A Culinary Trip to Vietnam ~ Banh Bot Bang

Banh Bo BangMy hubby just returned from a business trip to Danang, Vietnam. While he was gone, I spent a lot of time learning about Vietnamese food! Cooking is one way I like to explore different cultures and “travel” in a way. Since I couldn’t go with him on this particular trip, spending time in my kitchen making Vietnamese dishes was a close second for me. :) On my cooking adventure, I made Bo La Lot, Banh Xeo and these little tapioca pearl balls filled with a sweet mung bean paste called Banh Bot Bang.

I used a recipe from my favorite Vietnamese recipe website that I discovered a couple of years ago called Danang Cuisine. The texture of this dessert is really what makes it interesting – It is springy and chewy on the outside and dense and rich on the inside. Then the luscious coconut sauce raises the bar to make this quite a remarkable dessert!

Banh Bot Bang

Based on a recipe from DanangCuisine.com

For the balls:

1 ½ cups small tapioca pearls, soaked in water for about 30 minutes, drained

½ cup peeled split mung beans, rinsed, soaked in water for at least 2 hours or overnight, drained

4 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons granulated sugar

½ cup coconut milk

3 teaspoons cornstarch

For the sauce:

½ cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

2 pandan leaves (optional)

For the balls:

In a small saucepan with a lid, add the mung beans and enough water to cover the beans. Cover the pot with the lid. Bring the beans to a low boil and cook until they are soft enough to smash with a spoon. Drain the excess water. Add the cooked mung beans, 4 tablespoons of sugar, and ½ cup coconut milk to a food processor. Process until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Over medium heat, stirring occasionally, cook down the mung bean mixture until it is the consistency of paste.

Scoop the paste out onto a plate and let cool.

When the mung bean paste is cool, roll it into small balls, each about 1 centimeter in diameter. Set aside while you make the outer tapioca portion of the dessert.

Preheat a large steamer pot or a bamboo steamer on medium heat. Cut a piece a parchment to cover the portion of the steamer that will come in contact with the food. Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel so the condensation doesn’t drip down into the pot.

Mix ½ cup of the tapioca pearls with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. Microwave the mixture on high for about 20 seconds, or until it is a little sticky.

Lay a piece of plastic wrap on a clean work surface. Place a small amount (approximately 1 ½ tablespoons of the sticky tapioca pearls to the center of the plastic wrap, and press down into a disc. Add one of the mung bean balls in the center of the disc. Using the plastic wrap, wrap the mung bean ball completely with the tapioca mixture.

Place the balls into the prepared steamer basket. Be sure they don’t touch, or they will stick together. Steam for about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, but keep the lid in place. Let sit for another 10 minutes, or until the tapioca is translucent.

Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients, working in 2 more batches.

For the sauce:

In the meantime, make the coconut sauce. In a small saucepan, combine the coconut milk, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Whisk well. Then add the pandan leaves to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and strain the pandan leaves. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Serve the tapioca balls with the sauce.

National Wine Day ~ Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes

Chocolate Cabernet CupcakesToday is National Wine Day! I think that is definitely a reason to celebrate. 😉 I love to make interesting, unexpected, and fresh dishes to celebrate special days, and I couldn’t think of anything more festive for this occasion than these chocolate cabernet cupcakes. :)

These little cupcakes have a good amount of wine in the batter, and the wine pairs well with the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The cabernet flavor is prominent when they are warm, but subtler when they cool. They are perfect for an evening snack, paired with a glass of cabernet of course. 😉

Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes

Makes 6

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons cabernet sauvignon (I used 14 Hands)

2 tablespoons light olive oil

2 tablespoons skim milk

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

½ cup ivory whole-wheat flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a muffin tin with 6 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first seven ingredients (through the egg) until well combined. In a second medium bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients (minus the chocolate chips) until well combined. Then add the chocolate chips to the dry ingredients, and toss until coated in the floury mixture. Merge the ingredients from both bowls, and whisk until just combined, being careful not to over mix.

Fill the muffin liners evenly with the batter. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in one of the cupcakes comes out clean.

Cheers!

The sweet little chalkboard wine decorations are from Yesterday on Tuesday. The set was actually created for Valentine’s Day, but I thought they were perfect for my cupcakes. I think the designs are so adorable I might use them again in February!Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes

Kentucky Derby Day Treats ~ Horseshoe Sugar Cookies with Mint Julep Glaze

Horseshoe CookiesThe traditional cocktail of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep, which has been associated with the race ever since 1938. Along with the horses and the hats, the cocktail is one of the things that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is. I wanted to bake something inspired by this iconic drink for the occasion, and I couldn’t think of anything more fun and festive than horseshoe shaped cookies with a mint julep glaze. :)

I used my whole-wheat sugar cookie dough as the base, cut the dough into horseshoe shapes, and then topped them with a sugary glaze made with mint and bourbon. Yum!

Horseshoe Sugar Cookies with Mint Julep Glaze

For the cookies:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

For the glaze:

1/4 cup powdered sugar

3 drops mint extract

1/2 teaspoon water, or more for a thinner consistency

1 teaspoon bourbon

For the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough until it is slightly thicker than 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until slightly firm, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

For the glaze:

In a small bowl, whisk all of the ingredients very well until silky smooth. Add more water if you would like a thinner glaze. With an offset spatula, apply the glaze to the cookies.

Let dry before serving.

Kentucky Derby Day ~ Printable Party Decorations

Kentucky Derby DecorationToday is Derby Day! Even though I’m not from Kentucky, I love the creative hats, the beautiful horses, and the Southern traditions that go along with the race. To get into the spirit from home, I decorated a wine bottle with festive artwork I found online from Hostess with the Mostess. The design I chose was one of many cute ones that are free to use, so it was hard to decide. :) The designs were made for 14 Hands Winery, which is a Washington State winery that is a sponsor of the race. 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon has also been our house wine for years, so I decorated a bottle that I already had to dress it up for the occasion!

Cheers!

Cinco de Mayo Celebration ~ Homemade Corn Tortillas

Fish TacosHappy Cinco de Mayo! I love to celebrate this festive Mexican holiday every year. It gives me an excuse to make some delicious Mexican food, have a margarita, and imagine I’m on a beach in Mexico watching the sunset. Ahh….

Oh, right, I got a little distracted…back to the kitchen! 😉 This year I decided to make homemade corn tortillas for baked fish tacos. There is really nothing like fresh tortillas, and they aren’t very difficult to make. I think they are well worth the effort since I’ve never had a premade tortilla that even comes close to the flavor and texture of homemade. I hope you’ll give it a try!Fish TacosHomemade Corn Tortillas

Based on a recipe from the New York Times

1 1/2 cups masa harina

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons high heat cooking oil, such as safflower

1 cup hot water

Stir the masa and salt in a medium bowl, and then stir in the oil until incorporated. Slowly stream the water into the masa mixture while continuing to stir. Bring the dough together with your hands until it is in the shape of a ball. Knead the dough in the bowl for a couple of minutes until it is smooth and cohesive. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.

Cut a gallon-sized zip lock bag up both sides, so it is one long piece of plastic with the zip portion on the top and bottom. Lay the plastic on a tortilla press so the seam is where the press folds down. (It will cover the top and bottom of the press so nothing sticks.)

Preheat a large skillet over high heat.

Break off small pieces of dough and roll until they are approximately the size and shape of golf balls. Place each ball in the tortilla press covered in the plastic bag, and press until flat.

Cook the tortillas in the skillet (without added oil) until they have small brown spots. Flip and cook the other side in the same way.

Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm. They are best served immediately, but they will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days in a sealed container.

The cute little Cinco de Mayo sign is from Squareview Studios. It was the perfect added touch to dress up our fiesta!Cinco de Mayo sign

A Fresh New Color ~ White Pepper Crème Brûlée

White Pepper Crème BrûléeI painted our living room a fresh new color this month as a part of my spring cleaning. The light gray I chose is called “white pepper.” (Don’t you love all of the creative names paint companies come up with for different shades?)

To celebrate the new look, I baked a dessert! I made a unique and delicious flavor of crème brûlée by adding a little white pepper to the custard. The pepper is very subtle. It shows up as an understated flavor at the end of a bite, and after a couple of bites, you start to sense a peppery heat on your tongue. It is unexpected but delightful!

A crème brûlée recipe from Bon Appétit magazine inspired me, but I used my lighter recipe as the base.

White Pepper Crème Brûlée

Serves 2

8 ounces 2% milk

3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus about 2 tablespoons for the top

3 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 325 F.

Whisk together the milk and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, taking care not to bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a large bowl over ice. Cool down until lukewarm. Then whisk in the egg yolks, pepper, and vanilla extract.

Strain the mixture into a container with a spout. Pour the custard into 2 4-ounce ramekins or 4 2-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking dish. Heat some water until almost boiling, and pour the water carefully around the ramekins until it reaches about halfway up the sides. (Make sure none of the water gets into the custard.)

Bake for about 38 minutes for the smaller ramekins, or 45 minutes for the larger ramekins, or until set. They should still have a slight jiggle in the middle when tapped.

Cool in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving, or overnight.

Right before serving, dust a little sugar evenly over the top of the custards so they are covered. Caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch.White Pepper Crème Brûlée

It’s April Fool’s Day! ~ Meatloaf Cake

Meatloaf CakeI made a cake today. Just an average, ordinary cake. I promise, nothing weird, nothing out of the ordinary. OK, so maybe not everyone goes for mashed potato frosting. And chive sprinkles might be a little unconventional. But it all makes sense when you know the cake is a meatloaf! 😉 Welcome to my April Fool’s Day dinner.Meatloaf CakeI used a delicious turkey meatloaf recipe from Health magazine. (Here’s the link.) I evenly spread out the meatloaf mixture in a 9 by 9 inch pan rather than making it into a loaf shape. After the meatloaf baked and cooled, I cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter for individual cakes. I mashed the potatoes with a little skim milk and salt to taste. Then I covered the meatloaf round with the mashed potatoes. I used an offset spatula to smooth the top and sides, and a piping bag with a star tip to decorate. Note: Make sure your potatoes are very smooth and creamy or they will clog up the star tip. (I won’t tell you how I learned that. 😉 ) Leave the cakes white to showcase the potato “frosting,” or sprinkle with chive “sprinkles.” (Or get creative and add peas, carrots, or anything else you can imagine! This is a day to play and have fun.)

I hope April is the start of a spring filled with good things!Meatloaf Cake

Easter Brunch Addition ~ Quail Scotch Eggs with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesWhat’s better for Easter brunch than Scotch eggs? Two different kinds of Scotch eggs! 😉Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesIn addition to crab Scotch eggs, I made one more version with cute little quail eggs encased in smoked halibut mashed potatoes. It was a festive little dish that was a perfect accompaniment to our Easter brunch.Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesQuail Scotch Eggs with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

Inspired by a recipe from BBC Good Food

1 large russet potato

Skim milk, to taste

Smoked halibut, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

10 quail eggs

1 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour

2 beaten eggs

1 cup (approximately) panko

Peel and coarsely chop the potato. Add to a medium saucepan. Fill the pan with cold water so the potatoes are covered. Bring the water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they are tender. Drain the water. Mash the potatoes, adding the milk a little at a time to thin them out into a thick and creamy texture that will hold up around the eggs. Flake the smoked fish with your fingers and add it to the potatoes. Mix well. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, fill a medium saucepan with water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, adjust the heat so the water stays at a gentle boil. Add the quail eggs. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs immediately after 3 minutes and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Carefully remove the shells.

Gently press and shape a couple of tablespoons of the fish and potato mixture around each egg. The result should be in the shape of an egg.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Add the flour, beaten eggs, and panko to three separate shallow bowls.

Roll the potato-covered eggs in the flour, making sure they are completely coated. Gently knock off the excess flour. Then roll the eggs into the beaten egg until they are fully coated. Let the excess beaten egg drip off. Finally, roll the eggs in the panko. Press gently to make sure the crumbs stick.

Lay the panko-covered eggs slightly apart on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops of the eggs lightly with cooking spray to help them brown. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

PS. I made mine with smoked halibut, but I think hot smoked salmon would also be delicious.

PPS. Here’s sending you one final happy Easter wish!!Quail Scotch Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

Easter Brunch ~ Crab Scotch Eggs

Crab Scotch EggHappy Easter!

This year I made a couple different Scotch egg recipes to get into the spirit of the holiday. :) A traditional Scotch egg is a boiled egg surrounded by pork sausage, breaded, and deep-fried. To make a lighter and more Pacific Northwestern version that also felt like a dish worthy of Easter Sunday, I made crab Scotch eggs. :) Yum! My favorite crab cake recipe transformed (and got a little British!) to make this special dish. I made my Scotch eggs hard-boiled, but I’m sure the molten center of a soft-boiled egg would also be lovely.

Crab Scotch Eggs

6 large eggs

For the crab cake mixture:

1 pound cooked and shelled Dungeness crab meat

1/4 cup finely diced celery

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1/4 cup panko

For the coating:

1 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour

2 beaten eggs

1 cup (approximately) panko

Preheat your oven to 475 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Gently place the eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat the pan over high heat. Once the water starts to boil, cook the eggs for 5 minutes. (Turn the heat down accordingly so the eggs don’t bounce around too much in the boiling water, but make sure the water continues to boil gently.) Remove the eggs immediately after 5 minutes and submerge in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Peel the eggs. Set aside.

For the crab cake mixture:

Make sure your crab doesn’t have any hidden bits of shell mixed in before you begin. In a large bowl, mix the celery, chives, mayonnaise, egg, mustard, and hot sauce with a fork. Then add the crab and panko. Stir gently until everything is well blended.

Shape and gently press the crab mixture around the boiled eggs until they are completely encased.

For the coating:

Add the flour, beaten eggs, and panko to three separate shallow bowls.

Once the boiled eggs are coated in the crab cake mixture, roll them in the flour, making sure they are completely coated. Gently knock off the excess flour. Then roll the eggs into the beaten egg until they are fully coated. Let the excess beaten egg drip off. Finally, roll the eggs in the panko. Press gently to make sure the crumbs stick.

Lay the panko-covered eggs slightly apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.Crab Scotch Egg

Happy Easter! ~ Bird’s Nest Sugar Cookies

Bird's Nest Sugar CookiesTo celebrate Easter this year, I made these sweet little bird’s nest sugar cookies. This is a popular Easter cookie idea, and for good reason…They are adorable and easy to make. I used my whole-wheat sugar cookie recipe to make my version of these little nests. It’s a fun challenge to dress up the same dough for different holidays. :) Using this same recipe, I made hot cocoa cookie cups for Christmas, double heart cookies for Valentine’s Day, and now these little nests for Easter. Hmm…What can I make for Mother’s Day, or for a summer celebration cookie?

Bird’s Nest Sugar Cookies

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

Unsweetened shredded coconut (approximately 1 1/2 cups)

White chocolate (approximately 1/4 cup to attach the jelly beans)

Jelly beans (approximately 1 cup) (I used the naturally flavored and colored beans from Trader Joe’s)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into approximately 1-inch balls between your hands. Flatten the balls slightly and form a small well in the center of each so they are the shape of nests. Roll each cookie into the coconut, gently pressing the coconut into the dough to make sure it sticks. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until slightly firm, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate. Spoon a small amount of the melted chocolate into the middle of each cooled cookie, and attach three jelly beans to the chocolate. Allow to set completely before serving.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter Sunday!Bird's Nest Sugar Cookies

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ~ Homemade Irish Cream

Irish CreamIt’s the month to celebrate all things Irish! :) Every year I love to make an Irish dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This year, I decided to try making Irish cream from scratch, which is one of my favorite Irish treats. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this tastes like Baileys! My version is made with coconut milk instead of cream and I only used a little bit of maple syrup for sweetness. It isn’t quite as rich or sweet as the original Baileys, but my hubby (who is part Irish!) and I thought it was lovely. I hope you’ll give it a try and add it to your celebration on the 17th. :)

I filled tiny liquor bottles with the Irish cream and pasted festive little St. Patrick’s Day labels on the front. The free (and super cute!) artwork can be found at the website How to Nest for Less.

Homemade Irish Cream

1 can (approximately 14 ounces) full-fat coconut milk

1 teaspoon cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey (or more if you’d like it a little boozier)

2 tablespoons maple syrup (or more if you’d like it a little sweeter)

In a blender, add all of the ingredients. Blend until the cocoa and espresso are dissolved and everything is combined, about 15 seconds. Chill before serving. After it is chilled, it will separate a little, so pour into glasses through a strainer to ensure an even consistency.

Sláinte!Irish Cream

The Oscars ~ Steak Oscar Canapés

Steak Oscar CanapésToday is Oscar Sunday! What would I like to nibble on while I watch the show? Steak Oscar, of course! 😉 I couldn’t think of anything more perfect!Steak Oscar CanapésSteak Oscar is typically an entrée consisting of a beef tenderloin steak, crab, asparagus, and Béarnaise sauce. I made mine into bite-sized canapés that would be perfect to pass around an Oscar party. I topped a small rectangle of toasted bread with a Béarnaise-inspired sour cream sauce, small slices of beef tenderloin, a little bit of Dungeness crab, and an asparagus tip. Serve on a pretty platter, and it is ready for the red carpet! 😉Steak Oscar CanapésSteak Oscar Canapés

High heat cooking oil, such as safflower

1 small shallot, minced

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 tablespoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced

4 slices artisan bread, crusts removed (I used The Essential Baking Company’s sliced Columbia)

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

6 ounces beef tenderloin

1 bunch asparagus

2 ounces fresh lump Dungeness crab meat

To begin, make the Béarnaise sour cream sauce. Heat a small pan with a lid over medium heat. Add the high heat cooking oil and the shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat the shallots with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are softened but not caramelized. Let cool.

In the meantime, mix together the sour cream, mustard, vinegar, and tarragon in a small bowl. When the shallots are cool, mix them into the sour cream mixture. Season to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the bread into small rectangles. Place the rectangles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the bread with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until warm and slightly crisp on the outside, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat a small skillet over high heat. Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Add high heat cooking oil to the hot pan, and when the oil is hot and shimmering, add the steak. Sear on both sides, until caramelized and cooked to your liking. Once cooked, set aside on a cutting board, tented with foil, and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Cut against the grain into thin slices.

In a medium skillet with a lid, add the asparagus and a splash of water. Season with salt and pepper. Steam with the lid on until the asparagus is tender crisp. Cut off the tips, and reserve the remaining asparagus as a side dish for another night.Steak Oscar CanapésTo assemble:

Spread a small amount of the Béarnaise sour cream sauce on each piece of toasted bread. Top with a small slice of beef, a tiny mound of crab, and the tip of an asparagus spear.

Serve immediately.Steak Oscar Canapés

It’s National Margarita Day! ~ Kumquat Margarita

Kumquat MargaritaToday is National Margarita Day! This little known holiday can brighten up a dark rainy day in the middle of winter. :)

I had some kumquats left over in my refrigerator, and I thought this was a perfect use for them. If life gives you kumquats, make margaritas! 😉

Kumquat Margarita

Makes 1 drink

8 kumquats

1/2 ounce lime juice

1 1/2 ounces silver tequila

1/2 ounce orange liqueur

1/4 ounce agave nectar (or more if you would like it a tad sweeter)

Slice the kumquats and remove the seeds. Run one kumquat over the rim of a glass and dip the glass in kosher salt so the rim is evenly salted. Place all of the kumquats into a cocktail shaker and muddle them until their juice is released. Add the remaining ingredients and crushed ice. Shake until cold. Strain into the salt rimmed glass. Serve with more crushed ice.

Cheers!Kumquat Margarita

Valentine’s Day Dinner ~ Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange SauceOur Valentine dinner was a celebration of winter citrus! I love that citrus fruit comes into season in the middle of the winter months, just when we can use a bit of brightness. I thought it would be fun to choose a variety of citrus fruits, and then base my menu on what I found at the market.

I ended up with kumquats, blood oranges, Buddha’s hand, and a pomelo. This was my first time playing with Buddha’s hand, which was quite a discovery! I would highly recommend picking one up if you see it at the market. The scent is lovely, and the taste is distinctly different than any other citrus I have tried before. I really enjoyed exploring what I could do with the fruit. A culinary adventure! :)Scallops and Fennel Salad with Tarragon Kumquat VinaigretteWe began our dinner with scallops and fennel salad, all dressed in a tarragon and kumquat vinaigrette. The main course was seared duck breast with a blood orange sauce. Then for dessert we had Buddha’s hand cheesecake with candied Buddha’s hand on top. It was all paired with a sparkling wine pomelo cocktail and a delicious red wine from Orange Coast Winery.

I think our favorite dish of the night was the duck. The recipe was based on a duck bigarade recipe, which is a dish traditionally made with Seville oranges. I used blood oranges that were a little tart since I thought the blood orange color was perfect for Valentine’s Day!Buddha's Hand CheesecakeSeared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

Based on a recipe from Epicurious.com

Serves 2

2 duck breasts

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice

1 tablespoon orange liqueur

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Zest of 1/2 blood orange, for garnish

Flesh of 1-2 blood oranges, for garnish

Salt the duck breasts generously on both sides, and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Pat the duck dry with a paper towel. Once the pan is hot, place the duck breasts into the pan, skin side down. Sear about 6 minutes on the skin side, and about 4 minutes on the flesh side, or until golden on the outside and still a little pink (medium) on the inside. (Of course, if you like your red meat cooked more, by all means cook it a little longer.) When the duck is cooked to your liking, set it aside on a cutting board. Tent with foil.

While the duck rests, discard all but 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in the pan. Turn the pan onto medium heat. Add the flour to the hot fat, and whisk until well combined. Cook until it is the color of a café au lait.

Slowly whisk in the stock, orange juice, orange liqueur, and vinegar. Pour any juices that may have accumulated around the duck into the sauce. Boil the sauce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Salt and pepper to taste. Optional: Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer for a smoother consistency.

Remove the fat from the duck breast. Thinly slice the meat, and serve with the sauce, orange zest and orange slices.Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

To Top Off Valentine’s Day ~ Chocolate Frosting

Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingI was on a Valentine baking streak! 😉 I made one more batch of hidden heart cupcakes, and I decorated them a little differently for some variety. I don’t typically frost my cupcakes, but I figured everyone needs a little chocolate on Valentine’s Day, no? 😉Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingIf I’m completely honest, I didn’t fill my second batch of cupcakes full enough of yellow cake batter, so the hearts weren’t completely hidden after I baked them. That led me to figure out a frosting solution. Sometimes unexpected and good ideas come out of mistakes! I thought that was a good Valentine cupcake lesson for the day. 😉Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingChocolate Frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (or more if you would like it sweeter)

4 tablespoons skim milk

Whisk all of the ingredients together until smooth. (That’s it!)Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingI used a few of my tiny heart-shaped sugar cookies to top these cupcakes. I made sure to place them along the middle so I knew where to cut the cupcakes to reveal the heart inside.Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frosting

One More Valentine Sweet! ~ Hidden Heart Cupcakes

Hidden Heart CupcakesI made one more Valentine sweet for my sweet. :) These hidden heart cupcakes are another idea inspired by Cupcake Jemma that I just couldn’t resist trying! I think they are so adorable. :)

I made mine with a beet whole-wheat red velvet cake in the middle and a simple whole-wheat yellow cake for the outside. The yellow cake was from a recipe I made before, but the red velvet cake was new for me. I think the red velvet would also be delicious on its own, so you might see more red velvet cakes in the future!Hidden Heart CupcakesHidden Heart Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cake:

3/4 cup packed beet pulp

1/4 cup light olive oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup skim milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Yellow Cake:

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup light olive oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons skim milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the red velvet cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spray a 9-inch cake pan with oil. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Steam the beet pulp until it is tender. Purée in a food processor. When the beets are puréed, add the oil and sugar, and process until smooth. Add the egg, and process until incorporated. Then add the milk and vanilla, and process until smooth.

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Whisk until well combined. Then add the beet mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Fill the prepared cake tin, and bake for about 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool.

Once the cake is cool, invert it onto a cutting board. With a small heart-shaped cookie cutter (approximately 1-inch high), punch hearts out of the cake. Squeeze the cake in the cookie cutter with your fingers so it is compact. Gently work the cake hearts out of the cookie cutters and set aside. The hearts can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator.

For the yellow cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a standard sized muffin tin with baking liners.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until well incorporated. Add half of the dry ingredients, and whisk until combined. Then add the milk and vanilla, and whisk until combined. Finally, add the remaining dry ingredients, and whisk until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.

To assemble:

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the yellow cake batter into the bottom of each lined muffin cup. Bake for about 5 minutes, until slightly set, but not completely baked. Place a heart, tip side down, into each muffin cup. The semi-baked batter should hold it upright. Fill the cups with the remaining batter until they are about 4/5 full. The top of the heart will still be visible.

Bake for about 17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the yellow cake comes out clean.Hidden Heart CupcakesDecorate with powdered sugar or chocolate frosting. (Recipe for the frosting to follow!) For this batch I used my set of Valentine cupcake stencils for the top. A simple dusting of powdered sugar was all they needed. I made sure to keep all of my cakes in alignment and dusted the designs in the same direction so I knew which way to cut into the cakes to reveal the heart.Hidden Heart Cupcakes

Valentine Sweets ~ Double Heart Cookies

Double Heart CookiesI just love all of the cute Valentine desserts at this time of the year, so I decided to get an early start to give myself plenty of time to make a few! I started with these sweet little sugar cookies. This idea was inspired by a British baker named Cupcake Jemma. I love watching her weekly recipe videos, which are filled with some very cute and festive ideas throughout the year.Double Heart CookiesI used my whole-wheat sugar cookie recipe from my Christmas cookies last year, and I dyed half of them pink with beet juice. The beet flavor doesn’t come through, but the color is very pretty. For a little variety, I also made some of them into stained glass window cookies with cinnamon hard candy melted in the middle.Double Heart CookiesDouble Heart Cookies

2 raw beets

Approximately 1/4 cup cinnamon hard candies (if you would like to make some of the stained glass window cookies…otherwise, omit)

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

To make the beet juice to dye the pink cookies, start by putting on latex gloves if you have them. Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler. Grate the beets on a grater or with a grater attachment of a food processor. With cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel you don’t care about, squeeze out as much juice as you can. (Reserve the pulp for the red velvet cake recipe to follow!)

To prepare the candy for the stained glass cookies, place the hard candy in a plastic zip lock bag. With a meat mallet, smash the candy into fine pieces.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Divide the dough in half. Into one half of the dough, add as much of the beet juice as you like for the color you desire. (Keep in mind, the color fades slightly when baked.) Thoroughly knead the juice into the dough for an even color.

Wrap the two pieces of dough separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the two pieces of dough until they are between about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

Cut out the dough with a large heart-shaped cookie cutter. In the middle of each large heart use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out a smaller heart in the center. Reserve the smaller hearts.

Transfer the larger hearts to a cookie sheet.

For the stained glass window cookies, fill the center of each large heart with an even layer of the crushed candy. The candy will bubble up slightly when baked, so don’t fill the cookies to the top.

For the remaining cookies, fill the hole with the smaller hearts in the opposite colored dough.

Bake for approximately 7 minutes, turning the pan once, until the cookies are cooked through and the candy is melted.Double Heart Cookies

Happy New Year ~ Cucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

Cucumber Cups with Crudités and DipHappy New Year! I hope you had a fun and festive celebration to ring in the New Year, whether it was big or small. :)

In addition to the beef Wellington canapés, I also made these cute little cucumber cups yesterday. This is a way to dress up plain vegetables so they are ready for a party! :)Cucumber Cups with Crudités and DipCucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

2 large English cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds

Bottled ranch dressing (or any dip of your choice)

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks

2 medium celery stalks, cut into thin sticks

With a small melon baller, scoop out most of the seeds from the cucumbers. Make sure not to scoop all the way to the bottom so the dressing can be contained in the cup.

Add about a ½ teaspoon of dressing to the bottom of each cup. It won’t look like a lot, but when the carrots and celery are added, the dressing will rise up the sides a little.

Add as many of the carrots and celery sticks as you like to each cup.

PS. The appetizer in the background was another fun way to dress up carrots for the party. :) I simply peeled a large carrot lengthwise so I ended up with long strips. Then I piped a small bit of store-bought hummus along each strip and rolled them up. The hummus acted as the glue. The finishing touch was a little more hummus piped inside the middle, and a thin round slice of carrot on the bottom as the base.Cucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

New Year’s Eve Party! ~ Beef Wellington Canapés

Beef Wellington CanapésAs 2015 is coming to a close, I made these mini beef Wellington canapés as my last hurrah of the year. :) These little Wellingtons had all of the flavors of their full-sized counterpart – puff pastry, mushrooms, beef tenderloin, and prosciutto. They were fun and festive, and oh so cute!Beef Wellington CanapésBeef Wellington Canapés

6 ounces crimini mushrooms

1 sprig thyme

1 splash dry white wine

1 sheet puff pastry, refrigerated

1 egg, beaten

4 ounces beef tenderloin

Approximately 5 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms until they are approximately the size of coarse breadcrumbs. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, cook the mushrooms (without oil) with the sprig of thyme until the mushrooms are dry. Add a splash of white wine, and cook until the pan is dry once again. Remove the thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured work surface until it is about double in height and width. With a pizza wheel or pasta roller, cut the pastry into small squares. Place the squares on the prepared sheet pan. Cover the pastry with another piece of parchment, and cover the sheet pan with another sheet pan so they are nesting. This will ensure that your puff pastry won’t puff too much. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the top pan and top parchment paper. Let the pastry cool enough so you can handle it, and then lightly brush the beaten egg on each piece. Bake for 3 minutes more, or until shiny and golden.

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Sear until the meat is done to your liking. After it has rested for 5 minutes, slice as thinly as possible.

To assemble, scoop a small spoonful of the mushroom mixture on the top of each piece of puff pastry. Top with a thin slice of steak. Roll a small piece of prosciutto into a tiny tube, and place it on top of the steak. Serve immediately.Beef Wellington Canapés

Happy Christmas! ~ Star-Topped Mince Pies

Star-Topped Mince PiesHappy Christmas! I hope you had a lovely Christmas Day. :)

These sweet little star-topped mince pies were the grand finale of my Christmas dinner this year. They were the perfect finish, and just the right size after a beef Wellington feast.

I used Nigella Lawson’s cranberry mincemeat recipe with a few small changes. I replaced the brown sugar with a diced apple and a little extra honey, I used two oranges rather than one, and I added a dash more of brandy, since it was Christmas after all! 😉

For the crust, I used store-bought pastry cups, but I also made my own pastry. I could have just used the ready made cups, but I really wanted to make stars for the top. :-) Then I had a lot of extra dough after making the stars, so I made some homemade shells, as well. They weren’t as fancy as the ones I bought, but I actually preferred the texture and taste. Using a food processor, the pastry is very easy to make…It literally only takes 5 minutes, so I figured I could fit that into my holiday schedule. 😉 This is the same short crust pastry dough I used for my meat pies this September, and it worked as beautifully for sweet as it did for savory.Star-Topped Mince PiesStar-Topped Mince Pies

Cranberry Mincemeat

Recipe based on Nigella Lawson’s cranberry studded mincemeat

¼ cup port

½ apple, peeled and diced

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup currants

½ cup raisins

¼ cup dried cranberries

2 clementine oranges, zested and juiced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 drops almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the port, apple, fresh (or frozen) cranberries, and spices. Cook until the cranberries begin to bubble and pop. Then add the currants, raisins, dried cranberries, and the orange zest and juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the fruit has absorbed most of the liquid. If you still have many whole cranberries, you can squish them with your spoon to help them incorporate into the mixture. Remove the pan from the heat. Then add the brandy, extracts, and honey. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Let the mincemeat cool before using in your pies.Star-Topped Mince PiesWhole-Wheat Short Crust Pastry

Based on a recipe from BBC

125 grams ivory whole-wheat flour

Pinch of salt

55 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed

Approximately 5 tablespoons ice water

With a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, and butter until the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually add the water until the mixture comes together. Add only enough water to combine everything. You may not need a full 5 tablespoons. Form the dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before rolling it out. It also freezes well. Just take it out of the freezer and refrigerate the night before you will need it.Star-Topped Mince PiesTo assemble, grease a mini muffin pan very well, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a very thin sheet. Cut out circles for the crust and stars for the top. Carefully fill the muffin pan with the crusts, fill each crust with the cooled mincemeat, and top with a pastry star. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden, and the bottom crusts are baked through. Let cool before serving.Star-Topped Mince Pies