Friday, June 29, 2018

Ave Maria: Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

It was cookbook club time again, and our selection was Mexican Made Easy by Marcela Valladolid. There were some very tasty-looking recipes in there, full of spice and heat! But I really wanted to make a dessert, so I focused on that chapter and selected something described as a trifle. It used things like sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and fresh limes. Yum! Instead of something like pound cake, however, the recipe called for Maria cookies as the base, which are akin to tea biscuits and completely delightful. And the most wondrous things of all? After shopping for my ingredients, I actually FOLLOWED THE RECIPE to make the dish. Exactly. To the letter. Okay, I added a little splash of vanilla extract, but otherwise totally the same. And used some zest as well as the juice of the limes. BUT THAT WAS IT, I PROMISE. I layered and poured and layered again, and you know what? It was terrible! The flavors were excellent, but the consistency lacked...consistency.

It was like a baby had left their teething biscuits in all that milk and then you found this lime-zest-flecked montage-strosity the next day. I must have done something wrong, but I didn't have time to make anything else, so I suffered and brought my soupy mess to the meeting anyway. To everyone's credit, they dutifully tried it. Thankfully, there was a knockout dessert from another member, and all the other dishes were fantastic. But those Maria cookies haunted me. I knew they could be put to better use, and they had paired so well with the creamy milk and the sharp fruitiness of the lime. Heck, they were even delicious on their own! And I still yearned for a layered dessert, something to please the eye as well as the palate:

Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

10 Maria cookies (or other plain tea biscuits), finely crushed (you should have about 1/2 cup crumbs)
2 Tablespoons butter
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and add cookie crumbs. Stir to coat the crumbs with butter, then continue to toast the crumbs for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Using four glass dishes/containers/wine glasses (about a cup in capacity), place a quarter of the cooled crumbs in each. Carefully add a fourth of the cheese mixture to each dish, and spread slowly to cover the crumbs. Finally, add a fourth of the strawberries and serve!

Notes: The parfaits can be made 2-4 hours in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge until ready to serve. Absolutely use any kind of berry, fruit, or a combination to your taste. Can't be bothered to layer? Just make a double or triple batch of the cheese mixture and serve in a bowl as a dessert dip with sliced fruit and Maria cookies on the side (the cookies are also available in chocolate in many stores). I haven't tested it, but I bet the cookies would make excellent s'mores—if you try it, let us know in the comments!


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Double Trouble: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been an incredibly long time since my last blog post, and I have nothing to say for myself! I will, however, offer two rather large, furry excuses for my absence—their names are Bella and Pixie:

I took responsibility for these girls about 18 months ago, and they have been both a delight and a challenge! While incredibly fun and loving, they are also a bit like having toddlers that can climb just about anywhere and get into everything. Such a change from my older girl! Xena has spoiled me for nearly two decades with her calm, intelligent, sensible approach to life. As one friend noted, she's been more like a housemate than a pet:

Now that she has attained "little old lady" status, I try to keep Xena as safe and comfortable as possible, which also means keeping her separated from the younger two. It's been quite a learning curve, but we've (thankfully) reached a point of stasis that seems to suit everyone. Mind, all three would each prefer to be the only cat in the house and the center of all my attention, but they'll just have to go on sharing ;-)

[EDIT: Xena passed away in March, 2019. She was a unique, amazing creature, and I miss her every day.]

To celebrate my two younger ones, here's a recipe with twice the chocolate to keep you (and me!) going for the long haul:

Almond Flour Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup honey (local, if available!)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (mini chips work nicely)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, stir together almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until combined. In a large bowl, cream butter, honey and vanilla together until smooth, then add dry ingredients and stir until completely incorporated. Gently stir in chips. Using a Tablespoon scoop or measure, drop onto lined cookie sheets and bake, one sheet at a time, for 10-12 minutes (you should get about 24 cookies total). Although they will puff while baking, the cookies will flatten as they cool. Transfer pans to racks and let cool completely before removing with a spatula (the cookies will still be very soft). Store in an airtight container at room temperature, or refrigerate for firmer cookies.

Notes: These cookies are a great choice for anyone with egg and/or wheat sensitivities. They will remain soft and chewy if stored properly, and also freeze well. Substitute any flavor chips for the chocolate chips, or replace with chopped dried fruit or nuts. And just three more words: ice cream sandwiches!