Valentine’s Day Recipe Roundup

They say thtypee way to the heart is through the stomach. This has always been my thought and holds true since prehistoric times. Some argue that the cave man whacked his favored mate on the head with a wooden club, then dragged her unconscious self to his lair. Anthropologists propose a more sensible approach whereby said cave man presents his bride with a bountiful hunt and wins her heart with the promise of plenty.

Food is nourishing and conveys affection. It is at the center of social gatherings and so, it makes perfect sense we should use it to lure romance. I say this to you while munching on a Haagen-Dazs bar. Like the cave woman, food played a big role in my meeting Shawn. It continues to retain our bond. This Valentine’s Day, we will continue our tradition of enjoying New England crab cakes at home with our little blue-eyed beauty.  As for gifts, I have a few sweet ideas in mind for him.

Personalized Fortune Cookiesbonappetit fortune cookies

Many years ago, a girlfriend and I tried baking fortune cookies to give to our husbands for Valentine’s Day. The experience ended in disaster and we resorted to buying gifts the old fashioned way, instead. This year, BonAppetit Magazine has me convinced I can do it.

Here is what you need for this adorable project:
*Parchment paper cut into 1/2″ x 2″ pieces
*A Sharpie (the ink is nontoxic)
*12 store-bought won ton wrappers
*4 Tb melted butter
*2 Tb sugar
*A cupcake pan
*25 minutes of your time

Red Apple Cupcakesredapple.jpg
Is there anything sweeter than a cupcake? These cute little apple cupcakes are both easy and fun to make with the kids. You can use boxed cake mix and ready-made frosting or make your own from scratch. For the decoration, you can use red frosting or make cream cheese + butter then dust it with sparkly red sugar, which is what I plan. For the stem, chocolate Tootsie Rolls work great, but pretzel sticks are even easier. The leaves can be cut from green fruit roll, molded from marzipan or simply green M&Ms. Whatever you do, these are sure to win over your sweetheart.

Here is what you need for these sweeties:
*Red cupcake wrappers
*A cupcake pan
*Cake mix
*Frosting
*Pretzel sticks
*Green M&Ms
*Red sparkly sugar
*A little pair of helping hands

Amy’s Almond Cookiesamys almondThese almond cookies have been doing cartwheels in my head ever since I saw this beautiful photo on my friend Janine’s blog Happy Happy Nester. She has such a sunny style that echoes her personality. The fact that the recipe is her mom’s just proves these cookies are going to taste like the bombdiggity.

Chocolate Buttons

tob choc
The way to my heart is always via chocolate. I’m quite picky about my chocolate and only share it with those close to my heart. I can’t think of anything more irresistible than Taste of Beirut’s Chocolate Buttons. Crowned with a fleck of genuine 24-karat gold, these crisp bite-sized cookies wrapped in rich chocolate ganache are both luxuriously rich and cute as a button.

Basic Chocolate Truffles
cocotruff
I often read through my own blog, looking for dinner or dessert ideas. A long-time favorite is my basic truffle recipe. There is nothing complicated about the ingredients list nor the technique. This is a great one to get the kids involved. Best yet, no one has to know how easy these luxurious treats were to make.

Coconut Tres Leches Skillet Cakecoconut
Skillet. Coconut. Tres Leches. Need I say more?

Cookie Dough TrufflescocotrufflecookIf you are looking for something more fancy, whip up a batch of Double-Dipped Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles. Take my basic chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, nix the eggs, add raw pistachios and there you go. Remember to sample the batch to confirm quality. I promise they will leave you speechless.

Honey Apple Cakeapple honey cake  cocoa lavender.jpg
As sweet as its name, this honey apple cake comes from one of my most favorite bloggers, the globe-trotting David of Cocoa & Lavender. Apples are a year-round favorite at the homestead. I know it’s sure to earn me some brownie points at home.

Apple Pie CakeApplePieCake sippityThis clever hybrid inspired the recipe for my pecan streusel-topped apple pie. The picture is just so tantalizing, I cannot stop staring at it. Can you? It screams old fashioned comfort, just the sort of thing that fills a home with love.

Lemon Poppyseed Cakecoco lemon poppy
An old favorite brings back good memories. I remember when I made this light and fluffy poppyseed sponge cake brushed with lemon syrup. Daisy couldn’t stop eating it and Shawn said it was the best thing I had ever made. Who can top that?

Do you know what you are going to do for your sweetheart? I still have no idea. One thing I do know is that I’m going to see what my beautiful little culinary consultant, Daisy has to say. Together, we will choose something and make Daddy’s an extra-special present. Instead of hitting the shops, make your Valentine’s gift. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Valentine yet. Treat yourself to something sweet and enjoy your independence until Cupid’s Arrow nips you in the derriere, too!

Homemade Fortune Cookies
Red Apple Cupcakes
Amy’s Almond Cookies
Chocolate Buttons
Basic Chocolate Truffles
Coconut Tres Leches Skillet Cake
Cookie Dough Truffles
Honey Apple Cake
Apple Pie Cake
Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Spicy Angel: Marsala Arrabbiata Marinara Sauce

pasta
My favoritpastae spot for lunch is a small Italian eatery a short drive from the office. The tables are draped with checkered vinyl and surrounded by rickety wooden chairs. There are black + whites photographs of big, tough-looking paisanos on the red brick walls. The menu is small, simple. I love it there – it feels like New York to me. The guys see me walk in and after a big h
ello, one of them turns to the kitchen and yells “Spicy Angel!” The portions are huge, but I usually manage to polish off the whole plate. Any leftovers go back to the office for tomorrow’s lunch heated in a coffee mug.
IMG_4805
When done properly, this dish will take you to Italy with every bite. We honeymooned in Italy for two weeks and I always say we didn’t do it right. It was summer, it was hot. The Ducati shop was closed, because the shopkeepers were away on their own holidays. Most importantly, I wasn’t tempted to buy any shoes.  We plan to go back someday and show the world to our beautiful little sweetheart. The Grotta Palazzese restaurant is already on our itinerary.
Spicy Angel is arrabiata over capellini, red pepper dusted tomato marinara sauce served over delicate angel-hair pasta. Arrabbiata is Italian for angry which refers to the heat of the chilis in the marinara sauce. The best sauce strikes a good balance between salty, sweet, tangy and spicy. It should be hot enough to tickle the tongue, not bring tears to your eyes. Whether you have an unnatural fear of vampires or not, garlic overload is compulsory.If you are what you eat, then I want to be a Spicy Angel. It really is the best paradox. What will get you there is a very simple marinara sauce recipe that dates back to 16th Century Naples when the Spanish introduced the New World fruit to the Italians. The tomato originally hails from the Andes and was introduced as food by the people of Mexico. It is also important to note that Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate (circa 1900BC). We owe a lot to the people of Mexico.

Don’t jump on the ban-BPA bandwagon just yet.

The Tomaspaghtoes
There are two kinds of tomatoes I use to make sauce – whatever Shawn plants in our backyard garden and San Marzanos which are akin to the Roma, but have a have a richer, sweeter flavor. Imported from Italy, they are readily available in cans. Evidence of the acid in tomatoes absorbing BPA from the lining of the can raises the question of how much is safe for
consumption. The answer varies depending on whom you ask. The fix is to choose jarred tomatoes over canned, but finding them isn’t always easy. Jarred tomatoes, especially San Marzanos are elusive. So, I have resolved to stock up on glass jars when I see them, but get cans as needed. Unless you eat a big bowl of pasta marinara every night, you should be safe.

Cooking Pasta
Pasta is quick, comforting and perfect for busy weeknights. Cooking pasta is simple, but also something of an art. It really isn’t hard to do. The most common mistake is adding oil to the water, which is something I used to do routinely, thinking it would help keep the pasta from sticking. What it actually does is make the sauce slide right off the noodles. The only thing the past water needs is a generous amount of salt. The salt flavors the pasta, but, more importantly, helps keep the delicate noodles from breaking in the boiling water. Be sure to cook your pasta al-dente as it will continue to cook in the sauce. Always serve pasta in a bowl to help keep it warm longer.

If it isn’t good enough to drink, it doesn’t belong in your sauce.

Tpastahe Wine
The subtle flavor of this particular arrabbiata comes from the marsala, Sicily’s version of sherry, which adds an effortless touch of  class to ordinary pasta sauce. If you cannot find marsala, use sherry. I have made this sauce with both dry marsala and sweet sherry. It came out perfectly each time. Trader Joe’s carries both at a price everyone can afford. If you cannot get either (or be bothered to leave the house), just add a splash of red wine. Just make sure it is good quality. If it isn’t good enough to drink it doesn’t belong in your sauce. Be sure to sample your sauce several times during the simmer to adjust the salt, sweet, heat, tang to your liking.This is the stuff they serve for supper in Heaven. It has to be. No marinara is more tasty. You will not be able to stop eating. You can use any kind of pasta you prefer, but I like capellini (angel hair). Then again, maybe you should just toss the pasta out the window and get yourself a nice, fresh loaf of crusty Italian bread. Pour a big bowl of the sauce and just dip that bread into it and chomp on. It’s that good.
A word of warning: This stuff often gives me heartburn, which is not a reflection on the recipe, but rather the speed at which I shovel it into my mouth. Of course, that never stops me from licking the plate clean. But, don’t be a hero – have the Alka Seltzer handy, just in case.
This recipe makes a boatload of sauce, which is great if you’re feeding a crowd. If not, it freezes beautifully. Divide the leftovers into sandwich bags and toss them into the freezer for a busy weeknight meal. Garlic breath is quite useful in keeping vampires at bay. If you are more concerned about your breath than vampires, drink a cup of black tea after dinner to eliminate the offensive smell.

Spicy Angel
Note: If your little ones do not like the heat, don’t incorporate the red pepper flakes into the sauce, but make them available for your guests to sprinkle on top of their pasta, if they like.

Makes: 8 cups
Feeds: 10 really hungry Italians
Prep: 30 mins
Simmer: 90 mins

Ingredients
1 head garlic (trust me)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large white onions
1 Tb dried Aleppo red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp turmeric
2 24oz jars of whole or crushed San Marzano tomatoes
4 Tb dry marsala or sherry
2 lemons, juice + zest
2 Tb brown sugar
1 Tb Worcestershire sauce
1 sprig fresh oregano (2 tsp) or a pinch of dried
Salt + pepper to taste

2 lb angel hair pasta (capellini)
8oz brick cream cheese
8 packets Alka Selzer (optional, but recommended)

Instructions
Separate the garlic cloves from the head and use the flat of the knife to give each a good smashing.
Remove the peel and mince the garlic well.
Set aside at least 10 minutes.

Set a large pan over low heat and drizzle a bit of olive oil.
Peel and chop onions. Add to the pan.

This step takes some patience as the onions slowly caramelize to a golden brown color, about 10 minutes.
Check on the onions frequently to be sure they don’t burn.
Add the dried red pepper flakes and let them crackle with the browned onions.
Add turmeric.

Open the cans/jars of tomatoes and use clean kitchen shears to cut the whole tomatoes into big chunks. Pour into the pan.

Add sherry/marsala, lem
ons, brown sugar, Worcestershire, oregano.
Stir then sample the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cover and allow the sauce to simmer on low heat for a good 2 hours.

When you are ready to eat, cook the pasta according to instructions on the packet.
Garnish with a tablespoon of cream cheese and a sprig of fresh oregano.
Serve with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Tonight, on your way home from the office, stop at the market and grab a fresh loaf of crusty bread. Then, go straight to the kitchen and whip up this marinara sauce. It is so versatile, it meets everyone’s requirements. Vegans can enjoy it by omitting the Worcestershire and adding creamy cannellini beans for protein. Vegetarians can have it with a dollop of mascarpone or cream cheese on top. Carnivores will love this sauce with everything from rock shrimp to pork. Hell, even an old pair of sea captain’s boots will taste delicious.

It’s Friday night and I can tell you right now that by the time I get home, I will not be in the mood to cook dinner. I’d rather play tea-party with my little sweetheart. Spicy Angel is what will be served at the villa this evening. I can whip up the delicious marinara in no time and let my Bertazzoni do the rest while we play upstairs with Daisy”s doll house. Then, all we have to do is cook some pasta and Prego!  Dinner is served. Just close your eyes, take a bite and imagine yourself at the grotto in Puglia.

Easy Gulab Jamuns: Spongy Indian Donuts in Fragrant Syrup (Eggless)

gulab

This past Christmas was somewhat unconventional for us. Shawn and I usually host the traditional ham and turkey dinner. Mom and my sister make sides and dessert. This year, we ordered take-out from our favorite Indian restaurant. Crazy, I know, but we are gypsy rockstars and do like a little crazy.

I wore a beautiful tunic that my dear friend Pragna had given me. She is my connection to everything Indian. We set the table with a few Eastern accents including a couple of cute karahi bowls. It was such a refreshing change. Everyone really enjoyed the crisp samosas stuffed with peas, potatoes and cumin seeds, saucy curries and fragrant vegetable biryani rice. The only thing missing were those luscious little globes of sweetness called Gulab Jamuns. I just love them. How we forgot to order them is a mystery.

Indian
“They’re luscious little globes of sweetness.”

Saturday evening, I was working on a French country stew when I got a call from my cousin, asking if he and his Mrs could drop by for an impromptu visit. Delighted at first, my sentiments shortly escalated to something of a state of panic when I realized there was nothing in the house to present to my guests. No cake, no cookies, no ice cream, not even time to dash to the bakery. No self-respecting Armenian woman is ever so ill-prepared to entertain. After chasing my tail a bit, I realized I could probably whip up a batch of those gulab jamuns I missed from Christmas Eve.

When our guests arrived, my cousin said that his wife suggested they stop at a bakery on their way, but he declared it sacrilege to bring baked goods to my house. Fortunately, despite my haste, the gulab jamuns turned out beautifully. “Coco jan, how did you get them so perfectly round?” It really wasn’t me, at all. It was simply the magic of baking soda and hot oil.

Gulab means rose in Hindi, alluding to the rosewater in the syrup. Jamun refers to a dark purple berry native to India. These little spongy globes of dough about the size of golf balls are lightly fried in vegetable oil, then soaked in a syrup. The syrup can simply be just sugar dissolved in a bit of water or flavored with any combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron, rose water, orange blossom water and even coconut extract.

Normal people order exotic things made by native people and just enjoy them. Crazy people like me want to learn to make them at home. And I did, which means so can you. The ingredients list is short and very basic ingredients, nothing fancy. Persian Basket has liquid saffron and rosewater if you to infuse the syrup with traditional flavors.

gulab

You may just have to run to the store for the milk powder. Look for it in the baking aisle on the bottom shelf, below the cans of sweetened condensed milk. Use a deep nonstick pot to prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom. Make sure the oil is warmed slowly and bubbles gently when the dough is added so the dumplings cook evenly to the center. Follow this simple recipe and you are sure to make headlines. These exotic little gems will have everyone, even last-minute guests wondering if you have any Indian heritage in your bloodline.

Gulab

Gulab Jamuns

CAUTION: Keep little hands and furry friends at a safe distance.

Makes: 20 1″inch balls
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 30 mins

Ingredients
Syrup
pinch saffron, ground
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3-4 cardamom crushed pods
1 tsp rose water

Gulabs
1 Tb butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 tsp white vinegar
canola oil for frying

Instructions
Syrup
Use a mortar + pestle to grind saffron threads with a big of sugar.
Add to a pot along with the rest of the sugar, water and cardamom pods.
Stir to dissolve sugar and place over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes or so.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool. The syrup will thicken when cooled.
Add rose water.

Gulabs
Fill a deep, nonstick pot with about 2 inches of oil.
Place on the back burner over low, low heat.

Use a small saucepan to heat butter and milk just until butter has melted.
Remove from heat, gently swirl to combine and set aside.

Remove your rings and give your hands a good washing.
Combine dry milk powder, flour, baking soda and salt in a big bowl.
Slowly drizzle milk + butter mixture until dough forms.
Add vinegar and knead until dough comes together.

Drop a bit of dough into the oil to test the temperature.
If the dough rises to the top and the edges start to bubble, you’re ready.

Take a heaping teaspoon of dough, give it a little squeeze to be sure the dough stays
together.
Gently roll it into a ball between the palms of your hands.
Set it over the spider or spatula and carefully lower into the hot oil.

Fry for a couple minutes until the ball just turns golden brown all around.

Do not overcrowd the pot as the temp of the oil will drop too much.
You can easily fry 5-6 balls at once.

Turn them occasionally to be sure they cook evenly.

Remove and drain oil.

Put into syrup while still hot and let them soak for a spell.
Store in syrup in an covered container for up to 3 days.

donuts

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 
I have a terrible character flaw when it comes to baking There is a fundamental difference between cooking and baking. A savory recipe is really just a suggestion, but one for something sweet must be followed in detail. I have a problem obeying instructions, which isn’t a problem when I’m cooking. In baking, it could spell disaster.

This morning, I woke up early to make these luscious little gulab jamuns for my friends at the office. There was a bag of coconut flour in the pantry and I was curious how it would do as a substitute for regular flour.  Feeling quite proud of my genius idea, I got right to work, without a drop of coffee in my blood. Unfortunately, the balls of dough fell apart in the oil. So, my little experiment proved me wrong. That is when I was convinced I should follow my own recipe.

Someone recently said that the price of eggs has gone up. I could not tell you the price of a dozen to save my hide, because I only care that they are free-range. Eggs are deemed a necessity, like gasoline, water and flour. Yes, flour is also a necessity, at least in my kitchen. Luckily, this recipe for gulab jamuns does not require eggs. Not only does it save money, but also calories, making it the perfect post-Christmas treat.

Fruit Mince Pies for a Happy New Year!

Pie

Happy 2016, my friend. Thanks for being a faithful audience to my rants. Despite my love for all things Old English, fruit mince pies never really interested me, until some time in early November. My mom-in-law was in town from Australia and she just so happens to be a marvel in the kitchen. In the mornings, we would talk about all the things we were going to make together. 
PieI told her about my new crust recipe, buttery, yet light and flaky, with a delicate crumble. So much fun to make, the old fashioned way, by hand. It’s no-fuss, needs only 1 hour to chill and, even better, no blind-baking. Rolled extra thin, the pastry adds a touch of rich indulgence to anything, whether savory or sweet. It was then that my mom-in-law suggested mince pies. She talked about the rich filling, a mix of apples and carrots, dried and candied fruit, warm spices and rum. I may have fainted momentarily.
Pie
These little darlings are delicious in any size or shape. We have made them several times in the last month. I made the pie crust, my mom-in-law made the fruit filling and assembled the pies. The first batch were large, but thin ones in crème brûlée dishes. 
PieThe second batch were in small silicon fluted tartlet molds. My mom-in-law made those pretty little things with a thin layer of pie dough on top. The most recent batch I made by myself, also in the tartlet molds, but with the crust just pinched like a flower all around on top. All were equally delicious. The delicate crust just crumbles under a bite, giving way to the chewy fruit center that fills your head with the warmth of cinnamon and allspice.
There is plenty of butter in the crust. So, no need to grease the baking dishes. However, the filling does tend to seep out during the baking process and caramelize to a sticky mess. Silicon baking molds are ideal – the pies just pop out. Metal/ceramic baking ramekins or cupcake pans should be fine as long as you line them parchment paper and/or coat with butter.

Fruit Mince Pies

Makes: 10 2-inch tartlets
Prep: 7 mins
Chill: at least 60 mins
Oven: 350*F
Bake: 25-30 mins

Ingredients

Crust
2 sticks salted butter, cubed + chilled
2 1/4 cups flour
1 Tb sugar
3 Tb iced water
1 Tb cold vodka

Filling
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, coarsely grated
1 medium carrot
5 Tb dried currants
3 Tb dried tart cherries
5 Tb candied citron 
5 Tb candied lemon peel
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1/3 cup lemon/lime marmalade (Rose’s)
2 Tb brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
2 Tb spiced rum

Topping (Optional)
2-3 Tb milk for brushing over pastry
1-2 Tb sugar for sprinkling


Instructions
Crust
Cut the cold butter into small cubes and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.
Collect flour and sugar in a large bowl. Mix to combine.
Wash your hands.
Add butter to the bowl and, working quickly, press the cold butter into the flour mixture,
pressing flat between your fingers to create layers. 
Combine vodka and iced water.
Drizzle over the crumbly dough and mix, then knead just until the dough comes together.
Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

Filling
Grate apples and carrot into a medium pot.
Add the dried fruit, marmalade, sugar, spices and rum.
Set over low heat and cook until the fruit is plump and juicy, maybe 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Assembly
Remove dough from fridge.
Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour.

Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness.
Cut rounds of the dough and tuck neatly into the tarlet molds.

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Fill each with a heaping tablespoon of the filling.

1-Pinch the edges of the crust around the pie and pop them into the hot oven.

2-Cut a smaller round of dough and place over the top of the crust.
Gently pinch the edges to seal.

Brush the tops with a bit of milk and sprinkle some sugar on top.
Transfer to the hot oven.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling has just started to bubble.

Remove and allow the pies to cool for 10 minutes.
Enjoy with freshly brewed coffee, tea, a tall glass of ice-cold milk, sherry or port.

Baking makes me so happy. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, as long as it’s creative, you’re guaranteed a fresh escape from tired old routines. No bills, traffic, root canals. Making something by hand is so rewarding, maybe even better than a day at the most luxurious spa.

These little pies fill my head with visions of old London. Imagine all the miles they have traveled through land and time to reach us today. Unlike the UK and Australia, we can’t get the store-bought varieties here in the States. If we want them, we have to bake them ourselves, which is fine, because they are a real treat fresh out of the warm oven. Fruit has never been so happy and we have never been so lucky.
Speaking of luck, don’t forget to enter to win my Coco logo tuxedo apron. TWO winners! Contest ends Jan 2nd @ midnight. Good luck, my friends!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats to the Kitchen Lioness and Cocoa & Lavender for winning our giveaway. Thanks to everyone for participating. Stay tuned for my next giveaway, y’all!

3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies – Gluten-free, Soy-free + Great for Santa

cookies
Life is complicated enough with its ups and downs. The little things, though, are constant and ever-faithful. Sometimes, we just forget to look for them. Keeping things simple is best and that applies to food. Let’s talk about cookies. It is the holiday season, after all, but who has time to bake? Time seems to get away from me so quickly now. I keep setting eggs and butter onto the counter with every intention to bake only to return them to their chilly home in the fridge shortly after. When I saw this recipe for classic peanut butter cookies using only 3 ingredients, I made a mad dash for the kitchen. They are already gluten-free since there is no flour in the mix, but also soy-free if you get pure peanut butter. As for the end-product, my audience said they taste “Awesome!”

cookies

3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes: 2 dozen
Prep: 2 mins
Bake 7-8 mins

Ingredients
2 cups peanut butter (Laura Scudders has no soy)
2 cups sugar
2 free-range eggs

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350*F (175*C).
Grab a big bowl and a couple of dinner spoons.
Mix ingredients together until smooth.
Drop tablespoons of the cookie dough onto a baking sheet, 1-inch apart, and transfer to the hot oven.
Bake 7-8 minutes, just until the bottoms are barely brown.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies rest for 10 minutes.
Use a fork to gently make a criss-cross indentation on top of each cookie for that trademark look.
Transfer them to a metal rack to finish cooling.
Enjoy warm with a tall glass of cold chocolate milk.

cookies

C’est si bon, y’all, and so easy to make. I swear. I made a batch this morning before work. Some of my coworkers have soy and gluten allergies, so I was in the market for a good. but no-fuss recipe. That is why I grabbed Laura Scudders peanut butter off the shelf. There is nothing but peanuts and salt in that jar. Trader Joe’s has pure peanut butter, too. Just so you know, neither Laura nor Joe paid me to tell you that.

Could anything be more simple? This is one peanut butter cookie recipe that is perfect for the kids. Easy, no-fuss and fun to make. No fancy ingredients. No machinery needed. Just a couple of spoons and a big bowl. Then you can sit down together and enjoy the fruit of your labor without stressing about anything. The holidays are really about spending time with the people who mean the most to you and that includes preparing the meal together.

Tonight, Daisy and I are going to bake gingerbread cookie ornaments for our tree, but we will make a batch of these simple cookies on Christmas Eve. Daisy says Santa loves peanut butter cookies with that criss-cross pattern on top. She knows these things.

Being a full-time mom, I miss out on a lot of the sweet little things and time seems to slip away from me so quickly as I watch Daisy grow in a blink of an eye. Even sitting on the couch with her in my lap, watching a cartoon is time well spent. Baking with my baby is meaningful when I’m alone in the kitchen. These are the treasured memories we create for ourselves during the holidays and carry with us all year. So, take someone you love by the hand and bake up a batch of these easy and delicious cookies together.

Don’t forget to enter to win yourself a spiffy stain-resistant tuxedo apron with my original Coco logo! The chef should always be dressed well. (Sorry, handsome model not included. He’s my dad and I’m keeping him.)

Caramel Apple Crumble Pie, the Best Pie Crust Recipe on the Planet + a GIVEAWAY!

pie

What do you think about apple pie for breakfast? That was the plan this morning. It was freezing outside, 49 degrees Fahrenheit (proper cold for us delicate Southern Californians) and I had finally survived two weeks of sheer misery with a monumental head cold. My senses of smell and taste came back. To celebrate, I baked an old favorite, APPLE PIE wrapped in a CRISP CRUST, crowned with PECAN STREUSEL, finished with a hefty drizzle of CARAMEL SAUCE, all from scratch with loads of butter.

pie

Then, I cut a slice and set it onto the passenger seat next to me on my drive to work. Before long, my car was brimming with the (very distracting) aroma of cinnamon and caramel. I could not get to my desk fast enough for that first bite with coffee. That was hours ago and that sweet smell lingers (probably just my imagination). The temptation to lick the empty plate next to my keyboard is overwhelming, contained only by the fact that I am at the office. What if someone saw? 
Not only does this pie taste amazing, it is also fun to make, especially with the kids.  There are 4 parts to it: The luscious caramel sauce, toasty streusel, the fruity filling and crumbly crust. All but the filling can be made ahead of time, ready when the craving strikes. The caramel sauce and streusel topping can be stored in glass jars in the fridge for up to 1 month. The crust is worth making from scratch and freezes well. 
It is tender and crumbly with just the right amount of buttery sweetness.

There is no waiting for the dough to rest in the fridge. Just throw it together and bake it. A few tricks guarantee success. The butter must be very, very cold. Pressing the butter into the dry ingredients between your fingers forms sheets of dough. Finally, a splash of icy vodka is the secret to the flaky texture, but the taste is transparent. 

To prevent the fruit juices from making the bottom of the crust soggy, simply brush egg white over the inside of the crust and bake it shortly for the coating to set. This creates a barrier between the crisp crust and fruit juices.  Wearing a pretty apron not only keeps your clothes clean, but also gives you the confidence to bake like a champ! Like my apron? Enter below to win your own. It’s my Christmas gift to you!

pie

This pie is something special. There’s magic in it. With little effort, somehow it all comes together in this gorgeous, fragrant, delicious old timey package of goodness, the sort of thing your great grandmother made with nothing but a big bowl and wooden spoon.

Caramel Apple Crumble Pie

Serves: 8 (1 single-crust 10-inch pie)
Prep: 20 mins
Chill: 0 mins
Bake: 60 mins

Ingredients

Crust

1 3/4 sticks very cold butter, cubed + chilled
2 1/4 cups flour
5 tsp sugar
pinch salt
3 Tb iced water
1 Tb vodka
1 free-range egg white


Filling
6 cups peeled + sliced Granny Smith apples
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup starch
pinch salt

Topping
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Instructions

Crust
Cut butter into small cubes and put it into the freezer for 5-10 minutes.
Measure the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl.

Wash your hands or put on cook’s disposable gloves.
Sprinkle butter cubes over the dry ingredients.
Working quickly, flatten the butter into the flour mixture between your fingers.

Add iced water and cold vodka.
Knead by hand until the dough comes together.

(If you don’t plan on baking the pie right away, wrap the dough in plastic and pop it into the freezer where it can stay up to 1 month.)

Dust a clean surface with flour and roll the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness.
Roll dough around the rolling pin, lift it and unroll over the pie dish.
Gently tuck the dough flush against the baking dish.
Allow the crust should hang over the edge of the pie plate as it will shrink a bit in the oven.

Topping

Combine flour, brown sugar and salt in a bowl.

Cut butter into the dry ingredients.
Gently toss chopped pecans into the mix.
Set aside. 

Filling
Wash, peel and core the apples.
Cut into about 1/4-inch thick slices and collect them in a bowl.
Dust with cinnamon, allspice, brown sugar, starch and salt.
Toss gently with your hands to coat the apples and let them rest for about 10 minutes.

Assembly
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Brush the inside of the crust with the egg white and up the sides.
Transfer to the hot oven and bake 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain the juices from the apple mixture.
Remove crust from the oven and pile apples over the crust.
Cover evenly with the streusel and return the pie to the oven.
Bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and allow the pie to rest 10-15 minutes.
Drizzle with caramel sauce and serve with ice cream.

pie

Making something by hand is so rewarding, especially if it is something delicious that you can share with others. The holidays are here and it’s time for no-holds-barred over-the-top extravagance.  I’m not talking about truffles and caviar, folks. If you can’t pronounce it, you won’t see it here. Memories of Grandma busy making old timey goodness in the kitchen fill my head. Let the fancy mixer collect some dust. Grab a big bowl, wooden spoon and come, bake a caramel apple pie with me. Every bit of this dessert is rich with flavor, because every bit of it is homemade from scratch. There really is no better way to celebrate the season and no better gift than something homemade with care.

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pie

Recipe Revamp: Easy Homemade Canelés

“They are like 
portable crème brûlée!”

We rarely get date nights these days. So, Saturday night, Daisy got to go to a birthday party and had a sugar-fueled blast playing in a bouncy castle while Shawn and I went out to a funky little place for dinner. We relaxed, sipped cocktails, chatted mostly about missing Daisy. The warm olives reminded us of those we had at a hip Italian place in London many years ago. Then dinner arrived, a lovely roast chicken for Shawn and a whole branzino for me, which was an odd choice since I usually don’t like my food staring at me.  It was lovely. We definitely ate too much, though, but not enough to refuse the sweet little canelés offered at the door on our way out. I first heard of them from my chef friend Sayat. The photos I found showed pretty little molded cakes that looked a tad burnt, even the ones made by the pros. Canelés are typically French, reputed to be very difficult to make. “Oh, the batter is so finicky. It needs to rest, but just long enough, but not too long. Wait too much and you are doomed for,” the hostess said. Because I’d never had one before, I was even so bold as to ask for an extra one to take home to my little sweetheart. Well, I could not wait to get home and see if they are even worth all that trouble.  One taste of these cute, little bite-sized cakes with a crisp caramel coating and a spongy, vanilla-scented center and I was done for. They really are like portable crème brûlée. I was intrigued by what the hostess had said about the fussy recipe, so much, in fact, that I stayed up late to find out just how difficult it was to make these cute little things.

One recipe said the batter absolutely must rest in the fridge for some magical amount of time that resembled forever, then warmed to room temperature for an hour before baking.  Who has that kind of time? Another called for coating the signature fluted copper molds with beeswax (both pricey and difficult to find). I even found one that said something about heating the oven with the door open, then closing it and reducing the temp, waiting another x amount of time before starting the baking. Each claimed to be the authentic recipe, the original antique formula from Bordeaux. One said 2 eggs for 1/2 cup flour, while another said 3 eggs, 2 yolks for 1/2 cup flour. Trying to figure out which was the best recipe was dizzying. A recipe should be so straight-forward that you can almost figure out the instructions without having to read them. Beeswax, special fluted molds and tons of time, I don’t have, nor am I going to engage in ridiculous antics. Butter, mini cupcake pans and persistence, however, I do have. So, I decided to do my own thing and got a winner, incredibly irresistible and uncomplicated. Dad loved them so much that when I offered to make his usual favorite crème caramel, he said, “Hmm, no, I want you to make those little thingies.” That’s when I knew I had something really good. You really don’t need anything fancy to make the best canelés right at home. Use a mixer, if you have one, but I gently whisk the batter by hand, just like a French grandmother. Grab a pitcher instead of a bowl for easy pouring and follow the instructions. Yours will come out perfectly every time. Resist the urge to open the oven door. It’s perfectly alright if some of them burn around the edges. Those actually taste better than the rest with their perfectly caramelized crunchy shells. Just don’t forget the rum.

Butter is best. 

Some recipes require beeswax to coat the molds, supposedly the key to getting that wonderful sugary crunch. A frustrated effort to wash the waxy mess from the molds resulted in beeswax being banished from my kitchen forever. It was like trying to clean cold bacon fat from a frying pan. Good old butter produces a beautiful caramelized crust without the goopy mess, saving both time and money. On that note, Babelle, a canelé bakery in London uses the silicon molds. So,there’s really no need to waste money on the pretty (but pricey) little copper ones from France. Start with a mini muffin pan. Then, if you find yourself addicted to them (resistance is futile), order a silicon canelé mold to get the trademark fluted flower shape.

Easy Homemade Canelés

Makes: 16 2-inch canelés
Prep: 15 minutes
Chill: 1 hour
Bake: 75 minutes


Ingredients
Ingredients
2 cups milk
3 Tb butter + more for molds
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large free-range eggs
2 large free-range yolks
2 Tb spiced dark rum
Instructions
Brush the molds or wells of a mini cupcake pan with butter, then dust with flour.
Chill the molds/cupcake pan in the fridge.

Bring milk and butter to a boil.
Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Sift flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
Add eggs and yolks.
Mix til smooth.

Slowly drizzle warm milk mixture a bit at a time into the bowl, stirring constantly.

Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge at least 1 hour (up to overnight).

Preheat oven to 500*F.
Fill molds 3/4 full and transfer to the hot oven.

Do not open the oven door. Be patient.

After 10-15 minutes, reduce temp to 360*F.
Continue baking for 1 more hour.

Remove the caneles from the molds while still hot and let them cool completely so that crunchy outer layer forms.

Eat them warm out of the oven or the same day they are baked.

French food is a paradox, either elegantly simple or insanely complicated. 

Some say canelés came about in 18th Century Bordeaux when nuns collected flour that had spilled onto the docks from shipments and baked little cakes in molds nestled in the embers of a fire for poor children. Both the spelling of its name and the particulars of the recipe have evolved since then. The use of beeswax and vanilla is more recent. Vanilla is never a bad idea, but beeswax, as you know, I have strong opinions about beeswax.

French food is a paradox, either elegantly simple or insanely complicated. It’s just too hot and humid to run the big oven now, but after tasting my first canelé, I  had to try my hand at making them. I put my mini cupcake pans to work in my toaster oven and the results proved absolutely delicious. The crispy, caramel sugar shell breaks gently under the tooth, giving way to a spongy, almost custard-like center, a sweet little thing.

The sweetest things come in small packages, after all. A love note in your pocket on Ordinary Tuesday, a treasure in a small velvet box, a sleepy little bundle with a sweet face and buttery canelés from your very own kitchen. Such is the timeline to my happiness. I hope history repeats itself over and over again.