Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Week 16: Almond/Coconut/Cacao Nib Clusters

Back in Week 6, Brilliant Daughter did a guest post recreating her favorite Sahale snack: Glazed Almond-Cranberry Snack Clusters. I’ve made them twice since but looking at the three boxes of Scharffen Berger cacao nibs that just arrived gave me the bright idea to change up the recipe a bit. While I started with the almond base, I added both cacao nibs and coconut to the mix. It’s a perfect combination and I found it highly additive. Crunchy, healthy and mildly sweet, these snack clusters are perfect for a mid-morning snack or afternoon pick-me-up.

Note #1: The original recipe calls for blanched slivered almonds, but I keep Trader Joe’s Dry Toasted Slivered Almonds in the house, so that is what I used. I find that it makes for a crunchier snack, as the almonds are double-roasted.

Note #2: While I had Trader Joe’s sweetened shredded coconut on hand, you could use shaved coconut, toasted coconut, or unsweetened coconut as well.

Almond/Coconut/Cacao Nib Clusters
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 ounces blanched slivered almonds
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon honey

Heat the oven to 250 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with Silpat or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, toss the almonds, coconut and cacao nibs. In another small bowl, whip the egg, water, and honey with a whisk until very frothy and amalgamated.

Pour the liquid mixture over the nut mixture and stir with a spatula to coat. Add in the brown sugar and stir until there are no more dry pockets.

Spread mixture evenly onto prepared pan (it’s OK if it’s not quite a single layer—that’ll create heartier pieces) and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool and then break into bite-sized pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Week 15: Molten Dulce de Leche Cakes

Sunday dinner with the family always involves some good wine, food, and conversation. We always end the night with dessert, which is a perfect time to test out new recipes. My family doesn’t mind being guinea pigs and I get more feedback than during the week when Mr. B is the only one around. Bless his heart, he rarely complains about anything I cook, probably as much out of fear that I will stop feeding him as the fact that he really likes everything. I mean, the guy ate brains and eggs, raw lamb kibbe, baby goat, and a myriad of other things as a kid that I wasn’t introduced to until adulthood.

This week for dessert I tested out a recipe from Bon Appetit. It was originally from Florencia Courreges, the pastry chef at La Huella restaurant in Uruguay. It is her south-of-the-border take on the traditional chocolate lava cake. The simplicity of it boggles the mind, as it only takes 3 ingredients, 3 simple steps, and 20 minutes from start to finish. And you don’t even start it until after dinner is over! (That’s one way to get everyone else to do the dishes…)

The basis for the cake is dulce de leche, a sweet thick caramel that is nothing more than sweetened
condensed milk cooked slowly. There are ways to make your own in a crock pot or even from scratch if you are so inclined. I use the Nestle brand, which makes a 13.4 ounce can (which turns out to be the right amount for this recipe). These can be found in the Hispanic food aisle or with sweetened condensed milk in your baking aisle

The result is a sweet, light cake with a warm molten center, served right out of the oven. The directions recommend that you unmold the cake before serving. This will, of course, give you a more dramatic first bite, with the caramel-colored goodness oozing out onto the plate, but I think it would be perfectly fine served within its ramekin. I should warn you that due to the one-dimensional note of the dessert, I found it wise to serve with a small scoop of ice cream. I recommend vanilla, Florencia recommends banana as well. (I tried whipped cream, but it melted too soon and didn’t cut the sweetness properly like the vanilla bean ice cream did.)

I should also note that the original recipe said it made 6 servings, but the cakes were a bit small, and cook so quickly that unless you check them every 30 seconds once you hit about 9 minutes, they overcook. Making a second batch (and doubling it for the whole family) made 8 good-sized cakes and took about 12 minutes. The center should be jiggly – and when I say center, it should measure the size of a quarter or more, because while you get them out, move them off the pan and unmold them, they have continued to cook a bit and the centers start to firm up. You definitely should serve them right away, although Mr. B did have a second one the next day, chilled, and said it was delicious. (Good man!)

Recipe after the jump....

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Week 14: Baked Gnocchi with Squash and Kale

What drew me to this recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle was the list of ingredients in the title. I love gnocchi, butternut squash and kale and imagined they would be a killer combo. Tasty and healthy at the same time. It was a fairly easy recipe that took little preparation, as I was able to use pre-made gnocchi, pre-cut squash and pre-cut kale.

Unfortunately I was wrong on several counts and actually chock this up as a bit of a failure. It is healthy and it was easy, but it wasn’t terribly tasty. The gnocchi gets quite gummy and sticks together, the squash doesn’t get that nice brown crisp that adds to its flavor when roasted, and the pre-cut kale had some thick ribs that made for a more than few nasty mouthfuls. And even with the addition of salt and parmesan cheese, it lacked any oomph or real flavor. It was a bit soggy and the liquid was not thickened at all. Overall, I cannot recommend this dish, but in fairness to my goal at the beginning of the year, I wanted to post my failures as well as my successes, so if you are brave, you can try and recreate this and judge for yourself, or modify it in a way that would make it tastier (more cheese? herbs? pancetta or bacon? Sausage?)

Recipe after the jump