Tag Archives: sweets

Low Carb Chocolate Bourbon Mug Cake

17 Dec

Converting to a low carb lifestyle has had its ups & downs. At the start of our journey, both Scott & I encountered times in which we would have eaten the cardboard box our Amazon goods arrived in, out of sheer desperation. If you would have asked us on Day 4 if this is something we could live with long-term, we would have eaten your first born told you that neither of us thought this is something that would last past Week 1. Barring a small miracle, we likely would have not made it to the end of Week 2 if it weren’t for my personal tenacity and Teutonic nature.

Fast forward to Week 29, and I can easily look at a plate of Christmas cookies and simply shrug my shoulders in deflated enthusiasm. Never in a million years would I have ever thought I could come to this point and, in hindsight, I realize now just how much of a sugar addict I was. Nowadays, I rarely crave sugary or carb-laden foods, but around that special time of the month occasionally, I have a hankering for something other than cheese or salami. A while back, probably about a month into our new lifestyle, I invested in a 48oz bag of Erythritol. It’s a natural sweetener, a sugar alcohol with zero digestible carbs and is often used within the diabetic community. It measures 1:1 like sugar, and tastes practically the same though when eaten in large quantities can cause a bit of stomach upset for some people. Since we eat so little of it in one go, it works well for those times in which we want something sweeter.

The chocolate mug cake below came from a fabulous low carb blogger named Kim, aka ‘Low Carb Maven’.  I did make a few adjustments as I wanted it a tad sweeter and boozier more festive, but check out her original recipe. It’s a winner, for sure!

IMG_2506

LOW CARB CHOCOLATE BOURBON MUG CAKE

Inspired by Low Carb Maven

– 2 Tbsp of almond flour, sifted

– 1 Tbs of unsweetened natural cacao powder, sifted

– 1 to 1 ½ Tbsp of 1:1 sugar substitute/sweetener  (I used Swerve)

– ¼ tsp of baking powder

– 1 Tbsp of mayonnaise

– 1 large egg yolk

– 1 tsp of Bourbon (or water, or another liquor of your choice)

– ¼ tsp of vanilla extract

Sift all dry ingredients into a microwave-safe cup or ramekin. Add egg yolk, mayo, Bourbon and vanilla extract, and mix well with a fork until it’s all incorporated and looks like a thick batter.

Microwave on high for 50-60 seconds.

Top with sugar-free whipped cream or keto-friendly ice cream for a real treat, but the cake itself is pretty tasty as is. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Bourbon Pecan Pumpkin Butter

29 Aug

With pumpkin season lurking right around the corner, I can’t contain my excitement any longer. If I had to name one thing that I absolutely love about Fall, it’s that for 8-12 weeks out of the year you can find pretty much find anything with the comforting aroma of warm spiced pumpkin.

Pumpkin was not a big thing in Belgium when I grew up. It was mostly used in soups, but I hear from friends that nowadays Halloween celebrations are popular too. As a child, I can’t remember a single fun Halloween celebration. My only memories of ‘All Hallows Eve’ are that it was a solemn Catholic affair, and not the commercial circus it is today. Instead of happily hanging orange or purple-glowing pumpkin- & bat-shaped porch lights, mom would dress us to the nines and we’d be picked up in my dad’s old Ford to attend a full blown Catholic mass with his side of the family. If a 60-min Catholic mass in Latin wasn’t enough to sit through as a young child, especially hearing all the happy ding-ding-dong’s from the fair rides echoing over the town square, we’d also had to gather outside in the icy cold October air after mass and stroll the cobblestone pilgrimage path around the grey stone church building 3x, with the adults reflected in deep prayer. After that ordeal, we’d then swing by the graveyard to ‘visit’ people I had never even heard of and place potted chrysanthemum bushes on their gravestones, and finally, when the blood in my young veins was adequately congealed and my cold hands just the right shade of bluish pink, we were allowed to get in the car and drive to someone’s house for sandwiches and soup… followed by hot ‘oliebollen’ at the fair!

Nowadays, I actually enjoy the atmosphere Halloween brings along. I’ll come right out saying that I’m very wimpy and as such not a fan of the various scary haunts you find across town (*), but I love seeing the pumpkin patches appear and the fact that Halloween sort of rings in the pumpkin-flavored ‘anything’ season. I never knew pumpkin butter was so tasty, until I saw it at the store one time and decided to try it for the sake of culinary progress. I can literally ssschhhhmear pumpkin butter on anything from bread to yogurt, and in the dead of night on occasion, I can be seen spooning it straight out of the jar… Because let’s be honest, whatever I put it on, is really nothing more than a vessel to get that deliciousness in my mouth. A few years ago, when perusing Williams-Sonoma, I willy-nilly picked up one of their recipe cards for pumpkin pie. If you think the jarred stuff is good, wait until you make your own! It’s so easy and tasty, you’ll allow none to touch it until they pry it out of your dead hands. Let ye all souls be warned!
(*) I once bravely accepted an invitation from a friend to go to ‘Shipwreck Queen Mary’ in Long Beach, CA… where I may or may not have screeched at the top of my lungs and spontaneously slapped a blood-covered ax-wielding actor in the face out of fear for my life. I plead the fifth… but I did apologize profusely. Oh dear.

IMG_2470.JPG

BOURBON PECAN PUMPKIN BUTTER
(Inspired by a recipe for pumpkin pie)
– 1 29 oz can pumpkin puree, approx. 3 1/2 cups (not the pie filling kind)
– 1/2 cup apple juice
– 1/3 cup of good quality Bourbon
– 2 tsp ground ginger
– 1/2 tsp ground cloves
– 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
– 1.5 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp of ground cardamom
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– 1 cup of pecans

Reserve lemon juice, pecans & bourbon, and combine all other ingredients in a medium Dutch oven or large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook without lid over low heat for approx. 45min until thick. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 400F and toast pecans for 10-15 min. Allow to cool and grind them into a powder with a food processor… Or crush them with a hand mixer for a chunky butter.

Pour bourbon into warm pumpkin mixture during the last 30 min, and simmer until liquid is evaporated.

Fold pecans & lemon juice into the warm pumpkin mixture and allow pumpkin butter to cool completely. Adjust spices as needed, to your taste.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for approx. a month… Not that it’ll last that long!

Speculaas Cookies

20 Aug

Another blissful childhood memory of mine is ‘Sinterklaas’ day and the traditional ‘speculaas’ that comes with it. A typical Belgian holiday favorite, this spiced dark brown cookie is the star behind the ‘Biscoff’ speculoos cookie butter (or Trader Joe’s cookie butter) you see appearing on more & more American grocery shelves nowadays.

‘Speculaas’, or speculoos with double ‘o’, is readily available in Belgian grocery stores year-round, but its national primetime is definitely on ‘Sinterklaas’ day! Many bakeries press this deliciously spiced cookie dough in special wooden ‘speculaas’ molds, to create various imprints and shapes of the cookie, often with depictions of Sinterklaas.

20130820-191553.jpg

Top of the line pastry boutiques and fine bakeries even create toddler life-size Sinterklaas statuettes, that adorn their elaborately decorated & animated store windows and are admired by passers-by for their artistry with a sense of wonder.

‘Sinterklaas’ day, celebrated on 06th December, is deeply rooted in Catholicism since the Middle Ages. It is traditionally a celebration of Saint Nikolaus, patron saint of sailors, among others. Legend has it that Saint Nikolaus, a Greek bishop from the city of Myrna in present day Turkey, would roam the lands alongside the Mediterranean Sea, to remind folks of their religious duties. It is said he would preach about good moral values and spread cheer among the sailors’ families & children.

Sinterklaas festivities may seem insensitive to many Americans, but these traditional celebrations came long before they acquired any racial connotations later on in history. With the legend of Saint Nikolaus so deeply rooted in Catholicism and the religion’s pre-occupation with ‘good vs. evil’, the depiction of a ‘white’ holy man and his ‘black’ assistants has nothing to do with racial equality or differences… and everything to do with pitting good vs. evil. As such, Sinterklaas is depicted as a ‘good’ holy man, and his black assistants – Black Pete’s or ‘Zwarte Pieten’ – are meant to represent the ‘bad’ immoral influences we are tempted by. In that role, the ‘Zwarte Pieten’ are not meant to be depictions of actual humans, but rather portraited caricatures of frolicking, mischievous black devils that accompany the holy man to represent the evil influences that seemingly taunt us in our quest to be ‘good’. After all, if you were even remotely raised with deeply rooted religious beliefs, you have been warned a handful of times that the devil can take on any form to try and sway you from the ‘right’ path… Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet truly are considered equals in the story, with each their own role to shine in, and the Black Pete’s form of dress is merely an accurate depiction of what men would wear during the medieval times in Moorish Spain, and not intended as mockery.

20130820-181716.jpg

In present day Belgium, Sinterklaas still arrives by boat and many port cities will stage and broadcast his arrival over national & local media. In smaller towns, Sinterklaas rides the streets on a white horse and visits local schools, grocery stores and other public buildings. Just like Santa Claus, Sinterklaas makes house calls the night before, and parents urge their children to place a shoe by the hearth or the front door, so Sinterklaas can leave candy & goodies overnight. The importance of leaving a carrot or two for his beloved equine companion, is equally stressed! Throughout the year, parents cleverly use the whole Sinterklaas story to urge their children to be ‘good’, because being ‘naughty’ results in being whisked away to hell in Black Pete’s burlap sack. As a child, this was a credible threat that one could not take lightly!

‘Sinterklaas’ day was always fun. It broke the academic tediousness of school. You knew that anything could happen on this day, and you’d keep your eye out in giddy excitement for a glimpse of any of the Black Petes or a sign they were present. Many times, we’d hear the ruckus & screeching from a few classrooms down, and your heart would start racing with whirly anticipation of Sinterklaas’ arrival into your classroom. The first ones to arrive, were always the ‘Zwarte Pieten’. One would come barging through the door, throwing candy around and sending kids clambering all over their desks to get some, while another would mischievously start writing on the blackboard with blatant spelling errors and disregard for the scholarly establishment… Yet another would start emptying or rearranging book shelves or cabinets, or sit down next to you whilst mimicking your every move, much to the excitement of your peers. With Sinterklaas striding into class elegantly, almost royally, he’d immediately reprimand the shenanigans of his assistants, and inquire in class to spill the beans on what his assistants had been up to so far. Many children will eagerly blurt out everything from A-Z in hopes of pleasing Sinterklaas, much to the staged chagrin of the Pete in question, while others – like Teutonic little me – would feel there was no place for all of this frivolity until such time it was revealed who was on the ‘good’ list and who on the ‘naughty’ list. This was serious business, folks!

Other than ‘speculaas’ and chocolate, Sinterklaas – said to be hailing from Spain – also brings mandarins, marzipan and ‘lieve vrouwtjes’ as well.
(*) a marshmallow type candy in the shape of the Holy Mary

20130820-184055.jpg

SPECULAAS SPICES
(Adapted from Flemish celebrity chef Piet Huysentruyt)
– 4 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1 Tbsp ground cloves
– 1 Tbsp ground mace
– 1/3 Tbsp ground ginger
– 1/4 Tbsp ground cardamom seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground white pepper
– 1/4 Tbsp ground coriander seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground anis seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground nutmeg

Put everything in a ziplock baggy and shake well! Store in a small glass jar, in a cool dark place.

SPECULAAS COOKIES
(Adapted from a recipe by Flemish celebrity chef Jeroen Meus)
– 1 lbs light brown/golden sugar
– 1 lbs of pastry flour, self-rising flower or all purpose flour, sifted
– 8 oz of good quality butter, room temperature
– 1 egg, yolk & white separated
– 1-2 Tbsp of speculoos spices (see above. Use 2 for a spicy flavor)
– 1 tsp of baking soda
– 1 tsp pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl, and mix with a mixer or your hands until you get a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap dough ball in plastic foil, and rest dough in the fridge overnight to allow spices to develop flavor and permeate the dough.

Preheat oven to 400F. Roll dough into a sausage, and slice into cookie slices. Alternatively, roll dough out on a floured surface, and use your cookie molds to cut out shapes.

Place cookie dough on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and bake for approx. 25-30 min. Allow cookies to cool and crisp.

20130820-192241.jpg

Sinful Chocolate Truffles

7 Aug

What could possibly be wrong with a sumptuous mouthful of cream, chocolate and butter? If your genetic profile is anything like mine, there’s a lot wrong with these delicious truffles. As a matter of fact, I might as well bypass my digestive system completely and stick these directly onto my hips and thighs, since I’m incapable of eating just one. Who can, really?

Belgium’s love affair with chocolate ‘pralines’ & truffles traditionally unfolds at various quaint country tables, adorned with one’s best china and grandma’s hand-embroidered floral table cloth. Neighbors and friends eagerly gather around to catch up on the latest small town gossip, and to reconcile important town data such as who is getting married to whom and what was it that Marie overheard whilst standing in line at the butcher’s? To facilitate these impromptu social gatherings, a pot of freshly brewed coffee is there to loosen the tongues and the sugary sweetness of truffles is presented to melt away the bitter shock of hearing that the elderly pastor now has a pretty new housekeeper… and why is she so young? Not proper, I say.

Coffee is consumed by the liter in rural Flanders & beyond. You can’t ring someone’s doorbell without being beckoned to sit down at the kitchen table and have an unsolicited cup of joe appear under your nose within the first 5 minutes of entering, usually followed by an invitation to grab something from a box of sweets that permanently lives in the middle of the table. To my mom’s generation, a knock on the door holds the promise of an exciting bit of town gossip and one must be prepared for this kind of opportunity 24/7. No Belgian household is without coffee or chocolate. It’s just not proper.

When I first moved to the USA, glitzy Los Angeles of all, I remember that random people I had never seen before would wave at me enthusiastically on the street or greet me with a smile during my visits back to small town Belgium. It later dawned on me that my move to ‘Aahhhh-merica’ must have been the topic of conversation during many such coffee-orgies, undoubtedly piquing the interest of people who did not know Cecilia’s brave and/or adventurous daughter yet. I’m sure the news of ‘Helga-sightings’ spread fast within the community, like I was some sort of rare caribou one had to look out for. My mother’s main agenda for my visit back home was to cram in as many coffee gatherings as a week would allow. The upside of this was homemade cookies & Leonidas truffles at each one…

The truffle recipe below is an old-fashioned, artisan recipe I found online years ago. I tweaked it for flavor & richness of texture, but it’s fairly authentic and you can proudly serve these in a bowl… on your granny’s hand-crocheted doily. For good measure.

20130807-125949.jpg

BASIC TRUFFLES
For the ganache:
– 8 oz of dark chocolate
– 4 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 oz of good quality unsalted butter

For the coating:
– 4 oz of dark chocolate, melted
– ½ cup of semi-sweet cocoa powder

In a bowl, break chocolate into bite-size pieces and set aside. In a small sauce pan, heat heavy whipping cream over a medium heat until very hot. Add butter and stir until butter is melted. Then pour hot cream mixture over chocolate pieces and stir until all chocolate is melted and you achieve a smooth mass. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the chocolate mass, and refrigerate for a few hours until ganache is set.

When cold and stiff, take ganache out of the refrigerator. Using a double-boiler method, melt remaining chocolate for coating in a small saucepan. When melted and cool enough to handle, scoop small balls out of the ganache and gently coat them with the melted chocolate. Needless to say, coating the truffles is by far the messiest part of this recipe, but there’s no avoiding it so you might as well enjoy the mess. The best way to coat the truffles, is by gently rolling them around in the melted chocolate, using a chopstick or toothpick.

When coated, immediately take them out of the melted chocolate with a toothpick and roll them in a coating of your choice. Traditionally, semi-sweet cocoa powder is used, but you can also use chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, coconut flakes.. whatever you fancy, really.

Place the coated truffles on a parchment lined plate, and let harden in the fridge a little before serving.

ORANGE GRAND MARNIER TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following in the ganache:
– 1-2 Tbsp of Grand Marnier or Cointreau liquor
– 2 Tbsp of freshly grated orange zest

Coat truffles with semi-sweet cocoa powder.

IRISH TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following to the ganache
– 1-2 Tbsp of good quality Whiskey
– 2 Tbsp of very strong coffee

Roll truffles in white chocolate shavings.

WHITE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH HONEY & SAFFRON
Use basic truffle recipe above, but replace dark chocolate with white chocolate. Add the following to the ganache:
– a pinch of saffron
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– a splash of white rum

For the coating, use melted white chocolate and roll truffles in powdered sugar, unsweetened coconut flakes or very finely chopped almonds

20130807-130803.jpg

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

20130803-083535.jpg

MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

%d bloggers like this: