December 31, 2012

Almond Chocolate Thumbprints

In my search for new Christmas cookie recipes, this one stood out. Almond shortbread with chocolate made my day. I made them too big, so they weren't quite as cute as they could have been, but lesson learned - next time I'll use my small cookie scoop. Don't limit yourself to just Christmas on these - they'll work anytime.

Almond meal is also known as almond flour, but is just ground almonds. You can buy it at Trader Joe's or make it yourself by grinding whole almonds in a food processor until fine.

Almond Chocolate Thumbprints
adapted from Alice Medrich via Being a Bear

1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. almond meal (see note above)
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into chunks and slightly softened
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
3 c. flour

3/4 c. coarse sugar (like turbinado)

7 1/2 oz. (1 1/4 c.) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Mix sugar, salt, and almond meal together in a large bowl. Add butter, vanilla extract and almond extract to mixture and mix with beater until smooth. Add flour. Mix until dough begins to come together.

Pour coarse sugar into a shallow bowl. Line several cookie sheets with waxed paper. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in coarse sugar to cover completely. Set balls on prepared cookie sheets, with a slight space between each cookie. With the finger of your choice, press down the center of the cookie to make a deep divot. You may need to dip your finger in flour or water to keep it from sticking to the dough. Cover cookie sheet and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or, even better, overnight.

When ready to bake cookies, heat oven to 325 degrees. Take cookies out of refrigerator and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch of space between cookies. Bake cookies for 10 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and quickly use the end of a wooden spoon's handle to gently tamp down cookies' divots. Return cookies to oven and cook until barely beginning to turn golden, another 8-10 minutes.

Remove cookies from cookie sheets and place on cooling racks until cooled completely. In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt together semisweet chocolate and Butter, stirring frequently, until smooth. Using a small spoon, fill divot in each cooled cookie with chocolate filling. Let stand until set.

December 13, 2012

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

These cookies had the X-factor of food. What is that called? Not sure. Anyway these minty-chocolately cookies stuffed with chocolate, white chocolate, and candy canes were very addicting. Sorry the photo does not look that great, but don't judge a book by its cover. Wait, how do you say that in food terms?

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
from Sarah's Cucina Bella

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp peppermint extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
5 peppermint candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and peppermint extract on medium speed until well mixed (about two minutes). In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. With the stand mixer running on low, add the dry ingredients a little at a time until just incorporated. Stir in the semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and crushed candy canes.

Using a medium cookie scoop (or a tablespoon), drop cookie dough in balls onto the prepared baking sheet leaving about 2-inches between dough balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are cooked through. Let cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

December 9, 2012

Brownies with Ganache

Many times I'd rather search out a new recipe instead of make one tried and true. Yes, often it ends in something unmemorable, though usually satisfying. I think it's my brain rather than my taste buds that are seeking a new challenge. This time, I was highly rewarded. This recipe for brownies on first glance may seem uninspired, but for me, I can't wait to make them again.

These brownies were fudgy, but also airy and, in a word, amazing. My first love in desserts is of the heavy and rich variety, but as I age I lean more towards light. These magical brownies satisfied both of those loves, in a way. Maybe you'll make them and think I'm crazy, but I'm sure I wasn't imagining the fluffy density provided by these dichotomous morsels.

Oh, yes, then there's the ganache... I think I've found the perfect chocolate dessert.

Chocolate Lovers Brownies
adapted from Milk and Honey

2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1/2 c. dark chocolate, finely chopped (semi-sweet chocolate chips work well)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sour cream
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain flour OR white whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 c. dark chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8x8-inch square cake pan, line the base with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at half power in 30 second intervals, stirring between each heating. Continue until both are completely melted.

Sift sugar and cocoa powder. Add to the butter/chocolate mixture. Beat in (by hand) the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract until smooth. Fold in flour and salt.

Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on cooling rack.

For the Ganache:
Place the chopped chocolate into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter and cream over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture is almost boiling, pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds. Then, stir until smooth.

Pour ganache over cooled brownies and spread evenly.

Allow ganache to firm before cutting brownies.

December 3, 2012

Chicken Soup with Lemon, Orzo and Chard

I often make classic chicken noodle soup, but it does get a little boring sometimes. The lemon twist in this chicken soup recipe is just the thing to give it new life. I love the simplified method for preparing it too - done in no time.

Chicken Soup with Lemon, Orzo and Chard
adapted from Tartelette

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup roughly chopped fresh chard or spinach
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup orzo
salt and pepper
8 cups chicken broth (or water if you prefer)
Zest and juice of a lemon

In a large pot (4 quart or more), heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the carrot, celery and onion pieces. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken breast, spinach, oregano, broth and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, half covered for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile cook the orzo in a separate pot according to the package directions.

Remove the chicken breast from the soup. Let cool enough to handle and shred it into pieces. Return the shredded meat to the pot. Add cooked orzo and then lemon juice and zest. Stir and serve.