September 29, 2013

S'mores Tartlets

I'm not an outdoorsy person. I hate camping, I hate bugs, and I hate sleeping in tents. Yet I'm willing to go sit outside for a while for one reason: s'mores. They are the perfect combination of sweet, crunchy graham cracker, melty chocolate, and sticky, gooey marshmallow. As much as I love eating s'mores by a crackling fire on a cool fall night, however, they are even better inside. I've tried it before, but the microwave doesn't give the marshmallows a nice, toasty char, and the broiler makes a sticky mess. I had one other option: change the form of the s'more completely. I was faced with a whole new set of issues: marshmallows melted to a corn syrupy goo in the oven when I made s'mores cookies. S'mores ice cream gets rid of the gooeyness altogether. I decided to make s'mores tarts, which ended up solving all the issues.

I start with a graham cracker crust that couldn't be easier. Just melt some butter and toss it with some graham cracker crumbs and a few spoonfuls of sugar. Make sure to press the mixture into the tartlet pans quickly because it molds in better before the butter cools. Next is the chocolate layer; it's just melted chocolate with some cream. I only used a little bit of cream so that the ganache would be firm and hold the tartlets together. Adding more would make it liquidy and melty, more like a real s'more, but the tarts might not hold together quite as well. Nevertheless, if you keep the tarts in the pans to serve, you don't have to worry about that.

The whole thing is topped off with a generous heap of fluffy, pillowy marshmallows. They do require some special equipment, namely a candy thermometer and a stand mixer. You want the sugar syrup to reach a precise temperature to ensure the perfect texture, so it's worth spending a few dollars to get a thermometer. As for the stand mixer, the marshmallows have to be whipped for 10-15 minutes, and your arm will get tired. That's a guarantee. The mixture is so thick that a stand mixer is better suited anyway, and even a few minutes of mixing it by hand will convince you to go to a cooking store to buy one. Luckily, this recipe makes more than enough marshmallows. I had enough to put about half a cup on each tart and fill an 8x8" pan with the remainder. I cut that into shapes and tossed them in a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and potato starch to enjoy later.

But first I had to eat one of the tarts. If it's too cold or too wet to go outside for real s'mores (or you just don't want to go outside), these tarts are the perfect alternative. You can broil the tops of the marshmallows to get that delicious char, or you can use sprinkles and chocolate shards to make it more festive. Or you can do both. Why not? These tarts are so delicious you'll want to stay inside.

1 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 Cups + 3 T Sugar
4 T Butter, Melted
1 Cup Chocolate Chips
2-6 T Cream
1 Cup Cold Water
3 .25oz Envelopes Unflavored Gelatin
2/3 Cup Corn Syrup
1/4 tsp Salt
2 tsp Vanilla

Heat oven to 350F and grease 8 4" tartlet pans.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and 3T sugar; add the butter. Quickly press into the prepared pans. Chill until cold and solid, then bake for 6 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Cool.

Heat the cream and chocolate together until melted and whisk until smooth. Pour into the cooled shells and chill until firm.

Pour half the water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle in the gelatin and let stand for 15 minutes.

Combine the remaining sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining water in a heavy medium pot. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush as necessary. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, increase heat, and bring the syrup to a boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240F, about 8 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beta to blend, about another 30 seconds.

Quickly scoop the marshmallow onto the tartlets. A few drops of water work well to smooth the top if desired. Brulee with a kitchen torch or broiler if desired, or top with sprinkles and chocolate shards.

Makes 8
Marshmallow Recipe Adapted from Martha Stewart

September 20, 2013

Caribbean Chicken with Coconut Lime Rice and Pineapple Rum Salsa

It's not even October yet and I'm already getting bored of my typical weeknight dinners. As much as I love my Croque Poulet, a girl can only have so much bacon. Well, maybe not, but I do want new, bright flavors that (literally) add spice to my meal. The recipe is extremely simple and can be edited to fit your taste; all you have to do is make the marinade, let the chicken sit for a few hours, and grill until cooked through and juicy. I like to serve it over coconut lime rice with a pineapple rum salsa for extra flavor. Don't be scared off by the long list of ingredients; the majority are either pureed into the chicken marinade or chopped into the salsa. Remember, this is an entire meal in one recipe, and it's still easy despite all the stuff in it.

Allspice is a necessity in Caribbean cooking, and it adds a nice fall-esque warmth to the whole dish. Soy sauce and ginger are surprising ingredients; yes, they can be welcome additions to non-Asian dishes. You don't need much salt because the soy sauce is such a perfectly savory substitute. The red onion and scallions add a bit of bite, and the orange juice and lime add a tart zestiness. There's one more element of flavor that is a key part of Caribbean dishes: the heat. I prefer to add jalapeƱo and cayenne to taste; you can reduce the amount of either if you want less spice or use more or spicier chiles if you want a spicier dish.

I'll admit that it's an unlikely combination of flavors. However, they all work together to make a hearty, satisfying dinner. I like to serve it over rice, which soaks up the extra marinade and tones down the heat a bit, but it would also be fantastic with some grilled vegetables. This is definitely going to be a staple on my weeknight dinner menu!

The coconut lime rice is an addictive spin on plain rice. It can be served with all sorts of dishes, but it pairs perfectly with this chicken because it emphasizes the citrusy notes. It's as easy as cooking regular rice, so the main trick is to keep the pot covered at all times. If you feel the need to stir it, grab the handle of the pot and shake it a little bit. Opening the lid lets out a lot of moisture, and you want tender, sticky rice.

The pineapple rum salsa can also be served with just about anything or even just eaten with chips as a delicious appetizer. In addition to the diced pineapple and a hearty splash of rum, I add jicama for crunch. Jicama is a crunchy root vegetable with a slightly sweet flavor, like a cross between an apple and a potato. I also add some red onion and minced jalapeno before tossing it in a citrusy rum dressing. The salsa adds a welcome splash of color to the dish as well as sweetness, tartness, and texture.

1 tsp Allspice
2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2-1 tsp Cayenne
2 T Brown Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Chopped Red Onion
1/2 Cup Sliced Scallions
2 T Olive Oil
2 Oranges
4 Limes
2 T Soy Sauce
1-2 Jalapenos, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
1-2 Habaneros, Diced
2 T Grated Fresh Ginger
5 Cloves Garlic
1 1/2 lbs Chicken Breast or Thighs
1 Pineapple, Diced
1 1/3 Cups Diced Jicama
1/2 Cup Rum
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1 Cup Vegetable Broth
2 Cups Rice

Combine the allspice, chili powder, cayenne, brown sugar, 1/2 cup red onion, scallions, olive oil, zest and juice from 1 orange and 2 limes, soy sauce, diced jalapenos and habaneros, ginger, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth.

Toss the chicken in the marinade and let sit for 4-8 hours.

Combine the pineapple, remaining onion, minced jalapeno, and jicama. Whisk the juice from one orange and one lime together with the rum. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the pineapple mixture in the citrus juice mixture.

Combine the coconut milk and vegetable broth in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, add the rice, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the juice from one lime.

Grill the chicken until cooked through.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Guy Fieri

September 14, 2013

Vanilla Bean Scones

If you decide that it's fall based on the number of stores that offer pumpkin spice lattes and other pumpkin drinks and desserts, it's fall. If you decide that it's fall based on the number of girls in Uggs or people getting excited about football or spotting the first Christmas commercial, it's fall. If you're like me, however, and can't quite accept that yet, there's a simple solution. Whenever I go to somewhere like Starbucks where everyone in sight is getting something pumpkin, I get vanilla bean scones. They are perfect little bites of sweet deliciousness, and I figured out how to make them at home.

And you know what the best part is? They are really easy to make. They are also tiny, which makes me feel a little better about eating three in one sitting. Yes, they are really that good. They are scones, so you can eat them for breakfast, but they are also small, so you can eat them as a snack. They make a pretty good dessert, too. 

So what do you have to do to bring these morsels of joy into your life? Just combine the dry ingredients, beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla together, and add the dry ingredients and some buttermilk, and bake them. What makes these scones different than some of the other ones I have made (like the white chocolate peach scones and strawberry ricotta scones) is that I beat the butter and sugar together and soften the butter first. I usually make sure the butter is cold and then leave small chunks of it in the dough to create steam, which makes lighter, flakier scones. However, the method for this recipe makes the scones fluffier, and I chill the dough once it is cut to make up for the softened butter. Nevertheless, it helps if your buttermilk is cold. Another ingredient that makes this recipe unique is the cream; I brush it on top of the scones to make them golden brown. It isn't entirely necessary, but if you happen to have some cream on hand I highly recommend it.

I love the glaze, too, because it adds sweetness, texture, and more vanilla flavor and is so easy to make. It will seem like you're making way too much of it, but these scones are best when the whole thing is coated in a thick, gooey layer of it. Both the glaze and the scones are filled with tiny but extremely flavorful vanilla bean seeds, which I think are crucial to the success of the recipe. If you can't find any or if they are too expensive, you can always use more vanilla extract instead, but to capture the true flavor of the dish, vanilla beans are best.

I know I'll be eating these scones all year long, but they are even better this time of year because they are a welcome change from the pumpkin flood. Vanilla is one of my favorite flavors, and this recipe is packed with it. It couldn't be easier to make and is suitable for any time of day, so don't travel all the way over to a coffee shop if you can just make them at home.

2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/3 tsp + Pinch Salt
1 Stick Butter, Softened
1/3 Cup + 1 T Sugar
3/4 Vanilla Bean
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Cream
2 T Milk
2 Cups Powdered Sugar

Heat oven to 375F and line a cookie tray with parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt together. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the seeds from half a vanilla bean and the vanilla extract. Mix in half the flour mixture, buttermilk, and the remaining flour.

Split the dough into four pieces. Form each quarter into a circle, and cut each circle into four pieces. Chill until cold. Place the scones on the prepared tray and brush with cream. Bake for 12 minutes or until cooked through.

Whisk the remaining salt and powdered sugar together. Add the milk and the seeds from the remaining vanilla bean. Pour the glaze onto the cooled scones.

Makes 16
Recipe Adapted from Rumbly in my Tumbly

September 7, 2013

Mini Nectarine Cakes

My lunch never feels complete without dessert, even if it is just a bite. Chocolate chip cookies and brownies are always good; however, sometimes I just want some cake. I love vanilla and chocolate, and red velvet is particularly delicious, but it's my last chance to take advantage of the fresh summer fruit before fall comes around. I know I keep saying that, but it really does feel like summer is ending this time. 

This recipe is just a simple vanilla cake, light and fluffy with a touch of lemon. You can always substitute the vanilla extract for almond extract or something else, and you can use a different citrus zest instead of lemon, too. I like to top the cakes with sliced nectarines; you can also use any variety of apricots, plums, or peaches. 

When you can't find those fresh anymore, cranberries, figs, and other fall and winter fruits would be delicious as well. To add another light layer of sweetness and a bit of crunch, I sprinkle the fruit with a pinch of sugar so that it brulees and crisps up in the oven while the cakes cook.

The cakes couldn't be easier to make, and they are small enough that they satisfy my sweet tooth without being too heavy. The sweet, fluffy cake contrasts with the lightly tart fruit on top, which makes them the perfect snack or dessert. It's no wonder my friends are always jealous of my lunch!

1 Cup Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
6 T Butter, Softened
1/3 Cup + 1 T Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 Cup Milk
2-3 Nectarines, Sliced

Heat oven to 350F and line a mini muffin tin with paper cups.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the butter and 1/3 cup sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions.

Scoop the batter into the prepared tins and top with a few slices of nectarine. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and bake for 12 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Mary-Frances Heck

September 2, 2013

Raspberry Breakfast Bars

Granola bars are a healthy and satisfying snack, but my raspberry breakfast bars make an even better breakfast. Crunchy oat layers surround tart, fresh raspberries to make a quick and nutritious breakfast. You can use raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or a mix, and since berry season is just about over, you can use frozen berries instead of fresh ones. I like to add some cinnamon and lemon zest for an extra pop of flavor, too. The bars freeze extremely well, so make a batch or two over the weekend and grab a few on your way out the door.
1 1/2 Cups + 2 T Flour
1 1/4 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Oats
3/4 tsp Salt
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Chilled & Cubed
2 T Butter, Melted & Cooled
1 T Lemon Zest
1 1/4 lbs Raspberries
2 T Lemon Juice
3 T Cornstarch
Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Pulse 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon together in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse in the chilled butter. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the dough and press the rest into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden and cool.

Combine the remaining flour, remaining brown sugar, remaining cinnamon, lemon zest, and corn starch. Toss in the raspberries, then add the lemon juice and melted butter. 
Spread the raspberries onto the cooled crust and crumble on the remaining dough. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen