Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chocolate Covered Hobnail Cake

There is something about baking that just makes my heart leap. Sure, baking is fun. Buying kitchen gadgets is addictive, buying spices and ingredients...even more so. But there is something about it- beyond the obvious. The blending of all the flavors. The chemical reactions that occur. Do you ever stop to think, "Who decided to put all of these ingredients together in one bowl hoping something delicious would come from it?" My dad would say, "Well, that's kind of like saying, 'Who walked up to the cow and said, "I think I will pull on this utter and drink whatever comes out of it."'"

Creating sweet, fluffy, flaky memories for friends and family.
Food is such a happy memory for me. Rolling biscuits out with my grandmother and great grandmother. The sizzle of the cornbread batter as it hit the hot cast iron skillet in my mother's kitchen. So many wonderful times were surrounded with aromas of wonderful food.

One of the best parts of baking for me, is baking for others. It is especially wonderful when it comes as a surprise. The lit up smile covered face that truly appreciates that you made the cake just for them with your hands and with your heart. Maybe I am a little too sentimental about baking, but I do put my all in it. If I bake you a cake, it is just as special to me as a gift wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow.

This weekend we were invited to a Memorial Weekend BBQ at Derrick's board president's house. I volunteered to bring potato salad and secretly brought a cake too. Everyone loves chocolate so I picked a recipe from the Gooseberry Patch Sweet and Simple baking book that my wonderful Aunt Andi sent me for Valentine's day. I had a ton of the marshmallow icing left over from the Cupcake Hero cupcakes that needed to be used before it failed and a pint of sweet, fresh strawberries. The cake turned out perfectly! I made 2 layers and filled it with marshmallow icing and sliced strawberries. I covered it with marshmallow icing, used my round tip to create a hobnail look and drizzled it with chocolate. The finishing touch was chocolate covered strawberries.

We walked into the party holding our dish full of potato salad and the surprise cake. Our hosts' eyes smiled. That's my favorite part.
The reaction was almost overwhelming. "Which bakery did you get your cake from? It's beautiful." One guest asked if I made wedding cakes. I was so very flattered. Derrick gave it two thumbs up as he crushed his piece and started in after mine. I will be trying more recipes from this sweet little book soon.

Chocolate Cake
Ingredients: adapted from Jennifer Licon-Conner's Double Trouble Recipe from Gooseberry Patch
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup
brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
4 1-oz. sqs. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare two 9 inch round or square baking pans.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy.
Add sugars and mix well.
Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each one.
Add vanilla.
Blend in the sour cream and mix for 30 seconds.
Add the melted chocolate and mix well until combined.
Add flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk until all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour ingredients into baking pans.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake passes the toothpick test.
Let cakes cool and then top with favorite icing.
For icing, see the marshmallow ingredients from May's cupcake hero post.

For chocolate topping heat 2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips and 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a double broiler until smooth. Pour over iced cake or drizzle. Refrigerate 30 minutes to set.
I also used this to chocolate coat the strawberries.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cupcake Hero- Hot Cocoa Cupcakes with Marshmallow Icing

It's my very first cupcake hero challenge and the magic ingredient this month is cocoa. At first I was a little stumped. I didn't want to make your regular Joe chocolate cupcakes, but I didn't want to do the ancho chile thing either (since I figured several of my competition may take that route). What to do? What to do? (Jeoprady theme song playing in the background)

Then it hit me. Cocoa. I decided to take the cocoa challenge literally. I made hot cocoa cupcakes with marshmallow icing (from Gigi Cakes), topped with a homemade toasted marshmallow. I found Gale Gand's recipe for Hot Cocoa Cupcakes on the Food Network and followed her advice to make them more "official". I baked them in oven safe coffee cups. Ta-da! Hot Chocolate you can eat with a spoon.

The cake is soft, bouncy and really good warm and the icing is light, fluffy and just the right amount of sweet. The homemade marshmallows are, well, yummy enough for their own post (see previous as I curtsy to Ms. Martha).

Hot Cocoa Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups sugar

1 2/3 cups flour

1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbsp., unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup, plus 1 Tbsp., vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. vanilla (I used 1 tsp.)

3/4 cup very hot water


Preheat oven to 350.

Grease and flour coffee cups.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Transfer to standing mixer with whisk attachment and blend briefly.

Whisk together eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla in medium bowl.

Add to dry mixture and blend on low speed.

Gradually add hot water until incorporated, using low speed.

Pour into prepared coffee cups.

Bake 25-30 minutes, or until cakes pass the toothpick test.

Makes 6 large cupcakes.

Fluffy Boiled Icing
From GigiCakes.blogspot.com
3 tablespoons of meringue powder

1/2 cup of cold water

2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup of water

Beat meringue powder and cold water until stiff, about 4 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, corn syrup, and water.
Bring to boil and cool slightly.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the syrup mixture to the meringue.

Then beat on high for 4 minutes, until stiff and glossy.

Store at room temperature.

Jet Puffed Marshmallow Who?

I don't know if I can ever buy marshmallows again. Ever.

Not only are homemade marshmallows super easy, they taste better (even when they are toasted). I was worried that the homemade marshmallow might not hold up to the torch so I tested one...and then another...and then another. Derrick tested a couple too. They are addictive and one batch makes about a million. Hurray!

I see all sorts of possibilities for these wonderful little gelatin miracles....sweet potato souffle, impromptu smore campfire picnic in the living room (and I don't care that it is 90 degrees outside), fondue, rocky road ice cream. If you haven't made homemade marshmallows, go down to Target and purchase a candy thermometer. You will thank me. I promise.

Homemade Marshmallows
Ingredients: From Martha Stewart's Show Recipes to Remember
2.5 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

Combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in a bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Let stand 30 minutes.
Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water in small heavy saucepan.
Place over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.
Clip on candy thermometer and increase temperature to high.
Bring mixture to a boil until it reaches 244 degrees (firm-ball stage).
Immediately remove pan from heat.
With mixer on low speed, pour hot mixture into gelatin mixture in a steady stream until combined.
Increase mixer speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and white and has tripled in volume (about 15 minutes).
Add vanilla.
Beat to incorporate.
Generously dust an 8x12 inch glass baking pan with confectioner's sugar.
Pour mixture into pan. Dust generously with
confectioner's sugar.
Let sit overnight uncovered to dry out.

Parchment Steamed Tilapia

I think I'm addicted. I really do. In my spare time, if I am not cooking food, I am reading about it. I talk about it. I day dream about it. I get excited about things like capers and purple potatoes. Whoa, dude! What if my loved ones strike an intervention? What if they threaten to take my beloved kitchen aid mixer away or to de-spice my spice cabinet? Nah- they like the cooking too much! Death breath. On with the post.

So, I found a great new foodie blog the other day, Two Fat Als. One of their recipes caught my eye and I had to try it. Our grocer didn't have Chilean Sea Bass, so I improvised with Tilapia (another flaky white fish). It was so tender and flavorful. The only change I will make next time is to try oranges over lemons. The lemon rind gave a bitterness to the fish. Overall, it was really good though. Also, I took the lazy route and just tossed all the ingredients into the parchment paper rather than going the sautée route.

Parchment Steamed Tilapia
Tilapia fillets
lemon- thinly sliced
2-4 cloves garlic- minced
cherry tomatoes- sliced
capers- drained
fresh thyme sprigs
olive oil
dash kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400.
Lay lemon slices on parchment square.
Place tilapia fillet over lemon.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with garlic, capers and tomatoes.
Sprinkle with salt.
Lay thyme sprigs over fish.
Bake about 20 minutes.
Serve with favorite veggie.

Crustless Quiche- The Tastebud Eggstravaganza

Last week, a member of our office retired. Well...she retired for the second time, but she still deserved a retirement brunch. Every milestone warrants a celebration, right? Right!

I volunteered to make crustless quiche (otherwise known as a frittata). I love making them. They are so easy and just bursting at the seams with delectable yumminess. It's hard to have just one serving. I made two different kinds: Bacon, cheddar and onion and swiss, ham and mushroom. The latter of the two was my favorite, but I am sucker for the fungus amoungus.

This egg casserole of sorts is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner and especially brunch. You could even bake it up in little silicon muffin cups for individual servings if you were hosting a shower or other food related gathering.

Bacon Cheddar and Onion Frittata:
1 dozen eggs at room temperature (for ultimate fluffiness)
1/4 cup cream or whole milk (I used cream)
1.5 heaping cups crisp bacon (cooked beforehand)
1.5 heaping cups cheddar (I like sharp best)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion- diced
2 cloves garlic- minced

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare glass baking dish with butter. I used 9x13.
In skillet, sautee garlic and onion in olive oil until onion is cooked through, clear and slightly browning.
In large bowl, whisk together eggs and cream until smooth. Add onion, garlic, bacon and cheddar. Fold into eggs until well combined.
Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until edges are golden and middle no longer "jiggles".

Swiss, ham and mushroom frittata:
1 dozen eggs at room temperature (for ultimate fluffiness)
1/4 cup cream or whole milk (I used cream)
1.5 heaping cups smoked ham- diced
1 heaping cup shredded or finely diced swiss cheese
1 quart baby bella mushrooms- sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot- minced
2 cloves garlic- minced
Fresh dill for garnish (I used dry this time)

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare glass baking dish with butter. I used 9x13.
In large skillet, sautee mushrooms, garlic and shallots in olive oil until mushrooms are cooked through and slightly browning.
In large bowl, whisk together eggs and cream until smooth. Add mushrooms, shallots, garlic, ham and swiss. Fold into eggs until well combined.
Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until edges are golden and middle no longer "jiggles".

When ready to serve, sprinkle with fresh dill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Excellently Elated

My sassy friend, Mara, from Lick the Spatula nominated me for the E for Excellent award. I am so flattered. Mara is my real life gal pal from my former California town. I miss her, but we have been doing a great job of keeping in touch. This fabulous blogging world helps keep us in the know with what we have been up to at home and in the kitchen. She is dear to my heart and I would nominate her myself, but someone beat me to it. ( Check out Fifi La Cupcake's Blog)

So, it is now my duty to nominate other bloggers. There are so many that inspire me, whom I enjoy reading about, learning from, or drooling over their creative, beautiful and tasty treats. This choosing just a few is very difficult. How do you just pick a few or even one?

There are a few bloggers who deserve some cred:
I Heart Cuppycakes, in particular is always willing to share advice or a laugh, bakes up super creative cupcakes and gives real accounts of +'s and -'s. Gotta love an honest baker.
Tartelette, who is insightful and genuine with real life and makes some of the most "too pretty to eat, but too tasty to look at" desserts (and non desserts) I have ever seen.
Homesick Texan brings it home for me everytime I visit her site (I am a Texan, born and raised). From her Manhattan apartment crawfish boil to her step by step directions on how to "render lard", I am hooked. How can you beat good ole southern cooking, especially when she is boasting her roots in a Manhattan brownstone (at least I imagine her in a brownstone).
Finally, Bakerella, who whips up some of the most creative concoctions I have seen. Be sure to check out her Garfield Masterpiece Cupcakes. She's genius.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake

Whomever said you can't eat cake for breakfast was a big fat liar.
This cake is exceptional, bouncy, and moist. It's a great morning cake because it isn't overly sweet.

Also, it's super adaptable. This version is filled with wild blueberries and the zest of three meyer lemons, but you could prepare it as plain vanilla, with chocolate chips, filled with sweetened rhubarb, fresh raspberries, fig, cinnamon and apples...the possibilities are endless. You could even bake it into cupcakes and top it with your favorite buttercream.

The bonus is it's made with yogurt, so you can convince yourself that it's good for you. That being said, I think I'm gonna go convince myself that I need another piece.

Ingredients: Recipe found on Smitten Kitchen (her recipe adapted from Ina Garten)
1 1/2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I used 2 %)
1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 extra-large eggs (I didn't have extra large eggs, but large worked just fine)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (I used 3)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed (miniature wild blueberries are great for this, and pose the least risk of sinking)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (don't forget to run it through a strainer)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan by greasing and flouring the pan. (I used 3 mini loaf pans)
Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
Fold the blueberries very gently into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for about 50+ minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test. (If you use mini loaf pans, bake about 35+ minutes)

Meanwhile, heat the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, baste the cake(s) with the lemon glaze and allow it to soak into the cake. Cool.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Asian Lettuce Cups

When we lived in San Jose, almost all the hip, cool restaurants had Asian infused dishes. We ate lots of sushi and dishes full of flavors like ginger, garlic, chile sauce, soy, seaweed, pickled cabbage. We ate Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Thai and many other types of dishes. I was in heaven. Being from Texas, the same pattern of food fusion happens here, just with Mexican food. I'm not complaining, I love it. It was just nice to be surrounded by something different for a few years.

For the longest time, I thought only the most gifted of cooks can create Asian influenced dishes because food that flavorful must be hard to prepare. Right? The more I cook, the more I learn you don't have to be schooled in culinary arts to make food that is yummy and seemingly fancy. And good food doesn't have to be difficult. If cooking a dish stresses you out, maybe it shouldn't be made again.

My thoughtful Aunt Andi gave me the a subscription to Real Simple for Christmas. I love that magazine. It has great organizing tips, great decorating tips and usually some fun ideas for entertaining mixed in with quick recipes. This months magazine included this great recipe for Chicken and Cashews in Lettuce Cups. Not only is it flavorful, it is heart healthy. Score!

The process took about 15-20 minutes and was a big hit with the husband. I love it when he likes something that is good for him.

Ingredients: recipe from Real Simple
2 Tbsp. canola oil (I used 1)
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts- diced into 1 inch pieces
3 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (I used 4)
3 Tbsp. honey (I used 4)
2 cloves garlic- minced (I used 3)
1 heaping Tbsp fresh ginger- minced
a squeeze of lime juice
1 5 oz. can sliced water chessnuts- rinsed and drained
1/4 cup unsalted cashews (I bought salted on accident)
4-6 leaves of butter, bib or boston lettuce- rinsed and patted dry. (I used butter)

Season cubed chicken with pepper.
In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce and honey. Set aside.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over high heat.
Place chicken in skillet and sear all sides. Takes about 3 minutes.
Add garlic and ginger. Reduce heat to medium high and cook additional minute.
Add about half of the soy mixture and water chessnuts.
Simmer until chicken is cooked through. About 6-8 minutes.
Add cashews and mix until combined.
Spoon chicken mix onto rinsed butter lettuce leaves.
I served this with some steamed pot stickers and edamame.