Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Chocolate Peppermint Meringues

This is my third time making meringues in the last 4 months and the third time making them in my lifetime. In fact my very first blog post was on meringues. Turns out these are easy to make and my husband LOVES them. Who knew Mr. I Don't Like Desserts found a sweet treat that he actually asks me to make. In fact he's stooped to begging a couple of times. Note to self. Bribe Hubby with meringues...

So as exciting as this meringue revelation is, Hubby wasn't excited to hear this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick was for a flavored meringue. He asked me why do they have to mess it up with chocolate and peppermint? He's all about the vanilla. We'll get to the results a little later.

I recently purchased my first real cake decorating tips since I took cake decorating classes in 4H back in 6th grade. In fact the three tips I bought were specifically with meringues in mind. I bought a large star tip for shells and stars, large round tip for big round meringues and a small/medium sized round tip to make these cool spirals. I wish I could take credit for the spiral idea...but I saw it just a couple of weeks ago Five Ingredient Fix on the Food Network. Keeghan Gerhard (the former host of Food Network Challenge) guest starred and did an amazing dessert bar with ganache and meringues as the base relevant for this week's SMS pick. The spiral shape seemed perfect for a sandwich meringue.

Melissa Murphy's recipe calls for chopping 1 1/2 ounces of dark chocolate and grinding it a food processor with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar into a fine powder. When I folded into the meringues they looked like cookies and cream meringues. I prefer a more solid chocolate look and would probably use cocoa powder next time.

Here's my perpetual problem with seems to get that completely dry and airy crunch I have to bake them up to 2 hours MORE than the recipe calls for. I have even tried leaving them in the oven overnight turning the oven off. But they usually require a little more baking in the morning to get that list bit of chewy texture completely dried out. I live in Southern California and it's not overly humid here. So I'm not sure whats up with that. The ultimate result turns out just fine....but really, I don't have patience for up to 4 hours of baking.

Honestly I didn't have high expectations for these cookies. Between almost over cooking the egg mixture in the early stages, to the incessant baking time I just wasn't feeling it. But I got up this morning with a renewed sense of purpose and I made the ganache while the meringues finished baking. Like other SMS bakers, I was not able to find Peppermint oil (though I didn't look super hard). I used peppermint extract that was on sale at my local grocery store. I ended up using about a 1/2 teaspoon to get the flavor I was looking for. I used a 70% dark chocolate.

Soooo....these turned out really really good! Do you like Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies? Then you would love these. They taste like a light cloudy thin mint. Yum. Though Hubby likes thin mints he couldn't get past the fact that these were flavored meringues. Oh well! More for me.

Thanks to Kelly of Sweetgrass Sensibilities for choosing this tasty recipe. Click here to see what other Sweet Melissa Sunday bakers did this week.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sushi Nachos

Sushi? Nachos? Hmmm. A strange combination. This unlikely pairing has become a favorite at my house. I will admit up front that I did not dream up this delicious concoction. I got the idea from our favorite local sushi restaurant. Then our favorite sushi place closed for an extensive period for remodeling, thus cutting off the life line to the infamous nachos. What to do? I think you know the answer.

Luckily around the same time Hubby and I were craving our nachos, we discovered a great local butcher. A good old fashioned butcher that happens to carrier sashimi grade ahi tuna. The moment I spotted it in the butcher's case I knew nachos were in our near future.

So what is a sushi nacho you ask? A crispy fried wonton topped with raw ahi tuna, a dollop of avocado cream (i.e. guacamole), slivers of green onion and a few drops of soy sauce.

Ok, so there is no cheese in these nachos, but trust me you won't miss it! Cause I'm thinking ahi and cheese is a little weird.

But avocado and ahi tuna are, in my humble opinion, a culinary match made made in heaven. If you like either of these ingredients, try this dish! It's easy to make, and will make you feel like you are eating like a queen (or a king) in the comfort of your own home. Or you could really impress your friends and serve this as an appetizer at your next gathering.

Ahi tuna runs about $12.99 a pound at our butcher and Hubby and I made dinner out of 3/4 pound. Supplemented with a salad with fresh ginger dressing and you have a light, yet filling meal. The wonton wrappers (or in this case the potsticker wrappers) can be found in your local grocery store in the cold section containing asian and other ethnic products. And you can use the left over wrappers to make your own ravioli. Hopefully the subject of a post in the near future...

Sushi Nachos:
Serves 2 for dinner or 4-6 for appetizers

12 wonton or potsticker wrappers, fried in vegetable oil (flip after 10 seconds, these brown incredibly under 30 seconds total)
3/4 - 1 pound of sashimi grade ahi tuna, diced into 1/4 inch chunks
3 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce for drizzling
3 green onions, thinly sliced including white and green parts

Avocado Cream:
3 ripe avocados, diced
1/4 cup thinly sliced white or yellow onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly cracked pepper
Juice of 1 small lime
1 heaping Tablespoon of sour cream
6-8 dashes of tobasco (optional)

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. I use my mini prep for this. You can adjust the salt, pepper and lime juice to your taste.

To assemble place a dollop of avocado cream on the fried wonton wrapper. Top with about a teaspoon of ahi, another dab of avocado cream, thinly sliced green onions and drizzle with soy sauce to taste.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Toasted Almond Lemon Bars

Don't these lemon bars look pretty? I wish I could say they tasted as amazing as they look. I enjoyed photographing them more than eating them. I read all the feedback from other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers earlier in the week and was very encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive feedback. Though my bars taste just fine, I think I prefer a different kind of bar. These were too tart and I was expecting more wow factor from the almond crust.

Speaking of the crust, I'm not sure I understand Melissa Murphy's reasoning for forming the dough 1 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan...almost like a pie crust. This was a time consuming and challenging step that didn't seem to have a pay off...the lemon filling sets up nicely so the crust doesn't need to hold it in. After a total baking time on the crust of nearly 1 hour and 45 minutes the crust going up the sides of the dish got incredibly dark brown.

I halved the recipe and baked it an 8x8 corningware dish. It was more than enough for our two person household.

Thanks go out to Rebecca for selecting the Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe this week. Check out her blog, Indecisive Baker for the recipe. See how the talented SMS Bakers fared with their lemon bars.

Earlier this year I found a lemon bar recipe that is FAN-TAS-TIC. It's a recipe my cousin turned me onto and originates from a gourmet market and cafe in L.A. called Joan's on Third. The Los Angeles Times posted this delicious recipe. It's my perfect balance of tart and sweet on a buttery tender crust. Next time I make them I will post the results here.

For all the lemon bar lovers out there...have you ever eaten at the Nordstrom's Cafe? Nearly all Nordstrom's locations have a cafe and they have wonderful food and fabulous sweet treats, including an incredible lemon bar. Check it out if you need a break from a tough day at the mall sometime. ;)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Chocolate Brownies

For once I baked a Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe ahead. And thank goodness because the heat has been sweltering this week. My oven is officially on hiatus.

Here's what I liked:
*Yielded a reasonable quantity of brownies
*Texture was nice....a little fudgy, but not too fudgy
*Super easy to make

Here's what I thought was ok:
*The taste didn't wow me. They weren't chocolaty enough. I did make a sub on the chocolate using 70% dark instead of unsweetened (my fault, I misread the recipe). I tried to make up for it by adding some unsweetened cocoa powder but it didn't do the trick.

Here's what I didn't like:
*2 sticks of butter might have been overkill. I almost felt like I could taste the butter in the finished product when I wanted to be tasting more chocolate. I added chocolate ganache to half the brownies to pump them up. But it still didn't move these any closer to the "wow" category.

The quest for the perfect brownie continues. I was checking out Tracey's Culinary Adventures and I want to try Dorie Greenspan's recicpe. This one looks like my kind of brownie.

Thanks to Tiffany at A Spoonful of Laughter and a Heap of Love for choosing this week's recipe. See the tasty creations of other SMS Bakers here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Blueberry and Almond Biscotti

Biscotti are generally not my thing. Too crunchy for my cookie tastes. These traditional Italian cookies are known for their crunchiness through a two step baking process. In the spirit of trying new things as a part of Sweet Melissa Sundays I gave it a go. Drumroll please....

The biscotti are delicious! I'm so glad that I tried these. The almonds, dried fruit and lemon zest are a wonderful blend of flavors. Melissa's recipe calls for dried sour cherries, but I saw a bag of dried blueberries at Costco that I just couldn't pass up. They worked perfectly in the recipe.

I let the dough rest for just under an hour and it was sticky rolling into the logs. But a light dusting of flour took care of it. I was a bit unsure of what the 2 logs should look like in terms of width and I made them about 3 inches wide, 1 inch thick and 14 or so inches long. They spread in the oven to about 5 inches wide. The first round of baking went perfectly with lightly golden dough. After the logs cooled I scored them into 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick cookies with a serated knife. To get the biscotti equal in size I placed the end of my index finger on the side of the knife blade so measure 1 knuckle from the previous slice.

I had my first taste of one of the end pieces that wasn't big enough to make the second baking. I was immediately hooked on the flavors! The lemon was bright in flavor and the almond extract gives it a that special twist. So good! I almost didn't want to do the second baking.

Round 2 of baking resulted in slighly browner biscotti than I was hoping for. Next time, and there WILL be a next time, I will reduce the temp in my oven slightly and bake for only 45 minutes. I have to say I preferred the cookie after the first baking...I almost felt some of the brightness of the flavors, especially the lemon zest faded more into the background after the second baking.

Another variation I might try is forming the dough into a log and slicing off round cookies and going for only one round of baking. I have a whole lot of dried blueberries to use up! ;)

Thank you Tracey for selecting this amazing recipe! This one is truly a keeper. For the recipe check out Tracey's site, Tray by Tray. See what other SMS bakers did this week by clicking here.

Up next Sunday...Chocolate Walnut Brownies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: North Fork Peach (sans) Raspberry Pie

This 4th of July was filled with tasty food, family, fresh mountain air and of course fireworks! And for fun we threw in some arm wresting, a chili cookoff, hiking and some kooky summer camp songs. Yes, I said arm wrestling. The ladies of my family decided to work off a few 4th of July BBQ calories with some with a little friendly competition. Grandma, Aunt, Mom, Cousin, Niece and I all made some good efforts...but it was my other Cousin that took the arm wrestling championship title! Nice job D!

We followed up the arm wrestling with dessert...peach pie and berries with a cream cheese marshmallow fluff dip. Mmmmm. Rebecca of Buerrista selected this week's recipe. An excellent choice for 4th of July weekend! Who doesn't love pie on the 4th? Check out Rebecca's site to see her beautiful pie and to get the recipe. To see the other tasty creations from SMS bakers click here.

This was my first time making a baked peach pie. When I hear peach pie I think of fresh peach pie...with a single pre-baked crust filled with freshly sliced peaches coated in a sugary peach glaze and fresh whipped cream on top. The baked pie turned out ok. The filling thickened up nicely in the oven but the bottom pie crust was a bit soggy/underdone (only baked it for 1 hour and 35 min). I opted to leave the raspberries out and I cheated and used Pillsbury crust. We subbed flour for the ground tapioca pearls, which seemed to work out just fine.

My niece was an excellent pie helper! I peeled the peaches and she sliced them all. Thanks for your help K!

We served it the next day at our family BBQ and it received favorable remarks from the family. But you know, family isn't always an unbiased opinion. So I will tell you what I thought...I thought it was just ok, not great. My preference lies with a fresh peach pie. While peaches are still in season, I will give peach pie another go.

Hope everyone had a Happy 4th of July!