Maybe Milano Cookies


While waiting in line at the grocery store, I thumbed through the magazine Bake From Scratch - The French Issue for ideas. That's when I stumbled upon a cookie recipe that made me hop around like a little bird - "Langues de Chat." The translation is "cats tongue" which in itself would turn heads. For me, however, it stood out because I grew up eating Portuguese cookies with the same name ("linguas de gato"). They were a casual snack, nothing you would break out for guests at a dinner party. Could the French and Portuguese be using the same cookbook?

As it turns out, this recipe is a far cry from my childhood treat even though the ingredients are the same with varying ratios. The cookies I grew up eating were crunchy and small, more resembling a British biscuit than the traditional American cookie. These were much softer and larger in comparison.  I think it's all the same cookie but in this instance, the size makes all the difference!


Additionally, the French version has optional chocolate ganache on the side. I didn't find it necessary to enjoy but it was a thoughtful touch. A thoughtful and familiar touch... That's when it hit me. Light, buttery cookies. A dash of rich chocolate. If you put the two together... perhaps in a sandwich form.... you get something equally fantastic: 

MILANOS! 

I flipping love Milanos! My family has never been big on homemade desserts but we always put out a box of Pepperidge farm cookies for guests. Milanos were the crowd favorite and tasted incredible with a cup of strong coffee. I've had a homemade recipe bookmarked for months but never got around to it. It was simply meant to be! There are so many different versions out there - some call for confectioners sugar instead of regular, others use whole eggs instead of the whites. Regardless. This recipe makes some banger cookies.


What's most stunning is how easy they are to make. It's literally flour, sugar, unsalted butter, egg whites, a pinch of salt, and vanilla bean. So simple! A few minutes in the oven and your kitchen smells incredible. Bake them to meet your desired texture - a little longer for some crunch or a little less for a soft chew. And of course, if you want the traditional Portuguese version (example here), keep them tiny!

Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to the recipe online from the magazine but I won't leave you hanging! Check out this recipe for Milanos that is extremely similar in terms ingredients and I'm sure just as scrumptious! Enjoy!

Heather and Mike's Wedding Cake

Last year, I had the tremendous honor of making the wedding cake for one of my favorite couples, Heather and Mike. That's right, our husband's have the same first name - we must be on to something!  I offered my baking services as a wedding gift and was blown away when they accepted. There are tons of talented bakeries out there and I am so touched that they would trust me with such an awesome responsibility. It was time to roll up the sleeves and get serious.

The biggest obstacle was distance. Heather and Mike live in the Midwest and I am in Northern Virginia. How the heck does one pick their cake from their baker when they're thousands of miles apart? Fortunately, the beautiful couple knew that they wanted a chocolate cake with raspberries so that question was already answered - it was a matter of picking the right combination of recipes.
We only had one shot for a formal cake tasting when they visited VA shortly before the wedding. To expedite the process, I had pulled together an expert team of taste testers to form, "the Cake Committee." Based on the Committee's feedback, I had a strong recipe in mind but still wanted the bride and groom's full participation. As a blind taste test, I included two entirely new chocolate cake recipes and fillings with two frosting options. 

Much to my delight, they picked the same chocolate cake and Swiss buttercream frosting as the committee, both from Smitten Kitchen! As for the filling, the winner was Bonne Maman Natural Raspberry Preserves. This delicious and convenient spread beat out a fancy raspberry curd that I bought from an up-scale bake shop. Delicious doesn't have to be over-budget. The final cake was three tiered, two layers each with a 12 inch round base. There was a pan of sheet cake on deck just in case!
Now that the recipe was settled upon, it was time to strategize! The wedding was being held down near Richmond, about a two hour drive from our home, and there was no way a fully frosted cake would make it in our car. Luckily, the reception hall had a small kitchen and agreed to let us put the cake together on-site the night before. 

Three days before the wedding, I made a huge batch of Swiss buttercream and let it rest in the fridge, Two days before the wedding, all the cakes were made with extra layers as back up should something go wrong en route and mummified in saran wrap. We headed down to the in-laws to mitigate the impact of potential traffic. The day prior to the wedding was reserved solely for cake transportation and construction.
This was honestly a stress free experience thanks to careful planning and an INCREDIBLE support team. My husband jumped all in with cake transportation and set-up. For the life of me, I could not cut the cake skewers needed to stabilize all the layers of cake. Mike managed to find a box cutter at the reception hall and made it happen through sheer force. He also managed to find dinner that I wolfed down while the crumb coat set - I seriously cannot function without food. He is my biggest supporter and I cannot thank him enough for always helping out.

Additionally, my wonderful in-laws pitched in by emptying out their refrigerator to store the wedding cake. Their home was the in-between point between the reception hall and our house. You can never trust traffic on the highways out here and we left no room to chance. When we arrived, the contents of their fridge was distributed between coolers in the kitchen to make sure the entire cake fit. I couldn't ask for a more awesome family to marry into! 

There was one vital lesson learned - if you really want a white frosting - don't rely on butter. I thought it was the vanilla adding a slight hue but even with clear vanilla extract there was a noticeable tint. To ensure a snow white look, I resorted to a thin layer of marshmallow frosting covering up the beautiful Swiss buttercream right there in the reception hall. It was a snap decision and was much harder to stylize. We settled on horizontal stripes than the planned vertical lines. For a manageable white finish - use a frosting that is shortening based.
Adorned with purple and blue flowers, golden acorns, and tiny pine cones - this cake captured the natural simplicity and gentle spirit of Heather and Mike. It was an incredible ceremony and reception, filled with thoughtful accents of their journey together- from the dried Wyoming wildflowers to the cute puns on the buffet tables. You are amazing individuals and bring out the best in one another. Thank you both for believing in me! Sending much love and wishing you many happy anniversaries to come! 

PS. Mike, keep HB away from those darn moose! We can only handle so much wildlife!

Not-So-Bad-For-You Squash Pie


This healthy and delicious pie comes from the lovely chefs of True Food Kitchen. The first time we ate at True Food was last year in San Diego, CA. We found it by chance during a day trip and were immediately hooked on the concept: a menu built around an anti-inflammatory diet. This is a dream that I've been hoping would come true! Being able to walk into a restaurant and knowing that whatever you pick has actual nutritional benefits. What a relief!

The hubs and I are all about healthy eats so it's not wonder my in-laws are hooked as well. My father-in-law had a slice of the Squash Pie and raved about it for days after. Much to my delight and surprise, True Food Kitchen was kind enough to actually publish the recipe for public consumption!



This pie is "not-so-bad for you" which is not license to eat the whole thing in one sitting though you may be tempted. There's still a 3/4 cup of sugar in the mix. It's dessert after all people! 

What makes this pie less evil than other traditional pies is the lack of ingredients like condensed milk, half-and-half, and heavy cream. Instead, the recipe calls for coconut milk which has much more nutrients. The crust skirts away from butter and uses tahini (sesame paste) as a binding agent with a hint of sweetness from maple syrup, a natural sweetener. What I really enjoyed was the use of brandy because it smells so heavenly - it's like concentrated vanilla. Play with the spice ratio until you love the flavor of the mix - you know me and the cinnamon!


The other perk is that if you use the vegan graham crackers in the crust - than you can serve this pie to a vegan audience! Don't wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy a slice! It tastes great with a scoop of vanilla gelato or a big dollop of coconut whipped cream. Personally, I enjoyed it after a thorough chilling in the fridge.

Have a fantastic week!

Not-So-Bad-For-You Squash Pie
from True Food Kitchen

Crust
1 packages vegan graham crackers, pulverized
2 tablespoons sesame tahini
 2 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 tablespoon grape seed oil

For the crust, blend all ingredients until well combined. Press the crust into a pan and up the sides.  Bake crust for 15 minutes at 325 degrees, until the crust is dry and crisp. Set aside.

Filling
3 cups pureed squash — chef Cory Holland recommends butternut
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brandy
3/4 cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
scant dash of nutmeg, if desired

For the filling, bake a whole squash (butternut, buttercup, Hubbard, Tahitian, etc.) at 375 degrees wrapped in aluminum file until it is soft enough to pierce easily with a toothpick (about an hour). Cool, cut in half, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. Mash the flesh and measure out three cups.

Blend the squash with the remaining ingredients until smooth and pour the mixture into the baked crust. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until browned and set. Cool at room temperature and then chill overnight in the refrigerator. Serve cold or cool with a dollop of sweetened, whipped coconut cream. Holland adds vanilla bean paste to his whipped coconut cream.

Staying In for Korean BBQ

My circle of friends have one shared interest that really brings us together: food. We. Love. Good. Food. It's not a celebration if there's not a nosh. Our potlucks have assignments and themes. Everyone is eager to try one another's cuisine and yell for the recipe. Even on a simple nature walk, someone is packing cheese and crackers.  It's pretty awesome. 

For a friend's birthday, Young and his sister plotted an awesome surprise dinner. The birthday girl is a notorious eater and lover of coffee. We knew the best celebration would involve copious amounts of good eats. The dining room and kitchen had too many windows so our options were tight. While he distracted her outside of the house, the rest of us hid in the garage surrounded by delicious smells and holiday twinkle lights. 

Young's family is Korean so when they prepare a meal - you fast the days leading up to it. His sister, bless her heart, prepares a feast of meat, fish, kimchi, and tofu soup. My favorite part is always the mushroom caps! As they heat up, condensation builds up in the center making it like a tiny shot of mushroom soup. What spoiled kittens are we!





The main event, of course, is the strips of pork belly. It is insanity how much meat goes into these feasts (like a Portuguese person should talk). It's cooked conveniently on a portable gas grill and everyone pitches in making sure it doesn't get overcooked. As soon as the meat is ready, an army of chopsticks and forks battle it out for the choice pieces.

Then we realize there is still a whole package of uncooked meat and there's no need to act like savages. Ahem.



For little old me though.... it's all about the grilled vegetables. Onions, slices of garlic, those mushroom caps, all served up on a bed of white rice and topped with my sweet darling kimchi. I love all that has vinegar! You don't need to eat meat at Korean BBQ to be satisfied, there are plenty of options. Take a big old piece of lettuce and make a happy burrito with your choice of fillings. Divine.

If you ever want to make this yourself at home, do the homework and invest in a gas grill or do it the good old fashioned way on the barbecue. Food and Wine put together a list of Korean recipes to try at home. Personally... I'm just going to stalk Young until he teaches me!


The surprise birthday party was a total success with the beautiful birthday girl showered in tasty treats. We almost got her completely but she knew something was off when Young wanted to get into the house through the garage. Close enough! Happy Birthday lady!

Special thanks to the family for hosting and making such an amazing dinner! 고맙습니다!

Healthy Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins


It's always a win-win when you find a recipe for a classic that adds a healthy twist AND preserves the taste factor. Let's face it. Anybody can throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds and claim a recipe is now suddenly "healthy" (though these are still yummy). It takes a deeper dive to figure out how to walk the line.

Fortunately, that's what Bren did over at "What Bren Did." What a fitting blog title. She took the standard chocolate muffin recipe and shook it up a little. 


For starters, there is no flour in the mix. That's not to say flour is bad for you but it adds simple carbohydrates which have minimal nutritional value. Instead, she uses straight oat flour made from old-fashioned oats as the base. These oats are great because they have soluble fiber, complex carbs, and vitamins. All positives for your digestive tract and cardio. 

Holding the mix together is your choice of ripe bananas or unsweetened apple sauce. No need for oils or butter. Unprocessed, natural goodness with potassium. 

The dark color is thanks to the unsweetened cocoa powder which has all the health benefits of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) with less calories. It supports cardiovascular health by soothing internal inflammation and is full of essential minerals like zinc, manganese, and iron. 

Sweetness has to come from somewhere! Fortunately, it's from honey as opposed to straight sugar. Honey is filled with all sorts of benefits but be weary of the type you purchase. Pasteurized honey is stripped of most of its nutrients in the heating process. Shop for the raw and local stuff.


Lastly, don't black out on the chocolate chips. I always opt for the darkest chocolate possible, with the minimum being 70% cacao. All the health properties of dark chocolate are in that percentage because the less cacao, the less nutrition. The rest of the chocolate bar is generally butter and sugar. Go hard or go home.
 
Minor adjustments can be made for those with dietary restrictions. Instead of regular milk, I opted for almond milk because it's my favorite and that's that. For the vegans, you all know the culinary magic trick of substituting eggs with flax seeds! Also, the cocoa powder can be substituted with carob powder but you may want to reduce since it packs a kick of flavor.


We thoroughly enjoyed these muffins and they were great in the morning on the run. They are light yet filling without the guilt of the standard grab and go carb. This will be a go-to recipe when we have extra bananas lying around the house.

The recipe for these Healthy Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins can be found on Bren Did It. Hat's off to a tasty treat!