Croquembouche

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Happy New Year everyone! Wow, we are already done with the much awaited holiday season and about a week into 2016! Seriously, where does the time fly! So, this is to prove the that I did actually work on this recipe at the beginning of the year – to be more precise, a few days into January 2016! Wow, how unexpected life could be!

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I hope this year is off to a great start for all of you! Did anyone make any lofty resolutions? I didn’t! I am finally in terms with the fact that, you either want to do something or not – regardless of whether it is your latest and greatest resolution or not! Honestly, the timing couldn’t be better! Why would you want to try this absolutely show-stopping creation right after all the indulgence in fine things! Less than 2 weeks before the waists start expanding seem like THE perfect time to share this recipe with you all! PLEASE…I really mean, PLEASE, don’t let the pictures fool you into thinking this recipe is super hard! It really is not! Believe me!

This croquembouche recipe (inspired by a recipe on Food Network) is one such thing! It’s true that you can’t stop with one, but if you want to have your cake and eat it too, then, yes, you can pull together all your willpower and stop with one! It’s a satisfying sweet treat that satisfies your sweet tooth without adding hundreds and hundreds of calories!

OK, before you to the recipe, let me warn you not to get spooked by the ingredient list or the long directions. It’s not all the bad. Breeze through the recipe first to get a feel for how very easy the recipe is so you know what to expect. It’s really a pretty fool-proof recipe with an amazing end result. Also, if you are not keen on making the caramel, you can easily skip it! The taste will still be amazing without the caramel coating.

DARN, how I wish I had taken a picture of the little baby after the first bite, revealing the delicious, creamy filling inside! (Note to self: It’s likely you will make this again this holiday season, so can you please post a picture showing the yumming filling(s) inside?)

Croquembouche

  • Servings: 12?
  • Time: 3 1/2 hours
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Ingredients
¼ oz packet unflavored gelatin
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
12 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1½ cup heavy cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

1. Begin by preparing the cream filling. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of cold water in a small bowl and let it soften (bloom).
2. Measure out the milk in a heavy bottom pan. Add the vanilla and bring a simmer over medium high heat. Once the milk starts to simmer, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk one-third of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Add rest of the milk and whisk together. Return the pan over medium heat and cook the mixture while constantly whisking the mixture.
4. Cook the custard till the mixture boils and thickens. This will take about 5 to 6 minutes. Continue cooking till the mixture turns into custard consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Add in the softened gelatin.
5. Microwave the chocolate chips for 30 seconds, stir and heat again in 30 second increment till the chocolate is fully melted and smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Stir in the coffee and chocolate into ½ the custard filling. Keep the other half plain. Cover both the bowls with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface to prevent any film from forming on top and chill the custard for 2 hours.
6. When ready to fill the puffs, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Fold half of it into the vanilla filling and the other half into the chocolate filling.
7. Transfer each filling to a large pastry bag with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.
8. Prepare the pastry puffs while the custard is cooling. Preheat the oven to 450F.
9. Bring 1 ½ cups of water, remaining butter, sugar and salt to a simmer in medium saucepan. When the butter melts completely, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Return the pan to heat and cook stirring constantly till the mixture pulls from the side and turns shiny. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
10. Transfer the paste to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and start mixing on medium low speed for about a minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated.
11. Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and pipe 1 1/2-inch balls of dough onto the paper. You should get about 40 plus dollops.
12. Smooth out any pointy tips of the piped dollops with a wet finger. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, till the dough is puffed. Lower the temperature to 350f and bake until the puffs are golden and feel light. Turn off the oven and keep the puffs inside for another 10 minutes or so. Remove the puffs to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
13. Assemble the croquembouche as close to serving time as possible. Fill half the puffs with chocolate cream and the other half with vanilla by piping the cream from the bottom. You can lightly push in the piping from the bottom and squeeze the filling till the puff feels pretty full. Take care to avoid overfilling so the custard doesn’t explode out of the puffs.
14. Let the filled puffs chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.
15. To assemble the puffs as a tower, you need to make the caramel. Mix the 3 cups of sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the syrup till it turns deep amber. Take care not to burn the caramel. Another way to do this is to use a candy thermometer and boil the syrup till it reaches hard candy stage.
16. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in a large bowl of ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Let cool for a couple of minutes. The syrup should still be quite liquidy.
17. Partially dip each filled puff into the caramel and let the excess drip off. Arrange the puffs around the circle. If the caramel hardens, microwave until soft, 45 seconds.
18. Fill the base circle with more puffs for stability, then continue building a conical tower of smaller circles.
19. Dip the tip of a fork into the caramel and wave it around the tower, letting the syrup fall in strands around it. If the syrup is on the liquidy side, the syrup might not form the web look you are after. Let the syrup cool slightly and drizzle it slowly so it will cling better to the puffs and create the web look.

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice-Cream

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Blueberry season is winding down! This to me means two things…get to a u-pick farm FAST for several pounds of the blue gems and finding as many ways to use them up throughout the year as possible!

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Throughout the past several years, July has become the month of continuing our family tradition of picking blueberries at a local farm! I get all excited as soon the farms open for the season. I immediately start to think about how many pounds to pick so I have enough to freeze for the rest of the year. Usually, if we pick about 15 pounds or so, they last till about March or April. That’s a lot of picking! And perhaps that’s why my kids never get super excited about getting ready for this day! I guess the summer heat, rivers of sweat pouring down your back and all the patient work to pick the bluest berries could possibly make you a bit less excited! 🙂 But, to their credit, they always go with us, try their best to do their part, and even have a bit of fun!

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So, after couple of hours of sweating buckets in the scorching sun, we managed to pick almost 13 pounds, little shy of what I would have ideally liked! After sorting through, rinsing, drying and freezing most of the berries, I saved just enough to try hand at my first batch of ice cream – blueberry cheesecake ice cream, combining two of my favorite things!

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The original recipe is found on the Eagle Brand website. With couple of minor tweaks, including substituting bit of milk for some of the heavy cream and incorporating crushed graham crackers, the ice cream turned out to be quite something! Although the recipe called for at least 4 hours of freezing, mine didn’t quite freeze to an ice cream consistency at 4 hours. But that didn’t stop me from serving this as soft serve for dessert following dinner. It was delicious! I did have enough to let freeze all the way. Next day, it was perfect! You may need to let the container stay at room temperature for about 5 minutes to make it easy to scoop.

This is the scoop served "soft-serve"

This is the scoop served “soft-serve”

This recipe is super easy to whip up! Literally! So, go ahead and give it a try! You will be happy you did!

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Blueberry Cheesecake Ice-Cream

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 5 1/2 hours
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Ingredients
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup heavy/whipping cream
1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
Lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 container sweetened condensed milk
1/2 package reduced-fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup crushed graham crackers

Preparation:
1. In a small pan, simmer blueberries, lemon juice and sugar till the berries start to burst. Continue to simmer for about 5 minutes till the sauce thickens a little. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature.
2. In a medium bowl, whip the heavy cream till stiff peaks form. Keep aside while you proceed to the next step.
3. In another medium bowl, using hand held mixer, combine the condensed milk, milk and cream cheese till smooth. Add vanilla and the lemon zest.
4. Slowly incorporate the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture.
5. Layer one third of the blueberry mixture into a plastic container (with a tight lid). Ladle in 1/2 of the ice-cream base. Sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed graham crackers. Now, gently swirl the two layers. Repeat with the remaining berry mixture, ice-cream base and graham crackers. Cover and freeze till completely set. This will take about 4-5 hours.

Serving tip: Let the ice-cream stay at room temperature for about 5 minutes to make it easy to scoop! Serve with additional blueberries and a sprinkling of crushed graham crackers!

Kiwi-Cranberry-Raisin Bars

Hi folks, it’s been a long time! One of those whirlwind of few weeks and I really missed posting.

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So, what better way to make a come-back than with a recipe that calls for an unlikely combination of fruits. Seriously, kiwi, cranberry and raisin? Yes, yes! And trust me, you won’t be sorry that you invited them to the same party!

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The idea to use kiwi came from having a bag of dried candied kiwis sitting around in the pantry waiting to make an appearance in a recipe – any recipe. This was around the time I was contemplating whether to bake homemade treats for school lunches in an attempt to make them a little less “junk”. Although this adaptation of a Cooking Light recipe still has more sugar than I prefer to add, the website has these at under 140 calories per serving size (and their serving size was larger than how I cut my bars). In my version of the recipe, since I used candied kiwi and sweetened cranberries, I reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup. I guess that’s not too bad – or so I hope!

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These bars have the right sweetness balanced by the fruity firm, chewy texture of the candied fruits. Needless to say, they were quite a big hit with my family. Give it a try!

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Kiwi-Cranberry-Raisin Bars

  • Servings: 24
  • Time: 45 min
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Ingredients
1/2 cup of dried/candied fruits – kiwi, craisins and raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana
3 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, if desired

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and spray with non stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Sprinkle water over the dried fruits and microwave for 20-30 seconds. Remove from microwave and set aside to cool.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. In a large bowl, combine butter and brown sugar. Use a hand mixer to make the job easier. To this, add the mashed banana, buttermilk, vanilla extract and egg whites one at a time. Mix well to combine.
5. Mix in the dry mixture in two parts just until combined. Fold in the fruits and walnuts.
6. Spoon the mixture into the baking pan and smooth the top.
7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes till the top is set and golden.
8. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
9. Cut into 24 pieces. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Store covered in an airtight container for about 5 days.

Almost Perfect Macarons

 

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Have you noticed that macarons and delicately frosted cupcakes are more or less mainstays on a dessert tables nowadays??

My quest for making a perfect French macaron started 3 years ago, after a visit to Paris. I tried a few “home-style” versions at a local farmer’s market and fell in love! They were “cakey”, delicately flavored and more interestingly, came in infinite array of vivid colors. Piles and piles of them, arranged in conical pyramids, with various fillings! Ahh…

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So, after we returned home, I started dreaming, researching and dreaming some more to the point of a macaron obsession! I tried countless recipes, ruined tons of batches, fretted over perfect “feet” and that characteristic texture – fragile and crispy outside leading to a chewy and cakey inside. And after numerous trial attempts, I can say I have a recipe that I will likely stick to – at least until I get a personal training by someone at Pierre Homme (what wishful thinking, I know!). 🙂 OK, you guys, look at my pictures, feel free to try them at home, and let me know if they are quite worth it! I debated whether to share this recipe, but decided it is worth sharing the love with the readers of this blog! After all, macarons can’t be perfected by following a recipe – they really need love, patience, passion and lots of and lots of practice!

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TIPS BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT:
1. Precise measurement is a MUST (if you don’t have a digital scale, I highly recommend getting one. I bought one just so I can make macarons)!
2. Oven-temperatures can uplift or totally ruin a perfect macaron!
3. Folding in the dry ingredients is an art and takes lots of practice! If you under/over mix, your batch is ruined, and you may not even know it till they start cracking while baking and push you into a meltdown!
5. You absolutely need parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Without it, you will have a sticky, gooey mess!
4. Lastly, make sure your mixer and bowl are grease free and you only use either gel or powder colors as macs don’t like grease or water!

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To sum it all up, MACARONS ARE HIGH-MAINTENANCE! But, once you perfect your skill and see those beautiful things emerge out of the oven, I can guarantee you will be floating with pride! I did!

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Fool-proof French Macarons

  • Servings: 15-20 sandwiches
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
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Ingredients
35g egg white
0.5g meringue powder
0.5g salt
20g granulated sugar
60g powdered sugar
45g almond meal/ground almonds
Fillings of your choice: Chocolate ganache, nutella, buttercream, salted caramel, jelly etc.
optional: gel or powder colors

Preparation
1. Begin with carefully measuring out your ingredients.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
3. Grind together (in a spice/coffee grinder) the almond meal and powdered sugar for few seconds till the mixture is fine. Set aside.
4. In a large stainless bowl, whip together the egg white, meringue powder and salt till frothy.
5. Slowly add in granulated sugar till soft, shiny peaks form.
6. If using color, add at this point.
7. Carefully fold in the almond meal/powdered sugar mixture in two batches. A rubber spatula is immensely helpful with this process.
8. STOP mixing when the dry mixture is incorporated and the macaron mix falls in a ribbon and slowly disappears into the mix. This part is extremely critical to the perfect mac.
9. Pipe the mix in 1″ circles on parchment or baking mat, leaving about an inch between circles. Try to keep the size consistent so it is easy to sandwich them with fillings.
7. Tap the tray a few times to pop out any air bubbles. Again, air bubbles, if not removed, will pop in the oven and crack your macarons. Sad, but true!
8. Let the macarons rest for 10-15 minutes.
9. Place the tray in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 290F.
10. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate tray and bake another 5 minutes. The times given are general guidelines. Keep an eye on those babies – I have ruined a few batches just because they decided the same temperature setting used for the previous batch was too hot for the next one! Weird and I am still scratching my head for reasons, but for now, just keep an eye on them.
11. At the end of the baking time, remove the tray from the oven, let the macs sit on the tray for 5 minutes and move them to a cooling rack.
12. Pair the macs of similar size and sandwich them with fillings of your choice.
13. Sandwiched macs must be kept refrigerated for at least 24 hours to let the flavors and texture meld.

Warning: Once you make your first perfect batch, it becomes a near obsession to make more! 🙂

Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

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So, this is really part 2 of the 2-part cupcake posting! I have been meaning to make some sort of treat using the blueberry preserves I had recently made. What better way than to test it as a filling for cupcake! So, that was going to be the second cupcake flavor. Vanilla cupcake with blueberry preserve filling and lemon cream cheese frosting! Yummmm!

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I am not sure where I came upon this recipe! Since I wanted to stick with the “made from scratch” spree, I decided to whip up this quick cupcake recipe. One warning – be gentle with your mixing if you want to avoid big air pockets in the cake. The cake was totally amazing – especially the frosting! Just the right amount of sweetness with a bit of citrusy tang! Delicious! And the bit of blueberry preserve you get in each bite is just perfect!

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(BTW, if you are have leftover frosting, use it as a drizzle for a breakfast treat (sweet rolls or as a spread for crepes!)

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Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 30 min plus decorating
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Ingredients:
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 cup milk

Cupcake filling
1/4 cup blueberry preserve

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz reduced fat cream cheese
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Lemon zest from 1/2 lemon

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and set aside.
2. Using an electric hand held beater, combine butter, sugar till light and fluffy.
3. Add one egg at a time, mixing well.
4. Combine cake flour, salt and baking powder.
5. Add the flour mixture alternating with milk in two additions.
6. Divide the batter among the 12 cupcake “wells”. Bake for about 20-22 minutes till the top is lightly golden and the center tests done.
7. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes and let cool completely on a cooling rack.
8. To decorate, slowly and carefully cut out a 1/2 inch piece of cupcake in the middle as shown in the picture above. Reserve the cut out piece. Fill the hole with a teaspoon of blueberry preserve and place the cut out cake back on top. Now, cover the top with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl using handheld mixer. If frosting is too thick, you can thin it by adding few drops of lemon juice.

Crispy, Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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When it comes to cookies, I would imagine the two leading contenders are probably chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin? Maybe it’s peanut butter something instead of oatmeal raisin. Although I do enjoy a yummy chocolate chip cookie once in a while, I tend to lean a bit more towards chewy oatmeal raisin. The bite and chewiness of oats, soft sweetness of raisins…mmmm….

So, when I decided to bake a surprise batch of cookies for the kids (and…ahem…mom and dad), I thought of combining the two cookies. Although I didn’t add any raisins in this recipe, I might consider adding some the next time I make these cookies.

I try to substitute at least some of the all-purpose flour with something more nutritious like oats, ground flax etc. This recipe lends itself perfectly to that – if you wish to replace about 1/4 cup of flour with ground flax etc. Also, I chose to use mini chocolate chips in this recipe in an attempt to have bit of chocolate in every bite and to reduce the total amount of chocolate. It worked out perfectly.

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Do use only about a teaspoon of dough at least 2 inches apart. The cookies spread well and results in a thin cookie with a perfect crispy texture when you first bite, quickly leading to a pleasant chewiness. This was a huge hit with my family as well as my kids’ friends. I think you will enjoy it.

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If you bake these, let me know how they turn out. I would love to hear about your experience.

Crispy, chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

  • Servings: 30 cookies
  • Time: 60 min
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Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup (heaping) ground flax
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 larger egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Combine flour, oats, ground flax, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat softened butter with the sugars till well combined.
4. Add egg and beat for another minute. Stir in vanilla.
5. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Dough might feel a bit wet, but that’s OK.
7. Scoop the dough by teaspoon size onto a cookie sheet, spacing each scoop by at least 2 inches.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes till edges are light brown and the cookie has spread well.
9. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes on the tray and finish cooling on a cooling rack.
10. Store in airtight container.

Decadent Minty Brownies

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Decadent brownies! Yikes, I wasn’t really planning on preparing something so indulgent, but I had to prepare them for school and so I did! And OK I confess, I did have a piece (and I promise, it was just one piece) and it was DIVINE!

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These brownies are so rich and satisfying that you only need to indulge in one to satisfy your craving for something sweet to round off your meal. The recipe is adapted from the original posted on http://www.bonapetit.com. My version uses less sugar, bit of ground flax, bit of instant espresso, 1/4 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips and mint extract.

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If you don’t like your brownies too sweet, feel free to reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. I found 1 cup sugar to be a bit too sweet for my liking, so I will definitely be cutting it down next time around! Also, if you are watching calories, bonapetit.com says these are 110 calories per piece (16 pieces total). I baked mine in a 9″X9″ metal pan and cut them into 20 pieces. So even though I added just 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips, these brownies cut into 20 pieces should be a 100-calorie dessert. Just guessing!

Decadent Minty Brownies

  • Servings: 16-20
  • Time: 25-30 min
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Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 level tablespoon instant espresso
2 eggs
1/2 – 1 tsp mint extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder (you can omit this if you are using regular cocoa powder)
1 heaping tablespoon ground flax
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F (325F if you are using glass pan)
2. Prepare the baking pan by spraying it lightly with nonstick cooking spray
3. Combine sugar, cocoa, espresso and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Add melted butter to the above and stir well to combine.
5. Add eggs one at a time and whisk to incorporate well. Follow with mint extract.
6. Combine flour, ground flax and baking powder.
7. Stir the flour mixture gently into the cocoa mixture.
8. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
9. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges are well set and middle tests done.
10. Let cool and cut into 16-20 pieces.

Minty Avocado Brownie

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It’s March! And that usually is characterized by GREEN!

From Facebook posts, it is quite clear people are already enjoying their minty Shamrock shakes! So, when the thought for brownies came about, I wanted to combine chocolate and mint, but in a healthier unison! Avocados anyone?

 

20140303_143058[1] In many ways, I guess a good ripe avocado is nature’s butter! Or creamy milk substitute (gosh, can’t wait to try an avocado ice cream or froyo!). Since I had a perfectly ripe fruit tempting me to transform it into something even more divine than its natural indulgent self, I figured I would try out an avocado brownie recipe that I saw at http://www.kirantarun.com. So, that’s what I did! Avocados have a lot of the good fat – but they do pack some serious calories if you eat too much. This recipe that serves 8 uses one large avocado, so not bad. The only cholesterol that is in this recipe comes from a single egg used.

Also, I replaced wheat flour with all purpose flour and ground flax. The end result was a very moist, soft, “choco-minty” brownie that prompted calls for seconds! Next time, I would like to add some chopped nuts (pistachios sound good) to add a bit of textural element. All in all, I think you will not be disappointed in this recipe. In fact you will probably have this as your go-to recipe when you run out of mint-chocolate chip ice cream! This is one of those recipes that definitely needs to find a place in the “guilt free indulgence” category!

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Minty Avocado Brownie

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 45 min
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Ingredients
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup minus 2 heaping tablespoons all purpose flour
2 heaping tablespoons ground flax
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 heaping tablespoons Dutch process cocoa
1 egg, very lightly beaten
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
2 tablespoons chocolate chips, optional
2 tablespoons chopped nuts, optional

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Mash avocado until quite smooth in a medium bowl.
3. To this, add lightly beaten egg, mint extract and espresso mixture.
4. In a separate bowl, mix well the dry ingredients except chocolate chips and nuts.
5. Gently fold in the dry ingredients into the avocado mixture.
6. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if used.
7. Scoop batter into a small loaf pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Level with a knife or back of spoon.
8. Bake for about 25 minutes, till center tests done (toothpick test).
9. Cool in refrigerator and cut into eight squares, about 2″ wide.

Coconut-Pineapple Flan

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My love for flan, crème brulee, caramel pudding – whatever you call it- dates all the way back to my childhood. It was one of those treats we kids devoured no matter what else was around. Those days, I grew up eating the version made with tons of whole eggs, condensed milk and sugar. Using all those eggs and condensed milk results in a delicious “pudding” that is firmer and “sliceable”. Growing up, I remember my mom making this caramel pudding and slicing it up to serve. It had the decadence of a crème brulee with the satisfaction of relishing on a slice of cake. Mmmmm….

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These days, since I am trying to cut down on carbs, especially sugar, I wanted to attempt a recipe that was not so calorific, yet satisfies the sweet tooth. I know I can NEVER give up on desserts. That to me is like depriving myself of oxygen – ok maybe not that desperate but close enough. Only thing that seems to work for me is finding lower calorie substitutes in my recipes. With that in mind, I attempted a flan recipe with low fat milk, lite coconut milk and some splenda. Since a light caramel sauce is a “must” for a good flan, I took the traditional route with regular refined sugar but reduced the overall amount of sauce.

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Lastly, instead of the traditional vanilla flavor, I opted for coconut pineapple combination for a tropical flair – to go with the balmy 50F in the middle of winter!

The resulting flan, crème brulee or caramel pudding – again whatever you want to call it- was velvety smooth, light and had a nice tropical flavor. Just what I was looking for!

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Coconut-Pineapple Flan

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 4 hrs 30 min
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Ingredients

For Flan:
1/2 cup 1% or skim milk
7 oz unsweetened coconut milk, preferably the lite version
1/3 cup granulated Splenda
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons crushed pineapple, drained

For caramel glaze:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Prepare caramel by heating the sugar and water till sugar starts to caramelize. Make sure you don’t scorch the sugar.
3. Transfer the cooked caramel to a 6″ baking pan and sprinkle with crushed pineapple. Set aside.
4. Simmer 1% milk and coconut milk till tiny bubbles start forming around the edges. Do not boil. Add the rum extract.
5. Beat the yolks and whole egg lightly. Slowly add the milk to temper the eggs, being careful to add the milk in a steady stream while continuously stirring the egg mixture.
6. Add Splenda to the egg-milk mixture and stir to dissolve.
7. Strain the mixture to remove any bits of solids and transfer the strained liquid to the prepared dish.
8. Place a wet kitchen towel in a large pan (13″x9″). Place the 6″ pan with the flan mixture on the towel and place in the preheated oven.
9. Slowly pour boiling water into the larger container, carefully avoiding the flan mixture.
10. Bake for about 45 minutes till the top looks set.
11. Once cooled to room temperature, carefully run a thin knife or spatula around the edges and invert the flan onto a plate.
12. Chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours before serving.


5.

Vanilla froyo with strawberries, chia and pistachio

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I have long been a fan of Greek yogurt – at least ever since I tried the pineapple Chobani! With all the craze about froyo’s, I really wanted to mess around with a froyo recipe that would turn out at least acceptable in a home kitchen WITHOUT an ice cream maker. The following recipe is adapted from Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt recipe from http://www.coffeeandquinoa.com.

Even though I don’t have an ice cream maker, I felt confident I could churn out a pretty decent bowl of “froyo” based on my reminiscence about how my mom and aunt used to make homemade ice cream back home without an ice cream maker. They would prepare the mix, pout it in a pan, freeze for couple of hours, aerate it using a handheld mixer and repeat a few times till you can mix anymore. So, that’s what I decide to do – although I didn’t have the patience to make this an arduous 6+ hours process, mainly because I wanted to dig into it sooner than later and be able to post the recipe in time for a relatively healthy Valentine’s Day treat. 🙂

Vanilla Froyo with Strawberries, Chia and Pistachio

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of light or fat-free vanilla flavored Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup of sliced strawberries
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds, soaked in 3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup of strawberry flavored jello, either scraped up or cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons chopped pistachio

Directions:
1. Mix ingredients 1 through 4 thoroughly in a bowl. Adjust honey to taste.
2. Pour into a pan or small bowl, cover with plastic and put in the freezer or deep freezer.
3. After about 2 hours, when the liquid starts to freeze, take it out of the freezer and whip again to aerate it. Make sure you don’t whisk/whip too long and make the developing froyo melt before it even freezes!
4. Place the bowl/pan back in the freezer. Repeat step #3 at least once or twice more every 1 1/2 – 2 hours till the yogurt mixture transforms itself into froyo consistency. Remember, if you follow the manual version, your froyo might not set as well as in an ice cream maker.
5. Once the desired consistency is reached, you can top the froyo with your favorite toppings and dig in. In this case, I served each bowl topped with strawberries, softened chia seeds, jello and pistachios.

NOTE: Keep an eye on the treat while in the freezer. If you let it sit there too long, it will freeze hard. You will have to let it thaw out for a while before you can scoop it out again! Lesson learned the hard way on day 2! 😦

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