Stella Visits the Cherry Blossoms

Stella Visits the Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossom season really is one of the most beautiful times of year to enjoy DC. Stella and I went for an early morning (for us!) jog down to the Tidal Basin where the most flowers bloom to take in the pink, fragrant blossoms. We had so much fun together. Each breeze showered us with tiny petals that landed lightly on Stella’s fur. She looked so pretty, and she curiously examined the petals floating in the water.

Stella Visits the Cherry Blossoms

Stella was really happy to be outside on such a beautiful day, and she got a lot of compliments and pets from passing tourists. She could not contain her smile!

It was our first visit to the cherry blossoms together, so we felt inspired to take some selfies. I am confident that I looked insane. There were so many other people around with cameras, that I’m surprised nothing has appeared online yet making fun of us. Whatever…catching Stella’s kisses on camera was worth looking foolish.

I love how lush and fluffy the trees look when they are bursting with flowers. Flowering trees stud this city, but the ones lining the Tidal Basin carry the greatest impact because there are so many of them.

Stella Visits the Cherry Blossoms

Stella and I also visited the MLK memorial for the first time when we were down by the Mall. The memorial is huge and very impressive. Stella’s favorite part was the waterfalls that flank the memorial, but they were just beyond her drinking distance. Instead, a park ranger helped me fill my hands in a water fountain so Stella could quench her thirst. As the morning grew later and the crowds swelled, it was time for us to head back home. Until next year, cherry blossoms!

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Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

I was tasked with bringing dessert to this year’s Passover seder, and I racked my brain about what to make. Fruit and ice cream- too boring. A fruit crumble- nice, but fine for any time of year. Macarons- delicious, but more of a snack. Then I started thinking about macaron cakes and saw a fancy pistachio and strawberry recipe from Ladurée- too time consuming. Then, I found this winner from Smitten Kitchen. Large macarons made from hazelnuts instead of almonds aren’t as refined as the typical macaron, but stacked with dark chocolate and whipped cream into a layer cake, these macarons find glory. This cake is beautiful, textural, and really delicious.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

To make it, begin by roasting 12 ounces of hazelnuts in a 350º F oven for about 10 minutes until they are golden and fragrant. Let the nuts cool, and then pick up a handful and rub off their skins. Deposit the skinless hazelnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Getting the skins off of the hazelnuts as best as I could was, by far, the most difficult, tedious, and messy part of making this cake. If anyone wants to make the cake without removing the hazelnut skins and report back on the outcome, it would be greatly appreciated. I’ll try it next time.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Add 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in with the hazelnuts, and run the food processor until you have a fine, sandy texture.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

In a large mixing bowl, whisk 6 large egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Then, while whisking, pour in 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Continue whisking the eggs until they hold stiff peaks. While the eggs whisk, rip off 4 sheets of parchment paper and trace an 8-inch circle on each of them. I traced around a cake pan. Turn the parchment over so your eggs don’t touch the marker/pen, and lightly grease the whole circle.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Pour 1/3 of the hazelnut sand into the egg whites, and begin folding it in. When it’s somewhat incorporated, add another third of hazelnut sand, and repeat until all of the hazelnuts are incorporated into the egg whites. When you drop a dollop of the egg mixture back into the bowl, it should briefly hold its shape and then melt into the rest of the mass. It shouldn’t be too firm or too runny.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Divide the egg mixture into fourths, and spread it into a disk on each of the parchment circles. It doesn’t have to be perfect because the macarons will be covered in whipped cream. Set your oven’s temperature to 325º F. While the oven adjusts, let the mixture rest on the parchment paper for about 10 minutes so it has a chance to form a skin, which will help it keep its shape later.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Put the parchment paper on baking sheets, and put the baking sheets into the oven. I was able to fit all 4 of mine into the oven at once, but you could bake them in batches if you need to. Let the macarons bake for about 20 minutes until they are dry to the touch and golden brown.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Set the macarons to cool off of the baking sheets.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Meanwhile, add 3 ounces of dark chocolate to a small pot, along with 1/4 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of instant coffee. Heat the pot, whisking the chocolate until it is smooth. Remove the pot from the heat, and add in another 3 ounces of dark chocolate, which will help the chocolate mixture cool down for spreading. Whisk the mixture until it is smooth again.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Using an offset spatula, spread 1/4 of the chocolate mixture over each of the macaron disks. Let the chocolate cool and harden. To speed up the process, you can put the macaron disks into the fridge. My fridge couldn’t accommodate them all at once, so I just put one in while I made the whipped cream.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

To a large mixing bowl, add 1 pint of heavy cream, 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Using a clean whisk (wash off those egg whites!), beat the cream until it holds stiff peaks. If you’re a chocolate fiend, you could make chocolate whipped cream by whisking in 1/4 cup of cocoa powder as well. This whipped cream is so delicious on its own- try not to finish it off before it reaches the cake.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Remove the chilled macaron from the fridge, and put another macaron in to chill. Get out a cake stand or plate. Carefully peel the parchment paper away from the macaron. It will likely be somewhat tacky. Place the macaron on the cake stand. Then, rip up some pieces of the peeled off parchment paper, and tuck them under the macaron to keep your plate clean while you assemble the cake. Spread about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream over the chocolate on the macaron using an offset spatula. Remove the next chilled macaron from the fridge, peel off the paper, and stack the macaron on top of the first one. Cover it with whipped cream, and repeat the process until you have 4 stacked layers.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Use the whipped cream to fill in the gaps on the sides of the macaron stack.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Then, use the rest of the whipped cream to frost the cake and make it pretty. Dump all of the whipped cream on the top of the cake, and use your spatula to push it down and around the sides. Use a grater or vegetable peeler to sprinkle some chocolate shavings over the top of the cake. Remove the parchment paper from the cake plate.

Flourless Hazelnut and Chocolate Layer Cake

Your cake is now ready to serve or store in the refrigerator! I covered the cake plate with a dome and kept it in the fridge for 1 day until I served it. The storage time had no impact on the cake at all. This cake is best served slightly chilled, so remove it from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before slicing it. When you do slice it, you’ll get quite a visual treat. Those contrasting layers are so pretty! This cake easily serves 12. Serve with a scoop of chocolate or coffee ice cream. The hazelnut flavor is delicious, and the texture of the nuts plays well against the smooth whipped cream and slightly hardened chocolate. I can’t wait to make this cake again!

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen.

Shopping list:

  • Hazelnuts- 12 ounces
  • Sugar- 1 cup + 5 tablespoons
  • Salt- 1/4 teaspoon
  • Eggs- 6 large
  • Vanilla extract- 2 teaspoons
  • Cooking spray
  • Chocolate- 6 ounces + garnish
  • Instant coffee- 1 teaspoon
  • Heavy cream- 1 pint
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Ginger Lemonade (with Vodka!)

Ginger Lemonade (with Vodka!)

This lemonade is summer in a glass. It’s so refreshing, it makes me want to dip my toes into the nearest pool and feel sun on my shoulders. Sip a sip, ahh. I loaded this lemonade with vodka for a “welcome back spring” party, and the alcohol was mostly undetectable- making it even more drinkable. Even if you omit the vodka for a tamer treat, this lemonade should be on your warm weather shortlist.

Ginger Lemonade (with Vodka!)

To make it, start by heating up a simple syrup. Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a pot. Thinly slice up some fresh ginger, and add that to the pot as well. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and let all of the sugar dissolve until the liquid becomes clear. Remove the pot from the heat, and let the ginger continue to infuse the syrup as it cools. Meanwhile, squeeze some lemons. Making a balanced lemonade is all about the ratios, which can vary based on your affinity for sweetness vs. tartness. The golden ratios for this lemonade are: 1 part ginger syrup to 1.5 parts lemon juice to 4 parts water to 2 parts vodka.

Ginger Lemonade (with Vodka!)

I made about 10.5 cups of lemonade, and squeezed 12-15 lemons to get just shy of 2 cups of lemon juice. When the syrup cooled, I strained out the ginger and added all of the syrup, about 1.25 cups, to the lemon juice. I then added 5 cups of water and 2.5 cups of vodka. Once you’ve figured out your ratios, stir the lemonade, taste it, and adjust any of the ingredients. Serve it over lots of ice. This lemonade is so refreshing, that cute puppies and handsome dog walkers will come from near and far for it.

Shopping list:

  • Lemons
  • Sugar
  • Ginger
  • Vodka
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Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Remember when I told you about some of the foods I hate but wish I liked? Well, my tastes have evolved quite a bit since I shared that post a year and a half ago… who knew that was possible?! First, I shared my new love of mint in mint infused water and mojitos. Then I fell for salmon, baked in parchment paper or broiled with orange cream. And now, bell peppers. I really never saw this day coming. I sampled this roasted red pepper dip in my cooking class and was shocked by how much I liked it. I even wrote in my notes, “Doesn’t taste like peppers too much,” which is a nice way of saying, “Not disgusting!” David thinks this dip does taste peppery, so maybe I’m just coming around to the flavor. This dip is multi-dimensional with spicy and tangy undertones. It’s great party food. Or dinner food paired with crispy pita chips when you’re home alone and can do whatever you want.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

To make this dip, begin by roasting 2 red bell peppers. Just put them directly on a gas burner to char, rotating the peppers until they are totally blackened. My mom roasts lots of peppers at once under her oven’s broiler.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Once charred, put the peppers in a plastic bag and let them cool at room temperature. The peppers will steam themselves in the bag.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Once cool, hold the peppers under running water, and brush off their skins. Split the peppers open and rinse out the seeds and membranes.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Put the roasted peppers into a blender. Add in about 1/2 cup of walnuts, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and 1.5 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

You can find pomegranate syrup in some supermarkets, but mine didn’t carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy to make your own! Just buy a bottle of pomegranate juice, and pour it into a pot. Simmer the pomegranate juice until it reduces into a syrup. As the water cooks off, it will stop bubbling even though it remains on the heat. Once it reaches that stage, the syrup should easily coat the back of a spoon. Remove the syrup from the heat, let it cool, and then store it in a jar in the fridge. It’s sweet and tangy.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

Blend the red pepper dip until it is smooth. Taste the dip, and add more of any of the ingredients you think it needs. I adjusted pretty much everything but the peppers and walnuts. Blend again. If you want the dip to have a thicker consistency, you can blend in some breadcrumbs.

Muhammara: Red Pepper Dip

This dip is great served with crisped up pita. Just slice a pita into wedges, and bake it in the oven at 325 or 350º F until it browns and crisps. It’s also great spread on a sandwich. If you’re not a pepper lover like me, this dip just might help bring you around. Now if anyone could help me like goat cheese…(never going to happen).

Shopping list:

  • Red bell peppers- 2
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Walnuts- 1/2 cup
  • Lemon- 1
  • Pomegranate syrup- 1.5 tablespoons
  • Cumin- 1 teaspoon
  • Pepper flakes- 1 teaspoon
  • Salt
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Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Amid the winter that never ends, this asparagus soup is our first sign of spring! In Europe, asparagus truly ushers in the spring season. Once the asparagus sprouts, it is EVERYWHERE!

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Even growing inside of restaurants in Munich! And it is so delicious. When I was studying in Paris, my friends and I did some traveling at the start of spring, and we had the privilege of sampling asparagus in many countries. Germany and Switzerland definitely had the best offerings. Asparagus appeared on our plates in all different colors (green, white) and sizes (skinny, insanely fat). But the best asparagus I ate was in Geneva, in soup, and it was ridiculously expensive because of the exchange rate. I still think of that soup all these years later, and this iteration is pretty close. If I served it in one of those lion head bowls, it would be even closer.

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

To make this soup, get 2 bunches (about 24 ounces) of the freshest, prettiest green asparagus you can find. Break the woody ends off of the bottom of the asparagus, and then cut the spears into large pieces. Also chop up 1 large shallot. Heat about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pot, add the asparagus and shallot, and sweat them until they soften somewhat. Season the asparagus with salt and pepper.

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Add enough chicken stock to the pot to just cover the asparagus. Fill cheesecloth or a fillable tea bag with dried thyme and a bay leaf, and add that to the pot as well. Simmer the asparagus until it is completely soft- when you stick a fork in the asparagus, the asparagus should fall right off.

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Once the asparagus is tender, REMOVE THE BAG OF SPICES FROM THE SOUP. Then, puree the soup. I wanted my asparagus soup to have a chunky texture, so I used an immersion blender to quickly chop the asparagus in each area of the pot. Season the soup to taste with salt.

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Next, pour about 1/3 cup of cream into the soup, and stir it to combine. Squeeze in about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for some very balancing acidity. Taste the soup and adjust any seasonings.

Signs of Spring: Asparagus Soup

Serve the soup with crusty bread. After David ate one spoonful of this soup, he asked if there was cheese in it. It really does have a kind of melted cheese texture- substantial, somewhat thick, and perfectly decadent. Crave-worthy all around!

Shopping list:

  • Asparagus- 2 bunches, about 24 ounces
  • Shallot- 1
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken stock- about 2 cups
  • Dried thyme
  • Bay leaf
  • Cream- 1/3 cup
  • Lemon- 1
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