Chocolate Swirl Babka

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Bread has always been an intimidating baking experience for me and one that I happily avoided. If I’m being honest here, anything that involved yeast and rising time terrified me. One bad experience and I was scarred for life- almost. Lately, I’ve been more curious about yeasted dough and am ready to start practicing again. It’s high time I got over this irrational fear. Afterall, it’s just bread. This chocolate swirl babka recipe caught my eye and seemed doable, even for me. Luckily, I had K’s help and guidance along the way and we prepared this one together. I have to say, it was a great success and I’m looking forward to more bread baking in my future.

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Chocolate Swirl Babka

from Sift by King Arthur

Yield: 1 loaf

Dough

1 cup (8 oz) water
¼ cup (2 oz) milk

2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter + additional 2 tablespoons, melted for brushing on top)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 ½ cups (14 ¾ oz) unbleached all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast

 

Filling

1/3 cup (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa

¼ cup (3/4 oz) finely chopped almonds

2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar

 

Crumb Topping

2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter, melted

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup (1 ½ oz) powdered sugar

¼ cup (1 oz) unbleached all- purpose flour

 

For the Dough:

Place all of the dough ingredients (except the additional 2 tablespoons melted butter) into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for approximately 5-7 minutes until a soft, smooth ball forms. Add additional flour or water as needed. Cover and allow dough to rise for 1 hour.

For the Filling and Topping:

Combine the cocoa, nuts, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, use a fork to combine the crumb topping ingredients; it should be moist. Set aside.

To Shape:

After the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly greased work surface and roll it into an 8” x 16” rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture over the dough leaving a ½” border on all sides. Starting with the shorter side, roll the dough into a log, jelly roll style. Pinch the seam and ends together.

Transfer the log to a greased 9” x 5” loaf pan, laying it seam side down. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until it’s 1” above the rim of the pan, 40- 60 minutes. Half an hour into the rise time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly brush the loaf with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle the crumb topping evenly on top. Bake for 40- 60 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the babka from the pan and let finish cooling on the rack before serving.

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Ceviche: Yellowtail and Nopales

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We made a quick trip over the border the other day to check out an art exhibit and then went for some ceviche. Fresh, cold seafood was the perfect lunch to have on a hot day in Tijuana. Aside from making it at home, ceviche was something we ate a lot of in Peru and were really missing all of the exceptional seafood, especially their delicious ceviches. Luckily, we were able to get a taste of both Mexican and Peruvian-style ceviche this past weekend. Clearly, it made an impression on us inspiring our own blend of both styles combining aji chile from Peru and nopales used in some indigenous Mexican dishes. Together, they are a nice pairing with crunch and texture from the noples and just a hint of spice from the aji.

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Ceviche: Yellowtail and Nopales

Yield: Serves 2 as an appetizer

¼ pound fresh yellowtail fish, sliced thin

1 teaspoon aji paste

1 small clove garlic

½ oz white or yellow onion

Juice of 1 ½ meyer lemons

Salt to taste

5 sprigs cilantro (chop the leaves, discard stems)

1 small cactus lobe, cleaned

1 shishito pepper, sliced thin, seeds removed

¼ small red onion, sliced very thin

Prepare the Cactus:

Wash and dry the cactus lobe. With a pairing knife, cut off the prickly needles in one swift motion against the growth. Here’s a good video that shows the process: https://youtu.be/tSWNv2Q3ju4

After cleaning the cactus, slice into ½” cubes, place into a colander and rinse with cold water. Let drain. Place a grill pan on the grill and cook cactus until they soften, making sure to turn and move them around. This can also be done indoors on a comal or a dry skillet. When they are a bit charred and soften, remove from heat and let cool down. This can be done a day in advance. Store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble ceviche.

Combine the aji paste, garlic, yellow onion, lemon juice and salt in container. Puree until smooth with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Transfer to a clean bowl. Add the fish, cactus, chopped cilantro, and red onion and gently mix to combine. Place on a platter and garnish with shishito peppers and red onion. Enjoy immediately.

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Locro

We are in for a treat. Today’s post comes to you from K in which he shares how loco for locro he was. After some tweaking, we have nailed down a recipe that works for us. It’s hearty, comforting, and delicious.

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Two times. That was the number of times I had to visit Quito in one year. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is mostly known as the jump off point for folks on their way to the Galapagos to see the Piqueros de Patas Azules or as we all know them here, the Blue Footed Booby. I enjoyed going to Quito, it was a wierd and dull place. I probably could’ve done a bit more exploring but with non stop work for which I was there to do, most of my exploring took place during dinner time and on a few friday nights.

What made the biggest impression on me was that every restaurant, cafe, home and probably gas station served a bowl of locro which is basically a stew. And in Quito, the most common Locro is made with potato and I could not get enough of it; that was however, till I’d absolutely had enough and I couldn’t stand it. It seemed like Locro was on every menu in every hole in the wall and after I’d paid the exit fee at the airport to leave the country I was happy that I wouldnt be eating Locro any time soon.

And I was right, its been probably eight years or so since those trips and in that time I’ve grown to miss Locro. I’d try to to explain to S how flavorful the worlds most boring stew was and I finally just had to break down and show her. Locro is simple, potatoes, onions, cumin, water, soft fresh cheese, a hit of milk and some small cubes of avocado and there it is. An Ecuadorian classic.

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Locro

Yield: 8 servings

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon achiote paste

1 large onion, medium dice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons aji paste

3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks (6 pieces per potato are ideal)

6 cups water

1 cup milk

Garnish:

chopped cilantro

queso fresco

green onion, sliced thin

In a large stockpot (8 quart), over medium heat, melt the butter and add achiote paste. Stir to combine, breaking up the achiote paste to smooth out. Add onion, garlic, cumin, salt and cook until onion becomes translucent. Add aji paste, stir to combine. Add potatoes, mix well and add water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20- 25 minutes until potatoes are just tender enough to mash. As soon as potatoes begin to soften, gently mash some of the potatoes with a potato masher, leaving some larger chunks and some mashed smaller. The goal here is to get about 1/3 of the potatoes mashed semi-fine, 1/3 small chunks, and the final 1/3 left in larger pieces. Stir in the milk and let simmer for 5 minutes before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro, queso fresco, and green onion.

*Usually, avocado is used to garnish the soup and in instead of chopped cilantro, its culantro which is not readily available unless you grow your own. Cilantro is the closest substitute we could find.

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Roasted Chayote Salad with Green Chile Dressing

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Chayote is one of those vegetables that was mostly relegated to soups in our house. I enjoyed their mild flavor and they were a nice addition to a vegetable soup, but that’s as far as it went. Then, one day we were watching PBS and Rick Bayless’ show was on where he made this salad. I was sold- so simple, yet a flavorful new- to- me way to enjoy this vegetable. Since then, I have made this roasted chayote salad twice, one on the grill which gave the chayote a nice, smoky flavor, and once roasted in the oven. My favorite was the grilled version, but the most accessible way is to use the oven.

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Roasted Chayote Salad with Green Chile Dressing

4 large chayotes, pitted and cut into ¾” pieces

2 tabl;espoons olive oil

Salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons green chile adobo

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus finely grated zest (just a little)

4 oz queso fresco, crumbled

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (convection setting works great for this) and adjust the rack to middle position.

In a large bowl, toss the chayote with olive oil, salt and pepper until coated. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and toss with the green chile adobo, lime juice and zest. Place in a serving dish and garnish with queso fresco and cilantro leaves.

 

Green Chile Dressing

½ head of garlic, skin on with cloves separated

4-5 fresh serrano chiles, stems removed

1 bunch cilantro, thick stems removed, roughly chopped

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, thick stems removed, roughly chopped

1 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

On a comal or in a large dry skillet, roast the garlic and chiles until soft and browned, about 10- 15 minutes.

As soon as garlic is cool enough to handle, remove skins and place all ingredients in a blender. Process until almost smooth. Transfer to a pint sized jar and store covered in the refrigerator.

*This will last several months in the refrigerator if it is covered with a layer of olive oil.

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Blood Orange Sparkling Wine Cocktail

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It’s our anniversary and we’ve been celebrating all weekend long. There’s a lot to toast to and even more to celebrate. These are happy times deserving of a special cocktail. Since it’s citrus season and blood oranges are abundant, why not? Gin is our spirit of choice and we had a smooth, subtle aromatic one on hand that paired well with the blood orange juice. Topped off with a sweeter sparkling wine, this cocktail it was fit for a celebration. Cheers!

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Blood Orange Sparkling Wine Cocktail

Yield: 2 servings

2 oz fresh squeezed blood orange juice

1 oz gin

1 oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio)

sparkling wine

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, except sparkling wine. Cover and shake until cold. Pour into two champagne coupes or other drinking vessel. Top with sparkling wine.

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Quinoa and Baby Kale Salad with Roasted Garlic Lime Dressing

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Since it’s been so warm lately, I wanted salad and a tangy vinaigrette. But, there are rules. This salad would have to be portable enough to take to lunch, not too fussy to assemble, and not get soggy. Kale is a good option since it’s hearty enough to be dressed ahead of time without turning into a wilted mess by lunchtime. Quinoa gives some heft, the roasted carrots lend a subtle sweetness, and the radish is nicely crisp. Toss with the roasted garlic lime vinaigrette and you’ve got a healthy lunch. It’s even better with some crusty bread slathered in salted butter and a glass of crisp white wine.

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If you’ve got some roasted vegetables leftover from last night’s dinner, this is the salad for you. Half of the work is done. I happened to have roasted carrots on hand so into the salad they went.  Almost any roasted vegetable could be substituted or added to this versatile salad.

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Quinoa and Baby Kale Salad with Roasted Garlic Lime Vinaigrette

Yield: 2 servings

1 cup cooked quinoa*

6 carrots, roasted

6 radishes, sliced thin or if very small, cut in half

Baby kale, 3 handfuls

4 tablespoons roasted garlic lime vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Lime Vinaigrette:

6-8 cloves roasted garlic

Juice of 1 lime plus zest

1 cup good quality olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except lime zest in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a jar or container and add the zest.

Assemble the Salad:

In a large mixing bowl, add the quinoa, kale, and vinaigrette. Toss to combine, then add the carrots and radish, toss lightly. Portion between two salad bowls. Enjoy!

*cook quinoa according to directions on the package. I use a rice cooker and a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. Make sure to rinse the quinoa in cold water to get rid of bitterness before cooking. To the quinoa and water, I also add a dash of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt to ensure the quinoa is easily fluffed and seasoned.

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Hot Chocolate Cakes

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I would consider myself to be chocolate’s #1 fan. As in stalker-like. I’m dedicated and rarely stray from chocolate related desserts. It’s a fact that I will always order the chocolate tart, cake, ice cream, bread, cookies, chocolate whatever when dining out. It would only be fitting that I would spend my days pondering ways to remake the same satisfyting dessert that I love, the molted chocolate cake. Here, I’ve incporporated ancho chile powder into the batter which gives a hint of heat and when combined with espresso powder, it really rounds out the flavor of the entire cake.

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Hot Chocolate Cakes adapted form Martha Stewart Living:

yield: 6 individual servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature + additional for coating muffin tins

1/3 cup sugar + additional for dusting buttered tins

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup all- purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 ½ teaspoons ancho chili powder

¼ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter and sugar a standard 6 cup muffin tin and set aside. Melt chocolate over a bain marie (double boiler) or in the microwave.

In a bowl, combine flour, salt, espresso powder and ancho chili powder. Mix with a whisk. Using a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and mix until completely incorporated. Add flour mixture and beat until combined. Add chocolate and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Spoon into prepared muffin tins, filling almost to the top.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cakes are just firm enough not to jiggle when tin is shaken. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before unmolding.

To serve, spoon ganache over each cake and enjoy immediately.

 

Ganache:

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

5 oz heavy cream

In a small pot, bring the cream to right before a boil. Pour over chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds. Gently stir with a rubber spatula until all of the chocolate is melted. Set ganache aside to cool and thicken.

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Martinez Cocktail

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With renewed interest in quality cocktails and small batch liquors there is no shortage of trendy bars around town. Classic cocktails have stood the test of time for a reason and we always find ourselves coming back to them. However, as much fun as it is to go out once in a while, when we want a no frills serious drink made in the classic style, we make it at home. The Martinez is the older, more mature cousin of the martini made with sweet vermouth. This drink is heavier on vermouth than gin, thus a bit sweeter but nevertheless well rounded with a slight bitter finish.

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 Martinez Cocktail:

yield: 1 serving

2 oz Carpano Antica

1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin

splash Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

dash orange bitters (we used homemade orange lavendar)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add 2 handfuls ice. Stir gently until mixture is chilled and strain into a glass. Cheers!

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Caramel Cream Puffs

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What does one take to a dinner party when asked to make a dessert? Well, many things come to mind such as a fudge cake, macarons, kouign amann, sopaipillas, etc… Really, the options are endless; unless you get the request the night before. And, to put the squeeze on, you’re completely swamped with miscellaneous to-do the following day with no time to go to the market. So, the possibilities here have become limited to say the least. I scoured the pantry for something I could make with what I had on hand. Luckily, I got help with a market run for some cream and immediately got to work. Cream puffs to the rescue! Big relief and as it turned out, a crowd pleaser. Crisis averted.

These gems are made extra special with the addition of miniature chocolate chips and pearl sugar on the outside for a nice crunch. Inside, it’s all about the rich and fluffy caramel cream filling.

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Choux Pastry:

from Lenotre

yield: approximately 5 dozen

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 tsp sugar

1 cup + scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 eggs

Bring water, milk, and salt to a boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the flour. Return to the heat for 1 minute, stirring with a spatula until the liquid evaporates. Pour the batter into a mixing bowl fitted with the whip attachment and incorporate 2 eggs. Add 2 more eggs and whip until combined. Add the last egg and stop beating as soon as the mixture becomes homogenous.

Place choux batter into a pastry bag with a plain round tip. Pipe 1- 1/2″ mounds onto a parchment lined sheetpan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffed. Let cool on a wire rack.

Caramel Sauce:

*From My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream

Spread the sugar in a large skillet or wide saucepan and pour the water over it. Heat the sugar over medium heat, swirling the pan very gently, just enough to moisten the sugar with the water.

Once the sugar is moistened and starting to cook, swirl the pan only if there are dry spots of sugar that aren’t melting. Continue to cook the sugar until it begins to darken. Watching carefully, gently swirl the pan, only if necessary, so it cooks evenly. (If the sugar begins to crystallize, continue cooking, stirring only if you see very dark burnt spots appearing, and the crystals should eventually smooth out).

When the caramel is a deep amber color and begins to smoke, remove the pan from the heat and drop in the cubes of butter. Stir with a whisk until butter is completely melted, the gradually whisk in the cream and stir until smooth. If the sauce seizes up, gently warm it over low heat and it will begin to smooth out. Transfer to a heat proof container and let cool to room temperature.

Caramel Cream Filling:

16 oz heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 cup caramel sauce, room temperature

Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar until medium stiff. The cream should hold its shape but not be too stiff and look like butter. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the caramel sauce into the whipped cream until combined. Fill a pastry bag with the cream, set aside while you prepare the choux for filling.

Using a pastry tip, poke a hole in the bottom of the choux pastry and fill with caramel cream. You’ll know the cavity is full when the choux becomes heavy.

*It is best to prepare the cream puffs 1 hour prior to consuming to allow the flavors to permeate and slightly soften the choux. Keeping them uncovered in a cool room until ready to enjoy will yield the best results.

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Smashed Potatoes with Spicy Rocoto Cream Sauce

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If you were to open my refrigerator and poke around on any day, there are a few staples that can always be found. Today, two weeks from now, next month, etc… potatoes have a permanent place in the bottom drawer. I especially love the miniature variety which can easily be turned into delicious bites and festive party snacks.

I used rocoto (South American chile pepper) paste here to make the spicy cream sauce which went especially well with these smashed potatoes. This sauce gets into the crevices of the crunchy potato skins and practically melts into the tender parts.

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Roasted Potatoes with Spicy Rocoto Sauce:

Yield: 12- 14 individual potatoes

1 bag small potatoes (or a dozen miniature potatoes)

3 tablespoons olive oil

sea salt to taste

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sliced chives

Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Scrub potatoes clean, place in a medium size pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes ot until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.

Line a sheet pan with foil and spread the potatoes out. Using a drinking glass or vessel with a flat bottom, gently flatten each potato. Brush the tops of the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes until golden brown and skins begin to crisp.

Rocoto Cream Sauce:

1/2 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, rough chopped

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

5 oz queso fresco

4 tablespoons rocoto paste

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil

2 water crackers (saltines also work)

Heat one teaspoon grapeseed oil in a small skillet and add onion, garlic, and salt. Cook on medium-low heat, until onions become soft and translucent, do not brown. Set aside.

In a blender, combine onion mixture with all other ingredients and puree until smooth. Sauce will be on the thick side (ketchup consistency), it should not be runny. If sauce is too loose, add another cracker and blend until smooth. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. If the sauce is made the night before, bring to room temperature before using.

To assemble, place potatoes on a platter and top with a generous spoonful of rocoto cream sauce. Garnish with chives and enjoy immediately.

*Make the rocoto sauce ahead of time and assemble as soon as the potatoes are roasted.

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