Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: The Best Gluten Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been craving chewy peanut butter cookies for the last couple of weeks.  I was looking for something flowerless for my peanut butter cookies, with plenty of chewiness.  I don't care for hard and crunchy cookies, as I prefer them to be chewy and tender.  I think the absence of the flour and the gluten free approach to these cookies makes them chewier and less dry than regular peanut bitter cookies.  The eggs also help increase that chewiness factor.  These are some great cookies to sink your teeth into, and in my opinion they are the best peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I have ever had.  The recipe below should make 20 to 24 cookies, depending on the size.  Mine are a bit on the large side, so try to make your cookies a bit smaller, and remind yourself that they do expand when you bake them.  I am very happy with the results of the experimentation to get this recipe perfect, and am so happy to share the final batch here.

It took me a couple of batches to get the cookies the way that I wanted them. I discovered the importance of using a combination of brown sugar and regular sugar to get the right chewy consistency.  The cookies don't caramelize properly if you only use granulated sugar, as I learned from one of my less desirable batches.   Practice made perfect with these cookies - I was very satisfied with the final batch, using the combination of sugar and the extra egg.  They were chewy and delicious!

Sasha's Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies
1 1/2 cups of peanut butter
3 large sized eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  To prepare the cookies, combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, except for the chocolate chips.  Once the dough is fully combined, mix in the chocolate chips.  Use a tablespoon to make cookie dough balls about an inch apart on your baking sheets.  Remember to spray the baking sheets with PAM before dropping down the batter.  The cookies don't bake for too long - only about 12 minutes, until puffy and very lightly golden.  If you bake the cookies too long, they will burn on the bottom and become crispy.  They are still soft when you take them out of the oven, but harden as they cool to a chewy, flexible consistency.  Enjoy the peanut buttery goodness!  The recipe is very simple, and does not require a stand mixer.  Even better - these cookies are gluten free!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Emily's Kitchen in Seattle: Simply Amazing (Raw Vegan) Coconut Macaroons

Before you skip this post because it has "raw vegan" in the title, hear me out. Raw and vegan they are, yes, but only second to Simply Amazing. I generated this recipe over Passover, when Jews are not permitted to consume leavened products (thus two of my favorite food groups, homemade pizza and vegan baked goods, are taboo). I was also feeling a little bloated on bread and sugar in the days leading up to the holiday (I wonder why), and so I began searching for alternatives to the nutrient-free Passover cake meal and recipes that call for, like, 12 eggs. Passover tends to raise Jewish cholesterol levels with its own newfangled Angel of Death. Plus, being the gastronomic anarchist that I am, I try to avoid brands and products that we all think we need, especially the kosher-for-Passover products that are usually unhealthy, if not strange. See my gefilte fish post for more on this. With all the fruits and nuts available to Passover-observers, it's a wonder how underrepresented they are in Passover cooking.

And we can make most of these products ourselves, which is how I passed Passover without eating one macaroon out of a jar (incredible! I know!). The recipe is based on a macaroon tartlet crust in Ani Phyo's Ani's Raw Food Desserts. I highly recommend this book - the recipes are easy and it's not one of those "out there" raw food cookbooks. I did make the crust and fill it with homemade mixed berry vegan "ice cream" and on another occasion mango "ice cream." But just mushed into little balls, the crust recipe makes killer cookies, rich and buttery with the healthy fats and goodness of coconut and nuts. They don't leave you with that "I shouldn't have eaten that" feeling and they are satisfying. In case you're still worried about the raw vegan thing, know that I could hardly churn them out fast enough for the carnivore enthusiasts in my life. And another perk: you can eat them for breakfast without feeling guilty. At least I do.

Simply Amazing (Raw Vegan) Coconut Macaroons
Prep time: 10 minutes
Can make about a dozen macaroons

2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup cashews or almonds
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup agave nectar or raw honey

Process the nuts in a food processor until powdery. Add the other ingredients and process for about 30 seconds, or until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Make balls by scooping out a tablespoon of the mixture and rolling it between your palms. If desired, roll them in a little dried coconut to garnish. They are best served room temperature but can be stored in the refrigerator - if you happen to have any leftover!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Belgian Waffles With Strawberries

Belgian waffles are one of my all-time favorite decadent brunch entrees, and with either powdered sugar or chocolate, can also be a perfect dessert.  I love using my waffle maker to make fresh waffles and I have tried a number of varieties over the last few years, some with greater success than others (not such a fan of buckwheat waffles, I must admit).  A few weeks ago, I decided to make Belgian waffles as the main course for our weekend brunch guests.  These waffles were a huge hit - our guests absolutely loved them and everyone finished the entire large waffle (in addition to a salad and cupcakes).   The leftover waffles tasted just perfect later that evening for dinner as well!  Thus, unlike politicians, this type of waffle is consistently a great brunch entree, but also a terrific dessert.

I love the way the waffle iron gives the waffles their distinctive pattern and shape.  Belgian Waffles are generally prepared with yeast leavened butter.  They are usually lighter, thicker and crispier than other waffle varieties.  My Belgian waffles were made with fluffy egg whites, using the same technique used to prepare a souffle.  Thus, they are especially light and fluffy.  Most traditional Belgian waffles have rectangular sides. (Mine don't since I just used my conventional waffle maker for the recipe).  Belgian waffles can be topped with confectioner's sugar (the traditional Belgian way), or with whipped cream, fruit and maple syrup.

Making these waffles made me crave Belgian food in a big way - everything from steak frites to Belgian fries to Belgian mussels is making my mouth water at the moment.  I definitely need a foodie trip to Europe this summer - that's a hint to my husband that we have a lot of work to do on our trip planning for that summer vacation I've been waiting patiently for!

Belgian Waffles With Strawberries (recipe adapted from this recipe from the Food Network)
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg whites
4 egg yolks (you will need to separate the eggs)
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 T unsalted butter, melted
2 cups milk (I used lowfat organic milk from Stonyfield Farms)
1/4 tsp cream or tartar
pint of fresh strawberries
whipped cream
fresh Vermont or Quebec maple syrup

Preheat the waffle iron according to the manufacturer's instructions.  This recipe makes 8 large waffles in a conventionally sized waffle iron, but the leftovers actually hold up decently for a day or two.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  In a second bowl, beat together the egg yolks and the sugar until the mixture is pale yellow in color.  Don't forget to save the egg whites in a bowl for later in the recipe.  Add the vanilla, melted butter and milk, and whisk to combine.

Add the flour and mix until just combined - don't overbeat!  Next, use your KitchenAid Stand Mixer (or a handheld mixer, if you do not have a stand mixer) to beat the egg whites until fluffy and they form stiff peaks.  You should add about 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar to beat the egg whites and beat for at least 3 minutes on the highest speed.  They egg whites are done when they are fluffy and foamy, just like as if you were making a souffle.

Using a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites into the batter, again, just like with a souffle.  Be gentle and just fold in the whites, rather than stirring.  Prepare the waffles in your iron following the manufacturer's instructions.  I served them with fresh strawberries and a bit of whipped cream.  They also taste great with high quality maple syrup, but this is less traditional.

To make Eric's Belgian-inspired Mussels Risotto, click here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Angel Hair Pasta With Grape Tomatoes, Garlic & Pine Nuts

Last night's dinner was a simple recipe adapted from one of my mother's classic fresh pasta dishes.  This dish is fresh and delicious, and is quite simply all about the quality of the tomatoes used in the recipe.  I used fresh organic grape tomatoes that would have been delicious on their own, but were heavenly with a mix of diced garlic, olive oil and pine nuts.  In addition, I flavored the dish with a couple of tablespoons of Round Pond Estate's Blood Orange Olive Oil, a favorite from our last trip to Napa Valley.  The blood orange flavor was a lovely complement to the other flavors.  It makes the dish feel very light and enjoyable.  My husband likes to add a bit of parmesan cheese, as well.

Sasha's Simple Angel Hair Pasta With Grape Tomatoes, Garlic & Pine Nuts
2/3 box of angel hair pasta
2 pints of organic grape tomatoes
1/3 cup of pine nuts
4-5 tsp of diced garlic

To prepare this dish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut each of the grape tomatoes in half and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about twenty to thirty minutes.  In the meantime, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned.  Cook the pasta and mix with the other ingredients.  Before serving, mix in two tablespoons of the Blood Orange Olive Oil.  This is  short post and an easy recipe to make during the week after work, but makes for a fresh, satisfying meal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Indian Spiced Mini Lamb Burgers

The grilling season really doesn't start until Memorial Day.  And even then, we don't have an outdoor grill at the moment anyhow.  But this weekend was such a beautiful, sunny weekend that one can't help but get in the spirit a little bit early.  This recipe would be great on an outdoor grill, but also just perfect to prepare indoors on a good grill pan.

I decided that miniature food for this recipe would be much cuter than full sized portions, although the reality is that the taste would be the same.  I have made miniature frittatas and miniature key lime cheesecakes for brunch in the past, and these mini lamb burgers would work just as well for brunch as for dinner.  I decided to use my favorite mix of Indian spices for the lamb, as that is my favorite way to flavor ground lamb these days - with a mixture of curry, cumin, coriander and sumac - a new favorite spice of mine.  I've been inspired to use a lot of Indian spices in my cooking, by the chef of Tabla, Floyd Cardoz, who does so frequently in his cooking.   This recipe also incorporates Greek or Mediterranean flavors, in a yogurt based sauce, as well as the use of feta cheese.  All of these cultural influences worked out quite nicely together.

Sasha's Mini Lamb Burgers With Yogurt Sauce, Tomato and Feta (makes 10-12 small burgers)
1 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 tsp ground sumac
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry
1/2 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 small container of lowfat Fage Greek Yogurt
1 tomato, cored and diced
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp white wine vinegar

To prepare the burgers, mix the cumin, coriander, curry, sumac, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix into the ground lamb, using your hands.  Form into small burgers, about the size of flattened golf balls.  A pound of ground lamb should make 10-12 mini burgers.  Grill the burgers on your grill pan as desired (we like ours medium-well).  Top with feta cheese.  Prepare the sauce by whisking the greek yogurt, lemon juice and vinegar with the tomatoes.  Top with the sauce.  For the buns, I cut hot dog rolls in half and toasted them in the oven.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Family tradition Easter Bread

Unlike some of the recipes that have been in my family for generations (or centuries, in the case of one that will remain a family secret), this recipe for Swiss Easter Bread is fairly new. From a magazine, says my mom, who introduced it to our family, and was absolutely thrilled that I decided to carry it on myself this year.
I suspect that, since I'm getting married in June, I'm probably evincing some "nesting" instinct to recreate the food of my childhood for my new family. Whatever -- Easter Bread is delicious.

So here's the recipe, as my mom passed it down to me. I've added in a few bits of information (in italics) that I learned the hard way so you don't have to:

Swiss Easter Bread
3-3 1/2 cups unsifted flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope fast-rising yeast
a small amount of salt (this was missing from the recipe; I used about a teaspoon)
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup mixed dried fruit (I used cherries, cranberries, and dates)
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds (I used some that were sliced, but I should have chopped them further)
5 uncooked small eggs, OR 5 large eggs boiled for 10 minutes, dyed pretty Easter colors
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

Combine 2 cups of the flour with the sugar, yeast and salt, and stir. Combine 1/3 cup milk, water and butter, and heat to 130 degrees (this is harder to do than I thought; I ended up overheating it, but I just let it cool on the counter until it reached the right temp). Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and add the room temperature eggs. Mix for three minutes, and gradually add 1 cup flour.

Turn the dough out on a floured board, and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. The dough will absorb about half a cup of flour from the board. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, and turn it so the oiled side is up. Cover, and place in a warm spot (this was missing from the recipe, and not being very experienced at baking, it didn't occur to me until later; I ended up setting the bowl atop an oven set at 200 degrees for an additional hour to help the yeast rise, but if you put it in a warm place from the get-go, the timing is probably close to right). Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about 30-35 minutes.

Divide the dough into thirds, and roll each into a 20-inch long rope (this is also harder than it sounds -- you really have to pull carefully as you roll, or you'll break it or it won't stretch). Loosely braid the ropes, and shape them into a circle. Use some milk on your fingertips if you can't get the ends to stick together (I didn't do this, and my braid fell apart a bit, so the finished picture isn't as pretty as I would have hoped). Place on a greased cookie sheet. Carefully tuck the colored eggs deeply into the folds of the braid. Cover with waxed paper and a towel, and let it rise again until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, until the bread is browned and sounds hollow when tapped with the back of a spoon. Mix the remaining milk, vanilla extract and powdered sugar until smooth, and drizzle over the top of the bread.

This recipe took quite a bit longer than I'd expected it would, in part because of the first attempt at rising the dough being unsuccessful due to my failure to put it in a warm spot. I started a bit before 10 a.m., and the bread wasn't out of the oven until after 2 p.m., but I think now that I have the idea down, it'll go faster next time. And be prettier. But as the fiance said, it sure is delicious. This would make a great brunch dish, or a spring potluck showstopper.

Sasha's Kitchen: Raspberry-Limoncello Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska is one of the few dessert recipes that has intimidated me for years.  It's really not that hard, the problem was that I tried to make a Baked Alaska before I knew how to make meringue.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if you have never made meringue, don't start with this dessert, because failure with a Baked Alaska involves melted ice cream in the oven.  However, now that I am an experienced meringue maker in my KitchenAid Artisan Mixer  (necessary equipment for meringue making), I decided to give Baked Alaska another shot.  And while I wasn't able to see Russia from my house, the dessert was a huge success, and really quite simple to make, as long as the meringue is done correctly.

According to Wikipedia, the dessert, Baked Alaska was originally cooked at Delmonico's Restaurant (in New York, not Alaska) in 1876 to honor the recently acquired American territory.  There is another variation of the dessert that originated in Nome, Alaska which involves adding rum to the dessert, turning down the lights, and lighting the entire dessert on fire using the flambĂ© technique.

I made traditional baked Alaskas in individual sized portions, using a raspberry-flavored pink meringue.  This dessert simply involves a piece of pound cake, a layer of ice cream and a layer of meringue on top.  As I learned the hard way in the past, it is extremely important to prepare the meringue correctly or the entire dessert will melt when you put it in the oven.  However, if the meringue is done correctly, it will create a seal on top of the dessert that will keep the ice cream cold during the four minutes in the oven while the meringue gets toasted, or baked.

Sasha's Raspberry Limoncello Baked Alaska (makes 4)
4 small pieces of homemade or store bought pound cake, sliced one inch thick
Limoncello-Coffee Gelato (click here for my recipe)
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1 dram of Lorann's Raspberry Flavoring
1 drop of Ateco gel-based pink food coloring  (the best food colorings out there, and the ones I use in all of my cupcake recipes)

First, wedge each slice of pound cake in a ramekin.  Then add a scoop of the limoncello-coffee ice cream and place the ramekins in the freezer while you make the meringue.  To make the meringue, separate three egg whites from the yolks.  Place the egg whites and the cream of tartar in the basin of your stand mixer and beat, using the whisk attachment until peaks begin to form.  Then add a drop of the food coloring and the vial of raspberry extract.  Continue to beat on high while slowly adding half a cup of sugar.  In the end, you will have to beat on high for about five minutes until you have a fluffy meringue.
A sample meringue

Add the meringue to a conventional pastry bag fitted with a tip.  It should be pink in color and smell like raspberry by this point, of course.  Pipe on top of the ice cream of each dessert using the pasty bag, the same way you would frost a cupcake.  Make sure to create a seal around the edges with the meringue and not to leave any of the ice cream exposed.  Then, place each of the four ramekins in the freezer for two hours (or up to a day).  When you are ready to eat, place in an oven preheated to 450 degrees.  Bake for three to four minutes only, until the meringue is nicely (but lightly) browned.  The combination of flavors here was perfect - the limoncello and coffee went so nicely with the raspberry flavored meringue, and I was so happy that the dessert didn't melt!  I'm including a photo of the inside of the dessert to show that the ice cream is still frozen inside.

Baked Alaska on FoodistaBaked Alaska
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