dessert · kid-friendly · Recipes

Semi-Molten Chocolate Mini Cakes

So my 35th birthday was this past Sunday, and Mark gave me a relaxing agenda: spa mani-pedi, dinner, and general relaxation including (but not limited to) showering uninterrupted. Georgia, being three, had other plans. She did let me bathe alone for a grand total of 20 minutes, but upon realizing we weren’t having a kid-style party at our house to mark the occasion, she demanded — as only a preschooler can do — that we make a chocolate cake together, and stat. I neither enjoy chocolate cake nor had many staples handy, so we got creative and raided the pantry for whatever we could cobble together. Considering the constraints and the last minute nature of her request, the results were nothing short of amazing!

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Inspired by a recipe I’d filed away from Smitten Kitchen, these mini chocolate cakes were just the thing to satisfy Georgia’s desire to make a birthday treat with little notice and very few ingredients on hand. They are heavy on butter, chopped chocolate and a critically important dash of salt, and I simply love the personal-pan sized dessert that results. These offer the perfect mix of gooey middle and crusty top, collapsing just a bit on themselves right after coming out of the oven. You mix it all by hand in one bowl and then let the batter sit on the counter for half an hour while you relax play Magna-tiles, and when they come out of the oven after just 25 minutes, they have a crisp shell that provides exactly the right amount of resistance to your bite. Don’t resist completely! Give in to this semi-sweet indulgence.

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We enjoyed them outside in the yard as a mini-picnic, because why not?

Semi-Molten Chocolate Mini Cakes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate rough-chopped
  • 14 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whole wheat flour (all purpose is fine too)

DIRECTIONS

Place the chopped chocolate and chopped butter together into a large microwave-safe bowl. In 15-30 second intervals, heat then stir the two together until fully melted and blended.

Place on a cool surface and whisk in the sugar. Then whisk in the salt and each egg, adding them one at a time and mixing fully into the batter before adding the next one. Stir in the flour and mix gently until blended into a smooth batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place on the counter to stand and thicken at room temperature for half an hour.

Heat the oven to 325°F and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with baking spray (or use cupcake papers).

Fill each cup halfway with batter, then bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the mini cakes to cool on a rack for up to 10 minutes before unmolding from the tin. The puffed-up tops will fall a bit as they cool, and this is normal! The cakes should be very fudge-y on the inside. Don’t leave them in the cupcake tin too long like I did the first time I made this, or it’ll be very hard to get them out. If you let them cool for 5-10 minutes and immediately pop them out of the tin, they should come right out.

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As noted in the original recipe, these can also be made with about 2 tablespoons less sugar if desired, to produce a more noticeably bittersweet cake. That is another great option. How else to embellish these? Some fresh whipped cream, maybe, or some raspberries. To craft a more nuanced flavor, I used a mixture of chocolate — some semi-sweet baking chips, as well as some stone-ground Taza Mexican chocolate — and it was really delicious. I like to keep some Taza discs on hand for use in various recipes. I’m not a chocolate freak by any means, but I love their slightly gritty texture and flavor selections like cinnamon, salted almond, coffee, guajillo chili and more.

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Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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Blue Apron · Recipes

Tomato Zucchini Quiche

Boy, do I love quiche. Too bad it isn’t the healthiest thing around! What it lacks in fiber it makes up for in protein, however, and for vegetarians this can be a very good thing. Not to mention it’s a simple meal to throw together on a hot night, and if you toss a light salad alongside, you can make it a balanced dinner that’s budget- and family-friendly. I use pre-bought pie crusts when I’m crunched for time, and zucchini and tomatoes from my garden when they’re abundant. Combine that with some ricotta, eggs, and cheese, and you’re only 20 minutes away from yum.

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Zucchini & Tomato Quiche

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large, pre-baked pie crust (or 2 mini), store bought or home made
  • 1 zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup fontina cheese, grated or chopped small
  • salt, pepper & olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425. Set the pie crust(s) out on a non-stick baking sheet to come to room temperature.

Small dice the zucchini and quarter the tomatoes. Dice or shred the cheese if it comes in a block. Peel and mince the garlic and smash into a paste using either the side of a knife, a mortar and pestle, or a zester.

In a medium non-stick pan, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, then add the zucchini and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned and soft, then add the tomatoes and garlic paste. Stir for a couple minutes or until fragrant, then remove from the heat.

In a medium sized bowl, crack the two eggs and whisk; add the ricotta and whisk again, the add the cooked zucchini and tomatoes, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust(s) and evenly top with cheese.

Bake the quiches in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the fillings are set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Serve warm, at room temp, or even cold straight from the refrigerator!

Notes: 1/4 cup cheese is about one ounce, or 4 TBSP; you can also just eyeball the amount you’d like based on how heavy you want the dish to be. Add more or less to your health and taste needs, and vary the cheese type if you like something else better. You can also add a little more garlic; I did. Don’t want to overdo it, though.

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This recipe came to me in my Blue Apron delivery. Unlike some of their meals, this featured no hard-to-find ingredients or complex preparation steps, so it was easy for us to replicate. I’ve also made more than a few quiche in my day, but even for newbies it’s a pretty hard dish to mess up! Enjoy and stay cool in this drought-level heat wave.

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kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Potato Salad

What else says summer like potato salad? My mom makes the hands-down yummiest, but if you can’t have hers, this is the next best thing.

I think potatoes get a bad rap: branded as a pound-packer since the low-carb craze of the early 2000s, potatoes are in fact quite nutrient dense, especially if you keep the skin on as I do in this recipe. Full of fiber and potassium, potatoes can absolutely be part of a healthy diet — especially for vegetarians — if you keep portion sizes in check and watch the fattening add-ons like sour cream, bacon, cheese, and Miracle Whip (back away from the fake spreads!) This recipe derives flavor from lots of ingredients, from green onions to pickles and celery, and cuts the mayo dressing with bright Dijon mustard. You won’t miss one ounce of creamy texture, but you will get just enough zip to perk up the whole dish without tipping over into spicy territory. Serve cold or at room temperature ~ enjoy!

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Classic Potato Salad

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 pounds red potatoes, skin on, cut into quarters
  • 3-4 eggs, hard boiled
  • 1 small onion (red or yellow), diced; or use a bunch of scallions/green onions
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 small sweet pickles, chopped
  • 2/3 Cup mayonnaise
  • 2 TBSP Dijon (OR 1 TBSP each Dijon and Yellow, to reduce spice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: fresh or dried dill for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Set the eggs on to boil if you haven’t any on hand, and then place a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, prep your other ingredients.

Quarters the potatoes. Small dice the onions and set aside in a small bowl of water to take the bite out of them. Chop the celery and the pickles and set aside.

Cook the potatoes in the boiling water for about 10 minutes or until fork tender. (Note: if you prefer to cook whole potatoes and chop after, allow for 30 minutes cooking time.) Drain and set aside to cool.

Once cool, stir in the pickles, celery, onion, eggs (discarding the water they soaked in), mustard and mayo, and stir together, seasoning to taste. I like to half-mash them to break up the texture so it’s somewhere between chunky and smooth. You can do anything for complete mashing to leaving the potatoes in big pieces. Top with fresh dill if using.

Serves a good sized crowd, and will stay good in the fridge for a week. 

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There are a few ways Potato Salad can go wrong.

Choice of spud is key: russets aren’t really your best bet, because they turn to slop so quickly. I’m a fan of catching that texture somewhere in between total mush and in-tact crunch, so something like a red bliss, fingerling, or even purple potato is better for me. The less starchy, the better. You’d want to pick a high-starch Russet for nice, fluffy mashed potatoes, but not so much for a salad where it’s important they hold their shape.

Fresh eggs, boiled just before you are about to make the salad, taste better.

I normally don’t do this, but seasoning the water for boiling the potatoes is key. Potatoes can end up pretty bland if you don’t salt the water. You can make sure you don’t damage your pans by adding the salt after the water is at a rolling boil, and before you add the potatoes to cook.

Let the potatoes cool off a bit before adding the mayo. If you add it too quickly while they are still warm, it can change the consistency of the dressing and turn it a bit oily. You can also use Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise if you prefer.

Finally, as I said above, I really feel like Miracle Whip is never the right choice, but I won’t judge too harshly those who disagree. 😉

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If you are in Boston, stay cool in the heat wave that’s just starting up. And happy Amazon Prime Day! What deals do you have your eye on? Popular items seem to be the Echo and the Instant Pot. There are also deals to be had on the Fire TV stick and kids tablets, if you’re in the market for one. On the food front, I might check out the markdown on a stainless pasta maker or a stand mixer. Personally, I’ll probably end up buying something boring like diapers or work shoes for myself; the dress form I really want is not on sale for Prime Day, unfortunately!

Don’t forget to also mark your calendars for the other big sale that happens this time of year — the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. It is not to be missed and I’m already hard at work making my virtual wish list. 🙂

Recipes · Slow Cooker

Carbonara 2.0: company edition

A few weeks ago, we were talking about having a friend over for dinner — his wife, a colleague of Mark’s, is on tour for over a year — and Mark thought it would be really nice to hang out together and cook him a solid, stick-to-your-ribs, home-made, comfort-food dinner. And, since he really wanted to do the cooking himself, he either had to learn a new recipe or amp up the wow factor of his spaghetti carbonara, which is really the only dinner he cooks by himself. 

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And then! We saw an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that gave us just the inspiration we were waiting for. So, after putting Georgia to bed one night during vacation, we put our heads together to start recipe testing. And I think we finally made the tweaks that will turn this weeknight staple into a creamier, more decadent dish worthy of company.

Here are the key things we changed:

  • Cooking the bacon in a tbsp of olive oil instead of relying on bacon fat to grease the pan.
  • Using a stainless steel pan instead of non-stick, which affects the drippings and the heat level you can use.
  • Smashing the garlic instead of dicing in a garlic press, which mellows the flavor; we also added it later in the cooking.
  • Adding wine to the sauteing bacon, but making sure it burns off a bit so the flavor doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Separating the egg whites and yolks, which allows the whites to impart an airiness to the sauce and prevents the risk of scrambling that arises when you add both to a hot pan. Also, adding yolks to the finished dish makes for an extremely creamy sauce.
  • Adding a dash of light cream for a thicker sauce and more fancy mouth feel.
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spaghetti carbonara: notoriously difficult to photograph.

My original recipe for spaghetti carbonara is posted here. I’ll list the new step-by-step directions below. We liked this so much that we are keeping almost every aspect except the cream for our weeknight dinner version! It really takes it to the next level.

Spaghetti Carbonara for Company

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. linguine
  • 1 package good bacon*
  • 1 cup pecorino, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed/smashed
  • 2 TBSP white wine
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

* if using high-quality pancetta instead, you’ll need about 4-5 ounces, NOT the equivalent of a 12-oz. package of bacon.

DIRECTIONS

Start by placing a large pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, chop the bacon into a large stainless steel saute pan and add a swirl of olive oil, about 2 TBSP.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot, stir to separate, and start cooking the bacon over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes and then add in the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add the wine and allow to burn off for a couple minutes, then season with plenty of black pepper and finally pour the cream over the pan.

When the pasta is just under-cooked, remove from the pot and add to the pan with the bacon. Stir. Turn off the heat and pour in the egg whites and half the grated cheese. Stir gently.

Just before serving, pour the yolks over the pasta and toss until the sauce it just thickened. Serve topped with the rest of the grated Pecorino cheese!

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Ways you can adapt this: use milk instead of light cream, or continue to omit dairy as in my original recipe; serve the egg yolks on top of the pasta or in a nest and allow guests to stir in themselves; add more pepper and/or red pepper flakes to heighten the heat; and of course, you can use high quality pancetta instead of run-of-the-mill bacon to make this even better-suited to a dinner party.

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I also know sometimes people like to toss in peas or some other cooked green, like broccolini or spinach, in the same way you would with fettuccine Alfredo. In Italy, pasta is never the main focus of the meal, so my serving recommendation always includes giving each person a small portion of such a heavy pasta, and pairing it with a steamed asparagus, minestrone soup to start, toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, or fresh bright greens (mesclun, arugula, etc.) tossed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt. And of course, with a glass of wine! However you enjoy it, I hope this hits the spot.

Stay tuned for Mark’s Super Bowl recipe, coming soon! And, check out these great ideas for game day snacks in the slow cooker, courtesy of the Today Show. I also saw the following cute idea for serving veggies with dip in individual serving cups at a friend’s baby shower:

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Isn’t that clever? you put the dip in the bottom.

Have a great weekend everyone, and stay safe in the storm we are getting up here in Boston. I’ll be here Saturday, and then visiting my mom in the hospital (she is having surgery today ~ keep her in your prayers, please!)

Holidays · News

Halloween Pics & Food News

Well. Georgia loved Halloween! Her whole family came over except for my in-laws, who were out of town, and we took her out for trick-or-treating for the second time in her life. The first time, she slept through it in daddy’s arms! This time, she was walking on her own, and she loved meeting all our neighbors! We’ve gone from having zero kids in the neighborhood to families with young children in every other house in the space of three years, which is awesome. I loved seeing all the costumes, the decorated houses, and chatting with some of our older neighbors who we don’t get to see very often. All in all, a feel-good Friday night, and we even navigated Daylight Saving Time unscathed.

Georgia also helped me decorate the house before our visitors arrived! We kept it simple by ordering pizza and wings for the whole crew. Her monogrammed “winged bat” treat bag is from Pottery Barn Kids, and her ladybug costume is Carter’s from Macy’s in Boston.

You better believe I stocked up on clearance candy this weekend for my office!

So what else is new?

Well, I was extremely excited to read about a new Swedish study that shows (in mainstream medicine, anyway) what homeopaths and complementary & alternative health practitioners — not to mention the rest of the world — have known for years: that milk is really not that good for you.

It’s no secret that sales of cow’s milk alternatives like rice, soy, almond, coconut and hemp milk have taken off in recent years, and with good reason: many boast impressive health claims and taste great too. Apparently, the dairy industry has taken notice, and is launching a major ad campaign to reinforce the notion that milk “does a body good.” Of course, it’s easy for me to say avoid milk, because I straight-up hate the taste of it and always have, and I’m lactose intolerant like 80% of humanity. So I understand that true milk lovers will have a harder time accepting that a big industry has lied to them their whole lives, and that milk contributes to higher mortality among populations that drink it most — and that bone health is excellent in populations that don’t drink it at all.

That said, you DO have to do your research when it comes to milk substitutes. It’s not as simple as chugging a bunch of soy or almond milk, and none of those options should be given to babies or toddlers outside a doctor’s supervision. Time ran a decent comparison of some popular non-dairy drinks earlier this year, and Self has a good slideshow that takes you through the options for replacing conventional cow’s milk, including organic milk, which is what we give Georgia every day.

Speaking of dairy alternatives, check out this amazing-looking Vegan Strawberry Orange Julius (whose flavors I’ve celebrated before!)

What else caught my eye lately:

Apparently you should always preheat your baking sheet

Did you know you can still use ingredients that have “gone bad?”

The stark differences between what the rich & poor feed their babies

Even more reasons to love eggs (except when you’re newly pregnant)

A list of the top nutritional powerhouse fruits & veggies you should be eating

This genius idea for remaking school fundraisers that rely on junk food

And, OK, fine ~ I’ll share a couple vegan recipes. This comes from Chloe Coscarelli’s new book on Italian vegan cooking (it IS possible and it’s not very hard). I love how accessible and filling her recipes are. You don’t feel you’re making a sacrifice.

Chloe’s Bow ties in garlic cream sauce and vegan lasagna

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Oh, and if you haven’t already, get out there and vote!

 

Recipes

Baked Egg Noodles with Cheese

I got this easy recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s new book, which was excerpted in an interview with her family for In Style Magazine. I whipped it up on a weeknight after work last week, and it was a hit! Leftovers were tasty, too. Pair with a nice salad for a healthier meal.

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Baked Egg Noodles with Cheese

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package (1 lb.) egg noodles
  • 1.5 C sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1.5 C sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 1/2 C sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 C bread crumbs
  • cooking spray

Notes: I used almond milk, reduced-fat block cheese and light sour cream, and organic eggs. I did not make my own bread crumbs, but would have if I had more time. I think this would turn out fine with packaged pre-shredded cheese if you are really in a rush. 1.5 cups of cheese is about 6 oz., or nearly an entire block of cheese from a brand such as Cabot’s.

DIRECTIONS

Prep a large baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 425 and put a large pot of water on to boil.

Grate the cheese, place in a medium bowl, and mix together. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and sour cream. (Make sure you whisk instead of just mixing so the liquids take on the right consistency when baked).

When the water starts to boil, add in the noodles and cook for just 3 minutes. Drain immediately in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop them from cooking.

Transfer the nooldes to the large bowl with the sour cream mixture and stir. Add 2 cups of the shredded cheese and mix well.

Using a silicone spatula, pour and scrape into the prepared baking dish. Add the bread crumbs into the remaining cup of cheese and toss together with your hands; sprinkle over the noodles.

Bake until golden and crispy on top, about 15 or 20 minutes.

Recipes

Cherry Vanilla Upside-Down Cake

As most of you know, I’m not a big baker. I only do it when forced, and I tend to rely on the same old recipes over and over and over…and over. So I really love an easy crowd-pleasing recipe, like this Vanilla Bean Cake baked upside down with cherries in the bottom of the pan. It’s simple, fast, and tasty: just my style. How fun would this be for the Fourth of July or any other summer cookout? Tastes amazing with ice cream.

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Cherry Vanilla Bean Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 box of vanilla cake mix, such as Trader Joe’s Vanilla Bean Bourbon Mix
  • 1 jar of cherries, such as Trader Joe’s Dark Morello in light syrup
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of cold milk

Directions

Drain the jar of cherries into a small bowl, reserving all the cherry juice for drizzling later. Set the bowl of cherries aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Meanwhile, mix the batter: melt the stick of butter and combine with the two beaten eggs. Stir, then add the dry mix, turning by hand until just combined and lumps are gone.

Pour the cherries into the bottom of a square glass baking dish. Pour the batter on top.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour in a glass baking dish (mine took a bit longer, but that’s how my oven is). It’s ready when the center is set and a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

To serve, drizzle some of the remaining cherry juice over top of the cake, and serve with whipped cream.

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Things didn’t go as planned? That has happened to me before when making an upside-down cake. It seems like it should be so easy, yet things can quickly go wrong when you use a different-sized pan than usual, it’s really hot outside, or you just forgot to leave enough time for the cake to cool before you need to leave for the party. The last time I made this, the center totally collapsed on me! Luckily, the rest was edible and I concealed the sunken middle with whipped cream and cherries for presentation’s sake, but if a similar cake disaster ever strikes you, here is a great resource for fixing things quickly.

Cherry Vanilla Upside-Down Cake

Enjoy! Light, fruity and delicious on a hot summer day. Vanilla ice cream is practically required 🙂