March 17, 2010

Chocolate Cheesecake Tartlets

Happy Sweet Sixteen Lisa!!!!!

The season of birthdays drew to a close as we celebrated Lisa's super sweet sixteen! This monumental birthday had to be rung in with something sweet, of course. Lisa's pick: Chocolate Cheesecake Tartlets, out of the Better Homes & Gardens "The Ultimate Cookie Book" (we made a few adjustments). These bite-sized tarts held just the right enough of sweetness to match Lisa's super sweetness.

We were a little pressed for time, so we resorted to buying mini tarts from the grocery store. We recommend that you also just buy them. It would be kind of fun to make the pastry, but dealing with such tiny tart cups would probably be a little tricky... we won't spill your secret!
If you use the pre-made pastry, these are actually a really easy treat to whip up in short order.

Chocolate Cheesecake Tartlets
Cheat and use packaged mini-tarts --> 2 packages of 18, for a total of 36 tartlets
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese (equivalent to 1 cup), softened
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (1/2 cup chocolate chips), melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoons vanilla
Whipped cream
Chocolate shavings
  • In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and chocolate together until combined. Note: we used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of bittersweet chocolate. Things worked out. Beat in sugar, egg yolks, milk, and vanilla.
  • Spoon a rounded teaspoon of the filling into (uncooked) tarts. Arrange tarts on baking sheets.
  • Bake 18 minutes or until crusts are golden and filling is set. Let stand for 10 minutes before removing tarts from pan. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. The puffy centers will deflate a little.
  • A few minutes before serving, top each tart with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.
The birthday girl!
Batter on the beaters.
Tarts spread out on the baking sheets.
The chocolate centers deflate when they cool.
Don't worry, any cracks will be covered up by the whipped cream.

Skillet Eggplant Beef

We have a box of ground beef in the freezer... what to do with it all? There's always the go-to-stand-bys: meatloaf, meatballs, hamburgers, lasagna... but Amy's not a huge fan of most of those, and really, they get a little repetitive.

So, in our search for a unique ground beef recipe, we came across this. We'd love to call it a gem. It was unique. It was edible and even a little tasty. But a gem? The cinnamon takes some getting used to - the original recipe says there are Middle Eastern flavors. Maybe we'll make it once or twice again, but maybe not. Give it a try if you're looking for something different.

Nutrition PSA about ground beef: it's a great source of iron, protein, zinc, and niacin.

This came from a mini Canadian Living book, "The Canadian Living Cooking Collection: Easy Main Dishes" (Amy think she's going to steal them when she moves out). Very handy, but we wish there were more pictures!

Skillet Eggplant Beef
1 eggplant
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine (or water)
1 can tomato sauce (7 1/2 oz, 213 mL)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
3/4 dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
Pita bread
  • Peel eggplant. Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and sprinkle lightly with salt. Spread eggplants out into single layer on paper towels.
  • Cook beef, onion, and garlic in a large skillet. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until browned. Drain off the excess fat. Stir in wine, tomato sauce, parsley, oregano, cinnamon, and pepper.
  • Pat the eggplant dry (you'll notice the paper towel will have absorbed a lot of the moisture). Overlap the eggplant slices (we cut them in half) on top of the meat mixture and reduce stove heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, turning eggplant slices once. Eggplant should be tender.
  • Top with mozzarella and sprinkle with paprika to taste. Add a little Parmesan cheese for flavor. Serve with warm pita bread.
  • The original recipe suggests a salad with orange slices and black olives - we didn't prepare this, but it sounds like a great idea!
Just in case you weren't sure, this is an eggplant.
Peeled and sliced. Looks a little like a cucumber, but it's kind of spongy inside.
Skillet shot.
Added the eggplant and cheese.
Dinner is served!

Almond Macaroons... and a tale of a broken egg

See our little side-panel message where we say we are "making a mess"? This was a making a mess recipe. We also stayed true to the "getting flour everywhere" statement.

Almond Macaroons... although many people think of coconut when they picture macaroons, according to wikipedia the original macaroon was a "small sweet cake consisting largely of ground almonds". And according to our cookbook, "Cookies Galore" by Jacqueline Bellefontaine, they are traditionally made on edible rice paper. Unfortunately, we didn't have any. We went along with their suggestion of (very) liberally dusting the baking sheets with semolina flour. Stick with the rice paper, trust us.

Almond Macaroons
2/3 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar (superfine)
2 tablespoons semolina or ground rice
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Sliced almonds (for decoration)
  • Line baking sheet with rice paper (don't go the semolina flour route! It's a mess and didn't even work for us)
  • Grind the almonds in a food processor. Mix in medium bowl with sugar and semolina.
  • In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff (little peaks will form). Add almond extract.
  • Gradually fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Place tablespoons of batter on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart (they'll spread). Place an almond slice on each one for decoration.
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven at 325 F for 15 - 20 minutes, or until golden.
  • Cool and transfer to a wire rack. If you use rice paper, simply tear the rice paper between each macaroon.

Grind up the almonds... you'll notice it gets a little oily.
Sprinkling in the semolina.
Back on track.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Drop onto the baking sheet.
Umm... they're stuck.
It took arm muscle to hold the pan down while we pried the cookies off.
A crumpled cookie.

March 14, 2010

Crème Brûlée

Happy birthday to Dad!!!!
(a month or so late... it's been a while)

We were sifting through some cookbooks a while ago, searching for a dessert to make. Dad piped up and said he really liked crème brûlée. Although we didn't have all the ingredients on hand at the time, we tucked the idea away for a very special occasion... like his birthday!

Crème brûlée has a reputation as being difficult to make. It brings to mind images of blowtorches (which you can use, but the oven broiler is sufficient) and flames - which really, adds to the allure... and the fun. If you go the blowtorch route, just make sure you keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Crème Brûlée
The recipe we used came from Canadian Living Cooks Step by Step, by Daphna Rabinovitch. The awesome thing about this book is that it really is step-by-step. Plus, there are a ton of photos. Without further ado:

3 cups whipping cream
8 egg yolks
1/3 granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • Those 5 ingredients are all it takes to create 8 little masterpieces. We halved the recipe - feel free to adjust according to the number of servings you need.
  • In a small pot, heat cream over medium-high until steaming hot (careful, milk burns easily). In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks with granulated sugar, then whisk in cream. Add vanilla.
  • Skim off foam. Divide mixture between 8 ramekins... we had to scrounge around for oven-safe cups. Be creative. We were. (onion soup bowl, anyone? presentation points were definitely deducted)
  • Boil water. Place ramekins in a large shallow pan. Pour boiling water into pan, so it's halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
  • Bake in 350 F oven for 30 - 35 minutes (watch carefully!). Edges should be set, but the centers should still be a little jiggly. If you stick a small knife into a center, it will come out creamy. Remove from oven.
  • Remove ramekins from water and let cool. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or a maximum of 2 days.
  • Fill shallow pan with ice cubes. Nestle chilled custards into ice cubes and sprinkle with brown sugar.
  • Broil 6 inches from heat for 2 - 6 minutes (it took about 5 minutes for ours), or until sugar bubbles and turns carmel-y. Remove ramekins as soon as they're ready - one at a time, if necessary.
  • Chill, uncovered, for a few minutes. Serve.
Careful not to overbeat the eggs - it will make the custard too foamy.
Try to find oven-safe cups of uniform size.
Water bath time!
Ready for the oven. Watch carefully while it bakes -
overbaking can cause separating and the crème brûlée may turn watery.

Canadian Living suggests a variation on traditional crème brûlée - adding orange! We haven't tried this yet, but you might want to experiment a little.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of grated orange rind to cold cream before heating. Strain hot cream and discard rind. Substitute 2 tablespoons of orange juice (or liqueur, if you want to jazz things up even more) for the vanilla.
p.s. All those accents in "crème brûlée" - they can be tough to type! Mac computers have cool shortcuts though - check out "How To Type French Accents".