Kitchen Experiments: Bagels

Bagels have been on my list for the longest; probably since I started baking bread. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to them. I guess it was probably because everything about bagels seemed so daunting. I also thought a stand mixer was required for these kinds of things. While they may make the process easier, they are by no means a requirement. Back when I put these on my list, they stayed there because of how much work goes into them. I am never afraid of more work, especially when it’s in the kitchen because it’s always a labor of love to me. But the fact that these bagels take two whole days to make was the main reason I put them off for so long. I quickly found out that there wasn’t much of a challenge and that maybe two days isn’t necessary. Either way, I finally got to cross them off my list (twice!)

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First things first, you need a sponge. This is the starter for the bagels, which is a combo of 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 4 cups of bread flour, and 2 1/2 cups of room temperature water. Stir the ingredients together until homogenous and kinda looks like pancake batter. Cover and let rise at room temp for two hours. The first time I made these (yes, I made them twice), I started the sponge and went out to see a movie. I am totally serious, too. The movie was fantastic, as was my sponge when I got home. Technically, you’re supposed to let it rise for two hours but mine did fine with more than that. Honestly, I thought I was gonna come home and find my house overtaken by the sponge! It really was fine, and I got to work soon after.

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Now, it’s dough time. Nothing out of the ordinary here; more yeast (1/2 teaspoon), bread flour (3 3/4 cups), salt (2 2/4 teaspoons) and sugar (1 tablespoon). Fairly simple. Heads up though; make sure your flour is bread flour. I think that because mine was some “better for bread” flour, that may have had something to do with the finishing texture. Nothing terrible, just may not have been what I was looking for.

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After forming a somewhat cohesive dough ball, it’s time for the most labor intensive part of the entire recipe: the kneading. This is where a stand mixer would really come in handy because this blob needs to be kneaded for quite some time. 10 whole minutes by hand (if you’re brave). Knead the blob until it’s firm but still smooth, pliable and not sticky. If a tad dry, add small amounts of water to rehydrate the dough. Too sticky? Add a bit more flour and knead until desired texture. Rule of thumb: when making doughs, you know you’re pretty much done kneading when it’s no longer sticky. The trick is to keep kneading it to that point without adding a ton of flour. Challenging, but the more you do it, the more you’ll know by feel when you need more flour versus more kneading.

After kneading, break out your scale and your bench scraper because it’s portioning time! According to Deb and the recipe, standard bagels are 4.5oz., so that’s what I did. I got a dozen but please reference the recipe for different sizes/weights. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. Take advantage of this break, as kneading that dough was no easy feat! Also, line some baking pans with parchment for later.

To form the dough balls into bagels, I picked up one of the rested dough balls and began making an indent in the middle, and kind of wiggling my thumb into the ball to begin making the hole. After the dough was pierced through the indent, I widened it while turning the dough to make sure it stayed pretty uniform. After forming them all, I placed them on a lined baking sheet, covered them with plastic wrap and let them rest again for another 20 minutes. I cleaned up during the wait; baking’s messy!

This is where things get interesting. After the 20 minutes is up, fill a bowl with some cool/room temp water. Not cold and not hot; cool. Carefully take one of the rested bagels and plop it in the water. It should float within seconds. Got a sinker? Carefully dry off the tester, return it to the pan, cover and let rest an additional 10-20 minutes and re-test until it floats. That’s how you know it’s ready for the next step: an overnight rise in the fridge (aka retarding). The first time I made these, I did the overnight rise and my bagels came out good. The second time, I skipped the overnight rise and let them rise for about four hours. I did not note much of a difference. Is the overnight rest necessary? Probably. Does it mean you won’t have delicious bagels if you shorten the time? No. If you have the time (and fridge space), go for the overnight. If not, four hours works just fine. Carefully dry the tester bagel and return to the pan. Pop them in the fridge to rest overnight (or four hours).

Now that the bagels have spent time in the fridge, it’s time to bake. Turn your oven on up to 11 (ahem, 500F), and prep a large, wide pot with some water. Bring the pot to a boil with a tablespoon of baking soda. Before baking, bagels bathe in this boiling hot solution. Why? To form that signature bagel crust. You know the one; where the bagel is all crisp on the outside but chewy and soft on the inside. I heard this is the reason why bagels only get toasted on one side (the inside part, if you were wondering). Giant pretzels go through the same process, but that’s another post. Once boiling, place as many bagels as will fit in the pot (mine fit 3) and let them sit in there for two minutes before turning them over and letting them sit in a minute longer. Remove those moist pre-bagels and place them back on the lined baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal. This helps them not stick to the paper once wet.

Once you’ve bathed all your pre-bagels, pop them in that scorching oven for five minutes. After that, rotate the pans (180 degrees and switch the top and bottom pans) and bake at 450F for five minutes or more. After the five minutes, check them because mine took much longer than that. I think I baked mine for 10-15 more minutes before they got all golden brown; keep an eye on them. After they get all nice and brown, cool them on the sheet on racks until cool enough to handle.

That’s basically it! Not so bad, if I do say so myself. And I’m talking about the process and the bagels! They came out delicious. Although they weren’t what I was used to (AHEM, prepackaged stuff), they were pretty darn good. I’m telling you, I made them twice in two weeks! The crispy crust was definitely there (thanks baking soda bath!) and they were fluffy, and chewy in the middle like they’re supposed to be. Like a typical New Yorker, I had mine with a schmear of good old fashioned cream cheese (no lox though; maybe in the future).  I have to say though, this was quite the challenge. But not challenging enough that I won’t want to tackle them again, perhaps with a different flavor and recipe. Whatever I decide to do, you’ll know.

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Bagels – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

(Holy crap, I am NOT typing all that out again. Please visit the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen to re-read the recipe in recipe format. Also, check out her tips and variations of these bagels!)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola

I left you guys with an amazing granola bar recipe a couple weeks ago, and am back with another. This one isn’t for bars, though but is equally as delicious.

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The same week I posted about these bars, Dana from Minimalist Baker, posted this super simple recipe for granola. If you don’t know who Dana (or her husband John) is or what Minimalist Baker is about, check out their blog right here. I love receiving their emails about new recipes because as the blog title says; their recipes are minimalistic and delicious with little to no effort, and there are no laundry list of ingredients. They keep it simple, straightforward and their pictures are mouthwateringly beautiful. I knew that when I saw this recipe in my inbox, despite the fact that I had just posted granola bars, I had to make it. It was like fate or something. Either way, I got it done.

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Dana’s recipe is already as simple as it gets in terms of ingredients and process. The recipe as is happens to be vegan, which is awesome already, and can even be gluten free. I am neither of those things, so the only non-vegan ingredients in mine was dark brown sugar and real chocolate chips. Another thing I love about this recipe is that you aren’t limited to using the mix-ins listed. I don’t know if Dana intended to make this recipe customizable but I can already think up several variations that would be awesome with this same formula. What I’m trying to say is that this won’t be the last time you’ll see granola on this blog!

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I love putting my granola on Greek yogurt but this stuff is good on its own, in a bowl with milk, or maybe even atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s crunchy and super peanut buttery. The coconut oil in there adds an extra hint of nuttiness; which was already there from the toasty and golden brown oats. It’s not super sweet, so it doesn’t overwhelm the palate. And the chocolate chips are a nice unexpected explosion of creaminess with each bite.

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I’ve been piling it on my yogurt since I made it, and am secretly hoping the stash is never ending. At least I have an idea of flavor combos to make next!

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola – barely adapted from Minimalist Baker

Serves 10 (ahem, if you’re lucky)

  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup creamy natural salted peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 340F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the oats and the brown sugar together. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the melted coconut oil, peanut butter, agave, and the salt (if adding) over low heat. Stir until just melted and combined.
  4. Pour the peanut butter mix over the oats and quickly stir to incorporate. Make sure all the oats are moistened. Spread oat mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Evenly distribute the oats on the pan, and bake for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Stir once after the first 15 minutes, and stand by to make sure it doesn’t burn!
  5. Remove from the oven and toss to release the heat. Cool completely on the pan.
  6. Either on the pan, in a large bowl, or directly in your storage container of choice, add the chocolate chips and stir. Enjoy your super easy and delicious granola any way you please! Keeps fresh for up to two weeks. Freeze after that.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Measure the coconut oil in your measuring cup before the peanut butter. That way, your measuring cup is already greased which will make the peanut butter easier to pour out of the cup!
  • I added a pinch of salt into the mix for funsies but feel free to omit it. 
  • Make sure the granola is completely cool before adding the chips!

Baked Chickpea Fritters

I have no idea where or when I ate my first falafel but I do know that it was love at first bite. I think it was my sister who introduced me to the magic that is that tiny ball of crunchy and fluffy chickpeas. Since then, I’ve been OBSESSED. I try to get my falafel fix wherever I can get it; most commonly at the Whole Foods hot bar. I know, it’s not exactly ‘legit’ but it fills the void.

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After trying it for the first time, I’d been dying to try and recreate that magic at home. Now, I’m not one to experiment much in the kitchen with savory items. I personally like the comfort of established recipes but I really wanted to put my own spin on this. Most falafel recipes have common ingredients, so I cross referenced with what I had and didn’t and got to work.

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This recipe was the result of three (four?) different tries. The first ones were way too smooth and soaked up a ton of oil but the flavor was there (and I also forgot to write down what I did). The second ones were on point texturally but were lacking in flavor. I repeated what I did the second time and tried to amp up the flavors, which resulted in salty fritters. At this point, I had been eating chickpeas several times for three weeks straight. I wanted to try one more time, tasting as I went along, and got something I was happy with.

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My fritters are pretty different from traditional falafel. For starters, these are baked. The first three tries, I pan fried them in some oil. They came out all nice and crunchy but they soaked up all that oil, which was kind of a turn off. Instead, I brushed them with a little bit of oil before baking and added a couple teaspoons to the chickpea mix.

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Mom’s Sofrito/sazón. Can you guess what’s in here?

Another big difference is in the ingredients. Traditional falafel recipes use tons of fresh herbs and other spices, most of which aren’t used in my house. The issue here is that if I buy them, they’d go bad. I’m not one to waste food, so I looked for another way to give my fritters flavor, even if it meant sacrificing authenticity. Enter my mom’s secret ingredient. Go into any Dominican woman’s household and there is a chance that somewhere in her kitchen, she’s hiding her signature flavor bomb. I’m talking about sofrito. Sofrito is basically a blended mixture of a bunch of seasoning ingredients. Common ingredients in this stuff ranges from a variety of peppers, onions, garlic, tons of cilantro; among other things. I’m not exactly sure what’s in my mom’s sazón or else I’d tell you, but I plan on getting that recipe…. eventually. For now, I just stole a couple tablespoons.

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Along with my mom’s Dominican sazón, I also threw in some of her other essential ingredient; Adobo all purpose seasoning. With this, please be careful. This stuff is salty if you put in too much, so watch your salt amounts when using this stuff. This is probably why my third try came out too salty. And finally, I added some dried parsley.

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The result? A surprisingly crunchy but creamy and chunky little fritter! I was very happy with these results. They were flavorful, spicy, and totally not greasy. Sure, they weren’t ‘legit’ falafel but at least with this recipe, I can get my fill of chickpeas in the comfort of my own home. They are far from perfect but for my first time creating a recipe, I’d say I did pretty well.

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Baked Chickpea Fritters – a Lucy the Baker Original

Makes 15 fritters

  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of chopped onions
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon Adobo all purpose seasoning
  • 3-4 tablespoons sofrito/sazón
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 2-4 tablespoons of flour
  • Olive oil for brushing/coating

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of your food processor, add the chopped onion and garlic cloves. Add the chickpeas, along with the red pepper flakes, Adobo, sofrito, oil, dried parsley, and a pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture is chunky but combined.
  2. Empty the contents of your processor into a bowl, giving it a mix with a rubber spatula. Add the flour by the tablespoon, mixing after each addition. Check to make sure the mixture is not too dry or too wet; it should come together when gently pressed into a ball but it shouldn’t be too sticky.
  3. Using a small disher or a tablespoon, portion out the chickpea mix onto the prepped baking sheet. Gently flatten out the balls, and brush with a little bit of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Flip them over and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I’m assuming the majority of you don’t have access to sofrito/sazón. In lieu of that, please add more onions, cilantro, and some bell peppers to your mix. At least until I can grab that secret and post the recipe!
  • When adding the flour, less is more. Test the mix after each tablespoon to make sure you’re not adding too much flour. 
  • You can find Adobo all purpose seasoning in the ethnic aisle of most supermarkets. You’ll also find something in a jar called “sofrito.” It’s not exactly the same but it’s an okay sub to the one I used here. 
  • You can also make the mixture and throw it in the fridge for a while, if needed. It’ll help the flavors develop. 
  • Want to fry them? You can pan fry them in some canola oil or take the plunge (ha) and deep fry them. If you’re pan frying, put them on a baking sheet and bake them in the 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes after frying.

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream and DIY Cone Cups

It finally looks like summer is winding down. It’s weird because it feels like this summer was short but it was still uncomfortably hot. One of my favorite things about the heat (if not the only thing) is the fact that I get to eat ice cream. I LOVE ice cream and eat it pretty much year round, but it tastes better in warm weather. I didn’t get to eat a lot of ‘real’ ice cream that much this year; except for the countless cups of froyo and this but other than that, no ‘real’ ice cream.

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As an adult, my ice cream palette has evolved a little bit. I still have a soft spot for cookies and cream ice cream, soft serve loaded with sprinkles from the truck, and those tiny ice cream sandwiches but I like having something with some flavor. Enter coffee ice cream. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a kid. Blame my mom, who started giving me coffee with milk (lattes?) since I was young in an attempt to get me to eat something. My mom says that I barely ate as a kid; which I find hilariously ridiculous since I love food. One of the only ways I’d apparently eat breakfast was with a mug of coffee with milk. Now, my mom drinks espresso. Or what I think is espresso, which is known to be as coffee that is not for the faint of heart. Imagine giving a kid that stuff? I don’t recall being hyper or anything but it did give me a taste for the luscious black gold. She even tried weaning me off several times to no avail because I had gotten used to the dose of caffeine and without it, I’d get headaches.

Nowadays, I take my coffee black and still get headaches if I miss my morning cup. It’s what prompted me to turn it into ice cream. Using the leftover ingredients from this dessert, I made a half batch of awesome that is still in my freezer. I posted about the magic of this no churn ice cream here and had been thinking about repeating the recipe ever since. If you can whip cream, you can make this ice cream. Super simple: whipped heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, flavorings of your choice, and an optional (ha) tablespoon of liquor. Once frozen, it’s a magical dessert that you can’t even believe it’s not traditional ice cream. For this batch, I dissolved a tablespoon of instant coffee powder in a tablespoon of scotch. It is BEYOND delicious, with a strong coffee flavor that is still present after every spoonful.

Since I have done this recipe before, I wanted to do something fun to go with it. And like most of my ideas as of late, this one came to me in the shower. Whenever I used to go to the ice cream shop, I’d get a sugar cone to go with my default cookies and cream scoop. I love the crispy and sweet taste better than I do a waffle cone. Those things taste like air. Anyway, I wanted to replicate that at home. I don’t have cone maker or waffle press, so cone cups seemed ideal. All you need is a muffin tin and a shot glass. For this recipe, you need to have patience but also work quickly, as the cones harden super fast. After the first few, I got the swing of things but was disappointed they weren’t brown enough. Either way, they came out fabulous. Despite the paleness, the flavor and signature crispness were definitely there.

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While my love for coffee and ice cream knows no bounds, it’s good to know that I can basically have it year round. Even if it does taste better in warm weather!

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 3/4 quart

  • 7oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup cold, heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon liquor of choice (I used scotch)
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the coffee in the tablespoon of liquor. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir together until combined. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream using a hand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Pour homogenous mix into a freezer safe container with a lid, and freeze for six hours or until firm. Remove ice cream from freezer and let sit out for five minutes before scooping and serving.

Sugar Cones – adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon

Makes 21 cone cups

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 2/3 all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Place egg whites, sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt into a mixing bowl and whisk together. Stir in flour and butter until fully incorporated and batter is smooth.
  2. Lightly spray a nonstick skillet with a small amount of cooking spray. Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons batter into the cold skillet and spread into a thin even layer. Place skillet over medium heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until base has set. Flip and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Quickly lay sugar disc into a buttered muffin tin and press down with a lightly greased shot glass. Leave shot glass in the cone cup for 1-2 minutes, or until the cone cup takes its shape. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Repeat until all batter has been used. Carefully store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Lucy Tips:

  • Sugar or waffle cones more your thing? Please head over to Spoon Fork Bacon for the waffle cone recipe, tips, and instructions on how to make them into cones

Key Lime Pies in Jars for Two

We are not pie people. We’re Dominican, and pies aren’t a thing over there. In fact, my folks were introduced to pie here in the U.S. Luckily, while I do consider myself Dominican, I am American by default. I am forever trying to tie American culture with our Dominican heritage and most of the time, I fail. They’re just not used to those kinds of things; like that one time where I tried to have a “traditional” Thanksgiving dessert by adding a pie to the dinner table. It did not go over well, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying such desserts.

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My folks were away for the past two weeks, leaving my sister and I to hold our own. It was fun and exciting to be “living alone” for two weeks, especially since we aren’t kids anymore. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen while they were gone, both messing around and actually cooking meals. I took the helm, making dinner several times for us when I wasn’t working. I even butchered (like, really butchered) a whole chicken on my own! I took advantage of the fact that they were gone to make stuff I’d been dying to eat.

Key lime pie has always sounded delicious to me. The older I got, the more I found I wanted to try it. It was number two on my grand list of desserts to try, but I ended up making that first. I saw this recipe somewhere on the internet the other day and was inspired. Like most of my decisions lately, this one began with a “fuck it.” It’s one of the ways I’ve been going about my decisions lately; considering I tend to procrastinate things I really wanna do. With that said, I made the pies.

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I don’t know about you, but things in jars are just ten times more adorable. I have a few jars in my possession already but they’re all being used for other stuff. This meant I had to buy more jars; a labor of love, even if it may have hurt my pocket a little bit. I went to Sur la Table for the very first time, and I absolutely loved it! I went to the only one in the city and immediately fell in love upon walking in. I gotta be honest, I had been avoiding this trip for the longest because I knew I was gonna love it. The worst thing is going shopping with basically zero dollars, so I put it off as long as I could. I’m glad I went because I will no doubt will be back (with actual dollars in my pockets) to buy all of the things.

Jars in hand, it was pie time. This recipe is super simple and straightforward. I halved it so I could make just two jars. I’m the only dairy/pie eating fiend here, so the less the better. I tried looking for smaller cans of sweetened condensed milk but I couldn’t locate a can, so I used half of a regular can. After 15 minutes in the oven, and two and a half long hours of cooling and chilling, I got to try this pie for the first time. It is SO GOOD. The lime offsets the sweetness from the sweetened condensed milk, and the salty-ish crust adds crunch and a change of flavor.

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I went to town on one of the jars immediately, and am holding on to the other one. My favorite thing about this dessert is the jar. It’s portable, meaning it’s perfect for picnics and romantic desserts for two. Or you could eat them both; no one’s around and I won’t tell ;)

Key Lime Pies in Jars for Two – adapted from Kitchen Treaty

Makes two small jars

Crust:

  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (about three graham cracker rectangles)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

  • 7oz sweetened condensed milk (from a 14oz can)
  • 1-2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 1-3 limes, depending on how juicy they are)
  • 1 egg yolk

Topping: 

  • 1-2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-3 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Lime zest and lime slices for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the empty jars on a baking sheet.
  2. For the crust: crush the graham crackers in a resealable plastic bag with a rolling pin, or run the crackers through your food processor. Add the sugar and salt, and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and mix until moistened. Divide the graham cracker mixture equally between the jars. Do not compress the crust into the jars as you would a regular graham cracker crust; it’ll be difficult for the crust to come out of the jar with a spoon. Set aside.
  3. For the filling: zest and juice your limes in a medium sized bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir. Once combined, whisk in the egg yolk until mixture is homogenized.
  4. Divide the filling equally among the jars and bake on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool jars on a rack for about 30 minutes, then move to the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or until completely chilled.
  5. Once chilled, make the whipped cream by mixing the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until soft-medium peaks form. Top the pies with the cream, and garnish right before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you find small cans of sweetened condensed milk (lucky!) by all means, use them. If not, half a 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk is a little over 1/2 cup. If you’re a stickler for accuracy (like I am), weigh out the 7oz using a food scale
  • Jars will keep in the fridge for up to three days (if they last that long); just top and garnish before serving
  • Before baking, make sure your jars are clean, oven safe, and do not have any chips or cracks anywhere on the surface

Granola Bars

Granola bars, to me, are the perfect snack. Granted, I wouldn’t eat them alone as a snack but they go so well with a piece of fruit or alongside a sandwich for a quick lunch. When I started college, I made sure I always had something on me and granola bars were my go-to. I had my first energy cereal bar from the school store one day in class. I’ll never forget that because it was a bit of an experience. I sound like a crazy person even saying that I had an ~experience~ with a granola bar but entertain me for a minute. I never had one of those before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I even remember the flavor; chocolate brownie. For comparison’s sake, I imagined that it was supposed to taste like a brownie so that’s what I used to figure out if it was tasty or not. I loved it. It had all my favorite things; chocolate, oats, and sugar so what’s not to love? I went back to my school store several times after that to try the rest of the flavors. I even looked up their website to see what else they had to offer and went on the hunt for all the flavors at different stores.

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Now, I don’t think I’ve met a bar I didn’t like because I think I’ve tried all of the different brands and kinds of bars out there. Every single one that I’d come across, I’d look for them in stores and try them. Honestly, I still do that. I love trying different things like that, just to see what all the hype is about. Anything from cereal bars, meal replacement bars, and even protein bars have gone across my lips. The best part about trying all these bars, aside from the variety, was their portability. I needed to have one in my bag at all times in order to stop any impending hunger signs on the spot, even after graduation.

These days, I still carry some sort of bar in my bag; along with a giant bottle of water and maybe even an apple. I even buy my favorites in mass quantities so I have something to snack on while at work. However, since my folks are away and my stash is quickly depleting, I decided to make my own.

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Now, these were a long time coming. Even before I bought my last box of bars, I had been thinking about making my own. The only thing stopping me was that I couldn’t decide what to put in them! See, granola bars are a grab bag of stuff. Besides the required oats and nuts, it’s basically a free for all. I took what I had in my cupboard and went to town. These aren’t inherently healthy but I like to think that because they’re homemade, it cancels out. I tried my best to keep it sorta healthy but that factor is up to the eater to decide. I put all my favorites in here; oats (which are a given and required), raisins, cinnamon, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and nuts. I kind of cheated with the nuts because all I had were some nut clusters, which I chopped up and threw into the mix. Then I switched the butter for some melted coconut oil; one of the trendy fats that are really good for your body on the inside and outside. I also used agave; a sweeter and less viscous alternative to honey. And just for funsies, I used half brown and half white sugar.

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I wasn’t expecting these bars to be this delicious, in all honesty. Reminiscent of these things but baked and better! Mine got nice and toasty in the oven, which added some crunch and a touch of extra nuttiness. Swapping the butter for the coconut oil was genius too because there was just a slight coconut-y taste; it made me wish I had shredded coconut to add to it! The raisins added some much needed fruitiness and chew, while the nuts added another element of crunch, and the chocolate chips just added chocolate. After trying the first bite, I couldn’t stop thinking about other flavors and mix ins I could shake up this recipe with! They are seriously one of the best homemade bars I’ve had (and made), and I can’t wait to take them everywhere with me.

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Granola Bars – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour made from 1/3 cup finely ground rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups combines of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup natural, smooth and unsalted peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
  • Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, melted oil, liquid sweeteners, and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly moistened and crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
  • Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, use a serrated knife,  bench knife, or really sharp chef’s knife to cut the bars into squares or bars. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Word to the wise, the bars get stiff in the fridge and may be hard to eat. If you have time, let them sit out for 10 minutes or so before eating.

Kitchen Experiments: Chocolate Souffle

Souffles always seemed like a mythical dessert to me. I’ve heard so many good and bad things about them, mostly about how finicky and difficult they are to pull off. The only time I’ve seen them is on TV, being made by professionals who know the ins and outs of this show stopping and fantastical dessert. My sister had been nagging me to make these but I kept putting off because I only thought about their supposed difficulty, and because I was afraid of failure. She was so adamant about me making them, she even bought me the set of ramekins. Even then, I put them off for as long as possible. I decided to look them up to see what all the fuss was about and realized that souffles are nothing I haven’t tackled before! Since I’m not one to decline a challenge, I finally went for it.

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Souffles are actually a pretty simple dish. In this case, it’s basically just melted chocolate and whipped egg whites; both of which I have tons of experience in. With that in mind, here’s how I did it.

Using this recipe as my guide, I started out by prepping my ingredients earlier in the day. For this, we need the whites separate from the yolks. Both will be used but at different steps in the process. The best way to separate an egg is cold out of the fridge; they separate a lot easier than if the whole egg was room temp. Egg whites are best whipped at room temp, so store the yolks and whites in separate containers and leave them out. In a rush? Place the lidded containers in a little bit of warm water for several minutes until they’re no longer cold. I also took out the butter, and went about my day. I didn’t make these until after dinner, which meant that the separated eggs and butter had plenty of time to reach temp.

When I was ready, I started out by preheating my oven to 375F. Once that was done, I buttered and sugared my ramekins. These were four 4oz ramekins, meaning they are tiny. I reckon this recipe could possibly work with a muffin tin if these sized ramekins are unavailable. The easiest way to coat them is with a brush, if you have it. If not, feel free to use a napkin or your hands. Once buttered, spoon in some sugar into a ramekin and slowly move it around the ramekin to evenly coat. I like to rotate the ramekin over another one so that the excess sugar can fall into the next one. Continue until all ramekins are coated.

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Place the buttered ramekins to the side because it’s chocolate time! Grab three ounces of semi sweet chocolate chips. I used my scale to weigh mine out for accuracy’s sake. I’m not sure how much that is by volume; my guess is almost a cup or so. Throw the chips into a heat proof bowl, along with the room temp butter. Place the bowl over a small pot with simmering water. This setup is called a double boiler. I don’t know why it’s called that, considering that nothing besides the water in the bottom pot could be boiling but okay. This process helps melt the chocolate gently, without burning it. While we’re on the subject of messing chocolate up, take care to not get any water from the double boiler inside of your melting chocolate; it will seize and it just won’t work or be a pretty sight.

Once melted, take off the double boiler and add the vanilla or other flavoring. I took advantage of this part and threw in a little cognac for good measure ;). Start adding the egg yolks, one at a time, and stir it into the chocolate. This is another reason why things are better at room temp. Had the yolks been cold, it would have seized the chocolate and things would’ve gotten real messy, real quick.

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After incorporating both yolks, put the bowl off to the side; it’s time for step three: the meringue. In my last Kitchen Experiments installment, I made meringues and walked through the process of how to get stiff peaks. This is the same method/technique/principle here. It may also be where a lot of people tend to screw up, perpetuating the myth that souffles are intimidating and difficult. Since we already know how to handle meringues, this wasn’t that difficult. Place your room temp whites, sugar, salt, and instant peak security (the cream of tartar) in the bowl, and begin to whip with an electric mixer. Make sure the bowl and beaters are grease free, as that will also ensure the creation of the meringues. Keep going till they’re voluminous, fluffy, shiny, and leave a trail in the bowl. Stop the mixer, dip the beaters and lift them up. If the peaks stay standing without flopping over, the whites are ready. If not, keep on trucking till they are.

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Now that the meringue is done, it’s time to fold it into the chocolate. Do this in two installments with a rubber spatula. Gently fold it it, taking care not to deflate the whites. Rotating the bowl helps for even folding. Don’t fret if you get some streaks, it’s all good!

Once all the whites are folded, pour into the prepared ramekins. I used an ice cream scoop for easy portioning but feel free to spoon or pour; whatever works best for you. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. At around the 10 minute mark, turn your oven light on and surprise yourself with the sights. I know I did!

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After about 15-18 minutes in the oven, I took mine out. I was so excited to see they worked! I quickly plated one and began photographing. The one thing that was a fact about the souffle myth is that they do fall fairly quickly; which is why this is such a fancy and last minute dessert. As they cool, the tops deflate. Not pretty but still delicious. Speaking of which, these things were so good! It was like eating a slightly underbaked, cloud like brownie. The insides were very fluffy (thanks, meringue!) and super chocolatey. Yeah, it was piping hot but it really was amazing. It exceeded my expectations and is making me wonder what took me so long to make these!

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Despite all myth surrounding this heavenly dessert, I’m glad I conquered it and hope that anyone else out there afraid of souffles does too. It really is a simple process that with a little bit of care and good technique, it can definitely turn out successful.

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Mini Chocolate Souffles – adapted from Tablespoon

Makes four 4oz ramekins

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • 2 eggs, separated and room temp.
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for ramekins
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Use the 1/2 tbsp butter to thoroughly coat the insides of four 4-oz. ramekins. Fill the ramekins with sugar and dump out, tapping out the excess. The insides of the ramekins should be completely coated with sugar.
  2. Over medium-high heat, bring a small pot with a couple inches of water to a simmer. Place a heatproof bowl on the pot, making sure the water is NOT touching the bowl.  Add the chocolate chips and butter to the bowl, and stir until completely melted. 
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, rum if using, and egg yolks, one at a time. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk the egg white mixture until stiff peaks form. 
  5. Gently fold the egg white mixture in two batches into the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the ramekins, filling them 3/4 full and bake souffles for about 15-20 minutes or until puffed and set. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar if desired and serve immediately.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Don’t skip the powdered sugar at the end! Sift some on top before serving. Just make sure there aren’t any fans around
  • Feeling extra? Serve with ice cream on the side.

Pineapple Upside Down Cornmeal Cake

These past two weeks have been so hectic! I started working for my cousins at their grocery store and what was supposed to be a light and easy gig turned into a full time bout of responsibility in a matter of minutes. They needed someone to cashier for them a couple times a week and since I was available, they asked me to do it. I’ve never been a cashier before, so it has been a learning experience. Trust me though, I picked up VERY quickly. Like a week in, my cousin’s wife (who also works there) had to take an emergency leave at the same time the other cousin was taking his two weeks off. I had to maneuver my post by myself every single day since then. My shifts range anywhere from eight to nine hours, which are doing a number on my feet and legs. It’s super tiring and sometimes boring but it’s okay. My cousin is super grateful that I’m there and I’m always happy to help. The only caveat is that I don’t have time to bake anymore! Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to rest and get in the kitchen.

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I got home a little early last Sunday and was inspired to bake, tiredness be damned. For some reason, I had upside down cake on the brain. Before this blog’s existence, I once made a pineapple upside down cake. I used my mom’s casserole dish and was super psyched about it. It was good and my folks loved it, except most of it stayed in the pan. I knew I wanted to do it again but with a twist. You already know my dad is a corn fanatic, so I thought why not work that in? A quick search led me to this pineapple upside down cornmeal cake.

I had been working all morning and was sort if disheveled by the time I made it home, so I kinda maybe screwed up in parts. Firstly, I went with blinders on into the supermarket for ingredients. I was too focused on speeding up the trip than on what I needed, and ended up with pineapple chunks instead of rings. Then, I had the brilliant idea of making this in a spring form pan to ensure its removal in one piece. Good idea — in theory. The caramel and pineapple juice started oozing out from the bottom, leaving me with trails of sugar all over my kitchen and kitchen table. Not only that, but I forgot to put a sheet pan under it in the oven until 5 minutes in. Some of that caramel fell on the oven floor; causing it to burn and smoke while the cake baked.

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Despite all this, the cake came out great. Nothing stuck to the pan and I made everything work. I didn’t have maraschino cherries, so I used real ones. I cut the chunks in half and lined the whole pan because the more pineapple, the better right? Then I swapped the whole milk for coconut, to add a little richness and extra flavor (although it was undetectable). The best part is that this recipe uses coarse cornmeal, which adds a lot of texture to the cake. I have to say, for all those screw ups and the long wait, it was definitely worth it. It was like a corn muffin turned up a notch. The fruit got all nice, sweet and tender. Then the caramel. Oh goodness, the caramel! Some of it came up the sides of the cake while baking, which hardened after it got cold. So good! I have to say, for a last minute thing, it came out pretty darn good. I just hope I have more time to get back in the kitchen soon!

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Pineapple Upside Down Cornmeal Cake – adapted from Food Network

Makes 1 10-inch or 9-inch cake

  • 3/4 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1 cup
  • 6 slices canned pineapple in heavy syrup
  • 6 maraschino cherries, or regular cherries
  • 3 tablespoons juice from canned pineapple
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 4 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 cup
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 3/4 ounces sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Add the cornmeal and stir. Let soak at room temperature for 30 minutes and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in another small saucepan. Once the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and pour into the cake pan. Carefully place 1 slice of pineapple in the center of the pan. Place the other 5 slices around the center slice in a circle. Place the cherries in the centers of the pineapple slices and sprinkle the nuts evenly over the fruit. Drizzle pineapple juice over top.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the canola oil and whisk. Add the cornmeal and milk mixture to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add this to the flour and stir just until combined. Pour the batter over the fruit in the skillet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes in the skillet. Set a platter on top of the skillet and carefully invert the cake. Serve.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • You can use a regular 9 inch cake pan; my spring form is 9 inches and it worked out fine (for the most part)
  • This was great with pineapples but I bet it’d go great with other kinds of fruit; like all cherries or maybe even peaches

1st Blogaversary! – Chocolate Mug Cake

It’s my blog’s birthday! My tiny baby is now one. I can’t even believe its been a year already; it went by so fast! I have to say, I never expected my blog to grow into something like this. Granted, its still a baby and has tons to grow but I feel like we’re onto something. I started this blog when I finished college last year, as a way to keep myself occupied during my job hunt. A year has passed, and I’m still looking. The only constant thing since then has been me in the kitchen. I’m as dedicated as they come, so I knew I had to put in work if this blog was going to actually become something good.

It’s honestly a pleasure to force myself to get in the kitchen every week and make something new for myself, my family, and you. I’m not the most popular food blog but I’m still here and am working to make my presence known. I’m thankful to even be in such great company. There are so many great blogs are leading the way! Things are starting to look up on other ends, so expect some change in the coming months. I’m so happy I stuck with this and hope to expand and grow as much as I can in the food blog community. Til then, join me in my celebration for one with a simple microwave chocolate cake. I love this recipe because it’s so simple and really hits the spot when craving something fast and chocolatey. It’s also good when you really need some cake but don’t want to bake a whole one (and then eat it alone). So many other great things about this little cake; it’s fast, serves one, and is delicious! Mix and make the cake in the same mug, which is awesome because it’s an easy clean up. Another bonus? No eggs! Could totally eat the batter straight up if inclined (I won’t tell).

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Thanks to everyone that has stopped by and left me likes and comments. I read and appreciate every single one and get excited when I get new notifications. I’m really looking forward to continuing this journey, expanding and growing in the coming months and years to come. Here’s to the first year, and many more!

Chocolate Mug Cake – adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

Makes 1 mug cake

  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon agave or sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp coconut oil, vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Combine dry ingredients in the mug and mix very, very well. Add liquid, and stir until completely incorporated. Microwave 30-40 seconds.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Mix ins go great with this recipe; peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc
  • Microwave times may vary. Start with 30s and go up in 5-10s increments until done

Coconut Popsicles

It has gotten too hot to bake. I never thought I’d type those words! I mean, even in this sweltering heat, I am still planning on firing up the oven at least once a week. It’s still too hot to bake but I’m still planning on it! As a sort of apology to my folks for the extra heat, I made popsicles.

We already know about my family’s love for coconut, so this flavor was a no brainer. Another reason why I chose coconut? I’m supposed to be in the Dominican Republic right now and I really miss it. My family and I used to go every two years for a whole month. The last time we went was July 2012, so technically we should be there right now. Things have changed so much that it wasn’t possible this year. It breaks my heart that I wasn’t able to go, and to keep up with tradition (because y’all already know how I am about that) but I will return one day.

As I mentioned in previous coconut themed posts, we get to eat a lot of them during our stays in D.R. It’s one of the top five things I love to do when I’m there, besides actually being there. When we’re not eating fresh coconut or drinking its water, we like buying popsicles. If you think New York City summers are hot, you are wrong. Summers in D.R. are at least five times hotter. It sounds strange but I swear the sun over there is closer than it is here in the city. It gets so hot and humid during the day but the advantage is that it cools down at night; unlike nights in NYC.

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In that humid heat, a popsicle is like a godsend. We don’t make them ourselves because the electricity over there is so ridiculously unstable. Instead, we buy them off fellow Dominicans who are trying to make an honest living. Any flavor popsicle is refreshing in that heat but the popular flavor is obviously coconut. I tried my best to recreate the fresh flavors we’re used to when we go visit my mom’s house but it wasn’t exactly easy. I don’t have access to fresh coconut to make my own shreddies or coconut milk but the canned stuff seemed to work just fine. I don’t know if you have noticed but popsicles are ridiculously hard to photograph! I haven’t figured out how to make them photogenic or how to capture that essence behind a pop, and am planning on figuring it out. Until then, enjoy these gifs of the process!

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My parents and I were pleased with these pops. I’m just not sure if they liked them because they were refreshing or because of the taste! These popsicles are super creamy and slightly sweet. The specks of shredded coconut are a lovely textural surprise; adding to that coconut flavor. The pops took me back for a quick second to two summers ago; when we’d sit with my cousins, neighbors, and my grampa on the front porch to eat popsicles. It’s that moment of silence when everyone is just savoring the ice cream and kind of forgets about the fact that they’re melting (both the person and the pop) that I miss so much; that second where everyone is collectively together enjoying a moment of refreshment. I miss my vacation for sure but at least I can have a small piece of it here.

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Coconut Popsicles – adapted from PureWow

Makes 6-8 popsicles

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 cups of coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded coconut

Directions:

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring the milk and sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cool slightly. Stir in the coconut milk, vanilla, rum and shredded coconut.
  3. Carefully pour the mixture into ice-pop molds. Press sticks into the center of the pops and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours (overnight is best).

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use your food processor to finely shred the coconut before stirring into the milk for these pops
  • The original recipe calls for coconut water instead of regular milk
  • Amp up the coconut flavor by using a super small amount of coconut extract; a little bit goes a long way!
  • Run the popsicle mold under cold water for a few seconds before attempting to remove from the mold