Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

As I have admitted here before, I am not big into sweets. Sure, I enjoy a freshly baked cookie (or 5), or a big slice of key lime pie – but most of my dessert preferences trend toward things that are tart, or set off with a touch of salt. If I am going strictly sweet, I’m usually content to keep it to a smaller portion (the key word there being “usually”… I will not pretend I’ve never made quick work of a pan of brownies). It can be hard to come up with a dessert that doesn’t lend itself to huge portions, isn’t terrifyingly rich, or doesn’t require 3,000 steps. That’s where truffles come in.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

They’re simple to make, they require few ingredients, and they’re customizable in any way you wish. Now, be forewarned, making truffles can get a little messy… but as long as you’re not afraid of getting a little chocolate on your hands, you’ll be just fine.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles
makes about 24 truffles
modified from here

1 scant cup granulated sugar
1 T light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1.25 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 tablespoon salted butter
assorted toppings: cocoa powder, toasted coconut, toasted and chopped nuts, sprinkles, etc

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

*Use higher quality chocolate chips, if at all possible. The cheaper ones tend to have more junk on them, to keep them from sticking together, and they won’t melt as smoothly. I like the ghirardelli chips, myself!

BEFORE you start: please remember that molten sugar will burn the daylights out of your skin. Be very cautious not to splatter yourself, and resist the urge to grab those caramel-y drips with your fingertip. You will regret it.

1.) In a small saucepan, heat your heavy cream over low heat. Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl, and set them aside.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

2.) In a medium saucepan, combine your sugar, corn syrup, and water. Gently stir everything together, and then set the pan over medium heat. Heat the sugar mixture without stirring (feel free to gently swirl the pan occasionally), until it’s a medium gold/amber in color.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

3.) Carefully pour the warm cream into the sugar and water mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula as you do. Be very careful, as the mixture will bubble up pretty aggressively.

4.) When the cream and sugar mixture are totally combined, pour it over the chocolate chips. Let it sit for a minute or two, then gently whisk the caramel and chocolate together, until it is smooth and uniform in consistency. Add the butter to the chocolate mixture, and whisk that in.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

5.) Pour the chocolate mixture into a shallow dish, and set it in the fridge for a couple hours to firm up. Once the mixture is firm to the touch, use a small metal scoop (or spoon) to scoop out small portions of chocolate (about the size of a large marble). Use your hands to roll each portion into a ball, and set aside (on a plate, or parchment-lined baking sheet).

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

6.) Place your toppings in small bowls, and toll the truffles in them to coat. Set the finished truffles on a plate or in a dish, and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them! (You’ll likely want to cover the plate or dish with plastic wrap, so the truffles don’t pick up any strong smells in your fridge!)

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

My preferred coatings are unsweetened cocoa (for those that want a super-rich chocolate taste), toasted coconut (because coconut is sent straight from heaven), and toasted, chopped hazelnuts (because it tastes like a gourmet ball of nutella, clearly). There are TONS of options, though – powdered sugar, colored sprinkles, chopped pecans… the world is your oyster, my friend.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Truffles

I find these truffles to be preferable to just straight chocolate truffles. The caramel adds an extra bit of sweetness to cut through the dark, rich chocolate – but without being cloyingly sweet, or overtly caramel tasting. These little guys are the perfect sweet treat to end dinner with, whether you enjoy one, or a dozen!

It’s amazing how many truffles you can down as you just sneak ONE MORE out of the fridge, over and over and over again,
Tina

Salsa di Parmigiana

I hate to be overly dramatic so early on a Monday morning, but… it must be said that this recipe will change your life. It’s not just delicious (and sweet baby Moses, is it delicious), but it goes on EVERYTHING. It’s the universal condiment! You’ll make it, and then you’ll spend the next week of your life spooning a little bit on to every. damn. thing. you eat. It’s that good. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Salsa di Parmigiana with Dutch Oven Bread

Salsa di Parmigiana
recipe very slightly adapted from here

8 oz parmigiano reggiano*
8 oz asiago cheese
3-4 cloves garlic, grated
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 to 1.5 cups extra virgin olive oil

*This is the time to pony up the cash for the real deal. Don’t buy the weird, rubbery domestic chunk of parm that comes vacuum-sealed in plastic from Kraft – find the legit, pay-by-the-pound stuff that’s in the fancy cheese case. Yes, it’s like $18 a pound, but it’s SO WORTH IT. Your taste buds will thank you. (And don’t you dare toss that rind when you cut it off the parmesan! Put it in a ziploc bag, throw it in your freezer, and add it to your next pot of soup.)

Salsa di Parmigiana

1.) Cut the parmesan and asiago into large chunks (roughly 1″ or so). Add all the cheese to your food processor, and pulse until the cheese is broken down to pea-sized chunks. Transfer the cheese to a large mixing bowl.

Salsa di Parmigiana

2.) Add the garlic, scallions, red pepper flakes, oregano, and pepper, and give everything a good stir with a rubber spatula. Grated garlic temps to clump up, so be sure to get those clumps broken up as best you can.

Salsa di Parmigiana

3.) Pour one cup of olive oil over the cheese mixture, and stir to combine everything. Add more olive oil as needed – you want the salsa to be a bit looser than a paste, but not soupy or overly wet.

Salsa di Parmigiana

4.) Spoon the salsa into an airtight container of your choice. It’s best to let it sit for a few hours before using it to let all the flavors marry, but it will certainly be delicious right out of the gate, too. The salsa will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge.

And now, what to do with this gigantic container of cheesy salsa goodness?? Let’s see…

– spoon it on to some crostini or nice, crusty italian bread
– mix it into some scrambled eggs, right at the end
– use it as your “sauce” for a white pizza
– spoon over the top of sauteed green beans
– spread it on top of a burger
– pour it directly into your mouth

Salsa di Parmigiana Burger with Arugula

I am dead serious when I say that my husband added this to every single meal he ate for three or four days straight. You’ll think that the recipe makes a ton, and you’re right… but it will disappear before your very eyes. Next thing you know, you will be fighting with your spouse over who gets the last spoonful, and running to the grocery store in a panic, desperate to buy another million dollar chunk of parmesan.

ALERT: if you are looking to impress the hell out of someone(s), may I recommend bringing this salsa to a gathering along with a loaf of this embarrassingly easy bread? Combined, the two will take a grand total of like, 12 minutes of active time in the kitchen – and whomever you serve them to will become convinced that you are Ina Garten’s long-lost child. You’re welcome.

Why NOT replace all the fresh, healthful vegetables in a salsa with dairy products?!
Tina

Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

I’ve never really understood the appeal of granola. I don’t dislike it or anything, it’s just not something that’s ever gotten me real hot and bothered, you know? Not to mention, I think most granolas are about 1,000,000 calories per four tablespoon serving, and if I’m gonna be blowing a week’s worth of calories in one sitting, I’m gonna be consuming those calories in the form of a giant pizza, thankyouverymuch.

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

Anyways, in recent years, I’ve become a big fan of greek yogurt. It’s delicious, packed full of protein, comes in tons of flavors, and is easily portable – but I prefer to eat it with something added to it for crunch. (I feel weird eating a big bowl of food that requires absolutely no chewing, for reasons I can’t explain.) I’ve found a few different varieties of granola that are quite serviceable, but nothing that’s life-changing (in fairness, perhaps I’m expecting too much out of my breakfast)… until recently. And wonder of wonders, it was a homemade granola, served up in a tiny little pie shop in the middle of Detroit, that made me understand the appeal of granola. The most spectacular yogurt + granola bowl, with a starring ingredient of… mint! Mind. Officially. BLOWN. Clearly, the only appropriate course of action was to go home and recreate the entire bowl, from top to bottom.

Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

Coconut Maple Pecan Granola
makes… a whole bunch. I did not measure.

2.5 cups oats
1.5 cups coarsely chopped raw pecans
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 oz roasted coconut*

Yogurt + Granola Breakfast Bowls
per individual serving

6 oz plain greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
honey to taste
1/4 cup Coconut Maple Pecan Granola
2 T dried cherries
3-4 mint leaves, minced or sliced into thin ribbons

*I love the roasted coconut chips from Trader Joe’s in this granola. If you don’t have a TJ’s near you, you can use flaked coconut of your choice – just be sure to toast it separate from the granola (either in a skillet or in the oven), as it will toast much faster than the rest of the ingredients, and you don’t want it to burn.

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

1.) Preheat your oven to 300°F. While the oven preheats, whisk together the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, honey, kosher salt, and ground ginger. Pour the oats and raw pecans into the wet ingredients, and gently stir with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly coated.

2.) Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Evenly spread the granola out on to the baking sheet, and place it in the oven.

3.) About every 10-15 minutes, remove the granola from the oven and give it a good stir before returning it. This will help ensure even browning.

4.) After about 35-40 minutes, the granola should have a nice, even, golden brown color. Stir it one last time, then put it back in the oven; turn the oven off and crack the oven door, and allow the granola to cool completely – about 45 minutes or so.

5.) Once the granola is totally cooled (you want to be sure there is NO warmth whatsoever – because that warmth will just translate to soggy granola once it’s stored), lightly crumble the coconut and add it to the granola. Transfer the granola to an airtight container. The granola will be good for several weeks, but I bet it won’t last that long!

Yogurt  + Granola Breakfast Bowls with Coconut Maple Pecan Granola

To assemble your yogurt and granola breakfast bowl, start with a base of yogurt; top with a drizzle of honey (as much or as little as you like). Add the granola, dried cherries, and mint. Enjoy!

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me sooner that, if I was not pleased with the granola options available to me, I should just make my own – but I can be a little dense sometimes, so, there ya have it. Turns out, granola is really easy to make, and can be customized in several million different ways – though I think this particular combination of ingredients is pretty darn heavenly.

I have to tell you, the use of mint in the yogurt and granola bowl was a huge surprise to me. I was half-convinced I would hate it – but as it turns out, it MADE the dish! It added a brightness and a freshness that was absolutely fantastic.

Guess it’s time to plant some mint in the backyard,
Tina

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

A small miracle occurred in my kitchen last week: I cooked salmon. Salmon that was totally raw – not smoked, or preserved in any way. No one was holding a gun to my head, and I had purchased the fillet of my own free will. Even better, I actually thought the final product was GOOD, and not just in an “I will tolerate this food for the sake of my health” kind of way… but in an “I would willingly eat that again, even without the presence of a threat of bodily harm if I don’t” sort of way. This can mean only one thing: I am growing as a person. Next thing you know, I’ll be ordering raw oysters at restaurants! (No. No, I will not. I am growing as a person, not growing CRAZY.)

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

In all seriousness, I’m not gonna pretend that I just lightly seasoned the salmon with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and then delighted in the wonderful taste of the sea as I ate my dinner. On the contrary, I crusted that fillet up with all kinds of seasonings, topped it with a delicious, creamy sauce, and then rejoiced in the fact that I could only detect a hint of salmon flavor. Enough to know it was salmon, but not enough for it to taste too fishy. Success!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream
adapted from here
serves 2

For the salmon:
2 salmon fillets, 5-6oz each
2 T brown sugar
2 t chili powder
1 t smoked paprika
1 t smoked salt (kosher salt is fine, if you don’t have smoked)
1/4 tsp cayenne papper
olive oil
one lime, cut into 4 wedges

For the sauce:
1/2 a medium avocado
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (I use 2%)
juice of half a lime
1 clove of garlic
small handful of fresh parsley
large pinch of kosher salt

1.) Mix the brown sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, smoked salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Meanwhile, heat a skillet (non-stick is helpful) over medium heat.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

2.) Gently rub the spice mixture into all sides of the salmon fillets. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and add the fillets, skin side up, to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on the first side, depending on the thickness of the fish, until each fillet has a nice, dark sear, and then flip.

3.) Cook the fillets for about 2 minutes on the second side. Meanwhile, place your limes in the pan, cut side down, and allow them to caramelize. Flip once the first side is a nice golden brown.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

4.) While the salmon fillets cook, place all the ingredients for the sauce into a food processor or blender, and pulse until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

5.) Serve each fillet with the sauce spooned over the top, and a caramelized lime wedge. Squeeze the lime over the fish, and enjoy!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

Like I said, this salmon recipe is not for you if you like the pure, unadulterated flavor of salmon. However, for those of use that want the health benefits of eating salmon without the fishy taste, this is PERFECT. The sweet, spicy, and smoky seasoning gives the fish a ton of flavor without completely covering it up, and the cool, creamy avocado sauce is fantastic. My husband literally ate the leftover sauce with a spoon, and proceeded to make proclamations about how delicious it was all evening.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

This recipe also fits nicely into the category of “impressive enough for dinner guests, but easy enough that you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night.” There are never enough of those kind of recipes, are there?

You can also file this one under “easy enough to tackle, even when you’re 3 cocktails deep,”
Tina