“PB&J” Cookie Tart

As Amanda mentioned last week with her amazing Scallops with Strawberry Spinach Salad, we are big fans of Masterchef and Gordon Ramsay in general. For this date, we wanted to make something that would fit the “me-on-a-plate” guidance that the judges often give to competitors to inspire them to cook their very best that is close to their heart. I was a bit stumped on this one, but I knew that baking is my first love and it had to be a dessert.

Anyone who knows me knows that trying new food was a bit of a challenge for me for most of my life. Unfortunately do not have a classic, romantic story about how the perfect bouillabaisse in France touched my lips and changed my life, or how I’d grown up eating new flavors that inspired my love of cooking. There were a lot of chicken nuggets and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches in my life and I liked it that way just fine. There still are a lot but, you know,  I space it out now.

Instead I was always eager to whip up a batch of cookies or brownies, and dinner was just a formality to make it through to dessert. So, for this challenge, I wanted to bring the classic flavors any kid would love, that PB&J, and combine it with my love of baking into something remotely masterchef worthy.

Would Chef Ramsay throw it back in my face if he took a bite? Not sure…
Did it all disappear into our tummies by the end of the weekend because we thought it was so delicious? You know that’s right!

Almond Butter Cookie Crust

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients until fully mixed.
  3. Press the dough into a 9-inch pie plate or spring-form pan in an even layer across the bottom and slightly up the sides if able.
  4. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until crust looks dry and has risen slightly.
  5. Remove from oven and using a heat resistant, flat bottomed cup, press gently into the center of the crust to flatten. Press against the sides to form the edges so that you have what resembles a tart crust.
  6. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan, and save for assembly. Note: This crust is very chewy and delicate so it might help to chill in the fridge before removing from the pan. 

 

Strawberry Puree Whip

  • 1 Packet of gelatin
  • 3 Tbsp boiling water
  • 1 Pint strawberries, greens removed and roughly chopped (can also use frozen, but definitely get some fresh ones for garnish)
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3/4 Cup heavy cream

Instructions: 

  1. Bloom the gelatin in the boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Over medium heat, heat the strawberries and sugar. Add the gelatin and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the strawberries release their moisture and become mushy.
  3. Strain the puree through a mesh sieve to filter out the seeds and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Reserve about 1/3 of the puree for assembly and chill.
  5. In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the heavy cream and the remaining cooled puree. Whip the mixture until there are stiff peaks.
  6. Chill for at least 30 minutes until ready to use.

 

Almond Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 tbsp softened butter
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Instructions: 

  1. In a stand mixer, mix together all frosting ingredients until smooth.
  2. Chill until ready to use or you can use immediately. Transfer to a piping bag whenever ready for assembly.

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Assembly: 

  1. Make sure the crust is properly cooled before beginning assembly. Spread a thin layer of the reserved strawberry puree over the center of the cookie.
  2. Spread an even layer of the strawberry whip over the puree so that it is level and even with the sides of the crust.
  3. Pipe the almond butter frosting on top of the and top garnish with strawberries as desired.
  4. Chill for at least 2 hours before enjoying.

Wine Pairing: You could go with a sweet dessert wine if you wanted, although that’s a bit too much for me. So I went for a Zinfandel. You still get that PB&J feel, but without wanting to brush your teeth right after!

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Lemon Basil Petit-Fours with Strawberry-Red Wine Filling

As Amanda mentioned in her amazing Guava Cake recipe, the prodigal return of the Great British Baking Show to Netflix has taken us by storm. This show has an amazing ability to make me crave baking like no other, and many a Saturday have been surrendered to bread proofing and pie making after even a small binge Baking Show session. As you have probably seen, Amanda also caught the bug. So, for this Distance Dishes date, we wanted to try a bake we’d never done, and play with some techniques we might not have tried.

I’ve been wanting to try petit-fours for a long time, and when I had my first taste one earlier in 2016, I knew I wanted to try to make it for myself. This was the perfect excuse to do it! I also had a basil plant growing out of control and wanted to incorporate it with complementary flavors and now here we are.

The cake is tart and fresh, the strawberries and wine add berry notes which are all to be tamed by the added sweetness of the pourable fondant. Since this was my first attempt, I did not want to invest in a special cutter, but thankfully with a sharp knife and a ruler, we can still achieve some cute little cakes.

Lemon Basil Pound Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded and chopped finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, either with a stand or hand mixer, beat together the sugar, butter, and eggs, first on low speed until everything comes together, then on high speed for 5 minutes. Incorporate the milk and lemon juice into the sugar mixture, then add your flour mixture slowly. Beat until smooth. Gently fold in basil leaves.
  4. Spread your cake batter thinly and evenly over the lined baking sheets with an offset spatula.
  5. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until springy when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool completely before assembly.

Strawberry-Red Wine Filling:

  • 8 oz strawberries, roughly chopped and greens removed
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup fruit forward red wine (I used a red blend with mentions of notes of berries on the label)
  • Pinch of lemon zest, if available

Instructions: 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat all ingredients over low heat until the sugar granules are dissolved. Increase to medium heat so that the mixture is simmering.
  2. Stir over the heat for about 10 minutes until the strawberries lose their shape and the mixture thickens. The temperature should be around 220°F when finished.
  3. Strain through a sieve to help remove the seeds from the jam mixture.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to use for the cake. Can be stored without canning procedures in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or frozen for up to a year.

Pourable Fondant Icing Ingredients:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup hot water (I used plantation lemonade tea for something different, but not necessary)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • food coloring if desired
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

Instructions: 

  • Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat in a saucepan or in 10-20 second increments in the microwave stirring in between each session until very smooth.
  • Add the powdered sugar, corn syrup, and hot water into a large bowl and stir gently until smooth. You can also use a stand mixer on low if you have one.
  • Add the melted white chocolate and vanilla and stir until smooth. If you’re using food coloring, this is also the time to add until you get the desired effect.
  • It is important to make sure this is still warm when you’re ready to use so make this immediately before you’re ready to dip your cakes (see assembly).

Assembly

  1. Once your cakes have cooled, trim the crust-type edges from the cakes so that you have clean sides.
  2. Portion and cut the remaining cake rectangle into three equal sections as these will make your three layers.
  3. Spread a layer of jam onto one of the new portions. Place another one of the portions on top, and top with additional jam. Top with the final cake portion.
  4. Repeat the trimming, portioning and layering with your other sheet of cake and then freeze all newly layered cake portions for 30 minutes.
  5. Once the cakes have hardened a bit, get out your ruler and a sharp knife and cut the cakes into equal, bite-size squares. I aimed for about 1.25″x1.25″ but however you’re able to portion these equally and what looked right to you will work.
  6. Freeze the cut cakes for another 15-30 minutes and make your pourable fondant just before you are ready to remove them from the freezer.
  7. Once you have your fondant ready, using a fork, slowly lower the mini-cakes into the fondant until submerged and shake off the excess. Carefully lower onto a cooling rack (with liner underneath) to harden. Repeat with all your cakes.
  8. You can decorate your new petit-fours with more melted chocolate drizzled over, sprinkles, or get crazy with traditional fondant if you’d like. Whatever makes you happy!
  9. Enjoy!

Wine Pairing: The obvious choice for this would be to suggest the rest of the bottle you used to make the jam. However, if you’re like me and that bottle is looking a little low because you needed something to do while waiting for the jam, cakes and fondants to harden, then I’d suggest checking out Amanda’s Giggle Water Recipe since it’s a light, refreshing beverage perfect for an afternoon treat. 

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Custard Buns (Lai Wong Bao)

Real talk – I totally messed up this recipe the first time. Putting together a few recipes, I finally found one that works for these Chinese custard buns (lai wong bao, or egg yolk buns). The trial and errors were totally worth it though to relive my favorite snack from my time in Boston! I worked on the outskirts of Chinatown, and picked up one of these custard buns every day on my walk back to the bus. Yum!

There was one special ingredient and special piece of equipment that I had to get for this recipe: custard powder and a bamboo steamer. Custard powder, an uncommon ingredient in American recipes, is a starchy vanilla powder cooked with milk to create a custard. The bamboo steamer, while helpful, could probably be improvised with a colander and wire rack.

Ingredients

Custard Filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch or wheat starch
  • 3 tbs cream
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 2 tbs butter

Steamed Bun

  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbs powdered sugar
  • 6 tbs milk, divided
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

Custard Filling

  1. Heat several inches of water to simmer in a large pot to be used as a double boiler.
  2. In metal or otherwise heatproof bowl, beat together eggs and powdered sugar.
  3. Add milk and heavy cream and combine.
  4. Add flour, cornstarch, and custard powder and whisk until there are no lumps. Add butter and combine.
  5. Place bowl over simmering water and stir continuously until custard has thickened to about the consistency of dense cake batter.
  6. Remove from heat and, once cooled, refridgerate until ready to use in an airtight container.

Steamed Bun

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes until mixture becomes frothy.
  2. Stir in flour, sugar, 3 tbs of milk, and salt. Combine thoroughly.
  3. Add additional milk 1 tbs at a time until a dough is formed. Knead for 3-5 minutes until dough is smooth.
  4. Coat with oil and allow to rise for a little over an hour or until dough has tripled in size.
  5. Remove custard from fridge and spoon balls of the custard onto a sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Pinch a ball of dough onto cutting board and spread into a thin circle about 4 inches in diameter. Put a custard ball in the middle of the dough and wrap. Roll around to ensure that the bun is sealed.
  7. Heat bamboo steamer over simmering hot water. Place each bun on a square of parchment paper to prevent sticking. Cover and steam for 15 minutes.

 

Tropical Layer Cake with Guava and Lime

I blame Netflix and The Great British Bake Off for this recipe. Merideth has been a longtime fan and I’ve finally caught on. I can’t help but crave sugary goodness after watching an episode (ok, many episodes).Since I’ve never been great at baking (so many precise measurements!), I decided to start with a basic layer cake. Excited about my upcoming trip to Miami for a long weekend, I decided to go with some tropical fruit flavors. Plus, it has juice so its healthier too, right?

Besides being patient during the cake-baking process, the biggest challenge was molding the fondant – the candy dough that I chose to decorate with. I bought this premade and dyed the fondant myself. My first note to self – make cuts in the fondant to insert the dye, rather than mixing it directly on the surface. I came away with pink hands! Second, and something I wish I had Googled before starting – the fondant can get sticky, especially as you work the dyes in. Like flouring your hands for bread dough, you can use powdered sugar to prevent stickiness.

Ingredients

Guava Cake

  • 1 cup guava nectar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 5 egg whites

Guava Jelly

  • 2 cups guava nectar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Lime and Coconut Frosting

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbs regular or coconut rum
  • 1 tbs lime zest, optional
  • 3 drops food coloring, or as needed

Instructions

Guava Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cake pans.
  2. Combine guava nectar and vanilla and, separately, combine flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Beat butter until creamy, then gradually adding sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Alternate adding nectar and flour mixture in small portions, beginning with flour, to the butter mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition until fully combined.
  5. Beat egg whites until still peaks form and fold into batter.
  6. Bake until toothpick dipped in center comes out clean, or about 20-25 minutes.
  7. Cool pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks and allow to cool.
  8. To assemble cake, set aside two layers. Spoon guava jelly into center of bottom layer. Top with second layer and smooth edges with bread knife as necessary.
  9. Spread frosting over the top layers and top with shredded coconut or your preferred decoration. Enjoy!

Guava Jelly

  1. Dissolve sugar in guava nectar in saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Make a paste of the cornstarch by adding a bit of water.
  3. Remove nectar from heat and stir in cornstarch.
  4. Once blended, return to heat and boil for 1 minute. Cool in refrigerator before use.

Lime and Coconut Frosting

  1. Beat butter until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy.
  2. Stir in vanilla extract until combined, then lime juice and rum, as well as food coloring and lime zest if using. Beat with a mixer until spreadable and fluffy.

 

Chocolate Cookie in a Cast Iron Pan

This started out as a red velvet cookie. Not wanting to buy a bunch of red food dye and trying to pass this off as healthy, I used beet juice! You can buy this at the store or, if like me you want to have beets with dinner, simmer peeled and quartered beets for approximately 40 minutes, reserving the dyed water. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make the red velvet that I was looking for, but I was still left with a tasty, chocolate cookie that I could say had vegetables in it!

I also liked this recipe because it gave me yet another reason to love the cast iron pan that Merideth got me for Christmas! Previously using it for “steak Sundays”, I loved the pan’s versatility and the giant cookie it let me create. Next time, I think I’ll find an excuse to celebrate (Happy Tuesday?) and frost it.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup beet juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat over to 350F.
  2. Blend butter and sugars with mixer until well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla until well combined and set aside.
  3. Combine flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda. Slowly stir into wet ingredients.
  4. Add chocolate chips and beet juice.
  5. Pour into cast iron skiller (flouring is not necessary) and smooth batter.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until toothpick or fork comes out clean when poked in the middle of the cookie.

Overnight Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls

Amanda and I promise the new year will bring fresh and healthy recipes, but late December is when the sweet treat rules the day. With just a short time before Christmas Day, families are gathering to decorate the tree, gorgeous light displays illuminate the neighborhoods and there is a feeling of joy in the air. Like Thanksgiving, every family has its own traditions to make the holiday season extra special and mine is no different. For me, the Christmas season is when “tradition” truly makes an appearance, whether I decorate the house with my nutcracker collection, my mother *ahem* I mean Santa gifting me a new Holiday Barbie ornament to add to my growing collection, or blasting Christmas music throughout the house subjecting all inhabitants to my singing along.No tradition in my family though, is more iconic or more anticipated than the annual Christmas morning cinnamon rolls.

As we would excitedly rip through our bursting stockings each Christmas morning I remember the smell of those cinnamon rolls cooking and waiting for the timer to signal their completion; they are a once a year treat. Now, in our family, the canned cinnamon rolls are our tradition and certainly do not disappoint. However, that would not make for a very interesting post, for one, and I’m an adult now and ready to make my own way in traditional recipes. So, while I did not want to just copycat the original, I did want to share this gingerbready spin on our classic with the Distance Dishes family and I’m sure they will be appearing on our Christmas morning menu for years to come. They are more work than the canned option, but they can be made in advance and freeze extremely well. We recently celebrated an early Christmas since my family is spread across the county and these were served. They did not disappoint.

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Gingerbread Rolls:

  • 4 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1 large whole egg at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (may need up to 1/2 cup more)
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 1/2 tsp star anise, ground
  • Cooking spray or vegetable oil

Cinnamon filling

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 sp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp melted butter for brushing

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

Instructions:

  • Whisk together the egg yolks, whole eggs, molasses, sugar and milk.
  • Transfer this mixture to a stand mixer with a dough hook and add flour, yeast, salt, yeast (not over the salt), butter, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise. Mix on low to combine for 1-2 minutes.
  • Turn the mixer speed to medium and allow to knead for about 5-6 minutes until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be fairly wet but not sticky; add more flour if necessary and knead until this consistency.
  • Transfer dough to a large buttered or greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow dough to sit and rise for 2.5 hours.
  • While you are waiting for your dough to rise, mix together the cinnamon filling by stirring together the brown sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside until ready to roll out the dough.
  • Once the dough has risen and rested, transfer to a large piece of greased parchment paper on a flat surface. Shape the dough into a general rectangle shape and roll out with a rolling-pin (or you can get creative with a wine bottle-life hack!). to a rectangle about 18″ by 14″.
  • Brush the rectangle with the 4 tbsp of the melted butter leaving about 1″ strip at the top unbuttered. Distribute the sugar mixture over the buttered portion of the dough evenly.
  • Starting opposite the unbuttered end, and using the parchment paper to assist, roll the cinnamon roll into a tight cylinder. Pinch the seams closed along the cylinder for a secure roll and turn to seam side down.
  • Using a serrated knife, cut the cylinder into 12 identical slices, about 1.5″ thickness.
  • Butter either  9″ by 13″ baking dish or two 8″ round baking dishes and place in the cinnamon rolls, cut side down, so that they are each just barely touching.
  • Place in the fridge to rest overnight or about 6-18 hours if you’re timing it.*
  • The next morning, place the rolls into a cool oven with a pan of boiling water to create steam and allow for one last rise for 30 minutes.
  • Then, remove both the water and the rolls while you pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
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After their steam bath in the oven
  • Bake the cinnamon rolls for 30 minutes, and while they are baking make the icing (can also be made ahead of time).
  • Using a mixer with a whisk attachment or a hand mixer, mix together the cream cheese, milk and powdered sugar until combined. Set aside or refrigerate until rolls are baked.
  • Once the rolls are out of the oven, spread the icing evenly over the rolls and serve warm. Enjoy!

*If you’re looking to make these ahead of time, this is an excellent time to freeze. Tightly wrap the dish and freeze until ready (will keep for about 6 weeks). Once ready, thaw overnight in a cool oven and then resume the steps above starting with adding the pan with boiling water to the oven for 30 minutes. I would not recommend freezing the icing though, but it is fairly easy to assemble. 

Wine Pairing: Since we typically have this for breakfast, I’d recommend your mimosa of choice to go with this one! Enjoy!

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yummy yummy!

Pao de Queijo aka Brazilian Cheesy Bread

Between the summer festivities in August, the upcoming Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World this fall (more on that later) and my own visits to a Brazilian steakhouse this summer, Amanda and I have been in a Brazilian state of mind for sure. While Brazil has a lot of traditional and interesting dishes to offer, these delightful little cheesy puffs of deliciousness pretty much could not be skipped in our eyes. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going to a Brazilian Steakhouse, these are usually on the table. While I usually try not to distract myself from the prize at any Churrascaria (aka the poles of meat floating around the restaurant ready to be sliced just for me and grabbed by my spiffy  meat tongs), these are not to be missed.

I read an amusing quote years ago somewhere in the caverns of the internet that went something to the effect of “I treat recipes like I treat science fiction novels. When I finish reading one, I think ‘Well, that’s never going to happen!’.” This is generally my thought when I read any recipe with special ingredients  that I’d have to take a special trip to the grocery store to locate and then to find out it was never stocked there in the first place. While Amanda and I probably have ingredients on this blog that might not be in everyone’s kitchen, I like to keep things on the generally simpler side maybe with a few substitutions here and there if and ingredient is completely out of the question. When I saw Tapioca flour/starch was needed, I hoped there was some way around it. I will say though, it seems to be worth it to just bite the bullet and get some. The chewiness and texture of the start is unique in my experience and while I’m sure someone out there could provide an alternative, I recommend trying it. It should be noted that this also makes these little beauties gluten-free, which I know is so trendy.

As a disclaimer, I’m sure that my method of putting these ingredients together is not traditional. Amanda utilized a different (probably more correct) method involving heating and cooling and then baking and quite frankly that sounds like a lot to me (see science fiction quote). This really could not have been simpler, and makes an excellent last minute side dish if you’re ever in need (and already have that tapioca). The most difficult thing was probably cleaning the food processor. Without further ado, I present:

To recreate Merideth’s attempt at Pao de Queijo, you will need:

  • 1 2/3 cups tapioca flour*
  • 1 cup grated queso fresco**
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of milk (I used skim milk, but I’m sure it can only be improved with more fat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly greased muffin tin(s). This makes about 24ish puffs so you can do it in batches or all at once depending on your tin supply.

*Hint: At my grocery store, this was located with the baking goods next to the potato starch, and not the specialty gluten-free section. I have since seen it in this section as well though, so check both if you have them.

**Queso Fresco is fairly mild and 1 cup is certainly upping the ratio from initial attempts because I love the cheesy taste (and does anyone else hate measuring grated cheese? Just dump it in!). However, if you want maybe a bit sharper taste or if your grocery store isn’t the best with its cheese selection, you could use a combination of mozzarella and parmesan (or just parmesan) to equal about 2/3 cup. 

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees as you are putting everything else together.
  • Dump everything into a food processor and pulse until everything is smooth and blended. This created more of a batter than a dough, so this is where those greased muffin tins come in handy.
  • Fill each tin about 2/3-3/4 full and bake in the fully preheated oven for 20 minutes or until it puffs up and starts to develop brown spots.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to a non-mouth-burning temperature but be sure to enjoy warm.

If you do not have a food processor, you can go Amanda’s route and heat the milk, oil and salt until combined, then remove from the heat and add the cheese and flour until combined. Then, wait for the mixture to cool a bit. Add the egg and spoon into your muffin tins continuing instructions above.

Wine Pairing: Moscato pairs really well with these treats, as the sweetness balances the cheese while still keeping with the lightness of this snack. Of course, you’re probably making yourself a steak to go with these so you could always just pair a nice red Cabernet and see what happens. Enjoy!img_0827

 

French Toast Casserole

Breakfast is my favorite meal! Add some mimosas and some good friends, and brunch is the highlight of any day. Merideth and I made this on our beach weekend, and I served it again for a rainy Netflix marathon when Hurricane Hermine pushed us inside on Labor Day Weekend. Both times, this was a hit! Quick prep means that you can get the casserole in the oven and, if you’re like us, push play on your Saturday morning cartoons!

This recipe uses peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chips, but could allow for other combinations as long as the milk/egg mixture is maintained. Next time, I’m thinking blueberries, or maybe some seasonal pumpkin spice!

Ingredients

1 loaf day-old challah bread, cubed

3 bananas, sliced

3/4 cups chocolate chips

Milk/Egg Mixture

1/4-1/2 cup milk of your choice (I have used almond and traditional milk, both good!).

1 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup peanut butter

6-7 eggs

Salt

Depending on how large the loaf is, you may need additional milk/egg mixture to saturate the bread.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease 9×13 pan.
  2. Combine chocolate chips, bananas, and bread. Don’t worry if the chocolate chips settle on the bottom!
  3. Blend milk, peanut butter, eggs, and cinnamon until smooth. I recommend using a blender, but a whisk can work if one is unavailable.
  4. Pour egg and milk into bread, and fold until well coated.
  5. Bake all ingredients in 9×13 pan for approximately 35 minutes, and serve with powdered sugar or syrup, if desired.

 

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Boston Creme Cake Balls

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When I was getting ready for my wedding, I was worried we wouldn’t have enough cake. I wanted to find a solution that would feed everyone delicious sweets and add my personal touch. At the time, I was falling in love with a local Austin shop that specialized in Cake Balls.I meant to serve everyone a few cake balls to supplement the cake we had bought so I started practicing. I ended up having enough cake afterall, but now I love making these cake balls and have added my own twist on the filling.

I’m sure we’ll look back on them as such a food fad, but I think they are the absolute perfect dessert. They are cake, frosting and chocolate all in one bite without the “I just ate a whole tub of sugar in that frosting” kind of feeling. It’s not too much, but just enough–although I have had days of eating these like candy too.

This particular recipe I did because I was coming to visit Amanda for her birthday AND graduation from business school all in one day. Since she and I both have connections with Boston, I decided to do my version of Boston Creme Pie in a cake ball.

I also wanted to celebrate her graduation so I tried to figure out a way to add little hats. They’re not the prettiest, but if you have square molds they might look a bit better. Hats are completely optional obviously, however I used melted chocolate cut into squares attached to a round caramel candy, but anything kind of cylindrical would work and a mini chocolate candy on the top. All of these were “glued” together with melted chocolate and then stuck on the top.

To make these delicious treats you will need:

1 box of cake mix baked with the ingredients and per the instructions on the box*

1/2 to 1 cup of buttercream frosting  (canned is fine, but recipe is below)

1 box of instant vanilla pudding mix & milk made per instructions on the box

16 oz of melting chocolate  or chocolate chips of your preferred sweetness

Your choice of sprinkles or graduation hat topping

*you can make your own cake with your favorite homemade recipe if you’d like but dipping these guys in chocolate is time consuming enough for me–box all the way

Makes : about 24

First, bake the cake according to the box instructions or per your favorite recipe. Allow to cool completely–sometimes I make this the day before. This is also the easiest part because shape and flatness doesn’t matter!

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First, make the vanilla pudding according to instructions on the box and chill until firm.

Funnel the completed pudding into a zip top bag and cut one of the bottom corner tips off to create a hole for piping.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe the pudding in little droplets onto the parchment paper so each one is about a 1/2 tablespoon of pudding.

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You’ll only need 30 pudding droplets at the most so if you’d like to use the rest of the  pudding for something else, you should have some leftover. However, if you’re on a piping roll, these do make good snacks on their own.

Put the baking sheet of pudding drops in the freezer and freeze until hardened.

In the meantime, break the cake into chunks and stick in your mixer fitted with a paddle. S

Spoon buttercream frosting into the cake and mix. The amount of frosting will depend on the kind of day and your preference, but it should make the cake moist enough to form ball that is not crumbly. I typically don’t use as much as other recipes recommend, but it is entirely up to you.

Chill cake for about 2 hours in the fridge. This will firm everything up.

Once everything is chilled, melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. If using microwave, I typically do this in 20 second increments, stir and repeat until smooth.

Also, line a baking sheet or flat surface that is easily transported to the fridge with parchment paper to prepare for the cake balls.

Then, use a disher or spoon to spoon out equal amounts of  the chilled cake/frosting dough and form into a ball the size of a golf ball.

Take a pudding drop from the freezer and stick into the ball like you’re hiding a pill for your pet inside a treat.

Roll the ball in your hands to smooth out and dip in the chocolate.

I am still perfecting my dipping technique but I have had the most luck with a trusty fork and then shaking off excess chocolate on the side of the bowl. When I transfer to the parchment paper I can usually smooth out the chocolate that was disrupted by the fork and cover with sprinkles or the topping.

As stated above, if you are using sprinkles as your topping, this is the time to add them while the chocolate is still wet. If doing graduation hats or something that needs to be “glued” into place, wait until everything is hardened.

Repeat with the rest of the cake and transfer what you have to the fridge for the chocolate to harden.

Keep in  fridge for 4-5 hours so the pudding inside can melt and then they are ready to consume!

Enjoy!

Moroccan Chicken

Here we go with our first distance dinner! For a new adventure, Merideth and I wanted to try a new cuisine: African dishes. Picking this large and varied continent for our first dish also gave us the chance to be creative with our choices. I chose Moroccan Chicken, with warm spices typical to the region. Something I learned from this dish was to read the recipe fully before starting- I showed up late for our Skype date because I didn’t plan for the hour baking time!

Moroccan Chicken

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Ingredients

  • 6-8 chicken thighs
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 medium sized diced red onion
  • 4 tablespoons Moroccan seasoning blend
  • Dried apricots
  • Raisins
  • salt and pepper to taste

Moroccan Seasoning Mix:

  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cloves

Directions

  1. Heat a large saute pan on high heat with 1 tsp olive oil.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper, add to hot pan, skin side down, and saute for 3-4 minutes or to a deep golden brown color.
  3. Remove and set aside, place in a crock pot or Dutch oven.
  4. Add onions and garlic to saute pan and saute for 2-3 minutes; add chicken stock and coconut milk and stir.
  5. Whisk in Maverick Moroccan spice and flour, bring sauce to a boil. Add sliced apricots and raisins and pour over chicken.
  6. Place in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and cook for 1 hour.
  7. When serving, make sure you give everyone some apricots and raisins on top!

(adapted from Blue Canyon Moroccan Chicken)

Wine Pairing: In order to complement the chicken and the exotic spices, I had a delicious Marsanne from my local sustainable winery! A new wine for me for a new recipe.

Verdict:

Delicious! I have a confession: this picture is from when I made the dish a second time! The warm spices are perfect for a cool day.