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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta

When I first saw this recipe from the Pioneer Woman, it reminded me of a dish I once had at TGIFridays in Paris of all places. I know, I know... I was in Paris and I ate dinner at a TGIFridays. In my own defense, I was a sophomore in college on a study abroad program and I had been in Spain for about a month and just wanted some "American" food. I now know better. Don't worry, I've become much more of a food snob since then.

It was also next door to our hotel, convenience was definitely a factor. Anyway, they had a spicy chicken fettuccine on their menu which I haven't ever seen on the menu again but it was really good, except it included fried chicken. I've made a couple other versions of this in the past this one was a little different. Of course, I can't really follow a recipe, so I made a few adjustments, but this was really good. A note on the dried herbs, if you have fresh, use them and adjust accordingly. I didn't want to go to the store and its winter here and my garden is under a few inches of snow so fresh wasn't available.

Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta
Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (approximately 1.5 lbs)
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 tsp Lawry's seasoning salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 red bell peppers, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 1/4 cups chicken broth (I try to only use low-sodium to control the sodium content)
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 lb fettuccine or spaghetti (I used a mix of both and they were whole wheat - don't forget to adjust cooking times if you use a mix of pastas, the fettuccine takes an extra minute or 2 so add it earlier)

Heat a large stockpot with water for the pasta. When boiling, add salt and drop pasta. Cook to al dente, drain and set aside.

Mix together seasoning salt, cumin, chili powder, and mustard in a small bowl. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add half the oil and butter. Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks and season with about half of the spice mixture. Add chicken to the pan, do it in two batches if necessary rather than over-crowding the pan, and cook about 2 minutes and flip. Don't try to move the chicken too early, if it doesn't move easily, its not ready yet. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the second side and remove to a plate. Cover with foil.

Add remaining oil and butter to the pan, season peppers and onions with remaining spice mixture and add to pan with minced garlic. Cook about 3 minutes, add tomatoes and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until peppers are slightly softened and onions are translucent. Remove to a plate.

With pan still on high heat, add wine and chicken stock and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan for 3-5 minutes until reduced. Reduce heat to low and slowly stir in heavy cream, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Add cayenne pepper and black pepper, tasting to check spice and adjust accordingly to suit your preferences. Return chicken and vegetables to pan and add thyme and parsley. Simmer for a couple minutes until everything is hot and then add cooked pasta. Toss to coat pasta and serve. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meyer Lemon Bars

A new Fresh Market opened up a few miles from my house and we stopped by for the first time this past weekend. I was like a kid in a candy store with the great selection of products. Tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from, lots of organic products, spices I can't ever find at my regular grocery store. Anyway, don't think you need a specialty store to make this recipe. I did however pick up some great Meyer lemons which you will need. Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular lemons and more orange in color.

When I bought the lemons, I knew I wanted to make a dessert with them but didn't know which one. As I was flipping through my Food Network magazine, I found a recipe for Classic Lemon Bars that I figured would be perfect.

Meyer Lemon Bars
Adapted from Food Network Magazine, March 2010 Issue

3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

4 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour, sifted
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray and line with foil, leaving an overhang on each side of 2-3 inches. Spray foil lightly with nonstick spray.

In a food processor, add sugar and pulse 4-5 times. Add brown sugar, flour, salt and butter and pulse until the dough begins to come together. It will be crumbly and dry. Spread into prepared pan and press into an even layer. Bake approximately 25 minutes until golden brown. Reduce heat to 300 degrees.

While the crust cooks, beat eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and flour until smooth. Add lemon zest and slowly whisk in lemon juice. When crust is baked, remove from oven and pour filling over hot crust and return to oven. Bake until filling is just set, about 30 minutes.

Cool in the pan approximately 30 minutes and then refrigerate in pan at least 2 hours. Use foil to remove bars from the pan and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 24 bars. Keep extras refrigerated.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pumpkin Cranberry Granola

A healthy snack that tastes great on its own or mixed with yogurt. Make sure you use pumpkin puree not pumpkin pie filling. This is also a recipe where it works best to use quality maple syrup. Pancake syrup will work but it won't give it a true maple flavor, it just adds sweetness. Spring for the good stuff if you can. If you prefer raisins to cranberries, increase one and decrease the other. Same for the nuts, use pecans instead of walnuts or leave them out altogether. The great thing about this recipe is how easy it is to substitute what you like to tailor the recipe to your specifications.

Pumpkin Cranberry Granola
Recipe adapted from Ashlee at A Year in the Kitchen

2 1/2 cups old fashion rolled oats
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 T olive or canola oil (I used citrus infused olive oil, use canola oil if you want less flavor)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well until the wet ingredients are evenly incorporated. Spread out mix onto a baking sheet, try to get it into an even layer but don't worry too much about clumps at this point. Bake about 30 minutes, stir and spread mixture in an even layer again. Continue baking about 30 minutes more. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Strawberry Cupcakes

A delicious, light and fruity cupcake from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. I cut the recipe in half and it made 16 cupcakes. The cupcakes were moist and full of strawberry chunks. I did use the suggested strawberry meringue buttercream recipe but it left a lot to be desired and I don't recommend it. I ended up with more of a glaze than buttercream and while the flavor was good, it was not at all what I was hoping for, I attempted to fix the recipe by adding more powdered sugar but it never really came together so I didn't include the recipe below.

I also used frozen strawberries instead of fresh strawberries, since its winter. I simply thawed them in the microwave for about 2 minutes until they were slightly softened, drained off the excess moisture and roughly chopped them. The recipe below is as I made it.

Strawberry Cupcakes
Recipe adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Cupcakes

1 3/8 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/8 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup strawberries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pans with paper liners or spray with baking spray. Combine flours, baking powder, and salt and sift together.

In mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 1 minute after each incorporation, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Add flour mixture and milk, alternating with flour first and last. Beat until well combined on low speed. Fold in strawberry mixture with a rubber spatula.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 of the way full and bake until set about 25-30 minutes. Bake on center rack and rotate pans halfway through baking time. Tops should spring back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan about 10 minutes and then cool completely on wire racks. Finish with icing of choice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

I am addicted to Mexican food. Seriously... not joking. I love it. Good chips and salsa are my favorite snack. I'm picky about my Mexican food too. None of that ketchup-y flavored salsa and such. Around here, good Mexican food is pretty hard to come by so I often make it myself. I usually feel like my salsa is better and its no where near as greasy.

I learned to make enchiladas a long time ago in my high school Home Economics class of all places. Back then we made them with ground beef and cheese and little else, dipped the tortillas in enchilada sauce and smothered them with cheese. Sure they were good but I've played with this recipe many, many times and there have been some definite improvements. This current version is delicious. This dish has the required "red sauce" you'll usually find in restaurant versions of enchiladas but I mixed it with sour cream and green chilis and lime juice to make it creamier and add more flavor. The filling is juicy, shredded chicken breast that I made in my crockpot with some black beans and corn thrown in as I put it all together. Don't be put off by the number of steps - you can make the chicken in the crockpot while you're at work or the day before and the rest comes together very quickly.

Traditionally enchiladas are made with corn tortillas, but I'm not a fan so I use flour tortillas, use whichever you prefer. I generally use 6" whole wheat flour tortillas.

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

For the chicken:
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
Juice of 1 lime
Approx. 1 cup water

Add chicken to crockpot insert, add tomatoes, seasoning, and lime juice and add water. Make sure there is at least 1" of water in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours. When the chicken is cooked through, drain off the water, reserving the tomatoes, shred chicken with 2 forks, mix with tomatoes and set aside.

For the enchiladas:
Cooked, shredded chicken from above
1 cup black beans
1 cup corn
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, quartered and sliced into thin slices
1 T olive oil
1 cup colby jack cheese, coarsely grated
8-12 tortilla shells, depending on size
1/4 cup red enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish lightly with cooking spray. Spread enchilada sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook about 5 minutes until softened and translucent, add beans, corn, and jalapeno and stir to combine. Add chicken and cook until hot. Add 1/2 of the cheese and stir until melted and remove from heat.

Warm tortillas wrapped in a paper towel for about 20 seconds in the microwave so they are flexible. Add a couple spoonfuls of filling in a line down the center of each tortilla. Fold over one end and roll up tightly. Lay seam-side down in prepared baking dish. Place enchiladas tightly together, continue until pan is full.

For the sauce:
1/2 cup red enchilada sauce (I use Old El Paso but substitute homemade if you want)
1 can green chilis
1/2 cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lime

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Pour sauce over enchiladas.

Top with remaining grated cheese and bake about 30 minutes until bubbly. Top with salsa, more sour cream or guacamole as desired.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Beer Cheese Fondue

Fondue is one of those foods that turns "cheese dip" into something much more fun. For some reason, dipping food into the little pot on your color-coded skewer is always fun. I had a couple blocks of cheese, half a loaf of bread, and some apples on hand the other night so I decided to throw this together. The pepper jack cheese is great with the beer. I recommend using a darker Mexican beer or similar style for added flavor. You can use a light beer but it just wont add as much depth of flavor to the recipe.

Beer Cheese Fondue

4 oz pepper jack cheese
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz beer (I used Red Stripe)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 T flour
Juice of half of 1 lime

Grate cheese on a coarse grater and toss with flour and cumin. Rub a stove-top safe fondue pot or small saucepan with peeled garlic clove all over the inside of the pot and discard. Pour in beer and lime juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and add cheese a handful at a time, whisking constantly until melted. Add cheese slowly so that it doesn't clump up. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and cheese is well incorporated.

Transfer to fondue pot to keep warm and serve.

Dipping suggestions: warm bread cubes, apples, grapes, carrots, cubed potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

You know that smell at the mall around Christmas time or in the concourse at a football game? The sweet, cinnamon smell of German Roasted Nuts... it is one of my favorite smells. Up until a couple of years ago I didn't eat nuts, didn't like them at all. Then I tried German Roasted Nuts at a football game. Then I read about some of the health benefits of nuts and started adding them into lots of things. Sure adding sugar to them negates some of the healthy stuff but as snacks go these are still a lot better for you than cookies or chips. And as a bonus your whole house will smell good when you make them.

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds
Recipe adapted from Melanie at The Sisters' Cafe

4 cups almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg white
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Combine the sugars, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Add egg white to a large bowl or stand mixer and beat with whisk attachment. Add vanilla and continue beating until very frothy and thick. Don't let the egg white form peaks. Add in the almonds and toss until well coated. Add the sugar mixture, stirring to coat the almonds well. Spread almonds onto prepared baking sheet. Try to get them into a single layer. Bake approximately 1 hour, tossing every 20 minutes. Cool and serve or store in an airtight storage container.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spicy Crab Macaroni and Cheese

Inspired by the leftovers from my crab cake recipe that I had in the refrigerator, I decided to make some slightly fancier macaroni and cheese. Turned out to be fantastic. Since I'm assuming you won't have leftover crab cake mixture, the recipe below is from the beginning. Enjoy!

Spicy Crab Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz lump crab meat (you can use canned if you want)
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 white onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup pepper jack cheese
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
8 oz short cut pasta (I used a mix of whole wheat rotini and regular elbow pasta because that's what was in the pantry)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large pot of water for pasta. When boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and pasta. Cook to just al dente, strain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 1 T of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add red pepper, onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly. Roughly chop crab meat and add to pepper mixture. Beat egg, add Worcestershire sauce and add to mixture. In the same pan, melt the remaining butter and add flour. Whisk until foamy. Slowly add milk, whisking frequently. Stir in mustard and cayenne pepper. Cook until the mixture thickens slightly. Reduce heat to low and add in cheeses a handful at a time, stirring until melted. Add crab mixture and pasta. Stir everything together to mix well. Add thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and top with bread crumbs. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until bubbly.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Learn from my mistakes

In the interest of full disclosure... I'm going to tell you that I screwed this one up... definitely not a baking success here. But I learned something, and in the end, the cake was really good -- just not really what I was going for.
Dulce de leche is a thick, caramel-like sauce that is made from sweetened, condensed milk. It is supposed to be easy... buy a can of sweetened, condensed milk and cook it until it becomes dulce de leche. Supposedly this works in the oven, boiling on the stove, or even in the microwave. I should have known this would be a bad idea. But to do it on the stove or in the oven takes hours. I found a recipe here that claimed it would work in under 20 minutes in the microwave. That was perfect for me considering I decided to make it less than 4 hours prior to dinner and still had to make the cake.
So this process started out fine, empty the milk into a large bowl (it really does have to be at least 2.5 quarts as I quickly found out) and cover with plastic wrap. Figure out how to adjust the power settings on your microwave and reduce it to 50% power.
Cook the milk for 2 minutes, whisk and recover. Repeat for the next 10-15 minutes. Sounds easy enough. And at this point it actually was working quite well, getting thicker and thicker with each interval.
It all worked well, aside from the bowl screw-up, until I got to the part of the recipe that said - "let cool before packing into a glass jar" - well I left it alone for 20 minutes and when I came back it was a rock hard mess stuck to the bowl. I couldn't budge it with a spoon. I didn't have another can of sweetened, condensed milk and the cake was already in the oven so I had to try to save it.
My solution: add a little heavy cream, about a tablespoon full at a time and microwave for a few seconds to reheat it. As it re-melted a little bit, I was able to start incorporating the cream and it became a (slightly thinner) sauce again, however after I got tired of whisking there were still a few lumps. Oh well - it was still good, but it definitely wasn't the dulce de leche I was going for when I started. Next time, I'll go back to the old-fashioned method and bake it. So much for short cuts.
For the cake - I used this yellow cake recipe from Mark Bittman - just baked in 2 small oval pans to make a much smaller cake. I filled the cake with the dulce de leche and poured the extra over the top and then frosted the whole thing with a whipped cream frosting. Despite the troubles, the cake was delicious and I'll let you know next time how the dulce de leche in the oven comes out.

FYI - you can also buy prepared dulce de leche in some grocery stores and at Williams-Sonoma.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Smoked Mozzarella Risotto

Oh.My.God. Seriously, go make this risotto now. This was my favorite part of our Valentine's dinner. The crab cakes were good, the cake was good, but this risotto was fantastic. I have never made risotto, I'm not even sure I've ever ordered risotto... but I think its my new favorite side dish. This stuff is amazing. I'm already looking for other recipes and combinations to try so I can make more. I always thought this was a dish that was really finicky and took forever but it was actually extremely easy. Yes it takes a little while, but the wait is worth it. This probably took a little less than 30 minutes total.

This recipe is from Elly Says Opa and the only changes I made were using onion instead of shallot, slightly reducing the amount of sun-dried tomatoes and I left out the fresh basil since I didn't have any and used dried herbs. The recipe below reflects my changes. I also think that this serves 4 people as a side dish instead of 2 as we had leftovers for lunch the next day.

Smoked Mozzarella Risotto

1 T butter
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 oz smoked mozzarella cheese (chop into small pieces)
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

In a sauce pan, heat the 3 cups of stock over medium heat.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. When melted, add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir until well coated distributed. Toast the rice, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced almost entirely.

Start adding broth, 1 ladle at a time, stirring the risotto frequently. Add another ladle of broth when the first addition is almost all absorbed. Continue this process until you've added all but the last of the broth. The rice should be creamy but still have a little bite to it. Add the sun-dried tomatoes with the last addition of broth and again cook until almost all absorbed.

Turn off the heat and add the cheese and all spices except the salt. Taste and add salt if necessary (I used low sodium chicken stock and between the stock and the cheese, didn't need anymore salt).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Make A Great Steak Without A Grill

Since the average temperature in February is around the freezing mark here, the grill is inaccessible. Which is really a shame, because you can make so many great foods on a grill. Steak was one of those things that I would have put in that category. So there was no steak unless it was from a restaurant at my house between November and March. I've tried the broiler route but it smokes and makes my house smell.

Lately, I've seen a few suggestions to sear the steak in an oven-safe pan, then finish cooking in the oven so I thought I would try it. This works best in a stainless steel or cast iron pan (not non-stick) and make sure the pan can go in the oven at a high temperature. You can use a grill pan if you want the grill marks but a regular pan works just as well and is much easier to clean up.

This method is not limited to just steak... it works well for many types of meat, especially thick cuts. I used a strip steak but use whatever you like best. I also added some caramelized onions and mushrooms to finish this off.

Make sure you let your steak sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before cooking it so you are not putting cold meat into the hot pan which will make it tougher.

New York Strip Steak with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

2 steaks, 1 1/2 - 2" thick
Salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
1/2 onion
1/2 cup mushrooms
1 T butter
1/4 cup red wine

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large, oven safe skillet over medium-high heat until nice and hot. Rub steaks lightly with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. When pan is hot, add steaks. Do not move the steaks. Cook about 4 minutes on the first side until a nice crust develops, turn once. Cook an additional 4 minutes. Immediately transfer pan to the oven. Cook an additional 5-8 minutes to desired done-ness. (Mine took about 6 minutes to get to medium, pull it out just before its done as it will continue to cook a little as it rests.)

Transfer steaks to a plate and cover with foil. In the same pan over medium low heat, add butter, onions, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and add red wine to deglaze the pan. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up some of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the liquid is reduced and the onions are browned and softened, about 5 minutes, turn off the heat and pour over steaks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are something that I used to be afraid of... seafood in general used to intimidate me. It always seems so delicate and I'm afraid I'll ruin it. A lot of seafood is relatively pricey so I didn't want to take a chance and waste a bunch of stuff. But I decided they couldn't be that difficult. After reading a comparison post on the blog Proceed with Caution, I had a little more insight into what my recipe would be. She highlighted recipes from Cooks Illustrated, Chronicles of a Fledgling Cook, Ellie Krieger, and Good Things Catered. Ultimately I sort of combined what I liked about each of the recipes and made up my own. I know most people would follow a recipe the first time they make something but I threw caution to the wind with this one.

I think they turned out great. I made about half of this filling into crab cakes and made 8 smallish (about 3" in diameter) crab cakes and the rest of the filling I think I'll turn into seafood enchiladas. Also, I used canned lump crab meat but if you've got fresh, by all means use it.

Crab Cakes

1 T butter
1 pound crab meat
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Miracle Whip (I used Fat Free)
1 egg
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool. Meanwhile, roughly chop crab meat. Add crab to cooled pepper mixture. Lightly beat egg and add with miracle whip, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, mixing gently. Mix bread crumbs with seasonings and gently stir about 1/2 of the crumbs into crab mixture.

Form mixture into small patties and dredge in remaining bread crumbs, pressing firmly to form patties. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add approximately 4 T canola oil to coat the bottom of the pan well. When the oil is hot, add crab cakes in batches, leaving room to turn them in the pan. Don't overcrowd them. Cook approximately 5 minutes per side until crisp and golden brown.

Valentine's Day Menu

Todd and I celebrated Valentine's Day on Saturday because we were planning to be out of town this coming weekend with some friends. I wanted to cook us a nice dinner with some things that I don't normally make.

The Menu:

Crab Cakes

Baby Spinach Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Dried Cranberries with Raspberry Vinaigrette
New York Strip Steak with caramelized onions and mushrooms
Smoked Mozzarella Risotto
Crusty Herb Bread

Yellow Cake with Dulce de Leche filling and Whipped Cream Icing

I used a bottled dressing and bread from Kroger bakery but other than that everything was homemade. Aside from the experiment with the dulce de leche, everything was extremely easy to put together and turned out great. I'll post the recipes over the next couple of days.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Superbowl Sunday

I decided to use this year's Superbowl logo to decorate a cake for the party we're going to tonight. I volunteered to make a dessert and then Todd said I should make a cake that looked like the logo. The lines were pretty clean and straight so I decided replicating it shouldn't be too hard. Using a few skills I picked up in my Wilton classes, I think I made a pretty decent logo cake.

For the cake itself, I used Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever recipe. This cake recipe is really quick and easy, you don't even need a mixer to make it. I made 1.5x the recipe and baked each layer in a 10x14 jellyroll pan.

For the filling, I used the chocolate frosting from the recipe, omitting the chopped pecans (since I didn't know if anyone at the party would have nut allergies) and increasing the powdered sugar by about 1 cup to make it a little thicker since it was going to have to hold together on its own and not just be served from the pan. The recipe below reflects my changes.

For the buttercream icing, I started with Magnolia Bakery's classic buttercream recipe but had to add a lot more powdered sugar to make it stiff enough to frost the cake.

3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 heaping T cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray pans with baking spray or butter and flour. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Add cocoa powder and stir together. Add boiling water and allow mixture to boil for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and pour over the flour mixture. Gently stir the mixture until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

In a measuring cup, measure the buttermilk and add beaten eggs. Add baking soda and vanilla and stir well. Add mixture to the cake batter and stir until well incorporated. Divide batter evenly between pans, smooth the tops with a rubber spatula and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Cool in pan for approximately 5 minutes and run a knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a wire rack and then using a second wire rack, flip right side up and cool completely.

7/8 cup butter (1 3/4 sticks)
4 heaping T cocoa powder
6 T milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 - 1 1/4 pounds powdered sugar

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add cocoa powder and stir to combine. Remove from heat and add the milk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir together until as smooth as possible. There will likely be some small chunks from the powdered sugar (you can sift the sugar to eliminate more if you want). Once cakes are cool, pour mixture over bottom layer and smooth with an offset spatula. Top with second cake layer and frost as desired.

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 - 2 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
Gel food coloring as desired

Beat softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add 4 cups powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Beat about 3-5 minutes until well incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Continue adding powdered sugar about 1-2 cups at a time until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. To frost the cake, the frosting should hold its shape on a spatula but fall off when you turn the spatula over, to do detail work, the frosting should be stiffer, when you turn the spatula over, it shouldn't fall off. Put a generous amount of frosting on top of the cake, smooth with an offset spatula and then go around the sides with the excess frosting.

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