Monday, March 2, 2015

Almond Bear Claws

Starting a couple of years ago, my mom, my sister and I began a wonderful weekend tradition. Almost every Saturday morning without fail, we have been leaving our house bright and early and driving into Grand Rapids to eat pastries and drink hot coffee at our favorite bakery. It is the highlight of my week, giving me something to look forward to at the end of some long, tiring weeks. This is our time to chat, talk about our week, what's been going on, and to just unwind and enjoy some of my favorite things. 

While I love all pastries and other baked goods, and could order anything at the bakery and be happy with my choice, I have gotten stuck ordering the same thing week after week because it is just so good. Almost every single Saturday I order myself a nice big vanilla almond bear claw. I've had bear claws at other bakeries, but these are the absolute best I've ever had. They are big, buttery and generously packed full of a wonderful almond filling. Over the past year, I've been trying to figure out just what exactly this filling is made of. I even contacted someone at the bakery to see if they could help me at all, and while they of course wouldn't tell me what the filling is made of, they gave me a few hints that helped guide me in my search. 

Then just a few weeks ago I found it. A recipe popped up online that sounded like what I was looking for so I dove in and gave it a shot. The verdict? It was exactly what I was hoping for. To me it tastes almost exactly like the filling from the bakery. My bear claws turned out beautifully and absolutely delicious. It is so satisfying to have solved the puzzle. Even if the recipe is not exactly the same as the bakery's, it tastes right to me and that's all that matters. 


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Muffins

Over the past year or so I have been doing more and more baking with fruit. Since I absolutely love fruit this really is a no-brainer. Any kind of fruit will do, I'm not picky. Due to the overwhelming number of banana bread/muffin/cake recipes out there I definitely end up using bananas most often. It doesn't hurt that they are cheap and freeze beautifully. But there are many other fruits that bake up well in recipes too. 

Today I'm sharing a simple yet wonderful cinnamon apple muffin recipe. The cinnamon apple combo is a pretty classic pairing, and it's easy to see why. The warming spiciness of cinnamon mixed with sweet and tart apples is a match made in heaven. I don't always like large chunks of apple in my baked goods, so instead of chopping it into pieces, I decided to grate it so it kind of melts into the batter and distributes evenly while still contributing it's apple-y sweetness. Add a little more spiciness with some nutmeg and allspice, and top the whole thing with a sweet buttery topping and you have a breakfast to be proud of. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chana Dal Lentil Soup

I woke this morning and checked the old temperature gauge (aka my phone) to discover it was a balmy -6° Fahrenheit, not the windchill, the actual temperature (the windchill was a lovely -20°). In these kinds of conditions I crave something warm and hearty, simple yet filling and flavorful. This recipe was the first time I've tried chana dal. I spent some time researching exactly what chana dal is, and to be honest I'm still a little confused as to whether it is split lentils or split chickpeas or something else. Whatever the case, it is some kind of dried pulse or legume. If anyone has a good explanation of what dal is please let me know, I'd love a good definition. 

Regardless of what exactly dal is, this recipe is simple and filling. Dal cooked with tomatoes, onions and various spices. and finished with cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It doesn't get much easier than this, and it is so healthy. If you are looking for something hearty and warming this winter that's a little different than the norm, give this recipe a try. A thick slice of hearty bread on the side to mop up all the extra juice is the only other thing you need to finish off this delicious meal. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

American Style Vanilla Biscotti

I've found myself making a lot of biscotti lately. I just can't seem to sit down with a cup of coffee without wanting something small and sweet to snack on and biscotti are the perfect way for me to fix this problem. They are easy to make, usually make a large batch, and can be shaped into whatever size you might want. For the last couple of rounds of biscotti making I've been playing around with different variations on this recipe from King Arthur Flour. They call it American style biscotti because it is not quite as rock hard as some of the traditional Italian biscotti recipes. These cookies bake up crisp and light, crunchy without being teeth shattering. I think they have the perfect balance of crunchy sweetness to go alongside my cup of afternoon coffee. And the great thing about biscotti is they last for several weeks in an airtight container on you counter or in the cupboard. That means not having to worry about running out anytime soon or having them go bad. It is the perfect way to ensure you always have a sweet treat around for snacking on for those moments when you just need a little something to get yourself through the afternoon. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Crisp Rosemary Garlic Crackers

I love a good cracker. They are the perfect simple appetizer or snack, either on their own or along with a nice slice of cheese or a really good dip. I'm a sucker for almost any type of cracker, but those long thin "artisan" crackers are my favorite. And while there are a lot of really nice crackers out there available for buying, the other week I decided to try my hand at making a batch from scratch. I found a recipe for a beautiful looking artisan style cracker online and just had to try it. I only had to adjust it slightly to fit with the ingredients I had on hand, replacing the assorted seeds (which I didn't have) with some dried rosemary and garlic (which I did). 

The verdict? They turned out wonderfully! I've made crackers in the past, but these turned out far better then any of my past attempts. It really helps to use a pasta roller to get the dough perfectly thin and even. The rosemary flavor really shown through giving these crackers a warm herbal aroma and a nice punch of flavor. I plan on playing around with other flavors in the future, this is only the beginning...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crackly Sugar Cookies

The simple sugar cookie: so simple, so basic, and so delicious.  Whether thin and crispy, thick, and chewy, or soft and tender, all are delicious in their own way. While I do love pretty much every sugar cookie there is, I am partial to the thick and chewy sort, but for whatever reason I have found it difficult to find the perfect recipe for this style sugar cookie. Every recipe I try seems to turn out more of a thin crispy cookie, still buttery and delicious, but missing that substantial chew that I am looking for. 

Thankfully, I recently stumbled across this recipe which has produced the best cookie yet! They are pretty thick (maybe not yet quite as thick as I'd like, but I can work on fixing that) and nice and chewy. With a nice crackly top that is covered in sugar they are a winner. I made them pretty big to ensure a nice soft and chewy center and a slightly crisp edge which was wonderful, but I'm sure a little smaller cookie would be just as delicious. With a base of butter, sugar and flour there is no way they couldn't be!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homemade Ranch Party Pretzels

If you are in the mood for some good snack food I have just the thing for you. Homemade Ranch Party Pretzels are addicting and delicious, and as snack foods go, not too unhealthy. I made this recipe up because I was craving something salty and snacky, but I wasn't going to waste my money on a bag of some snack mix at the store when I can make something better and cheaper at home. 

I'm always a sucker for Chex Mix, but just can't justify buying something full of ingredients such as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," "hydrolyzed soy protein," and "distilled monoglycerides" with "color added," especially when it's so easy to make yourself at home. It was time to make my own snack mix but I decided to switch it up a little and use ranch flavors instead of the traditional Chex Mix seasoning. I also didn't feel like going out and buying all the different components that make up normal Chex Mix so I grabbed a bag of pretzels and decided that was good enough, and I love these little alphabet pretzels, they are so cute! 

It was all worth it, this snack mix is amazing! Covered in delicious homemade ranch seasoning, these pretzels satisfied my craving for some addictive snack. It's a dangerous thing but I'll risk it!