Thursday, December 20, 2012

Experiment #4: Cocoa Coconut Almond Balls

I have this recipe that I've saved since last year.  It's from deliciousliving magazine from December 2011.  The recipe Cocoa-Almond No-Bake Cookies intrigued me because it was vegan, and didn't require any baking.

It was a quick recipe that I used this year as my holiday food gift to my co-workers.  I adjusted it per my usual way, which is to say lowering the sugar.  I think my recipe title is a better description to the recipe, since the recipe does not mention the coconut which is two of the ingredients.
Cocoa Coconut Almond Balls 
(adapted from Cocoa-Almond No-Bake Cookies by Trina Kaufman)
Place the following ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon organic sugar (Original called for 1 cup sugar)
1/3 cup almond milk (original called for unsweetened almond milk)
1/2 cup organic virgin coconut oil

Bring to a boil and boil for 90 seconds stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in:
3/4 cup almond butter
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats, blitzed in a food processor (the original recipe used quick-cooking oats)
1/2 cup organic unsweetened coconut flakes, blitzed in a food processor (the original recipe used shredded coconut)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coconut flakes after a few pulses in the food processor:

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a cookie sheet.  Chill 30 minutes to set.  Store in a refrigerator.

I made these balls with a rounded teaspoon and made 62, but I also made them larger and the recipe made 30.  I thought the larger size was more satisfying. The balls were 2 bites instead of one bite.

The recipe was a hit.  It was the most simple holiday food gift I've ever made.  Delicious!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Experiment #3: One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

I've been making these one bowl chocolate cupcakes for almost a year now and they are wonderful for that quick and easy chocolate fix.  I found Peppermint Bark Baking Bits at Trader Joe's this year and thought that I could add this peppermint chocolate to the cupcakes for a bit of seasonal flavor.

The original recipe is easy enough and can be made in an hour.  Perfect for a quick birthday cake or cupcakes. It makes about 18 cupcakes.

When looking at a new baking recipe, I follow a few rules to make me feel a little be better about indulging.  I replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, often I can replace half the white flour with wheat without too much difference. I also try reduce the amount of sugar, often reducing it by at least a third.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes (adapted from Martha
3/4 cup white all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
6 tablespoons sugar (reduced from 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons sunflower oil (Original called for safflower oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toppings: 1/2 cup Chocolate chips, chunks, or Peppermint Bark Baking Bits (Added to recipe)

Preheat oven to 350. 

I started with the dry ingredients in a bowl and vigorously whisk the ingredients to make sure they are all incorporated.  (The original recipe calls for sifting the dry ingredients, but I never sift my ingredients.    I always just whisk to incorporate.)

Then add warm water, buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and eggs (I crack the eggs into the liquid measuring cup I used to measure the water and buttermilk because a bit of egg shell in your baked goods is the worst!),  and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. You can add chocolate here or use on top.

Add to muffin pan with liners filling 2/3 full.  I topped each cupcake with about a teaspoon of chocolate chunks or peppermint baking bits.

I filled the cupcake liners that were red with chocolate chunks and the green cupcake liners with peppermint bark baking bits.  They were delicious!

Results and updates;
I also baked this recipe in a bundt cake pan and it takes about 30 minutes to bake.  

If you want to bake this in mini loaf pans, you will need three pans and these bake also in 25 minutes.  

As always I would check them before that because every oven is different! :)

I created a cupcake carrier so that my husband could bring them to work.
Here's the link to the details:

The Original Recipe at Martha Stewart:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Experiment #2: Kung Pao Stirfry with Vegetables

I had an overwhelming craving for a lot of vegetables.   From a peruse through the fridge, I find some tofu, mushrooms, asparagus, baby broccoli, bell peppers, and red onions. My mother used to make a lot of kung bao chicken growing up and as a I've gotten older I have used the kung bao sauce for my stirfries with my husband.

The key to stir fry is a really hot wok, and quick tossing to stir fry the vegetables and not steam them so they remain crisp and fairly fresh.  Since it is a very quick process, it is really important to have everything ready before you heat the wok.

Lots of chopping later... A colorful plate of vegetables and tofu is ready.  

You can use a variety of vegetables for this dish.  I used what I happen to have on hand.  
1/2 red onion chopped
4 oz. white button mushrooms sliced
1/2 yellow pepper chopped
1/2 orange yellow pepper, chopped
3 stalks baby broccoli, stems sliced and florets cut off
A handful of cherry tomatoes chopped
5 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1/2 inch sticks
8 oz. tofu pressed of water and cubed

The Key Ingredients for Kung Pao Sauce: Dried chiles, ginger and garlic
 I like to grate the ginger and the garlic with a microplane so that it melts into the sauce instead of the original recipe which calls for pieces of ginger.

1 clove of elephant garlic (equivalent to 4 cloves of typical garlic)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
5 dried red chiles

In a small saucepan, I place the sauce ingredients in a pan (reduced sodium tamari, honey, rice wine vinegar, and cornstarch) and stirred before heating the sauce ingredients until it is slightly thickened.  My sauce ratio:  3 parts tamari, 2 parts honey and 1 part rice wine vinegar.

3 tablespoons of tamari
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

To start I heated peanut oil and then cooked the tofu tossing to brown all the sides.
 After the tofu is brown on the outside, I add the ginger, garlic, a few broken dried chiles, and splashed some reduced sodium tamari.  I set aside the tofu on a plate.

I had never cooked button mushrooms in a stirfry, but I thought I should treat it like the tofu as well and precooked the mushrooms.  Again another splash of peanut oil in the wok heated a bit and then toss in the sliced button mushrooms until cooked and a splash of tamari.  I set the mushrooms aside on the plate with the tofu.

The start of the kung bao sauce.  I heated the peanut oil and added the dried chiles, chopped red onions, ginger and garlic in the pan.  When the aroma starts to make you cough, it is time to add the vegetables.

All the vegetables in the wok: bell peppers, tomatoes, baby broccoli, and asparagus.  This is the time where time is of the essence.  Constant tossing of ingredients will help to cook the vegetables quickly and not steam them.
I added a handful of cashews (I prefer these to the usual peanuts in Kung Bao) and the sauce and toss to coat the vegetables.

In minutes, it is all done and ready to serve over hot cooked rice.  Yum!

This dish turned out well. I enjoyed using the baby broccoli, mushrooms and asparagus.  All ingredients that I'd never used in a stirfry.

The dish was a hit!  Fresh tasting and full of vegetables.

Appropriate for a quick healthy dinner.  It cooks in minutes, with most of the prep done before the wok is even turned on.

Original recipe from Eight Immortal Flavors by Johnny Kan.
The original recipe called for soy sauce, sugar, white vinegar in the sauce.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Experiment #1: Chicken Cacciatore

Growing up my stepfather used to make Chicken Cacciatore, and I have fond memories of shaking the pieces of chicken in a paper bag with flour, salt and pepper.  The process that I remember took quite a while, but I never had attempted to make the dish myself.

A few months ago, I decided to try my hand at Chicken Cacciatore and I stumbled upon a recipe by Giada de Laurentis on the Food Network web-site.  It was a 5-star rated recipe according to many reviewers a must for all the effort required for this dish.

I followed the directions and per my usual habits, I added more garlic and onion and decided to add mushrooms since I had them in the fridge.  The first time I made the recipe I used the bone-in chicken thighs and chicken breasts and removed the skin of the chicken to eliminate some of the fat.  The recipe turned out to be tasty but the chicken breast was overcooked by the time the chicken thighs were just done.

For the second attempt, I decided to try to make the dish quicker and easier.  To make the dish in a shorter amount of time and make sure I didn't end up with another batch of overcooked chicken, I used only boneless skinless chicken thighs this time.

The ingredients:

  • Chicken Cacciatore (Modified from Giada De Laurentis)
  • 6 boneless skinless Chicken Thighs
  • Salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • All purpose flour, for dredging
  • Olive Oil
  • 8 oz. white button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped

  • 1/3 cup white wine (It's all I had in the house.  The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup)
  • 1 (28-oz.) can dice tomatoes with juice
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves

I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and left it at room temperature to marinate it.  Then I dredge the chicken pieces in the flour.

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and saute just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, saute it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

After browning in the pan, I set it aside on a plate.

I added the onion, garlic, and mushrooms with salt and pepper to the same pan and saute over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
Liquid starts to exude from the mushrooms, onion and garlic because of the salt.

 I continued to cook the mixture until the pan was dry.
I decided to add the chopped bell pepper to the pan after cooking the mushrooms, onions and garlic so that they would be a bit firmer in the final dish.

I added the wine, tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers, oregano and basil and cooked for 3 minutes to reduce the liquid.  
Then I returned the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce and pressed the chicken to submerge into the sauce.  I brought the sauce to a simmer and continued simmering the chicken over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Using tongs, I transfered the chicken to a platter. 
I boiled the sauce until it thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.  I spooned the sauce over the chicken.
I served this recipe over egg pappardelle that was tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and a side of asparagus.

The finished dish! Delicioso!

Notes on second attempt:  
The meal was delicious, but I would reduce the sauce even more so that it would be a bit thicker as the sauce was a bit thin for my taste.  Minor adjustments aside, the meal was delicious!

A definite make again recipe.

Appropriate for an elegant meal.  It takes time to make, but the results are delicious. 

Link to Original Chicken Cacciatore Recipe from Food Network: