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Archive for the ‘desserts’ Category


Chocolate Love

I hope everyone is enjoying their Valentine’s Day this year. If you already bought truffles or chocolates for your partner, bookmark this recipe. But don’t wait till next Valentine’s Day to prepare these. Pick a random day that’s not February 14. Buy some flowers. Prepare a special dinner that you both enjoy. Then pull these out for dessert. They’re amazing. These espresso-infused chocolate truffles melt in your mouth and pack a jolt of espresso. They’re also incredibly simple to make — as long as you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

mise en place
mise en place
coffee infusion
coffee_infusion
chocolate + cream
chocolate + cream
ooey, gooey chocolate
ooey gooey chocolate
chocolate mounds
chocolate mounds
form into balls
chocolate_balls
chocolate love
chocolate love

Espresso-Infused Chocolate Truffles

yields 20-24 chocolate truffles

Components

  • 5.5 oz dark chocolate* (I use 60-70%)
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Putting them all together

  1. Chop chocolate into small chunks with a serrated knife.
  2. Heat up the cream to a boil, add the instant espresso powder, then remove from the heat.
  3. Add chopped chocolate and stir gently until completely dissolved.
  4. Pour chocolate ganache into a bowl and set aside until it reaches room temperature. Place mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to cool down even further (this helps form the mounds).
  5. Using two spoons scoop small mounds of cooled chocolate ganache onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Wear food-safe gloves and smooth out the chocolate mounds into balls (if the chocolate starts to melt quickly, throw the mounds back in the fridge for a few minutes).
  7. Toss the chocolate balls in cocoa powder and enjoy.

Note: *Make sure to use the best quality chocolate you can find because the flavor will come through. Valrhona, Callebaut, and El Rey are some of my favorite brands.

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a bite of heaven
a bite of heaven

Piece of Cake

Buying my first house was a huge step. The experience was filled with a thrill, panic, and excitement that I’ll never forget! I shared some horror stories in my last post, but homeownership has its upsides. I bought a historic row home from the late 1800s with beautiful exposed brick and a charm that makes me happy to come home.

I recently converted the inside panels of my kitchen cabinets into a magnetic spice rack. Out of all the DIY projects I’ve worked on this past year, this has been my favorite! I was able to clear an entire shelf of precious cabinet real estate and now I can see my spices front and center. I documented the process with my iPhone.

before: spice cabinet in disarray
spice cabinet disarray
materials for project
materials for project

If you plan on doing this, make sure you use gloves while working with the sheet metal. The edges are extremely sharp! I ended up cutting two pieces of sheet metal by hand using the snips in the photo. They came out ok, but not perfectly straight. It also took a really long time and considerable effort to cut each piece. That’s when I decided to called a few local metal fabricators. One of them was really nice and helped me cut the remaining two pieces perfectly straight using their industrial-sized cutter. I wish I had a picture of this — their machine was huge! It took less than a second per cut and they came out perfect.

measuring & marking the panel
measuring & marking the panel

The inside of my cabinets have a little curve at the top that I wanted to recreate in the sheet metal. The metal fabricator who cut the metal for me recommended I do this part by hand. I traced the curvature of the cabinet onto a sheet of paper. Then I cut the paper into a stencil that I used to re-trace the curve onto the sheet metal.

sand away the rough edges
sand away the rough edges

Sanding metal is important to remove any sharp edges. Interestingly enough, it also helps remove any scratches. The best way to get rid of scratches on the sheet metal are to blend them in with more scratches. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

clean cabinets
cleaning cabinets

Before you can adhere the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet, you have to make sure the cabinet is clean and dry. Unmount the cabinet doors from the hinges and wipe them clean with your favorite cleaner. Make sure the doors are completely dry before moving on to the next step.

100% silicone caulk
100% silicone caulk

Use 100% silicone caulk to mount the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet doors. Apply the silicone liberally, but not too close to the edge so that it doesn’t ooze out from the sides.

weights
weights

Apply some weights on the sheet metal while the silicone cures. This is a good time to go do something else: watch a movie, read a book, etc. I left my cabinets like this for a few hours to make sure the silicone had set.

the final project
the final product

Once the silicone has finished curing, you can mount the doors back on their hinge. Fill your spice tins with your favorite spices and you’re set!

clear labels
clear labels

I hope you enjoyed this DIY post! Now, onto the food. If you haven’t tried this Sicilian Orange-Infused Olive Oil cake from Saveur, you absolutely must. The recipe calls for two entire oranges that get pureed into the batter, skin, flesh, and everything. This is a common technique in Italy; it helps impart a wonderful citrus flavor.

I discovered this recipe while living in Italy back in 2007. My host mom made it for me a couple of times. She didn’t follow any recipe. She made it from memory and it came out perfect each time. This is the closest I’ve come to recreating my host mom’s cake.

2007: Making biscotti with my Italian host mom
mise en place
mise en place
cut oranges into quarters
cut oranges into quarters
boil orange quarters thrice
boil orange quarters twice
pureed oranges
pureed oranges
pour batter into cake pan
pour batter into cake pan
simple orange glaze
simple orange glaze
apply glaze
apply glaze
piece of cake!
“piece

Orange-Infused Olive Oil Cake

yields 1 cake

Components

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 ⅓ cups sugar
  • unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2½ cups flour, plus more for pan
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Sea salt, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Trim the tops and bottoms of the oranges — enough to barely expose the flesh.
  2. Quarter the oranges lengthwise.
  3. Bring 6 cups water to a boil and add the quartered oranges. Bring the water back to a boil and drain. Repeat this process twice more with fresh water. This will help cut the bitterness in the orange.
  4. Put oranges, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups water into a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves and the orange rind can be easily pierced with a knife (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan with butter and dust with flour.
  6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
  7. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and puree the orange quartered in a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée.
  8. Add remaining sugar, flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs, olive oil, and process until incorporated, about 1 minute.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  10. In a small bowl, whisk fresh orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze.
  11. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely. Garnish cake with salt.

Note: Recipe modified slightly from Saveur.

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cake served
cake_served

World Peace, a step in the right direction

It is difficult to write about my experiences in Syria knowing that the country is on the brink of civil war and chaos. It breaks my heart. I also realize that not writing anything won’t necessarily make things better, either. And giving up on my blog — the thing that used to bring me so much happiness — is the last thing I want to do.

mise en placemise_en_place

I want to keep today’s post short with the promise that I’ll be back again soon. I won’t disappear like I did before, you have my word. Thank you to all those who nudged me (physically and electronically) and encouraged me to continue writing. It may have taken me a while, but I’m here.

creaming processmixing

Today’s recipe is not one that I learned on my Fulbright in Syria, although I still have plenty of those to share with you, too. This is a recipe that I’ve come across many times on some of my favorite food blogs: World Peace Cookies. It even made it to Saveur’s list, Recipes that Rocked the Internet. Given all that is going on, I thought this was the perfect time to try such an alluring cookie.

sift for clumpssifting

Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé originally developed these cookies for a restaurant in Paris, and Dorie Greenspan introduced them to the world in her book, Paris Sweets . The original name for the cookies was Sables Korova, or Korova Cookies, named after the restaurant off Champs Élysées that Pierre Hermé created the recipe for. It was not until Dorie’s neighbor tasted these these ultra decadent, chocolate-intense cookies that the name changed to what we know today. Dorie’s neighbor was convinced that a daily dose of these is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness; thus the new name was born.

chocolate: the ‘peace’ in ‘world peace’adding_chocolate

I used Dorie’s recipe, except I took the liberty to add a pinch of orange zest to the dough; the combination of orange and chocolate makes my heart swoon. You could always leave that addition out if you’d like. The point is, these cookies are amazing any way you prepare them. They are crumbly and chocolatey and even if they don’t bring world peace immediately, I’m fully convinced, as was Dorie’s neighbor, that they are a step in the right direction.

refrigerate dough (in logs)logs
cookie doughcookie_dough
freshly bakedsheet_tray
World Peace Cookiesworld_peace_cookies1
cold milk: enabler of world peace world_peace_cookies2

World Peace Cookies

yields approx 36 cookies

Components

  • 1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips
  • zest of half an orange*(not in original recipe)

Putting them all together

  1. Mix together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer on medium speed until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. You can also use a hand mixer. Add the salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix for a couple more minutes.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Pulse a few times at a low speed to incorporate the flour and prevent it from spilling. Add the chocolate chunks and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, or until the flour is fully incorporated. Do not overwork the dough; the dough should still look and feel crumbly. Divide the dough in two and form into logs approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Roll each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (you can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days or freeze the dough for 2 months).
  3. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. With a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into disks that are 1/2 inch thick. Don’t worry if the disks crack as you cut them, just squeeze the bits back together. Arrange the sliced disks on your baking sheets, making sure to leave about an inch between each cookie.
  5. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes. Note that they will still be soft and won’t look done, but that’s how they should be. Cool the cookies on a cookie rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Make sure to store leftover cookies (if there are any) in an airtight container.

Notes: Recipe adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan.

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if not world peace, then happiness, for sureempty_glass

rice pudding, a great start to 2011

First post of 2011. Here it goes:

On the first day of the new year my aunt and I were invited to her brother’s house for a traditional Aleppan New Years lunch, Kibbeh b’Labaniyeh (كبة بلبنية): kibbeh balls slowly cooked in a creamy yogurt sauce finished with a saute of minced garlic; the garnish: fragrant flecks of dried mint and a sprinkle of spicy paprika; the taste: heavenly. This is the mac-and-cheese of Middle Eastern food — comfort snuggled in a bowl. Its character is similar to that of a stew, hearty and satisfying. Kibbeh b’Labaniyeh is popular across Syria and Lebanon in the cold winter months, however, Christian families across Aleppo serve this dish as a traditional lunch on New Years to symbolize a clean, pure start to the year ahead. I blogged about it before and included a recipe. You must try it while the weather is still cold.

kibbeh blabaniyeh (كبة بلبنية)
kibbeh blabaniyeh

The festivities in Aleppo, however, continue well past New Years day. This is something I thought was interesting and worth exploring. It makes sense that not everyone gets to spend the holidays with their extended network on the day of the actual celebration. That’s why in Aleppo families usually host small, relatively informal gatherings days after the holidays, in this case Christmas and New Years, where they invite friends and extended family they didn’t have the opportunity to be with. I went to a few of these gatherings with my aunt. Regardless of how informal these gatherings are, you can rest assured food is involved; in Aleppo, it always is.

Coffee, assorted nuts, chocolates, cake, tea, and spreads like hummus are usually the common denominator; these are things that are almost expected at these gatherings. My aunt’s sister-in-law, for example, presented the usual spread of starters, and also offered her guests a variety of her homemade fruit preserves, which included preserved walnuts, a preserve that takes over a month to prepare. Very few people still know how to make it properly (I’m working on a recipe).

I became inspired by these gatherings; a wonderful way to celebrate with everyone you love, regardless of the day. Since my aunt has five children, two who live abroad, and each with their own families, I proposed hosting a gathering at her place, and insisted I would help setup. My aunt, actually my grandmother’s sister, usually gets invited by her kids to spend time at their homes; I had a feeling she missed having them over at her house. Like a typical Halabiye (Aleppan), the first question she asked was, what should we make?

We decided that the star of the occasion should be rice pudding (رز بالحليب) to go along with the white theme.

My first job for this gathering was to buy the milk for the rice pudding. My aunt sent me to a dukan, or “small shop” in Arabic. Think of a dukan like a convenience store minus the slurpees and abundance of junk food. The dukan I visited sells olives, shankleesh (type of Middle Eastern cheese–see picture below), yogurt, milk, eggs, and other pantry staples.

milk, cheeses and pantry items
dukan
milkman
milkman

When I asked for milk, the first question I got was “how many kilos?”. I have never bought milk in kilogram before, only liters and gallons.

I first asked for three kilos of milk, unsure of how many kilos my aunt needed for the recipe. The milkman opened a large stainless steel cooler against the back wall of the dukan and with a big ladle, began to pour milk into a plastic bag. It didn’t look like a lot, so I asked if he could fill me up another bag with three additional kilos. This is fresh, unpasturized milk, which, the milkman told me, had to be boiled before use. I paid 120 Syrian pounds, approximately $2.50, for what turned out to be a gallon and a half of unpasturized milk (1 kilo of milk is approximately equivalent to 1 Liter).

mise en place
mise en place

The debate between short grain vs long grain when it comes to rice pudding is endless. A shorter grain has more starch and will yield a thicker, almost risotto-like, rice pudding, while the longer grain rice will retain its texture more and not give off as must starch into the milk. My aunt uses short grain or what they refer to in Aleppo as riz musry (رز مصري), or Egyptian rice.

short grain rice
short grain rice
give it a good rinse
rinse rice

Once the milk comes to a simmer, you add the rice into the milk, along with about 1 cup of water. The extra cup of water helps cook the rice better, according to my aunt, who says that it is meant to replace the water that evaporates during the cooking process. I feel that the extra cup of water also helps cut the richness of the milk.

in goes the rice
add rice
one for everyone
individual bowls
rice pudding (رز بالحليب)
rice pudding

Rice Pudding

yields approximately 8-10 servings

Components

  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 3 liters milk
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp orange blossom water
  • ground cinnamon, garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse rice in water 3-5 times or until water doesn’t turn completely a deep white from the starch.
  2. Bring milk to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add rice, along with 1 cup of water, and lower heat to medium low.
  4. Stir occasionally in the beginning and more often as the rice cooks to avoid rice sticking or burning to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Cook for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, or until pudding reaches a consistency slightly thinner than desired — remember it will continue to thicken in the refrigerator.
  6. Add sugar and continue to cook for 5-10 more minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and add orange blossom water.
  8. Scoop into individual serving bowls, garnish with ground cinnamon and refrigerate for at least a few hours or until ready to eat.

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excitement
excitement
yum!
eating rice pudding
Happy 2011*
shiny objects

*Photo Credit: Zaki Khanji

My latest, favorite granola

Thank you for all the wonderful emails and congratulatory comments on my Fulbright post. I have a feeling this is going to be an incredible culinary journey that I hope we can take together — you and me, traveling through Syria. It’s going to be awesome. Just be sure to bring a hearty appetite (and definitely a pair of loose-fitted pants).

A few readers asked whether I will keep this blog or start a new one. My plan is to continue blogging here and tag my upcoming posts with a Fulbright tag for easy reference. Before I go abroad, however, since I can’t cook a huge dinner to thank everyone for their amazing support, although this is what my grandmother would insist on, I decided to give away my mamoul mold instead; my small way of saying thank you. This is the same mold I used for these mini mamoul cookies a while back.

To enter in the drawing, simply leave a comment about your latest, favorite recipe. This is the theme of today’s post. On September 15, before I fly to Syria, I will randomly select one commenter from this post and ship the mold to them, anywhere around the world.

traditional mamoul mold giveaway
mamoul mold

Even though I should probably be packing right now, I would feel terrible if I didn’t tell you about this delicious granola I’ve been making. I’ve tweeted about it a few times, and last night I made my third batch in less than a week. It’s so good, it makes me happy just writing about it.

I got this idea from Molly (via Twitter) after I posted a tweet about how much I love snacking on dates and almonds. She suggested I make a date and almond granola. I thought it was brilliant, so here I am, ready to pass on this gem of a recipe.

mise en place
mise en place

The original recipe comes from Epicurious, but I added my own Middle Eastern spin to it. I replaced the cashews with Aleppo pistachios (فستق حلبي) that I have in my freezer from a previous trip to Syria, and added a splash of orange blossom water to the mix. For my friends who are fasting during Ramadan right now, I think this would be a great recipe to prepare ahead of time for Suhoor (سحور). Suhoor is the meal that is consumed by Muslims at dawn, before fasting in daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. It is traditional to start Suhoor by eating dates as they are incredibly rich sources of energy and vitamins that help keep the body nourished throughout the day.

dates + almonds
dates and almonds

Chopping the dates and almonds is the only prep work necessary to make this granola. The rest is mixing ingredients together and baking them in the oven. This is part the recipe’s appeal.

dry ingredients
dry ingredients, except dates

The dates get added later, half-way into the baking process.

honey, butter, orange blossom water
honey and butter
ready to bake
granola goes into oven
date and almond granola
almond and date granola

Date and Almond Granola

yields approx 6 cups

Components

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup whole almonds, halved
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup (packed) pitted dates, each cut crosswise into thirds

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl.
  3. Melt butter in the microwave and mix in the honey and orange blossom water, to combine.
  4. Pour the honey and butter mixture over granola mixture and toss well.
  5. Spread out mixture on baking sheet and bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add dates. Mix the granola to separate any large clumps.
  7. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes longer. Let cool.

Notes: Recipe adapted from Epicurious. You can make this ahead and store in an airtight at room temperature for two weeks.

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Although the granola is good on its own, my favorite way to enjoy it is sprinkled over a bowl of vanilla yogurt. The combination is heavenly. Enjoy!

best with yogurt
granola and yogurt