Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies

•August 29, 2011 • 3 Comments

I’m back! While I never actually stopped cooking, I admit, I did get sidetracked from posting with the siren call of summer and vacation! Back to the business though…and today’s business is COOKIES. Honestly, I could probably count on one hand the number of cookies that I’ve met that I didn’t like. Let’s face it, cookies are like the unsung language of love and friendship. I mean really, when was the last time you met a cookie that didn’t put a smile on your face?

These chunky peanut cookies put a smile on my face and those of my coworkers, without a doubt. I decided one day that I had a hankering for a peanut cookie, but not just a run of the mile, oh-heres-some-token-peanut-butter cookie, noooo, I want a REAL peanut cookie that had whole peanuts in it. And how, but Martha Stewart to my rescue?

These cookies are one of the few cookies that touts peanuts, the chunky, toothsome kind, and not peanut butter, as its main headliner. And it succeeds! These cookies came together in a snap when, at 7:30pm one night, the craving inspiration struck me and I began foraging around in my cupboard for ingredients. By bedtime, the house smelled divinely of peanutty goodness and I had a bounty of treats of my coworkers (and Alex’s!) to enjoy!

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Yields about 5 dozen

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped**
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preparation

Arrange racks to middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Using an electric mixer, mix butters on medium until well combined, about 2 minutes. Mixture will look light brown. Add in sugars and continue mixing another 2 minutes. Add in eggs and mix, one at a time, until incorporated. Add in flour and mix until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, gently fold in chocolate chips, peanuts and vanilla until evenly distributed. Refrigerate dough 15-20 minutes, until it is slightly firm.

Scoop dough into 1″ balls and space 2-3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each ball slightly and bake until just golden, 11-13 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Once thoroughly cooled, cookies will keep in airtight container, about 1 week…if they can last that long!

**Liz’s Note: Make sure to read the labels of the peanuts you’re buying unless you’re buying whole, unshelled. My local supermarket had several different choices of “roasted peanuts” to choose from and I learned a while ago that not all roasted peanuts are created equal. Most manufacturers are wont to add some seasonings and coloring preservatives.

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Fruit Tart with Custard and Berries

•June 21, 2011 • 3 Comments

One of my favorite things in the world are fruit tarts. Something about the glistening plethora of berries and fruits nestled in a flaky crust just makes my heart sing. I remember having some form of fruit tarts that my parents would pick up from the asian bakery when I was a kid, but I don’t think I really came to truly appreciate fruit tarts until I was in my late 20’s.

I had decided to take a solo trip up to Boston to take in some culture, sights, and some me-time. In my travels, I wondered into Quincy Market and there, in one of the bakery shops, sat a display of small fruit tartlets. Glistening under the incandescent lights of the market, the lightly glazed berries and slice of kiwi looked like little jewels beckoning me to take them home.

The best fruit tarts, in my opinion, combine a flaky, tender crust that is slightly sweet and buttery. I actually prefer a shortbread like crust, but every time I’ve attempted to use a shortbread, my resulting crust is so dense that you end up using the side of your fork to hew through the crust…not exactly the “tender” crust I was looking for. In the end, a basic pate sucree is the perfect crust to do the job.

The elements of a great fruit tart though isn’t just a crust and fruit…oh noooo. There’s also the filling…not just any cheesy run of the mill fruit filling or something. No, in this case, the ideal filling is a luxurious vanilla custard that provides the perfect backdrop for the fruit…like a creme brulee without the fun of the blowtorched sugar part.

Just to up it one extra notch, I also discovered that “painting” the crust with a thin layer of dark chocolate serves as a nice way to “waterproof” the crust and keeps it flaky longer. Besides, isn’t everything just a bit better with some dark chocolate? I certainly think so!

Fruit Tart with Custard and Berries
Adapted loosely from Joy of Baking

Ingredients

For Pate Sucree:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

For Pastry Cream:
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 Grand Marnier orange liquer

3 cups assorted berries and fruit
4 ounces of your favorite chocolate (I prefer dark)

For glaze:
1/4 cup apple jelly
1-2 tablespoons water

Preparation

To make the pate sucree, pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Add egg yolk, and pulse. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube until dough just holds together. Turn out dough onto a work surface; shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour (up to 2 days).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center position. Lightly spray or butter and flour a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Evenly pat the chilled pastry onto the prepared pan, covering the bottoms and sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 15 minutes. Bake chilled crust for 5 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to bake for another 15 minutes or until crust is dry and golden colored. Remove and cool completely on wire rack. Crust may be made 2 days ahead of time, just store in air tight container at room temperature.

In small bowl, whisk flour and cornstarch together. In a separate, heatproof large bowl, mix sugar and egg yolks together and then add in flour mixture. Mix until a smooth paste forms.

In a separate saucepan, bring milk and vanilla bean just to boiling…be careful not to scald the milk. Remove from heat immediately and slowly drizzle into egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. If you do get some curdled egg pieces, just sieve the mixture afterwards. Remove vanilla bean and scrape out seeds and add seeds to egg mixture. Pour egg mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boils, whisking constantly the whole time. When mixture comes to boil, continue whisking for another minute or until mixture becomes thick. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in Grand Marnier. Pour into a clean bowl and cover immediately cover surface with plastic wrap (this prevents a “skin” from forming) and cool to room temperature.

Melt chocolate either in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave, heating at 30 second intervals on half power, stirring each time until fully melted. Using a pastry brush, paint the inside of the tart crust thoroughly until all chocolate is used up. Be sure to coat the bottom and the sides. Let chocolate harden, about 10-15 minutes before assembling tart.

To assemble tart, remove crust from tart pan and place onto your serving platter. Gently spread pastry cream onto the bottom of the tart shell using an offset spatula. Assemble fruit on top of cream…let your creativity be your guide here. I’ve found that randomly placed fruit is just as lovely as fruit arranged in concentric circles. If doing concentric circles, it’s best to start from the outside edge and work your way in, using overlapping circles. Once fruit has been arranged, prepare glaze by warming jelly with water in the microwave for 20 seconds until jelly has melted. Stir. Use a pastry brush and gently brush a light coat of glaze on the fruit. Serve

If not serving immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container and bring back to room temperature before serving. This is best eaten the day it is assembled.

Williamstown, Wedding, and Baked Pears, oh my!

•June 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This has been the spring of weddings! In the span of 3 weeks, we’ve attended 2 weddings of very close friends…the first of which was held in Williamstown, MA amidst the beautiful Berkshires. I always love going up here to visit…nothing quite beats the beautiful vistas up here which are breathtaking and remind me that no matter how busy our lives can be, there should always be time to appreciate nature and the world around us.

One of the places that we always find ourselves paying homage to whenever we’re in the area is a great pub called The Olde Forge in Pittsfield. The home of a formidable array of beers both on tap and bottled, one of the highlights of the Forge is the wings. I’ve always had their regular ones, but had recently heard of a their own twist called Buff Orpington wings…wings deep fried to crisp perfection and then tossed in a sauce with a tinge of curry and orange peel. Not your conventional wings, yes, but these quickly jumped up my list as one of the best wings I’ve ever had. They’re that good!

For Zach and Bethany’s wedding, we were fortunate enough to stay at a little jewel of a bed and breakfast on the edge of Williamstown and Vermont called The Birches at Steep Acres Farm. Not only was it situated on 50 acres worth of farm complete with tons of hiking trails and places to mountain bike, but it had some of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. The. Best. Breakfasts. Ever.

The first morning we had these baked pears stuffed with granola and then topped with vanilla yogurt and then topped with some additional granola. Honestly, I think this very well may be what heaven would feel like on a plate. It’s one of the very few times that I immediately upon return home, I sought to figure out how to make this myself. Ok, maybe this sort of zeal isn’t that rare, but you get the drift at just how amazing I thought this was.

What I learned after trying this out myself at home was that this is probably one of the best, easiest, and dare I say, healthiest? breakfasts that I’ve ever made. Pears, yogurt, and granola. That’s literally all you need. The best part is that even though it’s so easy to prepare, the results to so utterly delicious that no matter who you make this for, they’ll think that you’re the culinary rock star of the year! I don’t know about you, but I could get used to being called that!

Baked Pears with Vanilla and Granola
As envisioned by TastyDesu and inspired by The Birches B&B

Ingredients

2 medium sized pears, preferably firm ones (I used Taylor’s Gold variety)
1/4 cup or so of your favorite granola (I used a bag of Trader Joe’s Pecan and Praline granola)
1 cup of vanilla yogurt
Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut off about 1 inch from the top of each pear, then use the knife and carefully core the pear. Prepare a heat proof dish and spritz it evenly with cooking spray. Place pears in dish, original cut side up, and spritz lightly with more cooking spray. Cook 13-15 minutes, until pears are warmed through and slightly softened. Remove from oven and move onto serving plate. Stuff granola into each pear, top with vanilla, and garnish with additional granola. Serve while still warm.

Quick General Tso’s Chicken

•June 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Every time we decide to order “fast food” Chinese for dinner, we are always faced with the age old dilemma…”Do we or do we not order General Tso’s chicken tonight?” Do we stick with the dish that we all know and love or stray from the well worn path and try something different which may not be as awesome? If you really think about it, it really breaks down to this battle royale, General Tso’s vs everything else. 2 food entrees enter the ring…only 1 will leave.

As you can surmise, we’re a general tso’s chicken house, however, it has been one of those dishes that never once occurred to me to make myself until recently. Honestly, the perfectly crispy coated chicken pieces always seemed like such a daunting task. I’ve breaded, dipped, and fried my fair share of food, but nothing has ever come remotely close to the crispy breading perfection that tso’s chicken calls for.

That’s when I realized, you know, if I’m going to make this myself in my own kitchen (with that torturous electric stove) I might as well as try and do it MY way. Using a great recipe that I found, I modified this to forgo the “breading” and deep frying process and just use a basic coating of corn starch instead. This made it immensely quicker and all the more easier on my frying skills (or lack thereof!). The chicken comes out pretty crispy and provides just enough texture for the sauce.

Speaking of sauce…who knew the General’s secret sauce was soooo easy? Easy and delicious! The fresh scallions really make the sauce…don’t substitute these out and be generous. I ended up with some leftover sauce and it was fantastic just spooned over some white rice for a quick meal. Who needs the chicken? Shhhh….

So while this General Tso’s may not be the ultimate Tso’s chicken you get from your favorite local Chinese place, but for a quick, easy, homemade dinner that’s a wee bit healthier, this one’s a winner!

Quick General Tso’s Chicken
Adapted from Food.com

Ingredients

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups green onions, sliced
8 small dried chilies, seeds removed (bird pepper or thai chilies are good)
1/2 cup cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste

For sauce:
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sherry wine or 1/4 cup white wine
14 1/2 ounces chicken broth

Preparation

Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients in a large jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake ingredients to mix. Can be prepared ahead and kept in refrigerator…just shake it up before you use it.

Place remaining cornstarch in a place and season with salt and pepper. Preheat large frying pan with just a smidge of oil. I first started out with a tablespoon of oil…the resulting chicken vesuvius was not so good. I ended up using a few spritzes of cooking spray and that turned out perfect. Coat each piece of chicken in seasoned cornstarch and fry in the pan for several minutes until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and keep warm. Repeat until all chicken is done.

In a large wok or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat until oil begins to dance and shimmer. Add green onions and hot peppers and stir fry for about 30 seconds. Stir in sauce mixture and cook until it begins to thicken and easily coats the back of a spoon. If sauce thickens too much, you may thin it out with some water, add about 1 tablespoon at a time.

Once sauce is thick enough, add chicken to wok and cook until warmed through and all is hot and bubbly, should only be about 1-2 minutes more. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

•May 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Who here doesn’t like banana bread? Ever since I figured out the proper technique on how to make it without resulting in what my family affectionately liked to call the “banana brick” this has become both a family and office staple. Thus, when I came across this recipe for a cookie that reminded me very much of banana bread, it was a no brainer. I mean, really, have you ever met a cookie that you didn’t like? And when it promises to be a winning combination of cookie and banana bread? Hello?

One thing I will say about bananas, there one of those strange fruits that I both love and hate. I love it when it’s baked…be it in a cake, cookie, or just straight by itself (and seriously, if you’ve not made yourself some baked bananas yet, I’m not sure what other nirvana experience you’re waiting for!). But by itself, fresh, it’s a tough sell. In fact, I’ll only eat it if it’s still a little green. Once a banana in my house has gone ripe, even the merest of brown speckles, it’s destined for a baked good or sliced with Mai’s cereal. Call it a weird quirk, but it keeps me in fairly steady supply of good ripe bananas for bread and…cookies!

These cookies came together fairly quickly and I almost forgot…they also incorporate one of my other favorite things in the cookie world…oats. The bananas ensure that this cookie is moist and sweet without being too sugary while the oats gives it a bit of a earthy and toothsome texture. I also feel (in my addled brain somewhere) that the oats makes it healthy? Bananas + oats = healthy, right? Whatever, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The chocolate chunk and walnuts in there are just a reward for being so good.

And speaking of good, these cookies rock. I ended up making 9 dozen of these for a client visit (yes, you lucky guys know who you are) and aside from being pretty easy to mass produce, they were a pretty big hit if I do say so myself. Within an hour after arriving for my meeting, all but 2 dozen were left. I’m not sure if there’s a better review than that, folks.

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from

Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted

Preparation

Prepare oven and preheat to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, salt, and baking soda. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until pale and fluffy on medium speed. Reduce speed to low and add in egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in banana. Add in flour mixture and mix until just combined. Using a wooden spoon or mixing spoon, stir in oats, chocolate chunks and walnuts until uniform.

Using baking sheets lined with parchment paper, place dough about 2 inches apart. I used a 1.5″ cookie scooper. Bake cookies, 12 to 13 minutes, rotating sheets about halfway. Cookies should be golden brown and *just* set. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to cool completely on wire racks. Cookies will keep up to 2 days, stored in airtight containers.

Drunken Udon Noodles

•May 10, 2011 • 3 Comments

Last year during my PAX East sojourn I discovered the magic of drunken udon noodles…basically a very clever variation of pad khee mao that was positively amazing and has served to haunt me ever since I had it for the first time (and every other single time I’ve traveled to Boston). It only makes sense that this be the dish that would bring me out of my cooking hiatus and get me back on track!

The last few weeks have been a little tough…we were unfortunately faced with the loss of one of my most staunch and faithful supporters and kitchen cheerleaders last month, Chyna. After 12 amazing years, our little pug angel had to say goodbye to us and move onto the next chapter of her life’s journey. It’s admittedly been a little disconcerting without her at my feet while I’m prepping ingredients or eagerly looking up with her “Let me quality control test that bit of food for you!!” but Molly has managed to shoulder the extra responsibility and help fill the gaps. Molly has enthusiastically given her beagle howl of approval for this dish as the aromas came wafting up from my trusty stove…

And seriously, this dish is no joke. The inviting smell of the fresh garlic and chili peppers as they sauteed in my wok really made me remember why it is that I enjoy cooking as much as I do…there is nothing in this world like a plate of great homemade food. Nothing. What I like so much about this dish is that while it has the wonderfully complex flavor profile of pad khee mao I really enjoy the textural difference of the udon. It’s got a slightly chewier bite to it over the flat, wide rice noodles and really does an amazing job of soaking up the pad khee mao sauce which, honestly, is where the magic’s at.

I purchased my udon as a “bulk pack” at my local asian supermarket. This particular package that I picked up also makes prepared noodles that you can use for lo mein and wonton noodle soup. I have also seen bulk udon in the freezer section at the H-Mart korean supermarket nearby. It may take a bit to find its exact location at the supermarket, but it’s becoming more and more popular…if you don’t see it, just ask. It should be there somewhere 🙂

This can take a bit of time to prepare as you can have a myriad of different ingredients that you can put into there, but this dish is extremely adaptable so feel free to add or omit whatever additional veggies or proteins you’d like. I would recommend sticking with the same sauce ingredients and proportions however and to not skimp on the Thai basil as this constitutes the heart of this dish.

Drunken Udon Noodles
Adapted by TastyDesu

Ingredients

1 package (16oz) fresh udon noodles
1/2 cup white, firm tofu
1/2 cup beef, chicken, or shrimp
1 tablespoon garlic chili paste
1-2 Thai serrano chilis, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Assorted veggies (I used 1/2 cup baby bok choy, green and white parts separated; 1/4 cup carrots; 1/2 cup diced red peppers; 1/2 cup snow peas; 1 onion, cut into wedges )
2 eggs, lightly scrambled
1/2 cup packed Thai basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons golden mountain soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vinegar
4 tablespoons oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation

Prepare tofu by pressing tofu with paper towels to remove as much water as possible. Cut into bite sized pieces, about 1″ x 1/4″, pressing each piece gently with paper towel to remove more moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in pan over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add tofu and fry until golden, flipping over to ensure even browning on both sides. Set aside on paper towel.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in pan, I recommend a nonstick wok, and heat on high till oil shimmers. Add garlic, chili paste, and sliced chilis. Saute until garlic is a light brown…don’t leave unattended as garlic can burn very easily and stand back as it pops! I have a battle scar on my arm from an errant popping piece of garlic attempting to jump to freedom.

Once garlic is browned, add your protein(s) and saute until those are no longer pink. Add your veggies and continue to saute until all is cooked through. You may add 1 tablespoon of water here to help facilitate the veggies cooking.

Add noodles and continue to fry for a minute or two. These noodles shouldn’t stick, but if they do, you may had a little water, sparingly, to help it unstick. Add in tofu and any of your more delicate veggies.

After about 2 minutes, add the soy sauces, sugar, and hoisin. Stir well to mix. Once everything is all incorporated, add basil and vinegar. Stir again to mix. Once basil has wilted, it’s done. Remove from heat and serve.

Vietnamese Spinach Soup — Canh Rau Mồng Tơi

•April 20, 2011 • 4 Comments

One of my favorite soups growing up was a green one that my mom used to make about once a week. I call it a “green” one because up until about a year ago, I had no idea what the english word for the leaves we used for the soup were called. They were a vibrant yet earthy green color, were extremely tender, and grew on vines close to the ground which necessitated washing the bejeezus out of them before cooking lest you find yourself with a gritty soup.

Known as malabar in English or rau mồng tơi in Vietnamese, this succulent spinach is usually found year round in most asian supermarkets and is pretty high in vitamins and low in calories. I know…something that’s delicious AND good for you? Holy cow! Did I mention that it’s pretty easy to prepare? Probably the 2nd thing I learned how to master in my youth, it’s easy, hard to mess up, and does well with some tweaks and enhancements. If I’m feeling particularly health conscious, I’ll throw in some tofu too. I know…stop the presses.

The soup itself reminded me of a lighter version of gumbo…indeed, when cut, the leaves and vines have the same thick oozy properties that okra has. When preparing, you prepare the broth and then throw in the malabar at the last moment…allowing it to cook further only until the broth has come to a boil again. This yields a soup that still full of tender, amazing malabar and allows it to thicken the broth just slightly giving you a fresh, light soup that has some body to it.

My favorite way to have this soup is either by itself or served over a small helping of rice with a bunch of my family and friends. As far as comfort foods go in our household, this is one of the top 5! 🙂

Canh Rau Mồng Tơi
As envisioned by TastyDesu

Ingredients

1/2lb pork belly, finely minced/ground**
1lb malabar
1 package extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
5 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1.5 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Thoroughly wash malabar in a large basin or sink to remove any remnants of sand. Remove any old looking leaves that have holes or any browned edges and discard. Chop malabar, leaves, vines, and all, into about 1/4 – 1/2 inch chiffonade. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just want to cut the leaves and vines down to manageable pieces. Set aside in a bowl and prepare broth.

In a large pot, heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Saute ground or minced pork belly until no longer pink and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add in water with heat still on high and deglaze the pan, make sure to get up any browned bits of goodness!

Season broth with salt, sugar, and pepper to taste and bring to boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer about 15-20 minutes. Increase heat to high and bring broth back up to a rolling boil and add in malabar and tofu. Stir. Allow the soup to come to a boil again, then immediately remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper again to taste.

**I usually use shrimp and prepare the soup base as I did for banh canh tom, but I happened to have some pork belly on hand at the time. Feel free to use whatever protein you’d like…this recipe is easily adaptable