Tangy Mint Chocolate Chip FroYo

Super tangy frozen yogurt like the mint chocolate chip ice cream you used to eat as a kid, just a little bit healthier!

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I know some people are anti-mint, and this has caused the creation of ridiculous toothpaste flavors like cinnamon, strawberry, and bubblegum.  (I apologize if you use one of these.  Don’t take it personally.)  But I love mint, and mint chocolate chip has been one of my favorite ice cream flavors since I can’t even remember when.  And I can’t remember a time when I disliked the flavor of mint toothpaste, either.  Age twelve-ish in particular, I think, was the time when I claimed mint chocolate chip as my favorite ice cream.

But then I think I started exploring more and expanding my palate, and forgot a little bit about good old mint chocolate chip.  While traveling earlier this month, I had some mint chocolate chip gelato from one of Europe’s many gelato stands, and remembered how fantastic the flavor is.  When I discovered my mom had picked up a functioning ice cream maker, I decided I needed to try making my own mint chocolate chip.  Especially since my dad’s herb garden has an impressive crop of fresh mint, parsley, and other herbs this month.

So I set about making my own version of my childhood summer treat.  Since I first tried soft-serve frozen yogurt about four years ago, I’ve been in love with the tangy frozen treat.  While here in north Jersey we have more than our fair share of froyo places which are fantastic for going to with friends in the evening, whenever I go out to get it I can’t help but think that there must be a way to reproduce the flavor at home.  There is, of course.

FroYo Chocolate Shell on Make A Gif

Greek yogurt is key to this frozen yogurt’s tangy-ness.  If you don’t like “plain,” “natural,” “tart,” or “California” style frozen yogurt, use regular yogurt instead of Greek, or up the amount of sugar.  Because this is seriously tangy.  The dark chocolate pieces pair so well with the slightly tart yogurt, as do the herbal notes of the mint.  And we all already know how well chocolate and mint pair.  (If you disagree…I will be judging you.  I’m sorry).  I’m not dietitian, but I do know that this recipe has less sugar and cream than almost any you’ll find at the store or your local ice cream shop.

Tangy Mint Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt

Adapted from the Cuisinart MixItIn Recipe Booklet, with help from David Lebovitz and Katy’s Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup fresh mint, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • optional: 1/4 tsp peppermint extract

Instructions

In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, and honey.  Add mint leaves.  With heat on medium low, bring to a simmer and let heat for a few minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside, leaving the mint leaves in to infuse into the milk.  Chill milk completely before using.  You can leave the mint leaves in while the milk chills in your fridge (mine went into the fridge for about 3 hours).

When ready to churn, strain milk and mix with Greek yogurt, dark chocolate, and peppermint extract.  Taste. adding more mint or honey as needed.  Do not add more sugar at this stage, as it will not have time to dissolve.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions, then enjoy with some chocolate shell!

Chocolate Shell

For 2-3 people, melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips with 1/2 T coconut oil in the microwave until smooth.  While still warm, pour over ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Surprise-Inside Cake {Daring Kitchen}

For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds!

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Before I get to the real blog post, I need to start off by saying IF YOU ARE RELATED TO ME AND READING THIS (*tara*lona*), YOU ARE BEING LET IN ON A SECRET.  KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!  This is part of a Daring Baker’s Challenge, and those are always posted on the 27th of the month.

I was super excited to see that the July Daring Baker’s Challenge was to bake a surprise-inside cake.  Anyone who has spent long enough looking at food-related websites (or Pinterest) has seen some version of a surprise-inside cake.  I understood the mechanics of hidden image/surprise-inside cakes, but had never really thought about making one myself until recently.  We’ve got a special family event coming up soon, and I naturally volunteered to bake the cake.  It was then that I started thinking of actually making a surprise-inside cake to try something new and extra-special.

And then, as fate should have it, the Daring Baker’s Challenge for July was announced, and it became the perfect chance to practice the surprise-inside technique before baking my special celebratory cake in August.  To fit with the theme of my cake, I (okay, it was Ma’s suggestion) found a gingerbread man and woman.  In the end, they looked like a dancing couple.  Pretty perfect for a wedding anniversary, right?

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The technique is actually pretty basic.  You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a relatively sturdy cake, normal loaf pans, a cookie cutter or two, and an offset spatula.  And food coloring, if you’re making your two cakes from the same color batter.  I chose blue because the final version of this cake will be to celebrate a sapphire anniversary!

For this challenge, I browsed through some other posts about surprise-inside cakes, and decided to make mine a pound cake.  Pound cakes are simple, require no special ingredients, and seemed like they should hold up well (which they did).  Since this was just practice and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, I didn’t take any step-by-step photos, but if you look around there are plenty of tutorials elsewhere.  For baking basics I often turn to Martha Stewart, and I did that again here for a pound cake recipe.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with this.  It’s not 100% perfect (see missing arm of gingerbreadman), but I’m hoping version #2 will come out better (if not perfect)…hopefully all arms will stay in place on my gingerbread people!

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Surprise-Inside Pound Cake

The proportions listed below are for one cake, you will need to make two cakes (that is, two batches from this recipe) to complete the “surprise-inside” look.  The first batch will create the shape inside your pound cake loaf, so color the first batch whatever color you’d like if you want the shapes to be colored like mine are, making the batter slightly brighter than you think will be necessary to account for any change of color while baking.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • zest of one lemon or lime
  • food coloring

Special Equipment

  • a cookie cutter that is no larger than your pound cake loaf
  • offset spatula

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 4 1/2 x 8 1/2″ loaf pan.

With a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in eggs, one at a time, beating each until fully incorporated.  Add in salt, vanilla, and zest.  With a mixer on low, beat in flour gradually.  Add food coloring, if desired.  Do not overmix.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely, first in the pan.  Remove to a wire rack after 15 minutes.

Once the cake is completely cool, slice the entire cake into 1/2″ thick pieces.  Using your cookie cutter, cut out enough shapes (usually one per slice) to fit the length of your loaf pan.

Follow above instructions to make a second batch of pound cake.  You do not have to color this batch if you colored your cut-out shapes.

After your  second batch of pound cake batter is prepared, spread a little on the bottom and sides of the pan.  Lay your cut-out shapes of cake in the pan.  Squish them nice and tight against each other, and against the two short ends of the pan.  If you want the shapes to “float” (like the woman is in my cake), spread a thicker layer of batter on the bottom.  Cover with remaining cake batter, using the offset spatula to assist.  Bake and cool according to above instructions.

Voila!  You’re finished!

Posted to Sweet & Savoury Sunday!

5-Minute Olive Oil Dough

A variation on 5-minute artisan bread featuring olive oil and sea salt!

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Reader, I’m back in the U.S!   I have a kitchen!  And a large fridge!  One of the first things I did when I woke up on my first day back (at 6 am, thank you jet lag) was make muffins.  I didn’t have a muffin pan in Europe and they are one of my favorite breakfast foods, so I dusted off my favorite recipe and whipped up some blueberry muffins for Family Breakfast on Sunday.

Everything seems basically the same at home.  The house is the same, the neighborhood is the same…one thing that’s changed is that my mom is now into the 5-minute artisan bread thing.  I don’t know if I inspired her (check out my post from April) or if she came to the method by herself.  But now there are two dough buckets in the kitchen, a bread peel, and the pizza stone now lives in the oven.

I’ll admit: my mom did all the mixing for this recipe, I just did the baking.  But that’s an important part!  And the mixing is so super easy, I didn’t miss anything by not doing the mixing.  Just like the regular 5-minute artisan bread recipe, this olive oil dough is no-knead and can be kept for about two weeks in the fridge after mixing.  This dough, according to the artisan-bread-in-five-minutes gurus, is actually for pizza crust or flatbread, but it makes a fantastic boule too.

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Olive Oil Dough + Boule

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five and Mother Earth News

Ingredients

  • 3 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 T yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 T sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (we used half white whole wheat)
  • optional: olive oil for brushing, 1 T coarse sea salt for sprinkling, and 2 sprigs of rosemary (chopped)

Instructions

Place yeast, water, and salt in a very large bowl (or large tub or clean spaghetti pot).  Immediately add the flour and stir to combine.

Cover the container but make sure there is room for the gases being produced to escape, i.e. set the lid of the pot off-kilter.  Let the dough sit for about two hours.  It should rise to at least double and then begin to settle.  Do not punch down the dough.

After the two hour rise, you can use the dough.  Or, store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

When ready to make dough, sprinkle some flour over the top of the dough (to keep your hands cleaner) and divide the dough in two.  Tidy into the desired shape and let the dough rest on a floured surface or parchment paper for about an hour.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 450ºF.  If you have a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan, place it in the center of the oven as it heats.  If not, just bake on a regular baking sheet (which is what I did).  Make sure you have a rack in the lower half of the oven as well.

After the dough sits for an hour, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary before slashing the loaf and placing it on the stone or baking sheet in the oven .  Fill a metal cake pan (not glass!) with hot water and place on the lower rack of the oven, closing the door quickly.  This will produce steam and help with the development of a crust.  Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown and hollow-sounding.

Check here for instructions on using the dough for pizza crust.

Posted to Sweet & Savoury SundayShow & Share Wednesday, and Full Plate Thursday!

New Foods, Wild Fruit

While attending field school in Croatia, I’ve been trying to be as much of a Food Explorer as I can bring myself to be.  Anything someone picks off a tree and says is edible and anything served on a platter without visible tentacles has gone into my mouth.  Mostly I’ve been happy with the things I’ve tried, though there are some foods I won’t be eating again any time soon.  I’ve been keeping one list of the new foods I’ve tried, and another of all the wild fruit I’ve picked off trees (whether ripe or not).

New Foods

  • fried whole sardines
  • carpaccio
  • sea bass
  • mackerel
  • hrapačuša cake (a cake traditional to the island of Brac made with lots walnuts)
  • walnut, plain, herb, and rose rakija (Croatian alcohol similar to schnapps often served first thing you visit someone as a welcome/display of hospitality)
  • veal
  • things cooked under a peka, which is a traditional almost bell-shaped dish for cooking with hot coals
  • young (fresh) sheep’s cheese
  • sheep’s cheese cured in a traditional sheepskin bag
  • mojito-flavored ice cream
  • mojito-flavored  Schweppes soda
  • dried figs

Cooking under a peka, and veal peka with potatoes and vegetables

Wild Fruit

  • red, yellow, and green plums
  • blackberries
  • strawberries
  • olives (not ripe)
  • grapes (not ripe)
  • pomegranates (not ripe)
  • kiwis (so close to being ripe but not ripe)
  • figs

Blackberries on Brac, wild yellow plums in the Hinterlands

Exploring Sarajevo’s Old Town

Last month I visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where east truly does meet west!

Baščaršija Square, Night

The main square in Sarajevo’s old town.

Ok, Reader, I know I can’t keep making excuses but I just didn’t have the time this past week to get up my usual posts.  This one has been sitting in the back of my head for a while, so in the spirit of What I Ate Wednesday, here are some of the things I ate while visiting Bosnia in June!

Before getting to Sarajevo, I didn’t know much about it.  I did enough preliminary research to know it sounded like an intriguing city a few years ago on study abroad while planning trips.  Since I didn’t end up getting the chance to go then, I figured I could hit it this time around.  I’m glad I did!  While traveling through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, I learned so much about the history and culture of the region.

Sarajevo has changed a lot in recent years.  It was under siege from about 1991-1995 as the country fought for independence from Yugoslavia, cut off from water mains and electricity.  What’s there now is a fascinating mix of east and west.  The different empires that ruled Bosnia left their mark on the city in the architecture of the buildings–the oldest section of the city is Ottoman, just outside that are the 19th century buildings erected under the rule of Austria-Hungary, and on the outskirts are the mid-late twentieth century structures built under the communist regime.  I stayed right in the old city center, across the street from the main square of the Ottoman section, and explored some of the culture through food.

One of my favorite things to eat in the Balkans when on a budget is pita or bürek.  I think I’ve mentioned bürek before, as I try it in every country that has a version (it’s kind of like Bulgarian banitsa).  In most places it’s called bürek, but in Bosnia it is only called bürek if it is filled with meat, otherwise it’s called pita.  Pita is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese, spinach, or potato, usually baked in a large pan and afterwards cut into manageable(ish) slabs for selling.   To buy pita and bürek you usually have to go to a special shop called a buregdzinica.

Another staple of Bosnian cuisine, cevapi, is also best purchased at its own specialty restaurant.  Cevapi (or cevapcici if they are small) are grilled minced meat sausages.  Typically cevapi are served with onions, a cheesey spread, and a traditional bread called somun.  Cevapi make a quick meal and can be purchased at one of many cevabdzinica.  Around lunch time everyone in the city seems to be sitting at a cevabdzinica chowing down!

To end with dessert (always), among the many souvenir shops, coffee shops, and restaurants in the old city center, there’s a small baklava shop, aptly named Baklava Shop.  Baklava, like pita and bürek, are also made from flaky phyllo dough, but that’s where their similarities stop.  Baklava are super sweet, stuffed with nuts, soaked in honey.  It took me a long time to like baklava because of the intense sweetness and almost overpowering honey flavor.  What I liked a lot about the baklava shop was that there were so many different flavors.  I tried three: pistachio, chocolate, and walnut.  Each cost 1,50 KM.  Of the three I tried, I was most disappointed by the walnut, which had good flavor but an odd texture.  I was impressed by the chocolate baklava, which tasted like a brownie soaked in honey.  Definitely something I had never seen before!   Unfortunately I can’t tell you the name of the street where you can find the baklava shop, as the streets in old town are a complete maze BUT I do know if you wander just off the main square, Bascarsija, you’ll find your way there!

Halloumi & Couscous

Delicious Cypriot fried cheese and couscous packed with red veggies makes for a quick and easy meal!

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Reader, have you ever had halloumi?  I first had it in 2011 and I fell in love with it right away.  It’s a hard, salty brined cheese from Cyprus (also popular in places like Turkey and Greece) that is served fried or grilled in large slabs.  Sometimes it’s called “grill cheese.”  If you like feta cheese, or any cheese really, you should see if you can find halloumi at your local grocery store and whip up some for dinner.

Making halloumi is so simple.  All you do is pop it in a pan with some oil for a few minutes and BOOM, done.  Tasty fried cheese.

I also really enjoy eating couscous, especially in the summer when I try to use the stove as little as possible.  It’s basically pasta, and so in the summer as my potential pasta meals–on nights when I don’t want to cook, or at lunchtime when I need something quick but don’t want a sandwich–become couscous meals.  I’ve included one recipe below, but you can really use whatever you want.  This roasted veggie version is great but involves turning on the oven so it isn’t ideal for those realllly hot July days.  Of course, you can skip the roasting and use fresh veggies!  If I were to make this now rather than six weeks ago when I had a kitchen, I probably wouldn’t have roasted them.

Anyway, I’m off to do some more exploring in Croatia, so once again excuse the short post!  And please, if you haven’t had halloumi, go try it!

Halloumi & Couscous

serves 2

For the halloumi

  • 1 – 8 oz block of halloumi cheese, cut into 4 slices
  • olive oil for frying
  • black pepper, to taste

For the couscous

  • 1 red pepper
  • 8-10 cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry couscous (I used whole-wheat)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Drizzle red pepper with olive oil and roast for about 15 minutes. Rotate the pepper as needed.  Add the tomatoes, also drizzled with olive oil, and continue roasting for about another 15 minutes until very tender.  Set aside to cool.  When cool, peel and chop the red pepper and halve the tomatoes.  (Or skip the roasting entirely and use the fresh vegetables.)

In your favorite couscous receptacle (I like to use a large tupperware), place the 1/2 cup of couscous.  Pour the boiling water on top, and cover the container with a lid.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes before stirring in your peppers and tomatoes.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  When hot (water flicked onto the surface should “dance” and sizzle), place the four slices of halloumi in the pan.  Sprinkle with black pepper (don’t add any salt!).  Cook on one side until golden brown, then flip and cook until the other side is golden brown.  Total cooking time should be about 5 minutes.  If the cheese seems like it’s sticking to the pan, it probably needs another 30 seconds or minute on that side.

Serve hot!