Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Coconut Custard Pie

I love being a part of Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group because I am continually learning new things in the realm of baking and sweet treats. I thought I was a decent baker, but didn't realize how limited my range of skills were with mostly experience in cookies, cakes and the very occasional pie. But there is so much more to be mastered! This weeks challenge is a custard pie....Coconut Custard Pie selected by Ruby of I Dream of Baking. Making custard is a first for me and this one came together very easily. The recipe calls mixing up the custard in a blender and then into the pie shell for baking.

I opted for 4 rustic mini's in ramekins and halved the filling recipe. I admit, I cheated on the crust this week to save time and bought the pillsbury refrigerated roll crust. Blind baking the crust in the ramekins (blind baking is also a first for me) was a little challenging. I ended up scrunching up pieces of foil and tucking them inside the crust. I pre-baked them for about 20 minutes (which may have been too long because by the time I baked the custard in the crust it came out much browner than I wanted it to be). Unfortunately I lost some of my rustic crust that overlapped the edge of the ramekin when it went into the oven. It wasn't quite sturdy enough to hold itself up.

I'm on the fence about coconut (love the flavor, not so in love with the texture). I opted to do 2 ramekins with coconut and 2 with caramelized bananas.

For the bananas I sliced them about 1/4 inch thick tossed them in lemon juice, laid them out on a foil lined baking sheet and topped each slice with a nice coating of sugar. Then I popped them under the broiler for about 5 minutes until they had a nice color. The one thing I forgot was to spray the foil with non stick spray so the bananas had to be gingerly removed. I filled each ramekin halfway with custard and laid in 5 or so banana slices and then topped it off with more custard. I baked the custard filled ramekins for about 35 minutes until they were set. As many of the other SMS bakers, I also topped off my mini's with fresh made whipped cream and a little toasted coconut and caramelized banana slices. Because like Tracey, I think everything is better whipped cream!

So? How did they turn out? The custard had a nice creamy texture, however it was not sweet enough for my taste. Hubby described it as, "blah". Though I added a heavy layer of coconut at the bottom of each ramekin the coconut flavor was very mild. And I still don't like the texture of coconut. Next time I will add more sugar and will replace milk with coconut milk to get the coconut flavor without the texture. The banana version was also on the blah side....should have doubled the number of banana slices inside and added a dash of banana extract. I would also omit tossing the bananas in lemon juice (it was recommended in a recipe I found to keep the bananas from turning brown...they added a little tang and kept the banana flavor from truly caramelizing).

I enjoyed the custard itself so I will be giving custard another try in the future...most likely without the crust. Thanks for hosting this week's recipe Ruby!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tacos Family Style

I'll just say it up front. Get the big mystery out of the way. The secret is ketchup. Yep. I said ketchup. My family has been eating tacos this way since my mom was a kid and the tradition has been passed on. My dad adopted the tradition and carried it on even after my parents parted ways. And earlier this week, I was lucky enough to get an invitation to indulge in this delicious, old favorite at Dad's house!

My Dad and step Mom invited Hubby and I over for tacos in exchange for a little computer assistance. It's a no brainer if tacos are involved (nothing personal about your company guys if you are reading this). My step Mom not only fried up fresh corn tortillas for the taco shells, but she also fried up fresh chips. Along with some homemade guacamole that I brought along, and the infamous tacos, it was a pretty darn good meal! Let's just say I didn't leave hungry.

The tacos are simple and so very delicious. A fried corn tortilla filled with ground beef and sauteed onion, lettuce, tomato, freshly grated cheddar cheese good friend Mr. Ketchup.

I see you scrunching up your face and going, "Ewww!". But the question is, have you ever tried it? I totally get that ketchup doesn't fall into the "Mexican" category. I am with you. But this isn't about authentic Mexican food. It's about tasty and heart warming comfort food. So don't knock it till you try it! Ketchup is the essential ingredient to bring a little tangy, sweet tomato-y goodness to the crisp yet chewy fried shell, crumbly ground beef, cool lettuce and tomato and soft, tasty cheddar cheese.

Homemade tacos are an old favorite that will always bring me back to childhood and fond memories of sitting around the table with the family enjoying food and conversation. It's a special treat that I look forward to every once in a while. So Dad, Mom, Grandma? I am available anytime for a taco dinner! Just sayin.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Butterscotch Pralines

Candy. We need to talk.

Our relationship is complicated. For years, I've admired you from afar. I've indulged in your goodness from time to time and have rarely been disappointed. Most times you bring a smile to face. But this new personal relationship we are developing is not what I expected. I admit before we got know each other, I had taken you for granted really. You are much more complex than I realized.

I'd like think you are the source of complication in our relationship. I'm really trying here. I am playing by the rules...taking each step thoughtfully and with care. And for a bit, it seems like we are getting along splendidly. But without warning everything changes. And you have no mercy. I apologize for the harsh words. Really I do. I'm trying to be mature...but a little swearing here and there may have slipped out. I can't help myself. You are frustrating.

Why do you have to be so tempting? It makes it difficult to turn my back on you. You know my weakness and you so subtly lure me back in. You whisper sweet tid bits in my ear and I sigh and I know that I am not ready to part ways with you.

So, I will give you and me another chance. I promise to exercise patience (and will try to keep the swearing to a minimum). But you have to do your part too. You need to bring some patience and flexibility to the table. Ya. If we both put in the effort, I think we can make this work.

So, as you may be sensing after my very serious talk with candy, that things maybe didn't go so well this week. After difficulties with the truffles a couple of weeks ago, I was so hoping for a better result on the pralines. At least the pralines were salvageable (unlike my first batch of truffles). But they were beyond frustrating and the outcome, disappointing. I am not sure what went wrong, but the mixture got firm almost immediately after the butterscotch chips melted in. Melissa Murphy recommends slowly reheating if the the candy is too firm. I tried this, but it never really worked. I was barely able to get the pecans incorporated in time. And I was racing against the clock to get as many pralines on the parchment as possible. I would say I managed to get 2/3 of the mixture doled out in messy thick praline lumps. And yes, there was some swearing. My husband can attest! But on a positive note, the pralines tasted pretty good. I can see why these would be a great ice cream topping. They were firm to the touch yet have a soft give when you bite into them. These are immensely sweet and practically melt in your mouth.

These challenges are what being a part of the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group is all about. Trying new things and taking the good with the bad. So I will chalk this one up to a learning experience. With my new trusty candy thermometer in hand, I look forward to tackling the next candy recipe (with minimal swearing).

You'll find the recipe on the Cookin Chemist site. Thanks for selecting this recipe Tess! It was certainly a learning experience for me. See what other SMS bakers did here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Balsamic Marinated Flank Steak with Blue Cheese Sauce

I recently purchased the latest Ellie Krieger cookbook, So Easy. I have had lots of success with her previous book, The Food You Crave and was excited to try a recipe from her newest book. I decided to volunteer my family as my guinea pigs and served this as the main course for our Mother's Day lunch. It wasn't too shabby for a first pass. What would a recipe be without some modifications? I felt the marinade didn't have quite enough tang for my taste. I will add a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard next time. The blue cheese sauce was a little too salty given the lack of tang in the marinade. A slight cut back on the blue cheese and an increase in the buttermilk next time should do the trick. I highly recommend marinating this one overnight and cooking it a scant 4 minutes on each side. The grilled red onions along side are delicious!

This would pair well with a tangy coleslaw and some watermelon wedges for a healthy and tasty summer meal. Click here for the recipe.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sweet Melissa's Chocolate Layer Cake with Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream Frosting

I was conflicted on how to approach today's blog. Should I present my whole Mother's Day lunch....or should I just focus on the show stopper? Given the title of the blog, you have probably guessed which way I decided to go.

Dessert in my family is a given. I can honestly say I don't think anyone in my family has EVER hosted a family gathering that didn't include dessert (almost always homemade)...from rice krispie treats with peanut butter, to cookies of endless varieties, to cake or pie, to lemon bars, to homemade caramel popcorn balls, ice cream or even peanut brittle. Watch out when a big holiday comes around! Dessert is the ultimate end to any family meal!

Today Hubby and I hosted my Mom, Step Dad and Sister for Mother's Day lunch. Guess what element of this 3 course meal I thought about first? Mom loves chocolate covered strawberries, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted something more...This was a perfect opportunity to use Melissa Murphy's chocolate cake recipe that I tried out a few weeks back when the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group made Chocolate Malted Layer Cake. This chocolate cake recipe kicks butt! With some fresh strawberries and whipped cream frosting it made for an extra special butt kicking Mother's Day dessert.

I debated a bit about what direction to go with the frosting. I enjoy buttercream, but sometimes find it to be too rich. My aunt is a cake decorator by profession and she always uses whipped cream frosting on her cakes....which is absolutely delicious. But I have never made whipped cream frosting before so I went in search of a recipe online. I came across one that immediately caught my was titled "Sturdy Whipped Cream Frosting". It was sturdy, yet light and delicious. Cream cheese serves as the heavy lifter in this frosting. I did make some modifications (of course). I used full fat cream cheese and all vanilla extract instead of part vanilla and part almond. I also added an additional 1/3 cup of sugar to counterbalance the tang of the cream cheese.

The end result... exceedingly moist deep chocolate cake with fresh macerated strawberries and light and creamy whipped cream frosting. The family loved it. I purposely served hefty portions of cake because there was no way I could make a dent in the leftovers. Every plate was sister kept picking at the minuscule bits of cake and smears of frosting dotting her plate. The only way she could have done a better job would have been by licking it! I kept one slice for myself and sent the remainder of the cake home with Mom. Looking forward to a special treat for breakfast tomorrow morning!

Happy Mother's Day Mom. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to make this yummy cake. I love you!

Recipe - Chocolate Layer Cake with Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream Frosting

Chocolate Cake from Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy:
6 oz best quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup best quality unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups hot strong coffee (I substituted hot water with 2 tsp cocoa powder dissolved)

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Butter and flour two 9x2 inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a 9 inch round of parchment paper.

In the top of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is completely melted, whisk in the vegetable oil until completely smooth. Remove from the heat, but keep warm over the hot water.

In the bowl of an electric mixed fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream and eggs until smooth.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and mix until combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix until combined. Add the hot coffee (or hot water with cocoa powder) in a stream and mix until combined. The batter will be loose.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 25 minutes before turning out the layers onto the rack. Cool completely before finishing.

Strawberry filling:
16 oz of fresh strawberries sliced 1/4 inch thick, reserve 3 whole strawberries (each about the same size)
1/3 cup of sugar

Mix sliced strawberries with the sugar and set aside for 15 minutes. Drain the juice off the strawberries prior to using in the cake layers.

Sturdy Whipped Cream Frosting:

1 (8 ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened (I used full fat)
1/2 cup white sugar (I used 1/2 cup plus an additional 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I used all vanilla extract)
2 cups heavy cream

Combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on medium speed until smooth. While the mixture is still whipping, slowly pour in the heavy cream. Stop and scrape the bottom of the bowl a couple of times while you continue whipping until the cream can hold a stiff peak.

To assemble:
Slice each layer of the cake in half. Separate the first layer and place it on the plate or cake stand you plan to serve it on. Slip 4-5 pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake allowing the parchment to serve as a protective covering for your serving dish while you decorate. Spread frosting on the first layer leaving a higher layer of frosting around the edge about a half inch wide to create a well. Fill in the well evenly with the strawberry mixture. Place the next cake layer on top and repeat the frosting and filling instructions 2 more times. Once all the layers are assembled put a very light "crumb coat" of frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Place the cake and remaining frosting in the refrigerator to "set" for at least an hour. Remove cake from the refrigerator and use the remaining frosting to generously cover the cake. Remove protective parchment and top the cake with whole reserved strawberries. Serve cake at room temperature.


Happy Mother's Day (No SMS this week)

Happy Mother's Day to all the beautiful Moms out there! I had the best intentions to bake the Orange Blueberry Muffins with Pecan Crumble this week and incorporate them into my mother's day brunch. But brunch turned into lunch and I couldn't quite fit them in. I did however, incorporate a Sweet Melissa recipe into lunch which I'll be posting about shortly.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chicken Curry! Salad

Oh my Curry! I have never used curry in my cooking and have only had it a handful of times out at restaurants. In high school I worked for the mom of one of my friends at her sandwich shop/catering business for one summer. I remember her making a curry chicken salad that the customers would go nuts for. I was drawn to the creamy golden yellow salad mixed with grapes and other things I can't remember now. The chicken salad was delicious. When I came across this recipe on the Cook Yourself Thin website...I remembered that sunny yellow salad from my summer job in high school and I wanted to try this recipe.

It's easy to make. Mayo, orange juice and zest and curry powder come together to coat the shredded chicken, diced granny smith apples and raisins. Top it off with toasted slivered almonds for a nutty crunch. I was so excited to try this lucious salad.

I am a bit of wimp when it comes to spicy 2 tablespoons of curry powder was a little more than I bargained for. I added in a heaping spoonful of sour cream to cool it down a bit. I'm not sure how much cooling effect it really had. The salad definitely had a kick! It was nice to try something new and Hubby even gave it the thumbs up!

Unfortunately it appears that curry and I don't get along. After eating it for dinner and then again the next day for lunch I felt like I was slowly moving into a curry coma. The best way to describe it is I felt like I had a curry hangover that carried me into the following day. Though it was tasty, I'm not sure I will be making this again. But if you are a fan of curry and it doesn't send your body into shock...give this flavorful and healthy Curried Chicken Salad a try.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Peanut Butter Truffles

A baking recipe with 5 ingredients is generally not my friend. The fewer the ingredients, the more skill and finesse needed to execute the recipe. For example....pie dough or meringues. And now I can add truffles to the list. This week was most definitely an exercise in patience for me. And my sister. She was staying with us for a few days this week and helped me take on this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe for Peanut Butter Truffles.

Our first go round on Thursday night was unsuccessful. Best I can figure is the cream reached a boiling point. The cream and peanut butter mixture was quite thick. When it met up with the chopped up chocolate the result was a textured looking sludge. Hmmmm. Not good. Here's what it's NOT supposed to look like:

Off to the grocery store again the next day to pick up more chocolate and more heavy cream. I decided to use semisweet for the second round because the bittersweet called for in the recipe seemed too dark.

Friday night we went for round 2. We decided to make a few modifications. First, we chopped up the chocolate in smaller pieces. Then we melted the peanut butter in the microwave first, rather than heating it up with the cream. (Upon suggestions from other SMS bakers about these truffles not being peanut buttery enough...we used 1/2 cup instead of 1/4...and it turned out to be just the right amount of peanut butter goodness). And lastly we watched the cream like a hawk as it came up to temperature to ensure it did not reach the boiling point. Just as tiny bubbles were forming around the edges I added in the melted peanut butter and it combined together much easier than round 1 and the end result was more liquidy. We poured this over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk, whisk...add a little butter, another whisk or two....and voila! A nice silky chocolate truffle base. Thank God! I don't think I could have handled round 3!

We decided to mix it up and bit and we added rice crispy cereal to half the truffle base. I had visions of a crunchy crispy peanut butter truffle. It looked great. But the crispies lost all their crunch by the time we rolled out the truffles. Not sure how to keep the crispies crisp. I did a little web browsing on the subject, but didn't see much to help solve this problem. Any ideas fellow SMS bakers?

Luckily we still had half the mixture untouched by experimentation...this turned out to be plenty of truffles. We made the full recipe and it yielded 6 dozen truffles in total. Though the (not so) crispy ones were edible, I was happy to have the regular ones to fall back on.

On to the fun part...the truffle coating. Originally I was going to skip the chopped up peanut coating recommended in the recipe. But at the last moment I picked up some honey roasted peanuts on one of our many trips to the grocery store. We decided one coating option just would not do. So we opted for 4....cocoa powder, powdered sugar, chopped up peanuts and dark chocolate shavings.

I loved Hanaa's idea of chocolate shavings! I meticulously chopped up a semisweet bar....but unfortunately there was a little mishap with the shavings. We stored the bowl of shavings in the freezer while we waited for the truffles to be rolled out. When I went to pull the bowl out of the freezer it flew right out of my hand and chocolate dust went flying everywhere. Sigh. Then we couldn't help ourselves and my sister and I burst into laughter. The scene was very comical! I should have taken a picture! After the multiple step clean up effort (which included removing a drawer from my freezer, a broom, papertowels and clorox wipes), we jumped in the car at 9:30 pm and headed to the grocery store....yet again! But I was determined to have chocolate shavings.

After all that....guess which topping turned out to be our favorite? The chopped up peanuts! They added that extra sweet (from the honey roasted), salty peanutty zip to the truffles. And visually I thought they looked the best....really bringing home the concept of what flavor you would be biting into.

The powdered sugar didn't really work for us so we only did a few. The cocoa powder was nice and the chocolate shavings were good too and had a great texture. It was fun trying different options! Next time I might try milk chocolate shavings mixed with chopped nuts to capture a peanut butter cup taste.

Showing off our final product! Thanks for the help this week sis. I had a blast!

This recipe is a keeper! Thanks to Mara for selecting these tasty treats this week. For the recipe check out Mara's site, Love Your Mother Earth. And see what other SMS bakers did