Browse Category

Desserts

Nielsen-Massey Vanillas review and giveaway: when baked desserts are done right!

The kitchen is filled with zesty rich aromas, and my daughter is getting impatient: she wants cake, and she wants it now! My repeated attempts to temper her kitchen tantrums are a failure – and, after all, who can blame her? The flowery notes in the air are pungent and unrestrained, promising heaps of flavor and refreshing baked joy. They are just too alluring to resist. Faces covered in sweat, MIL and I have been baking for about one hour, and the waiting will soon be over. I take the round pan out of the oven, and a fresh explosion of citrusy notes permeates the hot air in an instant. Say hello to orange ricotta strudel! 🙂

I have baked a lot this summer. From éclairs to cookies and from clafoutis to strudels, I have baked – and baked – and baked some more! – and have found it very therapeutic. In the process, I have used a variety of extracts to elevate my desserts. Indeed, extracts can add or enhance the flavors of baked goods and can provide convenience to the busy baker. My mom used a lot of extracts in her baking when I was growing up. Sadly, these were all fake extracts – colored water with a drop of artificial flavors and very little else. Since then, we both have learned to appreciate the value of the “real deal,” of authentic extracts made with natural ingredients. This is why I was very excited when I was contacted by Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, a Waukegan IL based company with worldwide distribution, for a product review and a giveaway. I chose their pure orange extract for my review.

Keep Reading

Celebrating summer flavors: sour cherries, the ruby fruits that keep on giving

Mom and MIL getting busy over jars of sour cherry preserve

You get sweet, you get a hint of bitter, you get caramel notes. It’s layer upon layer of thick, rich flavor, sophisticated yet pure. The moment you try sour cherry preserve, your mouth explodes with this complexity of summer tastes, and your foodie world changes for good forever. Having used sour cherries every summer since childhood, I have taken it upon myself to let everyone know how wonderfully versatile they are. Right now, I just want to pack this sour cherry preserve in tiny jars and gift it to the whole wide world. It’s that good – and, in my opinion, deeper and more satisfying than the coveted jarred amarena cherries.

We used to do a lot of baking and canning with sour cherries when we lived in Europe. These fruits are precious and very delicate, and there is only a small window of opportunity at the end of June -beginning of July when you can buy them and use them straight away, otherwise they spoil. You can find sour cherries at select Chicagoland grocery stores, such as Fresh Farms International Market and Rich’s Fresh Market. For those of you with a bit of time on your hands, I strongly suggest you pick them yourselves. It can be so much fun!

This is what we did recently, when we spent one lovely Saturday morning picking sour cherries at The Valley Orchard. Keep Reading

Mother’s Day mango crêpes: a decadent sweet for the sweetest mom!

I ate these crêpes with mom in the park yesterday, as the warm sunlight was about to wave us goodbye for the day. A decadent sweet was just what my mom needed after the long day she had spent taking care of the little one. It was not Mother’s Day, yet I knew she would love getting out of the house and the daily routine, and celebrating motherhood one day in advance. The park was peaceful and quiet and the crêpes were delicious – so mom simply couldn’t say no 🙂

The idea for this dessert came to me by accident a few months ago, while I was looking for ways to use up a bunch of ataulfo mangoes I had got at a deeply discounted price from the local grocery store. I found several authors who advocated using these mangoes along with sweetened condensed milk, which is a rather popular dessert combination in Mexican and Filipino cuisines. Keep Reading

Cocoa & fruit balls: my answer to the post-Christmas leftover dilemma

Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t like peanut brittle? Don’t get me wrong: I love peanuts and worship caramel, but I just don’t like the two of them together. I find peanut brittle overly sweet and way too difficult to eat, and I always look for ways to re-purpose it. Having grown up in another country and in a time of great need, I strive to never throw edible food away because I remember how it used to be to not have any food at all. As such, I like to see value and potential in every tiny bit of leftovers – peanut brittle included 🙂

This Christmas has made no exception. Last week my husband received a gift basket from work with a generous assortment of sweet goodies: peanut brittle, dried fruit, shortbread cookies etc. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to make cocoa & fruit balls! The recipe below is just what you need if you’re looking to eliminate waste and to use up cookie or cake leftovers, recreating them as something new, exciting, and budget-friendly. Keep Reading

Cookies for Santa and Rudolph: sugar and… lemons – and all things nice!

Yes, I know the title doesn’t rhyme, but what can I do? I’m hopeless: I have fallen in love with Meyer lemons 🙂 After years of using lemons indiscriminately, I have finally seen the light: some lemons are, indeed, better than others.

With a delicate, sweet flavor, thin skin and aromatic smell, Meyer lemons are something to behold. I was lucky to find them on sale at the local grocery store, and this limited time offer could not have come at a better time. I used Meyer lemons to make two kinds of lemon cookies, using my mom’s age-old recipes. I am still amazed: How could so much flavor, zest and juiciness come in such small packages? Keep Reading

It’s Thanksgiving: time for strudel!

Nothing says holiday better than the enticing smell of dough steadily baking in the oven. And when you know your daughter is going to be the first to try out your creations, you really want to have a satisfied customer, so you try your hardest to please 🙂 This year, we’ll be spending Thanksgiving with my mom, around a dinner table that will be brimming with turkey (brined and roasted as per a Morton Salt recipe I’m trying for the first time ever!), pork soup, manicotti and potatoes au gratin. For dessert, we’ll have banana bread and ricotta strudel.

The original strudel recipe I posted last year called for a seasonal pumpkin filling. For diversification purposes, this year I decided to use ricotta, which is one of DH and our daughter’s all-time favorite dessert ingredients. Keep Reading

Éclairs: a delicious fall treat

What is better than an éclair? Two éclairs! Everyone in my family is a fan of éclairs, but until recently we did not have a recipe to make them at home. The recipe below comes from my mother-in-law, and it took her and me months of testing to get the quantities right.

When I was little I would buy éclairs from a local confectionery shop, on my way back home from school. Crammed and dark, with oversized platters and old-fashioned decoration, that place sold day-old éclairs filled with a custard vaguely tasting of coffee. Sometimes, the custard was sour and the dough was stale, but there was nothing I could do: I had spent good money on the éclair, and I had to eat it. There was no flour or butter on sale at the grocery stores, and sugar was rationed, which meant baking at home was also very limited.

Those days are long gone, thankfully. With so much abundance of ingredients at the stores, why not indulge in one of the favorite desserts of my childhood – and why not share it with the world? 🙂 Keep Reading