Monday, December 7, 2009

A Weekend of Cake

I made this ladybug cake for a baby shower. Not too bad for my first time covering a cake in fondant. I was really happy with the way it turned out.

I also made this birthday cake for my stepdad. This cake is a bit more rustic than the previous one and consisted of dark chocolate layers filled with vanilla buttercream. I made the flowers out of leftover fondant from the ladybug cake. It was a busy weekend of baking. Oh how I wish I had double ovens in my kitchen! And maybe a second refrigerator too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The September Garden

We have had so much rain here in the last couple of months, my garden has suddenly awakened and is showing signs of life again. This Japanese eggplant is loaded for the third time this season. This one plant has been so good to me.
I grew beans earlier this summer, but then decided not too long ago to try a late summer bean crop. All I did was pop a few bean seeds into the dirt. The bean plants shot right up. It seem like just yesterday I planted them, and now every day this week I have picked a handful of green beans.

Just enough for a dinner for two. Nothing cheers me up more than a meal made of fresh vegetables grown right in my own backyard.

The basil is thriving too. It looks better now than it has all summer. I love herbs from the garden. They give foods a delicious burst of fresh flavor.
Look at this! A little baby cucumber. I grew cucumbers for the first time this year and had tons of cucumbers earlier in the summer. Then the plants stopped producing and looked quite pathetic, so I pulled all the plants up except for one, which showed signs of hope with a few young bright green leaves. The garden is now rewarding me by flowering and showing some promising signs of delicious fresh vegetables in the weeks to come. I'm thinking pickles.

I also tried growing okra this year. I only have a few plants that my mom gave me, and they are doing great. Okra rewards you every day at the end of summer. It is quite easy to grow, tolerates the heat, and I haven't seen any pests. I could pickle some okra too...since I don't have much growing. I love pickled okra. A bloody mary just isn't complete without pickled okra.

Growing vegetables makes me happy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Indian Dosas

I recently joined an online cooking community, The Daring Kitchen. Each month members cook the same recipe and then share their results. It is a great way to challenge yourself in the kitchen by stepping outside of your comfort zone and cooking something you wouldn't normally cook; be it the type of cuisine, techniques used, or ingredients.

This is my first Daring Cooks challenge, and this month's challenge was hosted by Debyi of The Healthy Vegan Kitchen. She chose Indian Dosas from the refreshing cookbook by Ruth Tal for this months challenge.
They were easy to make...just a little time consuming. I had never eaten Indian food before, but I really enjoyed the dish. It was similar to an enchilada, but with completely different flavors. The chickpea filling was a little too spicy for me even though I love spicy foods. The curry sauce was delicious. I stayed with the recipe provided since I'm not familiar with Indian cuisine, but I would definitely like to try dosas again with different flavor combinations.
This recipe was definitely a challenge for me since it was completely vegan. I used soy milk instead of cow's milk. Hmm....what should I do with the rest of the carton? I love meatless meals, but I have never gone completely animal free before. It was a very hearty vegetarian meal and delicious!

Indian Dosas

The recipe is three parts: the dosa or pancake, the filling, and the curry sauce.

Serves 4

Equipment needed:

large bowl
griddle or skillet
ladle (or large spoon)
vegetable peeler &/or knife
large saucepan
food processor or bean masher

Dosa Pancakes

1 cup (120gm/8oz) spelt flour (or all-purpose, gluten free flour)
½ tsp (2½ gm) salt
½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder
½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water
cooking spray, if needed

1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.
2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.
3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter. Makes 8 pancakes.

Curried Garbanzo Filling

5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste

1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.
2.Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Dosa Toppings

1 batch Coconut Curry Sauce (see below), heated
¼ cup (125gm) grated coconut
¼ cucumber, sliced

Coconut Curry Sauce

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ (2½ gm) tsp cumin, ground
¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder
3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced

1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.
2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.
4.Let it simmer for half an hour.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beer Can Chicken and the New Grill

We have been wanting a new grill for quite some time. Our old grill has been great. It's a small portable grill with the small propane tank, which usually runs out in the middle of grilling.

Kevin bought this grill back in his bachelor days. He used to call me up and entice me over to his house with pork chops or steak, and we would sit on his front porch and he would grill dinner for us. That's when I knew...I wanted to spend my life eating meat with this man.
We've taken our little Weber grill to Mardi Gras, football games, and Panic shows. It has seen many parking lots. It's been very good to us...this little grill. Many memories. However, its time has past.

So, last week end we looked at grills. The fond memories of our old, little grill drew us to the Webers once again. We left the store to think about it, and the next day Kevin came home with the Weber Spirit in this big box.

He spent an hour or so assembling the grill. I assisted where needed and made sure we had pictures of the whole thing. This new baby is going to change our lives. We can grill large pieces of meat such as whole chickens, ribs, and roasts on this thing. We haven't been able to do this until now.
So, I've been reading up on grilling because I want to get the most out of our new grill. I will become the GRILL MASTER. I know....usually the grill is the man's job,but Kevin just lets me take over... because I'm so bossy when it comes to food. He's okay with that. I'm passing on all that I learn to him.

I have this great cookbook by Steven Raichlen called How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques. Until now I have just drooled over the photos and used some of the marinades. Now I will finally get the most out of this book. It will help me reach my grilling potential...not just recipes...but the techniques as well. Last night I flipped through the pages of How to Grill and stopped at the beer can chicken. I thought a whole chicken would be quite the test for our new grill. That would be quite a change from the leathery chicken breast that I normally grill. Very unsatisfying....I've become quite bored with chicken.

How hard could it be? Beer can chicken. Yum!!! The first test for our new Weber Spirit.

You need:

1 chicken
1 can of beer
6 tsp of barbecue rub (or any seasoning rub you bought or homemade)

Open the beer and pour off half the beer. I used the poured off beer to soak wood chips, or you can drink it. Poke additional holes into the top of the can and add 2 tsp. of barbecue rub to the beer.

Remove the giblets from inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken inside and out under cold water. Dry with a paper towel.

Rub 2 tsp. of rub inside the cavity of the chicken. Rub the outside of the chicken with the remaining 2 tsp. of seasoning. Rub on the skin and under it.

Carefully lower the chicken onto the can so that the can is inside of the chicken. Use the can and the chickens legs for support so the bird remains upright.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill. We decided to try smoking some wood chips to add a smoky flavor to the chicken. So we began by soaking some hickory wood chips in water and the beer we poured off. Once the chips have soaked for ten minutes, place them on a sheet of aluminum foil. Fold up the foil to make a packet and then poke holes into the top of the packet to allow steam to escape. Pop the packet right onto the grill and preheat on high. The grill is ready when the chips begin to smoke.

Once the grill is ready place the chicken on the grill, close the lid, and reduce the temperature to medium. As the chicken cooks the beer and the seasoning will infuse the chicken with flavor and moisture.

Grill the chicken over indirect heat on medium for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer registers at 180 F. The skin on the chicken will be golden and crispy...not too crispy. I can't believe how easy this was or how perfect the chicken looked.

This new grill is amazing. A week ago I wouldn't have thought I would be grilling whole chickens. Man! This is the way to cook chicken. So juicy. The texture is not what I usually get from chicken. It was so moist and tender.

I was getting a little bored with chicken. Now we're rediscovering each other. I've been wanting to spatchcock a chicken.

And now to think I can have grilled spatchcocked chicken. The in-laws are coming this weekend...spatchcocked chicken on the grill...sounds perfect. Spatchcocked.....

Coming soon: Spatchcocked Chicken

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Brad's Birthday Cake

Over the weekend we celebrated Brad's, my brother-in-law, 40th birthday. I was so excited to make this wonderful chocolate peanut butter cake for him. I made this same cake for my sister's 40th birthday earlier this year and everyone loved it. It consists of two layers of rich, dark chocolate cake, filled and covered with creamy peanut butter cream cheese frosting, and then covered with shiny, dark chocolate ganache. The cake is made with dark cocoa powder so it has that really dark chocolaty color. For the cake I used Martha Stewart's recipe "One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes". I doubled the recipe to make two 10 inch rounds and 12 cupcakes. I have used this recipe at least a dozen times and it always turns out perfectly. Not too sweet and super moist. It is so easy because you don't even need a mixer, you just throw everything into one bowl and stir it up. Yes, it's that easy. I've seen some versions of this recipe call for milk and others for buttermilk. I always use buttermilk. Buttermilk always results in a really moist cake. Here is the recipe:

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
  • 1 1/4 C unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder (I use Hershey's Special Dark)

  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 C sugar

  • 2 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder

  • 1 1/4 tsp table salt

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk

  • 1 1/4 warm water

  • 1 1/4 C buttermilk

  • 1/2 C plus 2 Tbs (1 1/4 sticks) butter, melted and cooled

  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 F. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners. Or spray two 8 by 2 inch round pans with cooking spray, line with parchment paper and spray parchment paper.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add liquid ingredients to the bowl and whisk together.

Fill cupcake liners halfway and bake for about 20 minutes.

Cool for ten minutes before removing from pans.

* For 10 inch cakes, bake for 50-55 minutes.

* For 8 inch cakes, bake 45 minutes.

See! Wasn't that easy?

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 8oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature...that's one pound

  • 1 stick butter, room temperature

  • 2 lbs confectioners sugar

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter

Beat cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter together on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar, mix until smooth.

For the ganache:

  • 2 C heavy cream

  • 1 lb dark chocolate

Bring 2 cups of heavy cream to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour the cream over 1 pound of chopped dark chocolate. Stir until smooth. Let the ganache cool and thicken to a pourable consistency.

To assemble the cake:

After the cakes have cooled completely, wrap them in plastic, return the wrapped cakes to the pans, and let the cakes chill in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight. Before frosting the cakes they need to be leveled. Using a serrated knife, I just eyeball the cake, use a sawing motion to remove the hump on the cake. My cakes are never perfectly level. Who's perfect, anyway?

Once the cakes have been leveled, place one of the cakes onto a cardboard round or cake plate, cut side up and cover the top with a thick layer of frosting. I frost the cakes by filling a pastry bag with frosting and attaching a decorating icer tip, wilton 789 icing tip. This helps the frosting go on the cake more evenly.

Next, place the second cake evenly over the first layer. Frost the top and then the sides of the cake. You want the icing to be smooth because the ganache will be poured over it and you will see any imperfections in the icing. After the cake is frosted return it to the refrigerator to chill for about an hour or overnight. This will firm up the icing so the ganache can be poured over it.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for ten minutes. Before pouring the ganache place the cake on a rack set over a sheet pan, which will catch the ganache that runs off the cake. Begin pouring the ganache over the top of the cake making sure it runs evenly over the sides. You must work quickly to cover the cake with the ganache so it doesn't set before you are finished covering the cake. You can use a metal spatula to carefully cover any missed places on the sides of the cake. Do not run the spatula over the cake though, or the ganache will lose its shine. Let the cake sit out and at room temperature and allow the ganache to set.

Finish the cake by adding desired decorations, however, the cake looks great all by itself. For the flower decorations I bought some ready-to-use fondant and tinted it blue, and then I used flower shaped cutters in three sizes to make the flowers. This was my first time to work with fondant and I will definitely be experimenting with it more. I thought the fondant flowers looked great.

I used swiss meringue buttercream to pipe a border and write on the cake.

Beware! This cake is extremely rich. Cut small slices and serve with hot coffee or a cold glass of milk.

I also made vanilla bean cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream because I know there are some crazy people out there that just don't like chocolate. Those crazies weren't at the party.

We had a lot of left over vanilla cupcakes. Not so much cake.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chocolate Toffee Pecan Cookies


I love to bake. Baked goods are meant to be eaten when they are fresh; so my baking experiments, usually cupcakes, end up being passed off to my neighbors and coworkers. When I go to work with cupcakes, Al, a coworker, always says he wants cookies...with nuts. Even though I have all kinds of chocolates and nuts in the pantry just waiting to be made into cookies, I continually put off my promise to make cookies for Al. Finally, this week I made good on my promise and baked cookies for Al. It made me feel really good baking for someone else, and I'm pretty sure they made Al feel good too. I don't know why I put off baking cookies for so long because they were so easy. They were so much quicker than baking a cake with homemade buttercream, which I continue to commit myself to baking weekly, hoping to find that perfect cake that tastes great and is equally beautiful. After looking through my stash, I pulled out Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips, Heath toffee bits, and pecans. I decided to try a new recipe and settled on"My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from my home to yours. The results were delicious.This is my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. The cookies bake super thin with a crisp edge and a chewy center. So good!

Chocolate Chip Toffee Pecan Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. toffee bits
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (First I tried wax paper and then switched to parchment. Do not use wax paper! The parchment kept the cookies from becoming too crisp on the edges. Now is not the time to be a rebel... follow the recipe.)

Beat the butter on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add both of the sugars and continue beating until smooth, about 2 more minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each egg. Reduce the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing until just combined. With a rubber spatula fold in the chocolate, toffee, and pecans.

Spoon rounded tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes until the edges are golden, the centers will still be soft. Let the cookies rest for 1 minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Indian Pass Raw Bar

Last weekend we took a mini vacation with our good friends Jason and Jennifer. We vacation together quite a bit, usually taking a snowboarding trip in the winter time. They wanted to get away for a few days and do some kayaking and fishing so we jumped on board. We loaded up our bikes, kayaks, and dogs and headed to Cape San Blas, Florida. Kevin and I spent a weekend there last fall and I've been dying to get back ever since. It is beautiful!

We spent one of our days snorkeling in St. Joseph's Bay looking at fish, sand dollars, and scalloping. I was hoping to write a post on sauted bay scallops. Unfortunately, we only collected about ten, not nearly enough to feed four people, so we let them go. We spent our weekend shelling, fishing, kayaking, and playing with all the dogs-they also have two dogs. Josey and Jasper (our dogs) were so happy to have their buddies, Ty and Ruthie, to run and swim with. Jennifer and I joke about the days when we're bringing a car full of kids to the beach instead of a pack of dogs.

When you vacation in Cape San Blas you are not coming for seafood restaurants, shopping, and nightlife but the natural beauty all around you. Nature entertains you. The beach and the ocean is your playground. Sea turtles nest on the beaches; pelicans and other shorebirds soar over the waters; migratory birds stop here in the fall on their southern flight; aligators reside in the interior waters; and the gulf and bay are teaming with fish, scallops, and other sea life.

The Indian Pass Raw Bar is one of the few restaurants in the area. We ate at the restaurant when we were here in the fall, and we were anxious to return and bring friends. Sometimes when you find a hidden gem like this you can't wait to share it with your family and friends, so on Sunday night we headed out to the Indian Pass Raw Bar.

This is the bar and kitchen at the Indian Pass Raw Bar where you can get steamed, baked, or raw oysters. They also have steamed shrimp and crab legs and for the kids there are burgers,hot dogs, and such, but they are definitely known for their oysters. The oysters are shucked right at the bar and placed on a platter where they are covered in butter and parmesan cheese before being baked in the oven. I've only recently begun to eat oysters, and after experiencing the oysyters here I've become a fan. I was craving oysters the moment we came across the bridge into Port St. Joe. Of course, I was so, so disappointed when our waitress said they didn't have oysters. The four of us all live on the Gulf Coast and if we really would have thought about it we would know there are no oysters in July. I don't know why we didn't think of this before. I was crushed.

Jennifer and Jason ordered the steamed shrimp to start, and we all orderd a platter of crab legs. The medium size shrimp were pink and cooked perfectly. The crab legs were divine! Steamed sweet crab meat plunged into clarrified butter. I love butter! Mmm and crab! There is still something not right about ordering crab legs while vacationing in Florida. Oh well! They were still delicious.

One of my favorite things about this place are the coolers on the back wall. It works as an honor bar. You just help yourself to a Heiniken or whatever you want to drink. Quite a nice selection of wine, Beer, soft drinks, waters, etc. At the end of the meal tell the cashier what you ordered and how many beers you had.

Kevin and I will be heading back to the area for a little camping trip with my parents in September when it cools down a bit. We will definitely be going back to the Raw Bar for some baked oysters. I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vanilla Bean Cake with Caramel, Pecans, and
Chocolate Ganache

Over the weekend I baked a birthday cake for a friend. She wanted chocolate ganache and caramel on vanilla cake. I knew I would use a whole vanilla bean in the cake, but I didn't have a tried and true vanilla cake recipe. So after some searching I decided to try a vanilla buttermilk cake from smitten kitchen. You can find the recipe here:

This is the vanilla cake recipe she used to make a friends wedding cake and claimed that it was one of the best vanilla cakes to come out of her kitchen. Based on that statement I knew this was the cake I would make. I needed a cake that would hold up well when layered with ganache and caramel. I was a little nervous because the cake recipe was different from most because it didn't call for creaming the sugar and butter together and then adding the eggs. The recipe combines all of the dry ingredients, then the liquid ingredients, and lastly the eggs are folded in by hand. I followed the recipe except I ommited the 2 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract and used a whole vanilla bean instead. The cake did not rise much at all and resulted in moist, light colored cake flecked with vanilla. The cakes baked perfectly even and there was no need to level the cakes.

After the cakes were baked I made the caramel and chocolate ganache. I found recipes for both on the bon appetit web site. The recipes are here:

This cake sounds so amazing! I will definitely be making this again with chocolate cake for myself. I followed the recipes for the caramel and the ganache and used it as a guide for assembling the cake. I've never made caramel before, so my first batch was disasterous. The smoke from the burning sugar set off the smoke detector and left the caramel a deep rusty color. I thought it would be okay, but after tasting it I realized there was no salvaging this burnt bitter concoction. Round two resulted in perfect golden caramel that tasted rich and buttery. You really have to watch the sugar changing color. My pots are dark so it was hard to see the amber color until it was too late.
The chocolate ganache was simple enough; heat the cream, then pour it over the chocolate , and allow the chocolate to soften before stirring until smooth. I made the cake, caramel, and ganache a day ahead and saved the assembly for the next day when the cake was being picked up. Yes, picked up. I was making the cake for someone else and didn't actually get to try it. Like I said before, I will definitely be making this cake again....very soon.

For the assembly I placed one layer of the cake on a board and topped it with chocolate ganache. I then filled a pastry bag with ganache and with a round tip I piped a ring around the cake creating a well in the center. Next I poured the caramel into the well and sprinkled chopped pecans onto the caramel. The second layer is then place on top and repeated with ganache, caramel, and pecans. The third cake layer is then put on top and covered with the ganache. Finally, I iced the sides with the ganache and coated the sides in the chopped pecans. How could this be bad? Put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up and take out for 30 minutes before cutting. Once the cake is cut the caramel will ooze out and create a gooey sauce for the cake. Yum!

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