Baking · Dessert

Chocolate Coffee Cake

According to my mother, chocolate cake recipes are always better with coffee as an enhancing ingredient.  I think the coffee in this cake is perfect, as the flavors enhance each other and make it somehow even more chocolatey. This recipe is adapted from Barefoot Contessa, and I’ve yet to find a better recipe for rich, intense, chocolate cake than this one. If I have ever made chocolate cake for you – this is the recipe. We have used it for years, without fail.

Because it so rich, you may want to consider using minimal icing. I usually bake this in a bundt, and either top with powdered sugar or simple chocolate ganache. This is also a great chocolate layer cake, in which you may want to consider a chocolate buttercream frosting.

You will need:

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)*

Steps:

  1. Preheat – preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease & Flour two 8-inch round cake pans or one bundt pan.
  2. Prepare dry Ingredients-  Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. Prepare wet Ingredients – In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.  With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Bake – Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. If using 8 inch cake pans, bake for 26-28 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. If using a bundt pan, bake for 42-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Decorate – After the cake is completely cooled, you can decorate in a variety of ways:
    1. Simply dust with confectioner’s sugar
    2. Chocolate ganache – whisk 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate and 3 tbs of cream over low-medium heat. This is good for a bundt cake.
    3. Chocolate buttercream frosting – see instructions below. This is ideal for layers.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  1. 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
  2. 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  3. 1 egg yolk, room temp
  4. 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  5. 1 Tbs instant coffee

Steps:

  1. Melt chocolate in a double broiler or in a pyrex bowl over simmering water.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Dissolve the coffee in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t overwhip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Italian

Spaghetti Carbonara

Full disclosure. I did not grow up eating this – that said, once I went to Italy and had it, I understood why people love it so. This has become a favorite of our children. While using pancetta or other Italian meats is preferable, bacon is absolutely fine. Of course in Italy or NYC, you can get your hands on those ingredients and fresh pasta, but for most of us here we have to make do. One thing I think makes a big difference is the use of fresh grated, quality cheese.

I think another element that many American cooks miss is the importance of reserve pasta water. I’ve seen many non-Italians cook the sauce and pasta separate. The ideal is to add the noodles al dente to the pan, and finish cooking them off use a little reserve pasta water. This makes a big difference.

On a side note, I much prefer this with bucatini (my favorite long noodle); however, it is not always available at the grocery store – spaghetti, however, is universal:)

You will need:

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 packed cup grated pecorino Romano
  • 1/3 packed cup, grated Parmesan
  • 3 ½ ounces of pancetta or bacon, sliced into pieces about 1/4 inch thick by 1/3 inch square
  • 1 box bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
  • Salt & Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Steps:

  1. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, and pecorino and Parmesan. Season with a pinch of salt and generous black pepper.
  3. Add pasta to the water and boil until al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the pancetta/bacon, and sauté until the meat just begins to crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Just before pasta is ready, reheat pancetta/bacon in skillet, if needed. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add to the skillet over low heat. Stir for a minute or so, working the olive oil and meat through the pasta. Add in some reserved pasta water and work through the noodles until creamy.
  6. Stir in cheese mixture. Serve immediately, dressing it with a bit of additional grated cheese and pepper.

Asian · Central American · Side dish

Stewed Plantains in Coconut Milk

This is riff off a recipe from the cookbook: My Two Souths by Asha Gomez. This cookbook is a delightful and interesting approach as it fuses southern cooking with south Indian cuisine. We tested this recipe out as great appreciators of plantains and coconut milk, and it quickly became a favorite because of flavor and how easy it is to make.

One thing about food that never ceases to amaze me is how so many cuisines are connected; for example, plantains and coconut milk feature in a multitude of cultures: Central America, India, Africa and south Asia. It is fascinating to investigate how other cultures interpret the same ingredients. In the end, we are all winners:)

This is a simple recipe, but it is incredibly flavorful. It is also very easy to make even during a busy work week for a satisfying, comforting treat. It can be a side dish, but frankly, I have eaten it as a sweet comfort when it is cold outside, after a meal.

You will need:

  • 3-4 very ripe plantains (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) well-shaken and stirred unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 8-10 crushed green cardamom pods

Steps:

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, the cardamom, the salt, vanilla and the sugar to a boil. Add the plantains and cook over medium heat until the plantains are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring just to a simmer to prevent curdling. The stewed plantains will have the consistency of a chowder. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Italian · Mediterranean

Chicken stuffed with Feta & Sundried Tomatoes

I have been seeing various versions of this pop on my feed and thought it looked rather comforting and easy to make. I tried it out (putting my own spin on it) and was delighted with how easy it was to make and how delicious it was. If you are a feta or sundried tomato lover like myself you will love this. Also, it is a very healthy dish if you are conscientious about diet.

Level: easy. Time: 45 minutes total (15 prep)

You will need:

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 6-8 Sundried tomatoes, drained
  • Feta, 4-6 oz.
  • Fresh spinach, 1-2 cups
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil
  • toothpicks

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop spinach and sundried tomatoes loosely into bite size pieces. Blend spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta in a small bowl and set aside.

Step two:

Clean and pat dry chicken breasts. Slice a small pocket in each breast, to hold stuffing. Season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Stuff each chicken breast with the feta mix and hold together with 1-2 toothpicks.

Step three:

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and when ready add the chicken. Brown on each side for 6-7 minutes. Finish the chicken off in the oven for 15 minutes until fully cooked. Serve.

Mediterranean · Side dish

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash

A classic for the grill.

  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 4 medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup good quality basalmic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

Heat grill to medium. Toss zucchini, squahs, oil, vinegar and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Grill covered, until tender around 6-8 minutes. Reserve remaining marinade to drizzle over the vegetables.

Baking · Dessert · Italian

Classic Almond Biscotti

There are many different versions of biscotti floating around on the internet, some traditional and some experimental. Some are geared more towards the American palette (think lots of chocolate and sugar) and other towards the simpler, traditional fare for coffee dunking. I tend to prefer my biscotti for drinking with my coffee and prefer to ease up on the sugar, but then again there are times a dark chocolate biscotti with orange call me like a siren. Fun fact: my all time favorite biscotti flavor is pistachio. But in the end, I truly love a classic almond, as well. I think, in the end, there is a great versatility with this recipe: they can be standalone or you can add chocolate or other elements fairly easily.

This recipe can be modified as you see fit. The alcohol provides a depth to the flavor of the cookie. Be sure to add almond extract to achieve the almond flavor.

Time: 3 hours (including chilling & cooling). Actual assembly time is around 30 minutes.

Yield: 3 dozen

You will need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, unsalted & lightly toasted
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional combinations:
  • Dark or milk chocolate – you can add as chips or melt to dunk one side of the cookie when finished.
  • Roasted pistachio (1 cup) & dried cranberries (1/2 cup). Use orange zest rather than lemon.
  • Anise – use 1/2 tsp anise extract rather than almond extract.

Step one:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer almonds on a sheet pan and toast for 3-5 minutes. Check the almonds every minute to ensure they do not become overcooked. Color should be very light brown. Cool.

Step two:

Blend melted butter, sugar, amaretto, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined. Add almonds.

Step three:

Chill the dough for 30 minutes to ensure that it is easier to work with.

Step four:

Wet your hands (this makes shaping easier) and halve the chilled dough and form 2  loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet. I recommend getting a bowl of water and dipping your hands and rubbing them together; then immediately shape the loaves with your wet hands.

Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool for five minutes on the baking sheet. Remove the loaves (I use a pizza spatula) and cool on a wire rack for and additional 15 minutes.

Cut the loaves with a serrated bread knife.

Step five:

Place biscotti (cut-side down) on a clean baking sheet and bake another 15-20 minutes. The color should be light golden.

Cool the biscotti on a wire rack.

Central American · Dessert · Mediterranean

Simple & Refreshing Summer Desserts

While I have a fair amount of baking recipes on this site, in truth, I don’t bake much in the summer. Instead, I prefer quick and easy cool treats for us to enjoy that take advantage of the fresh fruit available. Also, I don’t eat much dairy – only bits of parmesan and feta – so this rules out a lot of ice cream. I favor granitas (italian ices), batidos or agua frescas (fruit drinks) and desserts made with coconut milk. I realized many people out there might be like me and might want some refreshing ideas. What follows are some of my own recipes, as well as recipes I’ve collected from others that we often make for summer evenings. The beauty is no oven, ice-cream machines or molds are required. Simple and refreshing.

Most flavors are grounded in Italian and Latin American flavors reflecting our home and preferences, but some such as the Chai tea latte popsicle are from other cultures that we truly enjoy. A few ideas are from cookbooks that I love: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Granitas:

What I love about granitas is that they are relatively easy to make – you blend them and then leave them in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy. They are very healthy, as well, as it is simply fruit and water. If you add sugar, you can sub out stevia for those who are sugar conscious. Honey is also a tasty substitue. I take advantage of using very naturally sweet fruits (i.e. pineapple, watermelon), fresh mint from the garden and limes to make most of my combos. My basic recipe is as follows:

  • 6-8 cups of fresh fruit, chopped
  • 2 tbs lime juice (or 1 lime)
  • 2 tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
  • fresh mint (2-4 tbs)

When you blend it together, spread it into a 9×13 baking pan and freeze for an hour and 1/2. Scrape the ice and then put back in the freezer. Set the pan out for 15-20 minutes before serving, so it thaws to the best texture.

Granita ideas:

  • Watermelon Mint Granita – if you have a bunch of leftover watermelon, this is is fast and easy to put together. It is my favorite of all time.
  • Pineapple Mint Granita – simply use canned or fresh pineapple.
  • Lemon & Rosemary Granita – Omit the lime juice and honey. Instead use: 3 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tbs lemon zest. Three sprigs rosemary.
  • Strawberry Mint Granita– 1.5 lbs of hulled strawberries. 1/2 cup sugar (to taste). 2 tbs lemon juice, instead of lime.
  • Melon & Mint Granita – Use cantalope and increase the honey/sugar to desired sweetness.
  • Coconut Granita- I literally use a can of coconut milk, lime juice, and sugar. It’s ridiculously easy.

Quick Coconut Milk “icecream”

This is a great substitute for those who are dairy free, lactose intolerant or don’t have an ice-cream maker. Like granitas, I utilize a 9 x13 baking dish and the freezer. Generally, this freezes within an hour, and better than granitas, no scraping necessary:). The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups of frozen fruit
  • sugar to taste, if desired. I would begin with a 1/3 of a cup and build to desired level of sweetness.

Coconut Milk Icecream ideas:

  • Mango & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Pineapple & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Papaya & Pineapple – use a combination of these frozen fruits and a dash of lime juice.

Ice Pops or Popsicles

What I love about these is that they can be as simple as pouring some fruit juice in to a mold, or you can make it more elaborate or alcoholic for a summer evening refresher. I like silicone molds, which you can find online for around 8 dollars, but of course, the molds from dollar tree will work just as well in a pinch.

Popsicle ideas

Icy Popsicles: The basic recipe is 2 cups whole fruit (frozen or fresh), 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and coconut water/orange juice/lime juice water as needed for blending.

  • Strawberry-Watermelon – 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup watermelon, 1/4 cup sugar or honey. Lime juice as needed.
  • Mango-Papaya – 1 cup mango, 1 cup papaya, 1/4 cup sugar or honey, orange juice as needed.
  • Any fruit juice – simply add to the molds and freeze.
  • Strawberry Rose – 1 lb stawberries, mint leaves, splash of rosewater, honey & 1 bottle of rose’ wine (source: Bottom of the Pot)*

Creamy Popsicles:

  • Orange Mango Coconut Yogurt – 4 cups frozen mango, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 can coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Peach Yogurt – 2 ripe peaches, 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Pineapple Chia Seed – 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • Chai tea latte – use a commercial concentrate base of chai tea latte and combine with almond milk, regular milk or coconut milk to desired taste.

Batidos or Agua Frescas

Fruit drinks are a refreshing treat for anytime, and of course, you can add a little alcohol in the evening for some fun. In Costa Rica, they are known as batidos, but in much of Latin America – agua frescas. I love watermelon batidos when I am dehydrated or tamarind when I am constipated or sluggish. They are better than juice because you still have the fiber and vitamins from the cut fruit.

Regardless when you get them in restaurants they are usually made with pulpy syrup base. The old school way is a machete and blender. They can come made with water or with milk. The basic recipe for a batido is essentially 1 cup fruit, 1 cup water OR can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey. From there, you can add other layers.

Here are some ideas.

  • Tamarind & Orange Blossom – 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup tamarind paste, 1 tsp orange blossom water. You make this over the stove and store in the fridge as a syrup. When ready, combine with five cups of water. Alcohol: tequila. (Source: Bottom of the Pot)*
  • Pina Colada – Pineapple juice, 1 can crema de coco (coconut cream), ice and blend. Alcohol: rum
  • Papaya: 1 cup papaya, 1 can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey.
  • Peach Lassi – 2 ripe peaches, 3 tbs honey, lime juice (1 lime), 1 cup yogurt (Source: Everyone’s Table)*
  • Limonada de coco – 1 cup cream of coconut, 2 1/2 cups crushed ice, juice of 3 limes, 2 tbs sugar Alcohol: rum
  • Cucumber Limeade – blend cucumbers and strain with lime juice and sugar. So refreshing.
  • Other great fruits – watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry, pineapple, strawberry, mango – or any combination.

*If you haven’t please check out these amazing cookbooks: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Baking · Central American · Dessert · Spanish

Tres Leches

There are many iterations of Tres Leches that vary according to country and tradition. Regardless of recipe, tres leches is essentially a cake soaked in three types of milk (evaporated, condensed, and cream). While soaked sponges is far from new (i.e. rum cakes or tiramisu), tres leches utilizes canned milk, which became popular in the 20th century. Several writers trace the cake’s origins to Mexico, but it quickly became popular in Central and Latin America. The recipe that follows is an adaptation from my former colleague who is from Venezuela. Years ago, we had a tres leches bake-off, and out of all the recipes we have tried, hers was the clear and proven winner. This is a very simple, but very delicious recipe. Although it fast to bake and assemble, you will need several hours for cooling and chilling.

For the cake:

  • 5 eggs
  • 200g sugar (1 cup)
  • 200g flour (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • cinnamon, for dusting

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).
  2. Cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla until fluffy and light. Add in flour and baking powder, and beat until well-blended. Pour batter into greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
  3. Prick the baked cake multiple time with a fork and allow to cool completely. After the cake has cooled, blend condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow it to rest in the fridge for several hours (2-2/12 hours). This will allow the cake to expand and absorb the liquid.
  4. Beat remaining cream (2 cups) with confectioners sugar and vanilla until stiff. Layer onto the cooled cake and dust with cinnamon. Serve chilled.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Side dish · Spanish

Easy Romesco Sauce

For those of you that don’t know, Romesco is a rich, multi-purpose sauce made of roasted red peppers & tomatoes that goes amazingly well with fish, vegetables, and spread on a great quality bread. It is traditionally thickened with almonds and bread, and the result is a garlicky, smoky masterpiece that you will find pairs with everything, especially eggs.

To make this traditionally, you would roast and char the tomatoes & peppers, however, what follows is a quick and easy cheat, where I let others do the work for me. Also, I skip thickening it with bread so those in my family avoiding gluten can eat without thought. Regardless of how you make it, make sure to give the sauce time to rest before serving.

It’s okay to cheat. I promise.

You will need:

  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • roma tomatoes
  • 1 cup almonds, roasted*
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar

Steps:

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange almonds on baking sheet and lightly roast for 6-8 minutes. *If you are busy, you can skip roasting the almonds, although roasting them brings out their flavor more.
  2. In a food processor, chop almonds until they are fine. Then, blend garlic, almonds and tomatoes until it is a paste
  3. Add in red peppers, parsley, paprika, salt & pepper. Add in vinegar, then olive oil, a little at a time until smooth and the desired consistency. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and allow to fall to room temperature when serving.
Store in the fridge. Anyone else keep their fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge?

Serving ideas: This is great with fish, eggs, steak, and grilled vegetables such as eggplant. Personally, I love it smeared on a crusty baguette or ciabatta with a little olive oil. Often, we use it at breakfast. A common breakfast I make in the morning is chicken sausage (usually sundried tomato) with some tomato and sweet potato topped with romesco. This is great for those who are watching their intake of carbs or fat, or looking for a healthy start to the day.

Baking · Dessert

Easy Tarte Citron

Tarte Citron is one of those classic desserts that are deceptively simple, yet take a lifetime to master. What follows is a much EASIER and quicker tarte citron that I promise you will enjoy. A few months ago, I ran a taste test with both the traditional method and this version, and we found that we liked both equally. The French version was more refined, but this version was creamier and a bit more decadent.

Now, if I wanted to impress someone and make homemade pastry, I would go for the classic. But often, I don’t want to make homemade pastry or do bain-maries, I just want a gorgeous lemony tart. As a result, there many shortcuts (i.e. the crust) and using condensed milk instead of creating a custard. That said, I recommend making sure the lemons are fresh squeezed, if possible. We love it, and I hope you do too.

Time: prep – 30 minutes, total – 2 hours

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs or 5 graham crackers crushed
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 egg yolks, large
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (two large lemons)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack on the lower level. Arrange pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Let cool. Juice your lemons.
  2. In a food processor or blender, finely grind the graham crackers, sugar & pecans. Add the butter and combine.
  3. Press this pecan mix into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan and bake until the crust is lightly browned (around 7-8 minutes).
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with condensed milk, and stir in lemon juice. Pour filling into the crust and bake until the filling is set (15-16 minutes).
  5. Cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour.