Friday, January 23, 2009

Stay tuned...

The FedEx man rang my doorbell this morning, bearing a small package for me. I had no idea what it was - I certainly wasn't expecting anything. Then, as I looked at the sender on the label, I started to remember...

Back in mid-December, Foodie Bride had emailed me to alert me to the last Blake Makes giveaway for 2008. I entered with a comment, having no idea of whether I had acted in time or not, and then promptly forgot about it until the box of Amano Artisan Chocolate showed up on my doorstep this morning!

If you haven't heard of Amano before (and I'll admit, I hadn't), you should check them out - their process pretty nifty. All their chocolate is made in small batches, using antique 1900s machinery from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany. They are one of a very small group of companies in the U.S. that manufacture their own chocolate directly from the bean.

These people take their chocolate very seriously - how many other Chocolate Tasting Guides have you ever seen out there?

So what did today's surprise box o'chocolate arrive bearing? Three different bars, all 70% dark chocolate. Ocumare, made from beans harvested from the central coast of Venezuela, is their flagship bar. It is said to have both fruity and floral notes, as well as some raisin, smokey, and woody notes that may come out. Madagascar is, not surprisingly, made from beans harvested in Madagascar - but the beans are grown from the offspring of cacao trees that were brought to Madagascar from Venezuela at the end of the 19th century. It is said to be the chocolate bar for those who don't care for dark chocolate, with a fruity, plum-like flavor, along with some slight citrus hints at the end. Last, but certainly not least, is Jembrana. This is the special bar, I am told. It is made from beans harvested on the southwest coast of Bali. Amano is the only company in the U.S. importing cacao beans from Bali. It is said to have a deep chocolate flavor and a gentle nuttiness, with some coffee-like hints as well.

Obviously sampling this chocolate and giving it it's proper due is going to be no small task. Stay tuned for the reviews of our introduction to Amano. In the meantime, any suggestions as to how best to savor and review this fantastic treat are certainly welcome!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Whip It Up 5 - Peach "Cobbler"

Why, you may ask, did I put "cobbler" in quotes in the title of this post? In my family, cobbler involves a pastry type crust like you would use in a pie - not the batter that forms a cake-like surrounding for the fruit in this recipe. To Bryon, however, that is cobbler. Clearly, we disagree. Nonetheless, I had a bunch of beautiful peaches on-hand last week that needed to be used ASAP, and I knew this would make him happy, so I made a modified version of his mother's "cobbler" recipe.

Instead of using sugar, I used Splenda, and I used what I refer to as "fake butter" (i.e., I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Light) for half of the butter called for in the recipe. Using Splenda and half "fake butter" didn't affect the final result in the slightest - in fact, in the future I'll try using all "fake butter." Bryon's mom noted that she often only uses half of the butter called for, and in the future, I'll do that as well, because I found that using the entire amount left the fruit fairly floating in butter. Oh, she also mentioned that this recipe works well with blueberries too.

The recipe was easy enough, and Bryon (as resident expert on how this recipe should turn out tasting) didn't think subbing Splenda and "fake butter" affected the final result in the slightest. Since it's a favorite of his, I know I'll be having to make it again in the future. I'll work on trying to get an accompanying picture up soon.

Peach "Cobbler"

2 cups sliced peaches
2 cups sugar, divided*
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup flour
Pinch of salt
¾ cup milk
¾ cup sweetened coconut
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Mix peaches with 1 cup sugar. Place butter in deep pan (an 8x6x2 Pyrex works well) and place in oven to melt.

Stir together the remaining sugar, flour, baking powder, and milk to form a batter. Pour the batter over the melted butter – do not stir! Place peaches on top of the batter and sprinkle coconut and pecans over the top. Bake for 1 hour or until the crust is golden – the batter will rise to the top during baking.

Note: Depending on how sweet the peaches are, typically only ¼ - ½ of the sugar called for on the peaches is really necessary. The amount of butter called for can also be cut in half.

Source: Bryon's mom

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Whip It Up Week 4 - Chocolately Goodness!

Thanks to some extreme technical difficulties, I'm about two weeks behind in posting Whip It Up updates - sorry everyone!

One of my favorite things about being back in San Antonio is that I can occasionally run by Joseph's Storehouse - San Antonio's premiere restaurant/bakery/church - again for lunch or a sweet treat, like Amy and I used to do when we were at Trinity. Amy is a girl after my own heart and firmly believes in finishing most every meal with a little something sweet - Joseph's cookies were often just the thing we needed!

My mom and I stopped into Joseph's seeking a sweet treat on a trip to the area two years ago and discovered Joseph's gigantic chocolate fudge cupcakes. I noticed a framed newspaper article on the wall where the recipe had been printed and figured I'd have no trouble finding that particular article online - I was wrong.

Bryon and I met for lunch during the week at Joseph's recently, and I took the opportunity to furiously scribble down the recipe while Bryon was paying for our meal. Upon closer examination, the recipe is nearly identical to a sheet cake recipe that my mom has been making for as long as I can remember, except her recipe uses shortening, cinnamon, and there's less vanilla extract in the icing.

The cupcakes are rich, fudgey, and wonderful - definitely a winner! And, like my mom's recipe, it can be made as a sheet cake as well. Will I make it again? Probably - but I think I'll add the cinnamon to the batter that my mom's recipe includes. The recipe is very easy - I think even a very beginning baker would have no problem with these whatsoever.

Joseph's Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cocoa
1 cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350. Grease jumbo muffin tin or rectangular cake pan. Sift dry ingredients together. Add liquid ingredients and mix well. Bake 25-30 minutes for large cupcakes, or 30-40 minutes for cake.


4 Tablespoons cocoa
6 Tablespoons milk
1 stick butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Begin preparing the icing approximately 5 minutes before the cupcakes or cake is done baking. Bring butter, cocoa and milk to boil. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients, mixing well. Pour/spread over hot cake(s).

Source: Joseph's Storehouse Bakery, Grandma Goldsmith

Friday, July 25, 2008

Whip It Up Week 3 - An Asian Adventure!

I was in the mood for something different this week, and a package of ground pork spoke to me when I was in the grocery store the other day. Then I remembered there were two recipes over on Shawnda's blog that I had been wanting to try, and both of them used ground pork. Pork fried rice and potstickers it was!

Both recipes were very tasty and easy to follow. The fried rice was very easy to make. The potstickers involved more steps in terms of preparation, and folding the dumplings can be a bit of a challenge, but none of it was too difficult. I didn't pay proper attention to the cooking temperature for the potstickers, so mine didn't turn out quit right - in fact, the bottoms of my potstickers did stick to the pot. They may not have been pretty, but they still tasted great! I think we'll keep both of these recipes.

Shawnda serves her potstickers with an orange sesame dipping sauce. We just dip ours in soy sauce. I made a few modifications to the fried rice recipe. First, I used brown rice instead of white (which worked perfectly). I also added mushrooms to the assortment of vegetables because I really like them in my fried rice. Bryon doesn't eat mushrooms, but he's perfectly capable of picking them out. I also like more egg in my fried rice, so I used 2 eggs instead of the 1 the recipe calls for. Finally, I doubled the amount of soy sauce used in the recipe, and we both ended up putting more soy sauce over the rice on our plates.

Pork Fried Rice

½ lb. ground pork
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups cooked rice, cold
½ cup green onions, chopped
1/3 cup carrots, chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup green peas
1 egg
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon soy sauce

Brown the pork over medium high heat, drain and set aside. Add vegetable oil to skillet over high heat, stir fry onions and rice. Add carrots and peas and stir fry for 2 minutes. Push rice to side. Whisk egg, pepper, and sesame oil and pour into skillet. Stir until egg is cooked and mix into the rice. Add pork and soy sauce, taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Excuse my sad little bowl of potsticker pieces


½ lb. ground pork
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup chives
2/3 cup green onions
1 cup Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Wonton wrappers (about 30)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Cook the ground pork over medium heat until done. A dd the remaining ingredients (through the garlic) and cook until the greens have wilted nicely. Let the mixture cool just a bit and add it to the bowl of a food processor. Process the filling until it reaches the desired consistency.

Lay a wrapper on a flat, dry surface a put a tablespoon of the mixture in the middle. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, wet the wonton wrapper surrounding the filling and fold the dumpling, pressing the seams together: bring two opposite corners to the center; bring the remaining corners to the center one at a time and press tightly.

Add oil to a clean skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add dumplings. Add 1/3 cup water to the pan and cover tightly. Remove from heat when the dumplings are golden brown on one side (about 4 minutes)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Whip It Up Makeup

I was a busy, busy superhero last week, and although I did managed to try a new recipe (two, actually), I didn't manage to find time to write it up and post it. So here are last week's recipes, and hopefully tomorrow I'll get this week's (and yes, there are two recipes again this week too) posted.

Our annual tubing trip was last weekend, and that meant I needed cookies! I decided to try my hand at two different recipes, but giving each a twist of my own. First, I decided to try out and "doctor-up" my grandmommy's peanut butter cookie recipe. Then I gave my friend Kasey's oatmeal-craisin cookie recipe a go and jazzed it up a little more. Both types of cookies were a big hit this weekend, so I think they'll definitely be made again, and neither recipe was any more difficult than your average cookie recipe.

Grandmommy's Peanut Butter Cookies - With a Twist!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bag Reese’s baking peanut butter cups

Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternating with peanut butter, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla. Fold in Reese’s cups. Cover and chill 1-2 hours.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. If using Reese’s cups, roll in sugar, then place on ungreased cookie sheet. If not using Reese’s cups, place balls on ungreased cookie sheet and press with fork dipped in sugar to flatten cookies, making a crisscross shape on top. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Yield: About 10 dozen.

Monkey Tree Oatmeal Craisin Cookies - Jazzed Up!

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 (generous) teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups Quaker oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup Craisins 1 cup walnuts (toasted for 3-5 minutes at 350)
1-2 cups coconut

Heat oven to 350. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well. Add oats and Craisins; mix well. Stir in walnuts and coconut.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Yield: About 4 dozen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Whip It Up - Pasta!

Okay, for my first foray into the Whip It Up challenge, I stuck to the suggested theme of pasta. My friend Sarah had recently posted this Rachel Ray recipe on her blog and I was interested in trying it out. I made a few modifications of my own, which I have made note of below. Bryon and I both liked it, and it was super-easy, so I think it will definitely stay in our "rotation."

A few notes about this recipe (and RR recipes in general) from Sarah's blog:
  • Read through the entire recipe at least once before you start. There are always a couple of twists and turns that you might miss if you aren't ready for them.
  • You must chop/prep all the ingredients before you start cooking.

I used the entire 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper that it called for. We tend to have somewhat "milder" palates. This amount was just fine, but any more would have been too much for us. Those out there who like spicier Italian dishes will probably want to add more. In the future, I'll probalby use just a little bit less. I may also cut back just slightly on the amount of fresh basil in the future (I was probably a bit heavy-handed with it this time). I love fresh basil, but it almost gave the sauce a slightly licorice-like taste. The allspice gives the sauce a really nice flavor, though. It sort of warms you from the inside out.

You only use half of the meat/tomato sauce in the final toss. The leftover sauce is supposed to be for topping purposes. We found this wasn't necessary. In the future, I'll probably just make a half-recipe of the meat/tomato sauce, since the other half is currently sitting in the refrigerator, waiting for me to come up with a use for it.

Not-sagna Pasta Toss

Easier than lasagna, because it's not, this pasta, meat sauce and ricotta toss-up is just as hearty and comforting as the layered Italian fave, but it's ready in a fraction of the time and with much less effort.

1 pound curly, short cut pasta (i.e., campanelle, fusilli, cavatappi)
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 turns of the pan)
2 pound ground sirloin*
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (eyeball it in your palm)
Black pepper
½ teaspoon allspice (eyeball it in your palm)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce*
½ cup dry red wine (a couple of glugs)
½ cup beef stock
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
**3 teaspoons granulated sugar**
1 cup fresh basil (about 20 leaves)
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (a couple of handfuls), plus some to pass at the table

*I used whole wheat pasta, ground turkey, twice the amount of Worcestershire, and the entire 15 oz. container of ricotta.*
**RR's recipe does not call for sugar in the sauce. My grandmother taught me that almost any recipe involving cooked tomatoes needs some sugar to bring out the flavor, and I found that to be true of this recipe as well. **

Heat a large pot of water to boil for pasta. Salt water and cook pasta to al dente. Heads up: you will need a ladle of the starchy cooking water to help form sauce before draining.

Heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan. Add the meat and break it up into small bits as it caramelizes. Once meat has good color to it, 4 to 5 minutes, add garlic, onions and red pepper flakes and season with salt, pepper, allspice and Worcestershire sauce. Cook another 5 minutes, deglaze the meat and onions with red wine, cook off a minute, then combine about 1/2 cup of stock into the meat. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a bubble. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 5 minutes.

Place ricotta cheese in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Add a ladleful of boiling, starchy pasta water to the ricotta and stir to combine. Add a couple of handfuls of grated Parmesan to the ricotta and mix it in.

Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with cheeses. Add half the thick meat sauce to the pasta bowl and combine. Tear or shred the basil and add to the meat and pasta, toss again. Taste to adjust salt and pepper.

Serve bowlfuls of Not-sagna with extra sauce on top and more grated Parmesan to pass at the table.

Source: Express Lane Meals by Rachel Ray, Food Network

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Coconutty Goodness!

While thumbing through Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen cookbook (I am really liking this cookbook!) for ideas this past weekend, I stumbled upon a recipe that I knew I just had to try - coconut bread! I always keep a bag of shredded coconut in the freezer, and I also just happened to have a can of unsweetened coconut milk on hand, so I was set!

I did not, however, have any crushed pineapple on hand (fresh would have been another story), so I haven't gotten to make the accompanying pineapple butter yet. I'm sure it's fantastic, though, and I'm hoping to make some tomorrow.

Coconut Bread with Sweet Pineapple Butter

Coconut Bread:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut, toasted (see Note)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Note: To toast the coconut, preheat the oven to 350. Spread the coconut on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring periodically (10 minutes was more than enough time for my coconut). Toasting will fluff up the coconut and increase its volume (as well as make it taste better).

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with butter.

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter with the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Pour in the coconut milk and whisk together.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold everything together until you have a smooth batter (a rubber/silicon spatula works well for this). Gently fold in the shredded coconut until evenly distributed.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan and set it on a cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread. Rotate the pan periodically while baking to ensure even browning.

Cool the bread in the pan for 20 minutes. Then, when bread is cool enough to handle, turn out of pan and remove bread to wire rack or cutting board to cool completely before slicing.

Pineapple Butter:
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Press the liquid out of the crushed pineapple using the back of a spoon. (If there is too much juice, the fruit will separate from the butter.) In a small bowl, mash the pineapple with the softened butter until well blended. A food processor is a quick alternative to making the compound butter. Mound the butter in a small serving bowl.

To serve, toast the slice of coconut bread, dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve with the creamy pineapple butter.

Source: Adapted from Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen cookbook