S’more Truffles

Smore Truffles

Ahhh S’mores. The quintessential American summer campfire dessert. The first time I ever heard of a S’more was when I moved here in 2003. My friend just casually mentioned making them as part of a camping trip and I guess my blank expression prompted her to ask if we had them in England. There was so much shock and horror in her eyes as she tried to imagine a childhood without S’mores. Needless to say, she soon arranged the whole experience for me as if to undo a great injustice.  She pulled out a graham cracker, added a slab of Hershey’s chocolate, toasted a marshmallow and pressed it onto the chocolate with another cracker on top creating a little cookie sandwich. There were not many American food items that I had not heard of either from friends or American media so I too was surprised that these little squishy-oozey-delights had not made their way across the pond.

Of course once I thought about it, large toasting-style marshmallows were not available in England in the 80’s. Plus, the UK is not thought of as a summer camping haven because of the terrible weather. Yes, we may go camping but it’s usually in a water protected camping vehicle or a warm and cozy chalet because you just never know if the sun is going to be out even in the middle of July or August. As a result, there is not really a market for extensive camping cuisine like there is here in the States. (heated Heinz Baked Beans from a tin does not count!). This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy other outdoor cooking like barbecues as soon as there is even a hint of summer (not the american kind of barbecue -barbecue is just the generic English word for grilling out) but we mostly stick to kebabs, burgers and hot dogs. Greeks in London, don’t even wait for the sunshine, if we have a barbecue planned, rain is not a deterrent. Some poor male creature is assigned to build a makeshift ‘gazebo’ out of whatever can be found and stand out there grilling meat even if it means the aid of an umbrella!

So what did I think of my first S’more? It was messy and gooey and sticky and warm and crunchy and just delightful. I am not a purist though because I actually really dislike Hershey’s (sorry!) so I prefer my S’more with a less sugary chocolate but otherwise, good call America! In celebration of Independence Day, I decided to turn these delicious treats into truffles to take to a friend’s fish fry yesterday. It took me a couple of tries to really get these right but they were a huge hit. The challenge with trying to add marshmallows to anything is that they don’t have an actual unique flavour- they are just sugar. What finally made this recipe click for me was capturing the fluffy chewy texture as well as the toasted sweetness, and I think I got there in the end. But hey, make a batch my American friends and let me know what you think.

S’more Truffles

(makes a lot of truffles but the exact number depends on the size you chose to make them)

12oz good quality milk chocolate chips

12oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like using both kinds of chocolate to balance out the sweetness)

1 large bag of mini marshmallows (I don’t recommend using a store brand- go for the good stuff, you will really taste the difference)

1/3 cup of heavy cream

1 tbsp butter

1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

1/2 -3/4 cup of marshmallow vodka (optional)

Place chocolate chips, cream and butter into microwave safe bowl and heat at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir and heat for 30 seconds more at 50%. Stir again and heat for another 30 seconds if needed until half the chips are melted. It’s really important to stop heating BEFORE all the chips melt otherwise you will burn the chocolate. If you stir well, the remaining chips will melt away nicely without becoming grainy. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in vodka if using- add as much as you like but it is very sweet so be careful not to make the mixture too sickly. Line a baking sheet with foil and cover with non-stick spray. (I learnt the hard way by not using the non-stick spray when I did this the first time.The marshmallows will stick to everything if you don’t spray!) Spread marshmallows over baking sheet in a single layer so they toast evenly (you will have to toast the marshmallow in two batches to fit them all). Place under the broiler and watch until they become nice and golden brown. Take them out and allow them to cool for about 20 seconds and then spoon them into the melted chocolate. Finish toasting the remaining marshmallows and add them to the chocolate as well. Do not stir until all the marshmallows are in the bowl as this is key to capturing the flavour and texture of the truffles. Once they are all in the bowl, fold them in just enough to be incorporated but not too much so they completely dissolve. You should still be able to see lots of white flecks and strings of marshmallow throughout the mixture. Cover the surface of the chocolate with plastic wrap and place in fridge for about 3-4 hours. Put graham cracker crumbs into a small bowl. Scoop out a spoonful of chocolate mixture and roll it in the palms of your hands to form a ball. Drop ball into crumbs and roll around to get a nice cracker coating. Place the truffles back into the fridge in an airtight container until ready to serve.

S'more Truffles

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White Chocolate Mojito Truffles

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We all love a good Oreo style truffle – so easy to make and a guaranteed crowd pleaser but every now and then it’s important to remember the beauty of a real french style chocolate truffle. Decadent, elegant and the perfect gifts for any chocolate lover (if you can bear to part with them). Somehow, I had build them up in my mind to be this intimidating complicated process that absolutely required you to either have a culinary degree or French ancestry. Fortunately, I was very much mistaken and not only are they easy but once you learn the process, you can pretty much make ANY style truffle your imagination can muster. Which is how this recipe was born.

Recently some fun friends of ours threw a Black and White themed party to celebrate the completion of some pretty important exams. We were asked to wear black or white and, if we wanted, to bring black or white snacks to share. Once I heard that they had invited an amazing mixologists to make exciting unique cocktails at the party, I knew I had to make a white chocolate french style truffle with alcohol! Mojitos are my favourite cocktails and it’s pretty much guaranteed that if a restaurant/bar menu has some kind of mojito concoction, I am going to try it! (I also make a mean blackberry Mojito- even a virgin version – which I will share with you all soon). Therefore, it seemed only natural to make White Chocolate Mojito Truffles. They were a huge hit and I can’t wait to turn other favourite drinks into delicious truffles.

White Chocolate Mojito Truffles:

White Chocolate Mojito Truffles

24 oz good quality white chocolate chips

3/4 stick of butter (chopped into little small cubes)

9 tbsp of heavy cream

pinch salt

1/4 cup of rum (you can add less or more depending on your preference! If you want to remove the alcohol altogether, use 10 oz of chips and 1 tsp of imitation rum flavour)

zest from 2 limes

2 tbsp of lime juice

1 tsp mint extract

Place chocolate, cream and butter into microwave safe bowl and heat on 30 second intervals at 50% power until the chocolate is almost melted. White chocolate can burn very easily and turn grainy so it’s better to stop heating before it all melts. Once you remove it from the microwave, just keep stirring and the last few chips will melt away and it will become a smooth texture. Add the zest, extracts and juice a little at a time and mix thoroughly. Finally, add the rum and stir well. Cover in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 2 hours. The chocolate will be firm but malleable. Scoop out truffle mix with a melon baller and shape into perfect balls in the palm of your hands. (If your hands start to get too warm and begin melting the chocolate, run them under cold water and dry thoroughly before resuming.) Dust the balls in clear sugar crystals. They will need another couple of hours in the fridge to harden completely. White chocolate truffles are typically softer than regular chocolate ones so it’s best to keep them in the fridge until ready to serve.  This recipe makes a lot of truffles but the number depends on their size.

White Chocolate Mojito Truffles

Crazy Good Buffalo Chicken Mac n’ Blue Cheese

Recently I shared about some of the perils I experienced when first learning to make a sauce from a roux (browning flour in butter and then adding a liquid).  This led me to share a delicious easy alternative using cream cheese for my Enchiladas Suizas recipe. Even though I still hold to this quick fix technique as a useful tool in your weeknight dinner artillery, there’s something wonderful about successfully achieving the real deal when you have more time. My hope is that my Buffalo Chicken Mac n’ Blue Cheese will motivate you enough to try out this technique! It’s rich, spicy and creamy comfort in every bite.

Buffalo Mac n Cheese

By now you probably must all think I have an IV of constant cheese running through my veins where I just replace the bag with different kinds every morning (can you even do that …hmmm?!) but I promise I don’t!   The truth is, I have to actually limit my dairy intake for the sake of my lactose intolerance. For the most part, I don’t eat any other dairy items (yes this means no ice-cream) but when I do, it’s going to almost definitely be for cheese and it just so happens that a lot of these are the recipe triumphs that I love to share with you.

It’s hard to believe that for the first 10 years of my life, I actually didn’t like the stuff…if only I could remember that fateful moment when the winds changed and I began my descent into cheese addiction so I could go back in time and replace that slice of Brie (or whatever it was) with a carrot stick! Like most kids however, I thought Blue cheese smelt like feet and didn’t want any of it until about 10 years ago when, as with most addictions, I kept delving deeper and deeper for the ‘harder’ stuff! By the time I moved to the States and had my first introduction to the Buffalo Wings experience, I didn’t have to think twice about answering ranch or blue!! The pairing of that fiery, red, sweet tang with the smooth, creamy, richness of Blue Cheese Sauce was a wonderful new sensation. It is no surprise therefore that a timer was set somewhere in the depths of my soul waiting for the right moment to awaken my hands at combining the great delight of Mac n’ Cheese (another American Favourite) with Buffalo Chicken!

I confess that this isn’t one of those throw-it-together-while-getting-everyone-settled-at-the-dinner-table kind of meals. It’s more involved ..yes.. but well worth it for a special weekend treat. 

Buffalo Chicken Mac n’ Blue

2bsp butter

2 tbsp flour

2 -3 cups of cold milk (add more if you like your sauce to be thinner but keep in mind that the cheese will help the sauce to thicken once it melts)

1 8oz pack of crumbled blue cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 – 1/2 cup of Buffalo wing sauce (I know it sounds like a lot but the cheese really mellows away the heat.)

2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken

About 2-3 cups of elbow macaroni

Add half the wing sauce to the shredded chicken and allow to sit for about an hour before making the mac n’ cheese. Cook macaroni according to instructions. In the meantime, heat butter in the pan on medium heat. You want the butter to get hot but not to the point of browning or burning. Add the flour and, using a wire whisk, mix it quickly around into the butter. (I always test my butter by adding just a tiny pinch of flour and making sure it sizzles). Keep whisking around the pan for about a minute until the flour cooks and is slightly golden. At this point you want to start adding the milk very slowly but making sure to whisk rapidly the whole time. I usually gradually add the first half of the milk while whisking, but then take a small break to keep stirring and working out the lumps. I then continue to gradually add the rest of the milk. Once it is smooth and beginning to thicken up, pour in the blue cheese and continue whisking so it melts and is fully incorporated. Add the chicken and the remaining wing sauce. (We also added some Mango Habanero sauce….just coz that’s how we roll! Amazing flavour but very little of the heat actually managed to fight through the richness of the cheese.)

Once the macaroni is cooked and drained, pour it into the blue cheese sauce and serve.

Buffalo Blue Mac n' Cheese

Those lovely little blue flecks of cheese let you know that this a seriously good, rich and creamy mac n’ cheese. Even with all that Buffalo wing sauce, we added some extra on the side for a more powerful punch of flavour and heat.

Easy Peasy Very Cheesy Enchiladas Suiza

Enchiladas Suizas

I have mentioned in an earlier post how Mum would allow me to help her make the perfect lump-free white or bechamel sauce when I was younger. She would begin by making a roux (browning some flour in sizzling butter or other fats like bacon grease etc) then adding milk at just the right moment, and I would start stirring furiously to avoid any lumps as it would thicken. By cleverly and carefully tempering eggs, she would develop the sauce into creamy bechamel which was the basis for all kinds of dishes and casseroles. Needless to say, it was quite the achievement when I learnt how to make these sauces successfully but there were so many points where it could (and did) go wrong. If the flour didn’t cook long enough in the butter, the sauce would taste raw, or if the milk was added too quickly and not whisked fast enough, it was a lumpy tasteless mess. Worst of all was when the eggs weren’t tempered properly and I ended up with a bowl full of scrambled mush!! Once you have made these sauces a few times, the mistakes are less likely and you become a roux champion but sometimes the process can still be quite stressful – even for the most experienced cook. So why do people still bother?

White sauce is so delicious and many of our favourite dishes, like mac n cheese or enchiladas,  begin with it. Unfortunately, many new budding home cooks can be put off by this process (and the time involved) and turn to the jarred variety or ready meal option which are so inferior in flavour and texture. Recently, I  saw a recipe for mac n cheese that involved substituting the roux palava for cream cheese and noticed this was an increasing trend in recipes hailed as ‘quick, easy dinners’. I decided anything that would be more simple and involve cream cheese had to be worth a try so I concocted an enchilada recipe for my first attempt. It was amazing! Easy, lump-free, creamy deliciousness! What else can you ask for? ‘More cheese’ I hear you say? Got you covered! 

Easy Peasy Very Cheesy Enchiladas

Enchiladas Suizas

1  pack of reduced fat Cream Cheese (80z each) cubed and at room temperature.

1  cup skimmed milk

jar of your favourite green salsa

2 cups of shredded cheese (I like 2% Mexican Blend)

5-6 whole wheat tortillas

1/2 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp butter (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Grease a large rectangular baking dish and preheat oven to 400 F.  Heat olive oil in a pan and brown onion and garlic on medium heat. At the same time, place 3/4 cup of milk in a pan with butter and the cream cheese, stir frequently over low heat until melted and smooth. Add 1/2 cup shredded cheese and stir until combined well and turn off heat. Pour half the milk cheese mixture in with the onions and garlic, and add chicken and spices.  Lay out each tortilla and place a line of the chicken mixture down each center.  Spoon your favourite salsa over the chicken. Fold each side of the tortilla over the center mixture and then place them fold-side-down into greased baking dish. Spoon over some more of the salsa, taking care to go right to the edge of each tortilla. Put the remaining milk and cheese mixture back on medium heat and add the rest of the milk, salt and pepper to taste,and stir until well combined. Spoon cheese mixture over tortillas and top with 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese. It may not look like there is enough sauce at this point but as the enchiladas cook in the oven, the sauce melts further and spreads creating a lovely velvet pool of cheesy goodness. Place in oven for 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream.

Enchiladas Suizas

The Only Way to Eat Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are a staple at my family’s Christmas Dinner table. Those little green bundles have been passed right under my (reluctant up-turned) nose for the past 30 something years and I had all but given up on them until recently when I was in a restaurant ordering conundrum. While dining out for the Hubby’s birthday at South Congress Cafe in Austin (for more about that day read here), I was really craving scallops but the ones on the menu were being served on a bed of my holiday nemesis. The description read ‘crispy Brussels Sprouts’ (not boiled and mushy) and I was desperate enough that I looked at the server (probably with pleading in my watery eyes) asking him if these green buggers were really worth the rest of the dish. He assured me that they bore no comparison to my idea of sprouts and that the scallops were amazing…..so (after taking a deep breath) I couldn’t resist and went for it. One of the best restaurant decisions I have made! They were completely delicious and I kept talking about  them to John for days so it is no wonder that they ended up on  the menu for our Easter Sunday dinner. I couldn’t really find an exact recipe so I decided to just try and recapture the magic from the original description at South Congress (‘crispy brussels sprouts, bacon, lemon basil brown butter’) and some creativity.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

1lb Brussels Sprouts

2 tbsp butter

2 strips of bacon (cooked and chopped into small pieces)

1 shallot sliced thinly

1 small clove of garlic, minced

squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 tsp of dried basil

oil for frying (about 3 cups)

salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the sprouts and thoroughly pat dry. Trim off ends, peal away a couple of the outer leaves and then cut in half (if you need a visual there are several helpful videos on YouTube). Make sure they are completely dry.

Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprouts

Heat your oil to 350 F. Place a few sprouts on a slotted spoon and lower into the heated oil. Cover the fryer immediately to avoid being splattered with oil. The sprouts contain a high amount of water and they will start popping under the lid. Also, do not put too many in at once or there will be too much water released into the oil and they will burn before it is safe to open the lid. (We discovered this the hard way…needless to say I was a bit nervous because I didn’t completely know what I was doing and geared up for protection….think hazmat with a spatula! After doing the second batch as per my above directions, it was really easy and completely fine!) Cook each batch for about 3-4 minutes (you will hear the popping coming to an end) Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper before transferring onto a serving dish. You will probably need to cook the sprouts in about 4-5 batches.

Melt the butter in a pan. Brown the shallots and garlic in the butter then add the cooked bacon, and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour over the sprouts and then squirt a little lemon juice over top.

It was delicious and transported me back to that surprising discovery at South Congress! (The hubs said he liked it even better than the original ones we ate in Austin….but he is a little biased!) They were the perfect accompaniment to our Easter meal of Whiskey Stew, Yorkshire Puddings and Roasted Parsnips.

Easter DinnerCrispy Brussels Sprouts

I can’t wait for my next dinner party to sport these sprouts!

Birthday Burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin

Birthdays are a big deal here at the Duncan household, even more so now that the hubs is doing his PhD and hardly gets any free time. Last Friday, he turned 35 and I got the chance to pull him away from his laptop and piles of books to a weekend full of fun and surprises. In the morning he was given a large bag full of numbered balloons and had to pop them as the day proceeded to find out where we were going next.

Happy Birthday!

We had a blast- and I say we because it was just as much fun for me planning and seeing his reaction to each clue as it was for him to be spoiled! It was such a needed break and a very important day so there was no question as to where we would be spending our adventures- in Austin, TX! After a quick dash through the Starbucks drive-thru, we made the 2 hour drive south to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for a peaceful outdoor scenic morning stroll. This was perfect to balance out our stop for lunch at the hectic South Congress on a beautiful sunny day. In all honesty, apart from the parking issue, the extrovert in me loves being around any downtown hustle and bustle so I felt energized and excited for our stop at the incredible Hopdoddy Burger Bar on this famous Austin street.

Although it was heaving with eager hungry guests like us, Hopdoddy has this great system where your table is assigned to you as you are lining up and even on a very busy lunchtime rush, our wait to actually sit was only about 20 minutes. Even still, because you are moving in the line past the beer taps at the bar (and sipping on your drink) and creeping all the more closer to the burger order station, you feel like time is passing and you are making progress. Then the food arrives and you realize you would have waited double the time if necessary (and more!). Some of the most unique and delicious burgers I have ever seen and eaten. All their meat is ground in-house daily and comes from cows that are humanely raised and fed all the good stuff to keep them happy and healthy. Their buns are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day. The result?

Primetime at Hopdoddy, Austin

delicious and moreish hand-crafted burgers like Primetime: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli,

Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce

Llano Poblano at Hopdoddy, Austin TX

and the Llano Poblano: Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles,

Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo

Fries with Green Chili Queso at Hopdoddy, Austin

all finished off with their seasoned Kennebec Fries and Green Chili Queso.

I seriously could have gone back for dinner but fortunately (or unfortunately) there were other surprises to unveil. After a long afternoon of used-bookstore browsing, we returned to the buzzings of South Congress and enjoyed another amazing celebratory meal at South Congress Cafe. Sadly, the lighting was pretty bad for photos so none of the pictures I took on the night came out. I would have loved to shown you my beautiful plate of seared scallops with crispy Brussels sprouts glazed with basil, bacon and lemon brown butter, or John’s hearty steak au poivre and blackened jumbo shrimp. But, your imagination will have to do. The other alternative is for you to visit Austin, TX and taste them for yourselves 🙂

Austin, the weird and wonderful!

Having formerly lived in London, and then more recently close to the (believe it or not) up and coming foodie city of Chattanooga, TN, getting used to the limited culinary options in Waco, TX has been quite an adjustment.  It’s not that there isn’t some lovely food here, it’s just that those places are few and hard to find. I truly believe Waco is a city at the beginning of a journey that will end with it being a budding hip town but that will probably not happen during our time here. As much as I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, I equally adore exploring and discovering new food joints and then introducing them to others.

Luckily, whenever the claustrophobia of Waco sets in, we have two great neighbouring food cities in Dallas and Austin for a fun occasional adventurous getaway. Although, the 2 hour drive is not something you can do for just an evening, it is comforting to know that these places are accessible even if just for the day. Recently, we had the joy of visiting Austin while my in-laws attended a conference. We drove down and spent the night with them and when they left the next day for their flight home, we ventured into the downtown area for some quick foodie fun. Austin is famous for many reasons but it is the city’s slogan that says it all; ‘Keep Austin Weird!’ and we were excited for our first real dose.

The first stop was at Franks on 4th and Colorado and for any of you hot dog fiends, this is a must visit if you come to the great city of Austin. We took a long time choosing what to order because every item was so unique and interesting (and this is after looking at the menu many times from home before we arrived!!) . We settled (and I really mean settled because we wanted to try everything!) on a couple that sounded too irresistible to miss. (My camera decided not to work that day so we had to take pics with our phone. Sadly they are not that great but I still wanted you all to get a glimpse of the magic!)

I ordered the Southern Belle; a blackened split Vienna Beef Polish link dressed with pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and Cajun remoulade and scallions.

Southern Belle, Franks, Austin

John ordered The Notorious P.I.G.; house made pork, bacon jalapeno sage sausage topped with mac n’ cheese, and Dr. Doppelganger BBQ sauce.

Notorious P.I.G. Franks, Austin

I have to say, I did suffer from a massive case of order-envy after I tried his. Not that mine wasn’t amazing but his was just the perfect unexpected interesting mix of well-matched flavours. The pure genius of their menu, including sides and drinks, ensures that Franks will always be an Austin favourite.

After this incredible lunch, we wondered down town a little further and took our chances on a food truck for dessert, Gordoughs Donuts on S.1st Austin St. One of the saddest parts of leaving East Tennessee was being so far  from my all time favourite donut shop, Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts. Since moving to Texas, we have been hoping to eventually find something as good. Once more, we were enthralled by Gordoughs insane menu. With items such as the Boss Hogg, (covered in pulled pork, potato salad and honey bbq sauce!),  and Black Out  (brownie batter, chocolate fudge icing, chocolate covered brownie bites and chocolate syrup!), we knew we were in serious trouble again. We finally decided on trying two at the truck and then taking a couple back with us to Waco. This was a big mistake! We didn’t realize that their donuts are the size of your face! In fact I can safely say that the image of the donuts on their on-line menu is pretty much actual size! We ordered The Carney (apple pie filling, cream cheese icing with caramel and dry roasted peanuts), the PP&J (grape jelly filling with peanut butter icing and peanut butter morsels), the Flying Pig (bacon with maple icing)

Flying Pig, Gourdoughs, Austin

and a Black Out.

Black Out, Gourdoughs, Austin

Needless to say we really did bite off more than we could chew and didn’t quite get through the first two. But that’s what ‘to go’ is for right? What they are doing at Gordoughs is pretty crazy and unique. It didn’t quite replace my little retro Julie Darling in TN but I definitely recommend it at least once if you are visiting Austin. 

All in all, it was a fun escape from Waco and we can’t wait to visit Austin again sometime soon to experience more of their great city and awesome food. I don’t know if I could say everything we saw was weird but it is certainly a very unique town and extremely fun.