S’more Pudding

You may recall from my last post that I was working on an idea for a peach pudding. The test run of the recipe I created didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would, so I tabled the idea for another time.

The next week I headed off to the beach for a vacation with my family, and I guess the idea of creating a pudding recipe was still floating around somewhere in my brain. I have often said that inspiration can come when you least expect it, and that is exactly what happened during my trip.

One of the things we enjoy doing during a beach vacation is taking an evening stroll on the beach to fly a kite and enjoy the cooler air after a hot day. We also enjoy visiting one of the fire pits where we stay after our kite flying. Families often stop by to warm up in the cool evening air, to sit and talk, or to toast marshmallows and make s’mores.

The smell of toasted marshmallows, along with the smell of coconut from suntan lotion, were two scents that kept finding their way into my nose during the week. By Wednesday, I knew that my next blog would feature something using one of those two flavors! By Friday, the thought of trying another pudding that featured toasted marshmallows was in my head, and just like that today’s idea was born.

My first idea was to blend toasted marshmallows into the milk that I would use to make the pudding. I thought that would be a simple and logical way to get the flavor that I was looking for, and it worked – at first. The blended toasted marshmallow milk combo tasted exactly like a toasted marshmallow should.

Happy with the direction in which I was headed, I continued by making a graham cracker crust for the bottom of each pudding ramekin. Once that was in place, I went ahead with cooking the pudding and spooning it over each crust. When I was done, off it went to the refrigerator to cool and set.

As you can see from the pictures above, the toasted marshmallows gave the milk a bit of a brownish/greyish color. With the addition of whipped cream and broken chocolate bar pieces to finish off the s’more concept, the interesting color was hidden away!

The color really didn’t surprise me, but the taste test sure did! Cooking can often lead to some interesting or even mysterious results, as was the case with my first attempt. The mystery in this case was the missing toasted marshmallow flavor. All of the awesome flavor that was in the milk prior to cooking somehow vanished during the cooking process! What was left was some sort of nondescript flavor – not quite marshmallow or vanilla, just some sort of sweet pudding.

It wasn’t necessarily unpleasant, but it totally missed the mark on the flavor I was going for. I walked away with another not quite right pudding, but I was determined to make this idea work and not end up with another tabled project! After taking a day off to consider a new direction, I went to work again.

The idea this time was to make a simple vanilla pudding and garnish it with an intact toasted marshmallow, along with pieces of graham cracker and chocolate bar. The new plan worked, and I came up with a winner! The toasted marshmallow blended well with the vanilla pudding while eating it and gave me the flavor I was looking for. The presentation on my second attempt blew away my first attempt as well – with a few changes, this easy to make recipe looked as good as it tasted.

S’more pudding

S’more Pudding

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 s’more sized marshmallows or 10 regular sized marshmallows – toasted
  • 2 1/2 graham crackers split into 10 quarter sized pieces
  • 15 sections of chocolate bar, such as Hershey’s chocolate bars

Combine the sugar, corn starch and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Add the milk and vanilla to a medium sized pot. Heat the liquid mixture on a medium setting until it just starts to come to a boil. Add in the dry ingredients a little at a time while continuously stirring to ensure that they are well incorporated.

Continue to cook for another minute or two until the pudding begins to thicken. You want it to reach the point where it easily sticks to a spoon without sliding off – you don’t want it to get too thick or lumps will begin to form.

Immediately remove the pudding from the heat and evenly spoon it into 5 ramekins or other small bowls. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or until the pudding is cold and has set.

Just before serving, place 1 s’more sized (or 2 regular sized) toasted marshmallow(s) on top of each dish of pudding, and then stick two quarters of graham cracker into each dish and top with 3 pieces of chocolate.

We really enjoyed this fun twist on an old classic treat. The next time you are hosting a barbecue and s’mores come to mind, why not give it a try? The fun presentation will make your guests think that you put a lot of work into making it, but the reality is it doesn’t take much work at all!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend.

New Kitchen Gadget – The Ninja Creami

Summertime brings with it many of the simple joys in life – getting together with friends, family vacations, barbecues and swimming on a hot day all come to mind.  Also included on my list of favorite things to enjoy during the summer months is eating ice cream, as well as other frozen treats. 

Shortly before summer began, my wife and I were flipping through the channels one weekend morning when she paused on QVC.  They were featuring a machine called the Ninja Creami that made ice cream as well as other sweet treats.  Having owned (and usually returned) other ice cream making machines in the past that didn’t really do what they promised, we are always a little leery of such devices.  After watching the presentation, something about this machine and the method used to make the ice cream made sense to me and seemed like it might actually work, so we decided to give it a shot.

The Ninja Creami comes in several colors – we chose the mint green.

Unlike other machines or makers that often rely on adding the ingredients to a large and bulky pre-frozen bowl, the process for this machine is different.  It comes with several pint sized containers (the bundle we bought that day included 5) and extras are available to purchase separately.  Instead of using a big frozen bowl to start the freezing process, you simply fill the containers with your ingredients, and freeze them until they are solid. 

When you are ready to enjoy one, you pull it out of the freezer, load it onto the machine and choose what type of treat you are blending.  The blending process uses a spinning blade that cuts through the bowl, turning the frozen block of ingredients into a smooth and creamy treat.

Blending modes include ice cream, lite ice cream, gelato, sorbet, smoothie bowl and milkshake.  The machine also has two additional modes – re-spin, which gives your treat a second quick blend if it still appears to be too frozen and not creamy enough, and mix-in mode which is used for adding extra items to your treat, such as chocolate chips.  

We wanted to give it a good test run before I wrote this entry, so we tried out a few of the recipes in the book, as well as some variations on those recipes and a couple of other simple ideas that we came up with ourselves.

Lite vanilla ice cream – this recipe was included in the recipe book.  We used the mix-in mode to blend in some mini chocolate chips.

Mint chocolate chip – This was a variation that we made to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe that was included in the book.

Chocolate – another variation to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe.

Mango passion fruit sorbet – a quick and easy recipe we made up.  A simple blend of mashed mango and passion fruit juice.

Banana – we made this one with very ripe bananas, milk,  vanilla, and some stevia.  It’s nice to have a new use for them other than banana bread!

Lite strawberry chia seed ice cream – this was a recipe from the book.  The original recipe called for blueberries, but we didn’t have any on hand, so we used strawberries instead.

Banana chocolate chip – same mix as the banana recipe above, with chocolate chips mixed in.

Chocolate milk – The name says it all… nothing but frozen chocolate milk put through the blending process.  As simple as it was, it turned out to be one of our favorites!  It reminded us of chocolate soft serve ice cream.

I’ve shared lots of nice pictures, but how did it all turn out?  Delicious!  The process was easy, and the end result made for a great treat we could all enjoy whenever the mood hit.  We were amazed that the light recipes we tried, which often used milk instead of cream, could end up being so smooth and creamy.  We were also big fans of the sorbet – with nothing more than frozen fruit and juice, it produced a very smooth and creamy treat. 

We love the fact that not only can we produce a lower fat ice cream option to enjoy, but also one that can be low in sugar by replacing some or all of the sugar with alternative sweeteners, such as stevia.  Another plus to this machine was that with many of the recipes we tried needing little more than some milk, flavoring and sweetener, a pint could be quite economical as well. 

I also appreciated that our package included 5 of the containers.  It was so easy to mix them all up in about 20 minutes to have several on hand in the freezer, ready to be blended up on demand. 

Does this mean we will never buy our favorite store bought ice cream or go to our favorite ice cream parlor again? Of course not! Those things are both enjoyable as well, but perhaps it does mean we would do so less often. There are so many recipes left to explore, and we haven’t even tried making milkshakes, gelato, or smoothie bowls yet.

On that note, it sounds like it may be time to mix up some new creations! Have a great weekend.

Loaded Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies

I love oatmeal cookies. I love them with raisins and without. I love oatmeal lace cookies and oatmeal cookie bars and ones with nuts in them and… well, I think you get the point! They are without a doubt in my list of top three favorite cookies, perhaps even in the number one spot.

Recently I started to think about putting an idea together for an oatmeal cookie using brown butter. I love brown butter. It does amazing things to recipes, sweet and savory alike. In a sweet recipe such as the one I am sharing today, it plays off of and enhances the flavors of the cinnamon and vanilla as well as the flavor of the walnuts.

In a savory recipe it will also add an amazing extra depth and enhancement of flavors. One of of my favorite simple savory applications is to make brown butter with fresh sage served over pasta.

If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it. While it is not particularly difficult to make, it does take a little extra time and patience, but I think you’ll be happy with the end result! Now, back to the topic at hand – the cookie recipe!

Loaded Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Start by making the brown butter. To do this, put the 2 sticks of butter in a medium sized sauce pan and place over a low heat. Allow the butter to fully melt slowly and then swirl it in the pan frequently – about once a minute – until it changes from a pale yellow to a deep golden brown. Don’t walk away from the pan – brown butter can turn quickly from brown to burnt! Immediately remove from heat and pour it into a glass or metal mixing bowl.

Place the bowl in the refrigerator to allow the butter to solidify to the consistency of softened butter – this could take up to an hour.

Prepared brown butter

Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast them in a 350 degree oven until they are a deep brown color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Rehydrate the cranberries by placing them in a bowl and covering them with boiling water. Allow them to soak for 15 minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and oats. Stir together until well combined and set aside.

Once the brown butter has reached the proper softened consistency, add in the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix together on low speed until combined. Once combined, switch to medium speed for 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the mixing paddle and then return to mixing at medium speed for another 3 to 5 minutes. The end result should be a very light and fluffy mixture that is even in color and the consistency of paste.

Scrape down the bowl and paddle again and then add in the vanilla and eggs. one at a time, on low until combined and then continue mixing for 1 minute on medium.

Pour all of the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix on the lowest speed until just combined and a soft dough forms, about 1 minute. Scrape down the paddle and remove bowl from the mixer. Add in the walnuts, white chocolate chips and cranberries and mix together by hand until well combined and evenly distributed throughout the dough.

Drop rounded tablespoons full of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, at least 1 inch apart. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer the baked cookies to a cooling rack.

Brown butter oatmeal cookies loaded with walnuts, cranberries and white chocolate chips

I know that with making brown butter, toasting the walnuts and rehydrating the cranberries I have given you a lot of extra steps, but I think the end result is worth it.

I was very happy with how this new recipe experiment turned out. The brown butter did an amazing job of enhancing all of the flavors of the cookie from the sweet bits of white chocolate, to the earthy and salty flavors of the toasted walnuts. We enjoyed a few of them and then I froze the rest. Cookies generally freeze well and it’s always nice to have a bag waiting for you in the freezer when you feel like grabbing one or two to enjoy later.

If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. Until next time, have a great weekend!

Butterscotchies With Salty Pecans

It seems that lately I have fallen into doing a series of brownie like dessert recipe creations. I never planned for it to happen, it just sort of evolved on its own. The first brownie recipe was one that we did for one of our from Angie’s kitchen posts back in January.  While that one was planned, I didn’t expect to follow up with a version made from coconut flour the next month. Since then, brownie like desserts have been on my brain! I’ve had a few different ideas, including the one I’m doing today with butterscotch.

As I mulled the idea over for the recipe, I thought the name “Butterscotchies” would be the perfect thing to call them! Somewhere during my first test run I thought about the name again, and that’s when a Mark Twain quote came to mind: “There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” With that quote in mind, I was temporarily sidetracked from my creation as I had to stop and look up if someone else had ever used the name Butterscotchies.

Sure enough, there were several recipes using that name, or some sort of variation of it. Most of them appeared to be cookies, quite often some form of an oatmeal cookie. One recipe was called “Butterscotch Scotchies” which looked more like my brownie kind of idea, but they were actually a bar cookie. Either way, I still liked the name and decided to go with it. So, I proceeded to pour my ingredient choices into that mental kaleidoscope that Twain talked about.

With the batter all mixed up and still in the oven baking, I immediately thought to myself “these are going to be too sweet!” As a starting point, I had followed the brownie recipe that I had created for my round two of Angie’s kitchen. The amount of sugar in that recipe worked fine with the 72% dark chocolate chips that I had used, but knowing that butterscotch chips are much sweeter, I should have reduced the amount of sugar right from the start.

In the end, my too late thinking was correct! There was definite potential there, but the sweetness had to be reduced. I further went on to think that despite lowering the amount of sugar, they would still be fairly sweet because of the butterscotch and that’s when the idea to add salty pecans to the mix came to mind.  My hope was that having little salty bits mixed into the sweetness would balance it out nicely. 

So now not only did I need to refine the original recipe, I also had to come up with a way to create salty pecans to add to it!  In the end, I tossed the pecans in a bit of melted butter, brown sugar and salt and toasted them in the oven before adding them to the butterscotchie batter.  While it seems counter intuitive to add brown sugar to something you are trying to make salty, the main purpose for it was to caramelize with the butter so the flavor would stick to the pecans and not get lost in the batter.  With the right amount of salt, only the salty flavor came through. 

Notice how I said “the right amount” in the last sentence?  On my first attempt, I didn’t get it right – I way overstated it.  I wanted a pleasant burst of saltiness to come through, but for my first round I ended up with something that tasted like the ocean!  I love the beach and swimming in the ocean, but it’s always unpleasant when a big wave deposits a huge gulp of salty water into your mouth, and it sure wasn’t the flavor I was going for! 

For me though, that’s part of the fun of creating new recipes.  Sometimes we hit the nail right on the head, but often we don’t.  Not every new creation is going to be instant perfection, and that’s okay because those moments give us the opportunity to learn and grow.

Butterscotchies With Salty Pecans

For the salty pecans:

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar – packed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter slowly in the microwave – I like to use the defrost cycle to do this. Once melted, mix in the brown sugar and salt until dissolved. Microwave the mixture in 20 to 30 second increments – again on defrost – until it just begins to get bubbly. Add the pecans and mix well until they are evenly coated.

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing them every 5 minutes. When done, they should be golden brown and a bit sticky. Allow them to cool and dry – about 30 minutes – before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Salty Pecans

For the batter:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter – softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ounces butterscotch chips – melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup prepared salty pecans

Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla with a mixer on slow speed until they are well blended and then continue on medium speed until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix on slow speed until mixed in, about 1 minute. Add the melted butterscotch chips and blend in with a mixer on slow speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then mix in the flour by hand until just combined, followed by the salty pecans.

Pour the mixture into a greased 7 inch square pan and bake in a preheated oven set to 325 degrees for 25 to 28 minutes. Allow to cool for about an hour and then cut into 16 squares and serve.

My second attempt worked out well once I corrected the issues with them being overly sweet and the pecans being too salty. The butterscotch flavor came through nicely without being overpowering and the little bursts of saltiness in each bite balanced out the sweetness nicely, as I hoped it would.

The texture was soft, moist and a bit on the chewy side – my son said the texture was similar to the cake pops you’d get at Starbucks. I thought it was a pretty astute comparison for a seven year old (no bias there of course just because I’m his father…) and he was really spot on.

I do have one more idea in mind for my unplanned brownie like dessert series – although I guess now I can no longer call it unplanned! I’m still working on the idea, but maybe I’ll be ready to write that final chapter in the series in May. Until next time, have a great weekend!

Adventures In Coconut Flour

There are many things that I love about writing this blog. The sense of excitement that came from starting a new adventure after saying goodbye to my former longtime career, the satisfaction that came from finally doing something I had long dreamed about and recently, a new one that I had never even thought about before.

I began to realize just how much writing a food blog opens your mind to trying new ingredients. I think in general I do have a fairly good sense of adventure when it comes to trying new things, but there are many ingredients that have truly never crossed my mind before. When one of your main focuses becomes your blog and the topic is food, it happens organically quite often. Sometimes it happens because I seek out new things to try and on occasion, thanks to my wife Lori, a new ingredient just falls into my lap!

Ever since Karen and I started this blog, Lori has enjoyed shopping for random ingredients to stock in the house. She has told me that she likes seeing what they will magically turn into. It started last winter and continued this one with various vegetables that I found myself roasting and turning into soups to share on our lunch breaks – perfect for the cold winter days.

She doesn’t always just present me with veggies though, sometimes an ingredient I have never even thought about will appear. Last weekend after our grocery order was delivered and we finished unpacking and putting everything away, I sat back down to finish my morning coffee. As I grabbed my cup to take a sip, she placed a bag of coconut flour on the counter in front of me and smiled and walked away. I think she enjoys sitting back and watching me in the moments that follow because she knows more often than not the item she placed before me will get stuck in my head, much like a song can get stuck in there!

I took a few more sips of my coffee as I stared at that bag and I didn’t disappoint her as the show began! Two minutes later my phone was in my hand and I was reading about it. I learned about suggested amounts to use in place of regular flour, about how it absorbs a great deal of moisture so you need to add enough liquid to prevent what you’re making from getting dry and how depending on what you are making, some coconut flavor can come through in what you make.

With that bit of information in my head, I began to think about what I should make for my first time using coconut flour. It would need to be something that I didn’t think would end up being dry when done, while at the same time tasting okay if some coconut flavor did come through. Almost immediately I thought “brownies!”

Not too long ago in our most recent round of Angie’s Kitchen, we made brownies. I joked at the end of round 2 that I liked my changes to the original recipe, but there were other things I would also like to try and that perhaps it was time for brownies 3.0. I didn’t expect that I would be working on a 3.0 recipe idea so soon after that, nor did I even remotely think that using coconut flour would be one of the changes I made, but nevertheless, here we are!

I decided to work with my 2.0 recipe and tweak it just a bit. I lowered the amount of butter back to 4 tablespoons as it was in my grandmother’s original recipe, but I kept the extra egg for moisture. In our Angie’s kitchen post we also spoke about baking powder and how some brownie recipes use it and some don’t. Grandma’s recipe didn’t use it and I kept it that way in my 2.0 update. For this recipe, not knowing how coconut flour would act with no leavening agent, I opted to add a small amount. Finally, of course, the regular flour was swapped with coconut flour.

After I mixed up the batter, I found it to be a bit dense. That didn’t totally concern me as that is not unusual with brownie batter, but to err on the side of caution I went ahead and added a touch of extra moisture with a bit of oil. I decided at that point that it was time to bake them up and see what happened and off they went into the oven, less than 90 minutes after Lori put the bag of flour in front of me!

Brownies 3.0 – aka Coconut Flour Brownies

After cooling and cutting them, it was time to dive in and have a taste. You never know what you will end up with when you try something new, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Everyone in the family loved them – they were moist and chewy and the brownie flavor came through perfectly.

My wife and son both said they tasted just like a regular brownie and they didn’t really taste the coconut. I agreed that the taste was very much like a brownie, but for me, there was a bit of coconut flavor that came through. I like coconut, so I didn’t mind it and chocolate pairs well with coconut which was in part what influenced my decision to try brownies first.

Later that night, I still had coconut flour on my mind and I started to think about how that flavor also pairs nicely with almond. I remembered a delicious coconut almond macaroon that we used to get a long time ago in college when we used to go to Atlantic City. I wondered if I could create a cookie that was similar in flavor to those macaroons by using the coconut flour, pulverized almonds and some almond extract. The next morning I was back in the kitchen writing out a recipe to test and mixing up the dough. It smelled very much like it would have the flavor I was hoping for, but you never really know until the taste test. I rolled up the cookies and into the oven they went.

Coconut Almond Cookies

For my brownies, I think a combination of wise ingredient choices contributed to their success along with perhaps a touch of beginners luck. For my second attempt, the coconut almond cookies, it appeared as if that beginners luck had run out! I wouldn’t necessarily say that my ingredient choices were bad, but rather that the amount of each ingredient used did not add up to a great success.

I was hoping they would flatten out more during baking, but they retained the ball shape. That certainly is not the worst thing though, many cookies remain that way after they are done baking. While I would still like to change that, the bigger issues with the cookie were with texture and flavor.

The almond flavor was there, but it felt a bit like it was hiding just under the surface waiting to fully come out. When I create a new recipe idea, I am generally of the mind that less is more. Why dump in a half a cup of sugar, when a third will do? Sometimes that gamble pays off, and other times it doesn’t. In this case, using less sugar resulted in a cookie that just plain wasn’t sweet enough, and I think that lack of sweetness is what also caused the full almond flavor to not come through.

The other big issue I had with the cookie was the lack of moisture. From my research I knew that this can be an issue when using coconut flour and while I successfully hit the nail on the head in that area with the brownies, I fell short with the cookies. They weren’t completely dry, but they were dry enough to make the eating experience somewhat unpleasant. I’ve mentioned in past entries that when I create a new recipe, I generally rate it in one of three ways:

  1. An instant keeper!
  2. Try, try again – it didn’t hit the mark, but there is good potential there.
  3. Throw away this recipe idea and never speak of it again!

I rate these cookies a 2 – there is definitely potential there. One day they will hopefully make a triumphant return to blog. In the meantime, I am happy to share the brownie recipe with you today. While a rating of 1 is often a little more elusive than a rating of 2, I am happy to say that I would rate them a 1.

Brownies 3.0 – Coconut Flour Brownies

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ounces 72% dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Slowly melt together the butter and chocolate in the microwave until smooth and just melted. I like to use the defrost setting in 30 to 60 second increments for melting butter and chocolate. I feel like it gives you more control in getting there slowly without making the mixture too hot for adding the eggs.

Stir the sugar, vanilla, eggs and oil into the melted butter and chocolate mixture until well combined, then add in the coconut flour and baking powder and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened well.

While the mixture sits for a few minutes to allow the coconut flour to begin to absorb some of the moisture, grease a 7 inch square pan. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 25 to 27 minutes, allow to cool and then cut into 16 squares and serve.

If you have worked with coconut flour before, I would love to hear about some of your experiences or tips you have found helpful when using it. Also, if you try the brownie recipe, please let me know what you think. Until next time, I hope you have a great weekend!