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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sweet Potato Coffee Cake

I found this particular recipe over at Baking Bites. When I bake sweet potatoes, I always have some leftover. Now I have a perfect use for them in this coffee cake. I really like the combination of spices in the streusel; the cardamom is a really nice touch but it doesn't overpower the rest of the cake. I'm sure you could also make this with canned pumpkin puree and have great results, too. In fact, I only had 1/2 cup sweet potato, so I used pumpkin as well. I also added some more dried cranberries since they're a nice surprise when you take a bite.

Sweet Potato Coffee Cake with Dried Cranberries

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground ginger
1/3 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pureed sweet potatoes (cooked, unseasoned; fresh or canned)
or 1/2 cup sweet potatoes & 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
or 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a 9-in square pan. (Double the recipe for a 9x13 pan)

In a medium bowl, mix together all topping ingredients on low speed - or stir very well by hand - until moist, sandy crumbs are formed. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light. Beat the eggs, adding them one at a time until mixture is smooth, then blend in the vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Mix in the pureed sweet potatoes (and/or pumpkin, if using).
Gradually stir flour mixture into the sweet potato mixture, stirring only until everything is incorporated and no streaks of flour remain visible. Stir in dried cranberries and scrape batter into prepared pan.
Top batter with streusel mixture, generously sprinkling it into as even a layer as possible.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool before serving.

Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yuletide Toffee Bars

I suppose these toffee bars are intended to be similar to a Heath Bar or Skor, but I personally don't see the resemblance. However, I do think they're wonderful to munch and simple to make. I used toasted, chopped almonds in mine, but use whatever nuts you prefer. The folks at King Arthur Flour ended up with 96 pieces from this recipe; I ended up with more like 24. Whatever the size, you'll probably want to eat another one. :)

Yuletide Toffee Bars

4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
~1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch pan.

Combine the oats, sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla and salt and mix well. Press the mixture into the pan, using your lightly greased hands to help the process along.

Bake the squares for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they're a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium saucepan set over very low heat, melt the chocolate and shortening together, stirring constantly until smooth. Spread the mixture evenly over the oat base and sprinkle on the chopped nuts. Cover very loosely and chill the squares in the refrigerator until the chocolate is firm. Remove from the refrigerator and cut into squares.*

*Note: The KAF folks state, "The easiest way to do this is to use a chef's knife to cut the bars into long strips while they're still in the pan and then transfer each long strip to a cutting board to cut into bite-sized pieces. Yield: 96 small pieces (but feel free to cut them into whatever size works best for you)."

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Peanut Brittle

'Tis the season for baking and candy-making. I usually do lots of cookie and cake baking around the holidays, but I decided to go the candy route this year. I'd never made Peanut Brittle before, but it turned out to be a lot more simple than I thought! (No candy thermometer required!) This recipe actually comes from my Sunday School teacher when I was ~5 years old, so I'm pretty sure it's tried and true. The original recipe is below; my comments are in italics. Just be sure you (1) are giving it as a gift or (2) have a good hiding place for this because it's highly addictive. Now excuse me while I go hide the rest of this batch from my husband.

Peanut Brittle

2 cups sugar
1 cup white syrup (light corn syrup)
3 cups raw peanuts
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda (baking soda)

Grease two baking pans or line with a silicone baking mat.

Slowly heat sugar with syrup until melted over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed, large pot. Bring to a boil and add peanuts. Cook until golden brown, stirring constantly. (This will probably take ~15-20 minutes). Add salt and soda; stir (be careful - it will foam up!), then pour on greased pans while forming. You want a single layer of peanuts if possible, so use your stirring utensil to spread out the mixture into an even layer. Let it cool completely and break into pieces.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cranberry Crunch Bars (Updated)

I first posted this recipe back in 2006, and I thought it would be good to do a quick update since I continue to make this easy and delicious treat. This is one of my absolute favorite desserts. The original recipe only made an 8x8 pan, so this version is for a 9x13 pan (and more is always better)! I buy bags of whole cranberries when they're available and toss them into the freezer so I can make this any time of the year. Oh, and if you have any left over, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and stash in a freezer bag in the freezer; they'll last a couple months and make great snacks.

Cranberry Crunch Bars

1 1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch (heaping)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed & picked over
3/4 cup raisins

Combine sugar, cornstarch, water, vanilla, cranberries, and raisins in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until the cranberrries have popped and the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Crumb Topping:
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Mix oats, brown sugar, flour, and melted butter until combined. Sprinkle 2/3 of the crumbs in bottom of a greased 9x13-inch pan. Spread cranberry filling over the crumbs, and top with the remaining crumbs. Bake at 375F for 30-35 minutes or until edges are slightly brown and caramelized and the center is bubbling. Cool completely, cut into squares, and serve.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin Chess Bars

If you want an alternative to the traditional Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving, this recipe is for you. It's a variation on the Chess Bars I've posted earlier. The taste is similar to Pumpkin Pie, but the texture is a bit firmer, and the crust is thicker, too. Paula Deen makes many variations on these "Gooey Bars," but I haven't tried the others yet. I adjusted the amount of nutmeg, but everything else is pretty much the same. They're really a pleasant change for the holidays.

Pumpkin Chess Bars

1 box yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13 baking pan.

To make the filling: In a the same bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center is mostly set.

If desired, serve with whipped cream.

Recipe adapted from Paula Deen

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Within the last few years, I've discovered that I love cranberries. I've always liked cranberry sauce, but I've been trying more and more recipes that include the tart little fruit. This one happens to be one of my favorites, and since cranberries freeze so well, it can be enjoyed any time of the year. You may think that you can get away with using a boxed cake mix and just making the topping, but please don't yield to that temptation. The results are FAR from spectacular. Go ahead, make it from scratch. Just this once. Please? You'll be glad you did.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake


5 Tbsp. (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar
8 ounces (2 1/4 cups) fresh cranberries

Cake Batter:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 F and place rack in the center of the oven. Butter (or spray) a 9-inch round cake pan. (I used a 9" square pan, and it worked just fine.)

Topping: Place the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking for a few more minutes until the sugar starts to caramelize. Then remove from heat, and pour into your prepared cake pan. Sprinkle evenly with the cranberries. (Note: If you use frozen cranberries the cake will take a little longer to bake than if you are using fresh cranberries.)

Cake Batter: In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture (in three additions), alternately with the milk (in two additions), ending with the dry ingredients.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar just until the whites hold a firm peak. With a large spatula gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter in two additions. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the top of the cake has browned and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake onto your serving plate.

If desired, serve with softly whipped cream.

Recipe courtesy Joy of Baking

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins

I'm not sure what could be more easy than these 'muffins'. I say 'muffins' because I thought they were more like cupcakes. Either way, they're really delicious, and a good way to sneak a veggie into an unsuspecting family member. The 'muffins' are extremely moist and tender and take no time at all to make. Perfect with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, especially when they're still warm and the chocolate chips are all gooey...mmmm. Plus, they're not too bad for you (I think it's a Weight Watcher's recipe) at around 115 calories each (~2 points). Excuse me while I go make some more. I think I'll try this method with a spice cake mix, too, perhaps with butterscotch chips...

Chocolate (Pumpkin) Muffins

1 box devils food cake mix
1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin
2 egg whites
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Mix together all ingredients. Spoon batter into lined muffin pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Makes ~24 muffins.

Recipe from Real Mom Kitchen

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Turkey & Stuffing Meatloaf with Cider Gravy

Before Thanksgiving arrives and you eat so much turkey that you never want to see it again, give this recipe a try. I know, I know...it's another Rachael Ray recipe. But this one is my favorite recipe I've made from her vast collection. I made it several times last year, and even my husband liked it (and he doesn't like meatloaf!). It's a nice twist on a comfort food dish that's perfect for Fall. This recipe makes quite a bit, so I shape it into 2 smaller loaves instead of one gigantic loaf. After all, leftovers are great, too! Oh, and don't forget the gravy - it's what 'makes' the meatloaf.

Turkey & Stuffing Meatloaf (Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray)

2 McIntosh or Gala apples, peeled and cut into small dice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 pounds ground all-white-meat turkey or a mix of dark and white meat
3-4 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. poultry seasoning
1 large egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups stuffing mix
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, add the apples and lemon juice and toss together. Add the turkey, celery, onion, poultry seasoning, egg, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a medium size bowl, add the stock and the stuffing. Toss around, letting the stuffing soak up the liquid, then add it to the bowl with the turkey. Mix everything together well, then turn it out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and shape it into 2 loaves. Coat with EVOO (I used a spray), transfer to the oven and roast until brown and cooked through, about an hour.

Cider Gravy (Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray)

4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 cups apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and ground black pepper

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour, cook 1 minute then whisk in the cider and stock. Let thicken, season with salt and pepper, then serve.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fudge Icing (or Candy)

Some families have recipes that are the highlight of every get-together. Often they've been passed down from generation to generation, and sometimes there are some tricks that are lost along the way that contribute to specific results. This is one of those recipes. I know my great-grandmother used to make this icing, and she was so good at it, she could pour it over (& between) a two-layer yellow cake. My dad has championed mastering of the recipe, but results have been varied - depending on the weather, etc. I've made it several times, with fairly consistent results, and I'm happy to post the recipe that we use on a 9x13 yellow sheet cake. It make take some practice, but this icing is totally worth it. Actually, it's worth it whether you put it on a cake or not. :) *Note, the texture is the key. If it cracks when you cut into it, you've probably got it right (though it will be messy); you can always score it before slicing for cleaner edges.

Fudge Icing (or Candy)

2 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder (heaping)
1/2 cup milk
1 4-oz. stick margarine (I use BlueBonnet)
2 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
2 Tbsp. karo Syrup (light or dark) (I use light)

Mix the cocoa and sugar together first in a 3-quart saucepan, then add the milk and mix thoroughly. Chop up the margarine into small lumps and add to the sugar-cocoa mixture. Cook over medium heat until the margarine melts and the mixture begins to boil and bubble.

Once it boils, wait for 3 minutes then start to test in cold water. When a few drops forms a firm ball in the bowl of cold water it is done. (Usually 8-10 minutes of boiling is enough.) [I've found that cooking it, using a candy thermometer, until it reaches 170 F yields good results.] Set the pan off the heat. (Original directions say to put the pan in a pan of water until the bottom of the pan thickens, but I skip this step). Pour over the cake quickly or pour into a greased dish to harden. Let cool completely before cutting/serving.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He's Here!

Actually, he's been here for almost two weeks. And we're loving having a new member in our family. :)

I've got several new recipes to post, some of which are from last fall. But, they're good ones! Be sure to check back in coming weeks for fall yumminess.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go kiss those cute little fingers.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Apple Dumplings

It's apple season! And, if you're looking for a quick, easy, and tasty dessert, this is for you! I saw the recipe on the Pioneer Woman's blog and tried it while I had family in for the week. I wouldn't be surprised if Paula Deen had something to do with the recipe development due to the copious amounts of butter and sugar. I decided to scale it down a bit, so here's my modified version. It's still not low-cal, but it's more pleasing to my palette.

Apple Dumplings

2 Granny Smith apples
2 cans crescent rolls
2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 small can Mountain Dew

Peel and core apples. Cut apples into 8 slices each. Roll each apple slice in a crescent roll. Place in a 9 x 13 buttered pan. Melt butter, then add sugar and barely stir. Add vanilla, stir, and pour over apples. Pour Mountain Dew around the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream, and spoon some of the sweet sauces from the pan over the top.

Recipe adapted from Ree Drummond

Monday, September 21, 2009

Spinach & Fruit Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I wanted to share one more summery recipe before Fall began. It's a refreshing spinach salad, and the balsamic vinaigrette is really delicious paired with the fruit and almonds. I've made it several times this summer. Even though fresh strawberries aren't available year-round, this vinaigrette would be great at any time.

Spinach & Fruit Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

~10 oz. fresh spinach (baby spinach probably works better here)
~ 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled & sliced (I use my egg slicer for this)
1 large can mandarin oranges, drained
~1 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
dash dry mustard

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar; shake until well blended. When ready to serve, drizzle dressing over the salad and toss lightly.

Recipe adapted from Southern Food at About.com

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mango-Strawberry Sorbet Torte

Before it gets too cool outside, I wanted to share this recipe. It is a great summertime dessert. And, it's simple. I'm sure any flavored sorbet would do, but the strawberry & mango made a great tropical combination. The original directions included lime juice in the whipped cream 'frosting', but I opted to just zest part of a lime over the top before serving instead. I'm glad I did because the lime would have been too overpowering. There's a picture with the original recipe (see link below); my version disappeared before I could get a snapshot. So, give this one a try. You can even make it up to 3 weeks ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until needed.

Mango-Strawberry Sorbet Torte

1 box white cake mix
Water, vegetable oil and egg whites called for on cake mix box
1 pint (2 cups) mango sorbet, softened
1 pint (2 cups) strawberry sorbet, softened

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Garnish, if desired, with lime zest and/or fresh strawberries

1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Spray bottom only of 15x10x1-inch pan with baking spray with flour. Line with waxed paper; spray waxed paper.
2. In large bowl, make cake mix as directed on box, using water, oil and egg whites. Pour into pan. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack; remove waxed paper. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
3. Cut cake crosswise into 3 equal sections. On long serving platter, place 1 section, rounded side down. Spread mango sorbet evenly over top. Place another cake section onto the sorbet; press down. Spread with strawberry sorbet. Top with remaining cake section; press down. Cover lightly; freeze about 2 hours or until firm.
4. In large bowl, beat frosting ingredients with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Frost sides and top of torte. Freeze about 1 hour or until firm. Just before serving, garnish top with lime zest and strawberries.

To serve, let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Cut torte in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise 7 times to make a total of 16 slices.

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blueberry Scones

This recipe hails from America's Test Kitchen, and it's so simple you should go immediately make some to stash in the freezer and pull out any time to bake for breakfast or brunch. They are really delicious and don't need any condiments to accompany them as normal scones do - like lemon curd, clotted cream, or jam. (However, any of these would be great with them; they're just not necessary.)

I adjusted the amount of fruit used because the dough is too yummy to be crowded out by all those berries. These would work well with any berry, but if using strawberries, be prepared for a slightly longer baking time since they have more moisture in them. If you don't have any lemons to zest, it's okay - they're still really good. Oh, and I cut them into 16 triangles instead of 8 for better portion size.

Blueberry Scones

16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), frozen whole (will only use 10 Tbsp)
~ 1 cup fresh blueberries, picked over (can use frozen, but do not thaw!)
1/2 cup whole milk (2% works just fine)
1/2 cup sour cream (low fat also works, just not fat-free)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces), plus additional for work surface
1/2 cup sugar (3 1/2 ounces), plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Score and remove half of wrapper from each stick of frozen butter. Grate unwrapped ends on large holes of box grater (you should grate total of 8 tablespoons). Place grated butter in freezer until needed. Melt 2 tablespoons of remaining ungrated butter and set aside. Save remaining 6 tablespoons butter for another use. Place blueberries in freezer until needed.

2. Whisk together milk and sour cream in medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in medium bowl. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.

3. Add milk mixture to flour mixture; fold with spatula until just combined. With rubber spatula, transfer dough to liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

4. Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metal spatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer 5 minutes.

5. Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles (and then cut each triangle in half to make 16 triangles) and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

It is important to work the dough as little as possible—work quickly and knead and fold the dough only the number of times called for. The butter should be frozen solid before grating. In hot or humid environments, chill the flour mixture and workbowls before use. While the recipe calls for 2 whole sticks of butter, only 10 tablespoons are actually used (see step 1). If fresh berries are unavailable, an equal amount of frozen berries (do not defrost) can be substituted. An equal amount of raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries can be used in place of the blueberries. Cut larger berries into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces before incorporating. Refrigerate or freeze leftover scones, wrapped in foil, in an airtight container. To serve, remove foil and place scones on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven. Heat until warmed through and recrisped, 8 to 10 minutes if refrigerated, 16 to 20 minutes if frozen. See final step for information on making the scone dough in advance.

To Make Ahead:
After placing the scones on the baking sheet, either refrigerate them overnight or freeze. When ready to bake, for refrigerated scones, heat oven to 425 degrees and follow directions in step 6. For frozen scones, heat oven to 375 degrees, follow directions in step 6, and extend cooking time to 25 to 30 minutes.

Recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Samoas Bars

These bars have been bookmarked in my del.icio.us account for quite a while. I finally decided to make them last weekend to take to Sunday School. I didn't get a chance to ask what others thought of them, but I thought they were pretty tasty (and I don't even like coconut!). I ended up making a mess when I tried to dip the bottom of these in the melted chocolate, so I used my small offset spatula to spread it on the bottom instead. Next time I make these, I'll omit this step and just do a heavy drizzle on top - I thought the chocolate overpowered everything else when it was on top & bottom. Just use about half the chocolate called for in the recipe.

Oh, and toasting the coconut took a lot longer than 20 minutes for me, but I keep my coconut in the freezer. Thaw it first and it shouldn't take nearly as long to get golden.

Homemade Samoas Bars

Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

First, make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepapred pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.

3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk

10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.
When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.
Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 30 bar cookies.

Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Soft Pretzels

Once I saw these on Smitten Kitchen, I immediately started craving the soft, warm goodness that is soft pretzels. I finally got around to making them, and I was very pleased with the results. Eating one of these while it's still warm was amazing. I used kosher salt and oversalted them a bit, but I didn't mind because I like my pretzels salty. They aren't the prettiest things in the world (I'll have to work on that), but oh my were they tasty. And easy. Just a bit time consuming. But very worth it.

Soft Pretzels

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - 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.

This multi-layer sponge cake, filled with dark chocolate buttercream & topped with thin wedges of caramel, was rather time consuming to put together. Actually, assembly went pretty quickly; getting everything ready took longer than I'd planned. However, the result was a decadent dessert. I probably won't be making it again, at least not without some shortcuts. I liked the delicate sponge cake layers, but I could definitely do without the caramel on top. The citrus just didn't do it for me. In place of the buttercream, I think Nutella would be a fine (& much speedier- and perhaps healthier?) substitute. :)

So, on to the recipe(s) and assembly instructions. (By the way, I weighed out my ingredients instead of using volumetric measurements. My caramel still ended up being somewhat soft, but it was a really humid day.)

Sponge cake layers

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour
pinch of salt

Directions for the sponge layers: (can be made in advance & stored b/w parchment in sealed container in the fridge overnight)

Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C). Trace six 9" circles (using a cake pan as a template) onto parchment paper, and turn them over so the ink is underneath. Lightly spray the pan with cooking spray and gently press on a parchment template.
Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.
In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the center rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. (I made 7, but I accidentally burned one, so it worked in the end.) Completely cool the layers. You can trim the layers into even circles, but I skipped this step.

Chocolate Buttercream

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) Baker's chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions for the chocolate buttercream: (can also be made in advance and stored in fridge until needed)

Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece at a time, using an electric hand mixer. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Caramel topping

1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
Optional: 1 tablespoon neutral oil (I used canola)

Directions for the caramel topping:

Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. Cut the cake into 12 equal wedges and form back into a circle.
Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula. Stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. (You will likely have some leftover.) Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling between cutting), cut through the caramel to separate the layer into wedges. Cool completely.

Assembling the Torte

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. The cake cuts more cleanly when cold, but let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Italian Dressing

A while back, I found myself in need of some Italian dressing, but I didn't have any in the house. So, I searched for a version I could make myself. What a great find - I don't think I'll ever buy Italian dressing again! I keep the dry mix with my other spices and just mix up whatever I need. It's so much better than anything I could buy, and I have all the ingredients on hand anyway. Yum. This one is highly recommended. :)

Italian Dressing (Dry Mix)

1 Tbsp. garlic salt
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbsp. salt

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic salt, onion powder, sugar, oregano, pepper, thyme, basil, parsley, celery salt and regular salt. Store in a tightly sealed container.

To prepare dressing, whisk together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup canola or olive oil (or a combination), 2 Tbsp. water, 2 Tbsp. of the dry mix, and 2 Tbsp. grated parmasean cheese.

Recipe adapted from AllRecipes

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ooey Gooey Brownies

This isn't really a recipe so much as it is a technique that I recently learned. It's super quick and yields ooey, gooey brownies, hence the name. They could also be called Rocky Road Brownies, I guess, but since I omitted the nuts, I'll just stick with Ooey, Gooey Brownies. :)

Ooey Gooey Brownies
(printable recipe)

1 box brownie mix (any kind will do, with or without nuts)
mini marshmallows (probably ~ 1/2 a bag)
~1/2 cup chocolate chips
~1 tsp. shortening

Bake brownies according to package directions. When almost done, sprinkle over a generous layer of mini marshmallows and put back in the oven. Remove when marshmallows are puffed and just beginning to turn brown. Cool for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl in 20 second intervals. When just starting to melt, add the shortening and stir until thoroughly mixed. When completely melted, drizzle over the marshmallow-covered brownies. Cool completely. Cut into squares, and serve, preferrably with some ice cold milk.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Mallows & Milan Cookies

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. The rules stated that we could do one or both cookies, so I chose the easy route and only did one: Milan Cookies. (And I halved the recipe, too, since I had leftover cake in the house, too.) :)

I wasn't a big fan of these, perhaps because I was lazy and didn't make my own filling but instead spread on some Nutella. The cookies themselves were good and crunchy, but I preferred them plain. Oh, and I ended up with small, medium, and large cookies since the piping instructions were a bit vague. I ended up piping a heaping/mounded stripe of dough ~ 1/2 inch wide x 2 inches long, leaving plenty of space between. That ended up being much closer to the size of the Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies I've seen before.

Results: Glad I tried them, but probably won't be making them again.

Milan Cookies
Original recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website. This is the recipe I used.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
3 egg whites (large eggs)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
Cookie filling - Nutella

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe .5-inch x 2-inch sections of batter onto a silpat-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
7. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coconut Cake

I've never been too terribly fond of coconut. However, most everyone else in my family loves it. So, I finally gave in and got my grandmother's recipe for the Coconut Cake she makes every year (at least for Christmas, in addition to other holidays/family gatherings). Below is her recipe as I received it, aloing with two options for frostings. Traditionally, it's made with the 7-minute frosting. I always go the store-bought coconut route since I don't have the time or patience to grate my own coconut. She usually uses frozen shredded coconut, but I opted for the flakes purely for aesthetics.

Coconut Cake

Duncan Hines White Cake Mix
1 coconut, grated, or 2 pks. frozen coconut, thawed
Water from coconut (or 1 C. water if using frozen)
1/4 cup sugar
Coconut flavoring
Seven Minute Frosting (recipe follows)

Prepare cake mix according to package directions.
Boil water and sugar a few minutes to dissolve sugar.
Remove from heat and if using water, add a few drops of flavoring. Cool.

7-Minute Frosting (this makes enough to frost 3 layers)

3 unbeaten egg whites
2 cups sugar
dash of salt
8 Tbsp. water
3 tsp. white corn syrup [ahem, that's 1 TBSP!]
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all EXCEPT vanilla in top of double boiler. Place over boiling water in bottom half of pan. Beat constantly with mixer while cooking. Cook about 7 minutes or until it will stand in stiff peaks. Remove from heat and beat in vanilla.

Place one layer on cake plate and punch holes in it with a tooth pick. Spoon some of the coconut syrup over layer to soak in. Spread on some of the frosting. Sprinkle coconut on layer. Repeat for other layers. Frost sides and top with frosting and coconut.

Another good, quick frosting for coconut Sheet Cake

Coconut Sour Cream Frosting

2 cups sugar
1 – 16 oz. carton sour cream
1 1/2 cups whipped topping
1 pkg. frozen coconut

Mix all together and spread on cake. NOTE: must be kept refrigerated.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pam's Pantry: A Review

No, I'm not reviewing my blog. There actually is another Pam's Pantry (http://www.pamspantry.net) that sells a variety of mixes that are "the best darn gourmet dip mixes in the country!" Pam's Pantry is a small business that began in Michigan a few years ago, and quite a while back Pam sent me some samples to review. I am deeply sorry that it has taken me so long to write about her products.

So, on to what she sent to me: Spinach Surprise, Sweet & Sassy Salsa, Bac'n & Tomato, Cheesy Garlic, and Strawberries 'N Cream.

By far, my favorite mix that she sent was the Sweet & Sassy Salsa. It was so good, I don't think this even lasted a day in my house. I'll definitely be ordering several packets of it. (And, by the way, her prices are very reasonable. Each packet is $3.50, 3 for $10, or $3 each when you order 4 or more.)

The Spinach Surprise was good, too, but it made a lot. Since I didn't have a party to take it to, it took us a while to eat it. But, it made a great veggie dip. I used fat-free sour cream and low-fat mayo, and it turned out a nice consistency.

The Cheesy Garlic tasted similar to a spread I've made using Cheese Whiz, cream cheese, garlic powder, & cayenne pepper. Great on toast or crackers.

The Bac'n & Tomato dip was not one I enjoyed. It contains imitation bacon bits (which I don't like), and the flavor of the bacon bits was too strong...tasted too 'fake' for me. However, my in-laws seemed to like it, so I left the rest with them.

The Strawberries 'N Cream was okay on bagels, as Pam suggests. I don't think I'd use it as a pie filling as recommended. The flavor was a bit too artificial for me. Again, it makes a lot (2-3 cups).

Overall, I liked the products, and I'll definitely order some salsa mix from her. Pam's suggestions for serving as well as yields for each packet are helpful in determining how to use them. I'm sure if you poured the mix in a bowl and mixed up everything, it would be quite easy to adjust the amount you make to your needs.

So Pam's Pantry, again, I am VERY sorry for taking so long to review your products, but I greatly appreciate you giving me the opportunity to try something new!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Bakewell Tart/Pudding

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was a new one for me since I'd never heard of it before. 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.

The individual elements were pretty easy, and if you make the crust ahead of time, it's quick to assemble. (Note: I had to change the amound of liquid in the crust from 1-2 Tbsp to 6.5 Tbsp cold water to form the dough.) The tart/pudding has three main elements, and I chose to use some black currant preserves I had in the pantry instead of making my own jam. It worked so well with the almond flavor that we devoured half of it the evening I baked it. It's good at room temp, but it's delicious when it's warm. I didn't put anything else on it (like whipped cream, creme fraiche, or even powdered sugar), and I really didn't think it needed anything else. The tart is sweet enough for dessert, but it wasn't overly sweet and had a pleasing combination of textures. I'll definitely be making this one again....perhaps with a chocolate ganache instead of jam...

Bakewell Tart/Pudding (makes one 9" tart)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe follows)
bench flour (all purpose)
1 cup jam/curd (I used black currant preserves), warmed for spreadability
Frangipane (recipe follows)
handful blanched, flaked almonds

To Assemble 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 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 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. (Be sure to watch it; mine got brown rather fast, so I turned down the oven to 375F. Gently shake it and make sure the center is set before removing from the oven.) 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.

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.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

8 oz all purpose flour
1 oz sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/2 tsp. salt
4 oz unsalted butter, cold or frozen
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Cold water (start with 1-2 Tbsp, and add more as needed to form the dough - I used 6.5 Tbsp)

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 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.


4.5 oz unsalted butter, softened
4.5 oz confectioner's sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
4.5 oz ground almonds
1 oz all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is pale 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 - just keep mixing. 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 color.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sloppy Joes

I'm beginning to think I really do like Rachael Ray after all.

But I did try another of her recipes with some success: Sloppy Joes. I'm not a fan of Manwich at all, so I thought I'd give this recipe a try. I made this back in the winter, and after making it a few times since, I decided this is probably my new go-to sloppy joe recipe since it's quick, easy, and I probably have most ingredients on hand anyway. The hotdogs are certainly optional, but my son likes them and they're easy to pick up with little fingers. :) I use ground turkey because I can buy it in 1 lb. frozen packages for a reasonable price. Make a double batch & keep some around for later; it freezes really well.

Sloppy Joes

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds lean ground sirloin or ground turkey
1 packages beef or pork hot dogs, sliced 1/2-inch thick (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon steak seasoning (recommended: Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
1 Tablespoon chili powder
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 (14.5-ounce) can tomato sauce
~8 soft burger rolls

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and crumble as it browns. Add the onions to the pan and cook to soften. Add chopped hot dogs after 3 to 4 minutes then cook 3 to 4 minutes more. In a bowl mix the spices, sugar, Worcestershire and tomato sauce. Pour sauce over the meat and simmer about 10 minutes to combine flavors. Spoon onto buns and serve.

Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pasteles de Guyaba (Guava Pastries)

It's difficult to describe guava to someone who's never had it, especially guava paste. I saw this odd-shaped can in the grocery store and immediately returned home to look up what exactly I could do with guava paste. I settled on making some Pasteles de Guyaba (Guava Pastries), but instead of using a dough similar to pate sucre (pie crust), I decided to go with puff pastry. These couldn't be simpler. The filling was a little tart, but they were good nonetheless. I thought it paired well with the powdered sugar, but you could probably drizzle some honey over the filling before sealing the pastries to make it a little sweeter.

Pasteles de Guyaba (Guava Pastries)

Guava Paste
1 package puff pastry
powdered sugar, for serving

Cut each sheet of prepared thawed puff pastry into 9 squares.
Place ~1 Tbsp. guava paste in the center of each square. Use a bit of water along the edges to help 'glue' the pastries together, and fold over the guava paste to form triangles. Use a fork to press the edges together. Place on a baking sheet (lined with a Silpat or parchment paper) and then into a 400F oven for about 10-12 minutes, until the pastry puffs and becomes golden, brown, and delicious. Let cool for ~5 minutes (or you will burn your mouth!) and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Adapted from Alex Garcia

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grilled Pineapple Spears with Lime and Honey

I found a really good deal on fresh pineapple (Aldi rocks - $.99 for a pineapple!), so I bought two. After a quick browse for some ideas on the FoodNetwork website, I settled on (groan) another Rachael Ray recipe. The only change I made was to squeeze half the lime over the spears.

I was really surprised how much I liked this dessert; the lime and honey really enhanced the pineapple. Simple, quick, and delicious...what more could you want in a summertime dessert? Note: this would also be great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Grilled Pineapple Spears with Lime and Honey

1 large ripe pineapple
1 lime
Vegetable oil or cooking spray, to coat grill
Honey, for drizzling

Preheat grill or grill pan.

Cut ends off the pineapple. Stand it upright and cut off the skin in strips. Quarter the pineapple lengthwise and cut out the core. Cut each quarter into 3 spears. Zest the lime and reserve. Cut the zested lime in half and squeeze the juice over the spears. Brush the grill pan or outdoor grill with vegetable oil or spray lightly with cooking spray. Grill pineapple until evenly marked all over, 5 minutes. Garnish spears with lime zest and drizzled honey.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Open-Faced Calzone & Simple Marinara

Here's another Rachael Ray recipe that I tried a while back. It was really quite easy and tasty, but the best part was the marinara sauce. I couldn't find any ciabatta or focaccia, so I used a wide Italian loaf of bread and it worked just fine (I scooped out some of the bread inside so it wouldn't be so thick). Makes a nice quick week-night meal that will feed at least 4.

Open-Faced Calzone

1 box chopped spinach, 10 ounces
1 loaf ciabatta bread (or focaccia)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 cups ricotta cheese (1 15 oz. container will work)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, a handful
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano or Reggiano cheese, a generous handful
1 can artichokes, drained and sliced
Salt and pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
Simple Marinara Dipping Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 400F.
Defrost spinach 6 minutes on high and wring the spinach dry in a kitchen towel.

Crust bread in oven for 5 or 6 minutes. Remove and split bread in half from end to end as if it were a large sandwich roll.

Turn broiler on. If your broiler is too small to place ciabatta breads under it, you can melt the cheese in oven as well, see below, it simply browns faster under broiler.

Drizzle hot bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Mix ricotta, garlic, parsley and grated cheese. Spread the mixture evenly over the bread halves then dot with the defrosted chopped spinach. Evenly distribute the sliced artichokes, season the breads with salt and pepper and top with an even layer mozzarella cheese. Melt and brown the cheese under the broiler 3 minutes, 1 rack down from the top of the oven. If you are using the oven rather than broiler, the cheese will take 6 or 7 minutes to brown. Cut into bread into wedges and serve. If desired, serve with Dipping Sauce.

Simple Marinara Dipping Sauce

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon anchovy paste, optional (I did NOT use this)
1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Heat a small pot over medium heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, pepper flakes and anchovy paste (if using). Cook 2 minutes. Add parsley, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir sauce, bring to a bubble and simmer 5 minutes over low heat then place in small bowl and serve.

Yield: 2 cups

Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lemon Cake

This is an adaption of an adaption, from my friend Brandy at Just Another Foodie. This is the best lemon cake I think I've ever eaten; it's certainly not subtle - it's a rich, moist cake with a great lemon (but not sour) flavor. It's such a refreshing dessert that's perfect for summer.

I made a few changes to the recipe, but the one Brandy posted is below. I don't buy extra-large eggs, so I used 4 large eggs instead. Also, I didn't have buttermilk on hand, so I used 3/4 Tbsp. vinegar in 3/4 cup whole milk, which worked like a charm.

Lemon Cake
Adapted from ”Barefoot Contessa Parties!” by Ina Garten, and smittenkitchen.com

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans or one bundt pan, and line the bottoms with parchment paper (no parchment paper if you’re using a bundt pan).
2. Cream butter and 2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Mixing at medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, and lemon zest.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Divide batter evenly between loaf pans or one bundt pan, smooth tops, and bake for ~45 minutes, until a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean.
4. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.
5. When cakes are done, carefully Invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon lemon syrup over cakes. Let cakes cool completely.
6. For glaze, combine confectioners’ sugar and remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Pour over top of cakes, and allow glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Daring Bakers - Strudel

I'm a bit late posting, but better late than never, I guess.
The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life
and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the
recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of
Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers

This recipe was really pretty easy to make, but I highly recommend not starting at 8 pm. :) The end results would probably have been better had I baked the strudel immediately instead of refrigerating overnight and baking the next morning. After seeing some other Daring Bakers' posts, my strudel certainly doesn't look like theirs. The layers of apples and dough are visible, but only the outside was crispy. The inner layers melded together (but without feeling mushy) - I did leave out the rum and substituted a bit of water, and I didn't include nuts, either. The flavor was good, but I don't think I'll be making it frequently. I did see an idea for making homemade 'toaster strudel' with the dough; I think that's worth trying since the it's so easy to make. :)

Apple Strudel

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum (or water)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices
(use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum/water and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the
breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.
3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel
dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (I used a silicone pastry brush & it didn't tear the dough). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the liquid), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.
4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.
5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel Dough

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour (all purpose)
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 Tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil (I used canola), plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary. Change to the dough hook. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.
2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured
work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard
onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).
3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Gently stretch the dough (I couldn't pick up the edge of the dough without it stretching too much too quickly.)
4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the
thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands
underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) and 3 feet (90
cm) long (or as close as you can get it to that), it will be tissue-thin by this time. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Still Here

Again, it's been too long since I've posted. Haven't been doing too much new baking recently; just relying on tried and true recipes, so there hasn't been much to post. I've even missed the last two Daring Bakers' Challenges. :( Plus, I haven't felt much like cooking/baking anyway because of this:

That's right, #2 is on the way, due in October. We're going to wait and be surprised - we're not finding out if it's a boy or girl until he/she arrives! ;)

Hopefully I'll be back to posting soon. Just wanted to give a quick update.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Thanks to Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness, I received Gale Gand's newest cookbook to review for a Cookbook Spotlight. Brunch! features 100 recipes for beverages, eggs, sweets, baked goods, and savory dishes and sides as well as menu suggestions and condiments. Just quickly flipping through the pages, I knew I'd have a difficult time deciding what to make; the pictures are so appetizing! After much perusing, I finally settled on three recipes to try, which we had for dinner instead of brunch. It was still fantastic. In fact, the author mentions that she does the same thing with her family, too. She also encourages playing with the recipes and trying "your own variations." So, here we go.

I started with the Raspberry Lemonade recipe (p. 29). However, I had strawberries on hand, so I made Strawberry Lemonade instead. Delicious! Not too sweet, not too sour. I didn't have fresh lemons, but I thawed some I had in the freezer and they worked perfectly. And, if there's any left, the lemonade is even better the next day. :)

Next was a brunch basic - the Fritatta (p. 48). I've always finished fritattas in the oven, but this one was all stove-top. She provides 5 variations for fillings in the book, but you can always just do what you like! I thawed some frozen spinach and red pepper strips and added them into the eggs and cheese. It turned out so tender and delicious! The only change I'd make is to add more cheese, because one can never have too much cheese, right? We managed to devour the whole thing, so I don't know if her serving suggestion of "4 to 6" is accurate. Maybe we were just hungry!

Last was the sweet side of brunch: Hand-Formed Pear and Almond Tartlets (p. 120). Oh. My. Goodness. These were really good and so SIMPLE to make! I used D'Anjou pears, which were quite flavorful. I didn't have any almond paste or filling, so I ground some whole almonds and used that instead. I really liked the crunch they added to the bottom of the tartlets. Next time, I think I'll use sliced or slivered almonds for even more texture. The almond flavor was really mild, and I only used half of the cinnamon-sugar indicated in the recipe; any more cinnamon would have totally overwhelmed the dish. I had to spritz some water on top of the tartlets to get all the cinnamon-sugar to melt too, so less is more in this case. I really liked the addition of the sour cream because it gave just enough contrast for my tastebuds. Yum.

Overall, the book is great, and I plan to make many more recipes from it, even if it's not specifically for brunch. :) Thanks Gale Gand (and Stephanie)! Be sure to look for the round-up of everyone who tried out recipes from the book on the 20th!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sticky Popcorn

I can't believe I've waited to long to post this recipe. I make this popcorn frequently, and it's so addictive, it's always a hit and disappears quickly. It's really easy to make, but you HAVE to use a cast iron skillet (or another really heavy-bottomed pan). The recipe was given to me by my mother-in-law, but it is my husband's uncle's recipe originally. I made a slight change in the amount of popcorn I use. Well, you probably don't care about that anyway. Just make the popcorn. So easy. So good.

So, here it is:

Sticky Popcorn

Pop enough popcorn to make ~4 quarts of popcorn (about 1 cup of kernels). (This works best with air-popped popcorn, but any non-salted and non-buttered popcorn will work.)

Dump into heavy cast iron skillet:

1 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. vinegar


Cook over MEDIUM heat until an amber color appears in the middle of the skillet. This will take several minutes, but don't wander too far. Keep an eye on it.


When the amber color becomes the size of your fist, pour over popcorn and stir thoroughly to combine. Make sure you have a really big bowl for this as you don't want to touch the popcorn and get hot sugar on your hands. (Trust me on that one, ok?)
I spread mine out on rimmed sheet pans to cool and break into smaller pieces. After it cools completely, store in airtight container. If desired, melt some chocolate chips and drizzle over cooled popcorn and let cool completely before storing.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino & Ice Cream

It's time for another Daring Baker's Challenge! 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.

I followed the recipe for the flourless chocolate cake to the letter, but mine ended up like a molten chocolate lava cake. I used a combo of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate & Ghiradelli Baking Chocolate. Also, instead of vanilla ice cream, I made Cinnamon Ice Cream, adapted from a Paula Deen recipe (good, but VERY rich...a couple spoons full was enough for me. However, my husband really liked the combination, so it's all good.) :) On to the recipes:

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. 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) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 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. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
1 quart half-and-half
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
Up to 2 quarts milk, as needed

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine half-and-half and cinnamon sticks. Cook 20 minutes over low heat (do not boil). Remove from heat. Remove cinnamon sticks, stir in ground cinnamon, and chill for 4 hours.

With an electric mixer at high speed, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add condensed milk and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Add chilled half-and-half.

Pour mixture into canister of a 4 to 6-quart ice cream freezer. (Or, if your ice cream freezer is smaller, just do it in batches - I had to do 2 batches, but I didn't use any of the milk.) Add milk, if needed, to fill canister to the freezer line. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Yield: 4 to 6 quarts (for me, it was more like 2.5 quarts)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Broccoli Salad

I've always loved broccoli. I could eat a huge bowl of steamed broccoli by myself when I was a kid. Mmmm. Mushy. Crisp. Steamed. Raw. In a casserole. It didn't really matter. So, I was really excited when I first had this salad with a couple from a church we belonged to before we moved. Not only did she prepare the dish, she also gave me the cookbook from which it came (church cookbook)! Yay! I've been making it ever since. And, since my husband doesn't really like raw broccoli, this one's all for me. :) I did, however, reduce the amount of dressing by half since I thought it got a bit gloppy after a while. But, if you want more dressing, feel free to double the amounts. I also add the stalks of the broccoli, chopped fairly fine, because (1) I don't like to be wasteful, and (2) I like the taste. Enjoy!

1/2 cup mayo
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/8 cup sugar (or Splenda)
few splashes of millk to thin it out


1 bunch of broccoli, florets trimmed & stalks peeled & chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup raisins
~2 Tbsp. finely minced red onion
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds (optional, but recommended)

In a large bowl, mix the dressing ingredients, adding as much milk as you need to get the a sauce-like (not mayo-like) consistency and set aside. Prepare the broccoli and onion, then add the salad ingredients to the sauce. Toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate until serving. This gets better the longer it sits; I recommend at least overnight.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Stuffed Berries

I recently bought some very delicious strawberries and was surprised at how good they were at this time of year. It reminded me of a dessert I made late last summer but never posted. So, here is my version of the Deen Brother's Stuffed Strawberries. I thought they were really good, but they were a bit of a pain to stuff with just an "x" cut into them. Next time I'll probably just use a star icing tip to hollow out the berry before stuffing...might make things easier.

Stuffed Berries

2 quarts whole medium/large strawberries
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 to 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond)
1/4 cup toasted coconut

Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each strawberry so the berries stand upright. Place berries, cut side down, on a serving platter. Carefully cut the berries into 4 wedges, cutting almost to, but not through, the bottoms with a criss-cross cut. Fan wedges just slightly, taking care not to break them. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until combined but still stiff. Using a teaspoon or pastry bag with decorative tip, fill the strawberries with the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top of the stuffed strawberries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Adapted from The Deen Brothers

Friday, January 30, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge - Tuiles

Well, this is one day late, but better late than never. This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. Our challenge was to use one of the sweet or savory batters given, shape it (with a stencil or after baking), and pair it with something light (as we're all trying to recover from the holiday food!).

I decided to go the savory route since I usually opt for the sweet. So, I followed this recipe:

Savory tuile/cornet recipe
From Thomas Keller "the French Laundry Cookbook"

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (65 grams/2.1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
(slightly less than) 1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (114 grams/4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool to the touch
2 large egg whites, cold
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (I just used toasted since that's what I had)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the softened butter until it is completely smooth and mayonnaise-like in texture. Using a stiff spatula or spoon, beat the egg whites into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated and smooth. Whisk in the softened butter by thirds, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary and whisking until the batter is creamy and without any lumps.

Place a Silpat on the counter (it is easier to work on the Silpat before it is put on the sheet pan). If using a stencil, place it one corner of the sheet and, holding the stencil flat against the Silpat, scoop some of the batter onto the back of an offset spatula and spread it in an even layer over the stencil. Then run the spatula over the entire stencil to remove any excess batter. Or, free-hand some squares and rectangle (like I did) using an offset spatula. After baking the first batch, you will be able to judge the correct thickness. You may need a little more or less batter to adjust the thickness. Leave about 1 1/2 inches between the tuiles. Sprinkle each tuile with a pinch of sesame seeds.

Place the Silpat on a heavy baking sheet and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the batter is set and you see it rippling from the heat. The tuiles may have browned in some areas, but they will not be evenly browned at this point.

Open the oven door and place the baking sheet on the door. This will help keep the tuiles warm as you roll them and prevent them from becoming too stiff to roll. I tried to drape mine over some spice bottles to make small bowls, but they were too set when they came out of the oven. So, I draped them over a rolling pin instead.

The tuiles that baked a bit longer and were more brown were much more flavorful but very delicate. I ended up topping mine with a fresh spinach leaf and some tuna salad (tuna, light mayo, sweet relish, prepared mustard, salt, pepper). Yummy! I thought these were pretty easy to make, but I probably won't be making them again soon since they're a bit time consuming.