Affogato

AffogatoAffogato ‘bout it
Valentine ’s Day is a pretty low key affair in my house. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if my main squeeze bucked tradition and went all out. It would be great and I would be completely surprised but I have learned after almost 20 years together that the old adage about aging dogs and new tricks is true. To be fair, I am not looking for a grotesque “Hallmark Store just threw up” type of display. I don’t need five dozen roses. I’m always up for a nice dinner (but you have to fight the crowds). I’d be totally happy with a book and an hour or two of uninterrupted silence and solitude. Throw in a hot bath and I’ve hit Nirvana…

However, one dude in my house is putting in some work this Valentine’s Day. One of my 14-year-old sons was very adamant about getting his girlfriend (Did I really just type that? Girlfriend? Yikes!) a gift and I have to give him credit, he did it because he wanted to not because he was pressured. AND, he did it all on his own with no help from me except for the use of my Amazon Prime account. He’s planning to present his gift and spend the evening with her on Thursday which means he will be missing out on our Annual Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Sundae fest. I sense he isn’t all that broken up about it. Can’t imagine why…

I’ve decided I’m gonna change things up and get a little crazy this year. The others can do their mountain of ice cream with sprinkles and fudge and nuts and whipped cream. This year I’m going to make one of my all-time favorite desserts, Affogato. If you’ve never heard of it, Affogato is basically vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso poured over it. It’s absolutely simple and incredibly tasty. It’s even better if you use a vanilla chocolate chip gelato and then sprinkle more chocolate chips on top…yum! Of course, you can use whatever gelato you want—coconut would be really good. Or maybe something boozy. You can never go wrong with boozy…especially with a little of your favorite poured on top…Bailey’s anyone?

A quick search online can yield a number of yummy Affogato possibilities…

Affogato
Yields 4 servings Read more…

Home Made Croissants

Home Made CroissantsCroissant Crazy
Over the years, my sister and I have taken a lot of cooking classes. So many, in fact, that there isn’t a whole lot out there that we haven’t taken. By no means have we mastered the art of cooking. Far from it! But, you do reach a point that, unless it is something very specific, you can pick up any recipe and produce a better than average result. There was one thing that both of us were fairly intent on learning—and that is how to make croissants. Or, to be more specific, the laminated dough used to make croissants and other flaky goodness.

I’ve always been a fan of a really good croissant. I mean what’s not to love? You just can’t go wrong with flakey buttery pastry, with or without filling, fresh from the oven. Am I right?

This particular drive to learn the art of croissant was born out of an obsession with the orange morning buns that are produced by our favorite bakery in Tahoe City, CA. I can’t even with these morning buns. No trip to the lake is complete without these for breakfast at least once but they’re up there and we’re down here. We had to figure out a way to recreate them but to do that we needed to learn the basics.

This was how we found ourselves spending a lovely Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago learning to make croissants. It was great. It was challenging. And I have found that having an industrial grade sheeter would make the folding process so much easier but, alas, that is not an option.

To be frank, croissants are not a thing you make on a whim. They are a project that requires hours. It is something you do as much for the process as for the end result. It is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday when you have absolutely nothing going on.

This weekend for me is one of those rare weekends where we will not be running around shuttling kids here and there and my plan is to make a batch of croissants just to make sure I can do it without the instructor there. Should be interesting…

For those adventurous spirits out there below is a great recipe for those who are willing to give it a shot. For the rest, there is definitely something to be said for letting someone else do the work and grabbing a dozen or so from your favorite bakery.

Home Made Croissants
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields about 2 dozen Read more…

Baked Brie

Baked BrieHot Stuff
If a party is happening at my place you can bet there are going to be snacks. I say snacks because the phrase hors d’oeuvres can be a bit high brow for what the function actually is. You do not have hors-d’oeuvres at a football party. You have snacks. Munchies. Grubs…You get the idea.

For the rare party that I throw at my place, I almost always have a cheese plate with various cheeses and fresh fruits. It’s easy and elegant and you can set it out and let people serve themselves. Same goes for a dip platter with veggies—or depending on the dip, some interesting crackers. These are easy go-to pre-dinner nibbles that allow you to interact with your guests but they’re not hot, and for parties on a cold night, I like to have at least something that is warm.

The difficult thing about serving hot hors-d’oeuvres is that it requires you to be in the kitchen and not mingling. Instead, you are in a constant stage of putting stuff in the oven or taking it out. One of my favorites is my Hot Cheesy Things which are a family favorite as well as a definite crowd pleaser. But again, there’s that oven thing.

This year I think I have found a solution to the dilemma. Baked Brie.

Obviously, this is not a new concept but you can modernize it a bit by choosing a different type of jam than the traditional raspberry or another sweet version. I’m making mine with a Maple Bacon Onion jam that we sell here at the store but it would also be good with a Balsamic Onion Jam or even a Fig Jam. Of course, anything spicy would work well too—like a little Thai Sweet Chili sauce…Yum!

Because I am using the onion jam I am going to sprinkle a little fresh thyme for a little more flavor.

Baked Brie
Yields about 16 servings Read more…

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed French ToastToast of Christmas
Like a lot of families, we celebrate the holidays in multiple houses. Christmas Eve is generally at my place (though my sister is hosting this year). Christmas morning has been at my place the last couple of years and will be again this year. For Christmas dinner, we are all scattered. This might seem kinda strange to you to have all the celebrations with the same family at different locations. I mean what’s with musical houses? The answer is that it is not always the same faces at each celebration.

Christmas Eve is with my family, my sister’s family, and my sister’s in-laws. Christmas morning is my family and my sister’s family. Christmas Dinner is my family and my in-laws. By doing it this way we make sure that everybody gets to see each other to celebrate and exchange gifts. It also allows for some side celebrations. Let me explain…

While my family is enjoying our traditional Ebelskiver on Christmas morning, my in-laws are kinda left to their own devices. So, for the last 10 years or so, my brother-in-law hosts breakfast for their side of the family at his place. It is a much smaller and definitely quieter affair that always features a decadent French toast along with great coffee and fruit. It also means that by the time they get to my house, everyone is stuffed and thus begins the annual debate over when we should eat dinner…

French toast is a great option for a crazy holiday morning because it takes very little time and effort to put together and there are so many options out there for jazzing it up a bit. My brother-in-law has what is apparently a secret recipe that involves poppy seeds. For me, I like any version that includes fruit and/or nuts. Then, of course, you can get really wacky and stuff it for extra decadence…

And for those elves who have stayed up all night assembling a bike or a toddler-size kitchen, there is always the overnight version to make life a little easier…this Ina recipe is one of my favorites.

For those who want to go all out, here is a recipe to consider for some out of this world Stuffed French Toast….

Stuffed French Toast
Adapted from Morning Food by Margaret Fox
Yields 6 servings
Read more…

Coconut Macaroons

Coconut Macaroons dipped in chocolateCookie Collection
This time of year is the season of constant dinner parties. In fact, I had a few friends over last night to talk about the upcoming baseball season and to eat drink and be merry. The food was great (and the wine was even better). But, having something sweet to end the meal and fuel the after-dinner conversation is essential. I have found that plates of assorted cookies are the perfect solution. The only challenge is coming up with a nice variety for the plate.

Some may say that forcing yourself to make a bunch of cookies isn’t a bad thing. And, it’s not. Though, having that many cookies lying around the house can be dangerous to your waistline!

It can be fun to come up with the perfect mix. Start with some ginger cookies. Add a few layer bars. Maybe chocolate crackle cookies. Definitely some shortbread. If you’re feeling crafty, make some stained glass cookies or some nutty rugelach. No matter what combination you decide to throw together, for me there almost always needs to be coconut macaroons on the plate.

I love coconut macaroons—and making them couldn’t be easier. Bonus! They are gluten-free for those friends who can’t eat gluten. I like to melt some bittersweet chocolate and either dip the macaroons or drizzle it on top for a little added holiday cheer.

Coconut Macaroons
Yields 20 to 22 cookies Read more…