Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mini-Muffin Financiers

I had never even heard of financiers until Dennis discovered a spot near his office that gives them away with each cup of coffee.  Financiers are small French cakes, not too sweet and perfect for breakfast.  Dennis has been requesting a homemade version for a few months now so I decided that could be his Christmas morning treat.  I was worried that the recipe would be too involved but it’s actually quite simple.  You just have to plan ahead as the batter needs to sit for a few hours before you can bake it up.  I just whipped up the batter the night before, then baked up a few financiers each morning.  There are apparently special financier pans but I found a recipe using a mini-muffin pan.  I really need another baking pan like I need another hole in the head.  

These got two enthusiastic thumbs up from Dennis.  The original recipe calls for placing a raspberry on top of each before baking but since it’s December I left that out.  I’m looking forward to baking up batches in the summer topped with fresh berries.  A few of those and a good cup of coffee and I can almost pretend like I’m back in Paris.

Mini-Muffin Financiers Recipe (from Leite’s Culinaria)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus, plus more for the pan
1 cup confectioners sugar 
1/2 cup almond flour 
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 large egg whites, lightly beaten, at room temperature
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy pan over medium heat, warm the butter until it melts and the milk solids settle and stick to the bottom of the pot and turn golden brown and slightly caramelized, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar, almond flour or ground almonds, all-purpose flour, and baking powder into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low speed, then add the egg whites, honey, and vanilla, and mix on low speed, scraping down the bowl, until combined. Add the cooled melted butter and their solids and mix until incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. (You can actually keep the batter in the fridge, at the ready, for up to several days.)

When you’re ready to bake the financiers, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Butter a 12-cup mini muffin tin. Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full of batter. Bake on the center rack until golden brown around the edges and firm in the center, about 14-16 minutes.

Let the financiers cool in the pans for 5 minutes then run a thin knife or offset spatula around the sides of the muffin cups or financier molds. Turn the financiers out onto wire racks. Serve warm or let cool on the rack and serve later that same day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

On the hunt for another cookie to add to my Christmas cookie binge, I came across this recipe from Eat, Live, Run.  Peppermint is the quintessential Christmas flavor that only improves when chocolate is added.  The original recipe called for putting white chocolate on top but wanting to make them a bit more colorful I smashed up some candy canes also.  Have I mentioned that a mallet can be one of your most handy kitchen tools? 

My holiday baking spree resulted in 4 varieties of cookies so for these I actually mixed the dough the prior weekend, then froze the dough balls.  You can just place them on a cookie tray to freeze them, and then place inside a freezer bag once they’re completely frozen.  I ended up not even using all of the frozen cookie balls so once we finish all of the Christmas cookies (probably around Valentine’s Day) then I can bake up a fresh batch.  Enjoy these and happy holidays!
Chewy Peppermint Cookies (adapted from Eat, Live, Run)

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract
2 eggs
1 tbsp instant coffee
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
4 candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add peppermint extract.

In another bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, coffee, baking powder and salt. Add to wet ingredients and fold in chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoons of dough onto lined sheet trays and bake for 12 minutes. Let cool completely.

Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave (stirring after each 30 second interval) and scoop into a small plastic bag. Snip off end and drizzle cooled cookies with white chocolate.  Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top.

That reindeer looks hungry.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken Soup

Nearly every week Dennis and I go through the same routine when it comes to dinner.  We stare blankly at each other, shrug, then default to burgers, pasta, etc.  I usually get home around 7, then have to go pick Dennis up at 7:45.  That doesn't leave us with a lot of time to prepare anything if we want to eat before 9.  Once the weather started getting cooler and Dennis became less willing to grill outside in the freezing cold I decided to finally break out the crock pot that my mother-in-law had given us.  After only a few instances of using it I can admit it - I'm in love.

There's really nothing easier than using a crock pot.  We set ours on a timer so it turns on after we've left for work and keeps cooking until we get home.  I was a little nervous about doing this the first time, but it works out great and I love coming home and smelling dinner cooking away.

This recipe was my first attempt at chicken soup in the crock pot.  I cut up the vegetables the night before then plopped the chicken on top and put it all in the fridge.  The next morning I put it in the slow cooker and had chicken soup waiting for me when I got home.  I did run into a slight problem as the original recipe called for a slow cooker that's larger than what we have.  I ended up not measuring how much water I added, making sure I covered the chicken while also leaving a bit of room at the top so it wouldn't overflow.  This made enough soup for at least 4 servings so if you don't want leftovers you can cut the recipe in half.  But the only thing better than using a crock pot for dinner one night is having leftovers from it for another night.

Chicken Noodle Soup (from Good Housekeeping)

8 cups water (or however much you can fit in your slow cooker)
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices
medium stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 small onion, chopped
2  bay leaves
.5 teaspoon(s) dried thyme
Ground black pepper
1 whole(s) (3 1/2-pound) chicken

2 cup(s) egg noodles, uncooked

In 4 1/2- to 6-quart slow-cooker bowl, combine water, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place whole chicken on top of vegetables. Cover slow cooker with lid and cook on low setting 8 to 10 hours or on high setting 4 to 5 hours.

Boil water for noodles, then cook noodles.  I only cooked as much as we wanted for that night, then the next night I threw uncooked noodles in the broth as it warmed up.  I think that's better than having the noodles sit in the broth for a day or more.  

Transfer chicken to cutting board. Discard bay leaves and shred chicken.  Once the noodles are cooked, ladle soup into bowls and add noodles and chicken.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Is it possible to improve upon a chocolate chip cookie?  This recipe answers that question with an emphatic “Yes!”  The original idea from Bread & Butter included bananas, but I left that out since I wasn’t sure how people would react to banana in their chocolate chip cookies.  But her idea of putting a dollop of Nutella in the middle of each cookie – genius.  I started off putting a bit too much Nutella in the thumbprint, which led to a few of them falling apart.  So just use a light hand with the Nutella.  Oozing out the top is a-ok; not so much when it’s coming through the bottom of the cookie.

Dennis moved these to the top of his favorite cookie list, the sort of comment that makes my heart go aflutter.  Make these for family, for co-workers, for friends, for yourself.  Just make them.

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Bread & Butter)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper or Silpat.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.
Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough by the spoonful onto the prepared cookie sheets.  Put a small thumbprint in each cookie, then drop in some Nutella.  Cover up the Nutella with some more cookie dough, pressing lightly so it adheres to the bottom part.

Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.