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Margaret’s CCC Cake

My curiosity for baking started as a meager first-grader intently watching Food Network. I was mesmerized by the enormous cakes Buddy Valastro concocted and the 1,000-piece displays on Cupcake Wars. My eyes were glued to the screen, and I was in awe of how the final products looked so real yet were edible. I studied how bakers frosted cakes or piped roses and would attempt to emulate their work. As a child, I dreamed of one day owning my own bakery and constructing five-tier wedding cakes. So, as a determined little girl, I set out aiming to achieve just that.

At age six, I designed and constructed my inaugural cake for my brother John’s birthday. It consumed me for hours and the final product was a five-car steam engine train sculpted by hand and embellished with candy as mechanical parts. The cake was crumbly, but I still felt unstoppable. I could not have been a prouder sister. Making this cake consumed me for hours and established my love for baking.  Thankfully, my skill has grown from there. 

After years of failed experiments, from burnt bottoms to curdled frosting, I now create original recipes and make the tiered cakes I dreamed of baking as a child. With cakes, I envision the cake as my canvas and the piping bags as my paint. The magic begins when my artistic instincts kick in, allowing me to swiftly pipe designs without a predesigned plan and transform the cake into a showpiece. Designing cakes is an outlet for me in which I am fully present in the moment and can create something that will bring people together and enlightening their taste buds.  Cakes have a deep symbolism in our culture, so I take pride in being the person people turn to for birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations.

Cake is no doubt my favorite food group and will always be present in my life. The possibilities are endless. Today, I’m sharing my chocolate chip cookie cake recipe, which has been on my mind ever since I perfected making the chocolate chip cookie. With no better combination of two desserts, this recipe offers a twist on the quintessential American comfort food. This cake boasts a chocolate crumble cookie crust with layers of fully chocolate chip vanilla cake, smothered in a decedent brown sugar buttercream, and topped with freshly baked cookies. This blend will simply delight your taste buds and the crowd. 

Ingredients

Chocolate cookie crumble 

1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch 

1 cup granulated sugar 

1 ⅓ cups cocoa powder 

½ teaspoon salt 

12 tablespoon melted butter 

Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cake 

2 ¼ cups & 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt 

¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature 

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 

Brown Butter Buttercream 

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

⅓ cup water 

2 ½ cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 

9 cups powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 chocolate chip cookies

Instructions

Begin by making the chocolate cookie crumble. Preheat the oven to 300 ℉. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Pour the butter into the dry ingredients and combine until it is a crumb consistency. Grease three 9-inch circular cake pans, evenly distribute the cookie crumble among the pans and use the back of a spoon to set the crumble in place. Bake for 12 minutes and let cool while preparing the cake batter. 

Moving on to the vanilla chocolate chip cake, increase the oven temperature to 350℉. In a small bowl, crack the eggs and add the vanilla, allowing them to sit for 5-10 minutes to enhance the vanilla flavor. In another medium-sized bowl, combine 2 ¼ cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy for 2-4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla mixture in three additions, making sure it is fully incorporated after each addition. Whip the batter for 3 to 4 minutes until light and fluffy. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk, starting with flour and using three additions of flour and two of milk. Fully incorporate after each addition. Dust the chocolate chips in the remaining 2 teaspoons of flour and mix them into the batter. Once combined, evenly pour the batter on top of the pans with the chocolate cookie crumble. Bake for 20 to 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely.

While the cake and crumble are cooling, move on to make the brown sugar buttercream. Begin by combining the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until a soft boil, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside and let it cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Next, slowly pour the slightly warm brown sugar mixture into the mixer. Add the vanilla. Beat on high for 3 to 5 minutes. If the buttercream is too warm, place it in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes. Whip once again before using. 

After all the elements have been created, it is now time for the construction of the masterpiece. Start by placing one cake layer, cookie crumble side down, on your board using a dollop of frosting to keep it in place. Spread one cup of frosting on top, ensuring that it is level. Repeat this process with the remaining two layers. Spread a thin layer of frosting around the whole cake using an offset spatula. This crumb coat ensures that the crumbs are locked into the first layer and will not show for the final product. Freeze the cake for 10 minutes. Once slightly frozen, completely frost the cake, saving one cup of frosting for piping. Once completely frosted, use the Wilton 1M tip to pipe a ribbon along the top. Cut the pre-made or store-bought cookies in half and place them on the top of the cake. Enjoy:)


Recipe Adapted from Cake by Coutrney’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Cover Photo courtesy of Margaret Kuffner

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Mucho Gusto

Diana’s Favorite Rum Raisin Cake

As the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, I always look to my childhood sources of comfort to cheer me up. One such tradition I still rely on is baking. Every fall and winter holiday, my mother and I spend hours together in the kitchen, mixing batter and decorating desserts. I was always too indecisive to pick just a single favorite, but to this day, my mother’s is rum raisin cake, a rich and fragrant treat. A piece of rum raisin cake fresh out of the oven can make even the dreariest of autumn days a little sweeter. Although the finished product doesn’t have an alcohol content, you can’t call it rum raisin cake without the rum, which provides the opportunity for a brief discussion of the spirit’s history. 

In popular culture, rum is primarily associated with swashbuckling pirates and Caribbean getaways, but it actually has a long and complex history. It is a liquor made from fermented molasses, cane sugar, or cane syrup, that is then distilled to varying degrees depending on the desired color and clarity. Rum and its associated industries had a large impact on the slave trade, the colonization of North America, and even the eventual independence of the United States. 

Rum’s success in colonial America was due largely to the demand for cane sugar. Though sugarcane was first introduced to South America and the Caribbean regions in the 1400s, the early 1600s marked the beginning of the crop’s dominance. In what was dubbed the “Triangle Trade,” slave labor was used to cultivate sugarcane, which was then processed into sugar and its byproducts. The incredibly high supply of molasses meant that rum was plentiful and cheap, so it quickly became a favorite of colonial Americans. The British colonies especially took a liking to the beverage, and distilleries appeared throughout New England.

Despite the incredible volume of exports from the British colonies to Europe, Britain continually imposed higher taxes on sugar, rum, and other commodities, which caused tensions between New England and England. Of course, there were a variety of other factors that contributed to the eventual independence of the United States, so it may be a bit dramatic to say rum led to the American Revolution, but the fact that it had more than superficial ties to the history of the United States is fascinating. 

I hope this cool-weather treat brings you as much joy as it does to me and my family. 

Ingredients

Batter

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened 
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 4 cups white bleached flour 
  • 1 ½  teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup raisins 

Topping

  • 1 cup rum
  • ½ cup raisins 
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon 

Instructions

This recipe will make two nine-inch bundt cakes. Soak the raisins in the rum for two to six hours. Refrigerate before separating ½ cup and any remaining liquid for the topping. Preheat the oven to 350℉ and grease two nine-inch bundt pans with butter or cooking spray. 

To make the cake batter, combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the ingredients together until the mixture is fluffy, homogeneous, and approaching a light color. After the butter and sugar have been creamed, add the egg yolks and mix until fully incorporated. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. In another bowl combine the 3 tablespoons dark rum, whole milk, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in four parts and the wet mixture in three. Begin with the flour mixture and alternate additions of the dry and wet mixtures to your butter mixture. Make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated before each subsequent addition. 

Next, whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks and gently fold them into the batter. After the egg whites, gently fold in one cup of soaked raisins, divide the batter between both pans, and smooth the tops. 

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for at least an hour and turn onto a plate or serving dish. 

To prepare the topping, combine the ½ cup of raisins and liquid you set aside earlier in a small saucepan with the brown sugar and an additional ⅓ cup of water. Simmer gently, stirring constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture has thickened into a slight syrup consistency. This will give time for the alcohol to evaporate as well. Let the syrup cool before adding a pinch of salt and the cinnamon. Pour this topping over your cakes and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Myrecipies

Categories
Mucho Gusto

The Cookies with a Million Names

I gazed intently through the glass window of the bakery below our apartment, the way only a child could. My eyes fixated with wonder on the perfect little snowballs in the center of the display case, located at the ideal eye level for my youthful height. The anticipation heightened as I watched the kind baker scoop a dozen of the cookies into the box my dad ordered for our family. My mouth watered as I remembered the last time I tasted the scrumptious powdered sugar and the crisp, crumbly nuttiness of the interior. I couldn’t wait to experience another bite. For the time being, I had to be content with holding the box on my lap during the car ride home, though I didn’t wait for very long. With just one glance, my dad and I decided eating just one wouldn’t hurt; we dug out a couple of the tempting cookies in the car. I sacrificed the festive bow holding the box shut, and finally, we snuck the pillowy yet crunchy cookies into our mouths. With my dad’s iconic oldies music playing in the background, we enjoyed the bliss of these unique, freshly-baked cookies. Evidence of my impatience, the delicate dust of powdered sugar covered my lap and fingers, as it always did. The sandy cookie, however, with its melt-in-your-mouth consistency, made up for this. 

White, round, and smooth on the outside and buttery, crunchy, and nutty on the inside, these blizzard-coated cookies always remind me of a sweet celebration. While they go by many names—Mexican or Italian Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes or Swedish Tea Cakes, Butterballs, Polvorones, Viennese Sugar Balls, and Snowballs or Snowdrops, to name a few—these cookies are clearly a favorite in many cultures. In my family, no holiday or special event goes by without these tasty, tender treats from our favorite local bakery or my aunt, who is an excellent baker herself. While great for holidays, these addictive, rich cookies are great at any time of year! They are easy to make and require just six ingredients. Enjoy with a warm cup of spiced chai or a dark, hearty cup of coffee this fall—there is nothing more festive or homey at the same time!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into mid-sized pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ cups powdered sugar, divided into ½ cup and 1 ¼ cup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 °F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Add the softened butter pieces, salt, and ½ cup powdered sugar to a large mixing bowl and combine with an electric mixer on medium speed. Incorporate the vanilla extract into this mixture. Then, add the flour and stir until the mixture is creamy. Add the chopped pecans. 

Now that the dough is prepared, use an ice cream scooper or tablespoon to form even balls of dough, one at a time. Shape about two tablespoons of dough into balls per cookie, adjust as needed, and place each ball on the cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for about 13 minutes until the cookies are firm and a tan or beige color, like shortbread cookies. Store the extra tray in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Let the cookies cool for about seven minutes. 

Add the remaining 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar to a small mixing bowl and roll the warm cookies until they are completely coated in the white powder (almost like snowballs!). This first layer should not be too thick, as part of the sugar will melt from the heat of the cookie. Let the cookies cool completely before rolling them in the powdered sugar a second time. Now, the cookies are ready to be eaten. Enjoy! 

Adapted from Mexican Wedding Cookies by Cooking Classy

Cover photo courtesy of Tried and Tasty

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Mucho Gusto Uncategorized

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

The recent semesters—remarkably short of socialization—deliver an unmistakable sense of urgency to compensate for lost time. There is a distinct flavor of the moment that demands us to take lessons from our quarantine kitchens, indulge our taste buds, and endeavor in entertaining and gathering again. 

This recipe comes from trial and error and the nearly forgotten, yet adorned, busyness of rummaging around the kitchen, awaiting the impending arrival of guests. Inspired by the spirit of entertaining and by the curiosity of flavor, I tried my hand in making bacon-wrapped, goat cheese stuffed dates this past week. It’s an appetizer that I biasedly chose due to its glorious description of bacon-wrapped, but also, in part, by reason of its more creative nickname as “devils on horseback.” 

Something of its nontraditional title reminded me of the forthcoming autumn season, humorously prompting me to imagine the headless horseman. Also, I’ve found that something about food named after devils rarely disappoints. And even more so than its playful name, these dates fit perfectly for fall with their warmth when they are pulled right out of the oven, and with the tasty explosion of their diverse set of flavors and textures that arrive in every bite. 

For this recipe, the sweet and chewy dates contrast with the tangy, smooth, and earthy flavor and texture of the goat cheese. The crisped, caramelized bacon on the exterior completes the bite. And the finely chopped candied pecans on top perfectly balance the saltiness of the bacon. These dates pair exceptionally well with the accompaniment of a charcuterie board. Not only do they provide a delicious addition, but guarantee to draw in one’s eye on an appetizer spread. 

So whether you are entertaining your friends or just looking to cook for yourself, I’d highly recommend testing this recipe. Who doesn’t like to gloat about the amazing date they had the other night?

Ingredients:

6 ounces goat cheese (1 small log)

24 Medjool dates

12 slices thinly sliced bacon

1/3 cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar

Kosher salt 

½ cup candied pecans

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 ℉ and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Split the dates in half lengthwise, being sure not to slice them all the way through. After removing the pit, stuff each date with goat cheese, just enough for the dates to still be able to close with its contents. Then slice your strips of bacon in half, making the pieces more fitted to wrap around each date. After wrapping each date with bacon, puncture the dates with toothpicks to hold the bacon strips in place, and then move them to the prepared baking sheet. 

Once the dates are separated on the baking sheet, evenly drizzle them with honey and lightly sprinkle them with the brown sugar and a pinch of salt. The coating of honey and brown sugar will help the bacon caramelize in the oven. Finely chop the candied pecans, sprinkling them on top as well. Bake the dates for 20 minutes or until bacon is crisp to your liking, remove from the oven, and allow time to cool. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Walder Wellness

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Mucho Gusto

Peach Crumble

One of my most cherished family traditions is going fruit picking. Whether it’s under the hot summer sun or in the chilly fall breeze, walking through the endless rows of fruit trees never fails to bring me joy. From crisp apples to juicy peaches, my mouth waters as I taste the delicious fruits we just picked. Ending our trips with some freshly made apple cider or a scoop of decadent peach ice cream is always a delight. 

For me, the best part of fruit picking is coming home with bags full of fruit just waiting to be turned into a delicious dessert. Today, I’m sharing a peach crumble recipe, an experiment of mine I made after I went peach picking. After an enjoyable but long day, this recipe was simple to make, requiring less than 10 minutes of prep time. 

From the more acidic golden peach to the sweeter white peach, any type will work for this recipe. Some even prefer to use nectarines, which are closely related to peaches but have a subtler taste. What matters most is using the ripest, freshest fruit you can find; for peaches, that would be in the summer months. Regardless of which type of peach or nectarine you choose to use, the fruit softens as the oat-based crumble crispens as the dessert bakes, creating a wonderful textural contrast. The peaches melt in your mouth after just one bite. The cinnamon perfectly complements the brown sugar in the crumble and the natural sweetness of the peaches. Some people like to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, adding an extra layer of sweetness while also creating a cold contrast to the warm peach crumble. 

Ingredients:

Peach Filling

  • 6 ripe peaches, sliced 
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Crumble

  • 1 cup oats
  • ½ cup butter, melted 
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon 

Directions:

First, preheat the oven to 350 °F. To make the peach filling, combine the peaches, flour, sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Gently mix the ingredients together, ensuring that each peach slice is evenly coated with the other ingredients. Transfer the filling to a lightly greased baking pan. 

Next, make the crumble by combining the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together in a bowl and mix until well combined. Feel free to add more sugar for some extra sweetness. In a separate bowl, add the butter to the oats and mix thoroughly. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the oat and butter mixture and stir to combine. Make sure the dry ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the oat mixture. 

Place the crumble on top of the peach filling in the baking pan. Bake the peach crumble for at least 40 minutes, or until the sugar is completely melted and the top is golden brown. Let cool for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. For an extra sweet treat, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Enjoy! 

Recipe Adapted from Joyous Apron’s Easy Peach Crisp

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Mucho Gusto

Italian Biscotti

Crunchy and nutty, with a hint of sweetness, biscotti is a quintessential Italian breakfast treat and a Vuono family favorite. Americans use the word, biscotti, to simply refer to this delicious crescent-shaped and crisp cookie. On the other hand, Italians have a very broad definition of the word “biscotti,” using it to refer to different types of cookies, and they call this specific twice-baked biscuit, cantucci.

Tracing back to Ancient Rome, biscotto derives from the Latin roots “bis” for “twice,” and “cotto,” for “cooked.” The most traditional biscotti, or cantucci, comes from the city of Prato, in the Tuscan region of Italy. Traditionally, biscotti are often made with almonds, which is the recipe my family still lives by today.

Although modern variations of biscotti can be made with raisins or other dried fruit, chocolate, or types of nuts, I believe this classic Tuscan recipe is truly the best–and most authentic. These biscotti are perfect with a cup of coffee, or as I ate them growing up, with a glass of milk. 

My father’s side of the family is very Italian, and I grew up surrounded by great cooks. My cousins and I always loved being the designated taste testers.  Whether we were tasting the al-dente of the penne for pasta dinners or licking the spoon from the tiramisu dessert, we always hung around the kitchen, waiting to try anything we could get our hands on. My grammy, the biscotti expert, taught me how to make these delicious biscuits. Throughout the years, I learned to perfect the recipe with her words of wisdom. I truly learned from the best, and I hope that this recipe satisfies all your biscotti cravings!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg to brush on loaf
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (Add a little more to measuring cup for sprinkling on floured board)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

First, preheat the oven to 350℉. Crack the eggs in a bowl, and beat with a whisk or fork until well-blended. Then, mix in the oil and add the sugar until it has fully dissolved in the mixture.

Incorporate the crushed anise seeds, baking powder, vanilla, and salt into the mixture.  Carefully stir in the flour, making sure there are no lumps or clumps. Add in the slivered almonds and continue to mix. At this point, the dough should be quite stiff and easy to mix by hand.

Next, take a cutting board and coat it with flour. Separate the dough into three equal parts. Knead and roll each segment of dough into a long roll until it loses its stickiness. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper and place each long loaf equal distance apart on the pan.

Crack another egg into a separate bowl and beat. Once the egg is fully whipped and fluffy, brush it over each loaf so that each cookie will have a nice shine after it bakes. 

Bake the loaves in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is light brown. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice each loaf on the diagonal and place each piece back on the parchment. Bake for 10 more minutes–hence the twice baked tradition of this cookie. Remove from the oven, and let cool. Once they are hardened, they are ready to serve! Buon Appetito!

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Mucho Gusto

Peanut Butter Chip Oatmeal Cookies

On a school night, a hot summer night by the bonfire, or anything in between, there’s nothing better than a freshly baked cookie oozing melted chocolate. Ever since childhood, the cookie-eating experience is a fond memory that always warms my heart; the delectable, aromatic smell of vanilla and warm sugar fills my nose as I hold the soft yet crispy cookie in the palm of my hand. Every bite is bliss, especially accompanied by my Nonna’s caffè latte for dipping. I savor every last fallen cookie crumb, admiring how a few basic ingredients came together to form a sweet, comforting, homey treat. 

Chewy, gooey, caramelized cookies (topped with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course) are not just a common craving, but probably my all-time favorite dessert. It’s no wonder why: from the nostalgic experience to the mouth-watering flavor, freshly-baked homemade cookies have a way of making everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. Not to mention, cookies are so versatile! From classic chocolate chip, to festive nut and cranberry, to candied caramel, and even everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, the flavor options are endless! So, with such limitless options, how do you make a decision? What should you put in your cookie? What if you’re in a hurry, or not much of a baker? This recipe has you covered!

Peanut butter and chocolate are just about the best combination I can think of, especially when you have a hankering for a sweet treat! Whenever my sweet tooth kicks in, I crave this iconic pairing.  Simple and tasty, these peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies will do just that. Not only do these cookies  take only 25 minutes to make, but they only require one bowl and ingredients you likely already have on hand. Plus, if you ask me, the chocolate chip versus oatmeal cookie debate is flawed—clearly, the best combination is when these cookies join forces to form a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, and this one even has peanut butter! It can’t get much better than that! Take your late night snacking or midnight dessert to the next level with this fun, quick, and easy cookie recipe; you will be dreaming about it after!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ tsp sea salt (extra for topping)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup creamy salted peanut butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp chocolate chips (extra for topping)

Instructions:

Start by preheating your oven to 350℉ and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. As an alternative, you can also lightly grease the pan with cooking spray or butter. 

In a medium mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients: oats, flour, sea salt, baking powder, and brown sugar. Mix until the dry mixture is homogeneous and light tan in color. Next, add peanut butter, vanilla extract, and egg, and stir until well combined. A sticky but compact dough should form. If the dough is too dry, add more peanut butter, or a splash of milk. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour. Now stir in the chocolate chips. 

After you finish making the dough, scoop the dough out with a spoon, making each scoop about 1 ½ tbs in size. Form the dough into little balls with your hands. Place them on your prepped baking sheet and press each ball down lightly to form the traditional disc-like cookie shape. 

Bake the cookies for about 6 minutes, and then take them out to add more chocolatey-goodness—top each cookie with a few more chocolate chips and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Pop them in the oven again so that the chocolate chips on top start to melt, about 4-6 minutes, or until they are golden brown and the edges are lightly crisp. The total baking time should be about 10-12 minutes. By the end, the cookies should have doubled in size. After removing them from the oven, let the cookies cool on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. 

This recipe makes about 12 cookies. Share with friends and enjoy this easy, sweet treat whenever your sweet tooth kicks in!

Adapted from The Minimalist Baker’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cover image courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Mucho Gusto

Spring Salad

As the seasons change, so do cravings. Specific dishes just make sense in different parts of the year. On rainy autumn days, I always want to curl up with a bowl of warm soup; on frigid winter days, a steaming cup of hot chocolate just hits differently. In the upcoming sunny, spring days, when the air smells fresh and flowers bloom, the world will begin to crave something fresh to eat. Or, at least I will. 

Salad in any form, with its combination of fresh ingredients, seems like the embodiment of spring in a dish. By definition, a salad should have fresh leafy greens, which reminds me of the return of greenery in springtime. Whenever I think of salad, I tend to gravitate towards a spinach base, but alone it is too plain. The addition of tomatoes, black beans, and pasta, however, can elevate a salad, freeing it from its relegation as a side dish and transforming it into a full-fledged meal. A delicious pasta salad can provide the perfect transition dish from those richer winter meals to the lighter spring and summer dishes.

In my opinion, pasta in salads just makes them more filling and delicious. For salads, the best pastas have unique shapes. The more fun their shape, the better. With their ridges and curves, pastas like fusilli, campanelle, farfalle, and radiatore, are able to collect the salad dressing and grated cheese, adding more flavor in each bite. Mixed with black beans and cherry tomatoes, this salad has hints of earthy and sweet flavors, which are enhanced further by the balsamic vinegar glaze. The sprinkle of parmesan cheese adds some saltiness to the dish, complimenting the pasta well. While these ingredients seem like they would clash, they are pantry staples, and, I swear, their flavors actually go surprisingly well together! Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy dish for lunch, or something light to eat on a fresh spring day, this salad is sure to satisfy. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 box pasta (16 oz.)
  • 1 container of spinach (12 oz.)
  • 2 cans black beans (15 oz.)
  • 5 cups cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup balsamic glaze 
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Heaping ¾ cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

First, bring a pot of water to a boil, add the pasta to the water, and cook according to the instructions on the pasta box, which vary depending on the pasta type. Next, rinse and halve the cherry tomatoes. Similarly, rinse the spinach and canned black beans. As with any salad, the ingredients are flexible. Arugula or baby kale are good substitutes for spinach, and garbanzo beans or lentils are alternatives to black beans. You can always add chicken or tofu to make it more filling. 

After the pasta has finished cooking, strain and place into a large bowl. Next, pour the black beans and cherry tomatoes onto the pasta, and top with the spinach. With salad tongs, mix the salad until all ingredients are equally distributed. To top it off, drizzle the balsamic glaze and olive oil over the salad and mix a second time to incorporate the dressing. Finally, add the parmesan cheese and some freshly ground pepper and salt to taste, and voila! You’ve got yourself a quick, easy, and delicious spring pasta salad. Enjoy!

This recipe serves 3-4 people.

Cover photo courtesy of Pinch of Yum

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Mucho Gusto

Blueberry Brie Grilled Cheese

Writing this recipe, I imagine myself sitting in the conference room of Runway Magazine; well-acquainted with the infamous fictional character Miranda Priestly. I see her furrowed brow, I shiver from her glaring eyes, and I hear her cold tone as she sarcastically remarks, “Fruit? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” 

Fruit, like florals, evoke this exaggerated eye-roll in the name of an outdone, over-used, and repeated theme when introduced as the statement piece in a Spring dish. They are the equivalent of florals of a spring clothing line—severely lacking the element of surprise. How many times have fruit, specifically berries, been the cover of food magazines this time of year? Probably far too often. Yet, despite my hesitation to choose this recipe in an often dire need to move away from the status quo, I pick this blueberry-based dish because it is, in fact, groundbreaking.  

This recipe presents a new take on a classic comfort food, exquisitely repurposing blueberries in an unpredictable combination. Pairing the bitter flavor of arugula with the creamy texture of brie and the salty-sweet trade of honey and balsamic vinaigrette, the homemade blueberry compote perfectly enhances every bite of this sandwich, creating a redefined grilled cheese. 

Posing as strong contender to the pineapple-on-pizza debate, this salty-sweet pairing may open the floodgates to controversy. However, the buttery brie, and the sweet, fresh berries, in this grilled cheese guarantee to win over any skeptics. And while this recipe may stretch the traditional, and simplistic, definitions of a grilled cheese, it proves to enhance the glory of the original sandwich to make it a Spring must-try.

Image courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries

4 tablespoons (or more) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 slices sourdough bread, 1/2 inch thick

1 wheel brie cheese

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups arugula 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Place the blueberries into a saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter. Mash the blueberries softly and let them cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently. Move the pan off the stove and let the blueberries sit until they are ready to be used.

Cut the sourdough into 8 half-inch slices and lightly butter both sides of each slice. Cut the brie cheese into quarter-inch slices with or without the rind, depending on your preference. Place 4-5 slices of brie on each of 4 slices of sourdough. Drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle salt to taste. Spoon the cooked blueberries on top of the brie. 

Now, move onto the remaining 4 slices of sourdough. Lightly coat one side of each piece with balsamic vinaigrette, and then place a handful of arugula on top. When ready, flip these slices on top of the other slices prepared with brie and blueberries, making 4 closed sandwiches.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the skillet, depending on what fits comfortably. Lay another skillet on top to add weight, functioning like a panini press. Cook for about 4 minutes, while adding pressure on the top skillet so that the bottom of each sandwich turns golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over, adding a bit more butter to the pan if needed. Cover again and cook, pressing, until the other side is golden brown and cheese is fully melted. This should take about 4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into halves. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches. 

Cover photo courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Peanut Butter Banana Sushi

If you ask any of my friends what my favorite food is, I guarantee they won’t think twice in saying “SUSHI!” This rolled up bite-size piece of yumminess is so easy to pop in your mouth for a delicious snack or meal. I love rice, fish, and soy flavors, so for me, the idea of sushi is a genius concept that puts these all together in a little nibble. The combination of sticky rice, crunchy cucumber, and silky fish is perfect, as it’s not overpowered by one taste or smell.

However, sushi is intimidating for many people as they are commonly deterred by the idea of devouring raw fish. In order for them to conquer their sushi fear, I believe baby steps are important. Whenever I’ve dragged friends, who were not the biggest sushi fans, to come along with me to get it, I always told them they had to start small.

A traditional safe choice, to begin with, is a vegetable roll such as avocado or cucumber. Even as a lover of true sushi with raw fish, you’d be shocked by how yummy a simple combo of rice, seaweed, and avocado can be! Next, I suggest they move to California rolls, where imitation crab meat—which is not actual seafood—is used. As they become more comfortable, I advise they try shrimp tempura, which is real fish, but deep-fried, and a next level up. Lastly, if they are ready for the raw flavor, I recommend they take a bite of one of my favorite rolls, the rainbow roll, which has slices of raw tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. 

With all things sushi constantly on my mind, I recently stumbled upon a trend online called “Mock Sushi.” This is the concept where your favorite snack can be rolled up and sliced into small bites—just like sushi! With this, you can do so much with a sliced-up roll beyond just fish and rice. It could be anything from a savory bread and cheese roll to a sweet waffle and Nutella one!

Why hadn’t I thought up this before!? I obviously love fish and the explosion of flavors in traditional sushi, but so much of the fun is the bite-size component that when I found this trend, my mind was blown. I became obsessed with this idea of Mock Sushi and wanted to try every and all types. 

Now, instead of convincing people to enjoy sushi by taking them through a process to enjoy raw fish, I suggest trying mock sushi. This way, it allows people to see that sushi—such an amazing concept—can be incorporated creatively in many ways! Maybe people will be more inclined to try authentic sushi rather than initially shutting down the idea of consuming fish.

My personal favorite Mock Sushi has become one with bananas and peanut butter. This combo has always been a classic snack, but now, incorporating it into a sushi form has taken the lead for one of my go-to’s. Here’s one of the TikToks that inspired my love for Peanut Butter Banana Mock Sushi! 

Ingredients:  

  • 1 medium-sized ripe banana 
  • 1 medium-sized whole wheat tortilla 
  • ~3 spoonfuls peanut butter (or any nut butter of your choice!)
  • ~1 drizzle honey 
  • ~2 teaspoons sprinkled cinnamon 

Instructions:

Scoop out a spoonful of peanut butter, or other nut butter, and spread evenly and smoothly on the middle of a tortilla with a knife. Repeat two more times, with two more spoonfuls of nut butter (enough to cover the entire surface of the tortilla). 

Next, lightly drizzle honey on top of the peanut butter to add some sweetness. Peel your banana carefully so as not to mush it and place inside the tortilla. 

Roll the tortilla up with the banana inside, making sure that the fold is face down on the plate, so the roll stays intact. Slice the roll with a knife into even sushi pieces, about half an inch thick. I recommend using a serrated knife so the pieces cut cleanly. 

Sprinkle the individual pieces with cinnamon, grab your chopsticks (or use your fingers), and enjoy!