the buttered pan and even the top with the back of the spatula or spoon.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a slender knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and wait for about 3 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the loaf over onto the rack; invert and cool right side up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Red Velvet Whoopie with Cream Cheese Filling

After seeing a few awesome looking red velvet cakes and red velvet cupcakes on various blogs my kids started bugging me to make this brightly colored confection. To be honest, while they are great to look at I wasn't sure if I was going to make a dessert that required me to add in a whole bottle of red food dye. It kind of went against everything I usually stand for. I try to maintain a dye-free zone around the house whenever possible with one of the only exceptions being my personal weakness; M&M's.

I figured since I had never tasted this cake I should give it a go at least once in my life, even if just for the fact to say: I tried it. I knew I didn't want a big cake around the house, especially if it turned out to be something I wasn't too fond of. The other idea was to make cupcakes, but it's been done on other blogs and sometimes the rebel in me wants to be a little bit different. So what was left? Yep, whoopie pies. These little delights are always a huge hit when I make them and they are also perfect to "pawn off" on neighbors and friends. This recipe is adapted yet again from this great little book that has so many fun ideas inside: Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell. 

This whoopie pie starts by baking the cake part. The recipe calls for up to 1 cup of cocoa, but also mentions that 1/4 cup might suffice if you want more of a red looking cake. I used the later since I wasn't going for chocolate flavor. Besides the usual suspects of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, this also calls for buttermilk. I always have a small container in my fridge, but if you don't, or don't want to purchase any, it can easily be made by measuring 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar into a cup and adding milk to total 1 cup. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, give it a stir and you are good to go.
To make perfect whoopie pies use an ice cream scoop to drop perfect little round cakes onto your baking sheet.
The filling of these whoopies is a traditional cream cheese frosting. I started with the recipe given in the book, but decided after tasting it that it was lacking cream cheese flavor, so I doubled the amount it called for since you can never have too much cream cheese, right?

So, what was the verdict of these little desserts? The kids loved them, their friends loved them, and I think my neighbors enjoyed them as well. As far as my husband is concerned, he thought they were tasty but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't ask for them again. What about me you are wondering? Well, this is tricky since I loved the frosting. The cake part I felt kind of "eh" about. I could take it or leave it. In fact, I was almost annoyed that it didn't have a distinguished flavor. Would I make them again? Maybe. If I was trying to go for a theme I think they would be adorable, or if someone asked me specifically about making them. Considering that you can find so many incredible other cakes or whoopie pie combinations out there, this one just left me lukewarm and I could find much better options to waste my calories on, but if you are a fan of Red Velvet anything, then you must give them a try, I bet you'll like them!

Red Velvet Whoopie with Cream Cheese Filling

For the pies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (can be upped to 1 cup if you want more cocoa flavor)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 ounce (one small bottle) red food coloring
1 cup buttermilk

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (one 16-ounce box) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the pies: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening, and both sugars on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium  and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and red food coloring and beat just until blended.

Add half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture and 1/2 cup buttermilk and beat until completely combined.

Using an ice cream scoop, drop batter onto one of the prepared baking sheet and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed gently. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

For the filling: In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium, beat until creamy and smooth, about 4 minutes.

Assembling the whoopie pies: Spread filling onto the flat side of one cake using a knife or spoon. Top with another cake, flat-side down. Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.
Alternatively, you can use a pastry bag with a round or star tip to pipe the filling onto the cakes, which will give you a smoother, neater presentation.

Adapted from: Whoopie Pies

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sirloin Steak Stir-Fry

This week has been hectic. I'm expecting guests starting Friday and will be having house guests for the next several weeks. I'm more than excited about this especially since they are some of my favorite people in the whole world. So, besides getting ready to make our home as comfortable as possible for our visitors, we've had early releases, parent teacher conferences, and the start of soccer season for our youngest. In case you are wondering where I'm going with this, it is that dinners need to be quick during busy times while also being fairly nutritious and the family has to approve of them as always.

This is how I found the recipe for this Stir-Fry. Most of the components can be prepared ahead of time, and putting everything together literally takes only 20 minutes, or until your rice is cooked. This is another Cuisine at Home dish that has won everyone in our home over. It is also an extremely versatile dish. I'm thinking that pretty much any vegetable would work in this. I could see this meal prepared  with broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms etc. There are so many options to customize it to your families taste. This recipe makes 6 servings but my kids were fighting over every last scrap in the pan, so there was nothing left over.

The recipe starts by making the sauce. Store bought hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, honey and pineapple juice along with ginger, garlic and salt get mixed together and reduced to about half the amount on the stove. This is something that could easily be done ahead of time and all you would have to do is re-heat it when ready to serve. The sirloin steak gets sliced thinly, then placed in a bowl for a quick toss with some brown sugar,  canola oil and a little kick from red pepper flakes. The vegetables are: shelled edamame, red pepper and scallions, but like I mentioned above, use whatever suits your taste. The vegetables are another component that can easily be cut up ahead of time and refrigerated to alleviate dinner time rush. The marinated steak gets a quick sear in a hot pan for a few minutes, the vegetables are added and quickly sauteed without overcooking them because you still want a bit of crunch. Final touches include a tablespoon of sesame oil and sesame seeds. The stir fry is served over rice and the sauce is drizzled over the top to everyone's liking, this way you can add as much or as little of the sauce as you desire.

A fantastic, quick, healthy dish! I was hoping for leftovers, but my kids obviously had different plans for sure. This is certainly a meal that fits a busy lifestyle and since I will be fairly busy in the next few weeks stay tuned for more "on the fly" dinner ideas. It is certainly not necessary to go the take out route when you can fix a meal this delicious in just about the same time it would take you to order it. This recipe got the thumbs up all the way around and I hope you'll give it a try as well!

Sirloin Steak Stir-Fry
(adapted from Cuisine at Home)


1 (8 ounce) jar hoisin sauce
1 cup rice vinegar
1 (6 ounce) can pineapple juice
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 pounds sirloin steak, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2  red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds
Cooked rice


Combine hoisin, vinegar, pineapple juice, honey, garlic, ginger, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes.

Toss together sirloin, sugar, canola oil, and pepper flakes in a bowl to coat sirloin. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat, then stir-fry beef until browned, about 3 minutes.

Add bell pepper, scallion, and edamame; stir-fry a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the sesame oil.

Serve stir-fry with rice and prepared sauce on the side, then garnish with sesame seeds.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

Have you ever taken the time and looked at the ingredient list of store bought granola bars?  I have, and I was truly appalled to find so many strange ingredients listed in the nutritional info of several well known brands. Shouldn't something so wholesome be well, wholesome? Shouldn't you be able to feel good if you are packing them for your kids lunch or as a snack? I certainly thought so, and after seeing quite a few fantastic looking granola bars pop up on some of the blogs I read, I set out to find a version my family would love.

I didn't have to look further than which had a basic granola bar recipe from the incomparable Ina Garten. I figured it was a great starting point. I loved the simplicity of her ingredients in the bars and only added a few of my own touches to end up with something that my kids think is "sell-worthy", but then again, they are kind of biased and I pay them to say things like that.

I used the recipe as more of a guideline and encourage you to do the same. The sky is the limit as far as flavor combinations are concerned. There are truly so many options when it comes to this recipe. You can chose any nut (I used almonds) but anything from pecans, to walnuts or pistachios would be wonderful. The dried fruit part is equally adjustable to your taste preferences. I used dried cranberries, but again anything from raisins to dried apricots or cherries would be lovely. I do think a couple of things are key though. Use only high quality ingredients in this recipe, they are a must for flavor. Also, watch the oats and nuts along with the coconut closely while toasting in the oven, you definitely don't want to burn it. The recipe calls for toasted wheat germ, I just toasted it on top of the stove in a dry pan but it also requires a watchful eye. There is not much difference in the time between a perfectly toasted batch and burned wheat germ, sometimes that means only a matter of seconds. Last but not least, I rounded out my granola bars with semi-sweet chocolate chips and some roasted sunflower kernels.

These bars are wonderful! Once baked and cooled they can be stored in an air-tight container for at least a week, that is, if they last that long. This is going in my recipe file and I will be making them many more times. The best compliment was probably from my husband though, who is not a granola bar eater like the rest of us, but who fell in love with them and has been eating one every day for his breakfast. I definitely know they are good when that happens.

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3/4 cup sunflower kernels, roasted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the toasted wheat germ and sunflower kernels.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the cranberries and stir well. Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes then stir in the chocolate chips. If you do this any earlier they will just melt.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into rectangles or squares. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: Ina Garten

Monday, September 13, 2010

Raspberry Cheesecake-Truffle Brownies

I know what you are thinking, raspberry and chocolate again? Yes, I could try and rationalize this decision with all of you, but truly it's more like a disease and I'll fully admit to it. Once I started with this flavor combination in my ice cream I just couldn't stop. I kept coming across all sorts of yummy recipes featuring both of these ingredients. So, I figured I could torture you all one more time and I promise (maybe) that I will stop after this recipe.

This recipe comes courtesy of Cuisine at Home which appears to be my new go-to magazine. In case you have not heard of them you are missing out. Their magazines are full of great recipes and best of all, the pages are not cluttered with advertisements. Anyway, back to the bars, how could I resist a fudge brownie layer, a smooth cream cheese layer and to top it off, raspberries. Nope, not possible, even if I tried. This bar is what dreams are made out of and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I ate more than my share of these little delights.

The bars are made pretty quickly and don't require any special skills. The brownie layer by itself is utterly amazing and is almost more reminiscent of real fudge than a brownie. It starts by melting unsweetened chocolate, butter, cocoa powder and instant espresso powder in the microwave (or a double boiler). Sugar, vanilla and salt are mixed in and then eggs are incorporated one by one. Finally flour is folded under without overmixing the batter. It gets spread in a 8-inch square pan and set aside while you get started on the cheesecake layer. Cream cheese is mixed with just a bit of sugar, lemon zest and juice, and one egg until creamy and smooth, then carefully spread over the already prepared unbaked brownie layer. The final touch is a cup of fresh or frozen raspberries that are added on top of the cheesecake before baking. The brownie bakes for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the cream cheese layer is lightly golden and set. After that comes the hardest part of the recipe - the wait time. The brownie has to cool to room temperature and after that time is over it must then be refrigerated for at least another 8 hours or overnight, which means pure torture! Before serving you can sprinkle the bars with powdered sugar but it's certainly not a necessity, they are good as is.

The reward is seriously an amazing flavor combination of sweet, dark chocolate with a light tasting cheesecake layer and heavenly raspberries. True decadence at its best. Besides me eating more than my fair share of these brownies, my kids also went absolutely nuts over them. I think the brownies make a beautiful presentation and would be lovely served for all kinds of occasions when entertaining. I will definitely be baking these again, but first I have to kick up my workout schedule to work off the extra calories I inhaled from these!

Raspberry Cheesecake-Truffle Brownies
(adapted from Cuisine at Home)
(Printable Recipe)


For the brownies:
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the topping:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Minced zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
Sifted powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray.

Melt chocolate, butter, cocoa, and espresso powder for the brownies in a large bowl in the microwave oven on high power, stirring every 30 seconds, or in a double boiler. Remove mixture from heat when chocolate is nearly melted; stir unti it's smooth.

Stir in  the 1 1/2 cups sugar, vanilla, and the 1/4 tsp. salt. Add the 3 eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Fold in flour, mixing just until blended. Spread batter into the prepared pan; set aside.

Using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat ream cheese, the 1/4 cup sugar, zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt for the topping in a bowl until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Blend in the 1 egg, then spread cheesecake batter over unbaked brownie batter.

Top cheesecake layer with raspberries. Bake brownies until cheesecake is set and golden around edges, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool brownies in pan on a rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Cover brownies with plastic wrap; chill 8 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Dust brownies with powdered sugar before serving, Cut brownies into small squares with a lightly oiled knife.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Light Brioche Burger Buns

I'm sold! Sold on homemade hamburger buns that is. I've tried the homemade route before with real Brioche buns but found the process much too labor intensive for the end result. So, when I found the recipe for these Light Brioche Burger Buns I figured I would give it a shot one more time and if those didn't work out either, I would forever be buying overpriced, additive ridden supermarket buns.

Well let me tell you, this recipe did not disappoint. The buns smell incredible while baking and taste even better. These rolls are hardy and don't fall apart when faced with a big, juicy burger. They feel pretty heavy when you hold them, but the inside is light and fluffy like a good bun should be. The taste is like a cross between a french bread and a buttery brioche, but unlike "real" brioche buns there is only 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter in the whole recipe compared to 1 1/2 sticks in other recipes I have tried before.

This is not a recipe you can throw together in a half an hour, you will need time, but the actual time spent working is very little as most of it will be waiting for the dough to rise. I've made these buns a couple of times now, but had to experiment with different dough ball weights to find the perfect size. The original recipe made 8 buns, this bun size was just too big for our average burger. This time around I divided the dough into 10 equal portions, and it turned out to be the perfect bun to burger ratio for us. The recipe also says it can take up to 2 hours for the dough to rise, in my case, it took less than an hour each time, but keep in mind I do live in Arizona and it is quite a bit warmer here than the rest of the country.

This is a simple yeast recipe that I believe even beginning bakers would be able to master. It is straight forward; all it takes are some well floured hands (since the dough can be sticky) and some time to plan ahead. A stand mixer with a dough hook makes this recipe fairly easy and quick to put together, but elbow grease and several minutes of kneading the dough by hand will work just as well.

My family absolutely adores these buns. In fact, I usually make a double batch so I can freeze a few of them for easy weeknight meals. These buns are perfect for any kind of burger, they are also fabulous with pulled pork or beef, or sloppy joes. Another good use would be to simply top these buns with some ham and cheese and have a bowl of soup with them for a quick dinner. I really hope you give these buns a try in your kitchen and come to love them as much as we do. I don't think I will go back to the buns that come in a plastic bag at the grocery store after tasting these (unless I'm in a terrible bind) and I love that I have found such a wonderful alternative!

Light Brioche Burger Buns
(Adapted from the New York Times and as seen on Smitten Kitchen)
(Makes 10 burger buns)
(Printable Recipe)


3 tablespoons warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For the topping:
1 egg beaten and mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Sesame seeds (optional)


In a glass measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk one egg in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large other bowl) whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Add the egg and yeast mixture and mix with a dough hook in your stand mixer on low until combined. Continue kneading on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Alternately (if you don't have a stand mixer) you can knead the dough by hand on a well-floured counter until smooth and elastic, for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get.

Shape dough into a ball and place it into a greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

Punch down dough and let rest for a few minutes before proceeding. Divide dough into 10  equal pieces and shape into balls. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper two to three inches apart. Spray some plastic wrap with non-stick cooking spray and place over the shaped buns. Return to a warm place and continue to rise for an additional one to two hours.

Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Apple Pie Bars

I don't know about you, but I crave comfort food when I'm sick, and I've been sick with a bad case of a cold since the weekend. Nothing is appealing to me food wise and I'm lucky to have an amazing husband who has jumped in and prepared most meals for the family. My taste buds aren't functioning and my hunger is pretty much non-existent, but it was Labor Day weekend and with all the kids at home for three days, I knew I had to come up with something that resembled some kind of dessert.

I looked in my fridge for inspiration since a trip to the store was out of the question and found apples. Not enough apples to make a quint-essential all American apple pie, but enough to make this recipe for Apple Pie Bars. I found the recipe in another Cuisine at Home magazine and it sold me right away for its ease of preparation. The crust does double duty as the streusel topping and makes assembling the dish a snap. The recipe calls for Granny Smith apples which are usually my go-to apple for baking anyway. They hold their shape nicely without getting mushy and make for a not too sweet dessert.

Flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon are whisked together in a bowl. Some of that mixture is removed and reserved for the streusel topping. After that, you cut cold butter into the mix before pressing it into a springform pan and baking it for about 15 minutes. Apples are peeled and diced, and then mixed with sugar, heavy cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and a bit of flour. The apple mix is immediately spread onto the hot crust before being topped with the reserved streusel mix that had melted butter added to it. The bars are then baked for another 30 - 40 minutes or until golden brown. 

These bars were a huge hit in our home especially when served with a dollop of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. I will have to take my families word on how good they were since I couldn't taste much, but considering how fast they disappeared I would say they were delicious.  This recipe is a great alternative if you don't want to go through the hassle of making a pie, and it fits the approaching fall season perfectly!

Apple Pie Bars
(adapted from Cuisine at Home)
(Printable Recipe)


2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, diced
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 10 inch springform pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray.

Combine 2 cups flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and slat for the base and streusel mixtures in a bowl. Transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a second bowl; set aside for the streusel later.

Cut 6 tablespoons cold butter and milk into the remaining dry ingredients using a pastry blender or your fingers. Mix until clumps form.

Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan, using a measuring cup to "tamp" down the dough. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until set and gold at the edges.

Stir melted butter into the reserved streusel mixture until sandy; set aside.

Toss all ingredients for the filling (apples, sugar, heavy cream, flour, vanilla, cinnamon and salt) together. Arrange over the hot base, pushing apple pieces to the edges of the pan to completely cover the crust.

Sprinkle apples with the streusel topping, and bake until apples are soft and streusel is golden, 30-40 minutes. Cool bars for at least 30 minutes before removing the side of the pan and cutting into wedges. Store bars at room temperature or chill.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guacamole Salad

Avocados go on sale quite frequently in my neck of the woods, and when they do I like to buy a whole bunch. Everyone in our house loves them, and it isn't unusual for my kids to split one for a snack after school. I know they are high in fat, but at the same time it's the "good for you" kind. In case you didn't know, Avocados are a fruit and not a vegetable and have the highest protein content of any fruit. They also contain more potassium than bananas, so all in all, despite the fact that they are high in calories, they are really good for you.

Guacamole is always a popular choice in our home and is prepared very frequently, but last week after an abundance of avocados in the refrigerator (it will slow down the ripening process) and having had guacamole a couple of times already, I was ready to find a different recipe using the green fruit. For a second I thought about making Avocado ice cream, but I couldn't quite get "there" mentally, it sounded just a little bit too strange for the time being. So on the internet I went looking. I didn't have to search very long until I found this recipe for Guacamole Salad from none other than the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.

The salad sounded like it would be quickly made and I loved that it had a great Southwestern twist to it. Red grape tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, black beans, red onions, green jalapenos and bright green avocados make this salad a colorful feast for your eyes. The salad is dressed with a simple lime and oil dressing which receives a little additional kick from cayenne pepper, and finally diced avocados are added right before serving (to prevent browning) to the mix.

This salad was delicious! Everyone had seconds and this dish will be made over and over again. I served this alongside Southwestern seasoned grilled steaks with some crusty bread. This salad is a beautiful addition to any dinner table and reminded me that I need to look for more of Ina Garten's recipes, which always seem to turn out well.

Guacamole Salad
(adapted from Ina Garten)


1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and 1/2-inch diced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup small diced red onion
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno peppers, seeded (2 peppers)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 ripe Hass avocados, seeded, peeled, and 1/2-inch diced


Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeno peppers, and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables. Toss well.
Just before you're ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ice Cream Fridays: Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream and Giveaway Winner Announcement

Welcome to the final installment of Ice Cream Fridays for the year. All of you ice cream fans, this does not mean that I won't be featuring seasonal ice cream flavors every now and then, it just means, that for now it will not be a regular feature anymore. But don't fret, Ice Cream Fridays will be back for sure next year with new ideas and flavors. For the time being though, I'm cooking up a couple of different ideas for a new Friday feature, so stay tuned to see what I have in store.

Which ice cream did I chose to cap off my feature? It is none other than a Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream with Chambord. To break this one down with one simple word would be: Decadence. I had this flavor bookmarked in my all time favorite ice cream book, "The Perfect Scoop" for a very long time. I figured there was no better time than now to feature a flavor combination that I have loved for as long as I can remember, raspberries and chocolate.

This ice cream was another very easy, non-custard based, quick to fix recipe. Heavy cream, unsweetened (dutch processed) cocoa powder and sugar are whisked together and brought to a boil. Fresh (or in my case freshly frozen) raspberries are added and left to "steep" for a bit. The mixture is then processed in a food processor or blender until smooth, and finally strained to remove all those pesky little "get stuck in your teeth" seeds. To kick the flavor up another notch, I added a couple of tablespoons of Chambord liqueur to really enhance the raspberry flavor. After chilling in the refrigerator for a few hours the mixture is churned in an ice cream maker.

True bliss with every creamy, rich, decadent bite. On first taste you think it's just a chocolate ice cream until the bright tartness of the raspberries gets you upon swallowing - heavenly. One of my definite favorites this year. One that I will be making over and over again. Maybe next time I'll add some chopped semi-sweet chocolate to the final mix to make it even better (if possible).
In case you were wondering what my personal top 5 ice cream flavors were this season, here they are in no particular order:

- Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream with Chambord

 And finally, here is the winner (who was generated by of the giveaway. The winner receives the book that has brought me,
and hopefully all of you, so much joy this summer:

Congratulations to:
who said:
"I recently purchased an ice cream maker so I've been enjoying your ice cream posts. I'm a Nutella fan."

Please contact me by email with your address so I can send you the book! :o)

Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream with Chambord

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
5 tablespoons (40 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
2 cups (240 g) raspberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur

Whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up). Remove from the heat and add the raspberries. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.

Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender. If you wish, press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Add the Chambord.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Adapted from: The Perfect Scoop


Related Posts with Thumbnails