Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Pops

This recipe is so easy and so tasty that I had to post it as fast as I could blog about it! My great friend, Kathy, came over for a cooking visit and we had a great time making these cute little bites of deliciousness.

This was Kathy and my second attempt at making cake pops. You may have heard of them....yummy bites of cake and frosting covered in chocolate and on a lollipop? AMAZING! Please, PLEASE go visit Bakerella (www.bakerella.com) to see some truly amazing treats!

The only problems is we've never actually made them on the sticks...so they become more like bonbons, and that's ok!

You can make them using a homemade mix or a box mix (like we did). I am excited to try these using homemade recipes, but for the purpose of this post, I'll give you the quick low-down and you can experiment all you want!

Kathy's husband even renamed these treats "Devil Pops" because they're so good...consider yourself warned.

Red Velvet Cake Pops (or balls or bonbons, whatever!)

1 box of red velvet cake mix (or whatever flavor cake you'd like)
1 container of cream cheese cake frosting
1 package of chocolate candy melts
1 package of white chocolate candy melts
Sprinkles for decorating

Make the cake mix according to the box directions for a 13X9 cake pan. Allow the cake to cool completely. Over a large bowl, break the cake up into fine crumbs (Bakerella's tip is to rub pieces of cake together and it works like a charm!). To the crumbled cake, use about 3/4 (adding a little bit at at time) of the frosting and mix well. (You will NOT be using the rest of the frosting...feel free to use it for something else or discard it). The mixture should be moist enough to form into balls but not so moist that it is squishy.

*Be sure not to use too much frosting...if the cake is too moist, it will not set and it will be too squishy to coat with the candy melts. I also suspect this was our problem with getting them to stay on the sticks...I think we had the cake a bit too moist - so use a light hand with the frosting!!
Roll the mixture into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze the balls 15 - 20 minutes until very firm but not frozen through.

While the cake balls are setting up in the freezer, melt the candy melts in batches in microwave safe bowls. We used both white and dark chocolate candy melts for our cake balls. In a microwave safe bowl, melt at 50% power in 30 second increments.

Once the cake balls are set, plop one ball into the candy coating of your choice. With a spoon, make sure the ball is completely coated. Using the spoon, scoop out the cake ball and tap lightly to let any excess drip back into the bowl and get a nice, smooth finish on your cake ball.

Allow the cake ball to slide off the spoon back onto the parchment paper. Decorate immediately with the sprinkles of your choice (candy melts harden really quickly, so make sure if you're using sprinkles, to do it now!). Repeat with the remaining cake balls.

Try to resist, I dare you!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

French Macarons


This was my mantra when attempting to make French Macarons for the first time. Everywhere in the blogging world I was seeing these beauties. But just as frequently, I was reading posts about how difficult, finicky, and troublesome these treats were. So....I was afraid....just a little.

My brother and sister-in-law were coming over for a special dinner and I really wanted to surprise them with macarons. They'd first had them in France and then found some at Trader Joe's....and they were also amazing. But, being as daring (foolish?) as I was, I was determined to make them from scratch....please pray for me.

As it turns out, they are truly not that difficult. If you read up, do your homework, and have a plan things will go just fine. Once you're comfortable with the process, the possibilities are truly endless. Exciting new color and flavor combinations abound on the internet. So read this post, read some other posts, and decide if you're ready to make some of the most rewarding treats of your life!

Good luck!

*You will find the the measurements for the macaron shells are in metric, not volume. A kitchen scale is a MUST for these, therefore, other measurements will not be given.

Chocolate Macarons with Espresso Ganache Filling

For the Macarons:
110 gm blanched slivered almonds
200 gm minus 2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa powder (Dutch-process preferred)
100 gm egg whites (from about 3 eggs), aged at room temperature for 12-24 hours
50 gm granulated sugar

For the espresso ganache:
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
4 tbsp. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ tsp. espresso powder

To make the macaron shells: Pulse the almonds until finely ground in the bowl of a food processor. Add the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder until blended.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating until a smooth, shiny meringue (with stiff peaks) forms.

Add the ground almond mixture to the bowl with the meringues and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until all streaks are gone.

Line two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a plain, wide round tip. Pipe into small rounds (1-1 1/2 inches) spaced about 1 inch apart. Let them sit at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes or until a hard shell forms.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake 10 - 12 minutes (do not underbake! They will stick to the pan and "disembowel" themselves - although these still taste just as yummy!). Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow the shells to cool completely before moving the cookies.

While the cookies are cooling, make the ganache. Combine the cream, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Place the chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Bring the cream mixture to a simmer, remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes, then whisk gently in a circular motion until the ganache forms. Blend in the espresso powder (if using). Let the mixture cool until it is thick enough to pipe. (To speed the chilling process, place the bowl in the freezer and let cool, stirring every 15 minutes, until thick.)

Once the cookies have totally cooled, match them up by size. Pipe a layer of ganche on one cookie and sandwich it with another. Store in an airtight container.

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Swiss Buttercream Filling

Yield: about 20 macarons

For the macaron shells:
200 grams confectioners’ sugar
110 grams almonds (blanched, slivered, or sliced)
90 grams egg whites (aged at room temperature for 1 day or 3-5 days in the fridge)
25 grams granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise with the seeds removed

For the filling:
½ cup sugar
2 large egg whites
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla extract

To make the macaron shells, combine the confectioners’ sugar and almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the almonds are finely ground and the mixture is well blended. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat, gradually adding the granulated sugar. Beat until a stiff, glossy meringue forms (do not over-beat). Add the ground nut mixture to the bowl with the egg whites. Add the vanilla beans. Fold together with a spatula until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and the batter is thick and smooth.

Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a plain round tip and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1½ inches in diameter. Let the piped rounds sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to harden their shells.

Preheat the oven to 280˚ F. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool 15-20 minutes before removing from the baking sheet. Let cool completely before filling or storing.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until a thick and shiny meringue has formed and the bowl is cool to the touch. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low. Add in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each is incorporated before adding more. Once all the butter is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until thick and smooth. Blend in the vanilla.

To assemble the macarons, pair up the shells by size. Add the finished frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe a small round of frosting onto the flat side of one shell from each pair. Sandwich together with the other shell and push gently together so that the frosting reaches the edges of the cookies. Place the crushed candy canes in a shallow dish. Gently roll the assembled macarons in the crushed candy canes so they adhere to the frosting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baked Brie en croute with Fig Jam

If you're looking to impress with an effortless appetizer, you've found your recipe. This is a recipe which has Brie (a mild, creamy cheese) paired with fig jam and baked in a puff pastry crust (hence the very French, "en croute" which means "in a crust"). Pretty straightforward, right? It's also really fun to use the leftover puff pastry to decorate the top - it really adds that "little something extra!"

This appetizer is not only delicious, but fast and a real crowd pleaser. When you cut through the flaky crust, you are left with the sweet fig jam and a gooey, cheesy center. Spread it on water crackers and you'll be in Brie Heaven!

Baked Brie en croute with Fig Jam

1 sheet puff pastry, rolled to ¼-inch thickness
1 round Brie cheese, 6-8 oz. and about 4½ inches wide, chilled
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water
1 small jar of prepared fig jam
Water crackers, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Transfer the puff pastry to the prepared baking pan. Spoon a small amount (2-3 Tbs.) of the fig jam in the center of the puff pastry.

Using a sharp knife, cut the disc of cheese in half horizontally to create two thinner discs. Place the bottom disc in the center of the jam. Spread another 3-4 Tbs. of fig jam over the surface of the cheese. Top with the remaining cheese disc. Bring the puff pastry up around the edges of the brie. Fold and pinch the edges so that it is sealed at the bottom. Trim any excess puff pastry and save for decorations.

Flip the puff pastry over so that the seam is on the bottom. Using a knife or cookie cutters, cut out decorative shapes for the top of the brie. Adhere to the puff pastry with a small amount of the egg wash. Brush the surface of the puff pastry lightly with the egg wash.

Here it is all prettied-up and ready to get the egg wash!

Bake until the puff pastry is golden all over and crisp, 40-45 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter with a knife and crackers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oven Roasted Broccoli

While looking for the perfect side dish to server with salmon, I came across this recipe from Alton Brown on The Food Network. It not only sounded delicious, but I'd never heard of roasting broccoli.

Roasting the broccoli was so easy - just mix the ingredients together and BAM! (Like that Food Network reference, anyone?) This dish was one of the stars of the night! Everyone raved about it and there were no leftovers in sight. I will definitely be using this simple, elegant and tasty side dish again!

Oven Roasted Broccoli

1 pound broccoli, rinsed and trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs, lightly toasted (see below)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the broccoli florets into bite size pieces. Cut the stalk into 1/8-inch thick, round slices. Place the broccoli into a mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil, garlic, kosher salt and pepper and set aside.

Spread the Panko into a 13 by 9-inch metal cake pan and place into the oven for 2 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove the Panko from the oven and add to the bowl with the broccoli mixture. Toss to combine. Return the mixture to the cake pan, place in the oven and roast just until the broccoli is tender, 8 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven, toss in the cheese and serve immediately.

Apricot-Horseradish Glazed Salmon

This meal was a dinner that I made for an informal family dinner. The flavor combinations of the apricot and horseradish were surprising and delicious. It's a simple meal to make any weeknight, but also impressive enough to make for company.

The key here is to make sure you get good-quality, fresh salmon. There's nothing worse that expecting a great piece of fish, only to have one fishy bite after another. Fresh fish shouldn't smell fishy at all...rather it should smell fresh and clean (or really not smell like anything at all).

Apricot-Horseradish Glazed Salmon

1/3 cup apricot jelly
1 Tbs chopped fresh chives
1 Tbs prepared horseradish
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 (6-oz) salmon fillets, skin removed
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350. In a small bowl, whisk together the jelly, chives, horseradish, vinegar, and 1/4 tsp of the salt.

Heat oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle salmon on both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Lay in a single layer, being careful not to crowd, and cook for 3 minutes. Carefully flip the salmon fillets, and brush the tops with half the glaze.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 5 minutes, or until the meat flakes easily with a fork. Remove from oven and brush with remaining glaze. Serve immediately.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies have been making their rounds in the blogging world...so I just had to see what all the fuss was about! Turns out, these cookies are really decadent, full of rich chocolate flavor, and HEAVENLY when eating warm with a tall glass of cold milk!

The recipe is one that claims to be a replica of the famous Giant Double Chocolate Cookies from Lavain Bakery in Manhattan. This bakery is known for their decadent and over-the-top cookie creations. I have never been to Manhattan, so I've never had these cookies, but they seemed pretty irresistible to me.

Rather than make 12 enormous cookies as the original recipe stated, I decided to make smaller cookies. That way, when I eat them, they are tiny and therefore have less calories....right?

Another tip - try these still warm out of the oven. That's when they are the best! But, if you wait a bit, try reheating them for 10-12 seconds in the microwave the make them gooey and melty all over again! They will be good as new!

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup dark cocoa powder
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the cocoa powder until well blended. Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the bowl and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead briefly by hand to be sure the ingredients are well combined.

Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, divide into equal portions (OR divide into 12 equal pieces for those giant cookies!). As you work, roll each portion of dough into a ball and flatten just slightly into a disc. Place on the prepared baking sheets, a few inches apart. Bake 16-20 minutes or until the centers are just set - do not overbake!. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chipotle Honey Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

Although I have been tempting you with cream cheese brownies, I do realize that a LOT of people resolve to slim down after the holidays. I think you are all crazy but that's mostly because I think brownies are just too good to give up!

But, this recipe is proof that healthy food really can be flavorful and delicious. A word of caution - This recipe is SPICY! I happen to love spicy food and my husband is learning to love it, so we were fine with the recipe as is. But, I do know that some people don't like the heat of chipotle....so I have some suggestions for those who don't like things so hot....

You could:
1. Reduce the number of chipotles you use...this uses 4 but you could use 2 or less...or just use the adobo sauce rather than mincing and including the actual chipotle.
2. Skip tossing the sweet potatoes with the paste. I thought the sweet potatoes were pretty spicy (although delicious!) - maybe even more spicy than the chicken! Just add them to the roasting pan plain.

Chipotle Honey Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
serves 6

4 sweet potatoes (10 ounces each), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbs olive oil
4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs honey, plus more for drizzling
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs)
chopped cilantro, (optional - for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, chipotles, garlic, honey, vinegar, salt, cumin, and cinnamon. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 teaspoons of the paste. Toss with the sweet potatoes.

Scatter the potatoes on the bottom of a roasting pan, and bake 15 minutes. Meanwhile, rub the chicken breasts with the remaining paste.

Stir the potatoes. Carefully place the chicken on top of the sweet potatoes, and continue to roast until the chicken is just cooked through (registers 165 on an instant read thermometer), about 15-20 minutes longer.

Divide the potatoes and chicken evenly among serving plates and drizzle with remaining honey and garnish with cilantro. Serve and enjoy!.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies

For all your New Year's dieters, beware! I came across a similar recipe and immediately made it for my husband (well, it was for me too, but I said it was a special treat for him...I'm a good wife that way.). It's deliciously sinful and decadent....peanut butter....cream cheese....BROWNIES!! These are truly mouthwatering and go great with a tall glass of cold milk. Hey...that's getting your calcium, right?

This was the first time that I'd ever made my own brownies rather than using the box (they are just so darn convenient!) but I am glad I did. Adding the cream cheese to the brownies AND to the topping really made this rich, creamy, and worth the 9 billion calories :) (Can you tell I am anti-diet resolutions??)

Ok, these really aren't THAT bad for you...go on, try them...you know you want to!

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies

14 T. butter
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 C. dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 C. sugar
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
1 C. flour

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese swirl:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2/3 C. creamy peanut butter
6 T. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13X9 pan with foil or parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick spray.

To make the brownie batter, melt together the butter and chocolate in a large bowl. Whisk in the cocoa powder, sugar, eggs, and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. Add the flour and whisk until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared dish.

To make the peanut butter swirl, combine the cream cheese, peanut butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Blend in the egg and vanilla.

Drop spoonfuls of the peanut butter mixture over the brownie batter, creating a cobblestone appearance. Use a knife of skewer to gently swirl the peanut butter mixture and brownie batter.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until the center is just set. Let cool at room temperature. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to slice and serve. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tutorial: Cutting up a Chicken

Ok, folks...right up front I'm going to say it. This post is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. It's actually pretty gross.
Today's post is a tutorial about how to not hack apart, but rather nicely cut up a full-sized chicken.

Can you believe it? Until yesterday, I'd never actually done the work myself - I'd left this job to my local grocer or meat market guy (Thanks, Jim!). But, I have been seriously craving chicken and dumplings and/or fried chicken (weird, right?) and thought that I should do it properly....so here goes.

And believe me, I spent almost as much time talking and apoligizing to the chicken as I did actual cutting - we got quite close him and me. My first chicken may not be perfect, but I did find that the process was rather painless (for me, anyway), a little messy, but a LOT easier than I thought thanks to America's Test Kitchen, a sharp knife, a little bravery! :)

Tutorial: Cutting up a Chicken

1 whole chicken
1 sharp knife
1 plastic cutting board (*more on why later)
1 pair of kitchen/chicken scissors
General Notes: This tutorial will show you how to cut a chicken into 12 pieces rather than the standard 8 pieces. Chicken pieces used for frying, soups, etc. should be smaller so they cook faster and more evenly.

Here is where you get to see my sad, little cutting board. I have a big, beautiful solid wood board that I adore, really I do! But, alas, these types of tasks is why I keep my college cutting board on hand. Cutting up meat, poultry, etc. should always be done on a plastic, non-porous surface so that it can get a really good, deep-down clean when you're finished. A great-big plastic board is ideal, but as you can see, even a little one can work!

1. With a sharp chef's knife, cut through the skin around the leg where it attaches to the breast.

2. Using both hands, pop the leg joint out of its socket.

3. Use a chef's knife to cut through the flesh and skin to detach the leg from the body.

4. A line of fat separates the thigh and drumstick. Cut through the joint at this point. Repeat steps 1-4 with the other leg.

5. Bend the wing out from the breast and use your knife to cut through the joint. Repeat with the other wing. Cut through the cartilage around the wingtip to remove it. Discard the tip. Cut through the joint to split it. Repeat with the other wing.

6. Using poultry shears, cut along the ribs to completely separate the back from the breast. Discard the backbone.

Still with me? We're in the home stretch!

7. Place the knife on the breastbone, then apply pressure to cut through and separate the breast into halves.

8. Cut each breast in half crosswise into two pieces.

Now remember to respect the chicken and make it into something worthwile and delicious!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


When I first saw these peanut butter beauties, I knew I had to make them for my husband. You see, on one of our first dates, he found a buckeye and told me that his grandpa used to carry a buckeye in his pocket for good luck. He gave it to me and told me to keep it. He said that he didn't need any more good luck because he already had me. Altogether now, "AWWW!" He's so sweet like that. I knew even then that he was a keeper.

These treats turned out perfectly and were a real hit over the holidays. To me, they taste a lot like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and are dangerously addictive. They were also really simple to make but were impressive enough to bring to a party.

I hope you give these a try and if you're ever lucky enough to find a real buckeye, pick it up and hang on to it. Mine's been pretty lucky for me so far. :D


1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 10-12 graham crackers)
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
10 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
12 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until combined. Add the graham cracker crumbs and beat for 10 seconds. Add the sugar and butter, and mix on the lowest speed until combined, then increase the speed until the ingredients are well mixed (remember to scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated). The mixture will be crumbly and a little dry — this is perfect for shaping. Set it aside while you prepare the coating.

Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler, stirring until it is completely smooth or in a microwave in 30 then 10 second increments, stirring before you start it again until it is completely smooth. Let it cool to tepid while you shape the peanut butter centers.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out slightly more than one tablespoon’s worth of filling, break in half and use your hands to form it into two balls. Place the peanut butter centers on the prepared sheet and repeat the process until all of the candies have been shaped. They can sit close to each other but make sure they are not touching.

Using a fork or large skewer, dip each ball into the chocolate and roll it about so that almost the entire candy is coating, leaving a small circle uncoated. I found it easiest to stick the skewer in the side, angle the bowl I was using towards it and make sure it became submerged as I rolled the candy around.

Chill the buckeyes until they are set, about 30 minutes.

Recipe adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

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