Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD: Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

This is another very brief post before I return with full (or at least, some) energy in January after a much-needed break. I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays! With a dessert like the one I'm posting about today, it's hard not to.

Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake. It's this week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection, chosen by The Tea Lady of Tea and Scones. And it is tasty. A classic, rich and sumptuous chocolate cheesecake with a hint of cinnamon in the crust. I think it provides a great foundation, and I'd like to experiment with jazzing it up in the future. A caramel swirl? Chocolate ganache or rasperry coulis on top? So many possibilities, and I can't wait to try them out. This time, I made one-third of the recipe in cupcake liners and it worked out very well. But I'm game to try making a full batch for my next celebration.

Click here for the recipe. Again, happy holidays and I'll see you in January!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Brief Tuesdays With Dorie: Cafe Volcano Cookies

I interrupt this previously-scheduled exam-induced blogging break to bring you this very special recipe: Cafe Volcano Cookies, chosen by the witty MacDuff of Lonely Sidecar for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie. Phew. Yes, these cookies look a bit like a pile of, well, something unpleasant. But they are damn tasty. I normally hate nuts in baked goods, but not in this recipe. It figures that it would take putting nuts in meringues (one of my all-time favourites) to make me like them.

These don't look as pretty as Dorie's - they're not nearly as light and dainty, and I'm pretty sure Dorie's didn't have almost-burnt bottoms - but I bet they taste just as good.

For the recipe, click here.

Meanwhile, I'm still drowning in essay-and-project-land, but the end is in sight and I can't wait to get back into the blogosphere just in time for Christmas. See you then!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Programming Note

First of all, I'd like to apologize for my absence of late. As much as I thought I'd be able to find the time to blog while in school, as my workload has increased, it's become more difficult.

This is the last week of classes (also known as the "final-projects-and essays-week from hell"), and then I've got one - and luckily, only one - exam next week.

Once I hand in the last of my projects, you can expect more frequent posts. I've got a ton of recipes I can't wait to share with you in time for the holidays.

I'm looking forward to catching up with all of you - my commenters and my favourite bloggers - when school stops kicking my butt in a week or so.

Thanks for sticking with me in the meantime!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

This week for Tuesdays With Dorie, I made Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies, chosen by Pamela of Cookies with Boys. This is one of those recipes that looked nothing like it was supposed to, was frustratingly sticky during the assembly, and turned into a big, spread out mess on the cookie sheet. But it was so tasty I didn't even mind, and that's saying something.

Maybe it was the molasses I used. Dorie said not to use blackstrap, but I've only ever seen one brand of molasses in all of my years of grocery shopping, and it doesn't even say whether it's blackstrap or not. These cookies, which were supposed to be golden brown and form perfectly round discs, were very dark brown and spread out so much that the cookie sheet actually became one giant cookie - even though I refrigerated the dough before baking it. I cut the massive cookie into circles and was planning on grinding up the scraps to make a crust for a pie in the future, but my fiance chowed down on them instead. He couldn't help himself - they were that tasty.

In terms of flavour, this is a go-to recipe for sure. But I'll have to figure out how to ease the preparation in the future. Based on Pam's experience, it sounds like more flour may be the key.

Thanks for a great pick, Pam! Visit her blog for the recipe.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Butter Toffee Crunch

It's hard to believe, but it is already my turn to host Sweet Melissa Sundays. As I pored over the cookbook a few weeks ago, I realized what a hard decision it was going to be. I had at least 20 recipes on my short list. Slowly but steadily, I worked it down to my selection: Butter Toffee Crunch. I'm a sucker for candy-making.

Ah, and what a choice. Chewy, buttery toffee smothered in chocolate, with chopped blanched almonds on the top and bottom. Not only is this recipe beautiful to look at, but it is delicious and seriously addictive. It tastes exactly like a Skor bar but has the added crunch and flavour of the almonds. On top of all that, it lasts for weeks in the fridge while still maintaining that perfect crunch, which means it's a great gift giving option for Christmas. In fact, I plan on serving Butter Toffee Crunch at the candy bar we'll be having at our wedding - I can make it a couple of weeks ahead of time and I know it'll be just as tasty as the day I made it.

The preparation is relatively easy, as long as you've got the proper equipment (particularly a candy thermometer), a bit of patience and the ability to quickly add your baking soda and vanilla at the right time. Sure, seeing how much brown sugar and butter goes into the preparation may make you feel a bit guilty. Case in point:

Still, given the end result, I think it's totally worth it. Hopefully, you feel the same. Thank you for baking along with me this week, and I hope you enjoyed it! Click here to check out the other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers. The recipe is below.

Butter Toffee Crunch
Makes 3 pounds toffee crunch (Note: it halves beautifully!)

1 1/2 cups sliced blanched almonds, finely chopped
4 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons water
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
2 cups (one 12-oz bag) semisweet (58%) chocolate chips

Before you start: lightly butter a jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet.
1. Coat the prepared pan with half of the chopped almonds.
2. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat, stir together the brown sugar, water and butter and bring to a boil. Cover for 3 minutes (this will melt any sugar crystals stuck on the sides of the pan, which will prevent crystallization). Uncover, attach a candy thermometer, and cook, without stirring, to 290F. Watch carefully after it reaches 280F to avoid scorching.
3. Have ready a long-handled spoon and a buttered metal offset spatula. Remove the hot sugar from the heat, add the vanilla and baking soda, and stir with the long-handled spoon (the mixture will bubble up when you add the baking soda).
4. Immediately pour the hot toffee onto the prepared pan. Spread as evenly as possible with the buttered metal spatula. Quickly scatter the chocolate chips over the hot toffee. Wait for 5 minutes and then spread the melted chocolate evenly with a clean, ungreased metal spatula.
5. Sprinkle the remaining almonds over the chocolate. Cool completely before breaking the toffee into pieces.

The toffee crunch keeps in an airtight container at room temperature in a cool dry place for up to 1 week, or in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Cran-Apple Crisps

Behold, the world's best variation on an apple crisp, brought to you by none other than Dorie Greenspan (and our recipe-chooser this week, Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef). Please excuse the superlatives, but really, this crisp is amazing. Since I finished up my first batch of it, I've been thinking, daily, about making it again. In between projects, essays, midterms and just scraping dinner together at the end of a long day, this dish has been the culinary goal that I have been looking forward to.

The fruit component of the recipe involves placing a mixture of chopped apples, fresh and dried cranberries, sugar and flour in ramekins.

The topping is made of oats, flour, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger and what is bound to be my secret ingredient in crumble toppings from now on: sweetened shredded coconut. The coconut adds a beautiful complexity to the flavour of the crisps, and yet, the coconut flavour itself is subtle.

Baked until bubbly, the apple and cranberry soften and form a delicious sweet-tart blend which perfectly complements the coconut-infused topping.

You have. To. Make. This. Visit Em's blog for the recipe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pesto-Garlic Spice Blend Portobello Burgers

If there's one thing I love more than a tasty and multi-purpose ingredient, it's a free one. What can I say? I'm a poor student.

This summer, I was lucky enough to win a set of Made With Love Spice Blends from a giveaway hosted by one of my favourite bloggers, HoneyB over at Grumphy's Honeybunch, as well as one for a friend.

I received two bottles of Made With Love's Pesto-Garlic Spice Blend and two bottles of Crimson Love, a beet-rosemary-nori blend with the bright red colour to match. Although both spice blends are delicious, the pesto-garlic spice blend has been seeing the most use in my household. Maybe it's my love of Italian flavours. I've been using the spice blend in place of real pesto whenever possible - stirring it into tuna salad, sprinkling it on sandwiches. I love sandwiching a slice of fresh tomato between two slices of cheddar and two slices of bread, sprinkling Pesto-Garlic spice blend on top of the cheese, and grilling the sandwich until the tomato is warm and the cheese is melted. It's quick and easy and such a delicious snack or lunch. I love that the flavour of the blend is spot on, but it's missing the fat and calories of nutty, cheesy pesto.

One of my favourite uses of the pesto-garlic spice blend, though, is adding it to marinades. It's a simple step but adds a ton of flavour.

In this recipe, the pesto-garlic flavour infuses a balsamic vinegar marinade. Portobello mushrooms are soaked in the marinade for about half an hour before being tossed on the grill to be cooked through. After they're cooked and a slice of provolone cheese is melted on top, they're placed on a bun, topped with tomato and spinach, and slathered with pesto garlic-infused mayo. The combination of the hot, balsamic-pesto flavoured portobello, the melted provolone, the creamy pesto mayo, and the cool tomato and spinach is fantastic. A perfect vegetarian treat.

Pesto-Garlic Spice Blend Portobello Burgers
Makes 2 burgers
Note: I'm a balsamic vinegar lover, so I love how the balsamic soaks right into the portobellos in this recipe. If you'd like a more mellow balsamic flavour, you can balance out the vinegar with more olive oil.

2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems cut off
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tsp Made With Love Pesto-Garlic spice blend (or actual pesto)
2 burger buns
2 slices provolone cheese
2 slices tomato
A few leaves of baby spinach, romaine lettuce, or other salad greens

Pesto Mayo
1 tbsp mayonnaise
A dash of pesto-garlic spice blend

Combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, pesto spice, and salt and pepper in a casserole dish. Place portobello mushrooms in mixture. Marinate for 15 minutes, then flip over and marinate for another 15 minutes.

To make pesto mayo, combine 1 tbsp mayonnaise with pesto-garlic spice blend (or, again, actual pesto). Set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat barbecue to medium heat. When mushrooms are done marinating, place them right on the hot grill. Flip after 4-5 minutes. Continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes, until tender but not shriveled. Then place one slice of cheese on each mushroom, closing the lid to help the cheese melt quickly. When the cheese has melted, remove the portobellos from the grill. You can also toast your burger buns on the barbecue.

Spread equal amounts of pesto-garlic mayo on both burger bun bottoms. Place one cheese-topped mushrooms on each bun, then top with tomato and spinach (or whatever greens you are using). Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Sweet Potato Biscuits

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection is Sweet Potato Biscuits, chosen by Erin of Prudence Pennywise. And it is a doozy.

These are flaky, buttery, perfectly seasoned biscuits. And easy to make, too. Strangely enough, you can't even taste the sweet potato, making these kind of like Dorie's version of the Sneaky Chef (that cookbook author who sneaks veggie purees into her cooking).

I can't wait to make these again. Thanks for your choice, Erin! Click here for the recipe.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick, Spiced Pumpkin Cookies (chosen by Debbie of Every Day Blessings of The Fivedees) could not have come at a better time. My mom enlisted me to make the dessert for Thanksgiving (in Canada, Thanksgiving was last weekend). And on a trip to the States in August, I had stocked up on canned pumpkin because it's so much cheaper there. Naturally, making a pumpkin dessert for Thanksgiving was a given, but I knew I wanted it to be something more than the usual pumpkin pie. So when I saw that these pumpkin cookie cakes were an upcoming SMS recipe, my choice was made.

Sweet little pumpkin cookie cakes, sandwiched with orange cream cheese icing in the middle - autumnal whoopie pies. I knew they would add a whimsical touch to the end of our Thanksgiving meal.

The batter itself tasted like pumpkin pie, and when cooked, tasted like pumpkin gingerbread. I loved the bright flavour of the orange zest in the cream cheese icing, although my fiance (that word still sounds strange to me) felt the orange zest ruined it. At least he had fun chowing down on the extra batter (once it had made enough cookies, I slathered the remaining batter on a cookie sheet and baked it as a slab).

Debbie, thank you for your selection. It was a very tasty and timely choice. Click here to visit Debbie's blog and get the recipe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Allspice Crumb Muffins

This week's pick for Tuesdays With Dorie, chosen by Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table, is Allspice Crumb Muffins. There's not a lot of mystery to this recipe - it's exactly how it sounds. It's a simple allspice-flavoured muffin with a crumb topping. Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, right?

Well, it is and it isn't. It's not an exciting recipe. But it is made entirely of pantry staples, a breeze to throw together, and impossibly delicious. I'll take that over exciting but complicated any day.

This muffin is seriously moist and delicious, and makes a great snack or quick breakfast. I'm thinking of adding a bit of whole wheat flour next time to up the nutrition-factor. But the crumb topping? Oh, the crumb topping. Sweet, (all)spicy, perfectly crumbly and buttery. It was perfection. My fiance lamented that it made the muffin itself seem tame by comparison, but I beg to differ.

Allspice Crumb Muffins are just wonderful. Thank you, Dorie, for such a fantastic recipe. And thank you, Kayte, for this pick! I appreciated making something that didn't require me to rush out and buy ingredients. It made it so easy to bake it while in the midst of packing for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and writing essays. Click here for the recipe.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Big News, an Award, and Chorizo and White Ale Mussels

It seems life has been conspiring against me and this blog lately. First of all, I greatly underestimated how challenging it would be to return to school! I am also working part-time Monday to Thursday mornings before class, which means I have to go to bed early - that's not in my nature. The result is that I have way less time to get things done than I thought I would. While I'm still eating (of course), my backlog of awesome recipes to share with you is getting bigger and bigger.

But it's not all bad.

I have some amazing personal news. I'm engaged! My boyfriend proposed to me last Friday. We're looking to get married next fall (or late-summer) and are in the process of finalizing our dates and venue. I can't wait!

And one more thing, before I move on to today's recipe. Waaaay back in July, I was generously given a blog award by one of my favourite bloggers, Eliana of A Chica Bakes. Thank you, Eliana!

I'm supposed to pass this on to some lovely bloggers that I read. Consider it done. Sorry, Eliana, for taking so long to get around to this!

Here are some blogs that I'm loving lately:

1. Ginger Rose
2. Hot Oven, Warm Heart
3. Bubie's Little Baker
4. Katiecakes
5. Effort to Deliciousness

Ladies, please feel free to pass on this award.

Now, on with the show. Chorizo and White Ale Mussels. These mussels are a take on a Curtis Stone recipe, kicked up with more of a pub-grub feel. We used dried chorizo, which lent an intense smoky flavour and a gorgeous orange hue to the broth. The flavour of the white ale complemented the chorizo perfectly. And the butter added at the end created a wonderful richness that made us want to drink the broth from a mug. Thank you, Curtis Stone, for your inspiration!

Chorizo and White Ale Mussels
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer
½ lb chorizo sausage (I used a smaller amount of smoked as it had a more intense flavor; I recommend the amount mentioned here if you’re using fresh sausage)
1 small onion, minced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lb. mussels, scrubbed & debearded
1 cup white ale (I used Rickard’s White)
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1.5 tbsp butter
1 baguette, sliced
Hot sauce (optional)

1. Place a large pot (one which has a matching lid) over medium heat. Add the chorizo and sauté for about 8 minutes or until golden brown if using fresh chorizo; til slightly crispy if using dried. Add onions and cook for 3-4, until softened. Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, taking care not to burn it.
2. Add beer, add the mussels and toss to coat, and cover pot. Cook over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the mussels begin to open. Discard any mussels that don’t open.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large serving bowl and cover to keep warm.
4. Boil the remaining juices in the pot for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the butter. Taste broth and season accordingly with salt and pepper, and hot sauce if using. Pour the finished sauce over the mussels and sprinkle parsley over top. Serve with a sliced baguette for dipping.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD: Cottage Cheese Pufflets

Oh, cottage cheese pufflets. You sounded so promising. Sweet jam spread between a tart and tangy cottage cheese dough, baked and puffed to perfection. I had high hopes.

The end result, however, was an exercise in frustration.

This dough was soft and sticky. And I do mean soft. I have never had to refrigerate a dessert so many times before in the midst of its preparation.

Here's how you do it (at least, here's how I did it): Make the dough, refrigerate it. Roll out the dough, refrigerate it because it's too soft. Roll it out again. Start to cut it into circles. Refrigerate. Cut some more. Refrigerate the remaining dough. Place the cut out circles in the freezer to save time. Bring them out after the oven has preheated and dab on some strawberry-raspberry jam, then fold over and seal the dough. Except, oops, a new Mad Men episode is on! Come up to bake them during the first commercial break and find them completely soft again. Pop them in the freezer for a few minutes. Come up in the middle of Mad Men (sigh) and pop them in the oven. Watch the jam leak like crazy, and watch the dough puff up beautifully.

Alas, it was not a very happy time in the Kait's Plate kitchen while these were being made. The end result was quite delicious - puffy, crispy, with just the right amount of sweetness from the jam. The next day, however, they had softened considerably and lost their perfect texture.

Although the end result was fantastic, I don't think it was worth the overall effort. Sorry, Dorie! Thank you to Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes for choosing this recipe. Although its preparation was quite taxing, I'm happy I at least got to taste the delicious result.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Orange Scented Scones

Dessert for breakfast - is there anything better (or more indulgent)? I have a soft spot for any baking recipe that I can justify eating for breakfast. It ensures that I use up a recipe before it starts to go bad, and more importantly, it means I get to eat sugar for a breakfast. A total win-win.

As a result, I was really looking forward to this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, Orange-Scented Scones (chosen by Robin of Lady Craddock's Bakery). As a bonus, I had never made scones before.

These scones - with their buttery orange flavour and flaky texture - were a great introduction to the genre. They were very fast and easy to pull together, and for very little effort, yielded a ton of flavour. I loved these for breakfast with homemade strawberry-raspberry jam.

I recently found myself a part-time job for the school year, and I think these will come in handy now that I'll be working mornings four days a week. They're a perfect grab-and-go breakfast. A big thank you goes to Robin for giving me the incentive to make a baked good I've never tried before. I think this is a recipe I'll be experimenting with in the future. Please visit Robin's blog for the recipe.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The culinary side of a vacation: Montreal and Ottawa

In between finishing my internship and heading back to school (my first day back was today, in fact), I had a couple of weeks of vacation. During this time, I fit in a visit at home where I spent some time catching up with friends and family. Then, I was lucky enough to go on a trip with my boyfriend, his grandparents, his brothers, and his cousin to Montreal and Ottawa. I had never been to either city before, so I was very excited to see the local architecture and experience the local culture, not to mention brush up on my French in Montreal. But as always, the one thing I most look forward to on any trip is the food. Without fail, I always come up with a wish list of things I need to try before I leave the city. This time, my list revolved around the following classics: poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, Montreal bagels (suggested to me by my friend Single Betty), and beaver tails. As with any vacation, there were some unexpected treats that we got to enjoy, as well.

The first culinary stop we made in Montreal was at a sweet little bakery on Rue de Mont-Royal. They had a variety of fresh breads and sweets, including one of my favourites, meringues.

They were sweet, crunchy and delicious. I was so inspired by them, I bought a wide pastry tip to make the meringue-forming process easier in my future baking.

Up next was a small grocer, where I bought some snap peas for snacking, and my boyfriend couldn't resist the cheese curds. They're the kind used to make poutine (more on that later).

After a late-night trip to a diner on St. Catharine where we dined on the best poutine of my life and smoked meat sandwiches (no pictures, sorry!), we awoke the next morning and meandered over to the McGill University campus. During our walk, we noticed many vegetable plants lining the outside of the buildings. These tomatoes were the tiniest I've ever seen - the size of a dime.

After we worked up our appetite walking around the city, we had more poutine, and more smoked meat sandwiches. For the uninformed, poutine is french fries covered in special gravy and cheese curds. In the poutine we had in Montreal, the gravy heated the cheese through, but the cheese didn't melt, ensuring that the rich hunks of cheese curds remained mostly intact. Poutine is, simply put, junk food heaven.

We also tried poutine with hunks of smoked meat piled atop it, and poutine with chicken. Both delicious.

And of course, we couldn't leave without having another smoked meat sandwich. Before you worry about our health, keep in mind that 7 of us split the poutine and the sandwich! The portions were enormous.

That night, we went to the St-Viateur bagel shop, where we bought a dozen bagels. What makes Montreal bagels unique is the fact that they're poached in a boiling honey-water mixture, and, most significantly, baked in a wood-fired oven. You can read more about how they are made here. They have a very unique taste - they're quite dense and have a faint sweetness to them.

In Ottawa, after touring the Parliamentary building, we visited a nearby farmer's market. Although we were tempted by all of the fresh fruit and vegetables, we ended up going for less healthy fare. We were on vacation, after all.

We bought beaver tails (pictured here with apple pie topping), and sugar tarts, which tasted a lot like butter tarts but had a smoother texture and no raisins.

To me, food defines my vacations. My trip to Montreal and Ottawa was an opportunity to try some classic Canadian dishes in their "natural habitats," and it didn't disappoint. The only problem? Ontario poutine will never measure up now!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Chocolate Souffle

Ah, the souffle. A word with such baggage. When I hear it, I think of a light, airy dish that requires the artful hands and eyes of Julia Child and the attention to detail of Martha Stewart to master. As I am neither Julia Child nor Martha Stewart, the atmosphere in my kitchen during the making of chocolate souffle, this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe (chosen by Susan of She's Becoming Doughmesstic) was, in a word, tense.

I was very concerned with the souffle turning out perfectly, so I decided to use my oven thermometer to make sure that the temperature gauge on the oven in my new/old apartment in London was still accurate. The fact that I couldn't seem to get the oven to reach the listed baking temperature of 400F was worrisome, and more stressful than it normally would have been. When I set the temperature to 400F, the oven went up to 425F. When I dropped it down to 375F, it registered 375F exactly. I upped the dial slightly, and it rested at 390F. My boyfriend didn't understand why I was so concerned about a 10 degree difference. "It's a souffle," I whined. "It's very scientific. It has to be exact." Since this was my first-ever souffle, I of course didn't know for sure how scientific it was, or how exact I needed to be in its preparation. But I did know that souffles are finicky, and I didn't want to take any chances. Eventually, we got the oven to register 400F.

By this point, I had folded two whipped egg whites (I was halving the recipe) into a mixture of melted chocolate, sugar, and egg yolks. I poured the mixture into the buttered and sugared ramekins. I glanced at the kitchen table, where I had stored in ramekins the ingredients I would need. "Why," I thought, "Is there still an unused egg white on the table?"

I looked at the recipe again and realized I was supposed to whip and fold in three egg whites. So much for being exact. Together with my boyfriend, I poured the souffle back into the mixing bowl, hoping the butter and sugar from the ramekins wouldn't ruin it, and folded in the additional whipped egg white. Then I poured the mixture into three newly buttered and sugared ramekins, before baking them for 20 minutes.

Despite my fumbling, they were fantastic. Light and airy as Julia Child's would be, maybe, although not as picture-perfect as Martha's. The chocolate flavour was still rich, and the sugar crust enhanced the chocolate flavour very much. I could eat this again and again, although luckily for my health, there were no leftovers. Just three happy eaters. Thanks for your choice, Susan!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

After taking a brief hiatus from Tuesdays With Dorie in order to give myself some time to move back to school and get settled for the new year, I was very excited to dive back in with this week's recipe, Espresso Cheesecake Brownies, chosen by Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell.

I was home for a visit for the past few days (a much easier task, now that I'm not dealing with rush hour Toronto traffic), but prior to that, I was slowly unpacking (I'm still not done!) and taking care of things around the house. One of the things on my to-do list was to bake as often as possible. I spoiled my boyfriend (and myself) with peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispies Squares, maple sponge toffee, and, of course, these espresso cheesecake brownies.

Of all of the baked goods I made last week, however, I think these take the prize. Fudgy brownies with swirls of creamy espresso cheesecake, topped by a sour cream glaze. The espresso cheesecake is the dominant flavour, I think, which is a real bonus. It provides all the flavour of cheesecake without having to bother with springform pans and water baths. In the future, I would definitely want to make this in a cake pan, perhaps with a drizzle of chocolate sauce over the sour cream glaze. Or try different flavours of cheesecake, too - caramel cheesecake, perhaps.

Thanks, Melissa, for your pick. It was a huge hit here!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm back! Plus Southwestern Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes & Chipotle Peppers

Well, it's official. I've been a terrible blog owner for these past couple of weeks! But I do have a perfectly reasonable excuse. As some of you may know, I've spent over a year living in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), away from my family and friends, for work. On Friday, my internship came to an end, and Saturday morning I moved 200km west to return to my university town (and my very patient boyfriend). I've spent the past couple of weeks packing like a madwoman. I'm no longer a resident of the GTA, and will no longer have access to the same amazing resources and restaurants that were just a short subway ride away when I lived near Toronto. Still, I know I'll find new ones.

In the meantime, my new home (and old home, since I lived here before moving to the GTA) is a mess of boxes. After spending hours unpacking, there's still so much more to go. And I've got some blog housekeeping to do as well - updating my bio, catching up on comments, visiting my favourite blogs, and I was even lucky enough to receive an award that I haven't yet had time to pass on.

Still, with all of these things to do, and without knowing where half of my belongings are, I still have everything on hand to make this wonderful recipe - Southwestern macaroni and cheese with tomatoes and chipotle peppers.

I took my standby macaroni and cheese recipe and amped it up with Monterey Jack cheese, chipotle peppers, tomatoes and dried chorizo that was heated until crispy.

The mixture was poured into a casserole dish (or baking pan), topped with panko bread crumbs and more Monterey Jack cheese, and baked until it had thickened. I broiled it to get the top browned and crispy.

The result is a creamy, flavourful mac and cheese. The chipotle adds flavour, and provides a hint of spice that isn't overwhelming. The crispy chorizo adds a nice texture contrast to the creaminess of the pasta, and adds a rich bacon-like flavour. The tomato adds a bit of freshness to the whole dish. And the Monterey Jack cheese is a necessity - it makes sure the southwestern theme rings true in every element of the meal. I can't wait to buy more Jack cheese and make this again.

Southwestern Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes & Chipotle Peppers
Serves 4-6
Based on a Nestle recipe

1 2/3 cups (about 7 oz.) dry small elbow macaroni (preferably whole wheat), cooked and drained
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 cup water
Heaping 1/3 cup diced dried chorizo (if you can't find dried chorizo, you could substitute an equal amount of fresh chorizo, cooked and crumbled)
1 chipotle pepper, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese or "Mexican-blend" style pre-shredded cheese

Panko bread crumbs
Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add chorizo to pan. It will begin to render its fat and turn crispy. Stirring the chorizo occasionally, keep an eye on it and remove it from heat when it reaches a bacon-like crispiness. Drain the fat, and let chorizo rest on a plate covered with a paper towel, to soak up the excess oil.

Combine cornstarch, salt, mustard and pepper in medium saucepan. Stir in evaporated milk, water, and butter. Cook over medium-heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 cups cheese until melted. Add macaroni; mix well. Add chorizo, chipotle, and tomato. Since tomato sizes can vary, you may add less tomato to your taste. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle panko bread crumbs over top, until a light, even layer of them is formed. Sprinkle a few tablespoons or so of cheese on top.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. If necessary, broil for a few minutes to brown the panko-cheese crust.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Terse Tuesdays With Dorie: Brownie Buttons

When you find you find yourself without the proper equipment to make fudgy brownie buttons (chosen by Jayma), there is just one thing to do: bake the batter in a pan, cut it into circles, and make Brownie Button pops - then eat them compulsively.

Wondering why this post is so short? Find out over at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Snickerdoodles

One of the things I like about belonging to baking groups is that sometimes, I have to make recipes that I would never have tried otherwise. Case in point: this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, Snickerdoodles, hosted by Spike of Spike Bakes.

Since joining the blogging community, I've seen many a blogger make Snickerdoodles. But they never struck me as something particularly exciting or worth the effort. I know, that probably sounds shameful, but I just didn't see what the big deal was. A very basic cookie dough (there's not even any vanilla in it!) rolled in cinnamon sugar? "How boring," I thought. Still, I decided to take a chance this time around.

I creamed the sugar with the butter, then added some eggs. Yawn. I whisked together some flour, baking soda, and the other usual suspects, and mixed them with the wet ingredients. Whatever. Then I refrigerated the batter before rolling it into balls. No biggie. But then I rolled the balls in cinnamon sugar - a seemingly rather insignificant step - and the whole recipe was elevated.

My first bite seemed underwhelming. I thought it was good, but not spectacular. But then I kept chewing. And then I grabbed another cookie. And another. And then I foisted them upon my boyfriend, as I had obviously lost all resolve against the Snickerdoodles and if I was going down, at least he'd be going down with me.

Suffice it to say, these are spectacular. Sweet and buttery, with the perfect amount of spice from the cinnamon. I definitely see what all the fuss is about.

Thanks, Spike, for choosing Snickerdoodles! You can visit her blog for the recipe. And click here for the full list of Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers.

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