Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sea Food

I saw this idea in a Family Fun calendar I have and loved it, so I made it for lunch one day for my son and me. It was a lot of fun, and any way to get kids to eat more vegetables is great in my book. I used a tomato for the boat and a yellow pepper for the sail, but you can also use cheese or lettuce for the sail and a cucumber or pepper for the boat. Whatever floats your boat, tee hee.

Veggie Sailboats
You will need:
Halves of pickling cucumber, plum tomatoes, or peppers
Tuna salad
Carrot or celery sticks
Pepper, lettuce, or cheese

Halve a cucumber, plum tomato, or pepper. Scoop the seeds out and fill each half with tuna salad. Stick in a carrot or celery stick for the mast. Set a triangle sail of pepper, lettuce, or cheese next to the mast. For the full effect, serve the lunch on a blue plate scattered with fish-shaped crackers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Vols-au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Well, better late than never, right? I was actually supposed to post this yesterday, but once again I waited until the last minute and just couldn't get these all assembled by last night. The main part of the challenge this month was to make your own puff pastry. It was really pretty enjoyable--not too hard, just a little time consuming. I really think I will be making my own puff pastry in the future, even if it's just to see if I can get it to puff up as much as it was supposed to. For some reason mine just stayed a little too flat.

Vols-au-vent can be filled with either sweet or savory fillings, and while my mouth watered at the idea of a homemade vanilla custardy filling topped with whipped cream and strawberries, I decided to fill mine with chicken salad so I could serve these for dinner. Oh, this pastry is good. It's so buttery and flaky, I had a hard time not eating them before they were filled. Here's the recipe for those of you wanting to taste the buttery goodness for themselves:

Puff Pastry Vols-au-Vent

-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-cooling rack

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent
Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Butternut Soup with Parmesan Croutons

I love early fall. I say early fall because late fall, well, let's just say we're not the best of friends. But in early fall you still have plenty of warm days and green trees with just the slightest hint of changing color in higher elevations. Ah. Unfortunately, the warm weather can't always last and if the weather reports are right, we're in for quite the cold spell this week. So, for the sake of warding off that autumn chill, here's a recipe for some tasty butternut soup with Parmesan croutons that I tried a couple of weeks ago. Admittedly not everyone loves squash, but by way of recommendation let me tell you that my squash-averse husband said (with wonder) that this soup didn't even taste like squash. So there you go. Give it a try whether you're a squash fan or not.

Butternut Soup with Parmesan Croutons
(from Healthy Cooking magazine)
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-in. cubes
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage or 2 tsp. rubbed sage
3 cans (14-1/2 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or regular if that's what you have on hand)

For Croutons:
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced fresh sage or 1 tsp. rubbed sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cubed French bread (1/2-in. cubes)
Cooking spray
Additional grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Place squash in a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil; sprinkle with pepper. Toss to coat. Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes or until tender, stirring every 15 minutes. Set aside.
2. In a Dutch oven/heavy stew pot saute the onion, celery and sage in remaining oil until tender. Stir in broth and reserved squash. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Cool slightly.
3. In a blender, puree soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pan; heat through.
4. For croutons, in a small bowl, combine the cheese, oil, sage and garlic. Add bread cubes and spritz with cooking spray; toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Serve with soup and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monkey Cupcakes for My Littlest Sous Chef

A little over a week ago my son had his second birthday. Man, that feels weird to type that when I could swear up and down that he just turned one. Nevertheless, he is now two and I wanted to make something monkey-themed for his birthday given the fact that he has been obsessed with Curious George in a big way for the past three months. So, after a google search for monkey cupcakes, I decided on one I saw on the Taste of Home website, with some slight modifications. They were a hit, and I took it to be an especially good sign when even my two year old could tell what they were. So in case you are planning a monkey-themed bash of your own in the not-too-distant future, here are the instructions:

1 package (18-1/4 ounces) chocolate cake mix
1 can (16 ounces) chocolate frosting
vanilla wafers
Black and red decorating gel

Bake cupcakes according to cake mix instructions. Cool completely. Set aside about 1/4 cup chocolate frosting. Frost cupcakes with remaining frosting. With a serrated knife, cut off a fourth from each vanilla wafer. Save these fourths, as these will become the ears. Place your remaining 3/4 wafer on each cupcake, with the rounded edge of wafer near edge of cupcake, for the face. Add dots of black gel for nostrils. With red gel, pipe a mouth on each.
Pipe dots of black gel for eyes. Using reserved frosting and a #16 star tip, pipe hair. Place two reserved wafer fourths on either side of the monkey's head for ears (you'll need to cut extras from other wafers--there won't be enough if you just use the ones from making the faces). Yield: 2 dozen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I'm late posting this month because I've been sick for the past week with some weird virus and a sinus infection on top of that, so it's taken me a while to get through all the steps involved in making this torte. Also, I finished after dark tonight and didn't want to delay posting any longer, so I took my picture with horribly unflattering fluorescent light. Forgive me.

Now about the recipe, I actually was (pleasantly) surprised that this wasn't harder to make. I was a little intimidated looking at the pictures that the hosts posted when they told us what our challenge would be this month, but really it wasn't bad. Maybe part of it was that I made mini dobos instead of the full sized version. I just knew that my husband, son, and I couldn't or shouldn't eat a whole one. Another thing I did differently is I eliminated the nuts that the original version has coating the sides of the torte because my son has a nut allergy. I wanted to try toffee bits instead but didn't have any. Maybe next time.

As far as taste goes, the star of this torte is the chocolate buttercream with an emphasis on butter. Seriously, I almost felt like I was eating chocolate butter, but it stopped just short of being too rich. It was so smooth and velvety, I kind of wanted to fill truffles with it. If you make it, just make sure you follow what the instructions say and make sure your chocolate mixture is completely room temperature before you add the butter. Also, make sure your butter isn't too soft--apparently some people had trouble getting their buttercream to set up because of overly-soft butter.

Anyway, this was fun, pretty, enough of a challenge to be good for Daring Bakers, but easy enough that I could do it sick. For the recipe you can go to the host bakers' blogs: A Spoonful of Sugar or Not Quite Nigella


Monday, August 10, 2009

Spiced Plum Pie

I think this has been the summer of free produce for me. I've been mooching off relatives' gardens for strawberries and raspberries, and this week I got a whole bunch of plums from my parents who went a little overboard on the produce purchasing at Costco. Unfortunately I'm the only raw-plum eater at my house and there was no way I was going to eat them all before they went bad, so I decided I'd put them in a pie and see if my husband would eat them too. So I did, and he did, and we liked it. A lot.

I was really glad that this turned out, since neither of us knew quite what to expect. I had never had plum pie before and didn't have a recipe, so I found two that I liked the sound of, combined them into one, and the result was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. This pie kind of tasted like Christmas to me with all the spice. If you're not as much of a spice fan as I am you could certainly cut back on it a little, but I thought it was just right. The texture was kind of like peach pie, while the taste was almost like a spiced version of rhubarb pie without the funny aftertaste that I sometimes get from rhubarb.

I used the basic eating plum that is available in most grocery stores, but I'll bet local plums off a neighbor's tree would be delicious. Or you could even experiment with combining different plum varieties in one pie. Maybe three kinds of plums to make the three-plum pie that I've heard of on Pushing Daisies. Mmm. Anyway, here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Ooh, don't these plums look pretty?

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (my family's absolute favorite recipe is below)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup saltine crumbs
1 1/2 pounds fresh plums, pitted and sliced into fairly thick slices (I used 6 plums)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated orange peel or orange extract
3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and crumbs. Line a 9-inch pie pan with bottom crust; sprinkle with brown sugar mixture and pack gently. Cover with plums. Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over plums. Roll out remaining pastry to fit top of pie. Make small cuts or slits in top crust; place over plums. Seal and flute edges. Brush the top of the crust with milk (avoiding edges), and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25 minutes more or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack at least 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Aunt Helen's Pie Crust:
2 c. flour
1 c. shortening
1 t. (skimpy) salt
1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. water

Cut shortening into flour using pastry blender or two butter knives until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. In small bowl, mix together the 1/3 c. flour, water, and salt with fork until smooth (this is called the slurry, for you vocabulary nuts out there). Add slowly to first mixture, blending with fork, just until it all sticks together. Drop dough on lightly floured board; knead 3-5 times, or until dough just forms a smoother ball. Do not overknead or crust will be tough. Roll out as desired.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chocolate Crackle Cookies: It Don't Matter if You're Black or White

Ever since I won a Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook from a bake-off, I've been slowly baking my way through the recipes. A tough job, I know, but somebody's gotta do it. I've made chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, a variation on her lemon bars, and rocky ledge bars, which deserve a post of their own. One of the prettiest of the cookies I've tried, though, are these chocolate crackle cookies. Sure, mine spread a little more than the picture, but don't you just love how the black and white play off each other so nicely? It's enough to make Michael Jackson proud.

All random Michael Jackson references aside, these are lovely cookies, and also soft, and chewy, and chocolaty, and I will make them again. Just as a tip, if you roll the balls of dough in granulated sugar before the confectioners' sugar it will help keep the latter nice and snowy white. Also, this recipe calls for Dutch-process (alkalized) cocoa powder which is milder and more soluble than regular. I used Saco premium cocoa which is a combination of both types of cocoa because it's what I could find in the store, and it worked just fine.

Chocolate Crackles
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool. Whist together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and the the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners' sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Mallow and/or Milan Cookies (grass optional)

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

These cookies used to be pretty. Their chocolate coating used to be shiny and clean and smooth. But then I was going to take them to some friends so I wouldn't end up eating them, and as I was getting into the car they slipped and fell all over the grass next to my parking spot. Ah, poop. But you know what? Our lawn hasn't been fertilized in a really long time, and our neighbors with a dog moved so there weren't any little doggy piles around, so I piled them back on the plate and went ahead and ate them, picking the grass off as I went. And I liked them. A lot. So even though this was a bit of a (literal) belly-flop, I still liked this month's challenge. Nicole, bless you for choosing a fairly simple challenge for the crazy month of July. Even with it being easy I'm still posting a day late, but what can you do? The challenge was to make these mallow cookies, and/or Milan cookies. Being a slacker, I just did the mallows, but it was plenty for me this month. The recipe is below, and it's really pretty easy and good. I used milk chocolate for the glaze instead of semi-sweet since that's what I had, but be aware that milk chocolate won't set up as firm as semi-sweet. Also, since I didn't have a 1 or 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter, I just rolled the dough into a log, covered it in waxed paper and refrigerated it that way and then sliced it into 1/8 inch slices before baking and it worked beautifully.

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping. (I went ahead and did it this way with the store-bought marshmallows. Did I mention I was a slacker?)

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. shortening
1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Iron Cupcake Herbs: Lime Ginger Cupcakes with Lime Basil Frosting

I have definitely been slacking off in the Iron Cupcake area lately, but this month I finally got things in gear and am competing again. It helped that the ingredient this month was herbs. I have some lovely basil growing on my porch and I needed to use it, so this challenge provided the perfect opportunity to try it in something sweet instead of just the usual savory stuff. The cupcakes I created are sort of Thai-inspired using lime, ginger, and basil, and boy are they good. I love, love, LOVE lime, and these cupcakes make such nice use of it, combining it with a subtle taste of ginger and basil in a not-to-sweet little package. Ahhh. Before I can give you the recipe, I need to tell you where to vote and mention the lovely prizes that go to the winner of this month's challenge. Voting goes from Tuesday, July 28 to Wednesday, August 5 at noon. To vote, click on this link or on my Iron Cupcake badge at the bottom of this page. The prizes and sponsers are:

A sweet cupcake ID bracelet by INSANEJELLYFISH,
A treat from CIRCLEMONKEY,
Something from Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Cupcakery,
and art from CAKESPY,

Last and certainly not least, corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, JESSIE STEELE APRONS, TASTE OF HOME books , and a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM
Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers,
Learn more at the Iron Cupcake Cuphub:

And now, here's the recipe:

Lime Ginger Cupcakes with Basil Frosting
1/4 c. canola oil
1 c. sugar
zest of 1 lime
2 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder

Mix together butter, sugar, and lime zest. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each one. Add buttermilk, lime juice, vanilla, almond extract, and ginger and mix until combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add about 1/3 of the dry mixture to the wet mixture, mixing just until combined and repeating until all of dry mixture has been added.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or till tops are barely golden or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Makes about 12 cupcakes.

8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
6 T. butter (room temperature)
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/2 t. vanilla extract
3 T. lime syrup (recipe below)
pinch salt
1 c. powdered sugar (more if stiffer frosting is desired)

Cream cream cheese and butter together. Add lime juice and zest, lime syrup, and vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add salt and powdered sugar, mixing until thoroughly combined.

Lime syrup
1 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. lime juice
5 fresh basil leaves
1 lime peel strip (1 ½ inches x ½ inch)

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, basil and lime peel and bring to a boil. Boil until reduced to about 1 cup. Strain and discard the basil and lime peel. Cool completely.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What to Do With Zucchini: Part 1

O.k., friends, I'll admit this isn't the most photogenic food, but trust me--this casserole is so good. From the zesty dressing crumbs on top to the creamy filling, I love this stuff. The recipe calls just for zucchini, but you can add in some crookneck squash with wonderful results too. My husband has never been a zucchini or squash fan (unless it's shredded beyond recognition and hidden in zucchini bread or cake), but he loved this. And with zucchini season upon us, many of you will soon be up to your ears in zucchini--whether you planted some in your own garden or just have a neighbor who keeps trying to pawn them off on you. So why not think out of the zucchini-bread-box and try this casserole. You won't be sorry.

Zucchini Casserole

5-6 c. diced zucchini
1-2 c. grated carrots
1 t. dried onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 c. sour cream
1-2 c. grated cheese
1/2 c. margarine or butter, melted
8 oz. seasoned dressing crumbs

Cook zucchini, onion, and carrots in small quantity of water until barely tender. Add soup, sour cream, and cheese. Mix margarine with dressing crumbs. Fold half the crumbs into zucchini mixture. Put zucchini/dressing mixture in 9x13" pan. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Bakewell Tart

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I really liked this challenge--the recipe really was pretty simple but with such nice results. Not that there's anything wrong with the more labor-intensive challenges, but this is what I needed this month, folks. Good choice, Jasmine and Annemarie. Even with the optional element of making your own jam or jelly to use in the recipe (I made strawberry freezer jam) it wasn't too tricky.

I like that this tart isn't too sweet. It really would do just as nicely as a breakfast pastry as it does for a dessert. I really think this is something I'll make again, which I can't say about every challenge.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.
(Baking Becca note: Don't worry if it looks pretty brown when you take it out of the oven. Some people said they got nervous and took theirs out too early and were sorry for it. This is how mine looked and it was just right:)

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish (I dusted it with powdered sugar).

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

8oz (about 1 3/4 loose packed) all purpose flour
1oz (a little more than 1/8 c.) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4oz (1/2 c.) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1-2 Tbsp cold water (I used three--I live in a dry environment.)

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

4.5oz (1 stick plus a little less than a Tbsp. for me) unsalted butter, softened
4.5oz powdered sugar (I'm not sure how much this is in cups--I forgot to measure)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
4.5oz (forgot to measure) ground almonds
1oz (forgot to measure) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose (light yellow) in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Strawberry Pie

Let me tell you, friends--just thinking about this pie makes me hungry. Lately my parents' garden has been producing oodles of strawberries. And by oodles I mean they are up to their eyeballs in strawberries and my usually mild-mannered father has an urge to swear every time he goes out to the garden and sees how many more strawberries he has to pick, wash, and stem. So, I've been taking as many of them off their hands as I can, and my favorite way to use them is in this pie. Oh how I love this pie. The recipe comes from my mother who got it from a friend who got it from her next-door neighbor's best friend's cat's cousin once-removed or something like that--you know how recipes are. But regardless of it's origins, this is a spectacular pie.
The ingredient that turns this pie from ho-hum strawberry into mmm-mmm-strawberry is the thin layer of cream cheese you spread on the pie crust before adding the strawberries. It also has the added benefit of protecting your crust from getting soggy, because soggy crust is just yucky. You can use a store-bought pie crust or make your own. If you do make your own, allow me to recommend putting some tin foil on it and weighting it down with rice, beans, or pie weights for the first 8 minutes or so of baking to keep it from bubbling or shrinking too much. That's because you bake it ahead of time on its own (called blind baking, fyi), which means there isn't the nice heavy filling to weigh it down. And now, the recipe:

Strawberry Pie
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
3 T. cornstarch
3 T. strawberry gelatin
3 c. fresh strawberries, sliced
9 inch deep dish pie crust, baked
3 oz. cream cheese, slightly softened.
Spread a thin layer of cream cheese in the bottom and up the sides of the baked pie crust. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, and cornstarch. Cook over medium high heat until it boils and thickens. Remove from heat; add gelatin. Cool slightly. Slice berries and place them in the bottom of the baked pie shell. Cover with strawberry mixture. Chill for at least one hour. Top with whipped cream. Pie is best eaten the day it is made because the crust can get a little soggy if kept too long.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Take on Heidi's Brownies

*Note: I just went to make this recipe and realized I left a very important ingredient out when I typed this post: sugar! I am so sorry if anyone attempted to make these without the sugar. I have added it into the recipe in this post, so now (fingers crossed) everything should be right.

I have a dear friend who was also my roommate about four times. Her name is Heidi. Hi, Heidi! One of the many, many reasons Heidi rocks is the fact that she makes delicious brownies. I love chocolate, but some brownie recipes I've tried are so chocolaty they leave you begging for milk after just one bite. Not Heidi's. They strike just the right balance between strong and understated. They're subtle but not weak. They're kind of like Heidi, come to think of it. They have only one flaw--they don't have a shiny, flaky top. And to my husband, that's a serious problem. So I've doctored up the recipe a bit, added a little salt because I love how it sets off the chocolate flavor, and voila! The deliciousness of Heidi's brownies but with a shiny top. If you want them more chocolaty you can use semi-sweet instead of milk chocolate chips. And just a hint: Heidi always used Mexican vanilla and it makes these taste SO good, so if you have access to some, please use it!

Chocolate Brownies
2/3 c.unsalted butter
1/4 c. milk chocolate chips
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. cocoa
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. hot cocoa mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a double boiler or heat-proof bowl set over boiling water, melt chocolate chips and butter together. Allow to cool slightly. In the meantime, blend other ingredients together in a separate medium bowl. Add some of this mixture to the melted chocolate mixture and mix well. Add melted chocolate mixture to the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. Spread in a greased 7x11" pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I was on t.v.!

And I won a cookie bake-off! You can see the video clip here. As background, a local t.v. station had viewers send in their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes which they were then going to compile on their website, but they decided it would be fun if they had about five viewers come on t.v. and do a bake-off. They liked the sound of my recipe and invited me to be one of the five contestants, and I won! Here is the lovely prize package that I got:

It's a little hard to see, but I got two really nice cookie sheets, collapsible measuring cups, a new liquid measure, a silicone baking mat from Sur la Table (how did they know I just ran out of parchment paper?), a battery-operated flour sifter, and a Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook. Woohoo!

The downside to this has been the fact that it has seriously distracted me from blogging--that and the fact that I've been out of town A LOT lately. So, in hopes that it will make up for how silent I've been lately, I give you my winning cookie recipe. But wait! There's more! I messed around with the recipe after I submitted it and found a few extra things I like to do to make these cookies even more delicious, and I'm only sharing them with Baking Becca readers. All two of you out there. ;) So, here is my new and improved recipe for Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies, a Baking Becca exclusive:

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
½ t. vanilla
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. bread flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
2 t. cinnamon
¾ t. salt
1 (12 oz.) bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Allow one stick of butter to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, and melt the other stick. Cream butter for two minutes. Add vanilla and sugar and cream another minute or two or until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs. Blend dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Drop by tablespoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle each dough ball with some ground sea salt. Bake for 8-10

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Oh boy, I liked this challenge. This is such a creamy, tasty cheesecake, and not too difficult to make. I also liked the fact that Jenny wanted everyone to be creative and add their own spin on this cheesecake to make it their own. I made mine a Strawberries and Cream cheesecake: oven roasted strawberries swirled into the cheesecake batter with thin layer of plain vanilla cheesecake on top. I made it for Easter Sunday and it was a hit with my family. I can't wait to experiment more with this great recipe!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake: (Instructions for making it strawberries and cream at bottom of page)

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice, and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away. I couldn't find a foil pan so I used a springform pan, but I placed the pan of water on the rack underneath it and it seemed to work beautifully--no cracking or anything.

Strawberries and Cream Cheesecake:
1 pound strawberries, hulled
3 T. light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place strawberries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with corn syrup, and toss gently to coat. Bake until syrup thickens and strawberries turn deep red and shrink slightly, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer strawberries and syrup to a medium bowl, and mash with potato masher. Let cool completely.
Prepare cheesecake batter and crust as described in Abbey's cheesecake recipe above. Transfer most of cheesecake batter to bowl with strawberries leaving about 1 1/2 cups in original bowl. In bowl with strawberries stir batter and strawberries to combine. Pour strawberry-cream cheese mixture into pan on top of crust; smooth with an offset spatula. Carefully spoon dollops of plain cream cheese mixture on top, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake according to Abbey's directions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Iron Cupcake: Soda Pop

I'm barely making the deadline this month, but I just managed to finish making my Iron Cupcake: Soda Pop entry: Creamsicle Float cupcakes! I used orange Fanta as my soda pop, and I must say, friends, this is my favorite cupcake I've made so far for Iron Cupcake. The delicate orange flavor, the fluffy marshmallow frosting, mmm. But wait! There's more! The thing that puts the float in Creamsicle Float. . .

. . .a layer of vanilla ice cream. Ah, the goodness.

Before I post the recipe, just remember that you can vote for my cupcake until May 4 by clicking on this link or on my Iron Cupcake badge at the bottom of the page. Here are the prizes this month:

A creation by FRUITFLYPIE
A pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES at
Something from Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Cupcakery,
and art from CAKESPY,
Last and certainly not least, corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, JESSIE STEELE APRONS, TASTE OF HOME books , and a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM
Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers,
Learn more at the Iron Cupcake Cuphub:

And now the recipe:

Creamsicle Float Cupcakes
3/4 c. butter
3 eggs
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. orange flavoring
2 t. grated orange peel
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. orange Fanta
6 drops of yellow food coloring
6 drops of red food coloring

Let butter and eggs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line cupcake pan with cupcake liners. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 c. at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined and scraping sides of bowl. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition (about 1 minute total). Beat in vanilla, orange flavoring, grated orange peel, and food coloring. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix milk and orange Fanta together. Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Fill cupcake cups 1/3 full. Bake at 375 degree F for 13-15 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen.

Marshmallow Frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. vanilla extract

Mix egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a double boiler or heatproof bowl over simmering water. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and egg whites are warm.
Remove the pan or bowl from the simmering water and stove. Using a hand mixer or electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Use immediately.

Line cupcake pan with foil liners. Allow several scoops of ice cream to sit at room temperature for a few minutes in a bowl. Stir until spreadable. Cut cupcakes in two. Place bottom half in a foil cupcake liner and press it down. Spread ice cream on top. Top with other half of cupcake. Freeze several hours or overnight. When ready to eat, allow to sit about 3 minutes our of freezer then remove from cupcake pan, frost, and serve.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Asparagus

Mmm. Asparagus. I love this vegetable. I know, however, that not everyone shares my feelings for this noble vegetable. But if you aren't a fan of asparagus, please, please try it cooked like this before you swear it off forever: drizzled with butter or olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked until perfectly tender. Try it like this and you might just become a convert--it worked for my husband. And for those of you who already like asparagus, even if it's radioactive yellow and from a can, you're in for a treat. This is adapted from a recipe called Julie's Asparagus that my mom clipped from a newspaper and passed along to me. Enjoy!

Cook's note: If you’re serving a larger crowd, the recipe doubles or triples beautifully. Just be sure the asparagus is in no more than a layer or two thick, or it will not cook evenly. Use a second baking dish if necessary.

1 lb. Fresh pencil-thin asparagus spears
2 T. butter (or olive oil)
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Rinse and drain the asparagus, and snap of the tough ends where they break naturally (do not peel). Arrange the spears in a 9x13 in. glass or ceramic baking dish in 1 or 2 layers. Melt the butter, drizzle over asparagus, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the dish snuggly with aluminum foil. Bake until crisp tender, about 15 minutes, or longer to desired doneness. Serve at once. Serves four.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I must admit, this month's challenge was a little intimidating, the major yikes factor being that we had to make our own lasagna noodles. I love homemade pasta and all, but I don't have a pasta maker and I kept hearing about the sore arms and backs that rolling the dough gave other bakers that attempted the challenge before me. But you know what? It wasn't too bad. Sure, I felt like swearing a couple of times, especially in the beginning when I had to add WAY more liquid than the recipe called for and when after kneading the dough for 20 minutes I still wasn't sure if it had reached the desired consistency, but it all turned out fine in the end. And after five hours I had a very tasty lasagna to show for my efforts. Will I ever make it again? Not unless I get a pasta maker, but it was still fun to try.

The Recipe:
I'm not going to post the entire recipe here because it's so long, but you can find it here. Just a note on the pasta, though. I ended up adding three jumbo eggs instead of two, two tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 cup water to make it moist enough to incorporate all the flour, and from what I've read, nearly everyone else had to add extra liquid too. Also, I didn't use the ragu recipe that they included because on a starving student grocery budget I just couldn't afford to buy five different types of meat just to make one sauce, and I didn't like the idea of using veal anyway. Instead, I used the following recipe which I liked very much and will definitely make again whether for lasagna or as a spaghetti sauce:

12 ounces bulk Italian sausage or bulk pork sausage
12 ounces lean ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-size carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery with leaves, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) lower-sodium diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon each dried basil leaves and oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a Dutch oven (I used my big cast iron saucepan), cook sausage and ground beef over moderately high heat until meat is browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from Dutch oven; drain well. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to pan drippings and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender; remove from the Dutch oven and drain well.
Wipe out Dutch oven. Return meat and vegetable mixture to Dutch oven. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until desired consistency, stirring often.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Iron Cupcake: Nuts and Seeds

Okay folks, I'm really sorry it's been so long since I posted. For some reason this month really just got away from me. Maybe it's the warm weather that makes me just not feel like being in front of a computer. But Iron Cupcake is approaching, and so the challenge has lured me back into the blogging world. This month's challenge was nuts and/or seeds, so I created these:

Raspberry almond cupcakes with white chocolate almond frosting. I really liked the cake for these cupcakes. It was nice and moist with a mild nutty flavor, and the whole raspberries baked in made for a nice contrast. I almost didn't want to frost them at all, but since they weren't very domed on the top (as is the problem with a lot of the denser cakes that I try to make into cupcakes), they needed the frosting to look pretty.
Voting for this month's Iron Cupcake challenge will start no later than 8 p.m. on March 29th, so swing on by No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner around then to vote for your favorite three cupcakes. You can get there by clicking on this link or on my Iron Cupcake badge at the bottom of this page. Voting will go through April 3rd at noon.
The prizes for winning are:
A Bunnycake Easter Plushie by DOGBONEART,
A whimsical piece by CAKEASAURUS,
A pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES at
A collection of all new printed cupcake liners, 200 in all from Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Cupcakery,
and art from CAKESPY,
Last and certainly not least, corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, TASTE OF HOME books , and a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM And as a special thank you, we would like to once again thank DIANAEVANS - for her participation in the February challenge. An incorrect link was posted and we want to be sure that she gets the recognition she deserves. Thanks again Diana!
Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers,
Learn more at the Iron Cupcake Cuphub:

Here's the recipe in case you would like to experience the almond raspberry goodness for yourself:
Raspberry Almond Cake:
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. almond butter
2 c. brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
3/4 c. buttermilk
3/4 c. raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper or foil liners. Sift first four ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and almond butter in a large bowl until well blended (about 2 minutes). Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and almond extracts. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in four additions with buttermilk in three additions. Fill cups 1/3 full and bake for 17-20 minutes. Cool completely before frosting. Yields about 3 dozen.

White Chocolate Almond Frosting:
6 oz. white baking chocolate (chopped up)
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 sticks butter
1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
Pinch salt

Stir white chocolate and whipping cream in double boiler or pan over hot water until melted and smooth. Cool. Beat butter and sugar together until smooth. Add chocolate/cream mixture, vanilla, almond extract, and salt. Beat on high until light and fluffy. Makes about 3 cups and keeps well in refrigerator. Frost cupcakes. Garnish with slivered almonds and whole raspberries if desired.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just a Reminder. . .

To vote for my tiramisu cupcakes for Iron Cupcake this month. You can get to the voting by clicking here. Thanks!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Flourless Chocolate Cake and Homemade Ice Cream

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Yes, my friends, I have joined Daring Bakers. I've wanted to for some time now, and I'm really glad I joined this month because it was a great recipe. For those who don't know, at the beginning of every month the daring bakers are given a challenge recipe which is announced in the top secret member only forums, and then they bake it sometime throughout the month. No one outside the group is supposed to know what that month's challenge is until the daring bakers all blog about it on the same day. And today is that day, and blogging about it I am.
This cake was so good. I had never had a flourless cake before and I loved the simplicity and elegance of it. Seriously, there are only three ingredients in this cake. Is that not awesome? My only trouble was keeping myself from eating all the chocolate before I made the cake!
The second part of the challenge was optional, but you could make your own ice cream to go with your cake. And since ice cream is in my genes, how could I pass that up? I made vanilla ice cream using a real vanilla bean for flavoring. I have never used vanilla beans before and the experience was lovely. My house smelled so good for the rest of the day. I topped the ice cream and cake off with caramel sauce.
I definitely plan on making both this cake and the ice cream again. It was so simple and oh so good. Here are the recipes for both:

Chocolate Valentino (Flourless Chocolate Cake)
16 ounces (1 pound) chocolate, roughly chopped (you can use semisweet, milk, or a combination of both. I used Guittard milk chocolate chips and skipped the chopping.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 T. unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) or use a double boiler. Melt chocolate and butter, stirring often.
While your chocolate butter mixture cools, butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment. I used a heart shaped pan but you can use 6x8, 7x7, or an 8" round.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl just until stiff peaks begin to form (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry). With the same beater, beat the egg yolks together. Slowly add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes or until top of the cake looks similar to a brownie and a toothpick inserted near the center appears slightly wet. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes, loosen edges with a knife and unmold.

Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
1 vanilla pod
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 T caster sugar (I blended regular sugar in a blender until fine and powdery)
1 t. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
3 T. butter

Using a small knife, slit the vanilla pod lengthwise. Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan. Add the vanilla pod and bring to a boil Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Lift the vanilla pod up. Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife or spoon so that they fall back into the milk. Set the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to a boil.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gently heat, stirring constantly.
When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl. Allow it to cool, then chill it in refrigerator.
Heat 1/4 cup of the heavy cream with 3 T. of butter until melted. Cool to room temperature and add to heavy cream in a slow, steady stream while mixing.
Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture in ice cream maker until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker).
If you don't have an ice cream maker you can make it by hand by whipping the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon. Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container. Place in freezer for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice during the freezing process to keep if from being icy and coarse.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oatmeal Scotchies Pan Cookies

I realize my posts lately haven't featured particularly elegant creations, but I guess I'm kind of on a sweet comfort food kick, and this falls into that category. I'm not sure if my brother Bryan created this recipe or if he just really loved to make these growing up, but these have been a family favorite for a long time. I love the combination of the butterscotch and chocolate chips and the kick of vanilla and cinnamon in the cookie, but I gotta be honest: my favorite thing about these cookies is that you put them in the pan, bake them, and you're done. Because sometimes you just need a cookie and don't feel like baking sheet after sheet. Hooray for the inventor of the bar cookie.

1 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
3 c. quick oats
1/2 pkg. chocolate chips
1/2 pkg. butterscotch morsels

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl combine flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon; set aside. In large bowl combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture. Stir in oats and chips. Spread into greased 9x13" pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve plain or topped with ice cream and chocolate, caramel, or butterscotch sauce.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Iron Cupcake: Coffee (or Pero in my case)

I missed last month's Iron Cupcake deadline so I didn't get to post about my sparkling grape juice cupcakes, so this month I'm doing it early. February's Iron Cupcake ingredient was coffee which causes a few problems for me since I don't drink coffee for religious reasons and have a very limited knowledge of what flavors go well with it. Fortunately, Sandy in her awesomeness said it would be o.k. if I used a coffee substitute so I chose the one I grew up watching my dad drink, Pero. Using Pero instead of coffee, I created my entry this month, Tiramisu Cupcakes for the Non-Coffee Drinker:

Voting for this month's Iron Cupcake challenge will start no later than 8 p.m. on March 1st, so swing on by No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner around then to vote for your favorite three cupcakes. You can get there by clicking on this link or on my Iron Cupcake badge at the bottom of this page. Voting will go through March 6th at noon.
The prizes for winning are:
Something cool from DIANAEVANS
A pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES
A sweet art piece from CAKESPY
And as an added bonus for February, cupcake supplies complements of SWEET CUPPIN CAKES BAKERY AND CUPCAKERY SUPPLY
Last and certainly not least, corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, JESSIE STEELE APRONS, TASTE OF HOME books , and a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers,
Learn more at the Iron Cupcake Cuphub:

And now, the recipe:

Hot Milk Sponge Cake
2 eggs
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 T. butter

Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Line 12 muffin cups with foil* cupcake liners. Stir together flour and baking powder; set aside.
In a mixing bowl beat eggs with an electric mixer on high speed about 4 minutes or until thick. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed for 4-5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture; beat on low to medium speed just until combined.
In a small saucepan heat and stir milk and butter until butter melts; add to batter, beating until combined. Pour batter into muffin tin filling each cup 1/2 full. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-18 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a wire rack. Remove from liners. Slice cupcakes into three horizontally so you will be able to layer the cake with the filling.
*Be sure to use foil liners. The cupcakes will stick too much to regular paper liners.

Tiramisu directions and assembly:
6 large egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. milk
1 lb mascarpone cheese or 2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 c. whipping cream
1/2 t. vanilla
1 T. sugar
1/4 c. Pero (I made it double strength) or strong coffee/espresso, chilled
1/8 t. rum extract mixed with 2 T. water
1 1/2 t. baking cocoa

In a 2-quart saucepan, beat egg yolks and sugar with wire whisk until well mixed. Beat in milk. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; reduce heat to low. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Pour into medium bowl; place plastic wrap directly onto surface of custard mixture. Refrigerate about 1 hour or until chilled.
Add cheese to custard mixture. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth; set aside.
In a chilled medium bowl, beat whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar with electric mixer on high speed until stiff; set aside. In small bowl, mix Pero and rum extract/water mixture.
Place bottom slices of cupcakes in new foil liners*. Brush with Pero mixture (do not soak). Spread cheese mixture over bottom cupcake slices; spread with whipped cream. Repeat layers with another slice of cupcake, cheese mixture, and whipped cream. Sprinkle with cocoa. Refrigerate at least 4 to 6 hours to develop flavors but no longer than 24 hours. Store covered in refrigerator.
*Since you only use two cupcake slices per finished cupcake, you can use the remaining slice as a layer in another cupcake, meaning this recipe which makes 12 original cupcakes will stretch to make 18 once you do the layering. I hope that makes sense.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Apple Crisp

I know, that is an embarrassingly large dollop of whipped cream on top of that apple crisp, but what can I say? I'm a whipped cream girl. I love this apple crisp--it's one of those foods that just tastes like home. And when the weather is cold and nasty it's especially nice to curl up inside with a bowl of this. Then there's the added bonus that it contains apples and oatmeal, so you can tell yourself that it's a healthy dessert. At least, that's what I'll be telling myself while I'm digging through all that whipped cream.

5 large cooking apples (peeled and sliced)
1 c. sugar
2 T. (heaping) flour
1/4 t. cinnamon
Pinch salt

1 c. oatmeal
1 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. butter, melted

Mix filling ingredients together and put in greased 9x13" pan. Sprinkle with topping and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with ice cream or top with whipped cream.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Foodie BlogRoll Rocks, and I Like Black Forest Cake

If you look in my right margin you may notice a slight change. In my "Saving My Pennies to Buy..." section it no longer lists a Flirty Apron. That is because Foodie BlogRoll, in their awesomeness gave me a prize for being their 3000th blog. The prize: A Flirty Apron of my choosing! Yay!

The cute cherry pattern on the one that I chose made me hungry for some Black Forest Cake, so I made one. If you were here, oh great Foodie BlogRoll administrators, I would share it with you. As it is, though, I'll just post the recipe which I modified from a Pampered Chef one. Forgive me for the rotten artificial lighting in these pictures. To get a picture of myself in my apron I had to wait until my husband got home which was sadly after sunset.

1 box devil's food cake mix
1 c. sour cream
1 container (8 oz.) frozen whipped topping, thawed
3/4 tsp. almond extract, divided
1 package (3.3 oz.) white chocolate instant pudding
1 can (21 oz.) cherry pie filling
1/4 cup slivered almonds, optional

Prepare and bake cake mix as directed in two 8-inch round cake pans. Cool cake 15 minutes then remove from pans. Cool completely.
Cut the round tops off the cakes to make them flat. Combine sour cream, whipped topping and 1/2 tsp. of the almond extract in a bowl. Add pudding mix and whisk vigorously until mixture is blended and very thick. Fill a pastry bag with cream filling and set aside, or just set aside about 1/4 of the filling. Spread remaining filling on the top of one of the cakes. This will be your bottom layer. In a bowl, combine pie filling with remaining 1/4 tsp. of almond extract. Carefully spread half of the pie filling over cream layer.
Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down. Using pastry bag or ziploc bag with a corner cut off, pipe cream filling around top of cake. Fill center with remaining pie filling. Pipe dollops of whipped topping on top of pie filling if desired. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Serve. Yield 12 servings.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Boiled Raisin Cookies

Sweet biscuits, these cookies are good. Don't let the fact that the title contains the word "boiled" scare you away from them. They are divine. This recipe was given to me by my Aunt Lynne, and they very well may be the tenderest cookies I've ever eaten. And they have raisins in them so you New Year's resolutioners can tell yourselves you're just eating them to get a serving of fruit in. And to top it all off, they sparkle in the sunlight--how sweet is that? Give them a try. Even my non-raisin loving husband liked them.

1 1/2 c. raisins
1 c. water
1 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
3 eggs
1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3 c. flour

Boil raisins in the 1 c. water over medium heat, stirring occasionally until water is boiled off; set aside. Cream together shortening and sugar; add eggs and vanilla. Mix well; add raisins and mix again. Sift together dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture. Roll dough into walnut or golf ball sized balls and roll in granulated sugar. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.