Sunday, February 24, 2013

The wonderful thing about chocolate is...


... you can dip almost anything into it, including coconut macaroons. 

In an effort to use up my shredded coconut leftover from Valentine's Day, one of my good friends from college proposed baking up some coconut macaroons. Right as I was walking out the door on my way to her house, I sent a quick text, "anything else you need before I head over?".
"A double boiler," she replied, "I want to dip the macaroons in chocolate."
It was like music to my ears.

Ingredients

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, coconut and salt. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla using your hands until well blended. Use an ice cream scoop to drop dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about golf ball size. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until coconut is toasted.

Allergens: wheat, gluten, milk, tree nuts
Nutrition (1/12 recipe): 287 calories, 12 g fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 187 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g fiber, 4 g protein 
Recipe Note: The nutrition info does not include the chocolate for dipping, I recommend adding a small amount of butter when melting chocolate (see previous post). I also used a smaller ice cream scoop, so I made closer to 30 macaroons, which would be about 115 calories, and 5 g fat.
Recipe from AllRecipes.com

The frustrating thing about chocolate is...

... it's delicious. And difficult to do well. Here's what I've learned:

1) Add butter to the melted chocolate to improve the consistency for dipping. 
2) Toppings are delicious and add variety (ever seen Shari's Berries? Good source of inspiration). Also use different types of chocolate, like dark and white chocolate. 
3) Keep your chocolate-dipped creations in the fridge, especially when you are OCD, like me. Just try to keep the moisture level down in the fridge, and wipe off any condensation that appears. 
4) Buy twice as many wrappers as you think you need, some will get messed up. 
5) White chocolate does not like to cooperate. My white chocolate would not stay melted for more than 15 seconds, and then I had to stir it again vigorously. From all the forums I read, there is a small consensus that Trader Joe's makes the most meltable white chocolate. Also see rule #1. 
6) Keep the double boiler dry and free of excess water - any extra water or moisture can affect the chocolate's melted consistency.



I learned all this after spending almost three hours on my Valentine's Day making chocolate-covered strawberries. I thought I couldn't go wrong with a recipe from Martha Stewart, but even she could not save me from chocolate peril.

Most advice on the subject said that chocolate-covered strawberries should be eaten within the first 24 hours, and are best when eaten the same day. Martha Stewart added the caveat that strawberries should not be left in the refrigerator for more than an hour, or they will collect "condensation drops". I diligently timed my strawberries for 15 minutes in the fridge, and I still ended up with condensation. 

The next question was where to store the strawberries. My house runs around 78 to 80 degrees in the winter, which did not seem like the ideal temperature. Someone suggested I leave them in my car, where it might be cold but not too cold. It would have been a great idea, except that I parked on the roof of the parking garage, and my car became a winter greenhouse. 

Here's how it went down. It was 3:30 PM. I was eager to drive home and get ready for my Valentine's Day dinner. I stole a peak at my lovingly-made strawberries in the back seat of my car, and I smelled ripe fruit. The strawberries had leaked juice into their wrappers and the white chocolate had melted completely off. In a panic, I drove home, trying to come up with an action plan. At home, I carefully replaced the soiled wrappers, threw out the hopeless causes, replaced them with some of the less attractive leftovers, and chilled the strawberries for the next two hours. They looked better, but still very sad compared to their former glory. 

The good part is there was still a happy ending - my boyfriend gobbled them up the following night, proclaiming them "delicious". I guess it was worth the effort after all :)

Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Ingredients

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces dark chocolate chips
6 ounces white chocolate chips
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 quarts large strawberries, washed and dried well
Unsweetened shredded coconut
Sprinkles

Directions

1) Place chocolate in a double boiler. Stir occasionally, until melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add in 1-2 teaspoons of butter and mix to desired consistency. Between each type of chocolate, carefully wash the double boiler and wipe dry in between uses.
2) Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. One at a time, dip each strawberry in chocolate, twirling to coat; then sprinkle chocolate-covered portion with toppings, if using, and place on waxed paper.
3) Chill chocolate-dipped strawberries at least 15 minutes to set chocolate. 

Allergens: milk, soy, tree nuts
Nutrition (1/45 recipe, ~1 strawberry): 69 calories, 4 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 4 mg sodium, 53 mg potassium, 9 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 1 g protein, 0% vitamin A, 30% vitamin C, 1% calcium, 3% iron

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

For the past couple of years, I have always stayed in and cooked for Valentine's Day. I never wanted to face the crowds or the extra expense, and in college these things just don't seem as important. When I would go to the grocery store on February 14th, I always laughed at the poor husbands and boyfriends struggling to find that last ingredient, or agonizing in front of the spice rack for 20 minutes before finding what they need. I love grocery stores, and learning how to cook new foods. 
It will be nice to take a year off and go out to dinner tomorrow night to celebrate, but since I can no longer pretend that my gift is the dinner, I actually had to think of a gift. Luckily, I had an extra night to plan and prepare. I ended up making mostly milk chocolate and dark chocolate strawberries because the white chocolate was not cooperating. I had no idea white chocolate was so difficult to work with! 
I'll be sure to post the recipe after I've been thoroughly romanced!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Poppyseed Cake Showdown or "How Butter can do you in"

I count myself lucky that I don't have any allergies, don't have to "count carbs" or "watch my salt". And even though I will try anything once, there are a handful of foods I won't be trying twice. For whatever reason they just don't agree with me. 
During my internship, the hospital where I worked had an Au Bon Pain, and my partner and I would often split a pastry after a long day. It was so interesting to me how both of us would have GI symptoms with the same certain pastries. I have noticed that processed foods, saturated fats and hydrogenated oils in particular, are more likely to cause problems. Just one more reason to eat healthy, fresh foods
Unfortunately, these lemon poppy seed bars are in the second category of "never again", however delicious they might be. My friend actually used the wrong recipe when she went grocery shopping, and I thought we could go ahead and make it since we had the ingredients. But now that I sit down and compare the "Lemon poppy seed bars" to the "Banana poppy seed cake" we were planning to make, I see what did me in - the butter. The lemon cake has an entire cup of butter, 8 times as much butter as the banana cake. That's an extra 103 g of saturated fat per recipe because of butter. So although these lemon poppy seed bars are pretty darn tasty, I won't be making them again any time soon.


Lemon Poppy Seed Squares 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 


1 2.2 oz bottle of poppy seeds (approx 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup whole milk
juice and zest of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup lemon juice) 
1/2 tsp lemon extract
seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Mix the above ingredients together and set aside 1 cup of flour.


1 cup almond flour 
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda 
1/8 tsp salt

Mix the above dry ingredients together and set aside. 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

Cream the butter and sugar till fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix just until completely blended. Pour the batter into a greased 9x13 cake pan and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and then put a thick layer of lemon glaze over the entire cake.

Lemon Glaze

2 cups confectioner's sugar
juice of 1 1/2 to 2 lemons

Mix the sugar and lemon together until you get a spreadable glaze. Add more lemon or more sugar to get the right consistency. 


Recipe from: http://theviewfromthegreatisland.blogspot.com/2012/09/lemon-poppy-seed-squares.html

Allergens: Milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts
Nutrition (1/12 pan): 431 calories, 24 g fat, 11 g sat fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 198 mg sodium, 86 mg potassium, 50 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 38 g sugar, 7 g protein, 13% vitamin A, 5% vitamin C, 7% iron, 13% calcium, 10% phosphorous, 24% manganese