May 14, 2011

Best(& easiest) chocolate pudding ever

First, the news. Personal news. My family is moving cross-country to upstate New York. Very exciting. Very crazy. It also means time to cook -- whether from scratch or not -- is getting less, and less, and less, and less. I am still doing it though, but I am not sure how often I am going to post here. I already have a backlog of recipes, but my moving-related to-do list is also growing by the mile every second. My insanity-cum-stress level is shooting through the roofs and I am stopping every other second to pick up my eyeballs from the floor and popping them back into their sockets.

Whatever it is, I will come back here. If I am true to my word about posting recipes we have liked here, and if my bad habit of having to try yet another new recipe never dies, I could be posting until the cows come home. You just wait.

Does it look like the butterfly wants chocolate pudding too?
Second, more news, and exciting too: easy to make dessert that your kid(s) will love to help, can easily help, and they don't even have to wait to eat it (if you choose to eat it warm). This is totally delicious to me, and every time I think of this chocolate pudding recipe I rub my hands with glee for all its goodness. This recipe came from the no longer existing Organic Style magazine, and they called it "The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever" and I whole-heartedly agree with all my chocolate mustache. They also say if you want it less intense and more kid-friendly, to reduce the chocolate from 4 ounces to three instead. Well, that I respectfully disagree. I make it with four ounces of chocolate (maybe even a tiny bit more, to compensate for all that brown stuff that gets left behind on hard-to-reach places like the whisk and the pot) and have never received complaints. But of course, it is up to you to decide how much chocolate will be too intense for you and your family. Proceed with responsibility.

Best-ever Chocolate Pudding
The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever
Recipe from Organic Style magazine (Feb 2005)
Serves 4

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  •  3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional, but highly recommended)
  1. Combine 1/2 cup milk with sugars, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a 1-pint jar. Screw lid on tightly and shake vigorously until blended (a few lumps are OK, and this is something kids will love to help with).
  2. Heat remaining 1 1/2 cups milk in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. When small bubbles appear on side of pan (kids love the assignment of watching out for bubbles!), pour cocoa mixture into saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking, until pudding thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in chopped chocolate and  vanilla extract.
  3. Spoon pudding into 4 heatproof cups. Serve hot, warm or chilled with whipped cream, if desired. (I just pour into a large glass bowl, cover and chill. And portion out accordingly into small bowls.)
Got chocolate pudding?

May 10, 2011

Delicious Gluten-free Banana Bread

Delightful gluten-free banana bread
 Banana Bread. Yum. Whoever invented banana bread deserves a medal, I am sure you agree. I love bananas. I eat them straight, or with peanut butter, or chocolate spread, or in a bread. It's an easy solution when one is low on sugar and is plenty good for you.

Don't be afraid to let your bananas develop those brown spots before you use them in baking! That is when their flavor is ripe and high. And making a double batch? -- always a very smart idea.

This loaf rises respectably high for a gluten-free quick bread.
This recipe comes from Elizabeth Barbone's Easy Gluten-Free Baking. It is simple and straight-forward, and very good. Some gluten-free banana bread tends to be sticky and dense, but not this one. Great flavor, wonderful texture, delectable crumb. No wonder Barbone calls this the "Blue Ribbon Banana Bread" (she adapted it from her mother's recipe, which won several blue ribbons in bake-off contests.) The only thing I did to this recipe was to add a handful of chocolate chips. And by a handful, I mean about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup, as desired. If I am using chocolate chips, I normally reduce the sugar by about 1/4 cup. It's your choice!

Blue Ribbon Banana Bread
Recipe from Easy Gluten-Free Baking

Wet ingredients:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups very ripe mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
Dry ingredients:
  • 1 2/3 cups white rice flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips (if desired)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and rice flour a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan. in a small bowl, mix together sugar and mashed bananas. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add half of the dry ingredients. Blend until smooth on medium-low speed. Add banana-sugar mixture. Stir until well incorporated. Add remaining dry ingredients. Blend batter until smooth.
  4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
  5. Place pan on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes (I tend to let it cool longer when the weather is warm). Remove loaf from pan and place on rack to cool completely.
Take time for yourself, and enjoy!

    May 8, 2011

    Oriental Style Salmon (aka Salmon-in-a-hurry)

    Salmon is good for you, but it is even better if you do not need to toil in order to enjoy it. I love dishes that can be made up in a hurry, and even more if I can just stick it in the oven, turn on the rice cooker and have some minutes to spare until the timer on the oven goes off.

    This salmon dish is welcomed with smiles in my household, and I do not mind serving it since it is relatively painless and easy, plus each mouthful is moist and flavorful. I took this recipe from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions and made a few small tweaks. While it is suggested that you serve this with buckwheat, brown rice pasta or brown rice, I think it will also make an awesome salmon salad, even eaten cold on a summer's day. I also sometimes break it up and add it to my scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    Oriental-style Salmon
    Oriental style Salmon (aka Salmon-in-a-hurry)
    Recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions
    Serves 6
    • 2 pounds wild salmon filet
    • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds (crush them a little in a mortar if you have time, it helps release the aroma much better)
    • 1.5 Tbsp rice vinegar
    • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional, but recommended)
    • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
    • 1 Tbsp grated ginger (I've been lazy before and simply chopped roughly!)
    • 1 bunch finely chopped green onions (optional, but recommended)
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • grated zest from one lemon
    1. Pre-heat oven to 350F. Oil or butter a glass baking dish large enough to hold the salmon.
    2. Place salmon filets skin side down in the dish. Combine all other ingredients and pour over the salmon. Use back of spoon to spread out the ingredients evenly over the salmon. 
    3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until salmon is just cooked through. (I usually already turn off the oven after removing the foil.)
    4. Slice salmon into servings, transfer to individual plates and spoon the sauce over each slice. Sprinkle with more thinly sliced green onions if you wish. Enjoy!

    May 4, 2011

    The Triple-C Cookie

    Actually, since "chocolate chips" is technically two words, this cookie recipe should be called the quadruple-C cookie. It is: Coconut Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookie. It is an alliteration cookie. It contains lots of good stuff, it tastes heavenly and it is addictive. And, it is a straight-forward, easy recipe. I love it!

    This is bite-sized heaven.
    I adapted this from a Martha Stewart recipe (originally named "Coconut-Cranberry Cookies" and appeared in the December 2003 issue, I was not able to find it online). When I saw that the recipe required grated orange zest, I knew it would not fly with me. For some reason, I do not mind zesting lemons, but I just do not like zesting oranges. It also called for sweetened shredded coconut, which I did not have on hand and did not wish to buy. So I made a few changes, including reducing the amount of sugar, using orange-flavored cranberries (from Trader Joe's), and adding orange extract, coconut extract and chocolate chips. However, I think this recipe will still be plenty wonderful with regular dried cranberries and sans orange extract. It should still bring you to your knees and have your friends and family begging for more.

    Don't ask me why but I just felt like taking a picture of the cookie dough. I thought the dotted jewels of red amongst the pale dough was rather alluring.
    Oh, and I forgot one more thing: I made the balls smaller, simply because I like bite-sized indulgences. (And it's easier to pop an entire one into your mouth whilst alone in the kitchen, with no one realizing what you have done, ha!) This cookie leans towards the "crunchy" category. Very crispy, but the center has a tad of chew provided by the coconut and cranberries. It's quite a perfect balance, I have to say.

    Coconut Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
    Makes about 60 cookies
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 1/4 cups sugar (I would even reduce it to one cup next time, the chocolate chips added plenty of sweet to this recipe)
    •  2 tsps vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp orange extract (optional)
    • 1/4 tsp coconut extract 
    • 1 1/2 cups dried orange-flavored cranberries (or use plain ones if you prefer) 
    • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
    1.  Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking  sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 
    2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
    3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the extracts. Add flour mixture, beat on medium-low until mixture comes together. Beat in cranberries, shredded coconut and chocolate chips.
    4. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges begin to brown, about 15 to 17 minutes total.
    5. Let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

    May 2, 2011

    Julia's Best-ever Brownies

    So I have written about my personal quest for the perfect brownies recipe. Or rather, I am seeking out that same taste, that same sensation, that re-enaction of a care-free, breezy summer on a patio. As the wise ones had said, you never cross the same bridge twice, I guess I just may never experience that perfect brownie moment ever again.

    But that is not to say I am giving up.

    I came across an archetypal brownie recipe as I was culling through my recipe collection. It came from the much revered Baking with Julia. Really, can one ever go wrong there? I made the recipe once again (after it having been buried at the bottom of a box for the last several years) and truly, it is the best-ever. Well, unless you belong to the "I like my brownie cakey" camp, then that is a whole other story, because this brownie is the fudgy type. It is very, very rich, satisfying and groan-inducing.

    Best-ever fudgy brownie
    I did make a couple of small changes to the recipe, instead of using two different types of chocolate I used semi-sweet only, and added a teaspoon of espresso powder (having this in my pantry makes me feel safe).It's not an easy-peasy one-bowl recipe, requiring a couple more steps, but I think you'll agree it's worth the extra effort.

    And this is not the end of the happily-ever-after story. My quest is still on. Call me silly or crazy, I don't care. The thing is, in that same pile of recipes I spied a few intriguing ones involving brownies, and I know I will just have to try them one of these days. And I may just finally hit upon that dream brownie. But in the meantime, this one sits on the top of the pile, no two words about it!

    Julia Child's Best-ever Brownies
    Recipe from Baking with Julia

  1. 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

  2. 1 teaspoon salt

  3. 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

  4. 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

  5. 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped(I used 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate)

  6. 2 cups sugar (I reduced by 1/4 cup)

  7. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  8. 4 large eggs

  9. 1 tsp espresso powder (optional)

    1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Sift the flour and salt together and set aside. 
    2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate doesn't scorch (Alternatively, you can melt the ingredients in the top of a double boiler over, not touching, simmering water.) Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
    3. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.
    4. Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into a bowl and mix or whisk by hand just to combine.
    5. Little by little, pour half of the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don't set from the heat.
    6. Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are thick, pale, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
    7. Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.
    8. When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients.
    9. Pour and scrape the batter in to an unbuttered 9-inch square pan.
    10. Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry.
    11. Cut into the center at about the 23-minute mark to see how the brownies are progressing: They'll be perfect if they're just barely set and still pretty gooey.
    12. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack.

    May 1, 2011

    got spreading cookies?

    A couple of weeks ago my friend K told me sadly that she made the gluten-free egg-free ugly-but-good chocolate cookies, but they did not turn out! -- they spread too much and were very flat, and therefore baked up to be more crispy and chewy, and K belongs to that category of cookie-lover who much, much prefer her cookies chewy. I went back to the recipe and looked it over to see if there could be anything problematic with the recipe and did not find any.

    Determined to have those yummy cookies once again, K braved the recipe once more, even chilling the dough in the refrigerator before baking-- only to yield the same spread-out, flat and crispy cookies. How frustrating! I decided to make those cookies and see what happens.

    Oh, guess what?! I had the same problem! My instinct was that the butter was too warm. With the weather warming up, the butter came to "room temperature" much faster than before and I must admit the butter seemed a tad too warm when I used it. Room-temperature butter means you should be able to make an impression in the butter with your finger, but the impression should not stay. This, and more tips for successful baking can be found here, a very useful resource!

    I also looked into Shirley O. Corriher's BakeWise and these are her suggestions for less spread in cookies:
    • decrease the amount of fat
    • use an egg for liquid
    • use cake flour (which is higher in moisture) 
    • increase the amount of flour
    • cut the sugar by a few tablespoons
    • switch from baking powder to baking soda
    • use unsweetened chocolate
    • use regular cocoa
    • use cold ingredients or chill dough before going into the oven (the cookies, not you!)
    I recall there was a time when I did not bring butter to room temperature but always used them direct from the refrigerator. I read somewhere (can't remember where now, it's years ago!) that it is hard to ascertain "room temperature" and so the best thing to do is cut up the butter into small pieces, and then cream them till they are creamy. I think with the mercury rising, I am going back to this method!

    I hope this information proves useful! It makes me really unhappy when a recipe does not turn out, especially when you are salivating after a cookie you knew you would enjoy. I hope these tips can avert many disappointments.