Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate-Almond Financiers

I think I'm getting an obsession to gluten-free baking and cooking. It sounds weird, I know, but seriously, I'm always looking up new recipes and information and trying to learn as much as I can about it and I think I buy a new type of flour every time I go to the grocery store (hehe sorry dad...). Oh, and when I'm eating I randomly think about how I COULDN'T eat that food if I had a gluten allergy. I'm a weirdo, I know, but ANYWAYS, the good part about this story is that my dear friend Emily who has celiac disease gets to sample some of my recipes and experiments and I get to feed some of my curiosity. Win-win right? Oh yeah, and all of youuu readers get to hear the stories and see the pictures (the semi-decent ones at least) and you get the low down on some gluten-free recipes. I'd say this is a pretty good deal.
So are you now totally excited for this recipe from Gluten-Free Girl??? Well, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't get TOO excited since I didn't think these chocolate financiers were as amazing as I'd been all hyped up about, BUT they were still very nice, especially if you like brownies. They reminded me a lot of brownies with a crunchy exterior and a crumbly, nutty interior. I love how they were really quick and easy and used up some of my extra egg whites, but I think next time I'll follow some other bloggers' advice to brown the butter for extra flavor and maybe some vanilla extract will be added as well. Any other ideas for how to make these babies "pop" a little more would be much appreciated, but in the meantime, these really are a nice little GF treat that anybody would love to try!

(Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, like I was, a financier is just a mini cake-like thing that has a batter made with nut flour, egg whites, and butter (usually browned). So these don't really have to be any particular shape or design.)

§  1 stick butter
§  1 cup almond meal/flour
§  ¾ cup powdered sugar
§  4 Tbsp cocoa powder, Dutch-processed if possible
§  1/8 tsp salt
§  1/3 cup egg whites
§  ¼ tsp almond extract
§  ¼ tsp vanilla extract
§  Extra powdered sugar for dusting

1.       Cut off 2 Tbsp of butter from the whole stick and place in small microwaveable bowl. Take the remaining 8 Tbsp and place in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Cook the butter in the pan until it has melted, stopped foaming, and has browned lightly. While the butter is cooking, melt the other 2 Tbsp in the bowl in the microwave. Set the browned butter aside to cool and use the 2 Tbsp of butter to grease 12 financier molds or a mini muffin tin.
2.       Preheat the oven to 400 F. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl (this can be done with a fork or whisk, a stand mixer is not necessary unless you make a large batch).  
3.      Stir in the egg whites and the extracts until smooth and then gradually add the browned butter and stir until uniform.
4.      Spoon a heaping Tbsp of batter into each mold (or fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full) and place the molds on a baking sheet and place in the middle of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cakes are puffed and slightly springy to the touch. 12 minutes was perfect for me. The edges might look a bit dark, but that’s okay.
5.      Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the molds/tins. Before serving, dust the top lightly with powdered sugar.

Makes about 12 cakes.

I just used a fork to mix this batter up and
 it worked fine, easy clean-up!

I used these fun little molds for my financiers,
but a mini muffin tin willwork fine too, just
adjust the amount of batter you use and
the baking time as needed. Also, if you use
molds with fancy edges, make sure to clean
them out REALLY well so that no gluten is
hiding in the ridges from a previous use

Fill them up pretty full so that they bake
over the edges and form a grip for you to
remove them once they are cooled and
that way you don't have to ruin the edges

Baking them on a sheet pan just makes
everything much easier

The edges are a little dark,
but that's okay, you want them
a little crispy so that there
is contrast between the exterior
and the crumbly, cake-like

The powdered sugar dresses these cakes
up a little bit and makes them more
interesting, but you could also try a
drizzle of ganache or whatever else
you think would be pretty

Add some of these to your GF tea-time snack spread!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Introducing the Daring Future Chef

I gotta say, I've been pretty excited about writing this post. Since I heard about the Daring Kitchen I've been wanting to join in on all the fun and now I've finally done it and this is my first Daring Cooks post! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Daring Kitchen, it is an internet group of blogging AND non-blogging cooks and bakers who want to push themselves and aren't afraid to try new things. The kitchen is divided into Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers and every month, both groups get a new food assignment to make within the next few weeks and then everyone posts about it on the same day (the bloggers do anyways). There are different rules and regulations that kindof keep it all together, but that is the basic idea. Pretty cool, huh? So anyways, as part of my "New Year's resolution" if you will, I decided to join the Daring Cooks and see how it goes and hopefully if I can keep up with it and it's a lot of fun, I'll join the Daring Bakers next year. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, this is only my FIRST post!
So our assignment for February was Japanese Soba Noodles and Tempura Vegetables/Shrimp. I was pretty eager for this challenge since I've never made either at home before, but I have see them done at school and it didn't look TOO terribly least that's what I was hoping. Before I started looking at recipes and such, I dug a little deeper into how these foods are typically/best prepared. Soba noodles, first off, are dark brown/gray-colored noodles from Japan made with buckwheat and wheat flour. They are usually served chilled with a dipping sauce or warm in a soup. After some more research, I decided to prepare Hiyashi Soba, a cold noodle salad served with various toppings and dipping sauce. Tempura is another very popular Japanese cooking method. It just means that food is dipped in a light batter and fried briefly so that it remains light and crisp. I guess just about anything COULD be made tempura-style, but shrimp and veggies are the norm. Since it IS still February, my vegetable choices for these dishes was somewhat limited, but I tried to pick things that weren't waaay out of season and work with what I did have. I had to look around a bit to get my hands on soba noodles and daikon radish, but I finally found some and was very excited to by trying so many new things at once. But enough blabbing, time to tell about my adventure.... :D
For my hiyashi soba I didn't use a recipe, but just kindof picked up the basic idea from some different resources and decided to put it altogether based on my own taste. Here's what I used:
  • soba noodles
  • mung bean sprouts
  • omelet strips
  • grated daikon radish
  • minced fresh ginger
  • dipping sauce
This dish came together suuuper easy as all I did was cook the noodles, make an omelet and cut it up, prepare the radish, ginger, and dipping sauce and that was all I had to do. I let my family compose their own "salads" however they liked. The only thing I would say to be careful about is the noodles. I followed the directions on the back of the bag and only boiled them for 4 or 5 minutes and they were perfectly done so just don't leave them along to turn into mush and you will be good! For the dipping sauce, I didn't have any mirin (Asian cooking wine) so I couldn't make the standard sauce for the hiyashi or the tempura veggies. Instead, I finally found a sauce recipe in my Professional Cooking book that I had all the ingredients for and sounded like it would work. It was actually a Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, but oh well, it worked! 
(Sorry about the lame pictures, I took a lot more, but it wasn't till I was almost done that I realized my memory card was malfunctioning! :( so here's what I salvaged!)

After cooking the noodles I rinsed them, let
them dry, and then chilled them as I prepared
the other ingredients

I used one egg to make a small, thin omelet,
but if you could use 2 eggs for longer or
thicker strips

The Vietnamese dipping sauce was very simple.
Just 1/4 cup soy sauce with some garlic, ginger,
red pepper and lime juice. I think it was better
the next day though after it had more time for
the flavors to meld

To serve, I just plated some chilled noodles
then layered on the mung bean sprouts, omelet
strips, and then on top you can see the grated
daikon radish, which I thought was really good

Here's my finished product. I forgot to get
PICKLED ginger for the top so I just soaked
some fresh ginger in the dipping sauce and
put it on top. Not 100% authentic, but a good
start I think :)

Now for the tempura. I chose not to do shrimp as well because 1) we didn't have any raw shrimp 2) I didn't want to mess around with changing the temp of my oil and all that when this was my first time deep frying. So my vegetables choices were as follows:
  • Sweet potatoes cut brunoise (like matchsticks)
  • Green bell peppers cut bruinoise (thin strips)
  • Carrots cut rondelle (rounds)
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Sliced onions
I cut everything about as neatly as possible and quite thin so that everything would cook quickly and uniformly, which is very important. After looking at a number of different tempura batter recipes, here is the one I chose:

- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1 1/4 cups ice water
- 1 large egg
- a pinch of salt

I had a little trouble trying to mix the egg into the batter as I was using chopsticks (authentic method) and I was trying very hard not to over-mix the batter, but it seemed to turn out okay. The reason ice water is used is so that the differing temperatures of the cold batter meeting the hot oil will create an extra crispy exterior. I thought help keep the batter nice and cold by keeping it in an ice bath, but unfortunately this didn't seem to help much. I also had trouble keeping my batter a nice consistency so it wouldn't stay on some of the veggies and others got a heavy slathering :/ Overall, I think my main mistake was not having my oil hot enough. I was afraid of having it too hot, but in the end I found myself deep frying the vegetables too much because the batter wasn't cooking fast enough. The end result? The vegetables weren't crispy and they all tasted a lot like fast food French fries, but my family liked them way more than I predicted (probably thanks to the over-deep frying :p) So now I'm not so afraid to try my hand at deep frying, BUT I'll give myself more time in the future and I'm going to try to NOT make such a huge mess of my kitchen!

Stirring an ice water batter with chopsticks
...harder than it sounds...

My trusty dutch oven filled about
2/3 with hot canola oil and equipped
with a thermometer to monitor
the temp

Here's a batch of carrots frying. I tried to gage
doneness by appearance instead of time, but
neither method seemed to work particularly
well for me. Advice anyone??

I tried to set up an orderly station next to my
"deep fryer", but things got crowded pretty fast

Oh, and REALLY messy too between the flour
for dredging, the batter, the oil, yeah...

The finished product didn't look TOO bad to me,
but I def advise only making as much as you want
to eat AT THAT TIME because the next day they
will be a mushy yucky mess!

Tempura Vegetables with Dipping Sauce (I
used the same sauce for the soba noodles and
the tempura vegetables)

 So there we have it: my first ever Daring Cooks challenge, COMPLETED!!! I feel daring already... :) I'm looking forward to next month's assignment and I hope you are too!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Right now is my least favorite time of the whole year. February and March. The ground is mushy and gray and the weather is always leaving me in a gloom. For about two months I stuck between missing the cheeriness of Christmas and dreaming of the excitement of the spring and summer yet to come. Valentine's and St. Patrick's Day aren't really special to me so I'm usually left to find ways of keeping my spirits up. Cooking and spending time in the kitchen is my usual escape, but even that practice can become dull when I start to get tired of trowing together bean soups and eating the same root vegetables day after day when I really want some fresh garden tomatoes, strawberries, melon, peppers, peaches, and blueberries all perfectly ripe and bursting with the taste of sunshine and blue skies. Even when I've made the effort to make something totally delicious, I'm constantly met with cloudy skies that leave me disappointed with dark, lifeless photos. 
It's times like these that it's so easy to become depressed as my head is fuzzy and out of focus and my body is lacking energy and initiative. 
But then there are those days that just change everything.
About a month ago, Marc, a good friend of mine found out that what he first thought was a case of pneumonia turned out to be a cancerous tumor in his lungs. After a number of tests, the doctors told Marc that he would have to go through various surgeries and treatments and his damaged lung would most likely have to be removed. Marc has always been heavily involved in all types of sports and has had his fair share of injuries that he has dealt with and then gone right back to playing. Having only one lung would be totally different. A second lung would never grow back over time, a replacement lung wasn't really an option, and no amount of therapy would ever make things go back to normal. This news came as such a shock to Marc's family and friends, but through it all he has maintained his contagious positive attitude that everyone loves. He doesn't know what the future holds for him, but he knows that God has a plan for his life and he will have faith in that. 
However, even with such a great hope, I wanted to do something special for Marc to show him my appreciation for his friendship and my support for him in this difficult time. I decided to give him some things that I knew would be encouraging to me. I made a big card with neon colored letters, glitter, markers, etc. and inside I had friends from youth group write notes to Marc on multi-colored index cards. My sister got one of Marc's favorite movies and his favorite drink and then helped me with the final piece: the cookies.
I'm not normally someone who puts a lot of work into my cookies, but I wanted these to be different, special. I decided to make round sugar cookies with neon icing that would be smiley faces, but they would be a little bit out of the ordinary. The cookies had an extra pinch of lemon and vanilla to really brighten up the taste and the icing would be a different flavor for each color. Sounds fun right?
Well the dough came together fine and cookies baked up beautifully, but at the time I was making them, it just wasn't a very good day. I'm sure the Feb/March yuckiness played a part on my damp mood, but it was a worse day than usual for a number of reasons. Ironically enough, as I was flooding the cookies with the brightly colored icings I was crying. I was so upset, but I knew I had to get those cookies done. Even after I had filled in all 28 cookies I still had tears streaming down my face and I looked like a mess. It was only when I started on the faces that something changed. As I started piping purple eyes and mouths on the cookies I could hardly help but laugh, they were SO cute! I started thinking about Marc and everything he is going through and yet he was just as selfless as ever, always putting other's needs before his own. He was always wanting to know how I was doing and asking about my silly problems and telling me it was okay. I continued decorating the cookies and I just had to smile. It wasn't the best day, but I had a lot to be happy about, the cookies had turned out great, and here I was trying to be an encouragement to Marc, but in the end he was the one who encouraged me.
So here's the recipe and directions for these adorable cookies. If you know someone who could use some encouragement, these guys are perfect, or maybe if you just need something to brighten your day, try these out. I normally don't even like sugar cookies, but I thought these were delicious. Whatever you do with them, just have fun with it, and remember to smile, the blue skies will be here soon.

§  1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
§  1 cup powdered sugar
§  1 egg
§  2 ½ tsp vanilla extract
§  1 vanilla bean, split and beans removed (optional)
§  Zest from a half of a lemon (or more if you want)
§  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
§  1 tsp salt
§  1 cup powdered sugar
§  2-3 Tbsp milk
§  1 Tbsp light corn syrup
§  A drop of fresh lemon juice
§  Extracts and flavorings to taste
§  Food coloring as desired

1.       In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar on medium speed until smooth, 1-2 min. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds (if desired), and lemon zest until blended.
2.      Gradually mix in the flour and salt on low speed until just incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed.
3.      Form the dough into a ball and flatten it out slightly. Refrigerate until chilled and almost firm, about 1 hour, or freeze and use later, it will defrost just fine.
4.      Preheat the oven to 375 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut into 2-3 inch circles or other desired shape and place on the cookies sheets placed 1 inch apart (they will not spread very much).
5.      Bake 8-10 min, (rotating the sheets halfway through if you put them in at the same time) until fully cooked, and slightly golden, but not browned. (the bottoms should be light brown and firm)
6.      Cool on wire racks completely before icing or storing.
1.      To make the icing, pour the milk, corn syrup, and lemon juice over the sugar and stir with a spoon until smooth. Add flavoring to taste, about ¼ tsp at a time then add the food coloring a drop at a time until you have reached your desired color.

2.     For making smiley faces: Make a batch of slightly thicker frosting, flavor it with vanilla extract and color with neon purple food coloring. Use a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip or cut a very small hole off the end of a plastic bag and spoon in some of the frosting. Draw a circle around the edge of each cookie and allow the icing to dry and harden for at least 10 min. (If the icing spreads too much, see suggestions about on adjusting the consistency)
3.      Separate a batch of plain frosting into small bowls and use various flavorings and colors for each. I did blue/almond extract, green/peppermint extract, pink/strawberry extract, and yellow/lemon extract.
4.  Use a small spoon and place a dollop of frosting in the center of each cookie. If the icing is very thin, it may flood to the edge on its own. If it is thicker, use a small butter knife to carefully spread it all the way up to the purple edge. Allow the filling to dry for at least 5 min.
5.   Using the purple icing in the bag again, pipe eyes and mouths on the cookies and allow them to dry before serving or storing.  

If you keep everything covered with a light dusting of
flour, the dough should be very easy to handle and
not sticky.

I wanted cookies a little bigger than bite-sized so I
used a cup with a 3 inch rim.

The cookies baked perfectly. Firm enough to
 decorateyet not crunchy when you ate them.

Plus they barely expanded from their original
shape which is very important if you are going
to decorate them.

Make sure to cool them completely before icing
them so that the icing will not melt and run.

For the most part these circles were very easy to
draw, but some weren't perfect when I got

You should only need a small amount to "flood"
each cookie. I made 2 batches of plain white
frosting for everything and I had plenty of
icing left over.

Next time I'll do this on our dining room table
as things got pretty crowded and messy.

This is a great activity for friends or kids to help
out with as it's fun and easy and doesn't take
 a lot of concentration.My sister and I
had a great time with it.

You can do other faces on these guys too, if you
like, but I decided to stick with just the
cute little grin.

Adorable, no?

Here's the cookies with the big card
that matches!

Don't worry, I sampled them with the icing
and they were all very yummy. My family
had a fun time guessing what the flavors were.
I liked peppermint the best, but my other sisters
liked the lemon and strawberry so it just
depends on taste I guess.

Friends :)

Here they are the next day before I delivered them.
The icing stayed nice and hard, but it wasn't as
shiny, so just something to keep in mind.

Wouldn't these brighten anyone's day?

Thanks for always making me smile, Marc!