New Orleans French Quarter Festival

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So, I thought that New Orleans would make an ideal girl trip.  It meets my foodie criteria:  beignets, gumbo, oyster, bread pudding, crawfish pies!  Best of all, it happened to be the weekend of French Quarter festival.  Since we only had a day, the festival brought all the great restaurants of NOLA in one place. We literally ate our way the entire day.  In fact, we began and ended our day with beignets.

Here is what us four girls ate in just one day:

Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde

Gumbo and bread pudding at The Gumbo Shop

We walked a few blocks to Acme Oysters for some chargrilled oysters and fried oyster and shrimp po-boys

    

 

Now, that was only appetizers, since they were just setting up for the festival.  But once the food vendors were set up, I headed straight to what I was waiting for: crawfish pie and duck po-boys.  We had both crawfish pies from Lasyones meat and company as well as Mrs. Wheat pies.  Both were good but the Lasyone was more crunchy and flavorful.  At Jacque Imo’s, we had the duck po-boy as well as the alligator cheesecake.

We also had the goat crepe at Muriels.  The other girls loved it but goat is not my thing.

  

As if Acme oyster house did not satiate satisfied our curiosity for chargrilled oysters, we took the trolley to Hilton for Dragos.  The original location is actually in Metaire.  But, this location was convenient being that it is accessible via trolley and next to Harrah’s casino.  I personally liked chargrilled oysters at Dragos than Acme.  Although both are good,  Draogos oysters were bigger and not too charred so the oyster taste and texture was more appreciated.  We also had the crabmeat stuffed lobster as well as their house gumbo.  The gumbo was salty and not authentic tasting as the Gumbo Shop.

  

  

Now, what food trip with a few girls withous some booze to go with these delicious dishes?  We went to Bourbon street and had a few hurricans and other fruity drinks.  But, we did ended the evening with another round of beignets and coffee.


German chocolate and tiriamisu cupcakes

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We made several cupcakes at central market cooking class: german chocolate, tiramisu and almond joy (not shown).  I was simply on a sugar high that afternoon.  But, I must admit that I have a new found love for german chocolate.  The frosting was so delicious on its own that I literally could eat it by the spoonful.  I may make extra frosting to use it as topping for my pancakes or waffles.  What not to lover about walnuts, coconut, butter and condensed milk.

The mascapone filling for the tiriamisu cupcake was melt in your melt delicious.  But, the white cupcake batter could have been better.  I think it needed some sort of kahula or alcohol syrup brush on it be a true tiriamisu.  The coffee buttercream was way too sweet for my taste.

I added my own touch, by topping the tiramisu cupcakes with a chocolate covered coffee bean.  Now that is like a red cherry on top of a great dessert!

 


old fashion linzer cookies

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There is something about a jam filled cookie.  Perhaps it’s as if you are a child again eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich.  The thought conjures images of a being young and having your face smeared with jelly. These beautiful cookies are like a window pane of baked goodness.  Not only are they delicate but elegant as well.  I packaged these into individual clear cellophane bags and gave to my valentines.

The filling looks the best with seedless rasberry jam, but I only had strawberry on hand.  For spring or summer you can use apricot or peach jam.  Be sure to dust the tops with confectioners sugar just like a red cherry on top of a lovely dessert.

Old fashion linzer cookies

Ingredients (3 dozen cookies)

  • 2/3 cup of chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 12-oz jar seedless raspberry jam
  • A linzer tart cookie cutter, or a large scalloped cutter and small circle cutter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Toast chopped hazelnuts in a thin layer until fragrant, watching closely to ensure they do not burn. This should take 3 to 5 minutes. Remove any loose skins and cool.
  3. Add nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. There should be no large pieces of hazelnuts – it should be a cornmeal consistency.
  4. Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  5. Cream together the butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add nut mixture and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
  6. With floured hands, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.
  7. While dough chills, add jelly to a small sauce pan over low heat. Stir jelly and allow to reduce until thickened – about 10 minutes.
  8. Roll out 1 disk of dough into an 11-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) using as little flour as possible to dust the work surface and rolling pin. Keep the dough as cold as possible. Cut out as many solid cookies bottoms as possible from the first disk of dough and transfer to 2 large baking sheets, arranging about 1 inch apart.
  9. Using the second disk of dough, cut out the cookie tops either with a linzer top cutter, or by using the cutter for the bottom cookies and a smaller cutter for the center. Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely.
  10. Keeping the tops of the cookies separate, dust tops of cookies with powdered sugar until completely covered. Spread about 1 teaspoon jam on top of each solid cookie bottom and sandwich jam with flat side of the top cookies. Enjoy immediately or freeze to enjoy later on.

 


White chocolate macadamia nuts blondies bars

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You can turn any cookie into a bar.  In fact, it is great time saver since it does not require so many cookie sheets like regular cookie dough.  You just bake your dough in a large rectangular pan and cut into bars!  I may try to cut it to fancy diamond or triangle shape.  But who is gonna eat the leftover edges?  Your truly of course!

I did not realize how much dishes can pile up when I bake.  The chef on cooking shows makes it looks so quick and easy since they have someone else to prep and clean up for them! From measuring cups, spoons, spatulas, mixing bowls, hand mixer,sheets, and pans, etc. So you will see me making lots of bars, brownies, and bundts desserts these days.

These bars are tasty with the buttery flavor from the macadamias and the sweetness from the white chocolate and browns sugar.

    

White Chocolate macadamia nuts blondies (source: Erin food files)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound, plus 1 teaspoon butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and rough chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place 1/2 pound of the butter and the brown sugar in a bowl and cream together on medium speed until a smooth batter is formed. While the machine is running, add the eggs and vanilla extract, until incorporated into the batter.
  3. Sift together 3 cups flour and baking powder. Slowly add the flour mixture to the batter and mix on low speed until a dough is formed. Very gently, by turning the mixer on and then off, fold the chips and nuts into the dough.
  4. Once the dough is all blended, grease a 9 x 13 pan with the remaining butter and dust with the 1 tablespoon of flour. Pour the batter into the pan and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until set yet still moist.

Banana bread: Cook Illustrated vs Youtube version

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When life gives you ugly bananas… you make beautiful banana bread!

The above banana bread recipe is from Cooks Illustrated. It may look familiar since they also have an ultimate banana bread recipe requiring you to concentrate the banana flavor by cooking the banana liquid. This recipe calls for melted butter and yogurt to help with the moisture.  However,  I still find it to be dry.  Perhaps I overmix my batter.  Since I had a whole bag of ripe bananas that I purposely bought just to make bananas, I went ahead and make another bread using a recipe I found on youtube.  The result are shown below.  I think a bundt pan works very well for banana bread since it gives a beautiful presentation.  The bread was so moist that it nearly fell apart once out of the oven.  I did took the liberty of addding dark chocolate chips as well as some cinnamon chips (left over from chai snickerdoodle).  However, some people have commented that the bread was slightly too sweet.  So, I may leave out the cinnamon chips and just add a pinch of cinnamon powder next time.

Here is a tip for a flavorful banana bread:  Use ripe bananas.  The darker the better flavor it will yield.  We hardly have enough ripe bananas to make bread but I have learn to toss a few ripe bananas in the freezer until I have enough for a loaf.  I am a firm believer that sour cream is the secret to moist banana bread.  But, you can use yogurt or buttermilk.  My next recipe, I will try using just milk to see if I can use ingredients that I have on hand since I do not always have sour cream.

One thing I also did was add walnuts on top of the bread before baking so that it gets nice and toasted while baking.  But, if you love nuts, then add chopped nuts into the batter.  I wanted my bread to be smooth and easier to slice without having the nuts get in the way.  I also, add dark chocolate in my bread.  Other additions can be raisins or even coconut flakes or crushed pineapple for a tropical version.  Perhaps even some rum for adults.  For a healthier version, try substituting whole wheat flour for some of the all purpose flour.  But, whatever additions you add, it will sure to be tasty like a red cherry on top of a great dessert.

 

  

Moist banana bread (chef Jason Hill)

2 c all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick of butter (softened)

1 1/2 c sugar

2 eggs

4 tbs sour cream

4 large bananas or 6 small (mashed)

Walnuts or pecans (optional)

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the dry ingredients flour, powder, soda, salt in small bowl.  In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs then sour cream, mashed bananas.  Add the dry into wet.  Pour into a buttered bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out with moist crumb.



Banana Bread

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Going bananas for banana bread.. Yep, I gotta clean out my freezer and need to up a few black bananas that I felt bad throwing out.    Moreover, I even had some sour cream that’s about to reach its expiration as well.  Isn’t nice when you have the exact ingredients to make something so comforting?  I had my kids bring some of this bread to share with the neighbors.   How else you gonna teach them to share?  Actually, it gives me an excuse to try out another banana bread recipe.  I am not sure where this recipe came from but I written it down on a scrap piece of paper.  But, it is similar to Emerils recipe which i think is one of my favorite. Why is that so?  Well, it actually uses butter rather than oil.  Also, another moisture booster is sour cream.  Although next time, I may substitute the butter for some coconut oil.  I just found out that coconut oil is the healthier choice for oil use.  But, coconut flavor would complement bananas..kinda tropical.

I must say that a achieving a great bread is almost like finding the perfect relationship: the key is balance.  I have been reading the science of baking from a Shirley’s corriher Bakewise book.  I have taken some lessons from a baking book and applied it to my relationships.

There are several key factors or elements in baked goods such as the fat, flour, eggs, and liquid.  All of these have different roles to make it good in the end.  As in any relationship, you have to constantly experiment and not give up.  Flour and eggs gives structure to a cake. Sort of like honesty and trust as foundation in a strong relationship.  Also, not having enough fat will not produce a tender cake.  But the type of fat is important consideration:  butter for that great taste or oil for extra moisture.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice one baking ingredients for the sake of principle.  So, why not compromise by using half butter and half oil.  The butter will give you taste and aeration while the oil gives tenderness and moisture.  Now that is harmony.

As in this particular bread,  try using half butter and half oil.  Also, the sour cream will make it more moist and a tang ( any relationship needs a tang).  Keep experimenting and learn from your mistakes in the kitchen.  Afterall, you can never stop learning. But when you do find that light bulb moment, it is like a red cherry on top of a great dessert.

BANANA BREAD

1/2 c butter ( 1 stick, softened)

1 c sugar

1/4 c sour cream

2 eggs

1 & 1/2 c  all purpose flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

1 c ripe mashed bananas ( I used 2 large ones)

Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add  sour cream and vanilla  fold in the dry ingredients (flour, baking, soda, pinch of salt).  Mix until combined.  Pour into a loaf pan that has been sprayed or oiled.  Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.


French almond macarons

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Almond macarons: These little babies droved me nuts!  My first attempt failed miserably.  I adored the dainty frill (or foot) around the edge of the cookie and the colorful display is perfect for joyful celebrations.  The time and effort put forth in baking them makes them truly special for gift-giving. Pictures will follow.  But I bought a book and watch several tutorials… frustration, ranting, and finally.. a chorus of ALLEUIA.  Every bakers hopes and dreams was to see the little “foot” forming on the bottom of these babies.  I cannot recall if I ever looked for feet on my actual children much less these little pastries.  The formation of the feet is dependent on so many factors: egg white whipped to peak, sufficient drying time of the piped meringue,  rapping of the baking sheet,  humidity, proper oven temperature, and so on. Perhaps it was divine intervention…going to sunday mass last week.  Hey, macaron are a mystery in itself.

Here are some pictures of my successful and failed attempts:

Here is the chocolate ganache filling:

  

Notes & Tips:

  • Your egg whites need to be room temperature, and some say aged. Mine were aged 3 days inside the eggshell.
  • I did not make my own almond flour. I used the almond meal at the bulk section of central market.
  • Follow the recipe very carefully and exercise each step very deliberately.
  • At first, use short strokes to fold in the almond flour mixture to the egg whites. Your batter will be very thick. (thicker than I expected!) Use bigger folds once incorporated.  Your mixture will begin to loosen.
  • Once mixed and in a pastry bag, your batter should just start to slowly come out of the tip. If it doesn’t, squeeze it back into your bowl and fold a few more times.  If it runs then I’m sorry to say… back to square 1.  (This valuable tip courtesy of Giver’s Log

I used the recipe from the book called: I love macaron but many bloggers have claimed martha stewart recipe to be pretty good.


cookie bouquet

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Deliver these edible treats to me any day!  I would take these tulips over fresh flowers..at least I can share them..with a few buds missing or bitten off here and there.

These are made in several processes.  First of all, the cookies were bakes and cooled overnight.  Then the decorating  and messy parts began the following day.  If you wanted to add another color, then they need to be dried completely before applying a second color.  I am so glad that these cookie lollipops stayed on the sticks!  But the spiral ones are kind of heavy so I may use a smaller cutter next time.  I used a glaze for this since I did not like the taste of royal icing much.  However, I may only use royal icing sparingly next time for the details.   Now, how else are you gonna get tulips that smelled and tasted good enough to eat!  Almond sugar cookie with edible pearls is like a red cherry on top of a good dessert.


Hunger Games Theme Birthday

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Let the games begin!  Happy Birthday to my best friend:  ” May the odds be ever in your favor”

It took me awhile making these goody treats but was all worth it.  I would rather sacrifice my time than my children in a government sponsored battle of the Hunger Games. I wanted to do a basket with the District 12 log to to hold various treats as if being parachuted into the arena by the sponsors.  Among the goodies I created were handmade decorated sugar cookies with the mockingjay logo and monogrammed initial, mini blueberry muffins, chocolate cake pops,  and chocolate chip cookies.  Also had various candy and packaged the treats with various theme tags with words such as “girl on fire”, “nightlock berries and muffins: poison”, girl on “mellark bakery” that  I ordered from etsy.

  

I enjoyed decorating the cookies with dots and birthday girl initial.  They are quite simple and cute.  Now, the cake pops gave me a hard time.  The first time I made them awhile back, it was. Lately, however, they kept falling off the stick.  I even waited for the candy melts to cool down, but it was a hit and miss.  Most of them cracked after drying.  But, I had a few that were presentable.  I think I will give up on them since I have lost my touch.  But, doesn’t these flower pops make you happy. Perfect for any birthday girl or  for mothers day.  Best of all, you can eat them!  These cake pops were homemade devils chocolate cake.  Now, who wouldn’t battle it out for these yummy treats!

  

I tried to tie in the nightlock berry theme from the book with mini blueberry muffins.  After all, it was the crucial turning point of the first book.

I had better success with the sugar cookies than in the past.  Usually my dough was too sticky and not keep its shape.  After watching several online tutorials, I found a recipe that made flat cookies as my base for decorations.  Since I am not good at drawing the mockingjay onto the cookie itself, I did a royal icing transfer.  Basically drew out the design on parchment paper, piped it out, wait for it to dry, then put it onto the cookie.  A few did break since it was not flat but kind of 3D in a way.