Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bites of chocolate peanut butter bliss

Although I truly relish the opportunity to flex my culinary muscles and try something new, there's something about the simple and familiar that has recently been more tempting to me…breaded chicken and a touch of seasoning, sautéed spinach with garlic, chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. Now, these cookies are not to be confused with an earlier recipe, peanut butter chocolate chip. The cookie recipe I made last night merely rearranges the flavors, but the end result is, in my opinion, far from the standard peanut butter cookie. This recipe, though basic enough was truly refreshing, producing a cookie that is amazingly soft and chewy (after baking for 10 minutes on a nonstick tray), and maintains a perfect balance between the two flavors. The chocolate and peanut butter come together even more fluidly when a small teaspoon of the dough is eaten…although I should not recommend this, due to the raw eggs. I found these cookies to be scrumptious both before and after baking. My taste-tester only got the baked version, but he concurred that they were a chewy, comforting cookie.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups peanut butter chips


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a second medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Blend in the eggs and vanilla and then blend in the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the peanut butter chips. Drop cookies by teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until set. Cool on wire racks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Berry Strata

To say that the heat of New York City was unbearable this past weekend hardly gives a full impression of just how hot the sun was, how heavy the air was, how the temperature reached unhealthy levels and forced many into the artificial air conditioning of whatever store or café was nearest. It was horribly, disgustingly hot, and the mere act of breathing was an unpleasant chore.

These are the summer days that are so easy to forget about when, in the midst of a cold February, one wistfully imagines July days spent lakeside drinking lemonade and dipping strawberries into freshly-made whipped cream. These fantasies do not transition into reality in New York City, or
if they do, I certainly have never seen them.

No matter the weather, though, summertime is a lovely time to sample all the fruits that the season has to offer (even if certain recipes use the frozen variety of said fruits). Which is why I decided to brave the oven and try this recipe for a mixed berry strata. I, of course, stayed far away from my kitchen while this was baking, but once the strata cooled and I took a bite, I decided that it was well worth it.

Stratas are generally considered a brunch dish, which are usually made with layers of ingredients placed over a base of bread and cheese and baked in an oven. These components are found in this dessert strata, as well. The final result is something less cohesive than a pie or a tart, as there is no crust, and once plated, looks similar to a crumble.

I brought it into my office, and one person told me that it reminded him of the French Clafouti, with a custard-like consistency (in order to achieve this, make sure that you use both whole milk and ricotta). Other co-workers were pleased with the berry tartness combining with the sweetness of honey and juice.

Berry Strata


2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup orange juice
4 slices of bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 16 oz. bag frozen mixed berried, thawed and drained

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off the heat, add the honey, and stir to combine.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Then combine with the ricotta and sugar. Add the milk, orange juice, butter and honey mixture, and bread. Stir to combine. Gently fold in the berries.
3. Place the ingredients in a 10-inch round baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the strata until golden on top and baked through, about 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Spoon into dishes and serve.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rice Krispies Tiffins

When I was in Ireland a few weeks ago, I fell in love about a dozen times over the course of the trip — with the landscape, with books, with one or two of the Irish boys I met. Of course, I also fell in love with a dessert: specifically, the simple, delectable Tiffin slice: a baked bar of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. I tasted several of these while I was there, and though they may be on par with a brownie or a blondie in America, to me, they were just exotic enough to declare them a grand “discovery.”

I hadn’t thought about the Tiffin slice in days (with my birthday this past weekend, I’ve recently been seduced by the more local treats of cupcakes and chocolates), but then I was wondering what my next dessert would be. With the Fourth of July approaching, I wanted to do something fun and light-hearted, but without decorating a cake as a flag or cutting out star-shaped sugar cookies. Although I have no barbeque plans, my mind jumped to typical picnic desserts, and with a display of marshmallows in the supermarket, I decided that it has been much too long since I’ve made Rice Krispies Treats. Right up there with apple pie and S’mores, these easy bar desserts are, in my opinion, another staple of American family cuisine. What kid didn’t sample these growing up, at picnics or birthday parties or school bake sales?

And even though their straightforwardness is a major aspect of their appeal, I felt the need to dress these up a little for the holiday weekend. Enter the Tiffin slice: caramel and chocolate rarely, if ever, detract from the quality of a baked good, and so it seemed clear that the Rice Krispies Treats would only benefit from these additions.

I almost wish I could bring these to a bbq, or maybe start my own impromptu bake sale in the park with a tray of these treats: they just look too good not to be on display.

Rice Krispies Tiffin Treats


3 tbsp. margarine or butter
1 (10 oz.) package regular marshmallows - or -4cups mini marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies® cereal
1 (8 oz.) jar caramel ice cream topping
3 cups milk chocolate chips


1. Melt margarine in large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies cereal. Stir until well coated. Using buttered spatula, press mixture evenly into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Place the tray in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to cool.
2. Once the Rice Krispies treats are cool, warm the caramel topping in a small saucepan over low heat until the consistency is smooth and spreadable. At the same time, place 1 cup chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave for 1 minute, then stir to completely melt chips. Repeat for the next 2 cups. Or, melt chocolate over the stove in a double boiler.
3. Spread the warmed caramel topping over the cooled Rice Krispies so that the treats are covered with a thin layer. Then, spread the milk chocolate over the caramel for a slightly thicker layer.
4. Decorate with candies, nuts, or other toppings.