Monday, February 27, 2017

White Chocolate Popcorn

New Orleans was the first far from home place we took our then 10 year old nephew and 8 year old niece. From the steamboat ride to the Audubon Zoo and trolley ride back to our hotel to walking into almost every bead shop on Royal and Bourbon Streets in the French Quarter to seeing their sweet little faces and exhausted bodies literally fall asleep in their plates remain vivid memories. It never fails. Each year as Mardi Gras approaches, I take a short trip down memory lane. Back then there weren't any smart phones with cameras and I didn't own a digital camera. Forget about being able to edit a photo as film had to be dropped off to be processed. It took days before your photos would be ready. Somewhere in my house and in theirs is a 'memory' book filled with captions containing some of the photos capturing our weekend adventures. And more than likely they each have their bags of beads somewhere in their drawers or closets. But for me, being able to see their young eyes take in the sights and sounds of New Orleans will remain the best, most treasured souvenir.

King Cakes, jambalaya, étouffée, po' boys, gumbo, muffulettas, or red beans and rice might be the more classic, traditional Mardi Gras foods, but one always needs something a little sweet to go with all of that savory. Like this White Chocolate Popcorn with M&Ms and Honey Roasted Peanuts. And it's easier and quicker to make than pralines!

Mardi Gras is just one of the reasons to make this White Chocolate Popcorn. Actually, you don't even need a reason. Sweet, salty snacks don't ever need an occasion to be made.

Many recipes for White Chocolate (coated) popcorn call for the use of Almond Bark. This one uses white chocolate melting wafers. Some call for the use of unbuttered popcorn. This one uses 'lightly buttered' microwave popcorn. Honestly, I don't think I would make this popcorn any other way. 

At first I wasn't certain if 10 ounces of melted white chocolate would be enough to adequate coat two (3 ounce) bags of microwave popcorn. But surprisingly it was. 

Before drizzling the melted chocolate over the popcorn, remove any of the unpopped kernals. 

Two cups of M&Ms and a generous one and a half cups of honey roasted peanuts seemed to be the right popcorn to candy/nut ratio. But feel free to increase or decrease to your preference.

After the popcorn was coated with the melted white chocolate, I mixed in the M&Ms and peanuts, thinking they might stick to some of the popped kernels. Some did, some didn't. Maybe the chocolate dried too quickly. Or maybe increasing the melted chocolate to 11 ounces and working a little faster would make a difference. Or maybe it wouldn't.

I must give you a warning about this White Chocolate Popcorn. It's a little addictive. So when you make you it, make sure you have friends and family over to share it with. If you are looking for a fun snack to serve at a party, while watching sports, or an informal gathering, this easy snack would definitely fall into the 'most memorable' category.

White Chocolate Popcorn 

2 bags (3 ounce size) Light Butter Microwave Popcorn
2 cups M&Ms in your favorite colors
A generous 1 1/2 cups honey roasted peanuts
10-11 ounces white chocolate, melted

1. Make popcorn according to package directions. Spread popcorn out on a large baking sheet or pour into a large bowl. Remove any unpopped kernels.
2. Drizzle melted chocolate over popcorn. Stir popcorn until it is lightly coated.
3. Pour in M&Ms and honey roasted peanuts. Mix together.
4. Spread chocolate coated popcorn out on a large sheet of parchment paper to allow chocolate to set. 
5. Serve immediately or wrap in cellophane bags to keep fresh.

Notes: (1) I used Pop Secret Light Butter Microwave popcorn. (2) Ten ounces of melted white chocolate (I used Ghiradelli White Chocolate Melting Wafers) will give the popcorn a very light, not overly sweet, coat of chocolate. 

Food trucks on the North Shore on Oahu.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Coconut Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." (Pat Conroy) My recent and very first trip ever to Hawaii is the reason the blog has been on an unusually long hiatus. While I have been home for a little more than a week, my mind and body are still adjusting to the change in scenery, the jet lag, and the absence of the sound of the ocean. I have not yet completely lost my senses, however, I am still wondering if this incredible trip was just a dream. In spite of the fact I have hundreds of photos and a few souvenirs proving I really was in a tropical paradise. Have you ever returned from somewhere so breathtakingly beautiful you feel as if you need to keep looking at your photos to keep reliving the experience or to make you feel like you have been temporarily transported back? Sounds a little strange, I know. But bear with me for a moment while I attempt to explain how my mind works. I had never been to anywhere tropical before. So everything about Hawaii (or rather Oahu) seemed surreal. From the multiple hues and shades of blue in the sky and water to the incredibly diverse, lush landscapes, nothing I had read or heard about Hawaii truly prepared my eyes and heart for the experience. From the moment we landed in Honululu, it felt as if I had journeyed, not to the 50th state, but to some foreign exotic land. Snorkeling for the first time gave me a close up glimpse of yet another world. And those early morning views from the hike up Diamond Head only further magnified the island's splendiferousness. Needless to say, almost all of my senses were on constant overload. Which may have also explained in part why I could barely stay awake past nine o'clock most nights (my significant for me intake of alcohol may have accounted for the other part). If there was ever a trip to make me more fully appreciate the value of traveling to new places, to having new experiences, this would be the one. 

I had recently developed an affinity for a coffee flavored with coconut-almond milk. While going through my ever growing pile of recipes on the 'maybe make someday' list I rediscovered a Panna Cotta made with coconut milk. Whether or not it was the coffee responsible for shifting my opinion on coconut milk, the Panna Cotta moved from the 'maybe' to 'must' list.

Not surprisingly, coconut milk doesn't have a strong coconut flavor. Coconut milk is not the liquid found inside the coconut itself. That would be coconut water. Equal parts of shredded coconut and water (or milk) are steeped together to create coconut milk.

This Panna Cotta recipe calls for the use of two (13.5 ounce) cans of full-fat canned coconut milk. Unlike most other Panna Cotta recipes, the liquid (coconut milk) is divided. Initially, only one can of the well-shaken coconut milk is poured into a heavy bottomed saucepan. After sprinkling the gelatin over the milk, it needs 5 minutes to soften. Over low heat, this mixture, along with the sugar, is cooked until the sugar dissolves (approximately 2-3 minutes). Note: Be careful not to let the mixture boil or you will destroy the gelatins thickening ability. Removing the pan from the heat, the additional can of well-shaken coconut milk, vanilla and salt are whisked in. Pouring the mixture into a measuring cup makes it easy to pour it into your molds.

But before pouring, you have a serving decision to make. Do you want to serve the Panna Cotta self-contained in cup or do you want this light and luscious dessert to be served unmolded? Either presentation works. If you want to serve it unmolded, you will need to lightly spray your molds. Ramekins, small bowls, and/or metal/silicone pastry molds like these are all options. To unmold, moisten small serving dishes with a little warm water (this makes it easier to center the panna cotta). Loosen the edges of the panna cotta with a fingertip or tip of a butterknife, then slowly invert onto the plate. Gently jiggle the ramekin side to side until the panna cotta slips out. Depending on the size of your serving dishes or molds, this recipe will serve anywhere from 6 to 8 people.

The Panna Cotta will set up covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator in approximately 3 to 4 hours, but you could be made the night before.

The Panna Cotta can be served with any number of toppings. Raspberry sauce, blueberry sauce, chocolate sauce, brandied cherry sauce, or even a honey caramel sauce. My choice of blueberry sauce may have been influenced by shades of blue ocean water.

To make the blueberry sauce, bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of water to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low-medium, and continue cooking until the blueberries begin to burst (approximately 3-5 minutes). In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch. Stir into the blueberry sauce. Continue cooking for approximately 1 minute or until the sauce has started to thicken. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and salt. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

The Blueberry Sauce can be made prior to serving, early in the day, or the day before. If covered, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Note: Any leftover blueberry sauce would be gret served over ice cream or pancakes.

Panna Cotta may be one of my most favorite desserts to make. This Coconut Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce will be the version going to the top of the panna cotta rotation list. It is light and creamy, has the right amount of sweetness along with a subtleness of coconut, and is completely satisfying. Seems some unexpected influences and outcomes came as a result of this trip to Hawaii. Guess I need to travel more.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce (slight adaptation to the Coconut Panna Cotta recipe shared in Fine Cooking, April/May 2016)
Serves 6 

Coconut Panna Cotta
2 cans (13.5 ounce size) full fat coconut milk, well shaken
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored powdered gelatin (recommend Knox)
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Optional: Cooking spray

Blueberry Sauce
1 pint (2 cups) fresh blueberries (Note: Increasing the blueberries to 2 1/2 cups will make a slightly less thick sauce)
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespsoons finely grated lemon zest
2 Tablespons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

Coconut Panna Cotta
1. Pour one can of the well-shaken full-fat coconut milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and allow to sit for approximately 5 minutes.
2. Place the saucepan over low-medium heat, whisk in the sugar and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved (approximately 2-3 minutes).
3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the second can of well-shaken full-fat coconut milk.
4. Whisk in the vanilla and salt. Pour mixture into a measuring cup.
5. Pour panna cotta mixture into the prepared bowls or cups. Note: If unmolding the panna cotta before serving, lightly spray the ramekins/molds/bowls.
6. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3-4 hours or overnight.

Blueberry Sauce
1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of water to a boil over medium high heat. 
2. Reduce the heat to low-medium, and continue cooking until the blueberries begin to burst (approximately 3-5 minutes). 
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch. Stir into the blueberry sauce. 
4. Continue cooking for approximately 1 minute or until the sauce has started to thicken. 
5. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and salt. If not serving immediately, allow to cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator. Note: The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Notes: There are two other Panna Cotta recipes posted on the blog: Honey and Pistachio Panna Cotta and Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries. Several changes were made to the recipes. For the Panna Cotta: (1) The amount of sugar was changed from 1/3 cup to 1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons. (2) The amount of vanilla was increased from 1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon. (3) Kosher salt was used instead of table salt. (4) One .25 ounce package of unflavored gelatin was used instead of 2 teaspoons. For the Blueberry Sauce: (1) Only 2 cups instead of 2 1/2 cups of blueberries were used. Will definitely consider increasing to 2 1/2 cups next time. (2) The cooked blueberry mixture was not strained through a fine mesh sieve as I prefer a chunky blueberry sauce.

View of Waikiki from the top of Diamond Head (February 2017)

Looking out at the Pacific Ocean from Waikiki.

Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu.

Lanikai Beach on the island of Oahu.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." (Charles M. Schultz). With Valentine's Day just around the corner, tulips seem to make a welcome return in abundance and appearance at the florists or in the floral section of the grocery stores. Other than deep blue hydrangeas and pink peonies, tulips are one of my three most favorite flowers. There is something almost magical about having a vase or pitcher filled with a beautiful monochromatic bouquet of flowers filling a room, particularly during the winter months. And when the groundhog forecasts six more weeks of winter, who doesn't want to get a daily dose of spring? Fresh flowers have a way of reminding us to persevere as 'this season too shall pass'? And what would Valentine's day be without some chocolate? Not that we actually need a holiday to encourage us to indulge in it, any holiday telling us we need more chocolate in our lives is one we all need to celebrate.

Given the choice between a homemade cookie and brownie, I tend to lean toward the brownie. But if given the choice between a box of chocolates from any of my favorite chocolatiers and these Raspberry Truffle Brownies, without hesitation, I would choose these brownies. And if there was ever a brownie screaming to be paired with some champagne or prosecco, this would be the one. Save the milk for a plate a cookies.

Similar to a flourless chocolate cake, these Raspberry Truffle Brownies are an incredibly dense, fudgy, rich, not for the faint of chocolate heart confection.

These brownies are made with two kinds of chocolate: unsweetened chocolate and semi-sweet (68-72% cocoa content). The unsweetened chocolate gets melted into the batter while the semi-sweet is chopped and mixed into it. Made with only one cup of all-purpose flour ensures these Raspberry Truffle Brownies are dense, rich, and truffle-like.

Adding another layer of flavor are the raspberry preserves (or jam) and black raspberry liqueur (e.g., Chambord). They provide a detectable hint of flavor without detracting from the lushness of the chocolate.

Allowing the melted chocolate, butter, and sugar to cool slightly ensures the (room temperature) eggs will not cook when whisked in.

When we think of brownies we often think of squares, not wedges. However, simply serving them in wedges transforms the 'ordinary' brownie into an 'extraordinary' dessert. Whether you use an 8" inch square pan or 9 inch springform pan will all depend on how you want everyone to feel when you serve them.  Note: Square and round pans of the same size (e.g., 9 inches) are not the same. It may sound a bit confusing, but being aware of pan size conversions is important particularly when you want to maintain the same depth of a baked good.

In a 350 degree (F) oven, the Raspberry Truffle Brownies bake for approximately 45 minutes. Begin checking them at 35 minutes and continue checking every 3 minutes to ensure you do not overback them. You might think when a tester inserted in the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs means they aren't done. But they will be. Baking them for 5 to 10 minutes longer may result in brownies having a very crisp bottom.

Once cooled to room temperature, dust the brownies with confectionary sugar. You can serve them with a side of lightly sweetened whipped cream, some vanilla or raspberry ice cream, or fresh raspberries to dress them up, but you don't have to as they are insanely delicious all on their own.

When serving, begin with cutting small wedges. These are really rich.

Serve them at room temperature or chilled. Chilling them makes them taste even fudgier and even more irresistible.

There are already four brownie recipes posted to the blog: Decadent Chocolate Brownies, Chocolate Brittle Brownies,  Marbled Cheesecake Brownies, and Coffee Blondies. With this recipe for Raspberry Truffle Brownies, you now have at least five brownie options to make for your brownie loving family and friends. Don't feel as if you have to wait until Valentine's Day to make any of them. A homemade gift of chocolate is a welcome gift 365 days a year.

Raspberry Truffle Brownies (based on the recipe from The Castle Inn Riverside in Wichita, Kansas)
Easily serves 10-14 people

12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 Tablespoons black raspberry liqueur (e.g., Chambord)
1/3 cup raspberry preserves or raspberry jam
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup (170g) semi-sweet chocolate (68-72% cocoa content) chopped or chocolate chips
Confectionary sugar for dusting
Optional: Fresh raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 9 inch springform or 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Melt butter and unsweetened chocolate over medium heat. 
3. Remove from heat and whisk in granulated sugar. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
4. Whisk in eggs, raspberry preserves and raspberry liqueur.
5. Stir in flour and salt.
6. Transfer batter to the prepared pan.
7. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs.
8. Cool on wire rack. Run small knife around edges of pan. Remove brownies from pan, transfer to serving platter and dust with confectionary sugar. Cut into wedges. Note: If using a square pan, but brownies into squares.

Notes: (1) Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes and continue checking every 3 minutes to ensure you do not over bake them. (2) If you want to enhance the subtleness of the raspberry flavor, increase the amount of preserves/jam from 1/4 cup to a generous 1/3 cup.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Superbowl Appetizer Round-Up

Super bowl Sunday is right around the corner. An whether you are a football fan or not, it's almost impossible to not be drawn into some of all of the hoopla. Come Monday morning, some of us non-hard core football fans may not remember the final score, the MVP, or the most controversial call of the game. However, we will remember the commercials, the half-time show, and, of course, the food we noshed on during the game. Especially the food we didn't get enough of or over indulged in. Just in case you haven't yet decided what to serve this weekend or what else to make to go with some your standby favorites, here are some savory, hearty, crowd-pleasing appetizers your friends and family won't be able to stop talking about for days, weeks, maybe even a month later. These are so incredibly delicious, it wouldn't surprise me if some of them made a repeat appearance at an upcoming Academy Award party.

Sloppy Joe Sliders with Avocado Crema and Jalapeños

Pretzel Style Pigs in the Blanket

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Ham