Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good Saturday Morning Muffins!

Actually, these are Good Any Morning Muffins. I just happened to make them on a Saturday but they would be a terrific weekday muffin because the cool thing about this batter is that you whip it up the night before, let it chill out in your refrigerator over night, and then it's ready to go when you're ready to go!  Even better, is the fact that this batter can sit for two weeks in the refrigerator.  Now, I haven't tested it for two weeks but the good folks at King Arthur Flour have and I think they are pretty trustworthy.  

The batter goes together very easily (as with most muffin mixes, no electric mixer is needed) and it's loaded with all sorts of good things for you: 3 cups of bran cereal (I used a combination of All Bran buds and twigs), buttermilk, raisins, etc.  I added raw pumpkin seeds and chopped walnuts for a little crunch (definitely a good move).  I thought about adding some flaked coconut, but thought that might be one toke over the line for tastes and textures.

And so when I woke up extraordinarily early today (even by my internal clock) and hungry, my first stop was the kitchen to preheat the oven (even before boiling the water for coffee). I loved that the batter was ready and waiting in the refrigerator and all I had to do was spray a few of the muffin cups, scoop 1/4C of batter into each well and pop them into the oven. What could be easier than that?  Well, maybe eating them!  After approximately 20-25 minutes, they were ready. I let them sit for a couple of minutes, then added a dollop of Italian orange marmalade, sat down with the Saturday edition of the NY Times, and took a bite. I am always a bit hesitant when making a new muffin recipe because there is the chance they will turn out dry and heavy.  But not these - these were moist and delicious with a wonderful chewy texture.  I had to strongly resist eating another.

So if you've got some house guests for the holiday weekend, or just want an easy, delicious breakfast treat waiting for you in your refrigerator, try these.  I've dubbed them Saturday Morning Muffins, but you may just consider them Every Morning Muffins.  

Print Recipe Here

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pastry Heaven

I have been waiting for this day for a long time - specifically, a bright, sunny, warm Sunday. Just right for an early morning ride down the Garden State Parkway to the Flaky Tart Bakery in Atlantic Highlands.  For months, I've had a little scrap of paper with the bakery address sitting on my desk staring at me - as if to say, "come on, already - let's go!" Today was the day.

And worth the wait it was.  What luscious treats await inside this petite store!  Everything looked fabulous, from the traditional Crumb Cake to the gorgeous Coconut Cake

I had read somewhere that Flaky Tart had cracked the code on scones - no dry, hard hockey pucks here - so when I spotted the Chocolate Cherry Scones perched on the display stand, I knew one of them was going home with me.  But I also noticed that they offered Ham and Gruyere Croissants so I figured a little protein was in order before my pastry indulgence. 

There is only a little counter with a few stools alongside the front window of the shop so we gathered up our purchases and headed to the car. There, we ripped into the croissants - flaky, buttery layers with a delicious pocket of ham and gruyere cheese tucked inside. This took me back to the quintessential croissants I sampled in Paris a few years ago. 

On to the main show: the scones!  I somehow managed to wait until we got home to try them.  Poured another cup of my favorite "Hair Bender" coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and headed to the deck.  This scone was so moist with fat, juicy cherries and rich chocolate morsels (photo below).  Totally satisfying and so indulgent - just me in the warm sun with my coffee and fabulous scone - ahhhhhh.
But wait, there's more!  After a lovely Sunday evening dinner at a local restaurant (Nicola's in Totowa, NJ), we bypassed the restaurant desserts because waiting at home from the Flaky Tart was a Bavarian Cream Brioche and a Chocolate Macaroon Kiss.  Just saying the names of these pastries makes my little baker's heart skip a beat!  
The Brioche (shown above) was beautiful - rich, flavorful brioche dough with a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top and the delicate Bavarian cream center - unbelievable!

But the jewel in the crown was the Chocolate Macaroon Kiss.  Now I've had great macaroons before - indeed, the King of all macaroons (IMHO) at Maison du Chocolat in Paris.  But this, this was a mound of wonderful coconut shreds topped with a kiss of chocolate. When you bit into the hard chocolate shell, a ganache of soft, dark, rich chocolate melted out onto the coconut to create the most wonderful taste sensation in your mouth.  This was pure pastry heaven.

It's probably a good thing that the Flaky Tart is not too close to me, it could be dangerous. But so worth the trip on a beautiful Sunday in New Jersey and sometimes a little pastry indulgence is a good thing.

The Flaky Tart
145 1st Avenue
Atlantic Highlands, NJ
no web site

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

It's almost Cinco de Mayo - that important Mexican holiday (where the Mexican militia defeated the French army in 1862) that in the US is basically celebrated with beer, tequila, salsa and chips.  Well, you need a little sweet to go with all that alcohol and salt, don't you? So how about Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies? The "hot" coming from a healthy addition of chili powder. 

But before we get to the cookies, I want to tell you about a terrific Mexican restaurant in Manhattan that we visited last week.  It's called Hell's Kitchen (appropriate, given its location in that section of NYC and it's focus on Mexican foods) and it's not your average south of the border restaurant. It's a rather small space, the tables are a little too close together, and the noise level at peak times approaches a low roar (oh, and the lighting is so low, I almost had to ask for a flashlight to read the menu). So why would I even bother telling you about this place?  It's the food, of course! 

Our meal began with two appetizers - Duck Confit Empanadas with Cranberry Mole and Pico de Gallo, and Hoja Sania Crusted Tuna Tostados with Guacamole and Grilled Pineapple - fabulous! 

Entrees consisted of Grilled Shrimp with Serrano Sauce, Sweet Plantain and Guacamole; Skirt Steak Tacos; Ancho Crusted Tuna and Yucca Cake with Smoky Peanut Sauce; and a wonderful Chilean Sea Bass. Everything was outstanding - not to mention the luscious and thirst-quenching Pineapple Margaritas and the Wajito (a lovely concoction of light run, fresh watermelon, lime juice, and fresh mint). 

As we were running to make the 8pm curtain on Broadway, we didn't get to sample dessert at Hell's Kitchen, but that's what the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies are for.

The cookies are from (yet another) edition of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. I have made these cookies twice in the last two weeks because they are just that good. And they are super easy to make, and let me see, what else? Right - delicious! Soft, chewy, so chocolatey-cinnamony, and with that extra little twist of chili powder, it ranks right up there in my all time cookie best. 

So if you are planning a little Cinco de Mayo celebration of your own next week, go ahead and serve the usual suspects, but spice things up a bit with these cookies. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Print Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie Recipe Here
Pear Margarita