Dec 20, 2012

Liebster Award

I was pretty stoked the other day when I heard that Kathy from Food Wine Thyme nominated me for the Liebster award.  I had recently tried a recipe from her blog (mushroom gravy over quinoa) and it was a HUGE success.  In fact all of her recipes look fantastic and healthy, gotta love that.  Especially considering the fact that eating dessert everyday has now become my hobby.

The Liebster award from what I can gather is more of a nomination from a fellow blogger than an actual award where you go to a fancy dinner and get dressed up and say thank you to your Kitchen Aid and spatula for all their hard work and dedication.   This nomination has more of a chain letter effect.  A fellow blogger nominates you, then you must nominate 11 other people, and so on and so on.  Round and round we go.  Weeee.

Even if I don't get to walk the red carpet, the award is still a great opportunity to connect with other food bloggers.  We are literally working from all corners of the earth, all with the same focus (to share awesome food inspiration) and with this nomination, we are able to share our favorite blogs with our readers, and hopefully that will inspire you too.

So here's how it works:

  1. Write 11 random facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the 11 interview questions you’ve been given by the person who nominated you.
  3. Create 11 new questions.
  4. Nominate 11 bloggers and mention them in your post.
  5. Go and tell the person who nominated you, along with the people you’ve nominated about your post.
11 Random facts about myself:
  1. I always have peanut M&M's in the armrest of my car.  Always.  I have an insatiable sweet tooth and must have sugar at arm's length.  M&M's are the only chocolate that won't melt in the car.  Especially in Dubai where the temperature is set to broil 8 months out of the year.
  2. I hate washing dishes and will not buy a dish or glass if it says 'not dish washer safe' who has time for that?!
  3. I would rather butcher a fish (and I'm a vegetarian, mind you) than bake with imitation vanilla flavoring.   
  4. I am married to a man who says cream cheese frosting is too sweet.  It just kills me.
  5. If you follow my blog you my know that Martha Stewart is my hero.  I love her and have been a fan for years.  I love her products, her over-all brand identity, her ego, everything.  BUT, I am terrified to meet her in person (not like she invited me over or anything).  I know the moment I see her I will be like 'ohmygod MARTHA I LOVE YOU' and start gushing about how she is the reason I went into design, and how I have tested all her recipes, buy her books, etc.  I would probably say (stutter) this in a matter of seconds and completely embarrass myself.  She would walk away thinking 'god what a weirdo.'  I don't want that to be my Martha-Moment.
  6. If Hilary Clinton were to run for president in 2016 I would probably drop whatever I was doing and work for her campaign. 
  7. Rachel Maddow can talk for hours about anything, even something random like the evolution of the rubber band and I would listen.  She makes everything easy which in turn makes you feel smart because you actually get what she's saying.  Before becoming a Rachel groupie, fiscal cliffs were mumbo-jumbo to me.
  8. Besides being a food blogger I'm also a contributing editor for Mother Baby & Child Magazine.  Butter and Babies, that's my life.
  9. My dream job is to work as a recipe tester.  All I want to do is bake.  All. Day. Long.  Food Network, Hershey, Martha, please feel free to contact me anytime.
  10. I would be a horrible cooking show host.  I've secretly tried to do this in my kitchen when I'm baking.  By myself.  Oh God that is embarrassing.  I can't talk and whisk at the same time.
  11. I've saved the best for last.  You know that white squiggly-thing inside an egg when you crack it open?  I always always always remove it.  Whether I'm baking or making scrambled eggs.  When I was younger my babysitter told me it's rooster sperm (sorry I had to say it, there is no polite way).  I'm wise enough now to know it's not THAT.  In actuality it's the umbilical cord, which is just as gross to me.  Plus I do know (because I've asked) pastry chef's remove it as well, especially when preparing custard.  So there.
Questions addressed to me from Food Wine Thyme:

What is your favorite dish and why?
My Dad's homemade spaghetti sauce. The first bite always takes me back to my childhood watching him stir and stir and stir in the kitchen. 
Why did you start your blog?
It gave me a reason to bake everyday, to share insight (and laughs) and learn more about a passion that has become part of who I am. 
What would be your dream vacation?
I've been very lucky in my life to visit to some of the most beautiful places in the world.  And currently I'm living in a top tourist destination!  So a dream vacation for me would be to take my son to Washington D.C. to tour the White House (I have tried to teach him to say Obama, but it's more like Omama and spend a few days at the Smithsonian.
What would you do with $250,000?
My husband would give the shirt off his back to anyone.  In fact he did so a few weeks back when my son had an 'accident' and we didn't have any extra clothes packed in the car.  I didn't think it would be possible to fall more in love with him than I already am (awww) but at that moment he won over my heart again.  I know more than anything he'd like to have a nice watch but would never spend the money on himself.  So if I had the extra cash I would buy him one.  Okay let's be realistic, not going to spend the entire $250,000 on a watch, I'm not loony.
What scares you the most?
Those weird bugs that live in flour.  Where do they come from?!?!  Please someone tell me you know what I'm talking about.  I've only seen them twice in my life but ugh they are horrible and disgusting.  If you read my blog you know I'm crazy about sifting flour.  This is another good reason to get into the habit.  I bought some locally packaged flour (not sure of the origin though) a few months back and the bag was full of them.  Had I not sifed the flour I might not have seen them.
What is your ideal job?
Recipe tester for Martha Stewart Magazine.  In New York.  And I have to take the subway and/or walk to work.  Now that is ideal.
What does your perfect day look like?
Cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms.  Hah!  Sorry I am not a the-sun-is-shinning-let's-go-sing-in-the-park kind of girl.  But that is mostly because living in Dubai we've got sunshine 365 days out of the year.  Clouds add texture and crunch, if you want to compare them to food.
Pasta or Potatoes?
Gnocchi!  Pasta & Potatoes!  The best of both worlds.
When it comes to spicy food how much heat can you handle?
I tried to 'heat-it-up' in India once.  You know, when in Rome.  Yeh, I was sick the rest of the trip so my heat tolerance is minimal. 
Favorite dish at a restaurant?

I will eat Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) any chance I get.  I love the mini-facial from the steam off the bowl.  It's a guaranteed tummy-pleaser.
Favorite spice/seasoning to use?
I put ground cumin and coriander in everything (well not when baking obviously!) they are so versatile and work beautifully together, especially in veggie and egg dishes.
Questions for my nominees:
  1. What is your favorite childhood food-related memory?
  2. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  3. What is one dish/dessert you're too intimidated to try and make yourself at home?
  4. If you only had space for one extra kitchen appliance (besides the oven/range/fridge) what would it be and why? 
  5. What's the most memorable feedback you've received from one of your readers with regards to your blog?
  6. If you could attend a private one-on-one class with any chef/food personality in the world, who would it be, and what would you want them to teach you?
  7. If you were offered to write a cookbook, what style of food/technique would be your topic?
  8. Favorite street food?
  9. What is a tip you can offer that you didn't know about until you started writing your blog?
  10. Do you feel the cupcake had it's 15 minutes of fame?  What do you think the new trend in desserts will be?
  11. Last minute guest are coming over for dinner.  What can you prepare in a snap? 

My nominees (drum roll please...........)

Cookie Madness
Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
Stacey Snacks
My Custard Pie
Brownies for Dinner
One Lovely Life
Skinny Mom
Confessions of an Overworked Mom
I live in a Frying Pan
Erin's Food Files
Sugar Plum

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!  Looking forward to another butter-filled year in 2013!
Lots of love, Gina

Dec 19, 2012

Tarboosh S'mores

It's winter and it's cold out...maybe your fireplace is crackling (well not here in Dubai, unless it's one of those flat screen tv fireplaces) and Christmas is right around the corner, so you know what that means. Tarboosh Time!
For all my non-Lebanese readers, let me explain the Tarboosh.  It is the sweetest thing to come from Lebanon...well, except for my husband that is.  Ha. Ha. Ha.  The bottom layer is a thin sweet wafer, similar to a sugar wafer (just without the filling).  Piled on top is mound of pillowy, sticky sweet marshmallow cream, then the whole thing gets covered in a paper-thin layer of chocolate.  They are extremely delicate and you're lucky if you are able to open one from its foil wrapper without crushing the thin coating.  But it doesn't matter you'll be licking off every last bit of whatever gets stuck.  Definitely part of the fun.  Even for Grandpa. 
The tarboosh is a childhood staple for the Lebanese.  It's a seasonal treat that is only produced in the winter so when you see that bright yellow box on the shelves you know the festive season has arrived.
You may recall last year I made Tarboosh cupcakes
It was pretty fun to watch them puff up in the oven, seriously we almost had a marshmallow invasion.  This year when I decided to attempt Tarboosh S'mores, I thought it might be better to limit the amount of time they remain in the oven.  They burn quite quickly so you have to move fast.  But the result was heavenly.  And gooey.
Just a bit of advice.  If you do plan to make these, I suggest baking right before serving.  They are best eaten straight from the oven, hot and melty.  Be prepared for the smell of burnt marshmallow to consume your kitchen (the good kind of burnt smell) making you feel like a kid (or Girl Scout) again.  Finger-licking is quite required here. 
Tarboosh S'mores
makes 15 bars
For the cookie base:
4 ounces butter, room temperature
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or digestive biscuits)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200 grams dark chocolate
15 Tarboosh  *if you're in Dubai, you can purchase Tarboosh at Lifco.  There is a location on SZ road and also a new one in Al Barsha 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  *as you can see in the photo my cookie base was fairly thick.  If you prefer a thinner base use a 8 x 8 inch pan, however you will have enough dough to make two batches.
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugars, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the egg and vanilla.


Add the graham cracker crumbs to a large bowl. Add the salt and sift in the the flour and baking powder. 
Whisk to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two additions. Mix together until you get a doughy mix.  Transfer the dough to your prepared baking dish.  Using your fingers, gently press the dough into the pan to create a smooth, even layer.  **if you prefer a thinner cookie base, divide the dough into 2 equal portions.  Place half the dough into a prepared 8 x 8 dish and follow the directions below, using half of the chocolate and half the tarboosh.  Repeat with the remaining dough, chocolate, and tarboosh for a second batch.

If using a 9 x 13 pan, your dough will be about 1/4 inch thick.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and turn on the broiler (or increase the heat to the hottest setting, about 500 degrees F).

Immediately place the dark chocolate on top of the cookie base in an even layer.  Don't worry if there are gaps.  Let the chocolate sit on the hot cookie for 5 minutes to melt.
Using an offset spatula, gently smooth out the melted chocolate to cover the entire cookie base in a thin, even layer.


Unwrap the tarboosh and place (bottom side down) on top of the chocolate.  Don't over-crowd the pan as they will melt and slightly sink in the oven.

Place the pan back in the oven until the tops of the tarboosh slightly start to scorch.  Don't let them completely burn, just get a nice color going.  This can take anywhere from 3-5 minutes.  Try to not get distracted and go do something else, they can burn in a split second.
Serve immediately and enjoy!

cookie base recipe from Lilac City Momma

Dec 9, 2012

Oh-ho-ho now that's a Christmas Trifle

Trifle's have become my new BFF this past year.  If you're a follower of the blog you know I say that quite often.  Trifle's have all the qualities of cake, but look and taste even my opinion anyway.  AND, there's no added stress of trying to frost a cake like a champ.  I still tend to frost cakes like I'm wearing a blindfold.  Yeh, we'll work on that in 2013.  But for now, it's still the year-o-trifle.
I love the flexibility of a trifle.  You can add just about anything.  Left-over candy (who am I kidding, there is no such thing...just go buy your favorite), chopped and toasted nuts, broken up cookies, anything.  And, there are NO rules!  Add whatever you like or whatever you have on hand.  You can use any kind of cake, whether it's a sheet cake, angel food, or even a batch of brownies.  The options are limitless. 
If you must be healthy (at least wait until January!) you can substitute the whipped cream for fat-free cool whip and add fruit instead of candy.  For this trifle I used a white chocolate-cream cheese-mascarpone filling (wow, I know).  If you wanted to lighten it up (::sigh:: if you must) swap out the filling for a sugar free/fat free jello pudding that is white in color such as the coconut or cheesecake flavors.  Add the green and red food coloring and it's ho-ho-ho time.
Christmas Trifle
1 chocolate cake, baked and cooled.  (a typical 9x13 sheet cake will be more than enough.  I used the Chocolate Sour Cream Cake)
Hershey's syrup (to squeeze over the cake to act like 'glue')
1 (9.2 ounce) bag Nestle Crunch Jingles, coarsely chopped (or any chocolate candy, your preference)
M&M's or any kind of festive colored candy for garnish
For the filling:
1 cup cream cheese
1 cup mascarpone
400 grams white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
red and green food coloring (I used Wilton's gel colors)
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Marshmallow Snowmen:
approx 20 marshmallows
royal icing
orange and black food coloring (I used Wilton's gel colors)
For the marshmallow snowmen, prepare a batch of royal icing, or pick up a tube of the pre-made frosting in the cake decorating isle.  Buy the white color and dye a small batch of black and orange at home.  You need a very tiny amount of icing for these snowmen so it may not be necessary to prepare an entire batch of royal icing.  I did, but that is only because I'm decorating sugar cookies later in the week.  It's up to you!  I used the recipe from Sweetopia, which you can find here.
I used a number 2 tip for his eyes, and a number 3 tip for the nose.  I found that keeping the snowmen in a muffin tin helped keep them straight and made decorating much easier.
To prepare the filling, place the white chocolate in a heat safe bowl.
Microwave for one minute.  Stir and microwave again for 30 seconds.  Stir and microwave in 10 second intervals (stirring after each interval) until the chocolate is smooth.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Add the cream cheese and mascarpone to the bowl of a stand-up mixer. 
Beat on medium high until creamy and smooth. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and mix until combined.
Equally divide the filling in two separate bowls.  Add the red and green food coloring to each, using a toothpick to transfer the color from the pot to the bowl.  Add color slowly in small amounts, stirring after each addition until you've reached the desired color.  Set aside.
To prepare the whipped cream, place the bowl of a stand up mixer along with the whisk attachment in the fridge for about 10 minutes to chill.  Remove from the fridge and add the heavy cream to the bowl.  Beat on the highest speed until soft peaks form. 
 Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat on high until stiff.
Cover the bottom of the trifle dish with a layer of cake.  Be sure to compact it down nice and tight.  Give a good squeeze of Hershey's syrup (aka glue).
 Next, sprinkle half of the candy:
Continue with the entire batch of the green-colored filling:
Add another layer of chocolate cake and push down to compact.  Give a good squeeze of the Hershey's syrup:
 Sprinkle on the remaining candy:
 Add the entire batch of the red-colored filling:
Add half of the whipped cream and place the snowmen around the edge of the bowl.  Add the remaining whipped cream and try to pile it on top like snow.  Use the back of a large spoon to smooth the whipped cream out.  Garnish with the colored candies.  I used a Hershey Kiss on top, but I think a candy star or maybe an edible chocolate tree ornament would be nice too. 
I always let my trifle's sit in the fridge for a few hours (over night is best) so the flavors can marry and get happy.
I would LOVE to see your variations of this recipe and what creative ideas you and your kiddos come up with!  Trifle's are awesome and I truly hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did!
Merry Christmas and ENJOY!

Dec 6, 2012

Hershey's Kisses Stuffed Brownie Bites with Salted Caramel AND Butterscotch Ganache

PHEW!  Can you seriously believe I managed to stuff all that into one little bite?

Well I did.  Neener-neener're in trouble.

Really the intent was to make this brownie bite minus the caramel, but after a test bake I realized that when you push the Hershey Kiss down in the brownie batter and leave it's little pokey-poke sticking out of the top, it bakes up with that little pokey-poke still pokin'...and with a crater.

So actually I was pretty excited to see that little hole.  Because you know what holes get to fill them!  With caramel, of course. 

I actually had an extra batch of salted caramel (doesn't everyone) that I have been meaning to use up so this was the perfect opportunity.  I could have stopped with the caramel and not added the butterscotch ganache, but why?  It's Christmas, let's ho-ho-ho it up.

This is the first time I ever tried Butterscotch ganache.  It can I put this to truly express how freaking amazing it is.  It smells of rum and marshmallows flavored with vanilla and buttery-oh-so-buttery, slightly caramelized sugar.  With a side of awesome.  Yeh, all in one bowl, can you believe that?

If you put these out for Santa he may leave you a Lamborghini.  Well unless the Mrs. has him on a high-fiber, low fat diet.  Then you're gettin' hangers.  Or socks.  OR socks on hangers.

Lastly, I can be reasonable.  If you don't want to add the caramel and are worried about the crater, it's okay.  There is a different way to fill the pan properly with the batter so this won't happen.  I will show you below.  But really, spread the love.  Spread the caramel.

Hershey's Kisses Stuffed Brownie Bites with Salted Caramel AND Butterscotch Ganache
makes about 36 mini brownies bites
printable version


For the Brownies:
1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
approx. 36 Hershey Kisses (I used the milk chocolate & white chocolate Hugs)
For the Butterscotch Ganache:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
Salted Caramel (optional)
colored sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini muffin pan with liners.  Set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer on medium speed until well incorporated.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
 Sift the cocoa into the wet mixture. 
Be sure to sift you cocoa, otherwise you could be adding in clumps like these:
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. 
Whisk to combine.

Gradually add the flour to the egg mixture, mixing until well blended. Do not over-beat.
Using a small spoon, carefully add the batter to the prepared pan.  Do not over fill or you will get muffin tops.  Not a good look.  Gently push down one Hershey Kiss into the center of each hole.  Don't push all the way to the bottom, just slightly submerge.
If you want the crater effect to fill with the caramel, leave the kiss exposed like this:
If you want a flat top, cover the candy with a bit of batter like this:
Bake for about 18-20 minutes until the top is slightly firm and not sticky.
Let the brownies cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
To prepare the ganache, place the butterscotch chips in a heat-safe bowl.  Add the heavy cream and butter to a small sauce pan.  Bring to a slight boil and remove from heat.  Pour directly over the chips and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Gently stir the mixture until smooth and shiny.
 If adding the caramel, gently fill the hole using a small spoon and smooth over the top evenly.
Dip the brownie upside down in the ganache and rotate slowly to cover evenly.  Place on a wire rack with a cookie sheet underneath to catch any drippings.
Sprinkle with color sugar or fancy-pants sprinkles.

Store in an airtight container...if you can keep them around long enough!   

Enjoy & Happy Holidays xxx

Brownie recipe courtesy of Hershey's