Archive for November, 2010


I may have stopped recapping Top Chef Just Desserts, but I continued to watch.  The show actually got better as the drama went away, and viewers were able to get a glimpse at some extremely talented pastry chefs.  The wide range of skills they have is incredible, from wedding cakes, to edible dresses, these chefs are pretty inspiring.

Zac Young is amazing and makes creative, delicious desserts.  He will definitely be getting my “fan favorite” vote:-)  Lucky for me, he happens to work at a New York City restaurant, Flex Mussels.  When one of my best friends from college was visiting last Friday, who also also happens to be a huge Zac fan from the show, I had the perfect opportunity to visit the restaurant!flex donuts

Flex Mussels has a wide variety of seafood dishes, along with over a dozen varieties of mussels.  They also have a chicken dish which was perfect for my seafood-hating friend.  The restaurant has a trendy vibe and is reasonably priced in the nice NYC-restaurant category.

A group of 5 of us went to the Upper East Side location for a 9:30 reservation.  The place was packed which led to slightly slow service, but the food was so good we didn’t care.  Matt and I shared the goat cheese salad plus two varieties of mussels: Italiano and Maine.  I really enjoyed the food, but honestly, was saving room for dessert.

Unfortunately, Zac was in the kitchen at the other location that night, but the desserts were still designed by him so I was ok with that.  Besides, it gives me an excuse to try the restaurant again.

The five of us decided to choose one donut each and have the waiter choose a sixth for us.  He picked salted caramel and I am glad he did! It had a surprisingly complex flavor.  My selection was fluffernutter and my friends picked blueberry, meyer lemon, chocolate and peanut butter and jelly. The donuts were the perfect ratio of filling to pastry, a taste of each in every bite.  They came warm and fresh with a side of some sort of creamy glaze.

flex donuts 2

Of course we also had to try Zac’s famous deep fried whoopie pie.

flex whoopie pie 1

O.M.G.  I now wish I had a deep fryer.  This was not the boring whoopie pie I have had in the past.  It was moist and flavorful chocolate cake sandwiched with cream cheese icing that oozed out as soon as I sliced it.  The crispy outer layer was delicious and added a great balance of textures. I’m not even sure what all of the sides were but I think the big scoop was coffee ice cream.

flex whoopie pie 2

We may have shared this around the table, but I managed to take an extra piece for myself.  It was too good to leave behind:-)  Definitely one of the top five restaurant desserts I have ever had.

Overall, it was a great night at Flex Mussels.  We all left full of delicious food and Matt and I resolved to go back for more mussels and dessert and hopefully catch Zac!

Have you ever met any famous chefs?  Did their food live up to your expectations?

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In case you haven’t noticed, I have a sweet tooth:-) I always have room for dessert, but if you can make a side dish that tastes like a dessert, isn’t that even better?  Combining that with the fact that pumpkin is one of my all time favorite dessert flavors, you can understand why I’d be a fan of pumpkin bread.


I’ve had lots of pumpkin muffins and breads, some are dry, some are too dense, and some just lack a true pumpkin flavor.  This recipe, however, produces a light, moist and flavorful bread that also works for muffins.pumpkin muffins 1

This recipe is super easy.  It is the one my mom has been making for years and she had gotten it from a friend of hers originally.  You can do all of the stirring by hand so no mixer necessary.

First, take your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt) and whisk them in a large bowldry ingred

Set that aside and combine your wet ingredients, pumpkin, oil, water and eggs

wet ingred

Add your wet to dry

adding wet to dry

Stir until well combined


The recipe is set to make 3 pumpkin bread loaves, however I wanted a little bit of variety

badder in mini muffin tin

An ice cream scoop makes the perfect transfer to muffin tins

scooping badder 1

scooping badder 2badder in reg muffin tin

A few pumpkin seeds for crunch



pumpkin seedsmuffin badder with pumpkin seeds



1 loaf for good measure

badder in loaf pan

Bake until bread and muffin tops are rounded and a knife comes out cleanregular muffins done loaf 2



mini muffins cooked

Cool everything on wire racks

all pumpkin

Eat it as a side dish



Or for breakfast

pumpkin muffins 2

My Favorite Pumpkin Bread

Makes 3 regular-sized loaves OR 1 loaf, 1 dozen regular sized muffins and 2 dozen mini muffins


3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 small 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)  – about 1 3/4 cup

1 cup canola oil

2/3 cup water

4 large eggs


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Grease pans with non-stick cooking spray and/or line muffin tins with cup holders

Whisk together dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl and set aside

Combine wet ingredients (pumpkin through eggs)

Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and mix well until combined

Pour batter into baking pans

Baking times for different forms:

Loaves: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Regular muffins: 18 to 25 minutes

Mini muffins: 16 to 20 minutes

Bake until bread and muffin tops are rounded and a knife comes out clean



Cool pumpkin bread out of baking pans on wire rack


What is your favorite dessert-like side dish?

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After I saw Jessica’s post of red velvet chocolate chip cookies, I knew I had to make them.  As I’ve mentioned before, red velvet is currently my favorite kind of cake, so how could I not try the cookies?  Jessica promised dense and chewy and she does not disappoint.  I didn’t just make cookies, though, I made cookie sandwiches, Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches with White Chocolate Buttercream to be exact.

So far, for my upcoming dinner party, I’ve made Chocolate Chunk Almond Butter Bars and Gooey Caramel Butter Bars.  In the past I’ve made a mix of cakes, cookies, pies and other desserts, but this year I am going with pick-up desserts only.  However, I still want to have a wow factor, so I have some big plans for upcoming desserts.  These cookie sandwiches definitely fulfill the wow piece.

cookies baked 3

The cookie itself is dense and chewy as I mentioned above, but it also has a nice mild flavor that isn’t too sweet.  A silky smooth white chocolate buttercream worked as the perfect complement.

I basically used Jessica’s recipe for the Red Velvet Cookies with White Chocolate Chips.  Her recipe is easy and definitely worth a try!

First take your dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt

dry ingred

Whisk them together and set aside

dry ingred mixed

Every good cookie recipe needs the basics: brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter of course

butter and sugars

Beat those together until fluffy

butter and sugars mixed

Then add your eggs and vanilla

eggs and vanilla added

Now for the fun, your red food coloring

added food dye

Gorgeous color!

red dye mixed in

Now slowly add your dry ingredients

mixing in dry ingred

Mix well

dough mixed

Stir in your chips

dough with chips

For making sandwiches, a cookie dough scoop is highly recommended; getting a consistent shape and size will be so much easier

cookie dough scoop

Leave a couple of inches between each cookie

filling cookie sheetcookie dough on sheet

They bake up beautifully with limited spreading

cookies baked 2

Set your cookies aside on a wire rack to cool and get to work on your icing cookies baked 1

The recipe for White Chocolate Buttercream makes twice as much frosting as you will need.  Start thinking of other ways to eat it, you won’t want this deliciousness to go to waste (well, you could always freeze it too)

icing ingred

Weigh your chocolate to make sure you use an accurate amount

measured white chco

Combine the chips in a saucepan with heavy whipping cream and melt on low-medium heat

white choc and cream

Stir continuously

melting white choc and cream

Remove from heat and stir in your milkstirring in milk

Refrigerate for a half hour and then you are ready to finish your icing

out of fridge

More butter, of course

butter for icing

Beat the butter until creamy and fluffy

butter whipped

Beat in your confectioners’ sugar

adding sugar

Get the base whipped well

butter and sugar whipped

Now beat in the cooled white chocolate mixture

adding white choc

The end result will be silky, creamy, light and delicious

icing done

Next, get set up to make your sandwiches; lucky you, there is plenty of icing to taste along the way

icing and cookies

Spread 1-2 tablespoons on the bottom half of a cookie (more or less icing depending on your taste)

icing on cookie

Top with a second cookie of the same size

Hide them so that you can eat them all yourself

Or freeze them before someone else does

Can you tell I liked these?  I think they are one of the best recipes I’ve made for the blog

Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches with White Chocolate Buttercream

Cookie recipe from Jessica at How Sweet it Is

Makes 22 cookie sandwiches

Cookie Ingredients:

3 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons red food coloring

1 cup white chocolate chips

Directions for Cookies:

Pre-heat oven to 375

Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt); set aside

Beat together butter and sugars until fluffy

Add eggs and vanilla and combine

Add red food coloring and beat until well mixed

Slowly add dry ingredients

Stir until well combined

Stir in chocolate chips

Drop even tablespoons of cookie dough on baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart

Bake for ~8 minutes or until slightly firm

Set your cookies aside on a wire rack to cool

Buttercream Ingredients:

4 ounces baking white chocolate

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup milk (any type is fine)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Directions for Buttercream:

Combine the white chocolate and whipping cream in a medium saucepan on low-medium heat, stirring continuously

Remove from heat and stir in milk

Refrigerate for mixture for half hour

When white chocolate mixture is cool, finish making the buttercream

Beat the butter until creamy

Beat in confectioners’ sugar until butter and sugar are light and fluffy

Now beat in the cooled white chocolate mixture until buttercream is creamy and light

Build Sandwiches

Spread 1-2 tablespoons of buttercream on the bottom half of a cookie (more or less icing depending on your taste)

Place second cookie on top and lightly push together


Cookies store well in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 days, or in freezer for a few weeks

I don’t even like white chocolate and I love these cookies; the flavor in the icing is subtle enough and i made myself a sample cookie without chips:-)

Do you have a favorite pick-up dessert?

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