Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Veggie Kabobs

Grilling season is upon us. Most of us, anyway. If you live in Boston like me, you have to pretend. With highs in the mid 40s over the past week, it doesn't feel like April is coming in a matter of days, but you make do.

Since we have a backyard patio and grill at my apartment, it's hard to resist firing up the grill when it's late March. And of course, I say that theoretically, because my boyfriend is the grillmaster, even at my house. So the other night we had my favorite - brats! - with some fresh veggie kabobs.

Wow, that's a lot of flash. Oops. But don't the colors look pretty? We skewered yellow and red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, red onion and cloves of garlic, after soaking the skewers in water for about 20 minutes. Once they were all in the dish, we brushed parmesan olive oil over them along with a pinch of salt and pepper.

And onto the grill! Delicious, and so beautiful. Along with the brats they made a wonderful, balanced meal. Our only advice would be to try roasting the garlic and onion before chopping/skewering them. While the other veggies were perfectly cooked, the garlic and onions could have been a bit softer with their flavors mellowed.

So if it's warm outside where you are, or if you can stand standing out in the cold (a beer helps), go grill!
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Chocolate Banana Trifle

When we moved into our apartment last fall, the previous tenants had done a very thorough cleaning job and luckily, we weren't left dealing with any of their abandoned belongings. Except one item: a glass trifle dish. I have been waiting to put it to use for six months, and this weekend I finally made a huge, beautiful trifle.

Nope, I didn't even make the pudding from the scratch. The two flavors I worked with were chocolate and banana, so I bought some easy instant pudding to start with.

I knew brownies would really take this to the next level. My first step was whipping up a batch, letting them cool (I sped this up in the freezer), and cutting them into bite size cubes. Obviously I had to test a couple.

Next I made the two bowls of pudding. I used two boxes of chocolate and one box of banana. The fake banana flavor was a little strong, so I mixed in about a cup of cool whip to mellow it a bit.

Next up: actual bananas. I sliced two large bananas, which ended up being just the right amount.

Here's the trifle dish. Isn't it cool? I'm so glad they decided they had no use for it. Now that I had all my ingredients prepped, it was time to start layering.

First some chocolate pudding and sliced bananas. The foundation of my trifle.

Next up: layers of cool whip, banana pudding, and brownie chunks.

More chocolate pudding and, I forgot to mention, Nilla wafers! These go so well with the banana pudding.

Annnnd here's the final product. I think by the end it was:
3 layers chocolate pudding
3 layers Cool Whip
2 layers banana pudding
2 layers banana slices
2 layers brownies
2 layers Nilla wafers

And somehow the trifle dish fit EXACTLY the amount of stuff I had prepared. Fate.

This dessert was the sum of all my favorite things, and in my opinion, delicious. It lasted a couple extra days covered in plastic wrap in the fridge, and really only got better as the pudding/brownie/whipped cream goodness soaked into each other.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chocolate Shamrock Cookies

Happy St. Patrick's Day! No holiday is complete without a themed cookie, and as St. Pat's is one of my favorites, I had to make something special. I've done decorated cookies a few times (see here and here), but I've never combined the cut-out cookie with chocolate. Weird, as chocolate is my food group of choice. So here it goes.

The chocolate cut-out cookie recipe is from Bake at 350, a cute cookie-centered blog. This dough was amazing. It tasted like the inside of a truffle. I considered just rolling it into balls and serving it as is, but I decided not to risk spreading salmonella to my friends and coworkers.

Also, unlike my standard shortbread dough, the chocolate dough was incredibly easy to work with, probably because of the egg in it holding it together. It wasn't too crumbly, it didn't stick to the counter. It was awesome.

I used two different shamrock cookie cutters, one four leaf (I didn't like this one as much, but it was bigger), and one traditional three leaf. They cooked for 8 minutes (per the recipe), and although I was afraid I wouldn't be able to tell when they were done (being dark brown no matter what), that was the perfect baking time.

Also unlike my shortbread, they came out so smooth on top! Perfect for icing. And they kept their shape perfectly.

Time for decorating. I made royal icing and tinted it green (of course). Using squeeze bottles, I piped the outlines and then filled them in, finishing off with a ton of sprinkles.

I'm not sure what happened with the top left one here... I think I must've hit an air bubble in my icing.

So they looked good, but how did they taste? Amazing. I followed the recipe exactly and I can't think of any modifications I would make next time. The hint of espresso powder definitely helps bring out the chocolate flavor, and they tasted almost like a dark chocolate brownie. Even the sugary icing, which I normally don't really like, complemented the chocolate perfectly.

Now I'm deciding when I can make these next.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Daylight Savings Cakes

I love saving daylight. I will gladly give up one random hour of a Sunday night if it means more sunshine at the end of the day. So to welcome DST and Spring, which is bound to be here sometime, I made some bright and sunny banana cupcakes topped with chocolate whipped cream (recipe at the bottom).

My banana cake batter actually started as a plain old boxed yellow cake mix. I made some modifications including, of course, bananas, and came out with the moistest cake I have ever tasted.

I also made a few flower-shaped cakes, which seemed appropriately spring-y.

While the cakes were cooling, I whipped up the frosting. I don't like sugary toppings, and thus don't really enjoy most traditional icings. So for these I made a slightly sweet chocolate whipped cream and I almost ate it all before it made it onto the cupcakes.

Ummm, here is a really blurry flower cake. Turns out the flowers were a bit too small and fragile to look very good once frosted. Oh well. The flower sprinkles and mini Cadbury chocolate egg helped fancy it up.

The cupcakes turned out much better. I piped on the whipped cream with a pastry bag and wide circular tip (which I should've just done with the flower cakes), and topped with assorted Spring sprinkles (left to right: wild flowers, daisies, and butterflies) and a Cadbury egg. I made sure to stiffen the whipped cream to it wouldn't droop immediately (see recipe below).

So perhaps they look more like Easter cupcakes than Daylight Savings Cupcakes. Oh well. They tasted delicious, like an extremely moist, fluffy banana bread topped with dark chocolately whipped cream.

Ready to eat:

And eaten:

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Modified Cake Mix Cupcakes:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350.

Per cake mix instructions, combine cake mix, water, oil, and eggs until smooth. Add sour cream and cinnamon.

In a food processor, blend bananas and baking soda until smooth.

Add banana mixture to cake batter and mix until incorporated.

Pour into cupcake liners (2/3 full) and bake about 18 minutes (they should be lightly browned and a toothpick should come out clean).

Let the cupcakes cool thoroughly before messing with them. They will be extremely airy and moist, so they'll fall apart when still warm.

Dark Chocolate Whipped Cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 tablespoons powdered sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process will work)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon powdered milk

Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. While mixer is on, add all other ingredients. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Add more cocoa or powdered sugar to taste.

Using powdered sugar instead of granular sugar gives the whipped cream a creamier texture, and it contains corn starch which keeps the cream stiffer. The powdered milk is added as a stabilizer, as it helps keep the whipped cream from separating and being absorbed into the cake.

If, like me, you are only able to find gigantic boxes of powdered milk, you will be able to make quite a bit of stabilized whipped cream in your future.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

NYC: Breakfast, Dinner & Dessert

I was in New York last weekend and figured I should try to make a post out of something from the visit. I got to hang out on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (I definitely felt like pre-crazy Charlie Sheen when I hailed a cab and just said "Wall Street") and I ate my share (and some) of delicious food. While I could do a post about the stock exchange and the pros and cons of investing in stocks in today's market, food might be more relevant to this blog.

First up: breakfast. Technically brunch. We ate at a place called MexiQ in Astoria (this was my first time in Queens!) that had a Mexican-fusion brunch, complete with unlimited cocktails (a requirement for brunch, in my opinion). I had the frosted flakes-encrusted French toast, served with bacon and eggs. Verdict: the French toast was crazy sweet, but I guess I had that coming. The bacon helped even it out, but my allegedly "over-easy" eggs seemed more like hard boiled. Friendly but unbelievably slow service didn't help either (although four mimosas did). I wouldn't go out of my way to go back.

For dinner: The Meatball Shop. This Lower East Side joint serves one thing. Have you guessed what? After a 2 hour+ wait, three "balls on the house" whet our appetites. Above: meatball sliders (chicken meatball with pesto; spicy pork meatball with alfredo sauce; beef meatball with spicy tomato sauce). Delectable.

This was my dish: "naked balls." Spicy pork meatballs with a mushroom gravy, served over steamed spinach. Very yummy, like everything else. If this place didn't have such a long wait (and maybe toned down on the balls jokes), I would be back in a heartbeat.

I actually had this before dinner, but was craving another one after as well. I have always been a fan of banana pudding, so when my friend Kase told me that it was one of Magnolia Bakery's signature items, I had to have it.

oh. my. god. Banana heaven. The pudding was more like mousse, it was so rich, and was layered perfectly with sliced bananas and nilla wafers. I'm craving it again looking at the photo. Doesn't that container seem huge? I thought so too. Then I proceeded to finish it in about 4 minutes.
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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brie & Prosciutto

This is one of my favorite meals, and it's perfect if you're starving and don't want to spend time cooking. So last night, after a 6-9 p.m. class, it made for a delicious end of the day.

Ingredients: French baguette, chunk of brie cheese, sliced prosciutto. Done. Other yummy additions: olives, fruit, any other delicious things that don't require cooking.

Little bread, little cheese, little ham, little red wine (not pictured)... perfection.

No, this did not include a vegetable. I had a green monster this morning to make up for it.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Green Tea Pomegranate Limeade

This is a really long name for a pretty simple drink. It came about at my house for two reasons:

1. I just saw this recipe for Green Tea Pomegranate Lemonade and it sounded like a delicious way to pretend Spring is coming in Boston.

2. My friend Sara just purchased a citrus juicer that she is obsessed with using (we also had fresh lemonade this weekend).

So we whipped up a batch and settled in to watch "Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy." Limeade good. Movie bad.

Green Tea Pomegranate Limeade

6 cups hot water
6 green tea bags (we used decaf because Sara can't half caffeine after 12 p.m.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup lime juice
3/4 cup 100% pomegranate juice
Lime slices

Brew the tea for a few minutes. I find green tea gets bitter if you let it steep more than a couple minutes, but others may disagree.

Dissolve the sugar into the warm tea. Combine tea, lime juice, and pomegranate juice in a pitcher over ice. Chill in the fridge.

Serve! Pour over ice and garnish with a slice of lime and/or some fresh mint if you have it.
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dessert Hummus

"Dessert" hummus has been circulating in the blogosphere, but I've been hesitant to try it. My friend Clare at Fitting It All In sent me this recipe, which is supposed to look and taste just like cookie dough. So I gave in.

It sounds pretty horrible, but chickpeas are pretty mild, so I figured it could be made sweet as easily as it's made savory.

It does look like chocolate chip cookie dough, I'll give it that.

The first step was peeling an entire can of chickpeas, to give it a creamier texture. The skins are starchier than the inside, so they won't break down as much in the food processor. Wow, this was tedious. If you kind of squeeze each one gently, the skin pops off, but 200 of them still adds up. I'm pretty sure I was beginning to develop carpal tunnel by the end of the can.

Into the food processor they went, along with 1/4 cup of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of peanut butter, and 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla, per the recipe. After this was blended, I also added a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar for texture and a little more sweetener.

Make sure to blend it really well! Chunks of chickpeas are no good in any dessert.

Once it's smooth, mix in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (or dark chocolate chunks, as I did).

It made a pretty good breakfast on a piece of potato bread toast.

It definitely didn't taste just like cookie dough, which all the reviews of the recipe promised. And I eat my fair share of cookie dough. It tasted a lot like peanut butter, which isn't bad... I think it could've used some brown sugar though to sweeten it up a little. It was definitely better when eaten with something slightly sweet, instead of on its own.

So to sum up, not bad, not great. Probably won't make it again. Anyone else have any experience with dessert hummus?
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