Monday, January 30, 2012

Better than the sum of its parts.

When you take one thing, and wrap it in another thing, the resulting thing is so much greater than the first two things could have ever been on their own. (how many times can i use the word "thing" in one sentence?)  Wrap just about anything in phyllo dough, and you end up with something super fun and festive.  And yeah, messy.  Sorry, C, for all of the bits of phyllo dough that are probably all over your house. 

I used to hate dealing with phyllo dough.  It is really fragile, and dries out if you look at it wrong.  But, after some practice, it's not so hard.  You just have to remember to keep it covered, be gentle, and work as fast as you can. 

I found this recipe on my googly reader, and I knew it was perfect for C, who has a deep seated love for olives.  This is actually a recipe for two different fillings.  I'm not sure which was my favorite, but it was probably the green olive one.  It's a little more pungent, a little more fun.  I think the black olive one would have been a little better if I had used Kalamata olives, but the recipe called for the regular old black ones that come in the can. 

As a side note, the filling for the green olive triangles would likely make a delicious tapenade.  It was tasty on it's own, so spread it on some bread, and you're good!

Crispy Olive Bites
Source: Keep it Simple Foods

You will need 1 box of phyllo dough (it's enough for both fillings), and olive oil for brushing.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Filling #1: Green Olive Filling

1 cup green olives, drained and chopped
1 Tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts in water, drained and rough chopped
1 clove garlic

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it forms a sort of paste.

Filling #2: Black Olive Filling

1 cup black olives, drained and chopped fine
4 green onions, chopped fine
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
a good bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, minced

Combine all ingredients  in a bowl.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to combine all ingredients.

fp note: you could probably make this in the food processor and avoid some of the chopping.  but if you do, i would mix in the feta after processing, so it doesn't get too chopped up.

Layer 2 sheets of phyllo at a time, and brush lightly with olive oil, and cut into 2 inch strips.  Put a good spoonful of the filling at one end and fold the phyllo into a triangle shape, like folding a flag.  Repeat until all of the filling is used up. (fp note: or, you could go until you run out of phyllo. even though i'm getting better at working with it, i always end up tearing a bunch of sheets and having to throw them out.)

Place triangles onto a cookie sheet.  Brush tops with olive oil and bake for 15 minutes until brown and crispy.

Let them cool a little before serving, or the filling will burn your mouth like the heat of 1000 suns.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

National Holidays

Did you know that January 26 is National Peanut Brittle Day?  I don't know who comes up with these holidays, or what, but it sure is fun to have a reason to make a specific food.  I'm not one to ignore a holiday, so I set out to make some peanut brittle. 

When I do a google search for a recipe, I almost always come up with lots of options, from a variety of sources.  I am actually fairly picky about whose recipe I will trust, since baking and candy making can be so finicky.  I looked at a bunch of recipes.  Some had lots of ingredients and long and complicated instructions.  Since I had always heard that peanut brittle was supposed to be so easy, I crossed these ones off of my list of possibilities.  I also didn't feel like using a recipe that would yield three pounds of peanut brittle.  THREE POUNDS!! What was I going to do with that much peanut brittle? 

I finally landed on a recipe that had a short list of ingredients, simple instructions, and only yielded about a pound and a half of brittle.  When I read the recipe, I also made sure to read the comments that others had left, and I'm glad I did.  There was one comment, recommending reducing the amount of baking soda, and adding butter and vanilla. And then there were a whole bunch of comments saying that they took the original commenter's suggestions, and it was great.  So, I did too.  The recipe I have printed here reflects those changes. And one other change -- I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts.  They came in a little can in my little grocery store up the hill.  I like the salt they add.  It's nice.

This stuff is addictingly tasty.  When I was breaking it up, I swear bits of it just flew right into my mouth!  I wasn't about to spit them out, so I obliged them by chomping away.  So good. I've read that the stuff has a decently long shelf life, but I don't think mine will be around long enough to test that. 

Peanut Brittle
Source: Epicurious, originally from Bon Appetit, March 2003

2 cups lightly salted, toasted peanuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and butter the parchment.  Or you could use a silpat, if you have one, which I do not. Stir peanuts, sugar, and corn syrup in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil until candy thermometer registers 295 degrees F, stirring frequently.  Add butter and vanilla and stir.  Remove from heat and add baking soda- the mixture will foam up.  Immediately pour onto buttered parchment and use a buttered spatula to spread into an even layer - work quickly!  Let stand until cold and hard.

Break the brittle into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

International Desserts, Month 6

In case you didn't know, Chinese New Years is on Monday, January 23, so I thought it was fitting that this month's installment of International Desserts would feature something Chinese.  So, I consulted my BFF A, who is Chinese, and asked her what I should make.  Her first suggestion was Egg Tarts, which is something that she and I both love.  I tried those, and it was a massive failure.  So, I asked for another option.  She suggested Sesame Balls.

Sesame balls are a ball (duh) made of rice flour, coated with sesame seeds and deep fried.  Inside the ball is sweet red bean paste.  The rice flour makes them chewy, and the frying makes the crispy on the outside.  All in all, these are a pretty tasty thing (but they are not good the day after you make them - yuck!).

I hit up my local Asian grocery store to find the majority of the ingredients.  I recommend this, or, if you have a particularly well-stocked Asian section in your regular grocery store, you might have some luck there.  Places like World Market also tend to carry some of the things you will need.

A found me the recipe I used, and it came from My Morning Chocolate, with the actual recipe from BellaOnline

I have a few notes:  First, I followed the directions, but after trying to form a couple of balls of dough, I felt that my dough was too dry, so I added a little more water.  This helped a lot.  Second, make sure you flour your hands really well.  Even the "too dry" dough stuck like crazy if my hands weren't floured well enough.  And third, don't expect your first few balls to be perfect -- they won't be.  The first two I made were a total mess.  Witness:

Sesame Balls
This says it makes 8 to 10 medium sized balls, but I followed the direction and got something closer to 15. 

2 1/2 cups sweet rice flour
1/2 cup regular rice flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
18 oz can sweetened red bean paste
1 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
4 to 5 cups peanut oil

  1. In a large bowl mix together the sweet rice flour with the regular rice flour and stir until they are thoroughly combined.
  2. In a smaller bowl mix the sugar and the water and stir until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Pour the sugar water into the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms.  It should have the consistency of cookie dough.
  4. Open the can of bean paste and set it aside.
  5. Place the sesame seeds in a large bowl or on a large plate and set them aside.
  6. Next, set up a work area to roll and fill the sesame balls. Have a floured surface on which to work. Place a little extra regular rice flour on the surface to flour our hands. Place the sweet bean filling, sesame seeds, a bowl of water, and a plate to place the finished balls on close by.
  7. Start making the balls by first flouring your hands. Then take a small piece of dough, about 1 1/2 tablespoons and form it into a circle. Place this circle in the palm of one of your hands. Using your thumb press gently in the center of this circle to make a small indentation. Then cup your palm around the indentation and use the knuckle of your opposite hand to push along the sides and form a cup or upside down hat shape.
  8. Once you have a hat shape, place about a teaspoon of the sweet bean paste in the center. Then carefully pull the edges up and over the paste an pinch them at the top. Make sure to pinch the dough on the outside of the ball instead of pushing it inside. Then gently roll and pat the ball into an even round shape.
  9. Once you have a ball shape, quickly dip it into the bowl of water and then roll it in the sesame seeds, coating the entire outside. Then place the finished ball on a plate. Continue making the rest of the sesame balls.
  10. In a pot or wok heat the oil on high, keeping it at a temperature of 350 or below.
  11. Once the oil is hot, add about 5 sesame balls, one at a time. Let them cook for about 6 minutes and then remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towels. Continue cooking the rest of the balls in batches. Then let them cool for about 10 minutes, and place them on a plate to be served.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Let's talk

Let's talk about pears.  We're sort of in that no-man's land of winter fruit, in which the only decent looking fruits I can find with any regularity (and at any decent price) are apples, oranges, and pears.  I like pears, I really do, but I have a problem with them.  See, when I go to the store, all of the pears are a pretty uniform degree of rock-hard-ness.  So I buy a few, like 5 or 6, and I take them home.  They sit in my fruit bowl on the counter to soften up, and then - BAM! - every single one of them is really ripe. Like you-need-to-eat-this-today kind of ripe.  And I can't eat 6 pears in one day (well, I could, but that seems unpleasant). 

So, inevitably, I end up eating a bunch of them over the course of a couple of days, and then I have a couple that are still hanging out in the bowl.  This time around, I decided to make something with them.  A while back, I made a pear ginger quick bread that was quite tasty.  This time, I went for muffins. 

I found this recipe for pear and ginger muffins on my Googly reader, linking me to Not the Kitchen Sink!.  They were pretty good, but they needed more ginger.  In the notes on the recipe, the blogger mentions that some people thought they needed more ginger flavor, and since I usually agree with that sort of comment, I added extra fresh grated ginger on top of the ground ginger.  I still think they needed more. 

Also, I messed up the crumb topping.  For some reason, I thought I was supposed to put the topping on after baking the muffins.  Thinking back, I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea.  So, my topping didn't really stick or anything.  Don't be like me.  Except you should make these muffins. 

I made these mini, and it made about 20.  I would say at least double this recipe if you want to serve a crowd.

Pear and Ginger Muffins
Source: Not the Kitchen Sink!
Makes about 20 minis, or 6 large muffins

For the muffins:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger (optional: about another tsp of grated fresh ginger)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped peeled pears

For the topping:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp butter, softened
1/4 tsp ground ginger

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners or spray with baking spray.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and sour cream, followed by the oil and honey.  Pour into the dry ingredients and combine until the dry ingredients are moistened. Lumps are okay - if you overmix this, your muffins will be tough.
  4. Add in the chopped pears and briefly fold the mixture to distribute the pears evenly. Scoop the batter into muffin cups.  I think I filled mine almost full and it wasn't a problem.
  5. To prepare the topping, cut the butter into the brown sugar and ginger.  I did this with a little food processor/chopper thingie that came with my stick blender.  Much faster than doing it by hand. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the tops of the muffins.
  6. Bake the muffins for 25 minutes (start checking at 20 for minis), until the tops are brown and firm to touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes before chowing down.

Monday, January 2, 2012


This holiday season, I realized something about myself.  Where most people look to find the perfect gift for someone, I look to find the perfect recipe.  And often, it's not so much that I look, but that in my browsing through countless food blogs, I happen upon the perfect recipe.  This is a perfect example of this.

This is the most epic of all of the things that I made for gifts for friends.  And, it was the one that I have been thinking about the longest.  You see, Dear Friend C LOVES s'mores.  And she loves cheesecake.  So, back during the summer, when I found a recipe for S'mores Cheesecake, I knew immediately that I had to make it for her -- I just needed to find an occasion.   By the fall, it became apparent to me that I would need to make an occasion.  So, I determined that I would make this cheesecake as a Christmas gift.   But, I knew that a whole cheesecake was a lot of cheesecake, with a limited shelf-life, and a limited number of people to eat it.  I had to think of a different way to do this, to give C the most enjoyment, for the longest amount of time.

So, what lasts a long time (and isn't full of preservatives)? Frozen stuff.  And what makes things last longer? Dividing them up into small portions, so you can just eat what you want, and not feel committed to a whole piece of cheesecake. Cover it in chocolate, and you're in business.

Yes, that's right.  I made chocolate-covered frozen s'mores cheesecake bites.  And you know what?  They were EPIC.  I'm not the biggest fan of cheesecake, and I like chocolate cheesecake even less, but these were so good.  I gave them to C at our annual Christmas dinner, and they were eaten for dessert.  The look on her face (and that of her husband, K) was the most amazing thing I have ever seen as a result of something I made.  So I know I did what I set out to do, and all of the time, and chocolate that ended up all over my kitchen, was totally worth it. 

Chocolate Covered S'mores Cheesecake Bites
Adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures
I lost count for how many this made.  It was a lot.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 whole sheets for me.  Cinnamon grahams are awesome for this)
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
A couple of good handfuls of Heath bar toffee bits (chocolate covered or not)

9 oz milk chocolate, chopped
2  8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 large marshmallows, cut into quarters with wet kitchen scissors
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9" x 13" metal pan with parchment paper, with extra paper hanging over the edges so that you will have handles later.  In a medium bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and toffee bits.  Press into the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until set.  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.  Reduce oven temp to 325.

To make the filling: Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Cool until just barely lukewarm, stirring occasionally. (fp note: you could do that in a microwave, but i always burn chocolate when i do that.)

Combine cream cheese, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until smooth.  With the machine running, pour the heavy cream through the feed tube and process just until blended.  Again, with the machine running, add the melted chocolate and then the eggs, one at a time, blending and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition until the mixture is smooth.  Pour the batter over the cooled crust.

Bake for about 55 minutes, or until the outer edge is slightly puffed and the center is barely set (the center will jiggle slightly when the pan is gently shaken).  Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and cool.  You can cool it on the counter for a little while, and then put it in the fridge overnight.  After it is completely cooled, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for at least another 8 hours.

After the cheesecake is frozen, you can make the topping.

To make the topping:  In a large metal bowl, combine the sugar, egg whites, water, cream of tartar and salt.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pan and add the marshmallows; let stand a few minutes until the marshmallows soften. Place the bowl back over the pan of simmering water and beat the topping with a hand mixer for 4-5 minutes, or until stiff, shiny peaks form. Beat in the vanilla.

Let the topping cool just slightly (don't wait too long or it will set and you won't be able to spread it). Take the cheesecake out of the freezer and spread the topping evenly with a spatula.  Let the topping cool completely.  At this point, you can toast the marshmallow, if you want to.  I'm not sure it made a big difference, but I have a kitchen torch I never use, so I took the opportunity to use it for this.  Make sure you fold the parchment handles out of the way, and toast the marshmallow with the torch.  You can also put it under the broiler for a minute, but if you do, make sure you watch it so you don't burn it.  Put the whole thing back in the freezer to firm up.  The topping never gets hard-frozen, so don't expect it to.

After it is completely frozen, take it out of the pan (I told you that you would need those paper handles!).  Using a hot knife (run it under hot tap water, and don't dry it), cut the cheesecake into cubes.  Put the cubes on a pan lined with wax paper and put them back into the freezer. 

Melt some chocolate.  Use whatever mix you want - I did about half and half milk and dark chocolate.  You will need a lot of it.  I think I ended up needing about 6 cups total.  Let the chocolate cool until it is just warm, but still liquid enough to be easily pourable.  While it cools, prepare your dipping station: Line a sheet pan (that will fit in your freezer) with wax paper, and cover every surface that is anywhere near the chocolate with wax paper too.  Get out a couple of forks.

Remove the bites from the freezer, a few at a time (keep the cold things cold).  Drop a bite into the melted chocolate and make sure it gets covered by spooning melted chocolate over it, using the forks (I know, how can you spoon with a fork? carefully) Use one fork to lift the bite out of the chocolate, and tap the handle of the fork gently on the side of the bowl to shake off any excess chocolate and smooth things out.  Transfer the bite to the wax paper-covered sheet pan.  Top with sprinkles if you want while the chocolate is still soft.  After you have dipped the bites, put them back in the freezer.  Continue in this manner until all bites are covered. 

Once the bites are completely frozen again, you can put them in the container of your choice.  And then you can take them out and eat them!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A new form of a semi-old tradition, and the hunt for something

This recipe is sort of a convergence of two things.  First, it is a continuation of the tradition of me making marzipan for the Dadster every year for Christmas. Second, it is possibly the end to a years-long hunt for a recipe for something special.

Years ago, BFF A used to have a job where she travelled the world.  Several times, she would bring me back this marzipan that she would get in Spain.  It was unlike any marzipan that I had ever had -- still chewy and almondy, but the outside was a little crunchy and browned, like it had been baked.  Once I started making my own marzipan, I wanted to figure out how to make something like what A would bring me back from Spain.  I tried a bunch of different things, none of which were successful (did you know that if you bake regular marzipan, it puffs up and becomes hollow? it's pretty nifty, but not what i wanted.).

One day, while scanning through my Googly reader, I came across a recipe for "Figuritas de Mazapan", and the picture intrigued me.  And, the recipe was in Spanish.  I was hoping this would be what I had been looking for, so I gave it a shot (after I used Google translate on the recipe, which made for an interesting recipe). I figured that the worst that could happen was that it would be no good, and I could fall back on the regular marzipan that I make normally. 

I am happy to report that this recipe was a success! While not exactly like the ones A would bring me, I think part of that is because mine aren't mass produced and then packed in plastic and sold to the masses.  The end result was almost like a really chewy almond cookie.  In fact, when the Dadster first opened them (packaged in a super cute R2D2 pail that I got a Disneyland), he thought they were little shortbread cookies, until he smelled them.  And, the Momster, who doesn't like marzipan, even like them!  I will for sure be using this recipe in the future (and it doesn't help that it's easier than regular marzipan).

Figuritas de Mazapan (or, Baked Marzipan Cookie Thingies)
Source: Sin Salir de Mi Cocina
Makes a bunch, depending on how big your cutters are.

Note: The original recipe uses a piece of equipment called a Thermomix.  I don't have one of those, but I do have a food processor, so that's what I used.  Also, when you use Google Translate on something, there are lots of weird little sentences that don't really make sense.  So, the recipe I've put here is what I did, based on the original. Also, I used a food scale for the measurements, so I don't have the cup equivalents.

500 g raw almonds (original recommends Marcona, but those are very expensive, and hard to find in bulk. I used regular raw slivered almonds)
375 g sugar
25 ml water
1 or 2 egg whites

Egg yolk to paint the pieces before baking

In the bowl of a food processor, process the sugar for 20 to 30 seconds.  Add the almonds and process for another 20 to 30 seconds until they are finely ground. Add the water and let it sit for a minute or so, and then process again to form a ball.  If it doesn't form a ball, add a little egg white for extra moisture.  Dump the mix onto a clean surface and knead with your hands to form an evenly moist ball.  It will be a little sticky, but not much.  Divide the ball into two, and wrap each in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

After the 30 minutes, roll 1 ball with a rolling pin to about 1/2" thickness (thicker if you want).  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  Cut out the dough with the cutters of your choice (I recommend small ones) and set them on the baking sheets, set a little bit apart.  Repeat with the second ball of dough.  Let the sheets sit out, uncovered, 6 to 7 hours, or overnight.

After the sheets have sat out and dried, preheat your oven to 375.  Brush each piece with a little bit of the egg yolk and bake for a few minutes (I think I did mine for 6-8, but keep an eye on them) to give them a little color and a crust. 

Let cool on the sheets, and then store in an airtight container.