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Dark Chocolate Almond Brownies

Although I don’t follow any special diet, apart from trying to make healthy choices, I’m fining the an increasing number of friends and family are changing their eating habits. Recently, a very good friend started eating gluten-free. I know it’s been a bit of a challenge for their family, but it’s also been an adjustment for me as I’ve brought dishes to their house or invited them over for a meal. For me, it’s a change in the way I bake and also an education process. So many foods are naturally gluten-free, but it’s taken a little bit of reading for me to feel comfortable picking out meals without double-checking the ingredients. Baking has been more of a challenge, since you can’t really swap in and out ingredients as easily. It’s too much of an exact science. Luckily, I’ve been following Jenn Cuisine for a long time, and knew she’s help me out with a good recipe.

These brownies were a decadant, gluten-free treat. While a slightly different texture than most brownies, these were super moist and rich. The almond flavor was subtle but enjoyable.

Dark Chocolate Almond Brownies

Adapted from Gluten Free Goddess via Jenn Cuisine

Makes an 9×9 pan

Ingredients:

  • 150 g. dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla paste (or, seeds scraped from 1/2 a vanilla bean)
  • 3/4 c. almond meal
  • 1/4 c.  cocoa powder
  • 1/1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan or pyrex dish with parchment paper and set aside.

In a double broiler, melt chocolate, butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs until foamy. Continue whisking and gradually add sugar, until sugar is incorporated.

When chocolate and butter are melted, slowly add to eggs-sugar mixture, continuously whisking. Sprinkle in almond meal, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Stir with a whisk until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature (the longer it sits, the cleaner the edges are when you cut). Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

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TheBookOfLifeThis review is for the final book in the All Souls Trilogy (aka the Discovery of Witches Trilogy). If you haven’t read my review of the first (or second) book, I recommend you start there.

Book Review:

The Book of Life

By Deborah Harkness

In this final book of the All Souls trilogy, Diana and Matthew return to the present so that they can start their own family and to finish their quest of finding the legendary ancient text desired by witches and vampires alike, Ashmole 782.

But nothing is ever easy. Diana and Matthew must beat other witches and vampires to the book, as well as deal with Matthew’s disowned son, who seeks to destroy the de Claremont family.

Review/Recommendation: If you want my opinion in a nutshell, well here it is. I loved this book – I seriously couldn’t put it down.

When I started The Book of Life, I was a little worried that it would be hard for me to get into it, that I wouldn’t remember everything from the first two books. I debated rereading them, but honestly, with an 18-month old running up the stairs every time I turn my back, I knew I wouldn’t have time to do so. As it turns out, I didn’t need a refresher – the story and characters came back to me within a few pages of starting the final book in the trilogy. From that moment on, I could barely put it down. Seriously. The baby got to play in the iPad more than usual that week.

While the whole story was fantastic, I really appreciated the ending of the book. Not only did Harkness ties everything together nicely, she managed to leave me feeling satisfied, which I think is rare in many series (serieses?) that I read. Definitely an awesome end to an amazing trilogy.

Grade: A

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What's_Baking_BadgeThis month is my first to participate in a blogging event called What’s Baking? Every month or two, a blogger will choose a theme, and the rest of us will bake something that fits in with the theme. It’s a great way to try out new recipes, sometimes out of your comfort zone.

This month, the theme of “Heritage Dish” was chosen by Ali from Sparks from the Kitchen. This theme couldn’t have come at a better time, as I recently saw my Polish grandparents. What’s Baking? was the perfect excuse to make something that my grandpa always enjoyed – babka.

Babka is a sweet yeast bread or cake from Eastern Europe. Growing up, my family served the Jewish version, a bread (the cake version is associated with Christian Easter and other holidays). I don’t recall anyone ever making it but it was ordered from bakeries a time or two around both Easter and Christmas.

This version is streaked with semisweet chocolate. My coworkers polished off two loaves of this bread before noon one day. My grandfather, however, was not as impressed. He reminded me every time he had a slice, that I should have used raisins in it, and that it was a little heavy. But he ate two or three slices a day, so it couldn’t have been that bad. :-)

Baking Note: The original recipe made 4 loaves of bread. I halved the recipe below, because even though it’s freezable, four loaves is quite a lot. If you choose to freeze the dough, it can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the fridge 24-hours before using. Then roll out the dough, allow it to rest and rise, and bake.

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois), p. 221

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 c. lukewarm milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 Tbs. granulated yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. finely chopped or shaved semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate
  • 1/8 c. rum, divided (for soaking the bread)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together milk, yolks, salt, and butter with a wooden spoon until fairly well combined. Attach bowl to mixer and fit with dough hook. Add flour and stir on speed 2 (the highest speed my mixer could handle using the dough hook) until all of the flour has been incorporated. The mixture will be fairly loose.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours. (I tend to place the bread near the oven/stove, when it’s turned on to help it along a little).

When the dough has risen, brush with half of the rum and refrigerate (still covered loosely with plastic wrap) until chilled.

Here, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to a month. If using dough from the freezer, allow to defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before resuming recipe below. 

On baking day, grease a standard loaf pan and set aside. .

Lightly flour a work surface with flour. Remove dough from fridge and cut dough in half. Dust with flour and shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the below around to the bottom. Roll out into a rectangle, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle the entire piece of the dough (including edges) with half of the shaved chocolate (1/2 c.). Roll into a log, starting at the short end. Fold the ends of the log into the middle, so that the ends meet. Place in prepared loaf pan and allow to rise and rest, about 2 hours.

Repeat with the second portion of dough, if you’re baking both at once.

Shortly before before baking, ensure that a rack is in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and firm.

Remove from the oven and brush with rum. Allow to rest for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Store, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.

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Cherry Margaritas

For someone who isn’t interested in fresh cherries, my hubby got interested in these margaritas real fast. There I was, making myself one of these margaritas to enjoy with a book. I was looking forward to savoring 30 minutes of quiet time to myself when he strolled over and starts eyeing the counter.

Hubby: Whatcha making?

Me: A cherry margaritas

Hubby: Oh. I’m not a fan of cherries.

Me: I know. That’s why I didn’t offer to make you one.

Hubby: Maybe I can just try some of yours Me:

Go away, I want my cocktail and my book.

Ok, so that last line isn’t true. I kindly let him taste my margarita and then started over to make him one of his own. I  guess cherries + tequila aren’t that bad after all. While pitting the cherries was annoying (I’ve got to get myself a cherry pitter), it was worth it for these margaritas. Brilliant red, the margarita is light and refreshing, just sweet enough to feel like it’s a real treat.

Fresh Cherry Margaritas

Adapted from Fine Cooking June/July 2010 (p. 80)

Makes 2 Drinks

Ingredients:

  • 24 fresh sweet cherries, pitted, plus 2 whole cherries for garnish
  • 2 1/2 oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. agave nectar
  • 1 oz. maraschino cherry juice

In a jigger, crush cherries with wooden spoon to release juices, about 1 minute. Top with ice. Add remaining ingredients, except the cherry garnish and shake for at least 30 seconds. Pour into a glass with about 1/2 c. of ice. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.

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This final week of Frozen Fridays is a roundup of all sorts of tasty treats that sort of fall into their own category. Most are based on homemade ice cream, but all have a little something extra designed to impress.

Roasted Cherry Sundae from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Roasted Cherry Sundae from Confections of a Foodie Bride

{Frozen Fridays: Round Up}

Frozen Desserts

  1. Bailey’s Spiked Ice Cream Cake (from Beyond Frosting)
  2. Blueberry Frozen Yogurt Bites (from Busy in Brooklyn)
  3. Chocolate Dipped S’mores Ice Cream Sandwiches (from Love and Olive Oil)
  4. Cookies and Cream Icebox Cake (from Baked Bree)
  5. Dipped Oreo Ice Cream Pops (from Snappy Gourmet)
  6. Frozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie (from Bakers Royale)
  7. Ice cream Chimichangas (from Diethood)
  8. Ice Cream Petit Fours (from 17 and Baking)
  9. Lemon Blueberry Ice Cream Sandwiches with Brown Butter Cookies (from Donuts, Dresses and Dirt)
  10. Mudslide Ice Cream Cake (from Endless Simmer)
  11. Neopolitan Ice Cream Cake (from Heather Cristo)
  12. Roasted Cherry Brownie Sundaes (from Confections of a Foodie Bride)
  13. S’mores Ice Cream Cake (from Annie’s Eats)
  14. Snickers Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake (from Life Love & Sugar)
  15. Strawberries and Cream Sandwiches (from Alida’s Kitchen)
  16. Tartufi aka Ice Cream Truffles (from Annie’s Eats)
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When I was pregnant with Sophie, I ate like a 7-year old. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches (no crust) and bagel pizza bites. I didn’t want water, as important as it was, so I’d have popsicles. By the dozen. My hubby used to yell at me for when a box of popsicles was dinner.

At the time, I was so exhausted that I ate store-bought “ice pops,” as I grew up calling them. But now that I’ve found a new routine with a toddler running around, I’m enjoying experimenting with making my own. This week, I give you several of the popsicle recipes that are on my “to make” list.

If you try any of them, please come back and let me know how you liked it!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Popsicles from Cara's Cravings

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Popsicles from Cara’s Cravings

{Frozen Fridays}

Popsicles

  1. Banana Coconut Cream Popsicles (from Spoonful of Flavor)
  2. Berry 7-Up Popsicles (from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks)
  3. Berry Coconut Popsicles (from Pint Sized Baker)
  4. Blackberry and Lime Popsicles (from Baked Bree)
  5. Blackberry Mojito Popsicles (from White on Rice Couple)
  6. Blueberry Vanilla Yogurt Ice Popsicles (from The Slow Roasted Italian)
  7. Butterscotch Pudding Popsicles (from Pink Parsley)
  8. Citrus Basil Mojito Pops (from Gina’s Skinny Taste)
  9. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Popsicles (from Cara’s Cravings)
  10. Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Pops (from Annie’s Eats)
  11. Coconut Lime Spa Pops (from Mom Foodie)
  12. Cookies and Cream Popsicles (from Just Baked)
  13. Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Pops with Rumchata (from Pass the Sushi)
  14. Limoncello and Raspberry Whiskey Sour Popsicles (from Bakers Royale on Endless Simmer)
  15. Margarita Popsicles (from Confections of a Foodie Bride)
  16. Orange Creamsicles (from Bakers Royale on Endless Simmer)
  17. Oreo Pudding Pops (from Tatertots & Jello)
  18. Raspberry Lemonade Yogurt Ice Pops (from The Slow Roasted Italian)
  19. Strawberry Margarita Popsicles (from Bakers Royale)
  20. Sweet Cream and Raspberry Pudding Pops (from Country Cleaver)
  21. Watermelon Agua Fresca Popsicles (from Little Inspiration)
  22. White Sangria Popsicles (from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

 

And if this isn’t enough, check out Endless Poptails Endless Poptails (cocktail popsicles) on Endless Simmer

 

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Last Friday, I gave you 25 great ice cream and sorbet recipes to try this summer. With all of those recipes to try, I couldn’t leave you without some fun toppings and a few homemade bowls to jazz up those recipes even more.

Caramelized Pineapple Sundaes from What’s Cooking, Chicago?

{Frozen Fridays}

Toppings & Servers

  1. Black Forest Dessert Sauce (from Kate’s Recipe Box)
  2. Blueberry Ice Cream Topping (from The Kitchen Whisperer)
  3. Caramelized Pineapple Sundae Sauce (from What’s Cooking, Chicago?)
  4. Chianti Balsamic Strawberries (from Sparks From the Kitchen)
  5. Chocolate Raspberry Sauce (from Cherry Tea Cakes)
  6. Homemade Ice Cream Cake Crunchies (from Heather Likes Food)
  7. Homemade Magic Shell (from Gimme Some Oven)
  8. Peach Bourbon Pecan Sundae Sauce (from Taylor Takes a Taste)
  9. Pecan Brittle Basket (from Baked Bree)
  10. Pie Crust Ice Cream Bowls (from Crazy for Crust)
  11. Raspberry Sauce (from Spoonful of Flavor)
  12. Salted Caramel Sauce (from Sweetest kitchen)

One final suggestion: Use your favorite homemade or store-bought cookie for crumbling, dipping, or to make ice cream sandwiches!

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Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Sauce.

 

One of the things I enjoy most about summer is that most of the weeknight cooking is relegated to my hubby. I prep the meal – usually some sort of protein and veggie – and he grills it. This gives me an extra few minutes each day to relax or play with the little one (at this point, it’s usually less playing together and more, me chasing after her as she climbs up the stairs or pulls things off pantry shelves).

This recipe is quick and easy for your summer entertaining. Prep the peanut sauce earlier in the day, grill up some shrimp, and serve. There’s only about 15 minutes total prep and cook time, and that’s if you’re cooking the shrimp instead of talking your hubby into it. I’d recommend serving the shrimp hot, but room temperature is fine too.

Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 96

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer, Yields 1 c. Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium limes
  • 1/2 c. creamy natural peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. Aisan garlic chili paste or sauce, more to taste
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh mint, more for garnish
  • 1 1/2-2 lbs. cooked shrimp (I grilled them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper)

In a food processor, combine zest from 1 lime, juice from two limes, peanut butter, garlic chili sauce, 3 Tbs. mint, and 1/4 c. cold water. Process until smooth. Taste – add additional chili paste if you’d like a spicier sauce. Add an additional tablespoon or two of water and/or lime juice for a looser consistency.

Serve with cooked shrimp, either hot or at room temperature.

Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Sauce

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First off, Happy 4th of July! I hope you’re enjoying this day with family and friends. We’ll be kicking off the day with a lazy morning, and then joining friends this afternoon for the day’s World Cup soccer game, dinner, and fireworks.

Secondly, I’d like to welcome you to Frozen Fridays. Each Friday throughout the month of July, I’ll be sharing a number of recipes to cool off your summer.

To kick things off, I’ve got 25 ice creams, sorbets, sherberts, and granitas that make my mouth water. It’s been hitting the 90s and higher, so I’m looking forward to stocking my freezer with cool treats. Do you have a favorite that’s not listed below? Please leave a comment and let me know (and share a link to the recipe!).

Pistachio Ice Cream from Cook Like A Champion

Pistachio Ice Cream from Cook Like A Champion

{Frozen Fridays: Round Up}

Ice Creams, Sorbets, and More!

  1. Apple Pie Ice Cream (from Brown Eyed Baker)
  2. Berry Basil Sorbet (from Former Chef)
  3. Blackberry Creamsicle Sherbet (from 17 and Baking)
  4. Blueberry Granita (from The Frugal Foodie Mom)
  5. Boozy Blueberry Thyme Sorbet (from bell’alimento)
  6. Cake Batter Ice Cream (from Baked Perfection)
  7. Caramel S’mores Ice Cream (from Cookaholic Wife)
  8. Cardamon Ice Cream with Spiced Candied Pistachios (from Savory Simple)
  9. Cherry Bourbon Ice Cream (from Books n’ Cooks)
  10. Cherry Garcia Ice Cream (from Dieter’s Downfall)
  11. Churro Ice Cream (from Bakers Royale)
  12. Dark Chocolate Ice Cream (from Baked Bree)

    Dark Chocolate Icre Cream from Baked Bree

    Dark Chocolate Icre Cream from Baked Bree

  13. Drunken Cherry Ice Cream (from Savory Simple)
  14. Key Lime Pie Ice Cream (from Cherry Tea Cakes)
  15. Lemon Sorbet (from Live, Dine, Party)
  16. Oreo Fudge Cappuccino Ice Cream (from Inside BruCrew Life)
  17. Pistachio Ice Cream (from Cook Like a Champion)
  18. Raspberry Chambord Sorbet (from Books n’ Cooks)
  19. Raspberry Pina Colada Ice Cream (from Try Anything Once)
  20. Strawberry Angel Food Ice Cream (from A Beautiful Mess)
  21. Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream (from Books n’ Cooks)
  22. Toasted Coconut Ice Cream with Fudge Ripple (from Life Made Simple)
  23. Toasted Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream (from Love and Olive Oil)
  24. Vanilla Bean Honey Ice Cream (from The Foodie Army Wife)
  25. Vanilla Bean Ice Cream: Two Ways (from Annie’s Eats)
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Beef Wellington

I feel like Beef Wellington is one of those dishes you indulge in. It’s expensive and while not difficult to make, it does take a little bit of time. However, this recipe has become of of my favorite beef recipes and my go-to entree for special occasions, particularly for Easter. The beef is incredibly tender and the stuffing is full of flavor. I usually pair it with a simple potato dish, a roasted vegetable, and a salad – the beef is the star of the show and there’s no need to detract from it with fancy sides.

I’ve used this recipe (scaled accordingly) to make both individual Beef Wellingtons as well as one large Beef Wellington, which we then sliced. While I like the idea of everyone having their own individual serving, the larger one was easier to put together and honestly easier to accommodate appetites of varying sizes.

Beef Wellington 

Heavily adapted (simplified) from Tyler Florence

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Mushroom Duxelles: 

  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 pints (1 1/2 lbs.) white button mushrooms
  • 2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Ingredients for the Beef:

  • 3 lbs. center-cut beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb. puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • cooking spray
  • coarse sea salt

Make the Duxelles: On the stove, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add butter and olive oil.

Meanwhile, in a large food processor, pulse the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and thyme until finely chopped. Add to skillet with melted butter and olive oil. Sautee for about 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

I’ve made this step several hours ahead of time, and simply refrigerated it until ready to prepare the beef.

Prep the Beef: In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil.

While the oil is heating, season all sides of the beef tenderloin with salt and pepper. Sear meat on all sides for only a few minutes, to seal in juices.

Beef Wellington

Assemble the Beef Wellington:  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F and lightly flour the counter. Roll out puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness, overlapping the two sheets of puff pastry as necessary. Spread duxelles in the center, to the approximate length and width of the puff pastry. Set seared beef tenderloin on top.

Combine beaten egg with a little bit of water to create an egg wash. Brush long sides of puff pastry with egg wash and then fold over, sealing in meat. Trim ends, if necessary. Brush with egg wash and fold over.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Gently place beef on prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Cut slits into top to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the beef comes out at 125F. Allow to rest for 15 minutes, which will allow the meat to continue to cool until it reaches medium, about 140 degrees.

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