Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Asian Salad with Red Peppers

I've been blogging for almost 2 years now.  Back in the early days, when I had no idea what I was doing, I posted a recipe that has always been a big hit in my family for an asian slaw/salad.  Though the salad is great, I cringe a little lot when I go back and look at my early posts.  The pictures are pretty awful.  Hard to believe I was using the same camera then as I do now.  I'm always working to improve my photography skills and I still have a lot to learn, but looking back makes me realize just how far I've come.  Wonder what things will look like in another two years...

Somehow nearly two years has passed since I've made this salad.  Which is a shame, because I remembered how much I love it when my family served it at our Christmas day dinner this past year.  It's refreshing.  It's crunchy.  It's green onion-ey.  It's sweet and tangy all at the same time.  And it's incredibly easy to make.

When I saw a head of cabbage at our local farmer's market, it was on.  I decided to waiver slightly from the original recipe by adding some finely sliced red peppers.  I had an excess of red peppers in the fridge from a Costco run. I thought they would complement the other flavors in the salad nicely, not to mention bringing a pretty burst of red among a rather monotone landscape of colors.  Hubby and I enjoyed the addition of the peppers and I will plan to include them going forward. 

We typically eat this salad as a side dish, but if you add some grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken, this could easily be a main course.  I like to toss the dressing with the salad about 10 minutes before I plan to serve it to allow the dressing to slightly soften the hearty cabbage. This dish is a crowd pleaser and would be great for a party.   Did I mention this is easy to make?  It is super easy.  And you should totally make it and thank me later. ;) 


Asian Salad with Red Peppers

Serves 6-8 people
1/2 head thinly sliced cabbage or 16 oz bag of cabbage mix
1 package chicken Top Ramen
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 green onions thinly sliced
1 red pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced
Whisk together the following and chill
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil (do not substitute olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Flavor packet from Top Ramen
Place uncooked ramen noodles in a ziploc bag and crush into small pieces using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Place crushed ramen, sesame seeds and almonds on a baking sheet. Toast in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Toss slaw, red peppers, green onions, ramen, sesame seeds, almonds in dressing. Let the salad sit for about 10 minutes before serving to allow dressing to soften the cabbage a bit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Last Sunday I made mushroom lasagna.  It was the first recipe I tackled from my new Cooking Light subscription.  It was creamy, it was mushroomy, it was shalloty and garlicky.  All flavor elements that I love, love, love.  It was a bit labor intensive.  A lot of chopping.  A lot of bowls and pots and pans.  A lot of different steps.  Since it's a little involved to make it's best made on a day when you aren't in a rush. 

So why am I telling you about mushroom lasagna when there is a photo of ice cream above?  Because today's post was supposed to be mushroom lasagna.  I've been debating in my head all week...Post it?  Don't post it ?  I don't know.  It tasted fine.  It was even good--ish.  But I didn't love it.  And I don't think I'll make it again given the level of effort involved.  If I did make it again and I would change some small things, but I don't think they would be enough to turn this dish around into the "love it" category.  Though I didn't love it, I've seen it pop up on some other food blogs with a little lovin'.  You can check out their experiences and get the recipe from their sites if you want to give this dish a go.  And just because, I am sharing a photo.  I didn't want them to go to waste after all.

After I finally decided what to do about posting the mushroom lasagna, I dug into the photo archives on my computer to see what would fill the blog void.  I came up with a few contenders, but finally settled on pumpkin ice cream.  I made this ice cream last fall when I was in a pumpkin kind of mood.  Going back through my photos (which I didn't love when I took them...which is why this post was so delayed) my pumpkin senses were roused.  Pumpkin should not be relegated to only a specific season.  You have to give in to the pumpkin cravings when they whisper in your ear.  Especially if they tell you to stream in melted chocolate into your pumpkin ice cream to get a pumpkin chip ice cream. 

I did half the batch plain and half with chocolate bits.  The ice cream is easy to put together and has a lightness about it all the while pumpkin flavor really shines through.  The texture is creamy and freezes nicely.  It doesn't turn icy or too hard when frozen for an extended period. 

To make your ice cream even more special, sandwich it between 2 homemade ginger snap cookies.  Pumpkin and ginger are great flavor partners. This is my favorite ginger snap recipe.  Tracey over Tracey's Culinary Adventures shared  some great tips on how to neatly portion out your ice cream for sanwiching.  I can't seem to find her specific post that talks about it, but the basic concept is to spread slightly softened ice cream on a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer.  Spread it to the thickness you want in your cookie sandwiches and return it to the freezer.  Once it's set up, use a cookie cutter to form the ice cream to perfectly match your cookies.  It's an especially handy tip if you are using unique shaped cookies.  Or you can wing it like I did and just spoon some softened ice cream on your cookie and try to clean up the edges.

Is a pumpking craving whispering in your ear?


Pumpkin Ice Cream
from Williams-Sonoma

Yields 1 quart of ice cream


1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie puree)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon bourbon (I omitted it and added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract)

In a small bowl whisk pumpkin puree and vanilla and cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar and cook over medium heat. Cook until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 cup cream and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and the sugar dissolve.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it about 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spice Cake with Orange Cardamom Cream Cheese Frosting

I remember my Grandma making two kinds of cakes when I was growing up.  Chocolate cake and spice cake.  Both were from a box mix.  And both were topped with creamy fluffy white frosting laced with fresh orange zest.  I think it was cream cheese frosting, but I really don't know for certain.  Maybe she made other kinds of cakes too.  I'm sure she did.  But only these two stand out in my memories. 

Thinking of my Grandma's cakes makes me smile.  Her cakes mostly made appearances for birthdays.  When I was kid I was always excited to arrive at her house and see a frosted cake sitting on the counter top, but knowing the cake was not yet in my reach.  I had to patiently wait for dinner to be served and finished before the cake was adorned with birthday candles.  The hardest part was making it through the last stretch...my families rendition of the "Happy Birthday"song.  We are not singers.  Finally the candles were blown out and the round, stacked, two layer cake was cut into wedges.  Everyone received an enormous portion to savor.  Ah!  So light and moist and coated in a generous layer of orange frosting.  How could that not make you smile?

To date orange cream cheese frosting is one of my favorite frosting flavors.  I adore it paired with both chocolate and spice cake.  It's been quite some time since I've enjoyed the spice cake/orange frosting combination.  Last year I picked up a box of spice cake mix that was on sale.  I didn't have a specific plan or occasion for it, but I when I saw it I thought about my Grandma's cake and that I should have it on hand for, you know, whatever.

Whatever finally came 2 weekends ago when Hubby's Dad was in town.  It was no one's birthday, but we needed something sweet to finish off our day of football watching and appetizers.  Oranges were in the fridge along with some cream cheese.  The spice cake box was in the cupboard.  It was meant to be.  I kept it simple and just did a single layer cake in a 9 x 13 pan.  I decided to put a little twist on my normal frosting recipe and added cardamom (a fairly new spice) to bring in another layer of spice. 

The cake turned out just right.  It was light, tender and incredibly moist (don't underestimate the power of boxed cake mix my friends!).  The frosting was perfumed with sweet oranges and warm spice notes with an ever so slight crunch from the specks of ground cardamom. 

I smiled when I took my first bite.  And every last bite.   


Spice Cake with Orange Cardamom Cream Cheese Frosting

Prepare a box spice cake mix according to package instructions or use your favorite homemade spice cake recipe.  Use what ever size pan you like.  The frosting is enough to coat and fill two 8 inch round cakes.  If you bake a 9 x 13 cake, you could half the frosting recipe or have leftovers for another baking project. While cake is cooling prepare the frosting.

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature
16 ounces (1lb) of confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons of orange zest (about 2 large oranges)

In a stand mixer combine the cream cheese and butter and beat on medium until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar in 3 batches on low speed until combined.  Increase mixer to medium high speed and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla, cardamom and orange zest and beat until fully combined. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Crostini

I haven't told you all this yet, but one of my goals in 2012 is to have more regularly scheduled posting on the blog.  In my fantasy world I would like to post 5 days a week.  But in the real world I thought I should just commit to 2 days to start.  Since January rolled around I've been trying to post every Tuesday and Thursday and then a few Sundays have been thrown in for good measure.  As you can see, today is not any of those days.  It's Friday. 

I'm a little disappointed that I'm day late so early on in the game.  I don't even have a good excuse.  I had the pictures for this post done last weekend. I knew this would be a busy week and I should have written the post ahead of time.  But my usual procrastination set in and things came up.  You know, life, work, family, my cats, a business trip to Las Vegas.....and in between all that I've been completely consumed with reading the Hunger Games whenever I can get a chance.  Have you read this book yet?  It's addicting.  It's actually the first in a trilogy and I'm already on to the second.  But I have managed to pull myself away long enough to get this post up, even if it is a day later than I planned. 

Seems like this has been appetizer month around our house.  Between New Years and football games we've tried several new appetizers over the last few weeks.  This roasted red pepper crostini was born out of the need to get rid of some peppers that were reaching their peak ripeness in our fridge.  After an internet search on "red pepper appetizers" I was quickly intrigued by this recipe I found on Williams-Sonoma's website.  Hubby and I love traditional pesto made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  This sounded like a fun twist, using roasted red peppers, almonds, garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and parsley.  It has bold, strong and somewhat spicy flavors.  Since the garlic is raw, it, along with the cayenne, add a nice spice layer to the pesto.  The texture is rich and thick and easy to spread on the toasted baguette.

The Williams-Sonoma recipe makes it even more decadent by starting with a layer of goat cheese on the crostini and warming it in the oven before topping it with the pesto.  Since Hubby and my father-in-law aren't cheese eaters, I skipped that step.  But it's noted in the directions below and next time I make this I will do a few with cheese for me.   The recipe makes just over a cup of pesto.  One other note, I actually used 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper which is why the pesto is more orange and pale in color (but not in flavor!). 

If you have any leftover pesto (which we did not), it could be used to turn a sandwich or homemade panini into something special.  It would also be great with pasta (but you would have to make a whole batch just for that) or it could also kick up a steamed vegetable, like broccoli. 

Since I skipped the goat cheese, I served our pesto and crostini separately and let people put as much or little as they wanted on top.  If you are looking for a fresh bold appetizer for your next football watching party, this is a great choice. 


Roasted Red Pepper Crostini
adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Yields 24 crostini (1 cup pesto)


1 baguette cut in 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used a garlic flavored olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 red bell peppers, roasted, seeds and stem removed and roughly chopped*
2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds (to toast, place almonds in small skillet on medium low heat.  Stir until almonds are very lightly browned and become fragrant, about 5-7 minutes)
3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces of soft goat cheese (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the slices of bread on the baking sheet.  Lightly brush the top sides of the bread with the olive oil.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until bread is toasted.  Bake 3 minutes longer for very crispy bread.  When bread comes out of the oven and is still warm rub each slice with one of the cloves of garlic.  Set aside.

To make the pesto, place 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the remaining clove of garlic, peppers, almonds, Parmigiano cheese, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, lemon juice and cayenne pepper into a food processor and pulse until the pesto is thick but somewhat smooth.  Pulse longer for a smoother pesto.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste and pulse a few more times to fully combine. 

When you are nearly ready to serve pre-heat your oven to 350.  Spread goat cheese on each crostini and bake for about 5 minutes until the goat cheese is soft and the bread is warmed through.   Top each crostini with the red pepper pesto and sprinkle with remaining parsley.  Serve immediately.

*We roast our peppers on the barbeque.  Just place the peppers directly on the grill over high heat and turn every 5 minutes until peppers are soft and the exterior skin will turn black.  Takes 20-25 minutes.  Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover the the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set aside and let the pepper steam for about 15 minutes.  Remove the plastic and let the peppers cool enough to handle them.  Remove the skins, stems and seeds.  Do not rinse the peppers under water.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baked Turkey Meatball Bites

This past weekend we watched 3 of 4 NFL playoff games.  I'm not a sports girl.  Normally there is very little sports going on in our household unless the Chicago Bears or Cubs (from Hubby's home town) are in some kind of playoff or final game.  Chicago was not in any of the games we watched. But Hubby's Dad was in town and he follows football.  I won't lie, I have zero interest in the game of football.  What does interest me is an occasion to cook and bake.  And football watching is perfect for whipping up some finger foods.  Seems like we've been on an appetizer kick lately.  Our New Years Eve eve was an appetizer feast.  And so was day 1 of football watching.  I tried out two new recipes, roasted red pepper crostini and these baked turkey meatballs.  Both were a hit with Hubby and his Dad. 

As I was getting everything together for the game, Hubby came into the kitchen and grabbed a finished meatball hot off the baking sheet.  He said, "these are really good!"  Score!  Hubby is a big fan of turkey as an alternative to beef.  It's been a slow conversion for me, but I am finally getting to a place where I don't mind using ground turkey in place of beef.  And in many cases I'm really starting to like it. 

These meatballs fall into that category.  They pack a lot of flavor with onions, garlic and Parmesan cheese.  I really like using fresh herbs in meatballs because they bring a bright flavor that you don't get with dried herbs.  In this recipe I used fresh Italian parsley.  Next time I will add basil in too. 

What I like about this recipe is it's a good base recipe and you can add flavors to suit your tastes.  I served them with barbecue sauce, but I think they would also be great with your favorite marinara sauce or even a basil pesto.  I also like that these meatballs are baked and not fried, making them a fairly healthy option.

The meatballs are easy to put together once you get the chopping out of the way.  If you have a small cookie scoop it's a cinch to portion out equal size meatballs.  Basting the meatballs with sauce for the final 5 minutes of baking gives them a nice color and a lightly glazed crust.  You can serve them straight from the oven with some extra sauce on the side.  Or you can throw them in a small crock pot or a medium saucepan with some extra sauce to keep them nice and warm until your party starts.  Stick a toothpick in them and these bite size meatballs are ready to go.

Our appetizer trend continued on day 2 of the football bonanza.  However they came from the restaurant/bar where we set up camp for the last of the 4 games.  Apparently none of the teams my father-in-law picked to win, won.  Sorry Jerry!

At least we were well fed. 


Baked Turkey Meatball Bites
adapted from bakespace.com

Yields about 42 small meatballs


1 pound lean ground turkey
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely diced white or sweet onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, divided into 1/4 and 3/4 cups.  You could also use marinara sauce in place of barbecue sauce.


Preheat oven to 350.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil and spray with non stick cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except barbecue sauce and gently mix together until fully combined.  Using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon, portion out 1 1/2 inch size meatballs and gently roll them between your hands to round them out.  Place on baking sheets about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 8 minutes and turn meatballs using a metal spatula.  Return to the oven and cook for an additional 6 minutes.  Remove sheets from oven and lightly brush each meat ball with 1/4 cup of the barbecue sauce.  Return to oven and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Warm the remaining 3/4 cup of barbecue sauce in small saucepan or in a small bowl in the microwave.  Serve immediately.  Or you can add the sauce along with 1/4 cup water to a small crock pot and add the meatballs to keep warm for a party.

For other healthy Super Bowl snacks check out the round up on Eat Yourself Skinny.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

(Non) Mississippi Mud Pie

Many birthday dinners out at a restaurant when I was a teenager ended with a slice of mud pie topped with a candle. The slices were massive and could be shared with my whole family.  I would always choose a non coffee version of mud pie, like chocolate mint or chocolate chip.  Ice cream is pretty satisfying all on it's own, but when it's packed into a pie form with cookie crust and fudge topping, it transforms into something special.

Jess from The Saucy Kitchen is our hostess for this week's Club: Baked pick and she chose Mississippi mud pie as the recipe the group would make.  Even though I'm a fan of mud pie, I was a little hesitant to make this recipe because I knew it had coffee in it.  I thought for sure the coffee would be in the fudge layers, but when I read through the recipe more closely, the only coffee was in the ice cream layer.  A layer that could easily be changed out for another ice cream flavor.  The authors of Baked Explorations say you can choose whatever ice cream flavor you like, but if you stray from the traditional coffee ice cream, you can no longer call it "Mississippi" mud pie. 

So, here I present, my non Mississippi mud pie.  I used dulce de leche (caramel) ice cream instead of coffee. 

Other than the ice cream swap and using almonds instead of pecans (because I burned my pecans), I followed the recipe exactly.  Well, sort of.  I cut the recipe in half and made a mini mud pie.  Hubby is not a chocolate fan so I wanted to make a small version.   My father-in-law was going to be in town so I knew I could share it with him.  Let's just say I shared 1/4 of the pie with him and I scarfed down the other 3/4 myself over the following 4 days.  I would have to go shopping for new jeans if I had made the full pie.

In case it wasn't obvious by my aforementioned pie hoarding, I really liked this mud pie.  The crust is a chocolate cookie crust.  I used Oreos minus the filling as the base because I couldn't find chocolate wafer cookies at my grocery store.  I liked using Oreos because the wafer part on its own isn't overly sweet so it results in a deep dark chocolate crust.  The next layer is a sweet, rich bourbon fudge.  Just a hint of bourbon brings a depth of flavor to the fudge without being too boozy.  Up next is the ice cream layer which gets topped by chopped pecans (almonds in my case).  And finally the top is drizzled with more bourbon fudge.  I didn't use all the fudge on top since I wanted to see a little bit of the ice cream beneath.  The pie is stored in the freezer and is sliceable right out of the freezer.

This is definitely a dessert geared toward a chocolate lover.  But what is so great about this recipe is I can see it being tweaked and twisted into a variety of flavor combinations.  I'm already envisioning a chocolate mint mud pie, replacing the bourbon in the fudge layer with a bit of peppermint extract and a layer of mint chip ice cream.  Or a strawberry shortcake version...with a graham cracker or vanilla wafer cookie crust instead of the chocolate crust.  White chocolate can be swapped for the dark chocolate in the fudge layers and amaretto in place of the bourbon.  Fresh strawberry ice cream nestled in the middle and you have a fun play on mud pie meets strawberry shortcake.  Really, the possibilities are vast. 

What I love about this recipe is it's easy and presents beautifully.  It does require a little planning ahead because the various layers have to chill or freeze until the next can be completed.  You can't throw it together an hour before guests will be arriving unfortunately.  I spread it out over two days and it was a cinch.

Now that I've been schooled on the ways the mud pie...I'm excited to try other flavor combinations.

To get the recipe head over to The Saucy Kitchen.  Thanks for a great pick Jess!  To see how my fellow Club: Bakers did with their pies click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sun-dried Tomato BLT Bites

When I was planning our menu of New Year's Eve appetizers I wanted to include a little something green.  But I wasn't sure what.  I had planned to make Ina Garten's sun-dried tomato dip with rosemary crackers.  I was also making a baked sweet onion dip with crackers and rosemary cheese straws.  Too many carbs. 

I opened up the fridge for inspiration. 

Persian cucumbers jumped out.  I knew they would be a good alternative for crackers and serve as a nice canvas for the tangy sun-dried tomato dip. I was going to leave it at that. But then I caught a glimpse of pre-cooked bacon slices that I had bought to use in salad...

Bacon, Cucumber, Tomato...BCT

Cucumber is green, cool and crisp....a lot like lettuce, right? A play on the BLT came together in this little crunchy, creamy, tomatoey bite. It was a refreshing veggie addition to our all appetizer dinner.

These flavorful bites are easy to put together and can be made ahead and stored in the fridge.   I used a decorating tip to pipe on the sun-dried tomato dip.  If you don't have a tip, you can place the dip in a zip top bag and cut the corner off and pipe it on the cucumber slices.  It doesn't need to be perfect because it gets topped with bacon bits and sliced green onions. 

The sundried tomato dip recipe makes a lot of dip.  You can serve it with crackers or cut up veggies.  It would also make a nice spread on a turkey sandwich or really gear up a classic BLT sandwich. 


Sun-dried Tomato Dip
from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped (about 8 tomatoes)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
10 dashes hot red pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Add all the ingredients except the scallions to a food processor and puree.  Add scallions and pulse twice.  Serve dip at room temperature

To make sun-dried tomato BLT Bites

Quantities can vary depending on how many you want to make.  I cut up 4 Persian cucumbers and used 2 slices of bacon and 1 scallion for Hubby and me.

Persian cucumbers cut into 1/2 inch rounds
Slices of crisp bacon broken into small pieces
Sun-dried tomato dip
Scallions, thinly sliced

To assemble:

Place sun-dried tomato dip in a pastry bag fitted with a large star attachment.  Pipe a dollop of dip on each cucumber slice.  It doesn't have to be perfect because....the next step is to top each bite with a piece of bacon and sprinkle with scallions to garnish.

These can be assembled ahead and stored in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Baked New Frontiers Chocolate Chip Cookies

Until about a year ago, I would always use salted butter in my baking recipes.  Why?  Two reasons.  The primary one, I am lazy.  I buy my butter in bulk at Costco, 4 pounds at a time.  The only butter they sell packaged in individually wrapped sticks is salted butter.  The unsalted butter comes in 4 one pound bricks that you have to cut down if you are using less than a pound at a time (which is always).  I question my cutting accuracy and really don't want to have to break out the scale and start shaving off slices of butter until I have exactly the right weight.  The second reason I used salted butter, is I like salt.  I like the taste of a hint of extra salt in sweet baking recipes. 

Salted butter is generally a "no no" according to many experts in the baking world.  It's most common to see baking recipes that call for unsalted butter.  The thought is you don't know how much salt is in the butter.  Many baking recipes already contain salt, so you could potentially end up having too much.  Others therorize that salt in butter acts as a preservative, therefore salted butter is not as fresh as unsalted.  (Check out this post from David Lebovitz to read about his pro-salted butter thoughts).

Before I started baking multiple times a week, I don't think my taste buds were honed enough to really notice if using salted made a real difference in most recipes.  As my baking became more frequent, I caved to peer pressure and made the switch to unsalted butter and I take my chances on my cutting accuracy (still haven't caved to use the scale...yet). 

For the most part, I don't miss salted butter.  Except when it comes to chocolate chip cookies.   It is the one cookie that I can taste the extra salt and even crave it. The salt contrasts with the deep caramel-esque brown sugar in the cookie dough and the rich semi sweet chocolate chips.  Though I don't use salted butter anymore, I do throw in an extra pinch in my chocolate chip cookies for good measure. 

Last year I started a quest to find "the one". The perfect chocolate chip cookie.  In fact I made, and quickly devoured, the Perfect Chocolate Cookie from Cook's Illustrated.  I ate up Alton Brown's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.  I sliced, baked and inhaled Melissa Murphy's Chocolate Chip Cookie with Toasted Almonds.  Then I made my best friend Crystal's "Oops" version of that same cookie using milk chocolate and a touch extra butter and found myself loving yet another chocolate chip cookie.  And up until my official quest began, I have been making the Nestle Tollhouse cookie as my go to cookie for most of my baking life.  I have been pretty happy with that cookie to be honest.   With it's slightly crispy edges, chewy middle and that salty sweet contrast, I could never eat just one. 

This cookie from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, is very similar to my beloved Tollhouse cookie.  If you hold the recipes up side by side the ingredients are nearly identical, with the exception of the proportion of brown and white sugars.  The Baked recipe has less granulated sugar and more brown sugar.  The Baked recipe also calls for dark brown sugar (which has a higher molasses content then light brown sugar) bringing more caramel tones to the cookie, making it a winner in my book.

I am beginning to think there isn't just "one".  Why should we have to choose?  Each chocolate chip cookie has its own qualities, textures and flavors that are all deserving of admiration. 

What are your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes?

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips - I used 2 cups

Whisk flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.  In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugars until smooth and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.  Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low for 15 seconds or until just incorporated.  Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. 

Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper (depending on how many cookies your dough yields).  Using a scoop or a spoon, portion out dough into 2 tablespoon sized balls.  Use your hands to roll dough into a ball.   Place on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. 

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom in the oven halfway through baking.  The cookies should be golden brown around the edges and just set in the middle. 

Remove pans from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to the rack using a spatula to finish cooling.  Store in an airtight containing for up to 3 days.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rosemary Cheese Straws

Hubby and I spent a quiet New Year's Eve at home this year.  We started our day with a little pre-new year's cleaning by washing the all the windows in our townhouse, inside and out.  Not an easy feat since it has never been done since we've lived here...for nearly 8 years.  Eeek! I know.  That's really bad.  And kind of gross.  And I don't have any good excuses as to why it took us so long.  We clean the inside of our house once a week (really, we do!), but apparently the windows are on the once every decade schedule!  Kind of embarrassing.  Now that we can actually see the outside world with some clarity, we might just be inspired to up the window washing schedule to once every half decade? 

Anyway, after a long morning filled with Karate Kid style "wax on" "wax off" cleaning, we spent the afternoon shopping and stocking up our fridge with fun foods to ring in the New Year. 

Originally I planned to make chicken piccata and Parmesan roasted zucchini for dinner accompanied by a bottle of Riesling.  Simple. Tasty. 

But then my mind couldn't stop thinking about a spread of appetizers instead.   Mmmmm.  An array of delicious nibbles....so many possibilities!  Appetizers seemed like the right thing to do on New Year's Eve.

Our meal of finger foods consisted of baked sweet onion dip with crackers and sweet onion stuffed mushrooms, mini lox and bagel sandwiches (for Hubby), sun dried tomato BLT bites, sauteed chicken fingers with piccata dipping sauce and these rosemary cheese straws.  They were one of the easiest things to make and one of the tastiest. 

Store bought puff pastry is the canvas for a mixture of cheeses and this fragrant, woody herb that I've been slowly warming up to over the past year.  Just a handful of ingredients are transformed into light, airy bread sticks with baked in cheesey crunch.  This recipe is versatile and you could substitute your favorite cheeses and fresh herbs.  Rosemary cheese straws would be great served simply with a glass of wine, or as an accompaniment to a soup or  salad. 

A couple of baking notes.  Don't get too carried away with rolling dough out.  I found that it was actually easier to work with the dough on a very lightly floured surface and simply stretch it with my hands to the size/shape I was looking for.  Generously brush the pastry with the egg wash and pack on the cheese/herb mixture on.  When you cut and twist each straw, some of it will fall off.  Not to worry!  Though you can make these ahead, they are really great served warm from the oven.  I made mine a bit ahead of time and just kept them wrapped in foil in a 200 degree oven to stay nice and toasty.  Who doesn't love warm bread?

We cracked open the wine, cozied up on the couch, turned on a movie and chowed down on our appetizer feast to ring in 2012.  My kind of New Year's Eve! 

How did you spend your New Year's Eve?

Rosemary Cheese Straws
adapted from Handle the Heat


2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted overnight in the fridge (or on the counter in 40 minutes to an hour)
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (original recipe called for 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese (original recipe called for 1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment or foil. 

In a small bowl, combine cheeses, rosemary, salt and pepper and set aside.

Unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and gently use a rolling pin to stretch pastry into a 10x12 inch sheet.  Use a kitchen/pastry brush and brush egg wash over the surface of the puff pastry until completely covered.  Divide the cheese mixture in half and sprinkle evenly over each puff pastry sheet.  Gently press the mixture into the sheets. 

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife cut the pastry dough in half across the long side.  Cut each half into 3/4 inch strips.  Hold the ends of each pastry strip and twist moving your hands in the opposite direction and lay each strip on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. 

Bake for 15 minutes or until pastry puffs and turns golden brown.  Cool on baking sheets.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blue Cheese Wedge

Every year my family gathers at my Aunt's house for a Christmas Eve feast and celebration.  Most every year we have the same delicious meal...prime rib with horseradish cream sauce, twice baked potato casserole, a salad, a veggie and dinner rolls.  And every year it's my job to bring the salad.  Though we have a similar meal each year, I always hem and haw about what kind of salad to bring.  What will most people like? (This year there were 16 adults and 8 kids).  I mean let's be real, the salad is not the star of the meal.  It's an accompanying side show.  But I always want it to be just right.   

As I was thinking about what salad to bring, I was inspired by my Grandma.  When Hubby and I spent a few days with my Grandparents this past Thanksgiving, they took us out to dinner one night at Sullivan's Steakhouse.  If you've never been to Sullivan's, it's a treat.  It's a traditional steakhouse with most everything served a la cart.  Except the salad.  A blue cheese wedge salad comes with each entree.  It's a big wedge and the dressing is cheesy and creamy with a bit of tang, which is what makes it different from most blue cheese dressings I've had in the past.  Grandma said one of the reasons she liked coming to Sullivan's was for the salad.  Forget the steak and fork over the wedge!

I consulted Bing and searched for a copy cat recipe of Sullivan's famous blue cheese wedge.  And I think this is pretty darn close.  The dressing gets its tang from the buttermilk, sour cream and red wine vinegar.  It's rich and creamy from the mayonnaise, olive oil and blue cheese.  And it's rounded out with minced garlic and freshly cracked black pepper.     

I love the cool crisp iceberg lettuce drenched in cheesy dressing.  The Sullivan's wedge is served simply with lettuce, dressing and tomatoes.  I added sliced green onions and bacon pieces to the salad I served on Christmas Eve (bacon not pictured above).  I think the addition of the fresh mild green onion and salty crisp bacon finish off the salad nicely.

A mark of a good recipe is if I will make it again.  This salad hits the mark.  In fact I've already made it once since Christmas Eve.  I'm sad to say Grandma didn't get to taste the dressing to give her seal of approval because she came down with a bad cold the morning of Christmas Eve.  But luckily she will get to taste it next year since I have officially decided this salad is "the one."

This one's for you Gram!

Blue Cheese Wedge Salad
adapted from foodiekitchen.com

Serves 4-6


7 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large head of iceberg lettuce, with core removed, washed and chilled
6 ounces crumbled blue cheese
3 diced seeded plum tomatoes
6 green onions thinly sliced, white and green parts

Place all the dressing ingredients in a food processor and process until you reached the desired consistency.  Process longer if you want a smoother dressing.  I left mine with a little bits of blue cheese in it.  Refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 3 days.

To prepare the salad, cut the head of lettuce in half.  Cut each half in 3 wedges, or 2 if the head is small.  Place the wedges on chilled salad plates.  Spoon about 1/3 cup of the dressing over each wedge allowing the dressing to run over the sides.

Sprinkle each wedge with tomatoes, green onions and crumbled blue cheese, divided equally among each salad.  Finish with a crack or two of freshly ground black pepper. Serve chilled.

Optional: Brown 1/3 pound of bacon until crisp in a frying pan, on a baking sheet in the oven or in the microwave.  Crumble bacon into small bits and sprinkle over each wedge.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Devil's Food Cupcakes with Angel Frosting

2012 has arrived!  Happy New Year!

Did anyone else wake up this morning searching for the Rose Parade on TV, but didn't find it?  It took me about half hour to figure out that when new year's day falls on a Sunday, the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl actually take place on Monday.  With no Rose Parade to watch I decided this was the perfect time to bake the first Club: Baked recipe for 2012, Devil's Food Cake with Angel Frosting.

For those of you who don't know, Club: Baked is an online baking group where a group of us are baking our way through the book Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  The group was founded last July by Karen of Karen's Cookies, Cakes and More.  The group bakes twice a month.  Each week we all make the same recipe which is selected by that particular week's hostess.  So far we've baked some pretty awesome treats.  A few of my 2011 favorites have been New York Style Crumb Cake, Buckeyes, Sunday Night Cake, the pastry cream from the Boston Cream Pie recipe and the Caramel Apple Cake.  You can join us on our baking adventure by getting in touch with Karen via the Club: Baked site.  The more the merrier!

I was excited to see the first recipe of 2012 was Devil's Food Cake with Angel Frosting chosen by Natalie from Just About Food.  Chocolate cake is one of my favorite desserts to eat.  This one is topped with "Angel Frosting", which is essentially homemade marshmallow fluff.  The silky sweet marshmallow frosting is a nice contrast to the deep dark chocolate flavor.  My Hubby, who you may recall is not a big dessert guy, and is especially not a big chocolate guy, declared the frosting a success!  Not surprisingly, he didn't care for the cake.  Luckily, I have a ton of frosting leftover as I made the whole frosting recipe, but only made half the cake recipe for my mini cupcakes.  Hubs can eat the frosting by the spoonful to satisfy his sweet tooth. ;)

A few baking notes.  The cake recipe calls for hot coffee, however I'm not a fan of coffee in my desserts (even though people swear the taste is undetectable in the final product--I can always taste it).  So instead I dissolved 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder with hot water.  It worked out fine and the cake still had a deep chocolate flavor.  I made mini cupcakes and they took about 17 minutes in a 325 degree oven.  I was worried I would have trouble with the frosting.  I have had some failed attempts in the past with frostings that call for a hot sugar mixture to be streamed into the frosting.  I followed the recipe exactly and I was pleased to see that it came together easily with no issues.  To see how other Club: Bakers cakes turned out click here.

Though I enjoyed this cake, the chocolate cake from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book is still my go to chocolate cake recipe.  The angel frosting recipe is, however, a keeper.  It would be great with a white cake and a lemon curd filling...almost like a lemon meringue cake.  Sounds like a good idea for Hubby's birthday in early March...

Here's to 2012!  I'd like to raise a cupcake to toast the start of a great year!

Devil's Food Cake with Angel Frosting
from Baked Explorations

For the Cake:

1 ounce good quality dark chocolate (60-72% cacao), broken into a few pieces
1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup hot coffee (I used hot water with a teaspoon of cocoa powder dissolved in it)
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter cut into 1/2 cubes, softened
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and butter and flour the pan, including the parchment, discarding excess flour.  Or make cupcakes by placing liner in the wells of a muffin tin. 

Place the cocoa powder and chocolate pieces in a medium heatproof bowl and pour hot coffee over them and whisk until combined.  Add the milk and whisk until combined.

In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2 kinds of sugars on medium speed, about 3 minutes, until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at time, beating until each egg is fully combined.  Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Scrape down the bowl and mix until for another 30 seconds. 

Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the melted chocolate mixture.  You should begin and end with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among your cake pans or cupcake liners.  If you are making cakes, bake for 35 - 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  If you are making cupcakes, bake 18 - 20 minutes.  Test your cake or cupcakes with a toothpick.  If it comes out clean they are done.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack, until cakes or cupcakes are mostly cooled. 

For the Angel Frosting:

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, the corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water and place over low heat.  Once the sugar dissolves increase the heat to medium-high and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot.   Heat the mixture WITHOUT STIRRING, to almost a soft-ball stage (about 235 degrees).  Mixture should not be heated above 235 degrees F.

While you are waiting for the syrup to reach the softball stage, whip the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Do not beat beyond the soft peak point.

When the syrup mixture reached the soft-ball stage removed from heat. 

Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of water over the soft peak of the egg whites and turn the mixer to low.  Slowly stream in the the hot sugar syrup.  Once all the syrup has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat the icing for about 7 minutes until it is thick and shiny.  Add the vanilla and  beat again until combined.

Assemble the cake (or cupcakes):

For cakes: place one layer on a serving platter and trim the top to create a flat surface.  Spread about 1 cup of frosting on top.  Place the second layer of cake on top and trim to create an even surface.  Frost the tops and sides of the cake.  Serve immediately.

For cupcakes: Simply top with frosting.  You can you use a decorative tip to pipe on the frosting or use a knife to spread it on.  For even more frosting, cut a cylinder shape out of the middle of the plain cupcake and remove the cake.  Fill with frosting (using a piping bag or a ziptop bag with the corner cut off) and replace the cake that you removed.  Proceed with frosting the top of the cupcake.