salted maple-caramel sauce

Let’s start the New Year on a sweet note, shall we?

When I saw this recipe, I tore it out immediately not as a topping for the Maple-Gingerbread Layer Cake recipe that it accompanied, but for a topping for ice cream. More specifically, as an ice cream topping for my Dad.

But then I made it, and tried it – for quality assurance of course – and then the Taster tried it, and we loved it. It is sweet with a touch of salt. Thankfully I had doubled the batch and we had plenty to savor without dipping into Dad’s stash. The Taster put some in coffee, wanted to put it on eggs and we tried it with apple slices. Heaven. I suspect this sauce would make anything taste utterly decadent and ridiculously good.

Salted Maple-Caramel Sauce - makes about 2 cups – adapted from Bon Appétit

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup maple sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in sauce pan. Add maple and brown sugars and whisk together for about 2-3 minutes, until thick and boiling.

Whisk in cream. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking often. Boil until mixture thickens and has reduced.

Remove from heat and add salt and vanilla. Cool, cover, and chill.


cannoli cream with fresh berries

I want to start by saying Thank You for all of the congratulations on my engagement. I’m so excited and seeing all of your comments definitely made my day!  Since you were all so sweet – I’ve got a sweet recipe for you!

This dessert was part of my Luxury Dinner Party and it was just the sweet ending I was after – something delicious, not too heavy and simple to throw together. I got a few requests for the recipe so I thought I would share it with you all, but I won’t tell your guests how easy it is. Promise.

My first experience with cannoli was in Boston, at the famous Mike’s Pastry in the North End, and it has forever changed me.  The crunchy shell and smooth, creamy filling are like the lovechild of a cheesecake and a cheese course. In other words, the best kind of dessert out there in my opinion. You can keep your chocolate, just let me have the cheese!

I chose to forgo the cannoli shells as I didn’t have time, nor do I have the equipment to make them (maybe someday) and I’m not aware of any local Italian Bakery’s where I could buy them. Locals – am I missing some great Italian bakery? And in my non-Italian opinion, the filling is the best part anyways.

Cannoli Cream - 6-8 servings

  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Fresh Berries

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.

Let chill. I put the cheese mixture in a plastic bag, cut the corner and piped over berries.

Oh and if you’ve got any leftover? It makes an excellent addition to morning coffee. A little naughty, I know. 1 Tbsp cannoli cream + 2-3 Tbsp milk, mixed until smooth with hand-held frother + coffee = extra delicious coffee.

project food blog #3: luxury dinner party

All good meals start with prosecco. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Luxury Dinner Parties conjure up an array of memories – I think of my Aunt Frances whose parties always included champagne and caviar. I think of Dinner Club, my parents group of 4 couples who have dinner together once a month and have been doing so for almost 30 years. I’d say they know a thing or two about dinner parties. I think of my friend Mercedes who always has the perfect place settings and exceptional desserts.

But I haven’t hosted many dinner parties on my own. I generally fall back on cocktail party type get togethers. I’m not sure why – maybe because our table only seats 4, our dishes are terrible and honestly, I don’t particularly like having to leave the party to finish a meal in the kitchen!

Challenge #3 was about to change that. Hosting a Luxury Dinner Party for at least 4 was the challenge and I have to say that planning, preparing and enjoying the company of family over dinner was just that – enjoyable. You can expect to see more dinner parties from me!

Planning Ahead:

  • Theme: pick a theme and carry it out throughout all courses, drinks and decor
  • Timing: dinner parties require time management and planning ahead. Sure I would have loved to make the gnocchi from scratch but yoga, work and a drive to Wisconsin did not allow that time – my meal needed to come together quickly. I also know that not everyone has full days to spend on dinner parties. I had about an hour to prep for my meal, and sometimes you may only have an hour (or worse!) but you can make it work!
  • Place Settings: I prefer white plates and cloth napkins with simple decor. Fresh flowers are always a nice touch.

The Menu:

  • Courses: I rarely make a dessert but this occasion called for one. Decide how many courses you will serve.
  • Food: I started with the gnocchi to go along with my Italian theme and since that would be somewhat rich, I wanted the other courses to remain light. Feeling stuffed may mean the food was fantastic but it certainly isn’t an enjoyable way to end the evening. Let’s also not forget that I’m a Nutritionist and a strong believer in portion control. :)
  • Drinks: I always like to start with prosecco, whether the meal is an Italian one or not. I also served Italian Red & White wines as well as beer.

Antipasti: Antipasto Platter: Olives, Artichokes, Roasted Red Peppers, Prosciutto & Pecorino Romano

Insalata: Garden Lettuce & Parsley Salad with Lemon Viniagrette

Gnocchi: Potato Gnocchi with Olive Oil & Parmesan

Dolci: Cannoli Cream with Fresh Berries

Most importantly however is that the host should never be stuck in the kitchen the whole night. You should choose dishes that can easily be made ahead of time, or can be thrown together rather quickly at the end. It’s imperative that the majority of the prep is complete by the time your guests arrive. Oh, and have fun! That’s what it’s all about anyway – sure lucious food makes for a great party, but it all comes down to the company you share it with!

Buon Appetito!

Thanks for your support in getting me to the next round! Voting starts tomorrow for Challenge #3!

guest post: french macarons

Emily and I have been wonderful friends for almost a decade!  Since we lived together for several years, she knows my love for baking.  Even though we don’t live together anymore, I still enjoy bringing her and “the taster” samples of my latest creation.  When I told her I had succeeded in my quest to make “perfect” French macarons, I was thrilled when she asked me to do a guest post about it.

Circa 2006?

To say that I love to bake is a bit of an understatement.  I consider baking to be one of my favorite hobbies and biggest stress relievers.  While cookies, cakes and other baked goods will satisfy my craving to bake, from time to time, I desire more of a challenge.  Having studied French for 6 years and having had the pleasure of going to France a few times, there is one French confection that I have had an infatuation with:  macarons.  Not only do I find the petite cookies beautiful and lovely to look at, but also the flavor possibilities and textures are amazing.  My favorite flavor combination that I have sampled was pistachio with chocolate ganache.  The egg white and almond based cookies literally melt in your mouth yet have an impressive chewiness to them.  The cookies are sandwiched together and typically filled with ganache or buttercream.

Since I have marveled at the intricate structure of the cookies for quite some time, I knew making them myself would be challenging.  There are several regional varieties of macaroons/macarons and one of the varieties that many of us are most familiar with is the coconut macaroon.  While both the coconut macaroon and French macaron incorporate whipped egg whites into their recipes, the coconut adds a moist chewiness that is much more dense than the French macarons which gain some of their substance and texture from ground almonds.  Well made French macarons have shiny tops with air-pocket-filled edges.  The cookies are so delicate that you can peel this top shiny layer off and it is as thin as tissue paper.

Source: French Macaron & Coconut Macaroon

No doubt you have identified multiple possible sources of frustration when trying to fabricate these fragile treats. Having had a previous failed attempt at making the delicate macarons, I did a quick Internet search for tips and tricks and was amazed at the websites, blogs and online tutorials dedicated to this sweet treat.  The recipe that finally gave me success is from Foodnetwork and is courtesy of Gale Gand.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Burgers (French Macarons)

Macarons:

  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus 1/2 cup
  • 1 1/2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 5 egg whites

Peanut Butter Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Equipment: Pastry bag with round tip

Directions

Make the Macaroons: Preheat the oven to 300° F.

Line several sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside. In a bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups of the sugar, almonds, and cocoa powder.

In another clean dry bowl whip the egg whites with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until medium peaks form (do not beat to stiff peaks).

Fold egg whites into dry ingredients to a make a meringue.

Fill the pastry bag with the meringue. (To easily fill the pastry bag, place it (with a clothespin holding it shut at the bottom) in a tall round container such as a coffee can, mayonnaise jar, or vase, folding the edge over the rim of the container.)

Pipe rows of kisses 1-inch in diameter (about the size of a quarter), keeping them 1/2 inch apart, onto the sheet pans.

Bake until very light brown, rotating the pans after 8 minutes, about 17 minutes. Let the macaroons cool on the pan.

Meanwhile, make the Peanut Butter Buttercream: In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter and whip. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and whip until fluffy. Transfer the buttercream to a clean pastry bag fitted with a round tip.

Peel 2 macarons off the parchment, pipe the buttercream on 1 flat side and sandwich the other flat-side down on top. Repeat with the remaining macaroons. Keep chilled in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Thank you so much Mercedes for both the guest post AND the amazing chocolate & peanut butter macarons – they were delicious! If you are a baker, you have to try these!