Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Daughter's 2nd Cake (for my bday)

easy chocolate chip cakeThis is the last piece of a very special cake my daughter made for me. One year ago (on my 40th birthday), my daughter (14) announced that she would start making my birthday cake every year (happy-happy). She had a bit of trouble frosting that first cake all by herself, so this year she opted for a non-frosted cake. It was a coffee snack cake with a cinnamon and chocolate center, and it was very yummy!

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Cake
Serves 9

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 350F. In large bowl, cream butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla; mix.

In a small bowl, combine flour, b powder, and b soda; add to the creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Beat well to combine.

Spread half the mixture in a greased 9x9 baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar and sprinkle over chocolate. Top with remaining batter. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Serve.

Note: I love chocolate and cinnamon together, but some people aren't fond of that flavor combination - if you're not fond of it, feel free to omit the cinnamon from this recipe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Emeril's Hot Potato Salad with Bacon and Ham

Emeril's amazing potato saladOh my goodness, was this ever good! It's a recipe from Emeril's new book Emeril at the Grill. I found this recipe on a great blog called Whipped by Caroline - you should definitely check it out.

True Confession Time, I've watched Emeril cook a gazillion times, but this is actually the first recipe of his that I've ever made. If his other recipes are half as good as this one, I'll have to add a few of his cookbooks to my collection!

I made the recipe almost exactly as stated below, with just a couple of very minor changes. I didn't have any creole or whole-grain mustard on hand, so I subbed dijon. I also had about 1/2 c. cubed grilled ham leftover, so I threw it in, and wow - what a combo with the mustard!

The recipe says you can serve this salad warm or cold. Since I'm usually a cold potato salad kind of girl, I thought I would like this one best cold, but nope, I actually preferred it warm. Also, next time I make this salad (and there will be a next time), I'll increase the potatoes to 2.5 or 3 pounds. I like a higher spud to dressing ratio.

Hot Potato Salad with Bacon and Ham
adapted from Emeril at the Grill

2.5 - 3 pounds small red potatoes, cut to bite size pieces (E calls for 2 lbs)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
4 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard (E likes creole or whole-grain)
4 strips crisp cooked bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup cubed ham

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover, add a little kosher salt for flavor, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, until for tender.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing. In a large bowl, combine mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, cayenne, and lemon juice; mix to combine. Add drained potatoes and remaining ingredients; toss and serve warm. Leftovers are also good cold, but I think it's best served warm.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recipe Review - Spice Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Buttercream

spice cake with peanut buttercreamI baked this simple, single layer cake as part of a Father's Day Bake-Off on Real Baking with Rose. Honestly, I'm not a huge peanut butter fan - candy is fine, but ice cream, pie, cake, and frosting is a no go for me.  It's no surprise I wasn't a fan of this cake.  I found the flavor combination to be very odd.  Even my peanut butter loving husband wasn't a fan, but maybe you'll like it.

This particular recipe, an "early release" from the book Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Sept 2009), was found on the blog Heavenly Cake Place by Marie. Marie is a bread baker, but she received an advanced copy of this cake book and has decided to dive into the cake world by baking her bake her way through the book, blogging as she goes. If you'd like to follow Marie on her baking journey, you can visit her blog Heavenly Cake Place.

baker's joyI started by preparing my 9" cake pan. Lined it with a parchment (waxed paper works too), and sprayed the bottom and sides with a fat/flour mix in a can. There are a couple of brands available - I like Baker's Joy. Alternately, you can grease and flour your pan.

baking stripsDon't forget about this wonderful trick... use insulated baking strips around your cake pans to help your cakes bake up nice and level. If you don't use them, the cake batter closest to the metal pan walls will 'set' faster, allowing the batter in the middle of the pan to continue to rise, resulting in a domed cake.

Oh, don't forget to preheat your oven to 350F - now is a good time :).

Okay, time to mix. I weighed all the dry ingredients directly into my mixing bowl. You guys know I prefer to use gram weight when baking... precision in baking is essential for consistent results, but Rose is kind enough to include more common measurements as well (cup/teaspoon/lb/oz), so don't think you can't make her recipes if you don't use a scale to weigh your ingredients.

Sadly, my camera battery died right after this shot, so there are a couple of missing pix, but I'll walk you through it. In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients together, reserving 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk; set aside. In stand mixer bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then add the butter and the reserved buttermilk as directed. Lastly, add the wet ingredients as directed.

Okay, my camera battery recharged for a couple of minutes... enough to get a few more shots. The cake batter is done mixing and I poured it into my prepared pan, being sure to level it with an offset spatula. I drop my filled pans down onto the counter a couple of times to eliminate any trapped air bubbles (don't do this with a thin batter), and I usually give the pan a quick spin on the counter which allows centrifugal force to help level the batter perfectly (plus it's fun).

Here's the finished cake. See how nice and even it is? Thank you insulated baking strips!!!
(available by several manufacturers, Rose even sells silicone ones which I have yet to try)

Place the cake pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to finish cooling completely. Don't attempt to frost a warm cake - you'll have a melted mess on your hands.

Hey look, even those of us with a lot of baking experience occasionally have to deal with "sticking issues". You can see that a portion of my cake stuck to the parchment liner, so I carefully placed the parchment back on the cake and used my trusty offset spatula to gently dislodge the stuck bit of cake, placing it right back where it belonged. A dab of frosting glued it in place, and once the cake was frosted, you would never know.

To make the frosting, the recipe instructs you to put all the room temperature ingredients into the work bowl of your food processor and mix them up - super simple. If you don't have a food processor, you can certainly use a hand held mixer, or you can even cream the ingredients together by hand.

Personal note: since the top rack of my dishwasher fills up the fastest, I probably will avoid using my food processor to make this frosting in the future. (why can't they make a dishwasher that's completely "top rack only" friendly, even on the bottom rack?)

easy cake decorationTo keep my cake plate nice and clean, I put a couple of strips of waxed paper under the cake edges, frosted the cake, then removed the waxed paper. Oooh, nice and neat!

easy swirl cake decorationFor the top of the cake, I did a simple swirly pattern using my turntable. I held my spatula in the center and pulled it outward slowly as I kept the turntable spinning (you could use a spoon).

My review - the spice cake layer was yummy, tender, and moist, but I didn't think it paired well with the peanut butter/cream cheese frosting (chocolate cake would have been ideal). The frosting, in my opinion, wasn't sweet enough, but my husband, the true peanut butter lover, liked it.

Spice Cake w/Peanut Butter Buttercream
Makes one 9-inch cake layer (recipe copied from Marie's blog)

2 large eggs (100 grams) (3.5 oz.) at room temperature
2/3 cup (160 grams) (5.6 oz.) low-fat buttermilk, divided
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (200 grams) (7 oz.) cake flour (or 1 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup (200 grams) (7 oz.) superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp. alkalized coca powder
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
8 Tablespoons (113 grams) (4 oz.) unsalted butter (at 65-75 degrees F)

One 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, encircled with a cake strip, bottom coated with shortening, topped with a parchment round, then coated with baking spray with flour.

Preheat the oven:
20 minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 F/175 C.

Mix the liquid ingredients:
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 3 Tablespoons of buttermilk, and vanilla until lightly combined.

Make the batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining buttermilk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula.

Bake the cake:
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

Cool and unmold the cake:
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so that the top side is up (my note: not necessary if you cake layer is level). Cool completely.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Buttercream
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup (133 grams) (4.7 oz) peanut butter, preferably Jif, at room temp
1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp. (113 grams) (4 oz.) cream cheese (65 to 70 degrees F)
4 Tbsp. (56 grams) (2 oz.) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sour cream
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. (50 grams) (1.7 oz.) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Make the buttercream:
In a food processor, combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the buttercream is smooth and uniform in color. (my note: alternately, cream by hand or use a hand held mixer)

Compose the cake:
When the cake is completely cool, spread a little buttercream on a 9-inch cardboard round or serving plate and set the cake on top. If using the plate, slide a few wide strips of wax paper or parchment under the cake to keep the rim of the plate clean. Frost the top and sides with swirls of buttercream. If using the paper strips, slowly slide them out from under the cake.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chopped Veggie Salad with Aged Cheddar

broccoli bacon saladThis is a pretty yummy take on Broccoli Salad. It includes extra sharp Vermont Cheddar; an addition my hubby absolutely loves.

I start by chopping one bunch of broccoli and one head of cauliflower into small pieces. Don't discard those broccoli stalks, you can peel the fibrous outer skin to reveal a tender interior that can also be added to this salad (this is what you find in a bag of broccoli slaw).

See the chopped broccoli stalks (center left), followed by chopped crispy bacon, and diced red onion.

Next, add cubes of extra sharp cheddar cheese. I also threw in small handful of dried cranberries that I had. You could use raisins too.

Time to mix up the yummy dressing. It goes together lickety-split.

Pour the dressing on the veggies, stir, and serve. This is one of those salads that is extremely versatile - you can vary the type of vinegar used, add different veggies, add nuts, add your favorite dried fruits, whatever.

For a more substantial side dish, try adding cubes of grilled ham steak - very yummy.

broccoli and bacon salad
Chopped Veggies Salad with Aged Cheddar

1 bunch broccoli, florets chopped
1 head cauliflower, florets chopped
6-8 slices of cooked bacon, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups cubed extra sharp cheddar
Optional ingredients: cubed ham, chopped carrots, chopped cashews, raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.
for the dressing:
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or your favorite)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup mayonnaise (can also substitute plain yogurt)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine the salad ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the veggies. Stir to combine and serve. Chill leftovers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Recipe Review - Blueberry Lemonade by The Cooking Photographer

blueberry lemonadeTo tell the truth, I wasn't planning on blogging about this wonderful Lemonade, but after trying it, I just HAD to write about it.

This is a take on The Cooking Photographer's Blueberry Mint Lemonade.
Check out Laura's blog for the most wonderful photos and recipes.

simple syrup
First you'll need to make and cool some simple syrup.

For this recipe, you'll need to bring 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar to a boil; set aside to cool.

freshly squeezed lemon juiceNext you'll need 1 1/2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice. I squeezed about 6 medium lemons to get that amount. I used an electric citrus juicer which made the job pretty fast and easy. Gets every single drop of juice too.

frozen blueberriesTo the lemon juice, add 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups of cold water, the cooled simple syrup, and (here comes the fun part), add 1/2 cup frozen blueberries. They impart the most lovely color and flavor.

blueberry lemonadeLook at that color. Isn't it amazing?
I would like to have gotten a better photo, but the family guzzled this down so fast I had to literally pour the last bit into this glass so I could get a photo.

Laura likes to serve hers with mint - we liked it better without.

Laura says you can substitute the lemon juice with lime juice, and you can even add 1 cup of white rum to make your own mojitos.

Thanks for this great recipe Laura - we'll be enjoying this lemonade for years!

Blueberry Lemonade
serves 6-8
Printable Recipe

For the Simple Syrup

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Bring to a boil and cool.

For the Lemonade

Simple Syrup from above
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (or lime)
1 lemon, sliced (or lime)
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups of cold water

10 large to 20 small mint leaves (optional)

Stir, Chill, Serve - Refreshing and Delicious!

Tip - don't throw those empty lemon halves away. Freeze them - and the next time a recipe calls for lemon zest, pull a frozen half out and zest away! This works for limes and oranges too.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Pantry - Part 1

Get a load of these two knuckleheads. Truth be known, they're not really knuckleheads, they're family (aren't they cute?!). They do renovation and construction work, so I asked them if they would come for a visit and build me a pantry.
Guess what... they did!!!

For 4 years, this space was home to my rolltop desk, but from the first day I stepped foot into this kitchen, I envisioned a wide pantry on this wall. See that tiny little broom closet on the right? Well, the contractor who built my house thought it would be a sufficient pantry. It probably would be sufficient for some families, but I cook big for our brood, so I found this broom-closet-in-disguise to be grossly inadequate, not to mention very difficult to get things in and out of because it's so deep and narrow.

So here we go... this project took a weekend, which included spending several hours at the hardware store buying all the supplies, frequently stopping for meals, watching a little TV here and there, taking a nap or two, and going out for dinner one evening because the kitchen was filled with drywall dust (gasping... need air... help.....).

There was no rush. They gave up their weekend to come to my house, so I wanted them to take their time.

First stop, Lowe's. Men aren't supposed to enjoy shopping, but I think these two were having a pretty good time!

Finally, after waiting 4 looooong years, it was really starting to happen... I was giddy with anticipation!

Whoo-hoo... it's coming along... looking good!!!

WIDE doors - happy, happy!!

Hooray - the doors are installed. Now we need drywall.

I like drywall!

Can you see the door knobs? I worried we wouldn't find ones that matched the existing doors,
but we did :).

Hooray!!! Can you see me doing cartwheels???

All it needs now is a little paint and some shelving. Stay tuned!
Update... the pantry is complete - click here to see.

Okay you two... ya done good!

Hey, while you guys are still here, what do you think about the possibility of maybe installing some beadboard in the guest bathroom...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Salad Saturday - Asian Cabbage Salad

asian cabbage salad
Asian Cabbage Salad - ButterYum
I completely forgot about Summer Salad Saturday, but I just so happened to make this Asian Cabbage Salad with dinner tonight and there was enough leftover to get a photo.

I'm constantly asked for this recipe - as a matter of fact, I bring a huge double batch to almost every church lunch and every single bit of it is gobbled up. Really, I cannot tell you how many times I've given out the recipe.

Yes, yes, I know... this salad doesn't completely adhere to my cooking from scratch philosophy, but the only thing keeping it from being that way are two little packages of $0.15 Ramen Noodles (tee-hee).

Seriously though, this recipe is a must try!

Asian Cabbage Salad
2 16oz bags of shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix (or one med head of red or green cabbage (or a little of both), shredded. Can also add some shredded carrots and broccoli. Very adaptable)
3 packages of chicken flavor Ramen Noodles (seasoning packets reserved for dressing)

3 seasoning packets (reserved from the Ramen Noodles)
1/2 cup canola or other non-flavored oil
1/4 cup granulated Splenda (or sugar, but sugar will make the cabbage watery)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 scallions, sliced

Optional Garnish:
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted if you like (cashews are a nice substitution. Sunflower seeds work too)
Break up dry Ramen Noodles into bit sized pieces and toast them on a sheet pan in a 350F oven for 12 minutes (or brown them in a skillet with a bit of butter if you want to be really decedent). You can toast the nuts too if you like, but they toast faster, so do them separately. Cool.

In a large bowl, add the cabbage (and carrots or broccoli if using). Top with toasted noodles and nuts. In a jar, place all the ingredients for the dressing and shake well to combine; pour over salad and toss well.

Best if served immediately.

Note: this recipe is very versatile. I didn't have any almonds or scallions tonight, but the salad is still extremely tasty. I usually double this for picnics or church lunches and use one head of red and one head of green cabbage. To make this a light dinner dish, I reduce the cabbage in half and add leftover cold shredded chicken. This recipe is a winner... hope you try it!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

San Marzano Tomato Sauce - Homemade

homemade marinara tomato sauceI thought I'd show everyone how I make my family's favorite pasta sauce. I use this sauce for everything - pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, stuffed shells, eggplant/chicken/veal parmesan, meat sauce.

I even use it as a base for my chili.

san marzano tomatoesI start with a huge can of San Marzano Tomatoes. They are, without question, the very best. Some good brand names to look for are Cento, Muir Glen, Tuttorosso, or any San Marzanos that list "DOP" on the label (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta).

huge onionI also chop one large Spanish onion, and mince 5-6 big cloves of garlic

puree whole plum tomatoesI like to buy whole tomatoes and process them myself.  Today I'm pureeing these tomatoes because I have a picky eater who doesn't like chunky tomatoes.  A blender or food mill can also be used.

food mill tomatoes for sauceIf the kids are around, they like to help me crank the tomatoes through a food mill. They think it's fun.

pureed tomatoesAfter the tomatoes are processed or blended or milled, you end up with pureed tomatoes that look like this. Set them aside for now.

using the oil from sun dried tomatoesOkay, in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over med-high heat, I saute the onions in olive oil until they are nice and caramelized.

I also add 1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt and pepper. You have to season every step of the way.

caramelized onionsYum. These onions are going to add an incredible depth of flavor to the sauce.

adding garlic to sauteed onionsNow I can add the minced garlic. I don't add it earlier because it would burn and taste bitter. I Saute the garlic with the onions for just about 30-60 seconds, stirring well so the garlic doesn't burn. As soon as that wonderful garlicy aroma fills the kitchen...

now add the tomato paste
...I add a whole can of tomato paste and stir constantly for 3-5 minutes until the tomato paste darkens and starts to caramelize (again, adding an incredible depth of flavor).

caramelizing tomato paste
Here's a little tip - keep a cup of water (or a splash of red wine) near the stove top. The minute you notice any spots getting too brown - like you see here at 10 O'clock...

quick tip to prevent burning...add a splash or two (excuse the steam). It will bubble up and dissolve the spot and keep your food from burning.  The technical term for this is called "deglazing".

See - the liquid evaporated and the dark spot is all gone- nothing burned.

Okay, time to add the reserved tomato puree and most of the remaining ingredients (everything except the fresh basil). Simmer for about an hour. Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and add the fresh basil.

I hope you'll give this sauce a try.  Let me know how you like it.

San Marzano Pasta Sauce

makes about 12 cups - enough to feel a big Italian family with plenty of leftovers!

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 jumbo onion, diced
5-6 garlic cloves (pressed, crushed, or minced)
1/2 tsp salt (or half as much table salt)
1/2 tsp pepper

6 oz can tomato paste
6 lb can San Marzano whole tomatoes (pureed until smooth in food processor, blender, or food mill)
3 tbsp dried parsley
4 dried bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (kids might find this amount a tad spicy - adults usually love it - I double it)
*Fresh basil, chopped or torn (as much as you like, but don't add until serving)

Over med-high heat, saute onions, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in olive oil until caramelized (I save the leftover oil from jarred sun-dried tomatoes to use for things like this). Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and caramelize for 3-5 minutes; stirring constantly. Add pureed tomatoes, bay leaves, dried oregano, dried basil (don't add the fresh basil yet), red pepper flakes, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper; stir to combine. Simmer on low for about an hour. Remove bay leaves. Add fresh basil just before serving.

Note: you can simmer this sauce longer if you like, but you don't need to. I like to add Italian sausages, or ground beef that has been browned with lots of onion and garlic. If you happen to have a rind of Parmesan cheese leftover, throw that in too (it won't really melt into the sauce, but it will add a lot of great flavor).