Category Archives: Uncategorized

Your Favorites of 2012

This year has been a whirlwind.  As this year, unlike any other, winds down, I’m reminded of all that’s happened here in this very little blog space.  I took some time this week to look back on all the recipes, especially those that were popular among you, my readers and friends.  Presented in ascending order or popularity, I present your favorite posts/recipes of 2012!

 

10.  Pesto Pasta with Spinach, Broccoli, and Walnuts

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9.  Dosa & Coconut Chutney

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8.  Oven Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans

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7.  Summer Squash Gratin

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6.  Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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5.  Banana Cupcakes with Butterscotch Buttercream

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4.  Spinach Pesto Omelette

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3.  Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

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2.  Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Chocolate Glaze

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1.  Oreo Cake with Oreo & Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Slutty Brownies

Now more than ever, it has become apparent that life is truly a fine balance.  In college, a day spent in front of the TV with a hangover could easily be made up for by the next day spent cleaning, studying and running errands.  Being able to fit in studying, hanging out friends, binge drinking, errands, cleaning and TV, and still getting up to go to class everyday, I was convinced that I was living the high life.

Now, with a job and most notably, a baby, time is quite valuable and inflexible.  I unfortunately learned the hard way that a late night spent watching TV (The Walking Dead, specifically) doesn’t mean I can sleep in the next morning.  Rather, my alarm is replaced by baby squeaking and other like baby sounds, which if left unattended could easily turn into wailing.  And, there is no snooze button.

Days go by where the balance is a distant goal that I’m stumbling towards.  And, in those days I think I can’t have it all.  For instance, I can’t spontaneously catch happy hour with friends, which turns into dinner and after-dinner drinks lasting until 2 a.m.  Long.  Gone.

But, those days when “having it all” means not deciding between a brownie, cookie and America’s favorite cookie, I promise you really can have it all.  And today as I slowly enjoyed each rich and beautiful bite, I did not focus on fat, calories, carbs, hips, and/or thighs.  I fully intend on spending the whole day on the elliptical tomorrow.

For this recipe, you can totally make it easy and just buy a family size refrigerated cookie dough, family size brownie mix and of course, Oreos.

Slutty Brownies

slightly adapted from Kevin and Amanda

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package Oreos (I ended up using 24 Oreos)
  • 1 Family Size Brownie Mix

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.  Making a sling is the best method as it helps you get the brownies out easier.
  2. Cream the butter and both sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3-5 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt, then slowly incorporate into the mixer until the flour is just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Spread the cookie dough in the bottom of the baking pan.
  6. Top with a layer of Oreos.
  7. Prepare the brownie batter. Pour the brownie batter over the cookie dough and Oreos.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes.
  9. Let cool completely before cutting and serving.

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Cinnamon Sugar & Vanilla Roasted Peaches

As summer is packing its bags, I wanted to enjoy the last fruits of its bounty.  My favorite this summer has been stone fruits – specifically, peaches.

My first experience with peaches – were from a can.  And, I loved them.  I’m not ashamed of my love.  Sweet and juicy without any fuzz, canned peaches were all I knew until we got older.  And, I hate to say it but there’s still a place in my heart for the syrupy peaches in all its almost-candy-like qualities.  As I’ve gotten older, I cannot remember the last time I bought fruit of any kind in a can.  Yet, I still find myself remembering school lunches where the fruit was canned peaches.  Take that how you will.

Wanting something similar but much much better, roasting seemed to be a great way to bring out the fruit’s flavor.  I was right.  The word is caramelized.  Peeled blanched peaches mixed with warm flavors highlights this most succulent fruit without being overly sweet.  While you can eat it all on its own, why not pair it with fresh whipped cream or ice cream?  Share with friends as it comes together so very quickly with ingredients that you most likely have on hand.

Just like summer, this dish won’t last long.

Cinnamon Sugar & Vanilla Roasted Peaches

adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 2 tbsp white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 ripe peaches

Directions:

  1. Blanch the peaches:  Score the bottom of the peaches with an X and put them in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Peel, remove pits and halve. Place in a bowl.  Reserve juice.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F.
  3. In a large but shallow baking dish whisk together the butter, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and the reserved juice from the peaches.
  4. Add peaches and turn them to coat well.  Arrange them cut side down in a single layer.
  5. Roast until peaches are tender and the liquid is thick like syrup, approximately 20 minutes, brushing the peaches with the liquid half-way through baking.
  6. After the syrup has thickened, turn the peaches around, cut side up and put under the broiler for a minute until browned.
  7. Serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream or both.  Drizzle with the remaining liquid.

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Pesto Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Peppers

We all have our happy places, don’t we?  It’s slipping into your favorite pajamas and socks after a long day’s work and just planting it in front of the TV.  Or, the spot between my puppy’s neck and shoulder that seems to be the best place for a nuzzle.  Lately, watching my kid belly laugh while I ‘gobble up’ his feet.  And, a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

I’m quite picky about my macaroni and cheese.  So many people make it incorrectly, don’t you think?  Sometimes it’s too watery (the worst) or too dry (big no no).  The best mac and cheese has cheese – and, a lot of it.  Not just cheese sauce, but the cheese blend that coats each nook and cranny of a macaroni.

While I have only enjoyed the traditional macaroni and cheese, with my new pesto stash, I wanted to experiment and give one of my favorite dishes a different flavor profile without sacrificing the creamy-cheesy foundation of the dish.  And, while I wanted to stop at several steps ahead, proclaiming it’s perfect, keep going.  Adding the roasted red bell pepper and the crunchy buttery topping will only build upon the flavors.  But, for some reason if you didn’t have the ingredients or didn’t want to mix in the red peppers or the Panko crust, just know that it’s delicious on its own, as well.

Pesto Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Peppers

loosely adapted from Aida Mollenkamp

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp basil pesto
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 roasted red bell peppers, drained and diced (recipe below)

Directions:

  1. Heat a large dutch oven over low heat.  Once melted, add the shallow and garlic and cook until softened, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the 1 tbsp of pesto, red pepper flakes, bread crumbs and 3 tbsp of Parmesan and mix to combine.  Place the crumb mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a large pot of heavily salted water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions.  Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  3. Using the same pan, add the half and half and bring to a simmer on the same low heat.  You want the mixture to simmer, thicken and reduce, about 5 minutes.  Add the shredded mozzarella.  Whisk until the cheese has melted and no clumps remain.  Add the goat cheese to the cheese mixture and whisk until smooth.  Stir in the remaining Parmesan cheese and whisk until melted.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and stir until incorporated.  Mix in the 1/2 cup basil pesto, pasta water, salt and pepper.  Mix gently to ensure it is evenly distributed and coated.  Add additional salt and pepper if you need.
  5. Gently stir in the roasted peppers until evenly distributed.
  6. Top with the crumb mixture.
  7. Place under the dutch oven broiler for no more than 2 minutes until the crust has browned.   (If you haven’t been using a dutch oven, just transfer the pasta to a baking dish and place in the oven.)  Remove from broiler and let it cool about 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Red Bell Peppers

adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients:

  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 500F.
  2. Arrange bell peppers on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until skin is charred and wrinkled.  Turn them twice during cooking.
  4. Remove from the oven and immediately place in a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.
  6. Once cooled, remove the stem, seeds and skin, and place the peppers in a bowl with any juices.  Pour the oil over the peppers and store in the refrigerator.

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Filed under Pasta, Side Dish, Uncategorized

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

I’ve mentioned several times that pizza is a staple in this house.  Whether we go out for it or make it at home, pizza makes a repeat appearance here.  While I love the crisp thin crust pizzas, there is a very special place in my heart and palate for the rich and saucy deep dish pizza.  I experienced deep dish pizza for the first time while I visited Chicago with Binks while we were dating.  As he had lived there for three years, he had always raved about Gino’s East.  After the first bite, talk about a revelation.

A heavy baking dish full of crust, cheese and sauce, perfectly proportioned.  Eaten with a fork and knife, I loved the flaky cornmeal crust, full-bodied sauce and hearty cheese.  I have been searching for a great recipe since my last visit.  That was about 5 years ago.  I decided to take another crack at it to see if I could somehow relive that experience.  Binks was quite happy to participate in my experiment.

Before I begin, I’ll throw in the towel.  No pizza will rival Gino’s (well let’s forget the Giordano’s debate for the purposes of this post).  I accept that.  However, this homemade version was very delicious.  This pizza was highlighted exactly as it should be – the crust and sauce.  First, let’s discuss crust.  Almost akin to puff pastry, this crust was wonderfully flaky and baked crisp without being too doughy. Second, the sauce is near perfection.  I’m a huge sauce fan and I understand the sauce for deep dish is different from for a thin crust.  Here, the sauce needs to be chunkier to complement the thick layer of mozzarella.  All in all, welcome the new member of the pizza family in rotation in our house.  We are quite smitten.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
recipe from Cook’s Illustrated via Annie’s Eats
yields one 9-inch pizza

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (8 1/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup (1 3/8 oz.) yellow cornmeal
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/8 tsp. instant yeast
  • ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. (5 oz.) water, at room temperature
  • 1½ tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

For the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. grated onion
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1½ tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Ground black pepper

For toppings:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 oz. mozzarella, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • ¼ oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 2 tbsp.)

Directions:

  1. Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute.  Add water and melted butter, and mix on low speed until fully combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally.  Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is glossy and smooth, and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4 to 5 minutes.  You know it’s ready when the ball of dough pulls away complete from the sides of the mixer.  Coat a large bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil, rubbing excess oil from fingers onto blade of rubber spatula. Transfer the dough to the bowl, turning once to oil top; cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in volume, which should take between 45 to 60 minutes.
  2. While dough rises, prepare the sauce.  Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted.  Add onion, oregano, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high and bring to simmer.  Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 2½ cups, which takes about 25 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. To laminate the dough, turn the dough out onto dry work surface and roll into a 8- by 6-inch rectangle. Using offset spatula, spread softened butter over surface of dough. Leaving ½-inch border along edges. Starting at short end, roll dough into tight cylinder.  With the seam side down, flatten cylinder into an 9- by 3-inch rectangle.  Cut rectangle in half crosswise. Working with one half, fold into thirds like a letter; pinch seams together to form ball. Repeat with remaining half. Return balls to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled in volume, between 40 to 50 minutes.
  4. At this point, preheat the oven to 425F.  To assemble, coat a 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Transfer the dough ball to a dry work surface and roll out into a 13-inch disk about ¼-inch thick.  Transfer the dough to the pan.  Lightly press the dough into the pan, working into the corners and 1 inch up the sides.  If the dough resists stretching, let rest 5 minutes before trying again.
  5. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella evenly over surface of dough.  Spread the tomato sauce over cheese and sprinkle 2 tablespoons  Parmesan over sauce.  Bake until crust is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Basil Pesto

First impressions are a funny thing. I remember, as a freshman in high school, hearing one of the most beautiful girls in the school proclaim that she bases all her friendships and any potential relationships on first impressions. “I don’t care if it’s unfair. If I don’t like you from first talking to you, I’m never going to talk to you again.” I still remember these words. While harsh, I actually wondered whether she had a point. All our lives we are judged on first impressions, including dates and interviews. Interactions that decide the most important parts of our lives are truly governed by the first impressions. So, was there any truth to what she said?

After 30 years of life experience, I call B.S. on her theory.

According to Binks, if he had judged me based on his first impression, he would not have talked to me ever again. I obviously thought differently of our first interaction. I was so shy and nervous that when he called me, I sat on the phone quietly for most of the conversation. Me being quiet is not the normal if you have ever met me. But, I did. And if it was anyone else, he wouldn’t have called again. But, because Binks would be the last person to judge a person from a first impression, he called again. And, six years and a baby later, the rest is history.

Less importantly, I hated pesto the first time I tried it. That’s what happens when you try to make pesto out of a powder mix from a “pasta creation” box. Disgusting. Extremely pungent (not in a good way), bitter and salty. After having some basil left over from making pizza sauce, I decided to give it a second try.

Controlling the levels of the different ingredients, I was able to create a product that was creamy yet bold, without any harsh flavors to distract from the bright basil. Since making it, I have been using it on everything I can find. Ranging from pesto pasta with vegetables and roasted pesto potatoes, I’m in love with this pesto.

Basil Pesto

adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts), roasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups basil leaves, packed tight
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • pinch of black ground pepper
  • pinch of salt, more as required

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, add minced garlic and pulse about 2-3 times to break down the garlic further.
  2. Add pine nuts (or walnuts) and process until finely ground.
  3. In a thin stream, slowly incorporate half of the olive oil while the food processor is running.
  4. Add basil and puree until smooth.
  5. Slowly pour in the remaining olive oil until incorporated.
  6. Add the cheese, pepper, and salt and process until fully blended.
  7. Test for salt and add if required.

 

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Filed under Pasta, Sauces, Uncategorized

Turning 30 Turned up Rainbows [Cake]

All I wanted for my birthday was to bake my own cake. I picked out and planned my cake for a whole month. Meanwhile, Binks was planning a surprise party right under my nose. As I have been talking his ear off about my cake, he assembled a party planning to build a party around the cake.

I decided on the rainbow cake for my 30th birthday.
While I’m not one for the colorful, for my 30th birthday, the idea of having a plain-white-frosted cake, sliced to reveal bright layers of cake, enhanced further by white frosting, somehow spoke to me as I embark in this new decade of my life. Well, it was a show-stopper.

There were a lot of oohs and aahs once I cut into the cake to remove a slice.

I prepared the cake layers the night before, stored them in the fridge and frosted the next day. The cake layers hold together much nicer and produce less crumbs when I frost this way. I also cut my work time in half so I can focus on one aspect of the cake at a time.Oh and the frostings? It’s white chocolate buttercreams. Yes, I meant frostings. I made two types for this cake. While I love love Swiss meringue buttercream, I wanted something sweeter as well. So, the cake is filled and crumb coated with Swiss meringue and frosted outside with the traditional buttercream. It worked beautifully. the sweetness of traditional buttercream complemented the rich subtle Swiss meringue. The original recipe uses lemon buttercream, but I wanted white chocolate buttercream. A divine choice.

I’m still in love with this cake. Aside from being beautiful, it was delicious, as well. Completely light in flavor and texture, this cake did not feel heavy. Rather, the use of Swiss meringue buttercream throughout the layers made it subtly sweet where you can finish a whole slice without feeling like you might go into a sugar shock. But, just when you think you figured out the cake, the outer layer flavors hit and the sweetness mixes in with the same white chocolate flavors carrying through. I could not have been prouder of a cake – and from my 30-year-old-self, that’s saying a lot!

The whole party was wonderful. My friends and family truly came through and pretty much made a party around my cake.

With rainbow-themed photo booth area and colorful flowers and balloons, I felt a happiness that I remember as a child during birthdays.

The photo booth was a hit with all the guests. We had some younger guests who were having a ball with all the props.

My creative friend made Oreo truffles and packaged them away nicely in these cute little boxes as favors.

*The outside of the cake looks a little wonky because I was rushed out of the house to go run an errand. I thought I would come home to finish it, but walked into a wonderful surprise!

Rainbow Cake

recipe by Whisk Kid

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter, room temperature
  • 2 and 1/3 cup white granulated sugar
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cup milk, room temperature (just warm for 30 seconds in a microwave)
  • Food coloring*

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour six 8-inch pans. I only have two pans so I baked two layers at a time.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale. Add the egg whites gradually. Add the vanilla until fully incorporated into the batter. Then, starting with the flour, alternate between adding the flour and milk, adding in two parts.
  4. Divide the batter between six bowls. Add food coloring to each bowl’s batter. Remember, the cake will cook to be the same color as the batter. Add the amount of food coloring you expect to see in the baked cake.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pans.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Once baked, remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Then, turn over onto wire rack to fully cool.
  7. I kept them in the fridge overnight but you can frost once fully cooled.

My food coloring: (All of them are Americolor gels)

  • Red: Super Red
  • Orange: Egg Yellow mixed with a bit of Super Red
  • Yellow: Lemon Yellow
  • Green: Electric Green
  • Blue: Electric Blue
  • Purple: Electric Purple

White Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream for filling layers and crumb coat
adapted from Whisk Kid

Ingredients:

  • 9 egg whites
  • 1 and 3/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 4 sticks butter,
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate, melted and cooled

Directions:

  1. Take your butter from the fridge and cut it into cubes and set aside on a plate on your counter – just not in your fridge.
  2. Wipe down a large (preferably steel) bowl with lemon juice to ensure that no trace amounts of oil remain. Oil is danger to meringue.
  3. Add the egg whites and sugar to the mixing bowl and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), stirring constantly with a whisk. Be gentle but consistent with the stirring. Keep whisking until you get a temperature of 150F for the mixture using your candy thermometer. Another way to check is to dip your hands in the mixture and rub it between your fingers. It should be completely smooth, with no grainy-ness. If there is any grains of sugar, keep stirring/whisking. you want the sugar to be completely dissolved and the egg whites to be hot (and cooked).
  4. Once it gets to be 150F, attach the bowl to your electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high heat until the meringue is thick and glossy. You know you are done when the bowl is also room temperature to the touch, and not at all warm. It cannot be warm at all.
  5. Once you get stiff thick peaks with your meringue, switch from the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment.
  6. You are going to start adding the butter, one cube at a time. Your butter should be cool, not cold, at this point.
  7. With the mixer on low-speed, mix until you get a smooth rich texture. The mixture will look curdly at some point, just keep mixing. I promise you it will come together.
  8. Add vanilla and salt, and continue to mix on low-speed until everything is combined.
  9. Add the melted white chocolate until fully incorporated and well blended in the buttercream.

White Chocolate Buttercream

adapted from my Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate, melted and cooled

Directions:

  1. Sift together the salt and powdered sugar into the bowl of your electric mixer.
  2. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl to ensure that there are no unincorporated parts.
  3. Whisk in the cream and vanilla extract until well blended.
  4. After you get a good buttercream consistency, add the white chocolate and beat on medium-high for another 3-5 minutes.

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Filed under Birthdays, Cake, Life, Uncategorized