Friday, February 26, 2010

French Onion Soup

John and I had been wanting to make French onion soup for awhile now, but we didn't own the appropriate broiler-safe bowls. I found some a few weeks ago at the Crate and Barrel Outlet, so we decided to break them in on Sunday night when John's dad came over for dinner (you actually can make this without  the broiler safe bowls-see the recipe for instructions).

I thought that French onion soup got its dark brown color from beef broth, but this recipe called for mostly chicken broth. It turns out the color comes from caramelizing the onions until they are a deep, rich brown. The caramelization takes a long time, but is mostly done in the oven. Warning: your home is going to stink of onions. And you probably will too. But it's worth it. I mean, check out all the cheesy goodness going on here:

Thursday, February 25, 2010


America's Test Kitchen has a standard approach to all of their recipes: they find common problems with traditional recipes and then they test a billion different versions until they arrive at the "perfect" one (and they do usually come up with awesome, fool-proof recipes). Sometimes I think the problems they make up for recipes are a little exaggerated, but I completely agreed with their assessment of the most common tiramisu fail: too soggy. And, as usual, their recipe solves the problem... you can see in the picture above that the ladyfingers are still cakey, and not overly saturated with coffee. It's all about quickly dipping them in coffee, rather than letting them soak. Since the rest of the tiramisu is basically just a creamy custard, you need the texture of the ladyfingers to hold up so that you're not eating a big pile of mush.

This was fun to make, and it doesn't require baking; however, you need to refrigerate it for at least 6 hours before serving (we let ours set overnight). Also, John and I could not find the espresso powder called for in the recipe, so we left it out. I'm sure it would have a stronger coffee flavor if we used it, but I don't think the dish suffered without it.

Lest you think we ate the whole pan of tiramisu ourselves, I should tell you that we made the tiramisu for John's mom's birthday dinner. We had a delicious Italian feast: John made his homemade ravioli and meatballs, and his sister-in-law, Brooke, made a tasty caprese salad... yet somehow everyone managed to save room for dessert. Well, everyone except for John's nephew, Charlie, who could not have been less interested in the tiramisu:

Oh well, I guess he's not old enough for rum-laden desserts yet...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies


Mmm... don't you just want to stuff one in your face RIGHT NOW?? That's what I'd be doing if I wasn't saving these for a Valentine's Day chocolate pot luck at work tomorrow (my job does have its perks). Of course I sampled a few, and can tell you that these are so rich and moist, with just enough raspberry flavor (there's a little bit of jam in the brownie batter, plus more swirled into the cream cheese layer). For those of you who were wondering, the texture is more on the "cakey" side than the "fudgey" side.

I don't think I have ever made brownies from scratch since I'm totally content with whipping up a batch of Duncan Hines (or Ghiradelli, if I'm feelin' fancy). However, I saw these brownies in the August/September issue of Cook's Country and immediately flagged them for the Valentine's pot luck (I struggle planning meals for a week, yet somehow can plan desserts months in advance). Despite the layering involved, these came together a lot quicker than I expected. This recipe is definitely worth trading in the box for.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

John's Super Delicious & Healthy Granola Bars

Alrighty then. So I've been slowly changing my diet since the new year and I have to admit that I am feeling better and actually losing a little weight.  The problem is I love to cook and obviously eat, and it's hard to find delicious yet healthy things to snack on.  Well, I'm discovering it's not really that hard, it just takes the self discipline to stop buying all the sugary snacks at the grocery store.  I love nuts (that's what she said) especially almonds and peanuts, and I wanted to work them into some sort of granola bar.  As a long time fan of the great and knowledgeable Alton Brown, I was inspired by his weight loss, albeit a little too much weight loss if ya ask me.  He finally did an episode a couple weeks ago about how he changed his diet and it got me thinking about what I should be eating everyday.  I wanted to read more on the topic, so the other night I bought Michal Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma.  I've barely scratched the surface of it, but the basic gist of it is to eat more whole foods.  Super foods, if you will.  Some of my favorite things actually are super foods: avocado, dark chocolate, almonds, salmon, spinach, tomatoes, and green tea.  Now if I can incorporate those along with all the other healthy whole foods into my diet, I'd be on my way to some great health.  And with the help of my sweetheart, Bec, I'm gonna get there!

We went to Trader Joe's the other night and I wanted to raid their dried fruit and nut aisle.  I came home with almonds, sunflower seeds, oats, dried blueberries, and dried cherries.  All the nuts were raw, nothing added, and the fruit was dried, nothing added either.  They had some other "dried" fruit there that had some oil and sugar added, but I steered clear of those.  The whole goal here was to get the most pure ingredients I can, with absolutely no preservatives or weird chemicals.  I had some walnuts and wheat germ at home, as well as the rest of the ingredients, so I was set.  I followed the recipe completely, except I added a 1/3 cup of walnuts, and I used whole almonds lightly chopped instead of Alton's recipe calling for sliced almonds.  They came out great, lots of fruit, lots of nuts, not too sweet, and they actually held together pretty nicely.   I even went so far as to calculate the nutritional facts based on the ingredient packaging.  I cut these into 18 bars, and they seem to be the perfect size for a light lunch or mid-day snack.

makes 18 bars - Nutritional info per bar (approximate):

208 Calories / 11g Fat / 31g Carbs / 4g Fiber / 5g Protein

Not too bad, and there are no weird chemicals in there, and most of that fat is the "good" fat from the almonds.  Sure, you can tweak the recipe and put whatever fruits and nuts you want in there.  You could also get crazy and add a scoop or two of your favorite protein powder to boost the protein numbers.  I'm guessing they would still come out pretty good as long as you kept the fruit and nut ratios the same.  Actually, the recipe called for 6 1/2 oz of dried fruits, but didn't have a volume measurement listing, I just used the entire bag each of the the cherries and blueberries, and they came out to just over 2 cups.  Probably a lot more than the recipe calls for, but I'm happy with how they came out.  FYI, the nutritional info is based on what I actually put in them, so it should be very close to accurate.  Now without further ado, the recipe...

Samoa Bars

Still waiting for your Girl Scout Cookie order to come in? I'm all for supporting the Girl Scouts (I used to be one!), but sometimes I need more immediate cookie gratification. I spied this recipe on another cooking blog, and was pretty excited to try making my own version of Samoas (sometimes they're also called Caramel DeLites). Samoas are little round cookies topped with toasted coconut and caramel, then drizzled with chocolate.

While these aren't difficult to make, they do take a lot of time due to all of the steps involved (luckily there have been a lot of snowy days spent indoors lately). You have to make each layer of these bars separately, so most of the prep time is spent waiting for things to set, cool, etc. These bars replicate the flavors of the Samoas really well. The one change I would make next time is to use a little less of the cookie crust. I felt that these needed a higher caramel to cookie crust ratio in order to be perfect. I'm posting the original recipe, but play around with the amounts as you like. Also, the recipe calls for "good" caramels... the only ones I could find were made by Kraft. They melted nicely and tasted awesome, so I'm going to say that they easily qualify as "good". Don't knock yourself out looking for anything fancy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peanut Butter and Nutella Muffins

Listen up, readers... today is a very, very special day. It's World Nutella Day. You heard that right... a whole day devoted to chocolatey, hazelnutty, spreadable goodness. I dare say it's better than Christmas.

Bloggers Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso declared February 5th "World Nutella Day 2010" - a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella. If you caught the recent crepes post, you know that Nutella holds a special place in my heart. So I am warmly embracing World Nutella Day by sharing a recipe for Peanut Butter and Nutella muffins.

This is adapted from Cooking Light's recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly muffins. I ended up filling half of the muffins with Nutella and half with the jelly... they are delicious either way. The Nutella doesn't soak into the muffins as nicely as the jam does, so it might be fun to swirl it into the muffins next time. For now, the problem is solved by spreading some extra Nutella on top!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka masala, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, is chicken cooked in a lightly spiced tomato cream sauce. Apparently, it's not even an authentic Indian dish... it was invented in Scotland and is unofficially considered Britain's national dish. That said, you'll find it in pretty much every Indian restaurant, and it's always a safe bet. I think it's a good "starter" curry for people who are a little afraid of Indian food, as it's not too spicy and very, very tasty. 

I had never made chicken tikka masala before (and have very little experience cooking Indian food), but since it was an America's Test Kitchen recipe, I figured I couldn't go wrong. It was a bit of a project to make this dish (there are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps), so it's more appropriate for a weekend meal, but totally worth it. While it wasn't exactly like what you'd find in a restaurant, it was pretty close... and amazingly delicious and satisfying. Make sure you serve this along with some basmati rice.

I tried a little too hard to up my Indian-cooking cred and also attempted to make naan (an addictive flat bread) to accompany this dish. However, our broiler wouldn't heat up again after we broiled the chicken, so that never happened. If you want to try making your own naan, check out this website... there's a very helpful instructional video along with the recipe. Otherwise, Trader Joe's sells really good frozen naan!