Auntie Jo’s Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

dessert party dip

You know those bright orange nut covered softball-sized balls of cheese that make a terrifying appearance around the holidays?  Well this is not one of those.

cheesecake ball with cookiesThis is creamy, sweet, chocolate goodness.  This is a deconstructed cheesecake.  This is your chance to skip the cake and just eat cream cheese frosting with your fingers.

I love dessert parties.  Why don’t we have more dessert parties?  Spiked cocoa, mocha truffles, white Russians, caramel apples, Champagne, carrot cupcakes, mulled wine, macaroons.  And Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball. What better way to spend Halloween than inviting a few friends and getting sugared up, adult style?

Beautifully retro, this Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball is a serious crowd pleaser. Which, I’m sure, is why Jeff’s Auntie Jo picked this, of all her recipes, to share with me. She tucked her cute little recipe card right in with a wedding shower gift. Auntie Jo suggests spreading it onto graham crackers, but I like Nilla wafers myself.  Jeff is a big fan of the Nilla ‘wich, with plenty of creamy goodness smeared inside.

cookie sandwich with cream cheese filling

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups mini chocolate chips, divided

1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Nilla wafers or graham crackers for serving

Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in the sugars, vanilla, and half of the chocolate chips.  Divide the mixture in two.  Using plastic wrap, roll each half into  a ball.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Remove from the fridge and roll one ball in the remaining chocolate chips, and the other in the chopped nuts.  Refrigerate for another hour.  Remove from the fridge a few minutes before serving with the wafers or graham crackers.

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 7:24 pm  Comments (22)  
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Baby Artichoke Crostini

baby artichokes

You know my favorite thing about living in Boston?  The Haymarket.  Back in the day, in the 1800s, the Haymarket was the place to shop in Boston, with pushcarts crowding the square. Today, the Haymarket boasts rows of tarp-covered produce stalls, run by vendors who purchase the leftovers from local distributors.  Occasionally the produce can be a bit over-ripe, but it’s always a great deal. The produce bargains almost make up for the outrageous Boston rent.  Almost. Last weekend I bought a dozen apples, a pound of salad greens, a bunch of carrots, a bag of onions, an avocado, a handful of chilis, a pineapple, a pint of figs and a dozen baby artichokes, all for $11. 

baby artichoke crostiniWhen I saw the baby artichokes I couldn’t resist.  Artichokes, which are typically considered in-season in early spring, have a second, lighter crop in the fall.  And baby artichokes, in their tender sweetness, are a special indulgence which usually cost a fortune.  A dozen for a dollar was quite a bargain! Baby artichokes are lovely braised in wine and garlic, but today I was in the mood for something a bit lighter, and a bit more portable.  We’ve been taking advantage of the crisp fall weather and having wine and nibbles on our roof deck, and these artichoke crostini are a perfect hors d’oeuvre.

It’s important to slice the baby artichokes very thin, and to let them sit in the vinaigrette for at least a half an hour to soften and absorb the flavor of the balsamic. Eaten raw, the fresh, clean taste of the artichokes shines. You could certainly add a few shavings of pecorino romano if you like, but I think these crostini are beautifully simple and wonderfully flavorful as is. 

artichoke brushetta

Baby Artichoke Crostini

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer

4 baby artichokes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

12 thin (about 1/4 inch) slices baguette, toasted

1 clove garlic, peeled and halved

Remove the outer leaves from the artichokes.  Cut off the top of each artichoke and trim the bottoms.  Thinly slice the artichokes (use a mandoline slicer if you have one).  Toss the artichokes with the oil and vinegar.  Add salt to taste. Let the artichokes marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Add the basil to the artichoke mixture just before serving,

Rub the toasted bread with the garlic and then discard the rest of the garlic clove.  Top each piece of toast with a spoonful of the artichoke mixture.  Serve immediately.

babay artichoke salad

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 5:09 am  Comments (24)  
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Homemade Fig Newtons

homemade fig newtons

I am a big fan of cookie dunking.  We’ve covered my need to dunk before (when I talked about my hamantaschen recipe, which you can find here) but such a contentious topic deserves a bit more attention.

You see, Jeff is firmly anti-dunking.  He likes cookies best in their natural state and finds the sweet softness of a dunked confection to be unappetizing at best and downright nauseating at worst.  For Jeff this, as with most food-related aversions, is a texture issue.  And it’s no shock that he lives in fear of soggy cookies since he is the same man who removes the submerged toast from his French onion soup before digging in. 

homemade fig newtonsBut for me, the marriage of cookie and beverage is the best part of the whole cookie experience.  But not all cookie and beverage combinations are created equal.  To my mind, certain drinks call out for certain cookies.  For example, the classic combination of biscotti and cappuccino works wonderfully because the airy foam softens the hard cookie just enough to produce a mouth-watering crumb.  But rusks, the extra-hard South African cousin of biscotti, are best dunked in hot tea, as the jaw-breaking biscuit benefits greatly from the tea’s softening powers. Nice, crisp gingersnaps also work well dunked in tea as they retain their form and bite.  Hot chocolate is best with a square of buttery shortbread, which not only stands up to the heat, but soaks in the chocolate flavor making the cookie itself doubly intense.

Of course, chocolate chip cookies are destined for a swim in a nice tall glass of milk.  The cool milk cuts through the richness of the cookie, and works particularly well when the cookie is warm. There are, in fact, a whole school of traditional American cookies that beg for a glass of cold milk; graham crackers, peanut butter cookies (super easy recipe here), and Fig Newtons among others.

As a kid I was never a big fan of Fig Newtons.  In my mind they fell into the dreaded category of “healthy treats” simply because fruit was involved.  I probably hadn’t had a Fig Newton in twenty years until a few weeks ago, when stuck starving on the tarmac on a delayed flight, I accepted a generous gift from the gentleman in the seat next to me. Not bad, but as I sat in my tight middle seat on that 747, longing for a glass of milk, I pondered how to make new and improved Fig Newtons at home.  Convenient that I had just made a batch of quick fig jam!

homemade fig newtonsFresh figs and a flaky dough are a definite improvement over the sticky sweet filing and squishy texture of the packaged version. These cookies are just perfect with a glass of milk.  The texture holds up well to dunking and the cold milk does wonders for the rich, buttery dough. I used fresh Calimyrna figs for the simple filling here. Sweet, nutty, and thin-skinned, these light green figs are perfect for snacking and also perfect for a quick-fix fig jam. Feel free to substitute any other figs you like. And in a pinch, jarred fig preserves will do just fine.

Homemade Fig Newtons

2 cups chopped Calimyrna figs

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 cup flour (plus extra for dusting)

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup sugar

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

2-3 tablespoons milk

In a small saucepan over low heat, cook the figs, water, and brown sugar, stirring occasionally, for about 30-40 minutes, until very soft. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and sugar to mix. Cut the butter in small chunks and add to the flour mixture. Pulse until the butter is well incorporated and the mixture is sandy in texture. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time, and pulse just until the dough comes together. You may not need all of the milk. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and form into a ball, kneading once or twice, just until the ball holds together. Quickly roll out the dough into a long rectangle about 1/6 inch thick. Cut the rectangle in half. On one half of the dough, spread half of the fig mixture. Fold the dough over the fig mixture and pinch to close. Cut in 1-2 inch bars. Repeat with remaining dough and jam. Bake on a greased cookie sheet 20-25 minutes until lightly brown. Cool and serve with a glass of milk.

I featured these fig bars in my column in the Dedham Transcript this month. Check out the article here.

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (30)  
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Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza

pizza on the grill

Between magazines, recipe books, newspapers, and blogs, I see a lot of recipes. Culinary inspiration is everywhere.  In fact, it’s hard to escape.  We mark pages and jot down ingredients, and sometimes it turns into dinner.  But most of the time, all of those exciting new recipes languish in the recipe box while we eat meatloaf. 

coconut milk and basilWhich is why I’m amazed when a recipe goes viral.  Without a blog post or a blurb in a magazine, or a mention by a celebrity chef, a dish can take off.  A happy accident at a dinner party turns into a shared recipe served at a dozen more dinner parties, and that dozen begets a hundred.  You get the idea. 

My step dad’s peanut sauce is one of those recipes, famous with family and friends – and friends of friends of friends.  I told you all about Chuck’s peanut sauce a few months ago (check out the recipe here). It’s awesome as a dip, fantastic tossed with soba noodles, and great on grilled shrimp.  And it makes an amazing Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza. 

peanut sauce on pizza This pizza is really all about the sauce – and the grill.  Crisp, slightly charred crust and rich, spicy sauce make for a serious crowd pleaser.  The idea here is to use just enough cheese for texture, and just enough onions to cut through the richness of the cheese and sauce.  The chicken adds to the heartiness of the pizza, but you could leave it off, or better yet, replace it with some grilled shrimp if you like. I love the delicate sweetness of purple basil for the garnish, but any variety of fresh basil will do here.  Or go for cilantro instead, if you have that in the fridge. 

This is one of Jeff’s favorite football-watching snacks.  And if you were ambitious, you could even turn this pizza into tailgate fare.  I’d probably make the peanut sauce in advance and just grill the chicken and the pizza on the spot.

thai chicken pizza

Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza

Serves 4-6

2 cups Peanut Sauce (see recipe here)

1 pound fresh pizza dough

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 boneless skinless chicken breast

1/4 pound thinly sliced provolone cheese

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Divide the dough in half.  Roll out each half to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thickness.  (You can make one big pizza, but it will be harder to flip the dough)

Preheat and grease the grill. Grill the chicken, basting twice with 1/4 cup peanut sauce, until no longer pink inside. Slice the chicken.

Brush a bit of oil on one side of each crust and transfer, oil side down, to the grill. Cook 5 minutes, brush remaining oil on other side of each one, and flip. Quickly spread the remaining sauce on the cooked side of the crust, top with chicken, onions and cheese, close the grill and cook until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, sprinkle with basil, slice and serve.

A version of this pizza landed me a spot in the Cavit Wine’s Gourmet Pizza Classic Finals.  Chick here to check it out.

Published in: on October 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm  Comments (25)  
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Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tarte Tatin

french apple tart

I have a long, long list of recipes I want to try.  Some dishes have been on my to-make list for years, others are newcomers. But rummaging through this collection of old recipe cards and magazine pages and newspaper clippings, I realized that almost all of these recipes are classics.  They are the pearl necklaces, the Hermes scarves, the Chanel suits of the recipe world. 

french apple tart recipeOh, sure… back in the day I put a homemade squid ink pasta on that list, but somewhere along the line, squid ink pasta and uramaki gave way to Boeuf Bouguignon and Pain au Chocolat.  Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been away from France this long since my very first visit two decades ago.  Maybe it’s my body’s natural tendency to crave butter.  But either way, my to-make list looks an awful lot like the greatest hits of Julia Child.

In an effort to chip away at the list, and because a trip to the Haymarket yesterday resulted in more apples than my little kitchen can hold, I finally decided to tackle the iconic Tarte Tatin.  My first bite of this simple, sweet apple tart was in a tiny cafe in Paris, thirteen years ago.   I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember that tart.  And years later, when I went hunting for a recipe, I searched and searched, unable to believe that the handful of ingredients in a typical Tarte Tatin could have produced such flavor.  It has taken me years to get around to the tart, but I have to admit that I was still skeptical yesterday as I unfolded that old recipe from the March 2001 Gourmet Magazine.

apple tartOK, here’s the part where you must do as I say, not as I do.  You must follow the recipe.  Read the recipe, and do what it says.  Why is it never that simple?  In this case, the recipe clearly states that one should use a 10-inch skillet.  Well, I have an 8-inch skillet and never even gave the whole thing a second thought.  Even as I struggled (and failed) to fit into the pan as many apples as the recipe calls for, I chalked it up to big apples. 

But here’s the problem: more caramel + fewer apples + less surface area = a gooey mess.  It was an amazingly tasty gooey mess, but a mess nonetheless.  In fact, it was a bit of a dangerous mess.  You see, flipping the contents of a hot cast iron skillet onto a platter is no easy task in the best of circumstances.  My fearless (and strong) husband was up to the task of flipping.  But as he turned the 25-pound skillet upside down, a mess of hot caramel leaked out all over the counter (thankfully he is not only strong, but has quick reflexes and the piping hot caramel covered only the counter top and not his entire arm).

But the caramel debacle aside, this tart is spectacular.  You might serve a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream along side, but it really needs nothing.  Like so many classics, it is pure and simple.  Tarte Tatin is just exactly what it is – apples and flaky pastry.  Nothing more, nothing less.  We may never know exactly how the Tatin sisters made their tart, but if it was anything like this modern version, I can understand why the recipe has lingered for so many years.

french apple tart

Tell me, do you have a list of recipes just waiting for a lazy Sunday?  What does your list look like?  Does it involve as much butter as my list?

Tarte Tatin

Adapted From Gourmet Magazine

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

7 Gala apples peeled, quartered and cored

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch oven safe skillet. Remove from the heat and stir the sugar into the butter. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of the skillet. Arrange as many apples as will fit on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles.

Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and very carefully lay pastry round over apples. Bake tart until the pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the skillet to a rack and cool about 30 minutes (if you leave the tart much longer than 30 minutes, set the pan over low heat to re-warm the caramel and loosen the tart before removing from the pan).

Just before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. Serve immediately.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 4:01 pm  Comments (25)  
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