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Desserts

My review of the Krusteaz Holiday Cookie Helper: the story of my cookie swap success!

At no other time does the magic of baking become more tangible or appealing than during the holiday season. To me, this is a blessed time, when memories are made and cherished forever. The smell of freshly baked sweet delights, the cozy heat emanating from the oven, the impatience in my daughter’s eyes as she builds miniature castles out of cookie dough leftovers – these are moments that will stay with me despite the passing of time. What can I say? I just love the holiday season!

While I am more of a cake person, my daughter is a big cookie fan, who thinks a cookie a day keeps the boredom away 🙂 Lately, I have been using my time off to bake cookies for her and to give them away to friends and co-workers. What kind of cookies should I share during the holiday season? I often have trouble answering this question: I want to impress and to bake something that represents me, but time is short, I get impatient with my old recipe book, and my daughter is still too young to help mommy answer these sorts of questions 😉

Thankfully, recently I came across a quick and fun way to find the perfect cookie recipe to share: the Holiday Cookie Helper by Krusteaz. Keep Reading

CLOSED 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.

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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