Monday, August 29, 2011

Ahi Tuna Poke

This is my second month participating in the Secret Recipe Club.  What is the Secret Recipe Club you ask?  The concept is simple.  A group of food bloggers each get assigned another persons blog...and the assignments guessed it, a secret.  You browse the blog you have been assigned that month and then choose a recipe to make and blog about.  Everyone reveals their posts on the same day.  What I love about the Secret Recipe Club is it is a great way to get know new blogs.  I'm always super excited the day the blog assignments are handed out.  I can't wait to check out my assigned blog and see what it's all about and what tasty dish I might make.

This month I was assigned Mary Anne and Mariel's blog, Feast on the Cheap.  These two very talented ladies are a mother daughter team.  Mary Anne is a professional caterer and Mariel is a writer who contributes regularly to publications like Martha Stewart Living, Self and Redbook and describes herself as a "fledgling foodie".  Feast on the Cheap is all about delicious, affordable homemade food.  Mary Anne and Mariel provide a cost per serving for every recipe and have a wide array of dishes that elevate food to a gourmet status.  I spent quite a bit of time drooling over all the wonderful recipes on their site. It was difficult to choose just one.  Initially I had my eye on New England Clam Chowder, Cheesecake Brownies with Glazed Mixed Berries and Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Mint Glaze.  I have bookmarked all three for future indulgences.  But at the end of day I selected the Ahi Tuna Poke for two reasons.  I knew Hubby would love it and it didn't require me turning on the oven or serving a hot soup on a hot summer day. 

Ahi Poke is a light, delicious and simple appetizer that can be whipped together in no time.  You can serve it with crispy fried wontons, tortilla chips or crisp pita wedges.  I stayed pretty true to the original recipe in terms of the ingredients only making one small change to add in sliced green onions.  I halved the recipe and Hubby and I had it for a light Sunday dinner (recovering from a somewhat heavy lunch).  I used half the ingredients to make a layered mold so I could take a photo.  To make the mold I used a short wide mouthed drinking glass and lined it with plastic wrap.  I took a little liberty with how I layered it in the event that Hubs wasn't a huge fan of the heat from the siracha chile sauce.  I took a small portion of each of the ingredients (ahi, cucumber, tomato, avocado and green onion) and mixed it with the sauce (chile sauce, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and dijon mustard--I omitted the mustard).  That's how the Feast of the Cheap ladies served the entire dish.  But Hubs is not a huge fan of spicy stuff so I only used the spicy mixture in the middle layer.  The rest of the layers were sauce-less.  And I had some extra sauce on the side for those of who like a little more heat (i.e., me).  Turns out Hubby liked the spice!  Now I have a huge bottle of siracha chile sauce to use up.  ;)  This recipe is a keeper!

Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the blog see what the other Secret Recipe Club bloggers made this month.

Ahi Tuna Poke
from Feast on the Cheap

Serves 20 appetizer portions

Ahi Mixture:
1 1/2 pounds of sushi grade ahi tuna, chopped
1 cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped
3 avocados pitted, peeled and chopped
2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Optional: 2 green onions thinly sliced (this was my addition)

2 tablespoons chili sauce (siracha)
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or Tamari sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons mirin wine
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional) - I omitted

Whisk all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl combine the ahi tuna, cucumber, avocados, tomatoes and green onions (if using).  Pour sauce over the ahi and vegetables and gently stir to evenly coat all the ingredients with the sauce.  Serve with crispy fried wontons, tortilla chips or crisp pita wedges.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays Top 10 Favorite Recipes!

In April 2010 I started participating in the weekly online baking group, Sweet Melissa Sundays.  The group had already been baking their way through the Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy for about a year when I joined.  And the group posted the final recipe (of just over 100 recipes) on August 21, 2011.  In the past year and a half I've met some amazingly talented bakers and learned tons.  Before joining this group my baking repertoire consisted of mostly cookies, a few cakes or cupcakes and a pie here and there.   What I liked most about the group was being pushed outside my comfort zone.  Without the group I doubt I would have tried more than half the recipes that turned out to be some of my favorites. 

When I tasted each of the recipes below for the first time, I said, "wow".  For each and every one.  Literally, I said, "wow".  Out loud.  I love when you bite into something and you're not sure what to expect or think you know exactly what to expect, and you are pleasantly surprised and all you can say is "wow!" 

To wrap a year and a half of baking I wanted to put together a list of my favorites.  They are listed in order the group made them.  So without further adieu...

Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake is the base for several recipes in the Sweet Melissa book.  It's incredibly moist and deep dark chocolaty.  I have an affinity for cakes made with sour cream and this one really knocks it out of the park if you are a chocolate lover.  I have made it several times and will continue to go to this as one of my top chocolate cake recipes. 

When I got my first turn to host a recipe for the group I had to go with Gingersnaps.  It only seemed right!  I was surprised at how much I liked these cookies, since I already have my own go to ginger snap recipe.  Melissa Murphy's version contains typical spices you might expect, like cinnamon, ginger and allspice, but what was really unique was the inclusion of white pepper.  Everything in my gut was telling me to omit the pepper, but I felt like I really had to do the recipe proper justice and follow it word for word.  And you know what?  The white pepper works!  It blends with other spices to make a perfectly sweet and mildly spicy cookie.  And it pairs beautifully with a lemon cream filling.

Blueberry and Almond Biscotti

What is a biscotti anyway?  It's essentially a twice baked cookie.  Round 1 is baked in a loaf form and then the loaf is sliced into the biscotti spears you are probably familiar with and those are baked again to get a nice crunchy texture.  I have never been a biscotti person.  Probably because I'm not a coffee drinker or a fan of crunchy cookies in general.  I had never made biscotti before and  I really didn't expect to like this.  I hate being wrong. But love it all at the same time because these biscotti are delicious and you don't need a hot beverage to enjoy them.  They also make great gifts since they keep well for several days. 

Melissa's recipe called for dried sour cherries, but I switched it up with dried blueberries instead.  What made this recipe for me was the lemon zest.  The lemon flavor is incredibly bright in this crunchy cookie, but not overly lemony.  This recipe opened my eyes to the possibility of making various flavors of biscotti (which I have on my to do list).

Sweet Almond Cake with Lemon Curd

Before joining SMS, I will be honest, most cakes I made were out of a box.  With the exception of carrot cake.  My family has a great carrot cake recipe that doesn't involve a box.  One day I'll get around to posting it on the blog.  What I didn't know was the various techniques used in making cakes from scratch.  This one calls for ground almonds and whipped egg whites in the batter.  You whip up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks (similar to making a meringue) and then gently fold the airy mixture into your cake.  I really don't know much about the science of baking, but I do know this cake is delicious with a lightly sweet almond flavor.  It has a lovely toothsome crumb from the ground almonds and a light moistness.  This cake would be a wonderful base for many fillings and frostings.  Speaking of fillings and frostings, the lemon curd and lemon mascarpone frosting that accompany this cake were not the stars for me.  I had to switch to lemon cream cheese frosting because I had trouble with the mascarpone.  This cake recipe, however, is on my list of keepers!

Mom's French Pancakes (aka Crepes)

Can you say yummy?  Can you say easy to make?  Can  you say "Oooh la la"! This recipe was another surprise winner!  I mean I knew I already loved crepes, I just doubted my ability to make these thin delicate little pancakes.  The ingredients are simple and the batter can (and is recommended) to be made the night before you make these little jewels.  I used a large non stick skillet and after making one or two crepes, really got the hang of it.  If you have not made crepes before, you must try them!  The options for filling them are endless....but my favorite combination is seen above.  Nutella and sliced bananas.  Simple.  Delicious!

Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie

Though I am posting these in the order I made them and not in any preferential taste order, I will say this is a fantastic recipe and is among my top 3 favorites from the book (along with the chocolate cake and honey cream caramels).  I was completely blown away by the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberries amidst a creamy custardy filling.  And this pie is one of the easiest in the book to make.  Especially if you use a pre-made graham cracker crust from the grocery store (a slight diversion from the original recipe).  Melissa's recipe calls for traditional pie dough, but as I was making this pie for the second time for Mother's Day earlier this year, I had a crust mishap.  I used Melissa's all butter pie crust recipe and had major shrinkage occur.  Irreparable shrinkage.  At 11 pm on the eve of Mother's Day I went to the grocery store to buy a roll of Pillsbury pie dough, but at the last minute decided to go with a graham cracker crust.  You know the kind that you find in the baking aisle and comes in a foil pie tin with that cool plastic covering that doubles as a lid when you flip it over?  I have to say, I loved it!  I think this pie is even better than fantastic when made with a graham cracker crust.  Definitely a winner!

Pecan Frosting

I almost didn't make this recipe.  Melissa's original recipe is called Coconut Pecan Frosting, otherwise known as German chocolate cake frosting.  I really don't care for the texture of coconut and I'm generally not a fan of nuts in my dessert.  But the point of this group is going outside your comfort zone.  So I failed in that I didn't go completely outside my comfort zone.  I just took a small step.  I decided to simply omit the coconut from the recipe since that was the greater of two evils.  Imagine my surprise when I tasted the final product and loved it!  It really is less like a frosting and more like a candy topping.  My family loved it spread on graham crackers best.  But it would also make a delicious ice cream topping and it's not too bad with pumpkin cake either! 

Honey Cream Caramels

This was yet another goodie I had never made before.  I don't have anything against caramel candies.  I like them just fine, but there are a lot of other treats I would reach for first.  Luckily I didn't write this recipe off!  These caramels are soft and sweet and delicious.  I really didn't think I would like these as much as I did.  I kept going back to the kitchen and sneaking one more (I'm not sure who I was sneaking them from, but I felt a little guilty eating so many of these honey infused treasures).  This recipe is easy to make and caramels are another great giveaway treat because they store for up to two weeks in an airtight container.  They would also be delicious with a little sprinkling of sea salt before they completely set.  Honey Cream Caramels will be making it into my holiday baking rotation this Christmas!

Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves

Melissa shares a master preserves recipe that shares general ratios of fruit to sugar, acid, etc. and then has recipes for 5 different flavor variations.  This is one of those recipes that was widely praised by many members of the group.  I was able to make three variations, plum preserves, white nectarine cinnamon preserves and of course strawberry rhubarb. 

I feel like a broken record here, but preserves or jam was something I had not made before joining this group.  And I was surprised at how easy they are to make and delicious.  There's something special and very satisfying about making toast in the morning and slathering it with your own fresh made preserves.  I also took the leap into the canning world with these preserves.  Yet another great goodie to give away as a gift.  Of three preserve variations I made, the strawberry rhubarb was my hands down favorite!  The tartness from the rhubarb is a perfect match to the sweet strawberry.  And it makes a great filling for a crumble bar

Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream

I didn't actually make this recipe along with the group.  They made it long before I even knew Sweet Melissa Sundays existed.  And to be honest, vanilla ice cream is not something that really excites me.  There are so many delectable ice cream flavors in the world to choose from.  But I found I was in need of an ice cream to pair with this Plum and Raspberry Pie with a Sweet Almond Lattice.  This pie was incredibly tart and needed a nice sweet ice cream to balance it out.  I decided to give Melissa's recipe for Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream a shot since I would be serving to others who don't share my lack of excitement over vanilla.  Also, I had recalled reading in various posts from my fellow SMS bloggers, how delicious this ice cream was.  And they were right!  It's got a depth of caramel like flavor from the brown sugar and is the perfect accompaniment to a fruit pie or tart.  Yet another pleasant surprise!

I made 40 recipes with the group and a few more on my own outside the group. There are many more the group made before I joined that I would still like to Butter Toffee Crunch, Lemon Icebox Cake with Strawberry Sauce, Sweet Almond Bread Pudding with Raspberry Sauce, Caramel Apple Turnovers with Sweet Ricotta Filling, and Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake to name a few. 

It's been a great ride and I've learned a very important lesson...don't judge a dessert by it's ingredient list!  Even if you are unsure if it would be your thing or if you think it sounds too hard or complicated, give it a go.  You might just be surprised yourself!

I want to extend my thanks to all the fabulous SMS bakers.  You girls rock, sharing great ideas, encouragement and support!  I loved checking out everyone's creations on Sunday mornings.  Special thanks to Karen of Karen's Cookies Cakes & More for maintaining the site and keeping everyone on schedule.  She has spearheaded a new baking group called Club: Baked to keep us busy and learning new things.  This group started on July 1, 2011 and we are baking our way through Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  This group bakes twice a month and so far there have been some pretty stinkin delicious recipes.  We really just got started so please feel free to join our baking adventure!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Frosted Soft Sugar Cookies

I've been slacking on the blog.  I made these cookies nearly 2 weeks ago but haven't gotten around to posting yet.  I have grand dreams of getting up to daily posting one of these days....well at least 5 days a week.  What I found is it's easy to get behind.  And I could kick myself because somehow I completely blanked on the last post on 8/21 concluding the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group.  Though the last 2 weeks have been busy, I'm ready to get back in business here...Starting with these frosted soft sugar cookies.

I first saw these cookies on Tracey's Culinary Adventures.  She posted them 2 days before I was leaving for my annual girls getaway to the desert.  My two pals and I usually take 3 days off of work every summer and sojourn to the 110 degree heat of the desert for a little food (ok, a lot of food), a little sun (we, or me I should say, spend quite a bit of time in the shade or mostly submerged in the pool) and a little shopping.  Normally this type of cookie wouldn't make it on my must make list mostly because I'm not a big fan of sugar cookies.  But I was thinking of my girls knowing this is exactly the type of cookie that would put a little sparkle in their eyes.  So the day before we left I got busy. 

Like Tracey, I decided to only make half the recipe given I would not be partaking in the finished product.   Half a recipe yielded 12 large soft, tender, cakey sugar cookies.  I did take one bite out of one cookie for the sake of a photo and I thought I should at least try it, even if it's not my favorite.   kind of cookie.  They tasted ok to me, but I'm not really a good judge.  Hubby tasted one and I thought he would like them because he's a big proponent of sugar cookies and sweet frosting, but apparently he wasn't in love either.  He said he didn't care for the texture and they were too soft, sticking to the roof of his mouth.  My girls seemed to enjoy them however, polishing off every last one that I brought along on the trip.  I'll take that as a good sign.

These are easy and fun cookies to make.  You can can get creative with your frosting by tinting it with various shades of food coloring and decorating it with festive sprinkles or candies, personalizing it for any occasion.

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
from Annie's Eats (adapted from Hostess with the Mostess) via Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

For the Cookies:
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
5 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting:
5 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk (or more if needed)
Food coloring and sprinkles (optional)

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer about 3 minutes until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time into the butter sugar mixture.  Add vanilla and mix until fully combined.  Turn mixer to low and gradually add the flour until just incorporated.  Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Once dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 and prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Using a large ice cream scoop (about 1/4 cup) to scoop out dough and roll into a ball.  Place the ball of dough on the parchment and press down to flatten slightly spacing at least 2 inches apart.  I baked 6 per sheet.  Bake for 12-13 minutes and edges are just set.  Cookies will be pale in color.  Cool the baking sheets on a wire rack for about 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies directly to the rack to complete cooling.

In a medium to large bowl whisk the confectioners sugar, butter, milk and vanilla together.  Add more milk if necessary to achieve desired frosting consistency.  You want it a little thick so it doesn't run over the sides of the cookie.  You can also add additional confectioner's sugar if you want a thicker consistency.  Add food coloring if you want to tint your frosting.

Once cookies have completely cooled, spread a generous amount of frosting on the top of the cookie leaving a 1/4 edge around the top.  Decorate with sprinkles or candies if using.  See cookies aside (or place in the refrigerator) to allow the frosting to set.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yields 24 large cookies


Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Night Cake with Orange Cinnamon Glaze

Is anyone getting anxious for fall?  The weather has been pretty mild this summer in Southern California, and I doubt there will be a huge change when fall officially hits.  Just a few degrees cooler and it will signify it's time to start baking all the warm and wonderful fall flavors...cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice, pumpkin and apples.  Though I love the flavors of summer, like watermelon and sweet corn, I'm starting to get a little fall bug.  That's why I made a little twist on this week's Club: Baked pick by Julie of a Little Bit of Everything

This week marks the 4th recipe we are baking from Baked Explorations.  Julie picked Sunday Night Cake for the group to make.  The authors describe this cake as a "no is an exceedingly, pleasing, simple and delicious gently spiced sour cream cake with easy chocolate frosting".  My eyes lit up when I saw the cake had cinnamon as one of the components.  My original intention was to make the recipe as is.  But earlier this week I made this chocolate cake recipe and this chocolate cream cheese frosting recipe for a co-workers send off party.  Then I used the leftover chocolate cream cheese to fill peanut butter whoopie pies (to be posted later this week). 

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but this chocolate girl was feeling a bit chocolated out.  The authors of Baked Explorations suggest you can make this cake even simpler by skipping the chocolate frosting and giving it a simple dusting of powdered sugar.  I contemplated that thinking Hubby would be more likely to help me eat it with powdered sugar.  Then I decided I wanted a something a little more....what could I do and still keep in the spirit of the "ease and comfort" of the Sunday Night Cake?

I looked over my fridge and saw that I had half an orange that needed to be used up.  And the orange cinnamon glaze was born!  This glaze is extremely easy and is delicious with the lightly spiced cake.  To make the glaze I started with powdered sugar, added in a bit of orange juice, orange extract, a pinch of cinnamon and a bit of heavy cream.  Sometimes when I make up my own recipes, I'm not always in love with the result.  But this was awesome.  I loved the flavors of the orange and cinnamon and how they paired with the moist buttery cake.  It was a nice preview of fall and has got my mind turning, thinking about the recipes I plan to make this season. 

Other notes about this recipe.  The original recipe makes a 9 inch square cake.  I halved the recipe and used a 6 inch round cake pan.  I was too lazy to half one of the eggs, so there is an extra half egg in my cake.  I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract because I couldn't resist.  And the last modification was I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar (again, because I was lazy and didn't want to open the light brown sugar when the dark was ready to go).  While baking, the cake rose about 1/4 inch over the top of the cake pan.  But it shrank down a bit and ended up being exactly 2 inches tall.

And this will come as no surprise, but I've eaten this twice for breakfast already and loved it!
To get the cake recipe, head over to A Little Bit of Everything.  To see what other Club Bakers did with their Sunday Night Cakes, click here.  If you want to join our baking adventure through Baked Explorations, hop over to the Club: Baked site and reach out to Karen.  It's a lot of fun and you get to eat delicious treats, like this Sunday Night Cake.

Orange Cinnamon Glaze

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon orange extract (more if you want extra orange punch)
Pinch (generous) of cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream

In a medium bowl whisk powdered sugar, orange juice, orange extract and 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream until fully combined.  Add additional tablespoons of cream to get to a pourable yet slightly thick consistency.

Yields enough to generously glaze 6x2 inch cake.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Minty Chip and Chocolate Mint Cookie Ice Cream

I love baking.  I love eating baked goods.  But the fact is I cannot single handedly eat all of the things I am compelled to make.  If I did, I would be in a constant sugar induced high and I would weigh 400,000 pounds.  Sadly my Hubby is generally speaking, anti-dessert, so he's not much help.  I have to count on friends, family and co-workers to help me out.  And even then, I sometimes still have leftovers.  Like when I made chocolate mint thumbprint cookies a couple of weeks ago.  I had contemplated making just half a batch, but for some reason I forged ahead with a full batch...45 cookies!  I ate quite a few, took several to work and still had cookies left.  I hate letting perfectly good cookies go to I could use them?  Um, how about chocolate mint cookie ice cream?  Oh ya! 

My inspiration came from Tracey over at Tracey's Culinary Adventures who posted this oreo mint ice cream.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream is in my ice cream top 5.  I decided to combine the two together...chocolate mint cookies and chocolate chips in one ice cream.  I added in the extra chocolate because I wanted a strong chocolate flavor to come through.  Plus I was itching to try to incorporate stracciatella that I had seen on Margot's blog, Effort to Deliciousness.  Stracciatella is traditionally used in gelato and results in small crisp bits of chocolate distributed throughout your gelato or ice cream (just like my beloved mint chip--I always wondered how they got the shards of chocolate in there). 

Stracciatella is much easier than it sounds.  You simply stream in an ounce or two of your favorite melted chocolate during the last few minutes of the ice cream churning process.  When the melted chocolate hits the frozen custard, it freezes on contact and breaks into small bits.  It's super cool!  Definitely a technique I will be using in future ice cream recipes.  (Like maybe some strawberry chip ice cream?)

The minty chip and chocolate mint cookie ice cream is good stuff!  I like the contrast of the crunchy chocolate chip bits next to the chunks of chocolate mint cookies.  And the great part is ice cream keeps for a quite some time in the freezer, and I don't have to worry about pawning it off to anyone.  I can take my time and slowly watch it disappear!

Minty Chip and Chocolate Mint Cookie Ice Cream
adapted from My Kitchen Addiction via Tracey's Culinary Adventures

2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 - 1  teaspoons peppermint extract (depending on your love of mint)
1 1/2 cups chopped chocolate mint thumbprints (recipe below) or other chocolate mint cookies (like Thin Mints or Mint Oreos)
1 1/2 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Place 1 cup of heavy cream in a large heatproof bowl. Set a mesh strainer over the bowl.

Combine the remaining cup of heavy cream and the whole milk in a medium saucepan and warm on medium heat until hot, but not boiling.  In a medium heatproof bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until fully combined. Slowly stream the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the yolks, whisking continuously until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth. Transfer the custard mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens slightly and reads 170 - 175 on a thermometer.  The custard should coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl with the heavy cream. Stir to combine and then stir in the vanilla and peppermint extracts. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and chill for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator, or overnight.

Turn your ice cream maker on and pour in the chilled custard and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions.  While your ice cream is churning chop your cookies into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. 

Place chopped chocolate in a small bowl and microwave on high for 20 seconds.  Stir and place back in the microwave for another 20 seconds.  Repeat stirring and microwaving until chocolate is melted. 

During the last 5 minutes of churning pour your melted chocolate in a slow, steady stream into the ice cream while it is still churning.  Then add chopped cookies and churn until mixed well.  Turn off the ice cream maker.  You may have to hand stir the ice cream to fully incorporate the chocolate and cookies throughout.  The consistency will be like soft serve ice cream/frozen yogurt.  Transfer ice cream to a freezer proof resealable, airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Yields 2 quarts

Chocolate Mint Thumbprints
from Baked Explorations

2 ounces dark chocolate (60-72%)
2 ounces mint chocolate or Andes mint chocolate candies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup course sugar for rolling

White Chocolate Filling
3 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Make the cookies:

Melt the dark chocolate and mint chocolate in a microwave or over a double boiler. Stir until smooth, set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and set aside.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat on low speed, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally, until the dough is smooth. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until it is chilled and firm, at least 30 minutes up to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop out a tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball.  Roll the ball in the coarse sugar and place on the baking sheet spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Repeat until all the dough is rolled out. 

Using your thumb or a the handle of a large wooden spoon and make a thumbprint or well in the cookies.  Bake for 10  minutes and then remove cookies from oven and use a wooden spoon or the back of a measuring spoon to re-press the "thumbprint" in the cookie.  Return baking sheets to the oven and bake for another 4-5 minutes until cookies just barely start to crack.  Cool on baking sheets on a wire rack until completely cool.

Meanwhile, make the white chocolate filling.  Place the white chocolate in a glass measuring cup with a pour spout. Put the cream in a microwave safe bowl and heat it on high power until it boils, about 30 seconds. Pour the hot cream over the white chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth. Stir in the peppermint extract.

Fill the thumbprint cookies with the white chocolate ganache and refrigerate them until they set, about 30 minutes.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Yield 40-45 cookies

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays: White Nectarine Cinnamon Preserves

I'm a little late posting this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe pick.  The funny thing is I made these preserves and cookies about 4 months ago, yet I still managed to post late. The best laid plans...We had a busy weekend involving a midnight trip to the vet (our kitty, Kit Kat, is doing just fine now), driving to LA to have breakfast with my family and hosting my 7 year old niece for a weekend sleep over and lots of kid friendly activities.  We had an action packed and fun weekend.  I am now just getting back to my computer and catching up on email and blogging. 

Back in April I was on a preserves kick and made and canned Melissa's strawberry rhubarb preserves, (a double batch of) strawberry preserves and these white nectarine cinnamon preserves over the course of two weekends.  Between the three batches, I ended up with nearly 20 jars of preserves! Several were earmarked as gifts for Mother's Day, sharing with friends and I still have 5 or so on hand. 

The white nectarines actually came from last August when they were ripe at the season's peak.  I saw a flat of them at Costco and knew that we would eventually be making peach and cinnamon preserves for Sweet Melissa Sundays. I figured that nectarines could easily be swapped out for the peaches.  I chopped them up and spread them in a single over a foil lined baking sheet and put them in the freezer.  Once frozen, I removed them from the baking sheet and loaded them into a ziploc bag for future use.  Freezing your own fruit is a great way to enjoy fruit at it's peak, even when it's not in sesaon.

These preserves reminded me of apple butter.  The coloring, consistency and warm cinnamon flavor was very similar to apple butter.  I decided to take the little bit of preserves that wouldn't fill up a whole jar, and made jam thumbprints.  I did a quick internet search and found a recipe on All Recipes.  The cookie itself wasn't especially noteworthy so I haven't posted the recipe, but the preserves were tasty.  I am in search of another thumbprint cookie recipe so I can use up a little more of the preserves I still have on hand.  If you  have a good one please let me know in the comments section!

Melissa's base preserves recipe is easy to make and is one of my favorite in the book. Thanks to Tessa of the Cookin Chemist for hosting our second to last recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays.  Pop over to her site for the recipe.  To see how other SMS bakers fare this week click here.  In two weeks Karen of Karen's Cookies Cakes & More will host our final SMS recipe, Hot Pepper Gingerbread Muffins with Orange Maple Butter.  I can't believe the final recipe is just around the corner.  It's been a great ride baking with all the talented SMS bakers!  I will be posting my top 10 favorite SMS recipes later this month.  There have been some really fantastic recipes that I will continue to use again and again. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Restaurant Style Salsa

Earlier this week I posted Nancy's Mexican Cornbread.  A recipe I received from my close friend, Shannon's Mom, Nancy.  When Shannon sent me her Mom's cornbread recipe, I found it was not your standard side of was in fact a main dish attraction, filled with ground beef, onions, jalapenos and lots of cheese.  Nancy and Shannon both recommended serving this dish with a good salsa.  I decided a jarred salsa would not do, and remembered that I had bookmarked a recipe from Brown Eyed Baker for homemade restaurant style salsa a few months back.  Both the cornbread recipe and the salsa shared some of the same ingredients (onions and jalapenos), so I figured why not make them both at the same time.  Homemade cornbread deserves homemade salsa, right?

When I saw the recipe called for canned tomatoes, I was a bit skeptical.  I had assumed most fresh made salsas were made from fresh tomatoes.  But my skepticism was unfounded because this salsa is as fresh tasting as it gets and totally delicious.  I loved this salsa!  It is light years and universes away from anything that comes out of a jar.  It really is like the fresh salsa you get in a good Mexican restaurant.  What I like most about this recipe is how easy it is to make.  No cooking involved...just throw everything into your food processor.  Pulse, pulse, times 3 and done!  All future salsa served at this house will be fresh made.  Or at least I'll try my best.  Cause this is the good stuff.

If you haven't popped over to read the post about Nancy's Mexican Cornbread yet, go take a peek.  It's about more than cornbread (which is yummy, by the way) and tells the story of mine and Nancy's recent battles with breast cancer and how my friend Shannon was inspired to take on a 60 mile walk to support a great cause.  Shannon is walking in the 3-Day for the Cure as I type this post and will be doing so today, tomorrow and Sunday.  See Shannon below at the opening ceremony.  She is front and center with a cutout of Nancy, both sporting cute pink bows in their hair!  Go Shannon!

I want to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who left comments, well wishes and contributed to Shannon's 60 mile walk.  She has now raised a total of $3,385!  My friends, family and readers are awesome!

Thank you!!!

Restaurant Style Salsa
adapted from Pioneer Woman via Brown Eyed Baker

28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 10 ounces cans Rotel (diced tomatoes with green chiles)
1/3 cup chopped white onion (original recipe calls for 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, stem removed, quartered and sliced thin (I also removed the seeds and ribbing to reduce the heat...even with the seeds gone, this is still a very spicy salsa.  If you like a milder salsa try using 1/2 a jalapeno or even use a milder chile such as anaheim or poblano)
1/2 cup cilantro
Juice from 1/2 lime (if large or whole lime if small)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to desired consistency. (Note: I have an 11 cup food processor and this was pushing max capacity...if you have a smaller food processor, be sure to work in batches).  Transfer salsa to a bowl or resealable container, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.  The salsa keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nancy's Mexican Cornbread and 3-Day for the Cure

Today's post is a special one.  It's about cornbread.  And it's about breast cancer.  I know that cancer isn't as fun to talk about as cornbread.  But life isn't always as simple as cornbread, unfortunately.  Sometimes things like cancer show up on our doorstep one day and things change.

Let's begin the story with the fun stuff...the cornbread. 

This is no ordinary cornbread.  Normally I think of cornbread as a side served with chili or ribs.  Nancy's Mexican Cornbread is no side dish.  It's the main course.  This delicious southern style cornbread is baked in a cast iron skillet and is filled with hearty ground beef, onions, jalapenos and cheese.  It's warm, delicious comfort food.  Serve it with home made salsa (recipe to be posted later this week) and sour cream, chopped cilantro or some avocado slices and you have a seriously tasty dish on your hands. 

It presents beautifully in pie shaped wedges.  And the best part is it's really easy to make.   You mix up the cornbread batter and pour half the batter into a 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Pile on the delicious filling....browned ground beef, onion, jalapenos and cheese and then top with the remaining batter.  Baking it in the iron skillet gives the cornbread a nice crisped outer edge that I love.  No one would ever know what yummy flavors lie inside.  This dish would be great for dinner or brunch and looks great served straight from the skillet.

This Mexican Cornbread recipe is extra special because it comes from my close friend Shannon's Mom, Nancy.  Thanks for sharing Nan!  We met Shannon 10 years ago when Hubby and I were living in Chicago and she has been one of my best pals ever since.   She has a fabulous sense of humor and always makes me laugh.  Even during difficult times, like last year when I fought against breast cancer (and won, by the way)!

At 36 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was scary and confusing.  I had a lump in my left breast and after a number of tests it was determined that I most likely had stage 1 with a slow growing type of cancer.  Which is actually good news in the cancer world!?  But that's when the confusion really set in.  Because of the type of cancer I had, there were a number of options, including removal of both girls (even though only one had cancer!) and reconstruction, removing just the tumor (a.k.a "Fred" as Hubby named it), various radiation treatments, possible chemo and hormone therapy.  It was all very overwhelming and Hubby and I met with umpteen doctors to explore all the options.  Ultimately I ended up having just the tumor removed followed by partial radiation.  I was lucky and did not have to have chemotherapy.  And the best news is I continue to remain cancer free!

What was most impressive about going through this process was the amazing treatment options that were available.  My radiation therapy was a newer advancement in radiation treatment that cut the radiation time down from 30 - 35 treatments to just 5 treatments.  As little as a decade ago, breast cancer was a condition that often resulted in mastectomy as the standard course of treatment.  Today there are a number of possible treatment paths that can be taken depending on the situation.  

These amazing strides have been made possible by so many people, including the wonderful groups out there raising money for breast cancer research and support.  The Susan G. Komen organization is the leading non profit group focused on raising money for this cause.   I am incredibly humbled by all the women that have come before me and battled with this disease as well as the talented medical professionals who have been treating breast cancer over the last several decades.  Their experiences coupled with organizations like Susan G. Komen, have made the advanced treatment options that are available today possible.  

So how does this all tie back to my good friend, Shannon (besides her fabulous sense of humor keeping me smiling during a sucky time)?  She was inspired by my battle with breast cancer and decided to sign up for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, 60 mile walk.  I was so touched that my experience inspired her to commit her time and effort to walk 60 miles in support of breast cancer.  60 miles is a lot of miles!  To quote Shannon's 3-Day for the Cure web page, "3 DAYS (wow), 60 MILES (where's the Ben-Gay?), NO SHOWER......NO PROBLEM." See what I mean about her sense of humor? :)

What Shannon didn't know when she signed up for this great cause, was that just a few months later, her own mother would also be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Nancy's battle with breast cancer has been much more complex and difficult than my own.  Shannon describes her Mom's cancer as being "a lot like the mexican cornbread, simple at first glance then when you cut into it, 'SURPRISE', but in a bad way."  You see initially Nancy's cancer was thought to be similar to my own situation.  But upon getting the pathology results back after her first surgery it was revealed that she actually had two kinds of cancer.  One slow growing and one very aggressive.  Thankfully they caught it early. 

Shannon and Nancy
Nancy is kicking cancer's butt and taking names as we speak!  She has had multiple surgeries and continues to endure chemotherapy and weekly IV infusions.  She is 2/3 of the way through her chemotherapy treatment and will be finished in September. She is also on a breakthrough drug called Herceptin which hinders the growth of new cancer cells and will finish with that part of her treatment in Spring of 2012.  Shannon says Nancy is doing fantastic considering everything and that "she's rockin' the bald look" and wears it well! 

Shannon's takeaway message/life lesson that she has has learned from this experience is that if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, get yourself a TEAM of doctors so that the communication and continuity of care is part of your treatment process. 

I concur with Shannon and say to anyone out there who has been diagnosed to not be afraid to ask questions.  Don't be afraid to get a second or even third opinion.  This is a complicated disease and education is key to determining the path of treatment best for you and your circumstance.

Donate to a great cause!

Shannon has been training for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure most of the year and she kicks off the first leg of the 60 mile walk this coming Friday, August 5th, in the Chicago area.  Please join me in supporting Shannon on her walk and head over to her donation page by clicking here.  Shannon has raised $2,500 as of the date of this post I'm hoping that we can help her raise even more for this very important cause. 

If you want to learn more about my personal experience, you can head over my blog Gloria vs. Fred that I set up to keep my friends and family informed during my journey last year.  I had previously kept this blog available to friends and family, but I think it's important to share it with a larger audience.  If any part of my story helps just one person with their own journey then it is a success. 

Thank you so much to Shannon and Nancy for letting me share their story with those who read my blog.  You are both amazing and inspirational women!

If you would like to make a contribution to further breast cancer research and support head over to Shannon's donation page.

Oh, and you should totally make this cornbread. It's delicious!

Nancy's Mexican Cornbread

1 cup yellow cornmeal plus 3 tablespoons
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons oil
1 15 oz can creamed corn
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 jalapenos, chopped (use according to taste)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter or oil to grease your baking pan

Preheat oven to 350. 

Brown ground beef in a large skillet and season the meat with salt and pepper.  Drain fat off and set ground beef aside.   

Use butter or oil to grease a 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of cornmeal to coat bottom and sides of the skillet. 

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and stir until well combined.  Add milk, egg, oil, and creamed corn and stir until well combined.

Pour half of the cornbread mixture into the prepared skillet.  Spread ground beef evenly over the cornbread mixture.  Spread the onions, jalapenos over the top of the beef.  Top with cheese and then pour remaining cornbread mixture over the cheese and spread to cover evenly. 

Place skillet in the oven and bake for 50 - 60 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and springs back to the touch.  Cool for 15 minutes and cut into wedges.  Serve with your favorite salsa, sour cream and chopped cilantro.

Note: If you don't have a 10 inch cast iron skillet you can use a 9x13 baking dish and make 1.5 times the recipe noted above and follow the same baking instructions.

Chocolate Mint Thumbprints

Today is the third post for the new baking group, Club: Baked.  The Club: Baked bakers are making our way through Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  Jamie of Random Acts of Food is our hostess this week and I was super excited to see she had selected Chocolate Mint Thumbprint cookies.  Chocolate and mint are one of my favorite flavor combinations.

Thumbs up for the chocolate thumbprint cookies!  The cookie is like a cross between a chocolate shortbread cookie and a brownie.  They are filled with creamy, gooey white chocolate peppermint ganache and the coarse sugar on the outside gives them a great crunch.  Overall a really good solid cookie!

My only minor complaint is these cookies have to be stored (in a single layer) in the refrigerator because of the gooey centers.  I went ahead and made the full batch even and I ended up with 45 cookies.  I had to refrigerate my dough for an hour before I was able to roll out into balls.  I almost forgot to roll the balls in the coarse sugar so I had to do a little back tracking.  I'm so glad I didn't skip this step.  I really think the coarse sugar is a key element in these cookies...adding sparkle and a nice crunchy texture.  I was a little skeptical that there would be enough ganache for all the cookies, but there was just the right amount (and not a drop left over).  I am contemplating using these cookies as a mix in for my next batch of homemade ice cream because there's no possible way I will be able to pawn off and or eat them all in the next few days. 

Thanks for the great pick Jamie!  Head over to her site to get the recipe.  Next up for Club: Baked is Sunday Night Cake on August 15th.