Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Caramel Cake Delight

My lovely friend Rina had a birthday yesterday and Geof and I decided we wanted to do something nice for her.  She was hoping for a caramel cake, so when she mentioned as much the wheels began to spin.  I've only ever made one other cake (plenty of box cakes, but does that count?) so I wasn't sure of my abilities, but ask and ye shall receive!

I set about playing on the interwebs to find a suitable recipe and came upon this looker.  A fully made-from-scratch cake.  Challenge: accepted.

It turned out pretty fantastic!  The recipe is intended for a triple layer 9-inch round cake, but since I only have two cake pans I improvised and used the remaining batter to make cupcakes.  Spiffy.

Three things:

1.  It was delicious, BUT it would not have hurt for the cake to have a little more moistness.  In the future, I would add one box of vanilla instant pudding mix and 8oz. of sour cream.  That combination will produce an insanely moist and dense cake of mind-blowing proportions.

2.  Icing cakes, my secret talent is not.  So it's not very pretty, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

3.  I doubled the icing (which is reflected in my adaptation below) as it wouldn't have been enough for my liking as written in the original recipe.  Turns out it was a lot!  I could have just done a batch and a half and been fine.  But now there's plenty to snack on :)

4. I lied, four things.  Baking a cake "requires" a lot of taste testing, so make sure to eat a normal meal (with plenty of sugar-canceling fiber) before doing so.  I had a major sugar buzz going on an otherwise empty belly!

Okay, now for the good stuff!

I greased and floured my cake pans, but the recipe says to use parchment paper, too.  I did not use parchment paper and they came out just fine.

My first time making caramel…I was positively giddy at the outcome!

Combining the caramel with the sugar to make the frosting.  Mmmmmm.

Ta-da!  Not very pretty, but very tasty!  I don't have a cake plate, so I made the "plate" from scratch, too.  I cut two rounds from thick cardboard, taped them together, then covered it in foil.  How 'bout them apples?

Ingredients

Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (important!)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
(*For a super moist cake, add: one box instant pudding mix (any flavor depending on what you’re going for), and 8 oz. sour cream.  You won’t regret it!)

Icing (double recipe)
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease three 9-inch-round cake pans and flour insides of pans.

3. Combine flour and baking powder in bowl.

4. Beat butter and sugar in another bowl at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, beating until smooth.

5. At low speed, alternately beat in flour mixture and milk.

6. Beat in vanilla.

7. Scrape into prepared pans, dividing evenly.

8. Bake in 350-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.

9. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on racks.

10. Meanwhile, prepare icing…Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add brown sugar and milk.  Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar.

11. Remove from heat. Cool.

12. Beat confectioners' sugar with milk mixture until smooth.

13. Frost and stack cake layers on cake plate, spreading icing between each layer. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining icing.

Is it healthy?  Uh, no.  BUT, since it's fully made from scratch, you know exactly what's going into it and you can decide on the type of ingredients in order to ensure it's up to snuff.  You never really know what you're getting in a box…

Is it delicious?  YES!

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pretty Peppermint Bark

'Tis the season to be merry…and eat delicious treats.  I've been massively inspired in the kitchen ever since the semester ended and I've actually had the time to toil.  With a holiday gathering this evening, I decided to try out a new recipe.

I'm a big fan of peppermint bark and the idea of melting chocolate and smothering it with peppermint sounded positively sinful and exactly the challenge I was in seek of.

Turns out, peppermint bark is quite easy!  And I nailed it on the first try.  A kitchen WIN.  I read through a number of recipes and ultimately decided to test out the easiest sounding one :)  the Below is adapted from HERE.




Peppermint fields forever...

Ta-da!

Ingredients

2-12oz packages milk chocolate chips (I used Nestle's Toll House Milk Chocolate Chips)
2-12oz packages white chocolate chips*
2 teaspoons peppermint extract**
1-1/2 cups crushed candy canes/peppermint candy

Directions

1. Line a 12x18 inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil.

2. Melt the milk chocolate in a glass or ceramic bowl within a large pot of hot water (do not allow to boil!). Do not overheat or chocolate will scorch. Stir constantly and until it is a smooth and even consistency. Spread the chocolate evenly in the prepared pan; chill until set, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a glass or ceramic bowl within a large pot of hot water (do not allow to boil!). Stir constantly and until it is a smooth and even consistency.  Stir in 1/4-1/2 cup of the crushed candy canes. Spread the white chocolate mixture evenly over the milk chocolate. Sprinkle the remaining candy cane pieces evenly over the white chocolate layer. Chill until set, about 1 hour. Slice into triangles to serve.  Keep refrigerated. 

Easy peasy!  You can heat the chocolate in the microwave, but then it turns into a very labor-intensive endeavor and scorching the ol' cocoa becomes an issue.  Some people suggested a double boiler, but since I don't own such a thing the glass bowl inside a large pot filled with hot water (stove on medium heat throughout) worked wonders and was so darn easy.

*Not all white chocolate is created equal.  Make sure cocoa butter is in the ingredients, and not any sort of vegetable oil.  Good quality white chocolate will use cocoa butter.  Substitutes will wreak havoc on the consistency and you’ll end up chucking the while thing.  I use Guittard white chocolate chips and they were awesome.


**I didn’t use peppermint extract, mostly because we didn’t have any but also because reviews were mixed on the use of it.  Some people said it messed up the consistency, others said it was overkill.  I went with the overkill argument and avoided it.  I’m glad I did.

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Mmmm, pretty :)

I was in search of something unique, refreshing, and with a little kick to it.  And it needed to be a salad. Boom.  THIS popped up and I accepted the challenge.

Easy as can be (the 'hardest' part was peeling all the potatoes), and freaking tasty as all get-out.  I doubled the recipe as I was taking it to a dinner gathering and needed enough for 8.  There was more than enough, and lots of extra dressing.  Which is good, because I like leftover deliciousness, and I really, really dig the red pepper vinaigrette.  Mmm, mmm, mmmmmm.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Note: This is best served warm or at room temperature, though of course you can refrigerate and serve it up to a day later, as long as you take it out of the refrigerator beforehand to take the chill off.  The recipe, as is below, makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients

4 large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and ­ quartered
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 cup sliced scallion
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 or 2 fresh minced chiles (jalapeño, Thai, serrano, or habanero), or to taste
1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown outside and just tender inside, about 30 minutes. Remove and keep on the pan until ready to dress.

2. Make the dressing while the potatoes cook. Put the remaining 6 tablespoons oil in a blender, along with the vinegar, bell pepper, cumin, and zest if you’re using it. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Purée until smooth.

3. Toss the warm potatoes with the scallion, parsley, chiles, and raisins if you’re using them. Add 1/2 cup of the dressing and toss to coat, adding more if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheese


A new twist on an old favorite.  And what a twist!  Geof said he never even would have questioned that there was anything different about the baked dish I served up the other night.  He even knew butternut squash was the main ingredient and still couldn't tell.


Success!


I snagged this little gem from HERE one night whilst Googling creative ways to use up the butternut squash taking up residence on our counter.  I have to say, even I would have been fooled by this one, and I'm the cook!


It is unbelievably creamy and delicious.  Holy cow, it's good, and pretty easy.


Note: I had two cans of organic butternut squash in the pantry that I got at Whole Foods this winter (I know, weird, canned butternut squash?  Hello!).  Turns out that was beaucoup convenient (and just as healthy!)...so I still have that squash sitting on the counter.  Looks like I'll need to find another recipe to use it for.  Oh darn :)

Ingredients

3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 [1-pound] squash)
1 1/4 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled (I used 1 tsp. garlic powder)
2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Place the hot squash mixture in a blender. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13x9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

5. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture.

6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.


Enjoy!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crunchy Crispy Roasted Snack Beans

Geof recently unknowingly challenged me to create a delicious, healthy, crunchy snack to replace his peanut M&Ms.

Challenge: accepted.

He didn't realize what he did :)

I Googled some simple terms and came up with this gem of a recipe.  YUM!  While it's not sweet (it is, in fact, extremely savory) it fulfills that crunchy, munchy, pop-'em-in-your-mouth need that we all have from time to time (especially when bored).

I grabbed this recipe from HERE and the only modifications I made were using black beans and kidney beans as that's all I had in the pantry at the time, but I'm looking forward to trying other beans!  The black beans are awesomely crunchy and delicious.

Crunchy Crispy Roasted Snack Beans
makes 2-4 servings
total time: approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes
total hands on time: 3 minutes
What you’ll need:
1 can of garbanzo beans
1 can of cannellini beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
What you’ll do:
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Open both cans of beans and rinse them in a colander, then drain extremely well on paper towels.
3. Transfer beans to a rimmed baking pan. Arrange them in a single layer and pour on the oil, then stir to coat.
4. Mix the spices in small ramekin or bowl; once well-mixed, pour spices on the beans and mix again, shaking the pan around really well.
5. Roast for about an hour, checking once or twice to shake the pan again. The beans are done when they're crunchy. The best test is to try one; if it’s crunchy, it’s done!
Enjoy!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Walnut Date Energy Bars

My first stab at homemade energy bars...four thumbs, and two paws, up (Geof gave them the seal of approval, and if Lucy had opposable thumbs she probably would, too :))

I casually glanced at the ingredient list of my beloved Fig Newtons last night and noticed it includes a lot of crap, including HFCS and AND corn syrup...because one just wasn't enough.  Blech, so now that I know that my favorite work snack is truly fake food I had to do something about it.  

Like, make my own :)

So I searched and searched the interwebs this morning and found a recipe I approved of.

Ba-blam!  I do have a photo, but I'm posting via phone for the first time ever (how 2013 of me!) and it's telling me I need to download some silly app to enable that feature.  Next!

So I adapted the recipe from HERE, I made some slight changes which is the recipe below.

They are just barely sweet, filling, and quite tasty.  These bars reminded Geof and I of apple crisp...minus the apples and vat of sugar.  I will be bringing these along for skiing this weekend!  So easy to make, so delish, and tons of potential for customization :)

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup bran hot cereal
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped stemmed dried dates
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Place the oats, cereal, flour, walnuts, dates, dry milk, cinnamon and ginger in a food processor; coarsely chop.
Add the honey and eggs; pulse until well combined.
Transfer the mixture to the pan; spread evenly with your fingers. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or wrap individually and freeze for up to 3 months.

Enjoy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sweet & Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

We had sweet potatoes, we had spices, I had time, and Google was a welcome assistant.  Born from this was a fantastic little side dish that made our taste buds sing.

No picture this time as we ate them too fast :)  I reheated some leftovers for lunch the next day and they tasted just as delicious.  We also dined on sautéed broccoli with mushrooms and parmesan cheese, and quinoa.  How vegetarian of us.

Warning: these are DELICIOUS!

Sweet & Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (more red pepper = more spice!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds medium sweet potatoes (I used two larger potatoes)
3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, and red pepper flakes in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.  We are without a these items at this time, so I got creative and used an old-fashioned ice cream scooper and crushed the spices in a small bowl.  It worked pretty well! Stir together spices and salt.
Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1-inch wedges. Toss wedges with oil and spices in a large  bowl before transferring to a large pan and roast in middle of oven 20 minutes. Turn wedges over with a spatula and roast until tender and slightly golden, about 15 to 20 minutes more.

Enjoy!