Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies

Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies - made dough July 19, 2014 from Averie Cooks
This is the second cookie with nutella that I've made from Averie's blog and the second one that didn't come out looking like the ones on her blog. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong or differently than what she does. I mix it according to the directions, I freeze the dough balls, I even bake with the convection setting on my oven. Comparing the looks of her cookies versus mine where hers are thick and compact while mine are marginally thick but much more spread out, I assume I baked mine longer than she did hers. Which is entirely possible since at the time specified in her recipe, my cookies still looked raw so I let them bake longer.
They were still tasty but I should satisfy my curiosity and make a point of baking a test cookie only for the 9-10 minutes specified in her recipe and see how that turns out. Maybe it would look closer to hers in appearance and once it's cooled, I certainly don't mind a fudgy texture.
Although this tasted fine, I'm not a big enough fan of peanut butter to really love it properly. It's good but I confess, I'm going to stick with my latest cookie crush from her blog instead, namely her amazing chocolate chip cookies.
1 large egg
3/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter or chocolate peanut butter (do not use natural or homemade, it's too runny and cookies could spread)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (light may be substituted)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
5 to 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the egg, Nutella, peanut butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and beat on high power to cream ingredients, about 5 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. 
  2. Add the flour, baking soda, optional salt and beat to incorporate. Add the chocolate chunks and beat momentarily to incorporate.
  3. Using a large cookie scoop, scoop out golf-sized balls of dough and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Space dough 2 inches apart (8 per tray) and bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or until top have just set, even if slightly underbaked in the center. 
  5. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before removing and transferring to a rack to finish cooling. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Easy One Pot Fudgy Brownies

Easy One Pot Fudgy Brownies - made July 20, 2014 from Neighbor Food Blog
I was busy last weekend and my normal time for baking was partially taken up with the visit to my niece so I needed something quick and easy as that week's baking experiment.
Enter brownies. Naturally. Although, since I seem incapable of making plain brownies, I did fancy these up a bit by spreading a thin layer of chocolate peanut butter on top then sprinkling chopped up peanut butter cups over it to make sure people knew what kind of brownie it was. Peanut butter lovers, step on up.

True to its name, this was an easy brownie to make and takes no time at all to mix together. I probably underbaked it just a trifle too much and it would've been better with a few extra minutes in the oven. But still, underbaking is a lesser sin than overbaking and this helped with the fudgy factor. It's been hot here lately so the peanut butter cups were somewhat soft even after the brownie had cooled. And that's not a complaint.
  • 1½ sticks butter (12 Tablespoons)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. In a medium sized pot, melt the butter on the stove top over medium heat. Remove from heat, then whisk in brown and white sugar until smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. Add the cocoa powder and flour and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes back with a few moist crumbs attached. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bakery Review - Ici Ice Cream

Ici Ice Cream - visited July 20, 2014
After lunch at Bowl'd, we headed back to Berkeley for dessert from Ici Ice Cream. Resist the urge to pronounce "Ici" as "icy". I know, it's hard if you're not French because you see ice cream and instinctively want to pronounce it wrong but "ici" means "here" in French and is therefore pronounced like "easy" but with a soft "s" sound instead of a "z" sound. Or think of pronouncing it as "Eeee Ceee" Ice Cream - close enough.
When we got to Ici, the shop was pretty crowded but it appeared we came at a good time because when we drove by later on our way home, there was a line out the door and along the sidewalk. If you don't mind spending $4-5 on a scoop of ice cream (and let's be clear, I don't mind - research once again), I can understand why.
Before I get to the ice cream, I was distracted by the offerings of baked goods in the display cases. Those were a nice surprise since I thought Ici was "just" an ice cream shop. Ah, how wrong I was.
They had a surprisingly wide variety and very nice selection of different baked goods, from whole Baked Alaskas to bite-size individual desserts and little cookies. All super cute. I treated everyone for the ice cream and my niece bought me an assortment of bite-size desserts for me to try later. She knows all about my research for this blog and she wanted me to try out different options. Awww.
Now let's talk about the ice cream. According to my niece, Ici makes different flavors daily and you're allowed to ask for taste tests of up to 3 different ice creams. The helpful counter staff will ask which ones you want to try, go behind the counter, dig around the frozen ice cream vats and come back with little spoons cradling mini scoops of the taste tests you requested.
My niece asked for 3 taste tests and settled on the lavender honey. On her advice and experience, we both opted to get our scoops in the homemade waffle cones. They fill the bottom point with chocolate so no ice cream will melt out into your palm. Brilliant.
Lavender Honey
I confess that once I saw a flavor labeled "Vanilla Fudge Salted Almond", I had pretty much made up my mind, even without a taste test. One of my favorite ice cream flavors is mocha almond fudge and this looked like an upscale riff on that. I tried the sample taste test but since I had already decided that was "my" flavor, I didn't feel the need to try 2 other flavors. Oh, and yeah, that's two scoops you see in that picture and I downed all of it. I may be indifferent to ice cream 90% of the time but that leaves 10% for when I happen to be in an ice cream parlor. I'm a two-scoop minimum kind of girl. Good thing too since the ice cream was delicious, smooth and creamy while the salted almond made a nice contrast to the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream. Do I even need to mention the fudge ribboning throughout was also perfect?
Vanilla Fudge Salted Almond
My parents opted for the Cinnamon Pecan in a cup - waffle cones held no interest for them. No, I'm not adopted; that's just how they roll.
Cinnamon Pecan
With my double scoop of ice cream on a waffle cone, you can imagine I didn't have room for the little box of baked goods my niece got for me. I wasn't there when she was choosing from the bakery displays so when I got home, it was a nice surprise to open the box and see what she picked.
The bottom layer at the left of the picture below is a ginger molasses cookie that she said she'd had before and thought was "bomb" (millienial slang for "yummy-delicious"). She also chose (left to right) shortbread, coconut macaroons and Mexican wedding cakes.

I had to pace myself (freaking portion control and all that) so I consumed the treats over the next several days. They were all good. The ginger cookie had bold ginger molasses flavor like a good cookie of that kind should have. The coconut macaroons had great coconut flavor and the Mexican wedding cakes were just like the ones I make (that probably sounds vain, oh well).
But my absolute favorite of the whole box was the shortbread. I'm predisposed to like shortbread anyway but theirs is better than any I've made. It wasn't too buttery but it still had great flavor. But what I loved about it was the texture - it was soft but not crumbly. "Melt in your mouth" is such an overused cliche but an apropos one in this instance. Honestly, if I could make shortbread like that, I'd have my Christmas cookie of the year.
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Coconut Macaroons
Ginger Molasses Cookies
All in all, Ici Ice Cream was a fun place to visit and try out. If you go, I advise going on the early side. We were there right after lunch so maybe sometime between 2 and 3? Just an hour later is when the line was spilling outside of the shop.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Restaurant Review: Bowl'd Korean Rice Bar

Bowl'd - lunch on July 20, 2014
Last weekend, my parents and I went to visit one of my nieces and we ended up going to Bowl'd Korean Rice Bar for lunch. It's a cute little restaurant in Albany, about a 10-minute drive from Berkeley. Typical college students probably don't venture this far from campus given the plethora of eating establishments just surrounding Telegraph Ave alone but since we had wheels, my niece recommended we try out Bowl'd.
If you like Korean food, this is a good place to go. If you like Korean food served by a friendly, attentive staff who smile whenever they come up to your table, this is a great place to go.
We never had one dedicated server but we had about 4-5. They all worked together to take our order for appetizers, to fill water glasses, to bring tea, to bring out entrees and to clear the table. Needless to say, we received very good service.
And the food was good too. We started out with appetizers: shrimp dumplings (potstickers), seafood pancake, and caramelized potatoes. Our first server took our appetizer order first then said she'd put the order in while we decided on our entrees so that the appetizers could come out faster. Nice. The shrimp dumplings were delicious. For me, the mark of a good potsticker is the wrapper, how thick or thin it is and how well it was cooked. This one hit it on all counts - the wrapper was just the right thickness and they cooked it perfectly, slightly crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside.
Likewise, the seafood pancake held its own as being crisp on the outside but still soft and chewy inside. It wasn't greasy either which was also a plus. The seafood pancake from Jang Su Jang was just a tad bit better but the one at Bowl'd is on par.
My favorite appetizer, however, and one I probably ate a tad too much of were the caramelized potatoes. Let me repeat: caramelized. Need I say more? Nope. The coating was lightly crisp and lightly sweet. For the most part, the inside was cooked just right, although a few of the larger pieces were a trifle too firm for me. I guess they wanted to make sure they didn't overcook the potatoes or else they might fall apart. Still, if you come to Bowl'd, get the caramelized potatoes - you won't be sorry.
The Works ("cold" bowl)
As for the entrees, each of us got some kind of bowl. When in Rome, right? They offer two types of bowls: a "cold" bowl and a hot bowl. The cold bowl wasn't really cold in the sense that the food wasn't chilled or anything. The helpful waiter explained to us that the bowl itself would be room temperature just like any other plate or bowl on the table. It just wouldn't be a hot bowl. The hot bowl is served in a clay pot and really is served hot, thereby cooking the contents a bit more so the rice may end up getting a little crispy. I'm not a fan of crispy rice so I went for the cold bowl.
The Hot Bowl
If you're trying to eat healthy or healthier, Korean food is a pretty good choice. You can select items that aren't fried or deep fried and the "stuff" that comes in a bowl are mostly veggies and protein. At Bowl'd, you choose whether you want the hot or cold bowl, which protein and which type of rice (white or mixed grain). I opted for the cold bowl with Bul Go Gi or marinated beef, my favorite Korean dish. I was less enthused about the stuff that all came with it and I admit I ate mostly the rice, the egg and the beef. If I had known it came with all those veggies, I might've chosen something else. Still, what I did eat was good and I'm glad we tried it. Plus, really, the nice service couldn't be beat.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Death by Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Death by Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough July 12, 2014 from Imperial Sugar
You'd think by the chubbiness of these cookies, this is another recipe from Averie Cooks, my go-to source for fat, chubby, thick, sink-your-teeth-into-them cookies. But nope, I actually found this one on Imperial Sugar via pinterest.
When you pair the word "death" with "chocolate", you know there's something there worth looking into, right? I added the second "chocolate" in the title because that seemed appropriate. One "chocolate" simply wasn't enough.
I was pleased by how these turned out since they didn't spread much and, thanks to freezing the dough before baking and then underbaking, they came out nice and fudgy. There's no point in baking with chocolate if it's not going to turn out fudgy. So say the Baking Gods.
When I first made the dough, I did find it a bit soft so it was hard to get the dough balls to keep their round shape. They had a tendency to flatten before they chilled properly. If that happens to you, chill the dough in the mixing bowl briefly (5-10 minutes ought to do it) then shape into golf-ball-size dough balls. You don't want to chill it for too long before portioning out or it'll be that much harder to shape properly. You want it chilled just long enough to hold its shape but not so long as the dough becomes difficult to scoop out.
Time these in the oven but if you forget (ahem, yup I forgot), then the safest way to go by appearance is if the middle no longer looks so shiny. Shiny means the dough is still raw and glistening from the melted butter. You want just the barest look of "crust" on top that appears dry but you don't want to bake long enough that cracks form in the crust or the cookie really will be dry. Let cool completely or cookie will be too mushy. The best way to appreciate the fudgy interior is if the cookie is completely cooled. That's my preference anyway.
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together for 2 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Add melted chocolate and stir until combined.
  4. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth and incorporated.
  5. Stir in dry ingredients into chocolate mixture until dough forms. Do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Chill dough briefly until firm enough to mold into golf-sized dough balls. Portion into dough balls and freeze until firm or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Space dough balls evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 12-13 minutes until edges are set.
  8. Cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining cookie dough.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Averie's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough July 12, 2014 from Averie Cooks
Although I can never resist trying out new recipes for chocolate chip cookies, you know I have standards of almost Herculean-heights in order for me to consider a new recipe good enough to join the ranks of the ones I already hold in high esteem, namely Alton Brown's and Crazy for Crust's recipes for chocolate chip cookies. They don't spread much, stay thick, have the perfect consistency in terms of chewiness and, perhaps, the real standard, tastes good even at room temperature.

That might sound funny but I have many chocolate chip cookies that are fantastic when you taste the cookie 10 minutes out of the oven yet I'm less enthused about them an hour or two later or, "heaven forbid" says my snobby taste buds, a whole day later. Cookies stale quickly and I lose all interest in consumption if they're more than a few hours old. When you've been spoiled eating warm chocolate chip cookies when the mood strikes, you tend to have high standards for said cookies.

So it should come as no surprise that the recipe that joins my Top 3 list for This One's a Keeper chocolate chip cookies comes from Averie Cooks. I expected it to be good because it's from her blog but I admit to a little surprise by how much I liked it. It has vanilla pudding mix which I've baked in chocolate chip cookies before so I expected it would add to a soft texture. Surprisingly, while it did that, this cookie also still had the requisite crisp edges I like in a freshly baked cookie. Good taste, great texture, excellent 10 minutes out of the oven, good even completely cooled. The dough was also a dream to work with, not too soft or sticky (make sure your butter isn't too soft or warm) and held its shape well even when scooped into large dough balls. I've made other chocolate chip cookies from Averie's blog that were also good but this particular one easily joins my Top 3 list.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
one 3.5-ounce packet instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
one-12 ounce bag (2 cups) milk chocolate chips or chunks (I chopped up a bar of Trader Joe's milk chocolate into good-sized chunks)
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the chocolate chips; beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a large cookie scoop or 1/4-cup measure, form approximately 14 equal-sized mounds of dough, roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 11 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center; don't overbake. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Chocolate Fudge Brownies - made July 7, 2014 from Recipe Girl
Did I mention one of my nieces is in New York City for part of the summer? She's having the time of her life and I enviously track her tumblr blog with all the fantastic experiences she's having, including, but not limited to, all the glorious food NYC offers. My last trip to the Big Apple was solely to go there to eat so you can imagine the nice shade of pea-green envy I turn when I see her food pictures. Yes, she takes pictures of her food too - she's my niece, after all. Those genes run true.
But, despite her ice cream forays at Big Gay Ice Cream, food from Koreatown, and my relentless urging for her to have a burger at the Shake Shack, I still sent her a small care package of brownies. My sister had gone to visit her and thought my niece might be a lil homesick (awwww) and would welcome a care package. Say no more, I was on it.
I hadn't made a nutella crunch version of brownies in awhile so thought I'd trip down memory lane by trying a new brownie recipe from Recipe Girl because I needed something for the nutella crunch mixture to sit on. Plus these mail well.
The original recipe calls for the brownies to be glazed so I've left that down below if you want that version. If you want the version pictured, omit the glaze and use the nutella crunch topping recipe found here. For an 8-inch pan, I only used half the topping recipe. Be generous with the Rice Krispies if you like a lot of crunch (I do). This remains my favorite topping for brownies and a nice way to dress them up.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 5 teaspoons hot water (or more, as needed)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare the brownies:In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a pan set on top of a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat. Whisk the sugars into the mixture. Then whisk in the eggs, yolk and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until well incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the brownie comes out with moist crumbs. Remove from the oven and cool completely before adding the glaze (or the nutella crunch topping).
  4. Prepare the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Whisk in 4 teaspoons of hot water, then add more water- 1 teaspoon at a time- until you reach a desired glaze consistency. You want to be able to pour it on the brownies.
  5. Use the parchment paper to move the brownies from the pan to a cutting board. Pour the glaze on top of the brownies, and use the bottom of a spoon to gently spread it to the edges. Let the glaze set before cutting.