Cookie Butter Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk Biscotti

stacked up 625 D sqBefore we get down to biscotti business, can we just chat for a few minutes about the PBS series “The Great British Baking Show“. Is anybody else as obsessed with with it as I am? I can’t seem to get enough of it. These are supposed amateur bakers who are blowing my mind with their sweet skills. Plus, the drama and controversy is really quite riveting to watch. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills have nothing on these Brits!

I was totally “Team Martha” until sadly, she was eliminated last week, Only 17 years old and already so accomplished. Creative, artistic and cute as a button, I predict big things ahead for her.

OK, now onto more important matters, Cookie Butter Biscotti! When I mentioned to my husband that I was planning to blog about biscotti this week he got very excited. Then I had to gently break it to him that I wasn’t planning to make those biscotti, but a new recipe instead, since I already posted about those biscotti already a few years ago. “Why bother making a different kind of biscotti, when your white chocolate, dried cherry, coconut biscotti are the ultimate?” he asked me. Not sure he really gets the concept of a food blog. You can’t post the same recipe over and over again. Oh well, I was convinced that once he crunched into one of these sweet and spicy babies, he’d come around.

tied up 2The inspiration for this recipe came from my sister Bonnie. She is always sending me recipe ideas and photos. The original recipe was for peanut butter chocolate biscotti. But since I had lots of cookie butter in the cupboard, left over from making these, I decided to substitute cookie butter (speculoos spread) for the peanut butter.

Cookie Butter is just ground up Speculoos or Biscoff cookies (a gingersnap type Belgian cookie), sugar and oil. If you live in the U.S., Trader Joe’s carries their own brand. In Canada, the Lotus brand is available at Loblaws.trader-joes-and-lotus

 

I thought that the buttery rich flavour of toasted hazelnuts would really complement the spicy ginger in these biscotti. And of course, bittersweet chocolate is always invited to any cookie party.hazelnutsHazelnuts come with a thin skin on them, which can taste bitter. Removing the skin is simple. Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet in the oven 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly coloured and skins are blistered. Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let steam 1 minute. Rub nuts in towel to remove loose skins. Don’t worry about any stubborn skins that don’t come off. Let cool completely.

The dough gets divided into thirds and using your hands, form 3 flat logs. forming logs 2The logs spread quite a bit, so give each log its own baking sheet. Here’s a before and after shot of the first bake.
before first bakingafter first bakingCool the logs for at least 30 minutes and then slice on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick biscotti.slicing biscottiBack into the oven for a second bake (Hence the name biscotti – or twice baked!) ready for second bakingWhile the cookies are baking, melt some bittersweet chocolate and grind up some Speculoos or gingersnap cookies. crushing speculoos cookies

dipping
Click here to print recipe for Cookie Butter Hazelnut and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti.tied up 1

 

 

 

Perfecting Chicken Tortilla Soup

on marble board 625 sq FI recently had a bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup that knocked my socks off! Well, actually, it knocked my sandals off, since said soup was slurped at Masa restaurant in Naples Florida.

I have made Chicken Tortilla Soup at home several times, and while it has always been pleasant, it was nothing like Masa’s. There was a depth of flavour, an earthy almost smoky thing going on with the broth. It had more body than my soup, but it was not what you would call a thick creamy broth, just enough substance to feel hearty. The first spoonful seemed mild when it first hit the palate, but after swallowing there was a pleasant tingling of residual heat.

There was a beautiful hit of acid from fresh lime juice and each spoonful delivered a perfect bite of moist shredded chicken, creamy diced avocado, fresh cilantro, crunchy fried tortilla strips and that earthy broth. While the rest of the meal was good, I couldn’t stop thinking about that soup. I wanted to recreate it at home. An Internet search, comparing various recipes gave me the first clue as to what I needed to do.

Chile powder alone will not produce an earthy complex broth. A combination of  whole dried chiles, dried chile powder and fresh jalapeños will allow you to pull off a stellar broth. For my whole dried chiles, I settled on Ancho (pictured below on the left) and New Mexico (on the right).dried chile peppersAncho chiles (dried poblano peppers) have enough heat to be zesty but not scorch. New Mexico chiles are also mildly hot with an earthy chile flavour and undertone of wild cherries. Whole dried chiles require a bit of work. First, they need to be toasted in a dry pan, for a minute or two. Then, I split them open and removed the seeds and ribs, as I wanted subtle heat, just enough to make you gently glow but not enough to produce a sweat. Next, they are soaked in some hot water to soften them.hydrating dried chilesHeat settled, I moved onto the broth. I discovered that several recipes called for adding 2-3 fresh corn tortillas to the broth to help thicken it. Onions, garlic, fresh jalapeños and spices are cooked in a bit of vegetable oil to soften them. Then the whole lot gets whizzed in the blender, along with the fresh corn tortillas, the softened dried chiles, some chicken stock and half the canned tomatoes. This creates a broth with body and substance.adding tortillasbase pureedA rotisserie chicken from the supermarket is a great time saver. I also added some frozen corn to simmer in the soup with the shredded chicken. The sweet crunch from corn is always a welcome addition.timesaving rotisserie chicken While the soup was simmering, I cut some fresh corn tortillas into strips and fried them in vegetable oil. While flour tortillas are easy to find, it takes a bit more resourcefulness to hunt down corn tortillas, but the search is worthwhile. I found them at a Latin market. Sometimes your local supermarket will have them in the freezer section. You can also just buy some tortilla chips and use those for garnish, but frying your own is so much more delicious and people are always so impressed when you say you made them yourself!slicing tortillas into stripsfrying tortilla strips

3 bowls

Click here to print recipe for Classic Chicken Tortilla Soup.

in bowl on placemat

 

Double Brown Butter Cake and the True Meaning of Love

uncut cake 1In your teens and early twenties, love often resembles the flu. No appetite, sleepless nights, trouble concentrating at work, dizzy and lightheaded. No doubt about it, this is love. However, love begins to look very different once you have been in a relationship for a while. As someone who has 30 years of marriage (to the same man!) under her belt, I speak from experience.

Here’s what love looks like after all those years. My husband and I share not only an office but the same desk. It’s one of those partner desks where we sit across from each other. Last week we were both hard at work when he looked up at me and asked me if I was almost done. When I inquired why he was asking, he told me he needed a break and really wanted to eat his apple. He knows that I suffer from Misophonia. Hearing him crunch and chew his way through an apple literally sends me into a rage. How sweet that he wanted to check that my work was done so that one of us could leave the room while the other one enjoyed his snack.  That’s why I love this man. sliced cake 625 sqThis is a very special cake to make for someone who really understands and loves you. Both the cake batter and the frosting call for brown butter. If you have never had brown butter before, you are in for a treat. It adds a layer of toasty, nutty deliciousness to anything it touches. Making it couldn’t be simpler. Butter is composed of butterfat, milk protein and water. When you brown butter, you are essentially toasting the milk protein. As you heat the butter, and it begins to bubble and sputter away, the water evaporates and the hot butterfat begins to cook the milk solids, turning them from creamy yellow to a splendid speckled brown colour and your whole kitchen smells like toasted hazelnuts. It’s insanely gorgeous!

It is best to brown the butter in a light coloured pot, so that you can easily monitor the browning process. Note that only the milk solids will turn brown. the butterfat stays clear. As soon as you reach the perfect brown colour, pour the butter out of the hot pot to let it cool completely. white potbrowned butterI first saw the idea for this cake on Serious Eats. It was created by contributor Nila Jones. She baked it in a loaf pan. I decided to give it a makeover and turned it into a fancy layer cake, with lots of brown butter frosting and a lavish coating of Skor (or Heath if you live in America) Toffee Bits. a slice 1The trick to baking with brown butter is to chill the melted butter completely in the fridge. Then you must let it soften on the counter for about 30 minutes before using it. If you try to cream fridge hard butter, it will be impossible to beat air into the cake batter, which is necessary for the perfect crumb structure. beater bladefilling pans

Click here to print recipe for Brown Butter Cake with Brown Butter Frosting.

I found these adorable heart mobiles and straws online at Target. uncut cake landscape3 slices 1

 

 

Dark Salty Caramels – A Labour of Love

cut caramel 625 sq 2 with labelI can not imagine anything more lovely than being presented with a box of these dark salty caramels from your valentine. They are unbelievably deep, dark and delicious, hovering ever so closely to the edge of bitter but narrowly escaping, thanks to the judicious addition of salt.  These are adult caramels, for grown ups with a mature palate that no longer desires cloying sweets.

We have Alton Brown (and my sister Bonnie) to thank for this genius recipe. Reading through the ingredient list I did a double take when I came to the 6th ingredient…soy sauce!  Soy sauce brings the funk to these caramels. It adds to the deep dark colour and provides a salty element as well as contributing umami, that savoury flavour that makes your mouth water.

If you are a fly by the seat of your pants baker, the kind who likes to bake free form, without any recipes or directions, and you know who you are, then this recipe is not for you.

If you are faint of heart and don’t like danger or risk taking, then this recipe is not for you either.

Making these caramels requires precision and nerves of steel. You need to stand over that pot and watch the candy thermometer. When it looks like the caramel is very dark and you are convinced it is going to burn any second now, do not remove it from the heat until the temperature registers 350°F. Have faith that Alton Brown knows what he is talking about. He is wise. If you remove the caramel too soon, you will end up with your grandma’s insipid blah caramels. If you are patient, you will be rewarded with caramels that have a depth and complexity of flavour that you have never experienced before.

That being said, please do not bypass the first step of the recipe where I instruct you to test your candy thermometer. Candy thermometers are not infallible.boiling sugaradding creamThis molten caramel is VERY hot so wear oven mitts and resist the urge to lick the pot. It will take a good 3-4 hours to cool to room temperature so again, patience is required. After 3 hours I refrigerated them so they would firm up even more, making it much easier to get nice clean square cuts with a very sharp knife. carefully pouring caramel into lined panI found this pretty little box at Target last week. It is part of the Nate Berkus Collection and is intended to be used as a jewellery box. I tarted it up with some pretty ribbon and turned it into a bon bon box.beautiful gift boxopened box 625 F sqFor storing the caramels, it is best to wrap each one individually in parchment paper.wrapping 1wrapping 2wrapping 3

Click here to print recipe for Dark Salty Caramels.

Sticky Chicken Lettuce Cups with Corn Salad

chicken and corn saladConsider this post to be a Public Service Announcement (PSA) warning you about the dangers of drinking and grocery shopping. You would think that I had learned my lesson last year while visiting my friends Marla and Ed in Florida. After a delicious dinner which included several bottles of wine, we stopped in at the local Publix under the guise of getting some milk. Ed led me down the “Aisle of Eden” (candy aisle), and convinced me that buying the family sized bag of Twizzlers was a stellar idea. Waking up in the morning with a killer headache, and viewing the empty candy bag on the couch made me realize that perhaps our judgement was less than sound.

And yet I fell victim to drinking and grocery shopping again this week. After dinner, my husband and I stopped in at the supermarket to pick up a few ingredients I needed to make Bobby Flay’s sticky chicken in lettuce cups with a grilled corn salad. Cilantro was on my list. I was excited to see a small clamshell package of it, as I usually buy a big bunch and end up throwing out half of it once it starts to go slimy and ferment in my vegetable drawer.

Yesterday afternoon I pulled out all the ingredients to make dinner. I opened the package of cilantro and saw these huge spiky leaves. I looked at the package again closely.culantroWhat the hell is culantro?

In my defence, I only had one glass of wine with dinner, but, full disclosure here, I forgot my reading glasses. So, let’s amend that PSA to also include the dangers of shopping without your reading glasses.

Culantro, in case you’re curious, grows in southern Mexico. It is sometimes referred to as cilantro on steroids, as it has a very intense cilantro flavour. The leaf is quite tough so it is not really meant to be used raw but rather added to soups and stews.

A quick trip to the grocery store, with my reading glasses this time, and I had everything I needed to make the mint cilantro dressing for the grilled corn salad.corn salad dressingThe sticky glaze for the chicken simmers on the stove for about 20 minutes.making sticky saucegrilling chicken and corncutting corn off the cob corn salad 625 sqLettuce wraps are the ultimate in guilt free healthy eating. chicken and lettuce 625 sq Click here to print recipe for Grilled Corn Salad with Cilantro Mint Dressing.

Click here to print recipe for Sticky Glazed Chicken Thighs in Lettuce Cups.wrap