Well, its been a crazy and incredible few weeks over here. Scott and I got married and spent an amazing week and a half in Maui; honeymooning, sunning ourselves, going on crazy roadtrips, and eating all the delicious treats the island had to offer! Explaining how amazing Maui is would require a very lengthy post, but I can say I highly recommend going. Its an absolutely incredible place to be, with so much to see and do, and a great overall vibe. Its not as bustling as Oahu, so if you want a more relaxed trip I’d point you straight in the direction of Maui! Below are a few shots with some highlights!
Fried Spam Musubi – yummier than it sounds!
So after all that excitement, we’re trying to readjust to normal daily life again, and to top it all off, this morning I officially turned 30. So of course, I had a sweet recipe up my sleeve just for the occasion.
While we were in Hawaii, one of my favorite things to enjoy were macadamia nuts. Seriously, they are in everything from tacos to ice cream, and I was in heaven. I’ve been on a mac nut kick for awhile now so I was prepared to hoard as many nuts home as I could! However, I shared said treats with my coworkers and have continued munching on them since getting back to the mainland, so I’ve already had to go out to Nuts To You and buy a whole new bag full! The reason being of course, that I knew this year’s birthday treat was going to star mac nuts.
These blondies are decadent! They’re moist, chewy, and super sweet, with an almost butterscotch flavor. They’re also really easy to whip up! I used a recipe from Emeril Lagasse and made just a few small tweaks. I ran out of vanilla extract so I decided to supplement with some hazelnut extract. A I knew I had to add some salt to the mix, because the original recipe didn’t include any, but I’m a huge fan of a little salty with my sweet. Other than that I stuck to the base recipe. However, this could be easily modified using other nut and chocolate combinations.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies
- 2 sticks of butter
- 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp hazelnut extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cups white chocolate chips
- 1 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×13 inch baking pan with 2 pieces of criss-crossed aluminum foil and grease with butter.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy. With the mixer running on slow, add the eggs and the extracts, mixing to combine.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then slowly add it into the wet ingredients, with the mixer on the lowest setting. Once incorporated, slowly add in the white chocolate and nuts a little at a time.
Spread the dough into the prepared baking dish, top with an extra sprinkle of salt if desired, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the blondies are set in the middle. Once they’re cool enough, you can lift them out of the pan by holding the aluminum foil, but allow to cool completely before slicing.
Enjoy your treats– I know I have (for dinner last night, and breakfast this morning)!
If anyone else out there lives in Philly, you may have heard rave reviews of, or had the pleasure of enjoying, the Dan Dan Noodles at Han Dynasty. If you haven’t, I will try describing this dish to you, however my words will just not do it justice.
Dan Dan noodles are a Szechuan delight. A peanuty, porky, spicy bowl of awesome. The heat, made from two kinds of Szechuan peppercorn, is like nothing you’ve had before. The red peppercorn gives the dish a slight floral taste, with a more typical up front spice-factor. However, the green peppercorn creates less of an in-your-face, tear-inducing kick, and feels more like a diluted Novocain shot to the taste buds. So, once you take a pause from slurping down the delicious savory noodles, its as if your salivary glands have all sprung a leak. Its terrific and tingly, and you’ll want to keep going back for more.
Scott and I are, like many, huge fans of Han Dynasty. However, in keeping mostly Paleo, we reserve it for the rare occasion. So when we set out to create our own Dan Dan Noodles this weekend, we decided to make a few easy swaps to a great recipe from Lady and Pups, and make our noodles more diet-friendly. The result was great! One issue we ran into was that we couldn’t find the green Szechuan peppercorn, so we used regular green peppercorn instead. However, I will list the Szechuan variety in our recipe so that, should you have more luck than we did, you get the full effect of the spice. Another slight issue was the inclusion of douban chili bean paste; A paste made from broad beans, soy and chili, which is somewhat of a departure for us because we typically avoid soy and beans. However, with only a few tablespoons of the stuff and the fact that it is fermented (fermented legumes are a little more acceptable in the Paleo diet), we made an exception. You may be able to find a better brand of the stuff than we did, as I have read there are some varieties that don’t use soy at all.
Aside from the two small issues above, the “Paleoification” of this recipe was a breeze. We used yam noodles as a base (if you haven’t tried these, get on it! They can be found in the refrigerated produce section of the Asian supermarket), swapped almond butter for peanut, coconut aminos for soy sauce, and used light olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
Paleo Dan Dan Noodles (makes 2 servings)
For the chili oil:
- 1/2 cup of light olive oil
- 1 scallion, cut into segments
- 2 slices of ginger
- 2 garlic, smashed
- 2 star anise
- 1 small piece of cinnamon, approx 1″
- 3 tsp of sichuan green peppercorn, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle
- 1 tsp of sichuan red peppercorn, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle
- 2 1/2 tbsp of chili flakes
- 1/8 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/8 tsp of ground cumin
For the sauce:
- 1/2 lb of ground pork
- 1 tsp of coconut aminos
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- 4 garlic
- 1 piece of ginger, approx 1 tbsp
- 3 tbsp of douban chili bean paste
- 3 1/2 tbsp almond butter
- 1/2 tsp of ground sichuan red peppercorn (grind it in a mortar and pestle, and then sift out the hulls with a fine mesh strainer)
- 2 tbsp of Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
- 1 package yam noodles
- sliced almonds and scallions as garnish
Make the chili oil (you can do this ahead of time). Combine olive oil, scallion, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, green peppercorn and red peppercorn in a small sauce pan. Set over medium heat and fry ingredients until the garlic and scallion are slightly browned. Add the chili flakes, ground coriander and cumin. Let simmer another minute, then turn off the heat and set it aside to allow the flavors to steep. The longer it sits, the spicier it’ll be!
You can also make the sauce paste ahead of time. In a food processor, combine the garlic, ginger, douban paste, almond butter, and ground peppercorn. Blend until it forms a smooth paste. Set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a stock pot or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground pork, coconut aminos and sesame oil, and cook until the meat has browned slightly. Add the sauce paste and cook, while stirring, until its fragrant and browned a bit more. Add the rice wine and chicken stock to deglaze the pan and let come to a simmer. Add the white pepper and cook 5 more minutes.
Rinse the yam noodles and divide into two bowls. Heat them up in the microwave for 2 minutes or so, then divide the sauce evenly over the noodles. Top with sliced almonds and scallions, and a drizzle or two of the chili oil to taste. I also served mine with sautéed bok choy just to add some extra veg!
Hey folks! My sincere apologies for the long hiatus. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and sparkly New Years, and that you are, like me, maybe finally getting back into the normal(ish) swing of things!
Kicking off the new year, the clock has been ticking away as my March wedding fast approaches! Naturally, that means I’ve been trying my darndest to make smart food choices and stay true to a mostly Paleo way of life. This means, while I have made allowances for occasions like my bachelorette party and Scott’s birthday, on a regular daily basis, I’m grain, legume, sugar, and dairy-free. Even last year both Scott and I leaned more “Lacto-Paleo,” but I find I feel my best when I stay away from the stuff all together. That means no cheese on my salads, no cream in my coffee. And I’m really okay with it!
So speaking of dairy, one thing I tried this year with much success, was making my own almond milk. While I used to keep the stuff around as a staple for daily smoothies, I’ve switched to mostly eating eggs and fresh juice in the morning. However, I still enjoy a smoothie or two on the weekends as a pre-workout boost. Since I don’t go through a carton as fast as I used to, making my own unsweetened almond milk was great, because I wasn’t left with a lot sitting in the fridge for weeks on end. Its also nice knowing that after such a simple process, theres such a great reward in the form of healthy and additive-free milk. All you need are almonds, water, and either a juicer or a food processor and cheesecloth!
Homemade Almond Milk (makes about 1 quart)
- 2 Cups whole, raw almonds
- juicer or food processor
- cheesecloth or nut milk bag (if using food processor)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Soak the almonds overnight in about 6 cups of water. This is called “sprouting” the nuts. Sprouting nuts helps remove the enzyme inhibitors, activating and multiplying more of their nutrients!
- Rinse the almonds until the water runs clear.
- Add rinsed almonds to a bowl and add 6 cups of water (if you want to make different amounts or different types of nut milk, the key is always use a 1 to 3 ratio of nuts to water).
- If using a juicer, just begin spooning the nuts and water through your juicer and watch the magic happen! If using a food processor, blend the nuts and water until the nuts are finely ground and the water has turned a milky color.
- If you used a food processor, transfer the mixture into your nut milk bag or cheesecloth that’s been folded over 3-4 times. Strain all the milk out of the nut mixture. Whichever process you’re using, you can keep your almond pulp! Either mix it with a few other ingredients like date paste, coconut, vanilla and other spices and make some raw cookies, or dry it in the oven at 200 degrees to make yourself some almond flour!
- If you’d like, add a teaspoon of vanilla to flavor your milk.
Your fresh almond milk will keep in the refrigerator in a mason jar for about 1 week. Enjoy!
And so, the pumpkin/pumpkin spice craze continues… this time in the form of delicious and chewy caramels.
Last weekend I had a long-standing kitchen date/caramel-making lesson with my friend, Carissa. I’m always happy to forgo my diet in the name of helping others! After we finished our first batch of basic salted caramels, which I was impressed only took us one try (I suppose at this point I’m a little more seasoned in the dangerous art of caramel), we decided to make a second batch with a seasonal spin. So Carissa whipped up some homemade pumpkin spice (I’d recently run out-big surprise), and we added it to our base recipe. What I love about caramel-making is once you master the basics, its so easy to customize the flavor, especially since the ingredient list is minimal and the process is rather quick, you can easily whip up multiple batches in one afternoon.
The caramel recipe we followed comes from The Kitchn, and I highly recommend heading over there to read their long and informative post before diving into the recipe. Caramel-making may seem simple but it really is a science, and there are little things you need to pay attention to yield the results you’re after. One thing that perplexed us after our caramels were cooled and ready to cut and wrap, was that while our salted caramels turned out lighter in color, they were firmer; and even though we cooked our spiced caramels a tad longer to achieve a dark amber color, they were much softer. Some of the sweet mysteries of caramel-making are still lost on me, but I just chalk them up to delicious happenstance!
Homemade Pumpkin Spice
- 4 TBSP cinnamon
- 4 tsp nutmeg
- 4 tsp ginger
- 3 tsp allspice
Pumpkin Spice Caramels
From The Kitchn. Makes about 55 caramels.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin spice
- 8×8 baking dish (or similar size)
- Parchment paper
- 2-quart saucepan
- 4-quart saucepan
- Instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer
- Wax paper
1. Prepare the caramel mold. Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment so that excess paper hangs over the edges. Spray the parchment and the sides of the pan with nonstick spray.
2. Melt the butter in the cream. Over medium heat, warm the cream, butter, and salt in the 2-quart saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from heat, but keep the pan close by.
3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. In the larger 4-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until the sugar is evenly moistened and you form a thick grainy paste. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush so there are no sugar crystals above the surface of the sugar mixture. Clip the instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan so that the heat sensor is immersed in the sugar. Do not stir the sugar after this point.
Note: The large saucepan is necessary because the sugar will bubble up and triple in size when you add the cream. Do not substitute a smaller pan.
4. Cook the sugar syrup. Place the pot with the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat. Let the sugar syrup come to a boil without stirring. At first, you will see small bubbles around the edge of the pan, which will eventually move inward. Around 250°F, the sugar syrup will turn transparent and boil rapidly. Around 320°F, the syrup will darken slightly and smell caramel-like. You can proceed to the next step any time after the syrup reaches 250°F and before it reaches 325°F.
Note: If your instant-read thermometer isn’t quite submerged into the sugar, you may need to tilt the pan to get an accurate reading. Simply tilt the pan by the handle until the thermometer is submerged a few inches in the sugar syrup. If the syrup hasn’t reached 250°, wipe down the sides with a pastry brush again. If it has, there’s no need.
5. Whisk in the cream and butter. Turn off the heat under the sugar syrup. Slowly pour the warm cream and butter mixture into the sugar syrup while whisking the sugar syrup gently. The sugar syrup will bubble up and triple in size. Stop whisking once all the milk and butter mixture has been added.
6. Heat the caramel to 245°F – 250°F. Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat. Let the caramel come to a boil without stirring. It will start off as a soft buttery yellow and eventually darken to reddish-brown caramel. Remove from heat when the caramel reaches 245°F to 250°F.
7. Whisk in the vanilla and pumpkin spice.
8. Pour the caramels into the mold. Immediately pour the caramels into the mold. Do not scrape the pan (there are sometimes hard burnt bits on the bottom). Knock the pan agains the counter a few times to help air bubbles work their way out.
9. Let the caramels set. Set the caramels somewhere out of the way to set, for at least two hours or (ideally) overnight. Once the caramels have cooled to room temperature, you can cover the pan.
10. Cut the caramels. When the caramels have set, lift them out of the pan by the parchment paper flaps and onto a cutting board. Cut the caramels into candies with a very sharp knife. If the caramels stick to your knife, spray your knife with nonstick cooking spray.
11. Wrap the caramels in wax paper. Cut squares of wax paper a little longer than your caramels. Wrap each caramel in wax paper and twist the ends closed. Caramels will keep at room temperature for about two weeks.
Since you can probably tell I’ve been pretty good at sticking closely to the Paleo lifestyle lately, this post may come as a shock; not unlike the insulin shock these sugar-bombs had on my system at 11pm last night, keeping me up past my early-workout bedtime! However, this weekend is my ultimate best bud / step-sister, Ashley’s birthday, and birthdays always call for indulgent treats!
These rich and sinful delights come from the awesome cookbook, Baked Explorations, but I decided to make cupcakes instead of the beautiful 3-tiered creation in the book so that Ashley could more easily share these at work. The result is a not-too-sweet, rich but delicate chocolate cake, topped with an oh-so-fluffy coffee buttercream (made with a technique I’d never heard of before, but will gladly try again!). I opted to dip the cupcakes in the ganache before frosting them which is not only easier, but it looks great and ended up hiding any imperfections in the cupcakes due to some of them rising over the edges of the pan and breaking apart a bit (lesson learned: don’t try to make a perfect 3 dozen if it means you’re putting too much batter in each one! No harm in making an extra few!)
So, enjoy the chocolatey goodness, and most importantly HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ASHLEY!
Chocolate & Coffee Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache
adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Makes 3 dozen.
- 3/4 cups dark unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cups (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes, softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons coffee extract
- 8 oz. good-quality (60-72%) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2″ pieces
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 3 dozen chocolate covered espresso beans
Make the cupcakes
Make the Coffee Buttercream
Make the Chocolate Glaze