MANGO + ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA

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Earlier this week, Southern California got its first heat wave of the season and it was a doozy. Alex and I live on the top (3rd) floor of our apartment building and so by the late afternoon, its typical for our apartment to reach about 90 degrees (!!!). We do have central A/C, which we’re totally grateful for, but I come from the notion that you should save the A/C for the worst conditions… aka I’m cheap. Because of this, I try to never complain about the heat, but it’s pretty much a given that sleeping on these hot nights will be hell, especially because I’m sharing a bed with Alex. You know how back in the old days (I’m talking like, the 16th century) when people would place bed warmers in their bed? Alex is essentially one of those bed warmers, which is something I cherish in the winter times, because then I don’t even have to wear socks or sweats in bed, but not so much in the summer. I love him, but the dude runs hot.

Because of the heat, the last thing I wanted to do this week was turn the oven on and bake a cake or cookies. Furthermore, I noticed how I hadn’t posted a non-sweets recipe since January (my bar nuts) so I knew it was about time to do another appetizer or snack of some sort. And even though Alex turns our bed into a mini sauna, today’s recipe is dedicated to him because he was the inspiration for it.

Any time Alex and I go to a casual Mexican restaurant, without fail, Alex gets the mango salsa from the self-serving salsa bar. Although I love fresh mango and pretty much eat a bag of Trader Joe’s dried mangoes every day, mango salsa has never really been my thing. In my opinion, it's usually too sweet and has none of the spice or other flavors that I crave in my favorite salsas. And I’m convinced that most of them have added sugar to achieve that flavor. So, I decided to turn a mango salsa into something that both Alex and I would enjoy, which was achieved by adding a little heat with serrano peppers and a good amount of roasted tomatillos.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the Mexican fruit, let me tell you a little bit about tomatillos. Although they are part of the nightshade family and look like unripened green tomatoes, tomatillos are actually not tomatoes! They’re smaller, come in a papery husk which is easily removable and have a sticky residue on the exterior. Their bright green color is what gives Mexican salsa verde its signature look and as for taste, it is more acidic than normal tomatoes. Because of this added acidity, I felt like sweet, ripe mangoes would be a perfect match when balanced correctly. After a few trials, I believe that I found the perfect blend of sweetness, spiciness and acid.

In order to get that right balance, it is very important that you only use ripe mangoes. Otherwise, if you add a mango that isn’t ready, the sweetness won’t be there and you won’t even be able to tell that there’s mangoes in the salsa. Tomatillos can be a pretty overpowering flavor, so in order to combat this, ripe mangoes are vital. Don’t even bother making this salsa if your mangoes are unripe!

Although I pledged to not turn the oven on this week, I made the exception to turn the broiler on to roast not only the tomatillos, but the peppers and garlic cloves as well. Roasting these three ingredients allowed the flavors to be more accentuated and added more depth to the salsa. You want to achieve a light char on them, so don’t worry if you think you’ve “burned” the tomatillos or anything. Char equals flavor. Oh! And speaking of the serrano peppers, if you’re afraid of spicy food, I would suggest removing the seeds after you’ve roasted them, and using anywhere from one to two peppers (or less if you’re still hesitant). My ideal salsa is one whole pepper with some of the seeds squeezed out after roasting.

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And just so everyone is aware, Alex told me that this salsa is “the best salsa he’s ever had” and I literally had to take the bowl away from him because he would have eaten all of it. That’s a big deal! And I know he’s not lying because we’ve been together for 5 and 1/2 years and so we’re well past the phase of not being brutally honest with one another (he loves telling me when my hair is too fluffy).

If mango isn’t your thing, check out my other salsa recipe here, which includes a recipe for homemade tortilla chips.

Mango and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 small to medium-sized tomatillos

  • 1 -2 serrano peppers, depending on preferred spice level

  • 3 unpeeled garlic cloves

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

  • 1/2 cup red onion (about 1/2 an onion), chopped

  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 2 ripe mangoes, chopped

Directions

  1. Move the oven rack to the top position and preheat the broiler.

  2. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and quickly rinse them with water to get rid of the sticky residue. Place the tomatillos, pepper(s) and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and broil them for about 10-12 minutes, turning halfway. You want everything to be slightly charred, so if the garlic or pepper roasts faster, remove them first. Once roasted, peel the garlic cloves and remove the stem from the pepper. If concerned about heat, cut the pepper in half and squeeze out some of the seeds.

  3. In a food processor fitted with the S-blade or in a high-powered blender, add all ingredients except for the mango, and pulse until everything is pureed. A few chunks are okay. Add the mango and pulse 5-7 times. Add more salt if needed. Transfer to your desired bowl and eat immediately with chips.

CLASSIC CHEESECAKE W/ SOUR CREAM TOPPING

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Last year, I featured a cocktail recipe that was inspired by my trip to Berlin, Germany back in 2016. I won’t go into detail again about the trip (you can quickly read about it here if you’d like), but I spoke about how I had received an issue for Bon Appétit the month before leaving for Berlin, and luckily enough, that particular issue had an article dedicated to Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods and the best places to eat, drink and hang out. Besides taking the amazing advice to hit up an all-day cafe called ORA in Kreuzberg, I made a mental note to partake in the German ritual called “kaffee and kuchen”, translating to coffee and cake, that Bon Appétit mentioned. It essentially means having a meal between meals and simply is an excuse to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and snack in the afternoon. Bon Appétit said that the best place to partake in this was a spot called Five Elephant, and that you had to get a slice of their cheesecake. So, before Alex and I were heading to a late lunch (at Burgermeister - another spot I strongly suggest visiting) we decided to make the journey to Five Elephant for afternoon Americanos and a slice of cheesecake.

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

And let me tell you: it was without a doubt one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was a beautiful day with perfect weather and we took our coffees and slice of cheesecake and sat at a table outside surrounded by locals. The cheesecake lived up to its reputation and we tried our hardest not to eat the entire thing before heading to our next meal. I’m pretty sure we failed.

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When I came home from the trip, I filled my mom in on everything that we did, including the best cheesecake I had ever had. When I showed her the picture of our cheesecake and coffee (the picture above), she noticed that the cheesecake had a layer of sour cream on top, which she told me was exactly the same way her mother (who was Czech) made it. My Babi (grandmother in Czech) sadly passed away when I was 10, so I don’t always remember the amazing desserts that she made, so her cheesecake had completely slipped my mind. Actually, what I regret most is that my little lazy kid self wasn’t more interested in helping my Babi out in the kitchen - I would have loved to have learned to bake all her Czech desserts. But luckily, I have my aunts and mom to call on when I need a “Babi” recipe, since they saved all of her recipe books and clippings from newspapers and magazines, and it was my aunts who helped me with getting Babi’s cheesecake recipe.

Earlier this week, when I took the first bite of my interpretation of Babi’s cheesecake, I was immediately transported back to Kreuzberg. Babi’s recipe tastes exactly like what I had at Five Elephant, and now every time I’ll bake it in the future, not only will it remind me of my time in Berlin and the wonderful trip I had there, but it also will be a tribute to Babi and will allow me to bring her back to life (in my kitchen at least). When I gave a piece of the cheesecake to my mom, she was ecstatic and quite emotional that she was able to taste that flavor again since she hasn’t had it since Babi passed away. I truly cannot wait to pass these recipes and my own onto my kids and grandkids and I just hope that they develop a passion for baking as I did.

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The cheesecake filling itself is extremely simple with only 4 ingredients - cream cheese, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. I usually recommend doing a water bath but since this is a smaller cheesecake, it only bakes for about 30 minutes, half the time compared to my other recipes. So therefore, I feel like going to the trouble of preparing the water bath isn’t worth the extra time or effort. I also made this cheesecake twice, once with a water bath and once without, and funny enough, I preferred the texture of the cheesecake without the water bath. AND although a water bath also aides in preventing cracks from occurring, there’s no need to worry about that due to the sour cream topping. The topping, consisting of sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract, is poured over the baked and slightly cooled cheesecake, and then popped back into the oven for another 8-10 minutes. So any cracks or imperfections are hidden underneath the topping. And if for some reason your sour cream topping isn’t as smooth as you’d like, cover the top with fruit and you’re good to go.

If you’re not completely sold on the sour cream topping, trust me, it makes the cheesecake SO much better by adding more creaminess and tanginess. If you want, you can use less of the sour cream ( instead of a whole pint, you can use half) and just make a thinner layer.

P.S. interested in another Czech dessert? Here’s a recipe for palacinky aka Czech crêpes.

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Classic Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping

Makes (1) 9in. or 10 in. cheesecake

Recipe adapted from my Babi and aunt!

Ingredients

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For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

For the sour cream topping

  • 1 pint (16 oz.) sour cream

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and melted butter and transfer to a 9 or 10 in. springform pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.

  3. Bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling. Keep the oven on at 350°F.

Make the filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together for a few more minutes until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, making sure each one is incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just combined. Turn off the mixer and finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.

  3. Bake the cheesecake for 20-25 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven temperature up to 450°F.

Make the sour cream topping:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract together. Slowly pour the mixture over the top of the slightly cooled cheesecake and spread evenly using an offset spatula.

  2. Place the cheesecake bake in the oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes.

  3. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cake overnight/at least 8 hours before slicing into it.

CHEWY FUNFETTI SUGAR COOKIES

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Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, it is now - unofficially - summertime. My Memorial Day weekend ended up being pretty laidback and filled with dinners with family (both mine and Alex’s) and staying in to watch really random movies (Girl, Interrupted and Children of Men, if you’re curious) due to the rainy weather. As I had mentioned in my previous post, we were planning on attending our first Cinespia screening of the season but because of the crappy weather, the event was unfortunately cancelled. BUT we luckily were able to exchange our tickets and will be seeing The Goonies this weekend!

Today marks my 8th cookie recipe post on The Vivid Kitchen. Among those recipes, there have been a couple variations of the beloved chocolate chip cookie, a seasonal ginger molasses cookie that I wish I could eat year-round, and my personal favorite non-chocolate cookie: salted brown sugar toffee cookies. But for today, I’m giving you one of the most traditional cookie recipes around: a version of a sugar cookie. Unlike the ones you roll out and cut into shapes around Christmas time, these are baked just like normal cookies (the dough is scooped out with a cookie scoop).

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The texture on these sugar cookies is probably as close as it can get to my idea of cookie perfection. The cookie interior is very soft and chewy, while the exterior is more crisp. We get all of these ideal cookie textures from the addition of corn starch. I’ve made a handful of sugar cookies over the years, and without a doubt, I believe that it’s the corn starch that sets this recipe apart from the others.

If you can’t tell from the pictures, I made these cookies “bakery style” aka large-sized and, therefore, was only able to yield 9 cookies. I personally think these sugar cookies are better the larger they are because it makes them thicker and chewier overall, but I have made them regular-sized as well and they were a huge hit. So the choice is yours, but just make sure to adjust the baking time by a few minutes and keep on eye on them in the oven. These cookies are best when they are underbaked - you’ll only want a light golden browning on the edges - so definitely try not to overbake them.

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To jazz these plain sugar cookies up a bit, a good amount of colorful sprinkles are mixed into the dough. Normally, I’m not a sprinkles girl (I would rather add flaky sea salt to finish a baked good) but sprinkles honestly just work so well with these cookies. They add a subtle crunch in every bite, and of course, add color to an otherwise pale cookie. I suggest that you buy sprinkles that will not dye or stain the batter, so steer clear of nonpareils, the little sprinkle balls. The rainbow jimmies, the sprinkles that you see in my cookies, are a little bit more expensive than nonpareils but definitely will not bleed into the cookies. And if you don’t feel like spending extra money on sprinkles or just are not a fan of them, leave ‘em out and all will be fine.

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Making these cookies is super easy in that it’s a one-bowl recipe (less cleaning to do, which is always a plus), but there are a few things that need to be done to achieve sugar cookie perfection. The butter and egg need to be at room temperature when making the dough, and the finished dough needs to chill in the fridge for at least one hour. I feel like these are givens when it comes to most cookie recipes but I just wanted to clarify that these minor steps are actually vital to the finished product. As a reminder, using room temperature ingredients allows the dough to bind more easily, thus creating a more smooth and even texture, and chilling the dough yields a chewier texture and a more concentrated flavor. There’s a lot more to say about these two components of baking, but I’ll spare you and just say it’s important, so don’t skip it!

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Funfetti Sugar Cookies

Yields 9 LARGE cookies, or about 20 regular-sized cookies

Recipe slightly adapted from Posie Harwood via 600 Acres

Ingredients

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  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 egg, room temperature

  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda

  • 3 tsp. cornstarch

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 3/4 cup sprinkles (preferably NOT nonpareils)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix again for a few more minutes.

  2. Add all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cornstarch and salt) to the bowl and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, fold in the sprinkles until evenly distributed. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. (Tip: you can scoop out the dough before or after chilling)

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cookie or ice cream scoop (depending on how big you want the cookies to be), scoop out the dough and place them on the sheet. If you’re making large cookies, do not put more than 6 cookies on a sheet.

  4. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes (8-10 if making smaller cookies). The cookies will be a light golden brown on the edges and just set when they are ready - they may look underbaked, but they won’t be since these are a softer texture of cookie. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.