Baby Got Baklava

When I told a few people my plans for Sunday, everyone seemed worried.  “Isn’t that really hard to make?” they’d ask, referring to the baklava I said I would spend the morning making. I’d been tasked with making baklava—the Mediterranean dessert made of layered phyllo dough and nuts—for my dad’s wedding reception, to go along with the Armenian food that would be catered for the event.  Though I’d warned that I’d only made baklava one time before with not-so-great results, I welcomed the challenge, and hoped I’d have better luck and be able to positively contribute to the celebratory meal. Continue reading

More S’mores: Going Gourmet

I’ve written about s’mores before (Girls gone camping, Getting scientific about s’mores, One year ago: reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage), and thought I’d said just about everything that could be said about them. But, when it comes to the things you love, maybe that isn’t true—there’s always more to be said.  So here goes.

Jan and I spent last weekend camping with a group of friends at Huntington Lake, which meant in addition to the “regular” food we were bringing, we also brought plenty of s’mores supplies to go around. Jan did our shopping and bought the ingredients for the classic American s’mores: Honey-Maid graham crackers, Jet-Puffed marshmallows, and Hershey’s milk chocolate and Special Dark bars.

When we got to camp, we learned that we weren’t the only ones thinking about making s’mores.   Continue reading

Snow-Capped Macaroons and Mountains

Ever since I made the German chocolate cupcakes for our Noktoberfest party (see post Lederhosen and Lebkuchen), I’ve had an abundance of sweetened shredded coconut in my pantry. Since I’m not usually a fan of coconut and the shredded coconut isn’t a regular pantry staple at our house, I’ve been looking for something else to make with all the leftover coconut besides simply making the German chocolate cupcakes again (which was tempting since they were pretty tasty).

And then I came across these Snow-Capped Macaroons on The Bitten Word made from this Food Network Magazine recipe. The cookies looked simple and delicious, and I already had the coconut so I was ready to go.

Too much coconut

Besides, I was inspired by all the snow we were getting in the Sierras and knew it would mean even more great skiing in the days to come. Jan and I already had a few good cross-country and downhill ski days in, and with all the new snow, I knew there would be plenty more in the future. Making cookies that resembled the snowy peaks seemed like the perfect way to welcome more snow.

To make the cookies, I beat egg whites until frothy, added sugar, chopped almonds, vanilla, salt, and the shredded coconut. Atop my new favorite kitchen tool the Silpat mats, I used a tablespoon to measure out the cookie mounds. Then, after dampening my fingers with water, I formed the mounds into little cones.

I baked the cookies until they started to turn golden brown at the edges. After cooling, I used a double-boiler to make the chocolate glaze, and slowly dripped the glaze over the tops of the cookies. Lastly, I substituted the recipe’s sugar crystals for decorating, and instead used some sea salt crystals sparingly (the reason for this was twofold: I didn’t have sugar crystals and didn’t want to go to the store, and secondly, I tasted the cookie and glaze and thought adding even more sugar would make the cookie overly sweet. Thinking back to a holiday potluck I attended in which one person made surprisingly tasty bars with only Lay’s potato chips and white chocolate chips, I thought these cookies could also benefit from the salty/sweet combination. As I was experimenting, I left half the cookies plan with no salt/decoration, and did the other half topped with a few sea salt crystals. I used friends and family to taste-test the cookies side by side for the next few days, with the salt-topped cookies the clear winner over the plain ones.)

Mountains of snow!

Chewy but with a firm but flexible chocolate crust on the outside, the cookies tasted as good as they looked. Jan described them as tasting like a Mounds candy bar, so I was pleased.

The next day, I took some of the cookies in my backpack for another cross-country skiing adventure. Jan and I departed from the Tamarack Ridge Trailhead, about 10 miles north of Shaver Lake in the Sierra National Forest. Because the snow was fresh, deep and powdery, it wasn’t long before the groomed trail ended, and then after that, not even the snowmobiles could traverse the trails. So, about mid-thigh deep in snow, we made the path that looped back to the trailhead ourselves, and it was certainly a workout. But being out in the forest, hearing only the sounds of snow crunching under our ski poles, the beauty and serenity we were able to experience was worth the work. When I remembered it was time for a snack, the Snow-Capped Macaroons were just the thing to keep us going for the rest of the miles.

Skiing snack time

Snow-capped macaroons

Print recipe

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup sliced almond slivers
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Glaze

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Sea salt crystals, for decorating

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  3. Lightly beat egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. Stir in sugar, almonds, vanilla and salt, then fold in coconut.
  4. Use a tablespoon to drop batter into mounds 1 inch apart. Dampen hands with water to form into pointed mounds.
  5. Bake until edges are golden brown and the edges look dry, about 16-20 minutes.
  6. let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a baking rack to cool completely.
  7. Make the glaze by using a double-boiler to melt chocolate, corn syrup and butter together.
  8. Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the tops of the macaroons, so that it drips down the sides in several directions.
  9. Sprinkle the tops sparingly with sea salt crystals.
  10. Refrigerate until the glaze sets, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container up to one week. Makes 36 cookies.

Delicious chocolate strawberries

I’m starting to get the feeling that summer is winding down, which means stocking up on strawberries while they’re still abundant at the grocery store. However, this also means that I sometimes have more strawberries than I know what to do with. So I made one of my favorite desserts, which I love because it is so simple to make, requires only two ingredients (strawberries and chocolate chips), but feels like a rich treat.

They don’t look as refined as the ones I’ve seen from those Edible Arrangements franchises popping up everywhere lately, but I think their amateur appearance makes the chocolate covered strawberries I made taste even more delicious.

I took fresh strawberries, rinsed them, and patted them dry with paper towels. Since I didn’t have a double boiler, I fashioned my own improvised one by filling a small saucepan about a half-inch high with water and setting a quart-sized Pyrex inside.

I slowly melted a handful of dark chocolate and milk chocolate chips (about 70 percent dark chocolate chips, 30 percent milk chocolate chips) over low-medium heat. The most important step here is not to rush and to keep stirring—don’t leave the chocolate unattended. If you’re doing a small batch, it should be melted quickly.

When the chocolate was melted, I removed the entire pan/Pyrex from the stove top, and used a silicone brush (usually used for brushing barbecue sauce on ribs in our house) to brush the chocolate onto the strawberries.

The chocolate was nearly hardened 10 minutes later, but I did sneak a few while they were still a little warm and melty.

Getting scientific about s’mores

I can and will use any excuse to make s’mores. It’s winter time? Well, I should sit by a nice fire and roast some marshmallows. It’s summer? The perfect time for camping, campfires, and making s’mores outdoors. I adore chocolate in any form, but the funny thing is, I’ve never been crazy about graham crackers or marshmallows on their own. But when it all comes together in melty, messy gooeyness, there’s no comparison to anything else. 

Roasting technique

 Jan and I recently camped with our friends Ken and Amy at the Dorabelle campground in Shaver Lake. While Jan was busy putting together all the ingredients for our feast of steak tacos, Spanish rice, and refried beans, I was doing my part: getting out the two-pronged skewers reserved specifically for the task of roasting marshmallows over a fire. 

Now, I had to endure a bit of teasing for the degree of seriousness of which I took the s’more-making, and luckily Ken appreciated my scientific approach. Everyone laughed as I demonstrated my technique. I got out two graham cracker squares, placed two squares of Hershey’s Special Dark on top of one, and placed the graham crackers over the bbq grate part of the fire pit. While my chocolate was melting, two marshmallows were skewered and slowly roasted. Just before the marshmallows were so hot inside they were ready to melt off the skewers, I placed them on top of my graham cracker with melting chocolate, covered with the other graham cracker, and removed the skewer. 

Ken still needs some practice

 Of course I got chocolate and marshmallow everywhere in the process, but my s’more was amazing. Everybody else joined in making s’mores, but they went more for the set-the-marshmallow-on-fire and char the graham cracker approach. My method took a bit more patience and wasn’t so satisfying for pyromanics, but either way, I’m dreaming about the next campfire.