Chocolate Coconut Tres Leches

Chocolate coconut tres leches on a plate

Tres Leches translates into three milks cake. With nearly the consistency of a pudding cake, the dense cake batter is designed to soak up a sweetened milk glaze that you pour over it before after baking and before adding the frosting.

 

I first sampled the traditional vanilla tres leches not in Mexico, but La Crosse, Wisconsin of all places. In a tiny Mexican restaurant frequented by college students and foodies our server brightened when we ordered the tres leches. The owner of Iguana’s Mexican Street Cafe made it from scratch and took great pride in serving us a huge slice. I’ve been thinking about making it ever since. That was July.

 

I wanted to amp up the flavor of the cake so of course I thought it needed chocolate. I found a version of Chocolate Rum Cake from Chow that lead me through how to add chocolate to both the cake batter and the tres leches glaze. But I also wanted to temper some of the tres leches glaze, which can become too sweet for my taste, with another ingredient. I found it in coconut milk – a great stand-in for much of the heavy cream and some of the sweetened condensed milk. I just couldn’t stop there. I also added dark cocoa powder into the whipped frosting for a rich dessert that really is more like Cinco Leches – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, heavy cream, and milk chocolate chips. I usually opt for semi-sweet but this creamy dessert works better with a milky chocolate.

 

Both of the recipes I combined made the tres leches cake as a layer cake. I like it better in a casserole dish – it’s easier to make that way and serves more people. If you want a layered cake go ahead but your cake may not soak up all the tres leches glaze, which was another reason I went with the dish – I didn’t want to lose any of the sauce!

Chocolate Coconut Tres Leches

Recipe

For the cake

¾ cup water

2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt. I used black onyx)

½ cup cocoa powder

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 ¼ cups sugar

5 large egg yolks

½ cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)

8 large egg whites

¾ tsp. cream of tartar

 

For the tres leches

4 ounces chocolate (milk chocolate chips work well)

1 cup coconut milk

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup evaporated milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)

Tres leches ingredients

For the frosting

2 cups heavy cream

1/8 cup coconut milk

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)

 

For the garnish

Shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

Mini chocolate chips

 

Directions

For the cake

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously coat the inside of a 9” x 13” casserole dish with cooking spray.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl whisk the egg yolks, oil, and extracts until combined. Whisk dark cocoa powder into the water right in the measuring cup and then whisk into the egg mixture.
  4. Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour until combined. (Lots of whisking!)
  5. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites, ½ tsp. salt, and the cream of tartar in a bowl until the egg whites become frothy, about 2 minutes. (Yes, you’re essentially making a meringue.) Gradually add the rest of the sugar, ¾ cup, into the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
  6. Working in three batches, add 1/3 of the egg whites to the flour-egg yolk mixture and fold together until there are no white streaks. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the egg whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the casserole dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Test to see if the cake is done by putting a toothpick into the center – if it comes out clean take the cake out of the oven. Cool the cake for 10 minutes.

Adding tres leches

For the tres leches glaze

  1. In a large, glass measuring bowl, melt together the chocolate and ¼ cup heavy cream in the microwave on medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Stir until smooth.
  2. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, extracts.
  4. Pour 1/3 of the tres leches glaze onto the cake. Wait 10 minutes and then pour the next 1/3. Follow the same process with the rest of the glaze.
  5. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, if possible, overnight.

 

For the whipped topping

  1. With a hand-held mixer beat the whipping cream until frothy. Add the coconut milk and powdered sugar to the whipping cream until stiff, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add in the extracts and cocoa powder and whip 30 more seconds.
  3. Spread the whipped topping onto the cake using a spatula.
  4. Optional toppings – shredded coconut and mini chocolate chips.
  5. Refrigerate 1 more hour.

 

To serve

  1. On a large plate use chocolate sauce (such as Hershey’s syrup – it’s for the design not the flavor) and make a swirl shape on the plate.
  2. Use the extra tres leches sauce in the pan to do another swirl of sauce.
  3. Cut the cake into square pieces.

 

*Not a coconut fan? The coconut flavor in this recipe is subtle. Nix the coconut extract and the coconut milk in the whipped topping if you don’t like coconut. Keep it in the tres leches and you probably won’t notice it. Or, just go ahead and use all heavy cream instead of any coconut milk.

 

Pieces of chocolate coconut tres leches

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Ramp Au Gratin Potatoes

RampsRamps look like a cross between a green onion and a leek – but they have a pungent oniony-garlic flavor softened with a hint of sweetness. Also known as wild leeks, ramps are a sign it’s spring!

 

In my bag from my local CSA (community supported agriculture), Fresh Fork Market, I had a bunch of fresh ramps in need of a home. I paired them with a creamy au gratin recipe.

 

How do you cook with ramps? It’s easy. Wash them and then slice them thin as you would green onions. Remove any filmy parts that may be coming off the white ends already. For this recipe I used the entire ramp—white and green parts. Time to get cooking!

 

 

Recipe

Ingredients

6 Medium potatoes (Red, Yukon, regular, or a combination)

3 tbsp. butter

¼ cup onion, diced small

1/4 -1/2 cup sliced ramps

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground pepperSauting ramps

¼ tsp. ground thyme (or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh)

1 can (12-oz.) evaporated milk

½ cup half and half

½ cup water

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, diced (opt.)

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel potatoes and then slice thin. I used my food processor with the slicing attachment.
  3. Place the thin-sliced potatoes into a pot and fill with water and a generous helping of salt. Bring to a boil over medium to high heat on the stovetop. Cook until the potatoes are just barely fork tender (about 4 minutes) and drain.
  4. Coat a 8” x 8” or similarly sized casserole dish with cooking spray. Place the potatoes onto the greased dish. Top the potatoes with the cheese.
  5. In a saucepan melt the butter on medium-high heat and add in the onions. Saute until translucent (about 4 minutes). Add the ramps and the garlic and sauté for another minute.
  6. Turn the heat to low and add the evaporated milk and seasonings.
  7. In a measuring cup, whisk the flour into the half and half and water until fully combined. Slowly pour into the saucepan and gradually bring to a boil stirring constantly. Simmer until thickened (about 3 minutes).
  8. Pour the sauce over the potatoes and bake for 25 minutes. Broil the potatoes on high for 3 minutes to crisp the top. Allow the potatoes to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Make it a meal—add in cubed ham, steamed broccoli or whatever else you might have leftover in the fridge.

Ramp au gratin potatoes*Tweaked from a recipe for Scalloped Potatoes from Very Best Baking.

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Simple Blackberry Vinaigrette

Blackberry vinaigretteFor dinner, we’ll often do a big salad–especially now that spring is finally here.

 

But salads can be boring. And kids know it.

 

So I like to play with the lettuce, toppings, and dressing to keep my kids asking, Can we have salad for dinner?

 

Berries–dried or fresh–are a great way to enliven a salad and add a burst of sweetness. I also like to add them into the dressing.

 

You can make your own vinaigrette from scratch by using equal parts vinegar (or fresh lemon juice) and olive oil along with seasonings such as dried herbs but I usually don’t have time on a weeknight meal to do all that. Instead, I start with a good quality store-bought vinaigrette as a base and then pump up the flavor.

 

Here’s how to make your own blackberry vinaigrette–this is the perfect starter salad dressing recipe for kids who like to help in the kitchen and are old enough to be trusted with the blender.

 

Recipe

Yield: About 1 1/3 cups dressing

 

Ingredients

1 cup oil-based salad dressing (I like Matsos Greek Dressing or Ken’s Lite Northern Italian Dressing)

1/3 cup blackberries (or any other kind of berry, fresh or frozen)

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (opt.)

1/2 tbsp. fresh parsley or other fresh herb you have on hand–basil would be fabulous (opt.)

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne

 

Directions

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Drizzle on your salad.

 

Salad Suggestions

Romaine lettuce or green leaf, topped with grated carrots, pumpkin seeds, cubed cheese like Gouda, thin sliced onion, rotisserie or grilled chicken

 

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Lettuce Tacos

Lettuce tacosWhen I first approached my kids about having lettuce wraps for dinner I was greeted to a collective yawn. Not so when I mentioned we’d be having lettuce tacos. Sometimes, getting your kids to eat more greens is all in the phrasing.

 

You can fill your lettuce tacos with whatever fillings you usually use on taco night – or go for something different. We decided on a Thai-themed version.

 

Thai Taco Recipe

Ingredients

! head Boston or Romaine lettuce*

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. white pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper (opt.)

Salt to taste (I prefer sea salt on this one)

1/2 lime

 

Lettuce taco assembly

Thai slaw (opt.)

1 1/2 cups shredded Napa cabbage

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 1/2 tbsps. Greek or Italian vinaigrette salad dressing (I use Matsos)

2 tbsps. mayo

1/2 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

(Toss together)

 

Optional ingredients

 

Directions

  1. Wash and clean the lettuce pieces – try to keep them as large as possible.
  2. Meanwhile, add the oil to a large saute pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the hot pan and saute until no longer pink. Stir in the garlic and seasonings. Finish cooking through (about 5-7 minutes total, depending on how small you diced the chicken pieces). Remove from pan; squeeze the chicken with the juice from the fresh lime.
  3. Lay out your DIY tacos with filling ingredients – lettuce pieces, chicken, red peppers, golden raisins, slaw, Sriracha and let your kiddos serve themselves.

 

*Use Boston lettuce leaves (for softer tacos) or Romaine lettuce (for a stiffer taco)

Lettuce tacos with sriracha

 

 

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Homemade Thin Mints

Stack of thin mints

My husband has asked me never to make these cookies again. Ever. They’re just too addictive. It’s impossible to eat just one and so we’ve been chowing down these homemade Girl Scout Thin Mints.

Thin mints with a bite

See, I had to make Thin Mints. We didn’t have any Girl Scouts come by and so I was left to come up with my own version. I used my favorite Chocolate Butter Cookie recipe as the base and added in peppermint extract. Now for the dipping! Looking through recipes online I saw plenty that relied on candy melts for the final dip. That’s a no-no. Candy melts have their place – a quick, fun addition to a dessert that you want to fancify, for instance. But you can’t rely on them. I like to mix them into semi-sweet chocolate chips to help it set, usually a 2:1 ratio. The better the chocolate wafers the better your cookies. I highly recommend Ghirardelli melting wafers.

Thin mints

 

Recipe

*Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Baking Companion Cookbook

Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies (depends on thickness)

Prep time: Not gonna lie, it takes awhile to put these together – but it’s worth the effort

 

Ingredients

Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cocoa (*see note below)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 butter at room temperature (not margarine)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon black onyx powder (opt.)

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

1/2 tablespoon honey or agave

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Dipping thin mints

Dipping Chocolate

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup dark chocolate melting wafers

1/2 teaspoon black onyx powder (opt.)

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 tablespoons shortening or coconut oil

Dipped thin mints

Cookie Directions

  1. Cream the butter and sugars together. Add the egg, water, honey and extract to the butter mixture. Blend well.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
  3. Gently mix the dry ingredients gently into the batter just until incorporated. Place dough on waxed paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until solid.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your cookie pans with parchment paper.
  5. Working with 1/3 of the dough at a time and leaving the rest refrigerated, roll out the dough, using flour and a rolling pin, to 1/4″ thick. The object here is to keep the cookies AS COLD AS POSSIBLE so they don’t melt much when you cook them.
  6. Use a circular cookie cutter, the open end of a glass, or my favorite – a Linzer cookie cutter – to cut out the cookie shapes.
  7. Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes and then check on them. Let the cookies cool on the pan.

 

Dipping Directions

  1. Melt all of the chocolate dipping ingredients in a glass bowl in the microwave.
  2. Place the cookies into the dipping chocolate one at a time and smooth the top with a spoon. Move onto the waxed paper to set; I like to put the waxed paper on a cookie sheet and then into the refrigerator.
  3. If you want your cookies to have that perfect-Thin Mint edge try this tip from my neighbor who has her own candy-making business, Celestial Sweets. Once the chocolate coating is set use your vegetable peeler to trim the excess chocolate off the edges.

 

*Note: to get the dark color try using Hershey’s special dark cocoa at the grocers or order dark cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour.

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Energy Salad

Last week I bought what was deemed an energy salad from Trader Joe’s — I needed it. I had about 10 minutes to eat something that had to fit as both lunch and dinner during a crazy day. The salad was so good I’ve been making it all week for lunch. Aptly named. The mix of spinach with crunchies like beans, dried fruit, and seeds fill you up and taste so good.

Energy Salad pic

 

Recipe

Serving: One, big, yummy salad

 

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups baby spinach

1/8 cup pumpkin seeds

1/8 cup chickpeas (canned, drained)

1/8 cup edamame

1/8 cup dried cranberries

1/8 cup shredded carrots

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger miso dressing

Energy Salad Ingredients

Directions

  1. Place baby spinach in the bottom of your salad bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Enjoy!

A few notes:

  • I used shelled edamame seeds that came in a microwave steam bag.
  • I bought miso ginger dressing, but you can make your own simple dressing by mixing equal parts olive oil and vinegar and add a little fresh lemon juice, then dried or fresh herbs.
  • The leftover ingredients I stashed in the fridge and then added them to other meals for my kiddos – so far the edamame has been a hit.
You can make salads ahead of time and put them in dishes for quick lunches all week long.

You can make salads ahead of time and put them in dishes for quick lunches all week.

 

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Easy Mediterranean Chicken Soup

Mediterrean soup

5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature outside–but with the windchill it feels more like -6. Chicken noodle soup time. I’m getting tired of the regular chicken soup as the temperatures continue to slide. To capture a little bit of summer in a bowl, while warming myself up I’ve been making this Mediterranean version.

 

Recipe

 

Ingredients

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (hello, leftovers!)

3 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika (smoked, preferred)

1 10-oz. box Israeli couscous

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 lemon

 

Directions

  1. Prepare the couscous according to package directions. You can use the smaller, more widely available Moroccan couscous but I prefer the larger, Israeli variety.
  2. Place the 2 tbsp. of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot to coat. Saute the onions and garlic over medium-high heat until fragrant and the onions translucent.
  3. Add in the carrots and celery and saute for 2 more minutes.
  4. Stir in the chicken and saute 2 more minutes.
  5. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring the mixture just to a simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Mix in couscous, parsley, olives, and seasonings.
  7. Serve each soup bowl topped with feta cheese and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions

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Easy No-Cook Noodle Lasagna

Lasagna Kit box

We’ve been hovering around freezing temps here in the Midwest so I’ve been on the hunt for recipes that heat up my house–and my tummy. Red Gold sent me a Lasagna Kit so that I can try out their version of this comfort food staple. I’m already a fan of Red Gold tomatoes–they’re grown here in the region in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, and they hold that just-picked flavor of tomatoes even when there’s a foot of snow outside.

 

I tweaked Red Gold’s Easy Classic Lasagna recipe to make my own version–I usually add an egg to the ricotta cheese to thin it out when I’m putting it into the uncooked lasagna and it helps hold the cheese in place once the dish is cooked. I can’t help but add a little heat to my lasagna, too–if you’re not a spice girl, feel free to leave off the extra kick of cayenne pepper.

 

To find more recipe ideas you can check out Red Gold’s other lasagna varieties. I have the Eggplant Florentine on my list to try soon since Mr. Squid loves eggplant.

Lasagna

Recipe

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1-2 cloves garlic, diced

1 pound cooked Italian sausage

1 16-oz. box lasagna noodles

1 15-oz. carton ricotta

1 egg

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning (I used 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped basil)

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (opt.)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Use a handheld immersion blender to mix together the tomatoes, garlic, and water in a large bowl (or you can place these in a blender). In another bowl, whisk together the egg with the ricotta cheese and the Italian seasoning along with the cayenne pepper, if using. Now it’s time to assemble your lasagna!
  2. Generously coat a 9×13″ baking pan with baking spray. Spread 1 1/2 cups sauce on the bottom of the pan. Arrange 1/3 of the uncooked noodles over the sauce. It’s fine to overlap a little.
  3. Next, smear 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles (they’ll wiggle around a little, just put them back in place). Top with 1/2 of the sausage, sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
  4. Drizzle 1 cup tomato sauce over the cheese then top with another layer of pasta noodles.
  5. Repeat the steps above: ricotta, sausage, cheese, sauce, noodles.
  6. Pour the remaining sauce on the final layer of noodles then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan.
  7. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour; remove foil and cook for another 1/2 hour or until the top is golden. Let the lasagna stand for 10-15 minutes before you cut into it.

Your turn: What’s your favorite tweak to classic lasagna?

 

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Why aren’t you eating…julienne cut sun dried tomatoes

Sundried tomatoesSun dried tomatoes packed in oil are a regular addition to a variety of dishes at my house–from pasta sauces to enchilada sauce. I usually mix in the sun dried tomatoes with my hand stick blender so you never know they’re in there except for a deep, rich flavor.

 

But sun dried tomatoes on their own? I hadn’t tried that before. Then I had  a sprinkling of julienne cut sun dried tomatoes over my dish at La’Albatross, a fabulous restaurant in downtown Cleveland. French. They’re the only place in the city with their own fromagier, aka a cheese monger. (I know, I had to ask what a fromagier was, too.)

 

Since then I’ve been topping salads, pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, and more with julienne cut sun dried tomatoes. I’m hooked on Mariani Sun Dried Tomatoes. I find them in the produce section of the grocery store–chances are you can, too.

 

Lately, I’ve only been able to find the flavored varieties–basil and hot pepper I prefer them plain so I can play up the flavor however I like.

 

Packaged sundried tomatoes

 

 

 

 

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Easy Baked Alaska

Slice of Baked AlaskaLayered with two kinds of ice cream and topped with an impossibly golden meringue topping, Baked Alaska is an impressive dessert to serve to your family (invite guests for this one!). Here’s the secret: it’s really easy to make. The key? Be patient and have lots of freezer space. Lots.

So keep it cool for Valentine’s Day with this dessert.

Keep it fun: Around our house we have a bit of a competition when it comes to eating our slices of Baked Alaska. We serve them upright–no sideways slices. You try to see how small you can get your piece before it falls over.

 

Eating Baked AlaskaRecipe

Ingredients

Cake

1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust

2 containers ice cream (1.5 quarts or half gallons; I like a layer of chocolate and some kind of vanilla/caramel combo)

Meringue

8 eggs

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. pink food coloring (optional)

Chocolate sauce

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

Baked Alaska in the freezer

Directions

  1. Soften one container ice cream until just spreadable. Scoop onto the graham cracker pie shell trying to keep it in a dome shape. Freeze until hard. (Now’s the time to leave out the other ice cream container to soften.)
  2. Top the first layer of ice cream with the second just softened ice cream, keeping the dome shape. Freeze until hard.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, separate the eggs adding the whites into the bowl and discarding the yolks. With a blender whip the egg whites until they become frothy.
  4. Add the cream of tartar, food coloring, and powdered sugar into the egg whites, then gradually add in the sugar and continue to beat until stiff. (The mixture should form peaks when you dip a spoon into it and then pull it out.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and get everything ready. Clear out the freezer since you’re going to need to put your Baked Alaska inside in a hurry.
  6. Take the ice cream base out of the freezer and place it on a baking sheet. Quickly put the meringue all over the ice cream trying to cover it completely to the graham crackers edges. Have fun with it–create swirl shapes and peaks.
  7. Put the cake into the oven for 3 minutes. Watch carefully and remove as soon the the meringue peaks begin to cook.
  8. Stash in the freezer right away.
  9. Freeze overnight before serving.
  10. Make the sauce by melting together the chips and the heavy cream in a glass dish in the microwave. Allow to cool.
  11. Let the Baked Alaska sit out the freezer for 10 minutes before cutting. Run the knife under hot water before trying to cut each piece.

Making a Baked Alaska

 

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