Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Brandy Truffles

A couple of weeks ago I saw a truffle mania challenge that Heavenly Housewife was participating in. (Check out all the awesome entries at the bottom of this post.) I thought that the basic recipe looked simple enough and that these would make great "thank you"s to my coworkers who donated to my Great Strides campaign for Cystic Fibrosis research.

I've never made truffles before and I was excited to see that a basic recipe looked easy. I was even feeling very inventive because I decided to use brandy instead of grand marnier in the mixture.

The starting steps turned out lovely. The chocolate mixture from the first step looked great.
And I only made a SLIGHT mess with the first couple of steps. I was feeling very good about this whole thing.
What I hadn't planned for was heat and humidity. The second to last step involved shaping the chilled chocolate into ball shapes.
Yeah. Need I say more? This weekend was HOT and HUMID (and kinda miserable). And no, I don't have an AC in the kitchen. Thus the mess.

I decided to put the chocolate in the freezer and deal with it at night when it would be slightly cooler.

I left my apartment and headed outside. A Memorial Day street fair greeted me on my way to the subway.
I put my truffle worries behind me as I traveled to Hoboken, NJ to relax with friends and eat BBQ. I also flew a kite.
I headed back to NYC where my truffles were patiently awaiting me.
The shaping and forming of the truffles at night was a success! I can't wait to try truffles again in the fall/winter. Or year round if I ever move to Alaska.
Chocolate Brandy Truffles (adapted from the Food Network)
1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cocoa powder

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl. (Erika's Extra: I used Ghiradelli chocolate chips which I didn't chop.)

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the brandy and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour. (Erika's Extra: I had to set aside in my bedroom with the AC on.)

With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in cocoa powder. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.
Check out the other bloggers to see how successful they were in the truffle mania challenge:

Heavenly Housewife - Donuts to Delirium

Stevie - Weird Combinations

Joumana - Taste of Beirut

Shelly - Franish Nonspeaker

Karen - Gourmet Food

Su - Suvelle Cuisine

The Baking Addict - The More than Occasional Baker
Bake well and prosper!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cherry Squares

It finally feels like spring in NYC! This has been the longest bout of cold and rainy weather I've witnessed since moving to NY. And because there has been such bad weather the crop of normally lucious springs flowers were few and short lived (unlike last spring.)

I had to get my flower fix with the flowers my roomies or I bought, like these:
Aren't they divine? And isn't that vase gorgeous? I bought that vase while in Tuscany with my mom in 2008 and my mom is the subject I want to mention today.

Lots of people posted about their mommies when mother's day rolled around. However, my mom's birthday was last week and I figured I'd wait until this post to talk about her especially since I used a recipe from her cook book.
When I was still in high school, my mom created a compilation of all of us kids favorite recipes to surprise us with at Christmas. I'm the youngest in my family and while my older siblings were excited about this gift, I just shrugged it off as nice but not something I'd use.

Wow. What a couple of years, lots of knowledge, and tons of experiences does to a person. I treasure this book so much now! There are about 100 recipes of our faves that my mom took time to type out. Now that I'm older (and wiser) I am simply amazed that she etched out time for this project in her busy life which consisted of a full time job, cooking for the fam, practicing organ and piano, being active in our church, and being at every basketball game, soccer game, play, choral concert, and band concert my siblings and I were in.

PLUS (get ready to be ever more amazed), at the bottom of each recipe she put in a quote. Some are quotes from famous people, some she said, and some are from my brothers, my sister, and me when we were young (which, by the way, she has a whole other collection in a book of funny or sweet things we said as kids.)
At the bottom of the cherry squares recipe is a quote from my oldest brother and the date he said it (5.15.83). "Where's my calendar? I've been looking for it for years!"

I'll wait for you to finish "awwwwwww"-ing over the cookbook. And yes. You have my permission to copy my mother's idea. In fact, she's a really good mom and a really good person, so I SUGGEST you copy her. :)
Cherry Squares (from my Mom's Best Recipes cookbook)
Ingredients for squares:
½ C butter
½ C Crisco
(or use 1 C margarine instead of the above)
1 ½ C sugar
4 eggs
1 C flour
1 T lemon juice
1 can cherry pie filling
Ingredients for frosting:
Powdered sugar

Beat shortenings and sugar together until it resembles whipped cream. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well. On low speed, mix in flour and then lemon juice. Put in a greased and floured 10-inch x 15-inch jelly roll pan. (I used a 9x12.5 pan.) Mark dough into 24 squares (6x4). Put 1 T pie filling in center of each square. Bake 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Frost by dribbling lines of thin powdered sugar frosting over squares. Cut into squares when cool.
To make the frosting:
Mix ½ cup of powdered sugar with a teaspoon of milk. Keep adding milk/powdered sugar until you get the consistency you prefer. (I prefer mine to be pretty thick and sticky. Not runny.)
PS I realized the other day that I haven't posted much about the messes I've been making. It's mainly because I haven't made much of a mess in my new place. Until this recipe. You can't quite see it, but the flour got sprayed all the way past the blue jars. Whoops...
Bake well and prosper!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Potpourri: The Best Gelato in the World - The Bent Spoon

OK. I'll admit it. I've only had gelato in America and Italy so I can't completely back up my claim of the best gelato in the world. But seriously, come on. Better than ITALY!

While in Tuscany in 2008, my mom and I tried many a gelato place. (I get my sweet tooth from her.) I kept thinking, "Hmmm...this isn't as good as The Bent Spoon." It was about our 3rd gelato in Italy when my mom said to me, "All this gelato is nice, but it's not as good as The Bent Spoon." Great minds think alike.
The Bent Spoon is located in Princeton, NJ. My undergrad campus is located about a 10 minute walk away. No, I didn't go to Princeton, but you can think that if you'd like. I have no problem with that.

But I digress. I worked at Small World Coffee while in undergrad. Little did I know that I was working alongside some highly talented chefs who would eventually open up The Bent Spoon - Gabby and Matt.

This duo happen to LOVE LOVE LOVE New Jersey which means tons of lovely and fresh ingredients from local farms. When I visited two weekends ago, Gabby was so excited to see me but even more excited for me to try a freshly picked organic strawberry. She even gave some for my friends to try. Nick turned to me and said, "I've never had a strawberry as great as this. It's amazing...mind blowing really." Well guess what. Those strawberries get to be made into sorbet. I wish I could have stayed around to try that batch of goodness.

My choice of gelato for the day was dark chocolate and vanilla bean.
It was DELICIOUS as always. I do have to admit that I went with a nice, easy, normal, and tame combo. I could have choosen the local goat cheese, chocolate orange, nutty caramel etc etc. But hey. There's nothing wrong with going with a classic. (You can call me boring...it's ok. *sob*)

Oh, I must talk about the other things there. Some of the yummiest chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies, and cupcakes you'll find in NJ. Also, there's sorbet!

So, what are you waiting for? Go visit The Bent Spoon and enjoy the best gelato in the world. :)
Bake well and prosper!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Cookies

My coworker who loves lemony things JUST came back from maternity leave last week. To celebrate, I made up my own lemony recipe. But more on that later. How adorable are the glasses I photographed these cookies in/on?!!!

When I was visiting my parents in Texas in Feb, my mom and I had a yard sale. Before we could even place the items out for sale there was a bunch of, "Wait! You're getting rid of that?!!! Oh, I'll take it." Well, my mom was getting rid of these cute glasses, so I grabbed them. Besides being gorgeous, it also helps that my new room has a purple color scheme.

Speaking of gorgeous things, the church I sang in last weekend was ornate and magnificent (like my singing). I kid...I kid. About the singing. I mean, I sang fine, but the church REALLY stole the show. I took some photos before the concert. Check St. Jean Baptiste church out:
I always tell tourists to wander into churches while in NYC. It's amazing what a huge, concrete filled jungle can produce.

Back to the production of the cookies. I pretty much took my chocolate chip cookie recipe and added some lemon zest and lemon juice. Mmmmm. They turned out to be quite refreshing and yummy!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 stick of margarine/butter (I used butter from my local farmer's market)
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 egg well beaten
1 cup and 2 Tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla (use the real thing....imitation vanilla is a poser!)
Zest from 1 lemon
Half a lemon's worth of lemon juice
1/2 C dried blueberries (Add more to your liking)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix margarine, sugars, and egg together until margarine chunks are quite small and well beaten. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together and then stir until well mixed. Add vanilla and then mix. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and then mix. Then add the blueberries. Place dollops of dough on cookie sheet with plenty of room between each dollop. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Erika's Extra Notes: To get very lovely and soft cookies, take out of oven when they are still fluffy/slightly uncooked looking. They will cook more while cooling. If baking two sheets at once, make sure to switch the top to the bottom and vice-versa half way through baking.
Bake well and prosper!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Banana Nutella Empanadas

A week ago I visited the cutest store in my new neighborhood, SITE. They were celebrating their 4th anniversary with discounts, goodie bags, and empanadas. The banana nutella ones were SO good that I was determined to try to mimic them as soon as possible.

This past weekend I went to my coworker's Cinco de Derby Party. I figured it was the perfect event to bring banana nutella empanandas as dessert.

To make it even more perfect, I bought (for the first time ever) butter from the farmer's market in Union Square.
About a year ago I bought eggs from the farmer's market and I am convinced that the eggs make better desserts than what I get from the grocery store. Maybe it is because they are fresher. Maybe because they are free range? Maybe because they are local? Who knows. But since they've never failed me, I decided to also try butter from a local farm.

All I have to say is that these were a hit! I'd like to thank the eggs and butter!

(Oh, and I used the eggs and butter in cookies I made last night - post coming soon - and the batter was some of the best I've eaten. Mmmm!)
Banana Nutella Empanadas from Recipe Goldmine
Yields 16 (2 per serving)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup ice water
1 large banana, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup Nutella
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Place the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Using 2 forks or knives, or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a cornmeal texture. This step also can be done in the food processor, using the pulse button, making sure not to over-mix. Add the water all at once, stirring gently with a fork just until the dough comes together. Form dough into a 6-inch square, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a separate small bowl, stir the chopped banana into the Nutella just until combined. It will thicken and become stiff.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Roll out each half to a 14-by-8-inch rectangle, 1/4-inch thick. Using a square or round 3-inch cookie cutter, punch out 8 pieces per half. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the Nutella-banana mixture onto each dough cutout.
Brush the outer perimeter with water, folding the sides together to form a pocket. Pinch the edges together with a fork, brush with a little water and sprinkle with sugar.
Freeze on parchment or foil-lined baking sheets for at least 15 minutes. (The empanadas can be made up to this point and may be frozen for up to 3 months.)

Bake the empanadas until golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Serving ideas: Serve warm with cinnamon ice cream or whipped cream.

Bake well and prosper!

Friday, May 6, 2011

D'Artagnan's Duckathlon VI (Part Deux)

As promised, the sequel to Wednesday's post.

And the challenges get wackier!
Hogs & Heifers hosted a couple of challenges. One was Duckie Get Your Gun. I ran into the boys from Daniel again and this water gun challenged seemed more like their style than the blindfolded Three Blind Spice challenge.
The challenge was to get all the duckies across the pink line before the guns ran out of water.
I think these bad boys were trying to extinguish each other's cigarettes but missed...not on purpose of course...no...never...
The other challenge outside of Hogs & Heifers was Sausage Dangler. Yes. Sausage Dangler. (I told you it got wackier.)
The idea was for a team member to put on the above outfit and then another team member help guide via words to get the dangling sausage into the milk pail. The team with the most sausage dips in 30 seconds won. (And I might be wrong on this, but I believe Great Performances, the team in the above pictures, won this challenge!)

I moved on to find the team from Greene Grape Provisions at the Balls to the Wall Challenge.
And you thought the sausage challenge couldn't be beat on the weirdness scale...
The object of this challenge was to correctly identify the testicles to the correct animal. My favorite quote from this was when a team member ask her fellow team member, "Do lambs have big balls?" (It turns out that they do! See the picture above this one.)

I followed Greene Grape's team to the challenge at Amy's Bread - Bread Archery.
Yes. Archery as in flying through the air.
Yes. In NYC. A baguette flying through the air.
Definitely not the weirdest thing ever seen on a NYC side walk (and what a fun challenge!)

After time was up for all challenges, a party was thrown and winners announced.

While I watched the festivities I met fellow bloggers Cathy from Mrs Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Mary from The Culinary Librarian. I also finally got to meet Deana, the person responsible for inviting me to all this fun. It was my first time meeting other food bloggers and I was so happy I got to meet such great ones! (I also greatly enjoyed the yummy food and ever flowing wine that was provided. Mmmm!)

I also happened to sit by the Greene Grape team. I hope they didn't think I was stalking them (seeing I had been following them for the past half hour.) They were such a delightful team that I am actually going to trek out to Fort Greene and visit their lovely shop. (Hey! It's a trek from Queens to Brooklyn...trust me.)

And guess what! They ended up winning two of the competitions. Sweet!
I was also happy to see Cercle Rouge win a lot of categories and also they placed 3rd over all! (And don't forget that they also won best costumes.)
The overall winner (and winner for the THIRD YEAR IN A ROW) was Team Annisa!
I'm sad I didn't get to see them in action on the "course", but hopefully next year I'll be able to catch all the teams for Duckathlon VII!

Overall it was a wonderful day filled with fun, laughter, and education! Thanks D'Artagnan for hosting such a great event.

And now, dear readers, your intrepid reporter will hang up her hat and head back into the kitchen to produce her normal posts about dessert. Over and out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

D'Artagnan Duckathlon VI (Part 1)

Guess what I was up to on Sunday (besides singing). Nope, baking is not the correct answer. I was invited by Deana from the awesome blog Lost Past Remembered to come check out D'Artagnan's annual Duckathlon - "Half marathon, half duck, and completely insane, the Duckathlon is a culinary obstacle course that runs through the Meatpacking District."
I did as much research as I could on the event and everyone hosting, participating, etc that I could and then set off to the Duckathlon after finishing my church choir gig.
The Duckathlon was happening in and around Chelsea Market. After meeting Lily, one of the head honchos of the event, and receiving all the info I needed to find groups etc, I set off to the nearest station to see what this Duckathlon was all about.
I found the Le Cirque group at the crepe flipping station that was run by All-Clad. (BTW, need to get me a gift? I'll take anything from All-Clad. Thanks.) The object of this challenge was to see how many crepe flips a team could get in a certain time frame. One member would flip it 5 times and pass it to the next member and so on. Guess what! I happened to have watched the winning team in action. Way to go Le Cirque (and I love y'all's restaurant!)
The next group I encountered was doing a challenge very near and dear to my heart. They had to decorate a cookie under a specific time limit. Hello! Cookies...sugar...MESS!
I chased down this Cercle Rouge member and asked to take a picture of her hands (because messy hands = be still my heart.) She told me she spoke French only and so I quickly pointed to my camera and said, "Photo...les mains." She understood right away and smiled this awesome smile and proudly displayed her mess. YAY high school French for not failing me.

By the way, there was a contest for best group costumes...guess who won that...
The next competitive stations that I stopped at were at Dickson's Meats and BuonItalia. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any groups in action for this. Check out the two pictures and try to guess what the challenge was.
Meat Map: Correctly identify cuts of meat to area of cow.
Pasta Pickup: One member takes stick of pasta in mouth and tries to get as many circle pastas with stick and place in the cup within a minute. (Yes, I'm sad I didn't see anyone do this.)

Then I wondered next door where there were TWO challenges at one table and guess what - I got to do the challenges!
At The Filling Station I sampled an infused olive oil and could tell that there was some type of fruit in it, but it would have taken me hours to guess a fig! It was delicious. Also, they let me try the ghost pepper salt and the bacon flavored salt. Yes. Bacon flavored salt. Supposedly it's awesome on an omelet. I thought it was really awesome by itself as well. I will definitely have to go back and get some of their awesome products next time I'm in the area. Plus, their motto is reuse, refill, recycle. What's not to like?
At the same table I got to taste three different types of cheese from Lucy's Whey. I had to identify which one was cow's milk, sheep's milk, and goat's milk and I totally guessed each one correctly! All the types of cheese were delightful. I think I'll make an afternoon of buying cheese from Lucy's Whey and then sit in High Line park this summer while munching on the deliciousness. Mmmm!

After all that fun, I left Chelsea Market and entered Spice Market. I had never been here and was delighted with how beautiful the space is!
I caught up with the boys from Daniel who were busy trying to figure out the last mystery spice.
All were blindfolded and had to figure out 5 different spices via touch, smell, and taste.
The team from Daniel were very thoughtful on their decision. Too bad it wasn't the right one. But that's what makes it a competition! This one was tough!

I also saw the group from Great Performances figure out the first spice.
They worked together well and quickly answered correctly. I later found out that they were one of a few groups to guess the last (and hardest to guess) spice correctly.

After this challenge, I popped back outside and was witness to some of the most unusual food challenges I've ever seen. Stay tuned for part 2!