Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

xoxoxo 2I love surprises. Well, I should clarify. I like good surprises, like finding out the sex of my babies, at the moment of their birth. Three of the greatest surprises of my life! It makes me sad that people have reveal parties and choose to forgo that moment of awe. A little too much over-sharing for my liking. Ok, social media rant over. Onto more important things.

Happy Valentines Day! We don’t make a big deal out of Valentines Day in our house, but I’d never say no to a little sweet treat. While many people believe the day should be marked with chocolate, I’m much more of a coconut –caramel kind of girl. But sometimes a little bit of chocolate is necessary.cookies on little heart towel 625 sqThese cookies contain a little surprise. Along with the usual chunks of bittersweet chocolate, I mixed a big handful of  Valrhona chocolate pearls into the dough. Little nuggets of crispy rice cereal enrobed in milk chocolate are totally unexpected but very welcome in a chocolate chip cookie. I ordered mine online. Callebaut also makes chocolate pearls. Their salted caramel crispearls  are kind of astonishing (crunchy biscuit bits coated in salted caramel). If you can’t find them, chopped up maltasers or whoppers would make an excellent substitute. My friend Marla would love them!Chocolate pearlsCan we talk about butter for a minute? Specifically, what does “room temperature” butter mean? How long a rest on the counter are we talking about here? When I’m baking, I’ll take the butter from the fridge first, slice it into 1/4 inch pieces. By the time I’ve gathered all the other ingredients, the butter will be perfect for creaming. Ten minutes is really all it takes. You want it to still be cool, but pliable. The whole point of creaming the butter with the sugar is to beat air into the dough. If your butter gets too warm, it won’t hold that air and you will end up with flat cookies.ButterAn ice cream scoop makes for even sized cookies.scooping cookiesA light sprinkling of sea salt on top of each cookie before baking, because that’s how we roll around here. This is salt and serenity after all!sprinkling saltstacked on red cake plate 2

Click here to print recipe for Crunchy Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

cookies on big heart towel 2

KK’s Coconut Cake with Coconut Caramel Filling

valentines day party 1If you have a coconut lover in your life, this cake is the perfect way to declare your love for them. The very first time I had this cake was several years ago. My niece, KK, made it for my mom’s 76th birthday. She was only 10 years old at the time. She has been baking ever since she could grasp a spatula. At her house, half birthdays are celebrated with as much hoopla and joy as full birthdays, so with a five person family, that works out to 10 cakes a year and almost 150 cakes in her short lifetime. She has some mad baking skills!3 slicesa sliceThis is my twist on her cake. I have added a coconut caramel filling to spread between the layers. This filling, known as kaya is created by cooking coconut milk, eggs, granulated and coconut palm sugar and pandan leaves over a double boiler until the sugar becomes caramelized and everything thickens into a beautiful jam-like consistency. I learned how to make kaya from pastry chef Anna Olsen on The Food Network. Kaya is traditionally spread on toast and then dipped in soft boiled eggs for breakfast in Singapore and Malaysia. Clearly I grew up on the wrong continent. All I got for breakfast, when growing up was a bowl of Cheerios!

Pandan leaves are long narrow bright green leaves that grow on a tropical plant known as the Screwpine.  Commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, they have been called, “The vanilla  of the east.” They can be found fresh or frozen in at Asian grocery stores or online. Vanilla extract is a good substitute if you can’t find pandan leaves. 

Making the coconut caramel (Kaya) filling takes time and patience. If you are short of either, just double the amount of buttercream frosting and use it to fill the layers as well as frost the top and sides of this cake. It will still be delicious, but I will say that Kaya pushes this cake further along on the bliss meter.

When you first start cooking the kaya, the pandan leaves will give off a grassy aroma. As they begin to steep in the coconut milk, eggs and sugar, the fragrance becomes more subdued, reminiscent of almonds and sweet cream.double boileringredients for cake 1Although my sister would never do this, I weigh the cake batter to make sure I get an equal amount in each pan. That way, the layers all cook at the same rate. weigh cake batterTo frost the cake, I made an American buttercream. The recipe I used comes from Nila, over at thetoughcookie.com. She is a buttercream wizard. Check out her Battle of the Buttercream posts. She taught me that the addition of a few drops of lemon juice really brighten all the other flavours of the buttercream without making it taste like lemon. Really cool trick!

I piped a border of buttercream around each layer and then filled the center with the coconut caramel filling. The border keeps the coconut filling from oozing out,pipe a boarder of buttercreamcoconut caramel fillingserving a slice

Click here to print recipe for KK’s coconut cake with coconut caramel filling.

cake with candy

Farro Salad with Pomegranate, Pistachio and Ricotta Salata

ready to eat 2When I was little, pomegranates were considered an exotic and a very rare treat. They usually appeared around mid-September, and my mom would make us get naked and go outside in the backyard to eat them. She was a bit of a neat freak in those days, and pomegranate stains are a bitch to get out. I have fond memories of those backyard orgies with my sisters.

I was in Israel the first time I ever laid eyes on a pomegranate tree. Laden with heavy red globes, about to burst with ripeness, I thought it was the most beautiful plant I had ever seen. According to Jewish folklore, the pomegranate has 613 seeds, which corresponds to the 613 mitzvot (good deeds) of the Torah (Jewish written law). While it makes for a good story, scientists suggest that the actual number of seeds in a pomegranate is most likely dependant upon the degree of pollination.

Now that I’m all grown up and don’t have to get  naked to seed pomegranates anymore, I find myself sneaking them into all sorts of dishes. I love them in Pomegranate Chicken, Pomegranate Tomato Salad, and Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Carrots.

Their jewel-like seeds add crunch and a sweet-sour tang to a Farro Salad. A tart vinaigrette and boldly flavored mix-ins of pistachios and ricotta salata cheese are a perfect complement to the nutty farro.what you'll needCook the farro in a combo of water and vegetable or chicken stock. A bay leaf, garlic clove and a few parsley stems help infuse the farro with more flavour. stock makes it more flavourfulFresh squeezed lemon juice creates a bracing vinaigrette. Shallots add gentle onion flavour and mildly bitter Italian parsley adds brightness and balance.reaming lemondicing shallotsItalian parsleyready to assembleThis salad keeps well for several days in the fridge. Any leftovers make a very satisfying breakfast the next day.

Click here to print recipe for Farro Salad with Pomegranate, Pistachios and Ricotta Salata.

ready to eat 1

Brown Butter Banana Cake with Coconut Meringue

serving cake 2Ok, let’s all breathe a big sigh of relief. We made it through January. We’ve heaped the recommended daily servings of veggies onto our plates all month long. I’ve posted about carrots, green beans, cauliflower and chick peas. It’s officially February. Can we please talk about (and eat) cake?

Specifically, this cake. Brown Butter Banana Cake with Coconut Meringue. This is indeed a magical cake. A layer of airy coconut meringue is spread over a base of banana cake batter. The whole thing goes into the oven and comes out perfectly baked, 30 minutes later. As I placed it into the oven, I  had my doubts that the cake layer would be completely baked by the time the meringue was golden brown.

But, given the source of this recipe, I should have known not to worry. This cake was crafted by the genius mind of pastry chef Joanne Yolles. I have been a fan since I first tasted her coconut cream pie at Scaramouche restaurant many years ago. It’s kind of brilliant to layer meringue over cake batter. Culinary alchemy at it’s finest.

We need to brown the butter because “brown food tastes better“. This recipe is a perfect way to use up those brown bananas buried deep in your freezer.what you'll needbeating brown butterI used a 10 x 10 inch cake pan. A 9 x 13 pan would also work well. Don’t use anything smaller. You want a shallow layer of cake, so that the cake batter and meringue are done at the same time.tipping batter into pansmoothing out banana battertopping with coconut meringueThe brown butter banana cake is feather light and very fragrant. The coconut meringue is soft and all marshmallowy underneath that crispy browned top.cake for 1Top with a light dusting of icing sugar.a dusting of icing sugarAnd, a scoop of vanilla ice cream too, because you deserve it.with ice cream 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Brown Butter Banana Cake with Coconut Meringue.

cake for 3

Blistered Green Beans with Tomato-Almond Pesto

blistered green beansSome people consider green beans boring. I prefer to think of them as a blank canvas. Their neutral flavour is a perfect backdrop for all kinds of culinary profiles. These blistered green beans are ideal for when you just want to crunch your way through something green.

This recipe was featured in the 2015 Thanksgiving (November) issue of Bon Appétit. I wanted to cook and bake almost every recipe in that magazine. While I still mourn the loss of Gourmet, I think that editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport is doing a stellar job at the helm of Bon Appétit. The magazine feels fresh and modern to me and the photography always leaves me feeling inspired.what you'tt needThe pesto sauce for these beans is a riff on a traditional Catalan sauce made with roasted red peppers and almonds. Roasted tomatoes stand in for the traditional peppers. While winter tomatoes are often insipid, roasting infuses them with tons of flavour.roasted tomatoes The green beans spend about 10 minutes in a blisteringly hot pan, until they become lightly charred but still have some crunch. blistering beansCrunchy, fresh, and tangy-sweet, these green beans hit all the right notes. They are sure to become a regular in your weekday rotation.

Click here to print recipe for Blistered Green Beans With Tomato-Almond Pesto.

blistered green beans in a stack of bowls