December 26, 2012

Christmas Chex Mix

Every December (for the past 6 or 7 years) Andy and I host a Christmas Cookie Party for all our friends, meaning we get to bake all our favorite Christmas cookies, and our friends come help us eat them all! It's a win-win situation. Last year I found a recipe in Food Network Magazine for a holiday Chex Mix, and it reminded me of a mix my Aunt Cindy used to make for holidays. I thought I'd give it a try. Little did I know the power of this mix. At our party people posted up around the big bowl on our coffee table and spooned in scoop after scoop. It's sweet, a bit savory, and incredibly addictive. This year for the party I almost forgot about the mix, since it doesn't fall within my usual cookie category, but several friends mentioned it before the party so I knew I needed to find this recipe again and try to not disappoint their expectations. All you need to know is this mix takes about 15, maybe 20 minutes to make, and is so yummy and always a hit. It also makes for a good gift in treat bags for coworkers or friends. You can also vary based on taste.

What's in it
1 box Chex cereal (I prefer the rice or the kinds with all three mixed together)
1 jar (smaller one, not big one) Nutella or other chocolate nut spread (TJ's has a chocolate almond spread)
1 stick butter
1 to 2 cups confectioners sugar
red and green M&M's
colored sprinkles
chocolate covered peanuts
yogurt covered raisins
any other tasty bit you think would be good in the mix

How it's made
In a large microwave safe bowl melt Nutella and butter at 50% power until you can easily stir to mix together. Stir in Chex cereal to coat with chocolate mixture. If you think you have too much chocolate mix, you can add in peanuts as well, or another nut, and coat with chocolate. Transfer mix to large ziplock bag (may need to do in two batches). Add confectioners sugar to bag and shake to coat (I add in increments). Transfer to a large bowl and add M&M's and any other additions, and toss to combine. Enjoy!

Note: you can also sub Peanut Butter for the Nutella, and coat peanuts with the chocolate/PB mixture as well.

December 23, 2012

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

I love birthdays. Not for the reasons you would first suspect, but because birthdays mean birthday cake. I love making fancy cakes from scratch. I rarely have the time to do this just for the fun of it, though. I need a legitimate excuse to bake one, so birthdays are perfect.

This year, I was fortunate to have tons of family and friends come up to Portland to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was extraordinary and memorable in every way. At one point a friend asked me incredulously, "You have to make your own birthday cake?!" To which I replied, "Yep, I get to make my cake! I can't wait."

This cake really was a perfect cake. The balance of chocolate and coffee, cream cheese frosting, moist layers, good ratio of cake to frosting... I received a lot of compliments and requests for the recipe.

Well, here it is! Adapted from a recipe I clipped from Bon Appetit years ago, this cake was just waiting for an excuse to be baked. Turns out turning 30 was the perfect excuse.

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups (packed) brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons VIA instant espresso powder dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon VIA instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 8oz. containers Philadelphia cream cheese
  • Chocolate covered espresso beans or chocolate curls (optional)
  1.  Generously butter two 9-inch cake pans with 2-inch sides. Dust with flour, tapping out the excess. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Position rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees.
  2. Sift or whisk cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; set aside. In an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each one. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Gradually add hot espresso-water mixture, beating just until smooth.
  3. Divide batter evenly between pans (use a scale to measure the weight for precise results). To eliminate air bubbles, drop each pan flat onto the counter a few times from about a foot.   Bake cakes until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the side to loosen the cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; lift pans off cakes and remove parchment. Place a wire rack on each cake and invert again so the top of the cake is up. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic and store at room temp.)
  1. Sift or whisk cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour the hot cream over the cocoa mixture, whisking until cocoa is completely dissolved, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup cream and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours, up to 1 day.
  2. Add cream cheese to chilled cocoa mixture. With an electric mixer, beat on low speed until blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high, bet until mixture is thick and medium-firm peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. (Do not overbeat or the mixture will curdle.)
  1. Using a pastry brush, brush off crumbs from cakes. Place 1 cake layer top side up on a platter. (Lining the sides of the platter with tin foil will help keep it clean.) Spoon 1 3/4 cups frosting in dollops over top of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread frosting evenly to the edges. 
  2. Top with second cake layer, top side up, pressing to adhere. Spread thin layer of frosting over top and sides of the cake (this is the crumb layer). Chill 10 minutes. Using offset spatula, spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake, swirling decoratively. 
  3. Top with chocolate covered espresso beans or chocolate curls.

November 25, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

After three iterations, I finally feel like I can post this recipe! It is based on the famous Cooks Illustrated browned butter chocolate chip recipe. These cookies are a great way to use up any leftover pumpkin you may have from baking a pie for Thanksgiving. They also happen to be fantastically tasty!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 14 tablespoons butter, separated
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda and spices together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a light colored sauce pan (you need to see the color of the butter as you brown it) over medium high heat until melted. Continue cooking, stirring or swirling the pan constantly until the butter is a dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma--another 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and pour into a large heatproof bowl. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into hot browned butter until it has melted.
  4. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Whisk in egg and egg yolk. Whisk in pumpkin until smooth.
  5. Let the mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times (this let's the sugars dissolve), until the mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.
  6. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined--about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, making sure no flour pockets remain.
  7. Spoon dough 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies one tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy; the edges will have begun to set, but the centers will be still soft after 10-14 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking.
  8. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and cool cookies completely before serving.

November 13, 2012

Teriyaki Yams - A Thanksgiving Tradition

My step-sister made these for Thanksgiving on a whim (maybe in 1996) and they have been my FAVORITE ever since. They trump candied yams or things from cans any day - any time.

Unfortunately I cannot find a picture of my work. I will post one after making them this year.  Pictures now included!

Peel a bunch of jewel or garnet yams (the bright orange sweet potatoes). I soak them in cold water before I cut them. This keeps them from oxidizing and discoloring.

Cut them about 3/4 inch thick on a diagonal slice. Par cook by boiling them, just a little, don't let them get soft. Maybe about 5-7 minutes.

Lay them in a glass pan slightly overlapped in nice rows like a tray of cookies.

In a sauce pan, saute:

An inch or three of fresh ginger - grated/finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup olive oil

Don't over cook garlic, so keep heat medium low.


1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup white wine/sake/other Asian white wine



1/2-1 cup brown sugar
juice from one orange
Zest from half orange


Spice it up with anything you have. Cayenne, red pepper flakes, sriracha, it's all good.

Now, you have to start tasting it. If it's too tart, add more sugar. If it's too sweet, add a bit more vinegar. If it's too salty, add more sugar and/or wine. Have fun. There's really no RIGHT way - it's all about taste.

Once you have the taste right, mix about 2 Tb corn starch in 1/3 cup cold water or chicken stock. slowly add mixture to sauce, cook until thickened.

Pour sauce over sweet potato slices in pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or more until sauce is thick and bubbling and potatoes are slightly brown on edges. I usually cook them at 375. Not too hot or it will scorch the sugar in the sauce.

Hope this works out for you. I promise it will woo many folks into a deep and long-lasting love affair with sweet potatoes.

September 29, 2012

The Chocolatiest Chocolate Pecan Cookies

It's hard to be teaching a new grade level in a new school in a new district. I am still figuring everything out, and there is much to plan and so much assessment. I haven't been cooking or baking lately, and I certainly don't have much time to write. I made these cookies in early August and I've been meaning to post the recipe since then.

All I have to say about these cookies is I sure hope you like chocolate. These cookies are not for the faint of heart. I was shocked at how little flour and butter go into these cookies. The dough seems to be entirely melted chocolate. I'd never seen anything quite like it. Use only the best quality chocolate, of course!

When I saw this recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini, I knew I had to make them for Amber. I did, and not surprisingly, they were a big hit.
Chocolatiest Chocolate Pecan Cookies
  • 15 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Scant 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  1. Line the sides and bottom of a medium baking dish loosely with parchment paper. Set aside the pecan halves and 6 oz.  of the chocolate.
  2. Melt the remaining chocolate in a double-boiler, or in the microwave, stirring regularly until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add flour mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Add the melted chocolate, mix until just combined, then add the reserved chocolate and pecans and stir them in.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it into an even layer. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes, or until firm enough to handle without it sticking to your fingers. Don't leave it in for too long, though, or it will be too hard to shape. (If you do, just let it come up to the right temperature on the counter.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet. 
  7. Remove the dough from the fridge and slide the parchment paper and dough onto a cutting board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces. With your hands, mold dough into a cookie shape and place on the prepared baking sheet. (At this point, you can freeze the rounds of dough for later use; freeze in a single layer before putting them in a freezer bag or container. Bake without thawing.)
  8. Bake for 15 minutes (16 if they were frozen), until the surface is just set, but still soft when gently pressed in the middle. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely or to be devoured.

August 20, 2012

Peach Dutch Baby

First, I want to apologize for my long hiatus of non-posting. At first I blamed on my job change, and I was always just too darn tired to cook something new and write about it. But the tiredness never ended, and we finally figured out it was because I was pregnant! The tiredness still hasn't let up, but I've gotten over it and put myself in gear to start trying new recipes again. This breakfast treat seemed so easy and delicious, with minimal effort, and on top of that I have a deep love affair with peaches. It's proven to be an excellent find (originally in Bon Appetit's August 2012 edition). I've made it several times already, and it always comes out perfectly delicious, with a nice wow factor for guests. If you do not already own a cast iron skillet, this is the perfect excuse to add that indispensable cook wear to your collection. Plus, it will last you forever.

What's in it
4 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
4 large eggs
3/4 C flour
3/4 C whole milk
3 Tbl sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
2-3 peaches, cut in 1/4" wedges

How it's made
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Melt 2 Tbl butter in skillet, scrape into blender. Add to blender eggs, milk, flour, 1 Tbl sugar, vanilla and salt. Blend batter until smooth, set aside. (Can be made the night before, just store in refridgerator, and adjust cook time for chilled batter.)

Heat 10" or 12" cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 2 Tbl butter and 2 Tbl sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add peaches to skillet and increase heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Turn off burner.
Briefly re-blend pancake batter, then pour over peaches. Put skillet in oven and bake until puffed and golden brown all over, about 17-20 minutes. Serve right away (pancake will deflate) with butter, warmed syrup, and powder sugar.
Serves 4-6 people, and is best eaten right away (day old dutch baby is not delicious).

August 19, 2012

Best Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies could take over the world! They are so easy, simple and delicious. I first saw this recipe as a post on Facebook from, as one of their all time most popular posts. I had to try it. When my husband made them for me for the first time, we were both blown away with how BIG they were, but also how they had the perfect texture - not too chewy and not too crispy. I've never used a recipe that was so consistent in turning out excellent chocolate chip cookies. I imagine they would also be the perfect cookie to make ice cream sandwiches, but I haven't had a chance to try out my theory.

What's in it
2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, melted
1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1 Tbl vanilla
1 egg & 1 egg yolk
2 C chocolate chips

How it's made
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Sift together flour, soda, salt and set aside.
Cream together butter and sugars until well blended. Beat in vanilla and eggs until light and creamy.
Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop cookies 1/4 C at a time onto a cookie sheet, 3" apart. (Use parchment paper or silicone mats for best results). Bake 15-17 minutes and cool on rack. Makes approximately 20 cookies.

July 25, 2012

Spain and Portugal, part 2

Pastel Vasco (almond tart and my favorite Spanish, well BASQUE pastry)--San Sebastian, Spain.

Pimientos de padron--Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Picnic with Portuguese wine, bread, chorizo, and cheese--Aguas de Madeiros, Portugal.

Bottle of port that came with our hotel room in Lisbon, Portugal.

Ham and cheese "tosta"--Lisbon, Portugal.

Sardinhas asadas (grilled sardines)--Lisbon, Portugal.

Spain and Portugal, part 1

 A small sampling of the food we enjoyed in Spain and Portugal on our honeymoon. The short video is gambas al ajillo (garlic boiling olive oil--Madrid). More to come!

Zamborinas (scallops)--La Coruna, Spain.
Pulpo (octopus) is a specialty in Galicia--La Coruna, Spain.

Various pintxos (tapas)--San Sebastian, Spain.
Grilled steak from a cider house in the Basque Country.

June 22, 2012

Mushroom Barley Salad

Dear readers,
     You may have noticed that some time has passed since the last post...and that some time had passed before that one. I can explain. You see, I was a first year teacher and let me tell you, the end of the school year is nuts. I kept thinking that I would get around to making something, maybe alfajores, but no such luck. Since my bff and co-blogger Amber has been busy at work--and away on her honeymoon!--things have been too quiet around here. Sorry for that! I'm planning to get back on track this summer.
      Let the cooking begin!
Love, Alexis
Sorry about photo quality--I had to resort to using my iPhone.
     I started getting The Food Network Magazine a few months ago, because Amber gave me a gift subscription for Christmas. (Thanks!!) The magazine is entertaining to read and always features very approachable recipes. I LOVE Saveur, but I don't usually end up make too many of its recipes. The TNW, on the other hand, has tons of practical weekday meals as well as more ambitious weekend projects. I had yet to make a FNW recipe, which I felt was completely unacceptable.
    When the new issue arrived a couple of days ago I dug around for something simple to ease my way back into the kitchen. I decided on a mushroom barley salad recipe. Mushrooms? Barley? Always a happy couple!
     The original recipe was a side dish, but I tweaked it and re-imagined it as a main. If you are good at planning ahead, soak your barley over night in to shorten the cooking time. Conversely, I cooked my barley earlier in the day, then warmed it up and mixed in the other ingredients at dinnertime. The lemon I used was huge, so the "juice from one lemon" was slightly overpowering. Other than that, this recipe is simple and satisfying. It can be served hot or cold. I considered adding garlic when sauteeing the veggies, but decided to stay closer to the original with this version. If you feel adventurous and want to try the garlic, let me know how it goes.

Mushroom and Barley Salad
  • 1 cup barley
  • 2 1/2 cups broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 20 or so shrimp (we used pre-cooked)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Juice from one lemon (small or medium-sized, not too large)
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain or dijon mustard   (or more to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring broth to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in barley and cook for 15 minutes (for pre-soaked barley) or 35-40 minutes (for unsoaked).
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Sautee about 5 minutes, then stir in mushrooms. Continue cooking until mushrooms are almost cooked through, about 3 minutes more. Stir in shrimp, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Then add spinach and continue stirring just until spinach starts to wilt, 1-2 minutes.
  3. In large bowl, whisk lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the barley mixture and toss. Adjust seasoning as needed. Can be served hot or cold (though be aware of food safety issues if serving cold).
Serves 4

April 20, 2012


     There is a restaurant on NE 28th Ave in Portland called Tabla. I lived here for 5 1/2 years, and walked by the place innumerable times, before stepping in the door. It is a higher-end, small plate place--the sort that is usually out of our price range. You know, the kind of restaurant where the more you are paying, the less food you actually get.

     But, we were celebrating and so we decided to give it a try. It was definitely pricey, but it was also an extraordinary and memorable meal. The food was worth every penny and the service was among the best I've ever had. I don't think we will go back often, but I certainly hope we go back. I especially liked the creamy polenta that was the foundation of my meal. I had another delicious bit of polenta at Tasty and Sons a few months before, so now I was really sold on the idea.

     See, I used to hate polenta. A church in the small town where I grew up used to do these fundraiser dinners where they sold polenta, and I just did not like the stuff-- no matter how much my mom tried to make me eat it. It was just too mushy and bland. THIS stuff, on the other hand was deeply satisfying and savory, and a wonderful base for the rest of the dish.

     I am officially a polenta convert. Since Tabla, I've started making polenta at home. It is sold very inexpensively in many bulk food sections. Polenta is easy to make and goes with all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes. It's nice to have something a little different to swap for the usual rice or potatoes.
  • 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth, additional as needed
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 to 4 tablespoons butter 
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring broth and a pinch of salt to a boil over high heat. Whisk or stir in polenta, until completely incorporated.
  2. Turn down the heat to low. Add the butter and cook the polenta, stirring occasionally, for up to 30 minutes (cooking time will depend on the type of polenta you are using). When it's ready, the polenta will be soft and the broth should be fully absorbed. If you want a thinner consistency, add a little more broth.
  3. Add grated Parmesan, adjust salt and add pepper to taste. 
  4. Serve immediately.

April 1, 2012

Easy Garbanzo and Sausage Stew

     It may be warm and sunny where you are, but it is--surprise-- cold and rainy here in Portland. A hearty stew still sounded good a few nights ago.

     I had garbanzo beans and I wanted to use them. I searched, I googled, and most of the recipes I found called for lemon. Well, I didn't have a lemon and I didn't feel like going out into  the cold, rainy dusk to get some. So I kept on searching.

     What I ended up finding is the inspiration for this stew. It reminds me quite a bit of gumbo, with chickpeas instead of rice. It has the roux, it has the sausage. It is delicious. Velvety, hot and savory. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, you might give this a try soon. If you happen to be in a very strange heatwave (like a lot of the country), maybe save this recipe for next fall or winter. You will be glad you did.
Garbanzo and Sausage Stew

  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 links andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1 whole white onion, chopped
  • 1 orange, yellow or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced, fire roasted tomatoes
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning. or to taste,
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cans of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup orzo, or other pasta
  • 2 cups baby spinach, torn
  1.  Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and brown. Remove sausage, draining any oil back into the pot. Set aside.
  2. Add remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Turn heat to medium. Add onions and bell pepper to oil and cook until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic and cook a couple of minutes more.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Sprinkle flour all over and stir until the mixture becomes paste-like and a light golden brown. Gradually add the tomatoes, stirring to combine. Add the chicken stock and stir. Turn heat up to medium, bringing the stew to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  4. Stir in the basil, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir in sausage. Cook over low heat for an hour or two, until the flavors have a chance to combine. Add garbanzo beans and stir. 
  5. About 10 minutes before you plan to eat, return stew to a simmer and stir in orzo. 5 minutes before eating, add torn spinach leaves. Adjust seasonings, stir well and enjoy!
Serves 4-6

March 29, 2012

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

     Birthdays around here mean cakes. Not from a box, and no quick breads or single pan affairs. Real, labor-intensive, time-consuming, multi-step cakes. From scratch. Of course, it's all a labor of love.

     I really look forward to birthdays, because it's my excuse to try a decadent new cake recipe. These are not usually cakes I would whip up just because. (I don't have enough free time for that anyway.) So, I must choose wisely. My first, and possibly favorite, from-scratch layer cake was a chocolate with peppermint and white chocolate ordeal. Next I tried a "fire cracker" apple spice cake, which actually had a spicy warmness to it that took some getting used to, but turned out to be delicious. There was the maple cake, and now there is the mocha cake.

     The best part of this cake is the mocha cream cheese frosting. I'm always a fan of cream cheese frosting, but this one was really stellar. Coffee, chocolate, whipped cream and cream cheese collide--what's not to like?

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups packed grown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder (Starbucks VIA) dissolved in 3/4 cups hot water
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (Starbucks VIA)
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 8 oz. packages chilled cream cheese
  • Chocolate curls (optional)
  1. Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter two 9-inch cake pans, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (Place pans on parchment, trace the bottoms with a pencil, then cut out the circles.)
  2. Sift 2 cups cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. 
  3. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Gradually add espresso/hot water mixture, beating just until smooth.
  4. Divide batter between pans. (To remove air bubbles for smoother, more level cakes, lift each pan about a foot off of the counter and drop it back onto the counter, or tap pans on the counter a few times.) Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  5. Cool cakes in pans on rack for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the sides of the pans to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks, lift pans off cakes and remove parchment. Place wire racks on top of the cakes, then invert again so the top side is up. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)
  1.  Sift cocoa powder into a large bow. Add espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour cream over cocoa mixture, whisking until cocoa is completely dissolved. Add 1/2 cup cream and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours or over night.
  2. Add cream cheese to chilled cocoa mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high. Beat until mixture is thick and medium-firm peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. Do not over beat or the mixture will curdle.
Putting It All Together
  1. Gently brush crumbs from cakes. Line the edges of cake platter with foil or parchment to keep it clean while you assemble the cake. Place 1 cake layer, top side up, on the platter.  Spoon about 1 1/2 cups frosting in dollops over top of cake. Spread frosting evenly to the edges. Top with second cake layer, top side up. Press to adhere. Spread a thin layer of frosting over top and sides of the cake. Chill 10 minutes.
  2. Using an offset spatula, spread remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Top with chocolate curls, if using.
Serves 10 to 12

March 18, 2012

Genius Bars

     Seven-layer, magic, hello dolly bars--whatever they happen to call them where you live... The point is they are outrageously rich, sweet, gooey bars of goodness. And surprisingly fast and simple at the same time. Genius!

     I would argue that there is not much magic here. I mean if you put a crap-ton of tasty goodies together and douse them in sweetened condensed milk, the result is going to taste good. These are out of control decadent, so make sure you cut the pieces nice and small or people won't be able to finish them. I borrowed the mini-muffin liner idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. That woman knows what she's doing.

     I particularly liked these bars because not only are they going to make you lots of friends at work, you do not have to slave away for hours to impress them. People will like these, and you will only have to spend about 10 minutes making them. This is perfect for me, because as a first year public school teacher--you may have noticed--I do not have an abundance of free time.

     Ok, that's it. I am officially renaming these Genius Bars. You don't have to be a genius to make these, but you will sure look like one when you bring them anywhere.

Genius Bars
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk, separated (try nonfat!)
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or semisweet)
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips (or butterscotch)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 1/3 cup shredded coconut, separated
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. 
  2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in a medium bowl. Press crumb mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Pour half a can of sweetened condensed milk over the crumbs.
  3. In a large bowl mix chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, pecans and 1 cup coconut. Spread mixture evenly over the crumb and condensed milk layer. Press down to combine. Drizzle evenly with more sweetened condensed milk, leaving a couple of tablespoons for a final layer.
  4. Spread slivered almonds in a thin layer on top. Sprinkle lightly with 1/3 cup shredded coconut and top with the remaining tablespoons of condensed milk.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until coconut and almonds are toasty, golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack, loosening sides while the pan is still warm. Cool completely. For easiest cutting, chill in the refrigerator for about an hour (and up to over night) before slicing into 1 and a half inch squares. Bring to room temperature and serve in mini-muffin liners.
Makes about 30 servings

March 12, 2012

Cinnamon Cocoa Candied Almonds

These are addicting. They are easy and quick, but look out--the cayenne gives them a nice kick to them. 
Cinnamon Cocoa Candied Almonds

  • 3 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for coating
  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 3/4 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Bring maple syrup, sugar, salt, and spices to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add almonds and stir to coat.
  3. Spread almonds in a single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool almonds completely, then break them apart.
  4. Mix cocoa, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a large ziplock bag. Add almonds and shake until evenly coated.

February 20, 2012

Chocolate Spice Cupcakes

     A long time ago, when Natalie and I lived together in a big blue house on 39th Ave, we were baking and eating cupcakes--something we did on a fairly regular basis. Natalie had the idea of a square cupcake, because she said, "Squares/cubes are a better shape than circles/cylinders. (She is a designer, so you know, these things occur to her.) Additionally, you can fit them together to build a cake with individual portions ready. Most importantly, in my mind anyway, you get more cupcake. Win.

     The dream of squapcakes, as they were named, remained just that--a dream--for many, many years. But the dream did not die. A few months ago I found a baking pan with squares, but alas, it was too shallow to qualify as a cupcake pan. It was not until a few days ago that I inadvertently stumbled upon another square pan and immediately knew that THIS WAS IT

      After years of anticipation, I present you with squapcakes: square cupcakes. These chocolate spice squapcakes with chocolate ganache are lightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. They were universally loved and admired at their world debut. The end.

Chocolate Spice Cupcakes
Squapcake pan
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for tin
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or more to taste)
For the topping
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet best quality chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • Candied ginger, finely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a cupcake or squapcake tin with butter, then dust with cocoa powder, tapping out excess. Stir baking soda into the boiling water. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add molasses and baking-soda mixture. Beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined. (The batter will be pretty thin.)
  3. In a small bowl, lightly coat chocolate chips with flour. Fold chocolate chips into the batter. Divide batter evenly among prepared cups, filling each about halfway. Bake, rotating tin halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean--about 20 minutes.
  4. Stirring the cream and chocolate for the glaze
  5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Remove from tin and let cool completely. While cupcakes are cooling, finely chop chocolate for the glaze and place in a heat-proof bowl. Place wire rack cooling rack over a baking sheet covered with tin foil.
  6. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour mixture over chocolate and let stand, without stirring, until the chocolate begins to melt. Gently stir chocolate and cream until totally combined. Begin near the center of the bowl and gradually work your way toward the edge, pulling in as much chocolate as possible, until the mixture is smooth and glossy.
  7. Drizzle the chocolate over the cupcakes, letting it run down the sides. Let the glaze set a little, then top with candied ginger.
Makes 12 cupcakes

February 17, 2012

*Vegan* Cocoa-Coconut Chili

Personally, I am not a fan of chili. At all. It always seems to be over cooked or over stirred or over oily or too beanie or something. But part of what I love about cooking is tackling the obstacles of foods you don't love. This chili recipe has helped me over my anti-chili hurdle in a beautiful way. The mix of ingredients creates a very balanced yet decidedly different chili. The coconut milk and cocoa balances the beans in the recipe, and the hot sauce adds the perfect amount of kick. The icing on the cake was cooking the chili in my slow cooker, and having it come out perfectly. Not over cooked or mushy or anything. I love the fact you can look at your bowl and identify every single ingredient, and relish in its simplicity. Plus, did I mention the cocoa? How can you resist...

*no vegans were harmed in the making of this chili.

What's in it
1 14oz can light coconut milk (unsweetened)
2 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbl mild chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
3 Tbl Dutch process cocoa powder (or regular if that is what you have)
2 28oz cans diced tomatoes
1 14oz can black beans, rinsed
1 14oz can kidney beans, rinsed
1 14oz can pinto beans, rinsed
1 14oz can canellini (white) beans, rinsed
1 14oz can corn, drained
1 or 2 carrots diced (size them the same as your beans)
1 onion diced (size them the same as your beans)
1 1/2 C celery diced (size them the same as your beans)
1/2 C diced bell peppers - optional (size them the same as your beans)

How it's made
Grab your large slow-cooker. Whisk together first 9 ingredients in slow cooker until blended (coconut milk through cocoa powder). Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined. Turn your slow-cooker on low for 8 hours. Go away (to work, school...) and come home to delicious chili. If you have time or inclination, buy a box of corn bread mix from TJ's and make it up, or make some honey cornbread from scratch. Enjoy chili for dinner, then lunch the next day, then freeze the rest for another day. Or just invite over all your friends!

February 13, 2012

*Vegan* Chocolate Chunk Spice Cookies

Need a last minute valentine treat for a loved one, who happens to be vegan or dairy-free? These festive cookies are quick and easy to make, and you will surely find most of the ingredients in your pantry already. Their spiciness also lend themselves to other winter holidays, such and Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you need a bunch of cookies, double or triple the batch, as they only make a dozen large or 20 small cookies.

What's in it
1/3 C sugar (turbinado or unrefined sugar recommended)
1/2 C dark chocolate chunks (be sure to check they are dairy-free, Nestle typically has milk products in their morsels)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/16 tsp ground allspice
1-2 pinches ground cloves
1 C barley flour (or 1 C minus 2 Tbl all-purpose flour)
3 Tbl cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 C maple syrup
1/4 C + 1 tsp canola oil

How it's made
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.
In a small bowl, combine maple syrup and oil. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the dry ingredients, except the chocolate chunks. Whisk or sift together until well combined and not very clumpy. Add in the chocolate chunks - you can save out some chocolate chunks if you would like to press them on top before baking. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of batter onto your baking sheet. Press reserved chocolate chunks on top of each cookie. Bake 11 minutes (no more, or else they will get dry!). Cool on pan 1 minute, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

February 9, 2012

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

Three years ago Alexis posted a delicious recipe for Tortilla Soup, which I was inspired to make after having made enchiladas resulting in leftover chicken broth. It is hard to believe three years have already flown by. Well, tortilla soup is still very much in our repertoire of go-to comfort food, and the discovery of this slow cooker version has rocked our world. We recently received a brand new fancy slow cooker with a timer from our wedding registry (thanks von!), so I was inspired to find new and simple slow cooker recipes. I highly recommend you try this slow cooker version (with a new kick of enchilada sauce) in that slow cooker you could probably dust off and give another chance. You will not be disappointed in the magic of coming home to a house full of delicious smells, and dinner already made.

What's in it
1 box (or can) chicken broth
2 C water (or more broth)
1 or 2 14oz cans diced tomatoes (I recommend the fire-roasted kind)
1 14oz can red enchilada sauce
2 small cans diced fire-roasted green chiles, drained
1 small onion chopped
1-2 lb chicken breast or tenders (I started with frozen), rinsed
1 package frozen corn (could add a can of hominy or beans as well)
1 tsp each: chile, cumin, salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
garnish: chopped cilantro, wedge of lime, avocado, shredded cheese, chopped cabbage, tortilla chips (homemade if you like)

How it's made
In a large slow cooker (if using small, reduce ingredient amounts) add all ingredients except for garnish. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Towards the end of cook time, shred chicken into smaller pieces.

If you would like to make your own chips, spray tortillas with cooking spray and cut into strips. Bake on a sheet in a 450 degree (pre-heated) oven for 10-15 min until crisp. Season as you like.

Serve soup in bowls with all garnish (yes, use lots of the garnish options!). Enjoy!

January 22, 2012

'OREO' Cookies

After a night out with the girls, getting dinner at Homeroom Mac & Cheese Restaurant in Oakland, I was left wanting another one, or two or three, of their homemade Oreo cookies. So, with the help of Martha Stewart (and my husband), I whipped up my first batch of homemade chocolate cream-filled sandwiches. Perhaps the sandwiches I like best.

The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Cookies Cookbook, with some of my adaptations based on the versions from Homeroom. With my cookie scoop, they made exactly 2 dozen.

What's in them
For Cookies:
1 1/4 C flour (unbleached of course)
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/4 sticks butter (10 Tbl), unsalted, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
sea salt for sprinkling

For Cream Filling:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 C solid vegetable shortening
3 1/2 C powder sugar
1 Tbl pure vanilla extract

How they are made:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper, or silicone mat (I highly recommend the investment).

Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cocoa). Set aside.

In a large bowl cream together sugar and butter for about 2 minutes until fluffy. Add egg and mix to combine. On low speed, gradually add dry ingredients until well combined.

Using a 1 1/4 inch ice cream scoop (also known as a cookie scoop), drop dough on sheets at least 2 inches apart, they will double in size. Dip the bottom of a glass (with a flat bottom at least 2 inches wide) in sugar, moistening with water first. Press glass down on cookies to flatten to 1/8 inch thick. Repeat for the rest of the cookies. Sprinkle all the cookies with a tiny bit of sea salt. Bake 8 minutes (or 10 for slightly crispier cookies), rotating halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the rack. Tip: if you want your cookies to come out with clean edges, roll the dough in a ball after you scoop it out with the cookie scoop.

In the meantime, as the cookies bake, make the cream filling. Cream butter and shortening together with an electric mixer (or stand mixer) on low until well combined. Gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Set aside.

When cookies are finished baking, using your cookie scoop, scoop out filling onto the bottom of one cookie, then press another cookie onto it, to make a sandwich. You may need to twist them slightly to get even coverage. Repeat for the rest of the cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to two days.

January 16, 2012

Pastel Vasco

I had a hard time remembering to photograph this treat--too busy eating it!
 I can't begin to tell you how I've longed for this cake. Years and years of waiting...

There is a bakery on a corner of the narrow streets in the old town of San Sebastian, Spain, near the marina. Go through the glass doors of this bakery. Admire the multitude of magnificent pastries in the glass display case. Look for the petite, palm-sized cake topped with sliced almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. Smile to yourself. Order the pastel vasco from the woman behind the counter. Wait impatiently as she boxes the cake and wraps in its black and white stripped paper--and even more impatiently as she ties the whole thing with a lovely bow.

Say, "eskerrik asko" to the woman who helped you. Make your way to the marina, climb up on the thick old stone wall and prepare to have your cake. (I hope you are hungry.) Admire the water in the bay, the boats bobbing near the docks, the white sand beach curving in the distance, the laughing children at the playground, the warm summer breeze, the sunset lighting the windows of the shops, hotels and apartments. Take a bite.

This might just be my idea of a perfect evening. Part of my love for pastel vasco comes from the cake itself, but part surely comes from the experience of eating it in a town I love. If you cannot make it to San Sebastian any time soon, this dessert will be a good start.

It is rich--we're talking pastry cream here-- but not heavy or cloying. The almond flavor is perfect--present, but not overwhelming. The crunch of the toasted almonds on top compliments the creamy smooth filling. It is as if an almond croissant decided to be a pie.

My husband and I are taking our honeymoon in Spain and Portugal this summer. We will be in San Sebastian for five days. Dangerously close to the source of the best pastel vasco in the world. I might end up eating one of these each night. But you only live once, right?

Pastel Vasco
  • 1 pie crust (there is a long version, but I'm giving you the short version)
Pastry cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs yolks
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pie filling
  • Pastry cream from above
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Start the pastry cream a day ahead. Bring the milk and 1/4 cup of the sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally until sugar dissolved.
  2. Meanwhile: in a medium bowl, whisk the yolk to break them apart. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar to the yolks, then sift in the remaining flour. Whisk to combine.
  3. Whisk about a third of the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture to temper the yolks. Add the yolk mixture into the milk, whisking constantly until the cream thickens and returns to a boil. Continue whisking for an additional 15 seconds while the cream boils.
  4. Scrape the pastry cream into a glass or stainless steal bowl. Press plastic wrap to the surface of the cream and refrigerate until it has cooled completely, or over night.
  5. When you are ready to bake the pie, set a rack to the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thickly butter a 9 or 10 inch pie pan and set aside.
  6. To complete the filling, whisk the eggs with the almond meal and almond extract in a medium bowl. Add the pastry cream and carefully stir with a spatula to combine. (Do not whisk.)
  7. Press the pie dough into the prepared pan. Add the filling. Top with a thick layer of sliced almonds. Bake pie until crust is a deep golden color, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  8. Cool pie in pan on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.