Saturday, March 30, 2013

s'mores bars

I love online personality tests.


Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.  The ones that tell you what flavor of ice cream you are and which Friday Night Lights character you're most like.


Making s'mores is a lot like taking one of those online quizzes. I can tell a heck of a lot about you by the way you make your s'mores.  Let me elaborate.

  1. You shove your marshmallow into the fire and burn it to a crisp.  You are a strong believer that marshmallows are one of the few foods that tastes better burnt.  You hate waiting in lines, enjoy Chinese take-out food, and tend to be argumentative.
  2. You think you've mastered the s'more technique.  You're Lord of the S'mores.  You might be a dad and/or a camp counselor.  You can be found whittling your perfect "s'more stick," or trying to assist a less capable s'more maker with this delicate art.  People may call you a "busy-body."  You enjoy team sports and activities, as long as you're the captain.  You're secretly a horrible dancer.
  3. You like to sit on the edge of the fire and slowly turn your marshmallow -- waiting for that perfect, golden-brown glow.  You play a musical instrument, enjoy crafts, and like long walks on the beach.  You keep an agenda and your socks always match.
  4. You're a weirdo (and I say that in the best sense of that word.  You do something wacky like catch the marshmallow on fire, and squish it (still ablaze) between the chocolate and graham crackers.  You're a bit of a badass, but you secretly love to play Scrabble.

See? Didn't I describe your personality to a T? ;)


Ok, so maybe I should leave online quiz making to the professionals.  But no matter how you toast your marshmallows, the classic s'more will always be an All-American crowd-pleaser. 


Everyone from the varsity baseball team to Carly's dog walker couldn't get enough of these s'more bars.  They're super easy, don't require an open fire and they don't burn your tongue.  My favorite way to eat these bad-boys is to pop one in the microwave until the marshmallow puffs up and the chocolate gets all melty.  I close my eyes, and eat it with a spoon.  I can smell the campfire and pine trees of summer already...

How do you roast your marshmallow?

With love,
Erica

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.
Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan.  Spread the crust with marshmallow creme.  Sprinkle chocolate chips into a single even layer over the creme.  Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.
From Lovin' From The Oven

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Monday, March 25, 2013

julia's banana bread

I just woke up from one of the best dreams I've ever had.  At the moment, I am sitting on Amtrak -- rolling through miles of factory towns and burnt out buildings on my way to New York City.  As much as I love the city that never sleeps, I seriously needed some sleep. Thank the Lord it's spring break and I can finally log out of my school e-mail account, hang up my backpack, and get some serious shut eye.  About an hour ago, the bumpiness of the train lulled me to sleep, and I was transported far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city...


It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine when people tell me about their dreams.  Not their dreams as in aspirations, but their nonsensical, rambling, nighttime dreams about purple cows and police chases.  Please forgive me, but I need to share this awesome dream with you guys.  It's nothing crazy or complicated  -- just a small tree house, a winding road, and some really good banana bread.


I had my noise cancelling headphones on, listening to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's soothing voice and soon, I drifted off into the sunny beaches of Hawaii...


My mind wandered to an article about banana bread that I had read about in Bon Appetit a while back.  I dreamed that I was in an old, rickety Jeep, driving on a one-lane road along the shoreline.  I drove for about 20 miles, and although I'm usually pretty impatient, the drive didn't bother me one bit. With a view like that, I really couldn't complain.  Finally, I drove up to a treacherous twist in the path, and I saw a quirky, lime-green tree house perched among the shady palm trees.  The weather was warm and beautiful, and the kind, old woman behind the counter's smile was even warmer and more beautiful.  I walked up to the counter and she handed me a warm slice of banana bread.  The end.


When I made Julia's famous banana bread for myself, it was like something out of a dream.  I don't know how to describe it -- just trust the thousands of people who swear that it's the best on the planet.  The recipe is perplexingly simple --  bananas, oil, and flour.  But there's something very unique about it -- a special island touch if you will.  It has significantly more speckles and freckles than any other banana bread I've ever made -- just like the freckles we all get at the beach.


One day, my dream will come true and I will actually make the trek up to Julia's banana bread stand.  But for now, I'll just cut myself another slice (or three) when I get home.

With love,
Erica




Ingredients

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
3/4 cup vegetable oil


Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center of bread comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan to release the bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.


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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

grilled guacamole with parmesan and basil


Looks can be deceiving.


When I was little, I avoided guacamole like the plague. My reasons for hating guac?  It was mushy, and it was green.  One day, when I was feeling a tad bit adventurous, I dipped my chip into the creamy, dip and I've been seriously obssessed ever since.


I must confess that I feel guilty about my former hatred of the wonderful dip, especailly since my two reasons for avoiding it (green and mushy) were not good reasons at all to miss out on all of guacamole's magic for the first decade of my life.  To make up for this, I came up with three very good reasons to love guacamole.

avocados chillin' on the grill
1.  Guacamole gets you friends.  Eating guacamole is a communal event.  Nothing says "be my friend" like a big bowl of chips and an even bigger bowl of guacamole.  Whip some of this out and you'll be one of the most popular kids in town. 


Add caption
2. Guacamole is like nature's form of butter.  It's creamy, spreadable, and buttery.  And we all know how awesome butter is...


3. Guacamole is healthy.  It's full of healthy fats, omega-threes, fiber and all that jazz. Did you know avocados are the most nutritionally complete food? Humans could theoretically survive on avocados alone. Pass the chips.  


Still skeptical?  This "guacamole" isn't traditional at all.  First, it's full of garlic, basil, and Parmesan cheese instead of cilantro, lime and red onions -- adding an Italian twist to the Mexican favorite.  Second, I grilled my avocados on the panini press, adding a whole new warm, crispy flavor to them (it's proven that everything tastes better with grill marks...).  Third, I threw in some super savory ingredients like white truffle salt and a robust (somewhat pricey) extra virgin olive oil -- these luxurious ingredients sure paid off.   It's warm, herby, and cheesy -- and it'll make you look at this delicious dip in a whole new light.  Looks can be deceiving, but taste speaks for itself. 



Did you ever hate a food because of the way it looked?

With love,
Erica



Ingredients
3 firm-ripe avocados
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for grilling (the fruiter and richer, the better)
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper  (I used truffle salt for extra savory flavor)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more to taste

Heat your panini press to the highest setting (alternatively, you could use a gas or charcoal grill).  Halve and pit the avocados.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
 
Place the avocado halves cut side down on the grill.  Cook for about 4 minutes, or until you can see crispy, golden-brown grill marks on them (check frequently to make sure they're not burning).  Scoop the flesh out of the avocados and mash gently with a fork (I like to leave mine quite chunky). Stir in the rest of the olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, basil and Parmesan.  Serve immediately.

Adapted from Food 52


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Monday, March 11, 2013

dark chocolate lava cakes

All my life, I've had a really hard time picking favorites.  When I was little, people always asked me about my favorite color, favorite food, favorite book etc.  All of the other kids seemed to have an immediate response to these questions, while I would just stand there dumbfounded for a few minutes weighing the pros and cons of each choice.  Even to this day these questions stress me out. Do I have to pick just one?! I can be a little indecisive.


But this past summer, I discovered my favorite chocolate.  This was a pretty huge deal, now that you know that I don't take favorites lightly.  When I took my first bite of Recchiuti at the San Fransisco Ferry Market, I was in love.  I've had my share of different chocolates -- but this was nothing like anything I've tasted before.  It was smooth, with a bold, fruity chocolate flavor as well as smoky, subtle cocoa flavor.  It was perfect. I brought home a few bars, and although the first few didn't last long, I had enough self control to save two bars for baking.


I knew I had to bake them into something special.  I didn't want to drown something that was already so perfect in marshmallow fluff or caramel sauce, nor did I want to bake them into something boring like brownies.  I needed a recipe simple enough to let their flavors shine through.  After waiting six months, I finally found the perfect recipe to use them in.  My good friend's mom who is an amazing cook made dark chocolate lava cakes for dessert (served with homemade vanilla gelato).   The combination of cool, creamy gelato and warm molten chocolate was absolutely perfect,  and I knew that I had to learn to make these myself.   She let me copy the recipe, and of course, I made them the next day.


Because I only had two bars of Recchiuti, I couldn't screw this recipe up (talk about pressure!), so I did some research. Here are a few pieces of advice for perfect lava cakes.  Remember to grease your ramekins generously -- you want the cakes to slide right out.  If they stick, you will end up with a (delicious) pile of goo.  Also, keep an eye on them in the oven, they cook insanely quickly.  You’re looking for cooked outside & soft inside (soft does not mean jiggly). Start checking at around 10 minutes, 12 minutes worked perfectly for me but every oven is different.


In the end, I breathed a sigh of relief when didn't screw the recipe up -- and my special chocolate bars melted perfectly into these simple, gorgeous little cakes.  I couldn't have asked for a better recipe to use my favorite chocolate in the world in. The great thing about these cakes that they are so exciting to serve -- they look plain, like a boring chocolate muffin... and then all of a sudden simmering chocolate sauce comes oozing out of the center.  Talk about presentation!  All they need is a little dusting of powdered sugar -- but if you're the type to make your own homemade gelato, be my guest. :)

With love,
Erica

Ingredients
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 450°. Butter and lightly flour four 6-ounce ramekins. Tap out the excess flour. Set the ramekins on a baking sheet.
In a double boiler, over simmering water, melt the butter with the chocolate. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the egg yolks, sugar and salt at high speed until thickened and pale.
Whisk the chocolate until smooth. Quickly fold it into the egg mixture along with the flour. Spoon the batter into the prepared ramekins and bake for 12 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes are firm but the centers are soft. Let the cakes cool in the ramekins for 1 minute, then cover each with an inverted dessert plate. Carefully turn each one over, let stand for 10 seconds and then unmold. Serve immediately. Make Ahead:  The batter can be refrigerated for several hours; bring to room temperature before baking.

Recipe by  Jean-Georges Vongerichten


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

lemon raspberry cupcakes


Surprises are funny, you either love 'em or you hate 'em.
Scratch that. That's not true at all.  It just sounded like a good hook for this post.
Personally, I'm in the middle.


Sometimes, I like to be in the know.  For example, I set different ringtones for different people. It takes the anxiety out of texting. I know whether to stop and reach into my bag on a crowded escalator, whether to start whistling and pretend it never went off, or whether to go into full-on panic mode. Do other people do this? Discuss.

filled with raspberry jam

Other times,  I love to be surprised -- like when I bite into one of these seemingly simple cupcakes and discover that they're filled with my favorite raspberry jam.
One thing's for sure, I love to surprise people.  On Friday, I organized a surprise birthday dinner for my friend Erin's 16th birthday.  I told her I wanted to go shopping with her at Bloomies (I bought a pair of shoes for the cause ;) -- but I had actually invited ten of our closest friends for a big surprise dinner at Maggianos. There were a few times that my plan was almost went awry -- like when she suggested we go to the mall instead of Bloomies, when I almost asked her in P.E. class what she was going to wear to her surprise dinner (god Erica...), and when the hostess almost led us to our own table for two at Maggianos.


However in the end, the surprise worked out perfectly, and the look on her face when she saw all of our friends was priceless.

Do you like surprises?
With love,
Erica
Lemon Cupcakes:
Ingredients
1 (18.25 ounce) package lemon cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper liners or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, eggs, vanilla and water. Beat for about two minutes until well combined.
Distribute the batter between 24 muffin wells; about 3 tablespoons of batter per well.
Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow cupcakes to cool inside muffin tins for about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:
Ingredients
2 (8) ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
juice of one lemon


Using a mixer, blend the butter and cream cheese together until well combined.
Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar until fully incorporated.
Finally, mix in vanilla and lemon juice.

To Assemble
Ingredients
Your favorite raspberry jam
Fresh raspberries

Once cool, core each cupcake with an apple corer or a pairing knife.  Fill with raspberry jam.  Frost with lemon cream cheese frosting and garnish with a raspberry.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

sex in a pan

Did I catch your attention? Good.
This is a sinfully decadent, sinfully easy dessert with a sinfully rewarding response.

It's not the daintiest, nor the prettiest. As a matter of fact, it's basically a hot mess in a pan.
But you know what? Despite it's frightening appearance, people just can't keep their hands off of it.
I made this for the first time for my school's Winter Sports Banquet.  In the morning, I put it in the fridge, all wrapped up in foil with a big sign saying DO NOT EAT...


When I came back to get it for the banquet, some sneaky little devil had eaten half the pan.  I wonder who it was...
Was it the P.E. teacher, trying to get his chocolate fix before he had to teach another period of freshman Health?
Was it the librarian, trying to drown her sorrows due to the fact that no one checks out anything but textbooks anymore?
Was it that "innocent" little freshman boy from Baking club?
I'll never know...

However, what I do know is that sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
I served this hot little (half-eaten) mess at the sports banquet and it was a hit.  I love telling people what it's called -- talk about a conversation starter ;) Plus, the intrigue gets people jumping at the chance to try this naughty little dessert without even knowing what it is!


Speaking of going with the flow, I did a little bit of improvisation while making this.  My chocolate pudding was a gummy mess, so I left it out and added a layer of my favorite chocolate-hazelnut cookies instead.  There's nothing that two tubs of Cool Whip can't fix ;).

You could make homemade whipped cream and pudding if that floats your boat -- but personally, this is one of the few instances where I prefer instant.  It just adds to the naughty, decadent nature of this recipe.

With love,
Erica

Ingredients:
Crust:
1 cup pecans, chopped
3 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 cup flour

Cream cheese layer
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar (use 1/2 cup for less sweetness)
1 cup whipped cream or cool whip

Vanilla Cream Layer
1 package of instant vanilla pudding (5.1 oz or 144 g)
3 cups milk (use 2 cups if you want a firmer pudding)

Chocolate Hazelnut Pirouette Cookies (crushed)
2 cups whipped cream or cool whip
Cocoa Powder

Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.
  2. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. In a mixer mix all the crust ingredients together and press the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
  4. Bake it for about 20 minutes.
  5. Prepare the vanilla pudding as per the instructions on the package.
  6. In a mixer add the cream cheese, powdered sugar and the cup of whipped cream. Mix until light and fluffy.
  7. Let the crust cool. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the crust evenly. Spread the vanilla pudding over the bottom crust. Sprinkle with crushed pirouette cookies Top with the whipped cream and sprinkle with cocoa powder.
  8. Refrigerate for a couple hours so that it sets.
Adapted from Jo Cooks
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

rosemary chicken

"No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at ones most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers."


My dad just got home from Newport and brought me a little tin box full of family recipes.  They're all written out by hand and spattered with pasta water and melted chocolate. Although I have never met any of the women behind these recipes, each one gives me a glimpse into the lives they led.

I know that Ms. E. M. Langley felt very strongly about adding extra cheddar to her stuffed peppers, and that Mrs. Pierce liked to dip her doughnuts not once, but three times in powdered sugar.  Even though I don't even know their first names, I think Ms. Langley, Mrs. Pierce are pretty cool, and I think we would all be very good friends.  (I don't joke around when it comes to powdered sugar)


This got me thinking -- what recipes define my immediate family?

We don't have many heirloom recipes.  I don't have a Greek grandmother who taught me how to roll a phyllo dough.  I don't come from a long line of bread-makers.  We don't even have a family recipe for lasagna.

Then realized that there are so many tastes that remind me of my family.

This rosemary chicken is one of them.  It's a recipe that's always been there.  It was simmering in the background when I learned how to ride a bike, when I broke my arm, when I thought bangs would be a good idea, when I went on my first date and when I got my first cavity.  It will still be simmering on the back burner when I learn to drive, when I go off to college, and when I get my first job.  It's that good.  

It's a simple recipe -- chicken breasts covered in a luscious rosemary cream sauce that fill the entire house with the warm, comforting smell of rosemary and caramelized onions.
 
Someday, I want to be the lady behind a family recipe.  I'll always add extra cheddar, and hopefully an aspiring cook someday will look at my recipes and think that I sounded like a pretty cool lady.

Do you have any family recipes?

With love,
Erica

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chopped garlic clove
1 chopped onion
4 pieces of boneless chicken breast
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large skillet, saute the garlic and onions in olive oil.
Add chicken and brown.
Place browned chicken in a baking dish, leaving the browned onions and garlic in the pan.
Add cream to the skillet and mix with the onions and garlic. Add the cider vinegar.
Cook over medium heat, scraping up the brown bits, onions, and garlic from the pan. Add chopped rosemary. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce to about half.
Pour sauce over chicken in baking dish. 
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

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