Monday, September 29, 2008

Red Velvet "Wedding Cake"

To celebrate our 6-month anniversary (Yes, it's silly, but it's still a big deal to us!), I decided to try and recreate our wedding cake. Well, I did say "try".

The real cake is from Bluebonnet Bakery in Fort Worth (our florist did the flowers). My version is from an ancient Hershey Chocolate cookbook that used to belong to my grandmother. I poured through dozens of red velvet recipes before settling on this one - for some reason, most people make red velvet with loads of food coloring and very little cocoa. Actually, the reaction between the cocoa and vinegar makes it a reddish color - then, you only need a tiny bit of food coloring to really make it pop.

If you are wondering why I am so into room-temperature eggs, it's because they actually will fluff up better than when they are cold. That's your MM for the day...

Red Velvet Cake

-1/2 c butter, room temperature
-1 1/2 c sugar
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 eggs, room temperature
-1 tsp red food coloring
-2 c flour
-1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
-1 tsp salt
-1 c buttermilk
-1 1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 tbsp vinegar

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla in a mixer on medium. Add the eggs one at a time, then the food coloring. Mix for 5 minutes on medium speed.

In a separate bowl, sift the cocoa powder, flour and salt together. With the mixer on low, alternate adding buttermilk and the flour mixture until well mixed.

In another bowl, mix the baking soda and vinegar together (it will fizz up). Carefully fold into the batter (do not mix!).

Pour the batter into two 9-inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured (MM: when making chocolate cake, you can use cocoa powder or hot cocoa mix instead of flour, so your cake won't have white spots on it). Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. Cool for at least an hour before frosting.

This recipe only filled the two cake pans about halfway. If you want a dramatic looking cake, with lots of height, I would suggest doubling the mix and making at least three layers.

Cream Cheese Frosting

-1 pound cream cheese
-2 sticks butter
-3 c powdered sugar
-1 tsp vanilla

Let the cream cheese and butter sit out for 10 minutes before mixing all of these ingredients together on high for 5 minutes, or until it's creamy. If you like your frosting very sweet, just add more sugar. Let it cool in the fridge for about 10 minutes before frosting your cake, otherwise, it can get goopy and uncooperative.

Penne with white beans, roasted garlic and tomatos

I first saw this dish on a Food Network show about two years ago - and I've been making it ever since. It's one of my husband's favorites. My version is slightly modified, because I think that the original just isn't flavorful enough. Roasting the garlic and tomatos is time-consuming, but it's still a very simple dish to make.

-4 or 5 vine tomatos
-1 small head garlic
-4 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp salt
-1/2 tbsp pepper
-1 pound of penne pasta
-1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Separate the head of garlic, leaving the cloves in their paper wrapping. Dice the tomatos, remove the seeds.

Toss the tomatos, garlic, salt, pepper and 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a 9x9" glass casserole dish, spreading evenly throughout the pan. Roast in the oven for 45-50 minutes.

While that is roasting, boil the pasta until al dente - once you drain out the water, add the can of rinsed cannellini beans and toss it all together. (No need to cook! The heat from the pasta will warm the beans).

When the tomatos come out of the oven, use a spoon to fish out the garlic, set aside to cool. When they are cool enough to touch, squeeze out the garlic into a small bowl, add the remaining olive oil, and mash with a fork until it's very pasty.

Add the paste back to the dish with the tomatos, stir until the garlic coats everything. Then, dump the tomatos into the pot with the pasta and beans, mix it all together, and serve!


Friday, September 26, 2008

"Cheaters" Thai peanut chicken

I love cooking, but there is no way I am going to make my own peanut sauce from scratch. Since the jar sauce means I lose Martha Points (MP's), I made up for it by using chilies from the garden. Mild when raw, HOT when cooked!

-About 1 pound of chicken breast
-1 c shredded carrot
-1 small onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
-2 tbsp olive oil
-salt and pepper
-4-5 small chilies, diced (seeds optional)
-1/4 c sesame seeds
-1/4 c chopped parsley (I used it because that is what I had on hand, but I bet cilantro and basil would be fantastic)
-1 jar of store-bought Thai peanut sauce (I like the Archer Farms brand from Target).
-1/4 c crushed peanuts

To prep the chicken, remove any fat and wrap in plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin or something similar to flatten out the chicken, and then cut in to medallions. Or, just buy the pre-cut stuff from the grocery store and save yourself the work. Salt and pepper generously.

Heat up the oil in a deep pan or wok over medium heat, add the garlic and onion. Sautee until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken and cook on both sides. Add the carrots and chilies, and the peanut sauce. Stir it all together over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes. Toss in the parsley (or basil, or cilantro, etc) at the last minute.

Serve over rice or noodle, and top with the sesame seeds and peanuts (bonus MP's if you toast them!).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Coconut cupcakes

About a month ago, we were at Target and noticed that they were selling coconuts. For some silly reason, it was decided that we should buy one and fill it with rum. It marinated in the fridge for several weeks this way, until Saturday morning, when I decided to give all that yummy rummy coconut a new home.

If you don't want to use the rum, just add a little more milk until the batter is at a good consistency.

This is adapted from a Barefoot Contessa recipe, but with a very un-Martha frosting!

-3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
-2 c sugar
-5 large eggs, at room temperature
-1 1/2 tsp vanilla
-3 c flour
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-3/4 c milk (make it 1 cup if you don't use rum)
-4 oz shredded coconut, soaking in 1/4 c of dark rum

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter, mix until just combined. Then add the coconut and rum, and mix again until just combined.

Grease the muffin tin (or use paper cups) and fill the batter to the top. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the center comes out clean with a toothpick. This should make about 2 dozen cupcakes.

So, I am really bad at making frosting. Like, REALLY bad. To accomodate for my disability, I just blended together a can of store-bought vanilla frosting with half a bag of shredded coconut and a tablespoon of rum. I encourage you to find a method that works for you, but my fake version is pretty decent if you're as frosting illiterate as I am...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Long break + Lentil Salad

After a weird week, I realized I had totally set my little blog to the backburner!

On Thursday, Ryan and I were watching "Good Eats" on the Food Network and Alton shared this recipe. Ryan turned to me and said "Ummm...can you please make that for me?". So, on Saturday, I gave it a try, and it was fantastic!

Lentil Salad

1 pound brown or green lentils, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1 small onion, halved
1 large clove garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Pick over the lentils, rinse and drain. Place all of the above ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with water PLUS 2-3 inches. Place over high heat and bring just to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Drain the remaining liquid and discard everything that isn't a lentil.

1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
6 to 8 slices thick-sliced bacon, cooked and chopped

Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper, parsley and thyme together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm lentils and bacon and stir to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

(Omit bacon, or change it out for bacon bits, and this becomes a vegetarian dish. Switch out dijon mustard for another type, and it becomes vegan).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bailey's Ice Cream

Oh man, this is good stuff. And totally Martha, too: it's insanely expensive to make and takes awhile to get it right. BUT - the reward for your hard work is a creamy, amazing ice cream that is pure Bailey's.

-2 c of Bailey's liqueur
-4 egg yolks
-2 c sugar
-1 1/2 c milk
-2 c heavy cream
-1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the Bailey's in a saucepan over medium heat, let it boil slowly until the 2 cups has reduced to 1 cup of liquid. (Note: this will take at least 30 minutes).

Pour out the Bailey's in a bowl to cool, and add the milk to the pot. Slowly scald the milk over medium heat, stirring often to avoid burning. Set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together. Slowly incorporate the cooled milk, whisk like crazy to avoid "scrambled eggs". Dump the lot back into the saucepan, and heat for around 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain the mixture and put in the fridge to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Once the egg and milk custard has cooled, add the vanilla, reduced Bailey's and cream. Whisk well, and put it back into the fridge to cool completely before transferring the mix to an ice cream maker to freeze. It's important that the mix be completely cooled, otherwise it won't freeze as you put it into the ice cream maker. I keep forgetting that rule, and the result is a rock-hard lump of frozen ice cream that is impossible to scoop.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cheap 'n Easy Lasagna

I hail from a part of the country that boasts the highest percent, per capita, of Italian-Americans in the US. New Haven County is home to East Haven (also known as "Staven"), which is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in the Northeast.

Growing up with so many Italian heritage friends was delicious. I have fantastic memories of watching my friends' mothers making dinner - talk about a process! It can take an entire afternoon to prepare a traditional Italian dinner.

Well, most of us don't have an entire afternoon to prepare a meal - thankfully, this lasagna is quick and easy!

-1 pound lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
-1 jar of marinara (I use Classico tomato and basil)
-3/4 pound of Italian sausage
-1 pkg (3 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
-1/2 c shredded parmigana cheese
-1/2 c shredded asiago cheese
-1 c ricotta cheese

Remove the sausage from the casing and brown over medium heat. Drain off fat, then add the jar of marinara. Simmer together for about 10 minutes over low heat.

Mix the mozzarella, parmigana and asiago cheese together in a bowl, set aside.

In a casserole dish, add a spoonful of the sauce so it completely coats the bottom. Layer the noodles over the sauce, so it is totally covered. Add tablespoons of the ricotta cheese, "dotting" it on top of the noodles. (Ricotta is a pain to spread over slippery noodles - but it sort of evens itself out as it cooks so just lump it all around). Top with a hearty layer of cheese. Repeat until you reach the top of the dish, and finish it off with the remainder of the cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Sounds easy? It is! Lasagna is one of those dishes that scares a lot of cooks - and it shouldn't. Granted, this cheap and easy solution isn't nearly as good as the dishes that take half a day to prepare, but it's pretty darn tasty.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ice cream!

I started making my own ice cream this summer - it's very challenging, which surprised me. I guess I always figured it would be easy - add ingredients, mix and freeze. Wrong! I have had some really bad batches, and some good ones.

The Ben and Jerry's ice cream book never fails me - every recipe of theirs that I have tried has been successful. To date, my best batches have been their peach and strawberry recipes.

Does anybody have an ice cream recipe that they could share with me? I am always looking for more!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Been a little busy lately

We added a new member to our little family this weekend, and she's been taking up a lot of my time!

This is Lily - she's about 11 weeks, she's some sort of Lab-Retriever-Terrier mix. She's sweet and cuddly, and needs a lot of attention!

More soon - I promise! I am making all sorts of frozen meals for friends, and today I'm making an amazing potato salad (totally vegan, no mayo!) and I want to share the recipe when I have some free time and Lily is asleep.