Monday, August 30, 2010

Peace Birthday Cake!

Birthday cake is the best part about a birthday, in my opinion. No birthday is complete without cake! I was thrilled when my brother asked me to make a cake for my niece's birthday. She wanted yellow cake with chocolate frosting. So I went on the hunt for some good recipes. I used the vanilla cake recipe from my go to cake blog, How to Eat a Cupcake (also check out the Red Velvet Truffles--I have these babies bookmarked)! I doubled the cake recipe so it would work for two 9 inch pans and it turned out to be more white then yellow, but it worked out fine. The "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" chocolate frosting was also from How to Eat a Cupcake.

The cake was moist and tender. The frosting was good--solidly chocolaty. But it wasn't my favorite chocolate frosting. Next time I'd try a chocolate cream cheese frosting. The decorations were the most fun! My niece is into hippy-ish kind of stuff (among lots of other teenage interests) so I thought of the peace sign which is constructed of skittles. I also did the lettering....and could use a little practice in that area! But it turned pretty good considering I don't make a whole lot of cakes.

We spent Saturday afternoon with 20 plus family members eating, talking and celebrating. My brother made a tasty meal geared especially toward the birthday girl--grilled chicken, pasta alfredo, broccoli and the best part--delicious garlic cheese toast with browned melty yummy mozzarella cheese. We finished the celebration with cake and lots of presents.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful niece, Kenzie! I love you!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays Rewind: Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

I'm just going to get it out of the way up front. These are not "the one". You know, the perfect chocolate chip cookie that everyone seems to be searching for? I have been wanting to bake Melissa Murphy's Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds since I joined Sweet Melissa Sundays five months ago in hopes that perhaps, these would be "the one". I opted out of baking this week's recipe for Sweet Plum Clafoutis with Almonds selected by the very talented Michelle of Flour Child. Many bakers related this recipe to breakfast, pancakes and french toast...none of which I'm crazy about. So I seized the opportunity to do a rewind recipe since I was not a part of the group when these chocolate chip cookies were selected last year.

Don't get me wrong. These are still tasty cookies--especially with a glass of cold milk. I won't have any trouble at all eating them. Luckily most of them are designated for one of Hubby's business contacts which is good for my waistline. I did make one alteration to the recipe. I used 2 ounces of milk chocolate and 6 ounces of dark chocolate (rather than all dark chocolate). I know milk chocolate isn't the "in" chocolate at the moment, but I really liked the extra hint of sweetness the milk chocolate brought to these cookies.

They had a slight crunch on the outside and soft chewy center. Though I would have liked to have taken them out of the oven 1 minute earlier. I checked the cookies at 10 minutes, 13 minutes and then took them out at 15 minutes. So when I bake up the rest tomorrow...13-14 minutes is my target. For the recipe click here. Melissa Murphy herself selected the recipe and baked along with the group back in 2009. Pretty cool!

In my quest for "the one" I have read that allowing the dough to sit for at 24 hours gives the opportunity for the brown sugar to really meld with the other ingredients and bring out another depth of sweetness. Since I'm baking up the rest tomorrow...I'll test out this theory and see if the flavor develops. In the meantime, my quest continues in search of the "the one"!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chicken Marsala, Orange and Gorgonzola Salad with Garlic Croutons

I am in love with the Chicken Marsala served at Romano's Macaroni Grill. I know... Macaroni Grill is only one small step above Olive Garden in the Americanized world of Italian chain restaurants. But this stuff is good $hit! Yep, you heard me.

It's all about the sauce. The sauce is a rich gravy with a hint of sweetness and swimming in whole cloves of soft roasted garlic and gorgeous sauteed portobella mushrooms. I was determined to replicate this dish at home and searched online for a Macaroni Grill knock off. After making a few tweaks I think it's an excellent alternative to sitting at Macaroni Grill while your server displays their talent for writing their name upside down in crayon your paper table cloth. Not that that is not a good skill to have in your back pocket! Anyway, this recipe made a dinner appearance at last week's girl's getaway vacation.

This is no low calorie affair, but the entire stick of butter in here is worth every extra minute spent on the treadmill! I like mine extra saucy so I up the chicken broth and marsala wine quantities. I also add a little butter flour mixture to thicken up the sauce a bit. This go round it didn't turn out quite as saucy as I would have liked. But the flavor was all there!

Served over orzo pasta (leftover from our Shrimp Baked with Tomatoes and Feta dinner) and alongside a wonderful salad, this was a meal that I completely overstuffed myself on. The salad, made by one of the girls, was dee-lish! And the gals made homemade croutons from the french bread leftover from our Croque Monsieurs).


Orange, Tomato and Gorgonzola Salad
Lettuce mix of your choice (Romaine holds up well)to serve 6 people
1 pint mini heirloom tomatoes or grape tomatoes
2 avocados sliced
2 mandarin oranges, sectioned
4 ounces of gorgonzola cheese
4 green onions thinly sliced
Garlic Croutons (see recipe below)
Creamy Balsamic Dressing (store bought)

Toss all ingredients together, except the croutons. Squeeze left over orange juice from the rinds over the top of the salad and top with croutons. Serve creamy balsamic dressing on the side.

Garlic Croutons
French bread cut into 1 inch cubes
Olive oil spray
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Garlic Powder

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place croutons onto a foil lined baking sheet. Spray generously with olive oil spray. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper and garlic powder and toss with your hands to evenly distribute seasonings. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Chicken Marsala
Adapted from Irish Rose's recipe

1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts , cut into 8 pieces
ground pepper and salt
flour, for coating chicken plus 1 tablespoon for sauce
7 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups portobella or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups marsala wine, sweet not dry
1/2 - 3/4 cup chicken stock

1. Place chicken pieces between waxed paper or plastic wrap and flatten to 1/3 inch thick with a meat mallet. Season each piece with salt and pepper and then coat in flour. Shake off excess flour.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and the oil in skillet and fry chicken in batches on medium heat for about 5 minutes each side.
3. Remove chicken from pan and arrange in a single layer in shallow ovenproof pan. Put in low oven (275-300 degrees) to stay warm.
4. Add 2 tablespoons butter and garlic to skillet and saute (do not brown) for a few minutes until soft. Add mushrooms and saute about 5-7 minutes. Use slotted spoon to lift mushrooms out of skillet and arrange on top of chicken breasts. Sprinkle with cheese and put back in oven until you finish next step.
5. Pour Marsala wine into skillet along with chicken broth and remaining 1 tablespoons butter and boil rapidly until reduced by half. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of flour and whisk into sauce. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Remove chicken from oven, plate it and pour wine mixture over the chicken breasts.

Serve alongside angel hair or orzo pasta.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bacon and Egg Pie

You have to REALLY use your imagination on this one because I completely forgot to snap a photo when this beauty came out of the oven last Thursday. But it's so delicious I wanted to post about it sans photo. This was another home cooked meal in my recent girls getaway trip in Las Vegas. This is one of the recipes I've made several times (when I say several I mean about 4) and it always delivers! You can see a small picture by going to the recipe link on Martha Stewart's website, but really it doesn't do this yummy creation justice.

So you're going to have to trust me on this one....Bacon and Egg Pie (there's no crust on this pie) is the perfect dish for a brunch or special breakfast. What makes this so much more special than other egg bakes I've tried is the addition of heavy cream and deliciously creamy goat cheese. The egg batter is light and airy and puffs up beautifully in the oven with a gorgeous golden brown exterior. Inside you will find sauteed mushrooms and peppers, fresh herbs, crisp bacon, soft goat cheese and parmesan. It's sooooooo stinkin good! Take a leap of faith and try this mouthwatering recipe!

Bacon and Egg Pie
Recipe adapted from

Serves 6

Unsalted butter, for pie plate
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon (I used about 1/3 of pound)
1/4 pound small mushrooms, quartered (Cremini's are my favorite)
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
3 ounces soft goat cheese (One ounce worked out nicely, Montrachet is a great brand)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I sub chives or green onions in place of thyme)
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (1 cup of heavy cream is plenty!)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Have ready a generously buttered 10-inch glass pie plate. Cook bacon in a large skillet until very crisp. Remove; drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.
2. Return skillet to medium-high heat; add mushrooms. Cook until well browned, about 4minutes. Remove from skillet; spread mushrooms in prepared pie plate. Crumble bacon; arrange over mushrooms, along with pepper, cheeses, and thyme.
3. Beat eggs and cream in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over bacon-vegetable mixture. Bake until egg pie is set and deep golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, and place on wire rack for 10 minutes. Slice into wedges, and serve.

It's delicious served with fresh salsa and sour cream. A few slices of avocado would also be nice pairing.

Check out other indulgences from our girl's week....Croque Monsieurs, Shrimp Baked with Tomatoes and Feta, and Zucchini Parmesan. Two more girls getaway recipes to go...check back to see Chicken Marsala and Cookies and Cream Cupcakes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shrimp Baked with Tomatoes and Feta

Shrimp baked with tomatoes and feta was another tasty meal in my recent girls getaway vacation. This was a new recipe that I have been wanting to try but Hubby isn't a cheese lover (especially not a feta cheese lover). It's from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave cookbook. I have had success with many outstanding recipes from this book so I was excited to try this one. It's super duper easy to make. I did make a few modifications based on reviews I read about the recipe. I added a bit of tomato paste, subbed fresh basil in place of fresh dill, added dried oregano and fresh grated parmesan and served it over orzo pasta. The result? Pretty good. I liked it but it didn't "wow" me. I think it makes a nice quick and healthy meal to throw together during the week. I even think Hubby can handle the feta factor. I will make it again and will likely continue to tweak it until it gets a little closer to the wow category.

It paired perfectly with zucchini parmesan.

More girls getaway recipes are coming over the next few days, so check back.

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
Adapted from Ellie Kreiger's Food You Crave

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans of no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoon finely minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

1/2 1b orzo pasta, cooked

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the oil in an oven proof skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomato juices thicken. Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, and shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the feta over the top. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and cheese melts, about 12 minutes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Sweet Almond Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Mascarpone Frosting

Can you say rich? Can you say delicious? How could it not be when the recipe calls for a total of 12 egg whites, 3 full eggs, 4 cups of sugar and 4 sticks of butter? Yes, you read correctly. Holy moly. I could feel my arteries clogging by just reading this incredibly indulgent recipe. Halving this bad boy was a must. I used one 9 inch cake pan at the recommendation of Spike and it was more than enough. In fact Hubby and I just finished a piece each and I can already feel myself slipping into a food coma. Seriously.

So I'm going to make this short and very very sweet. The cake is delicious and incredibly moist (even though it's hard to see how moist it is in the photos--but trust me it's moist with a wonderful depth of flavor). I did have to make the meringue twice-ugh. So I now have 12 eggs yolks in my fridge. Then meringue gets mixed into the batter making it light and airy.

The cake baked for nearly 45 minutes.

Then it was onto the curd. It came together easily but I cooked it for at least 4-7 additional minutes later than Melissa's recipe. It cooled in a water bath.

Meanwhile, I started to make the frosting. This is where things went awry! The mascarpone left my frosting curdled looking and way too runny. I was planning to post this morning but the frosting debacle delayed it. I finally made it back to the grocery store this afternoon and decided to go with something I know will work...cream cheese. I added the lemon zest and juice and the frosting turned out right. Phew!

The verdict? Yummy! It was very rich, very sweet, and not overly lemony. This one's a keeper. See the results of other Sweet Melissa Sunday Bakers here. Thanks to Katie of Katiecakes for choosing this delicious recipe.

Croque Monsieurs for Breakfast

Every summer two of my gal pals and I take a week off of work to enjoy some girl time in a desert climate...filled with shopping, sunning, spa-ing and of course serious consumption of food. This year we had access to a kitchen thanks to one of the gals moving into a fabulous pad in Las Vegas, so we added a little cooking to our agenda. We came up with a list of favorite recipes plus some new ones to try and the three of us selected a few meals to enjoy during the week. Let's just say we didn't exactly pick low cal spa food! It's vacation after all. And we couldn't fit home cooked lunches into our schedule so why not have lunch for breakfast?

Croque Monsieur is delicious grilled hot ham sandwich. Ham is not generally my thing but I'm so glad I tried this French version several years back because it is mouth watering. The key to making this sandwich so special is to use quality ingredients. Thinly sliced fresh Black Forest ham is the star. It's topped with grated gruyere cheese and dijonaise between 2 slices of freshly baked French bread. The sandwich is dipped in an egg/milk batter and onto a hot pan ala grilled cheese.

The recipe I follow stops here...but apparently it is traditional in France to top the grilled sandwich with more yummy cheese and brown it under a broiler. I didn't have enough cheese to take that extra step this time, but I will plan for it next time. Bubbly brown gruyere cheese with a bit of crunch on top would take this already rich sandwich to the next level.

Our croques were a tasty and hearty breakfast to gear us up for a grueling day at the spa. Yes, it is ok to be jealous! One of the girls made a delicious fruit salad to accompany the sandwiches. The fruit was sweet and perfect! Tossed in a touch of sugar and lemon juice it was the perfect pairing to our rich croque monsieurs!

Check back for more food indulgences from our girls week!

Croques Monsieurs
Recipe from the Chopping Block cooking school in Chicago, IL

1/2 pound of fresh very thinly sliced deli Black Forest Ham
8 slices of French bread
1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 cups milk
2 eggs
Pinch of nutmeg
2-4 tablespoons butter

Place half the slices of bread on work surface and top with ham. Combine the cheese, mustard and mayo and divide between the sandwiches, then top with remaining slices of bread.

Whisk together the milk, eggs and nutmeg and dip each sandwich. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan, then add the sandwiches and brown on each side about 5 minutes total. Cut into quarters or triangles and serve hot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cinnamon Raspberry Muffins

About a week and half ago I bought fresh raspberries with the intention of using them in the Sweet Melissa Sundays Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Torte recipe. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to bake that week but I was determined to make sure the raspberries didn't go to waste. I washed and dried them and then laid them out on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. Once frozen I transferred them to a ziploc bag. I wanted to bake something to take over to my Grandfather's house and I thought of those raspberries and a recipe I saw on Tracey's Culinary Adventures blog a couple of weeks back.

This is a simple yet tasty muffin recipe and comes together quickly and easily. They turned out nice and moist. Unfortunately my raspberries weren't as sweet as I would have liked. I also would have added another 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. They would be even more special with a sprinkle of coarse sugar to dress up the tops. Next time! For the recipe check out Tracey's blog.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Blueberry Almond Granola

I totally caved. I wasn't going to bake this week. I was feeling lazy and thinking about the many many ingredients in this recipe was more than my brain could handle. But my fellow SMS Bakers inspired me to look beyond the long list of ingredients. Every one's granola looked so great and it seems there is a lot of leeway with this recipe in terms of substitutions. So what that I didn't have rye flakes, powdered milk, sunflower seeds, pure maple syrup and the variety of dried fruits called for in Melissa Murphy's granola?

I did have oats, slivered almonds and pumpkin seeds for the dry ingredients. For the coating I used the sugar free imitation maple syrup in my fridge, honey and all the spices. In addition I added some vanilla extract and I had dried blueberries on hand (left over from the biscotti recipe several weeks back). Even though the long list of items seems overwhelming, this recipe is incredibly simple to put together. I will definitely make homemade granola again. So many options! Check out what other SMS bakers did this week here.

My granola turned out pretty good. I halved the recipe and ended up with a lot of granola! I cannot imagine making the full recipe. It turned out a little browner than I hoped and I would have had added another 1/2 cup of honey or some brown sugar to give it a slightly sweeter kiss. But I generally put granola on already sweetened yogurt, so it's probably just right for that.

Thanks to Wendy of Pink Stripes for hosting this week. Check out her site to get the recipe.

Thanks to Shandy and the other ladies for inspiring me to bake this week!