Monday, January 30, 2012

Strawberry Fudge Cake

I'm not much for baking cakes because something always seems to go wrong! When it's time to make a birthday cake I generally just go for a boxed mix - although I do make my own frosting from scratch. Our Little One turns 2 on Friday, so continuing a new tradition I planned to make a cake to share on Sunday night. After some thought and a strong desire not to make another trip to the grocery store for a cake mix, I chose to get creative with this cake. I adapted a basic chocolate cake recipe from Hershey, and added a special twist to traditional cream cheese frosting. This cake was absolutely divine! I don't even care for sweets and I had a piece for breakfast this morning! I asked my kids what it should be called and our Oldest Girl said, "Fudge Strawberry Awesomeness!" But I think I'll call it ...

Strawberry Fudge Cake

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling coffee

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed until smooth. Stir in coffee. (Batter will be thin.) Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans onto wire racks.

Meanwhile, in a small microwaveable bowl, melt together:

6 squares white baking chocolate
1/2 tablespoon butter

(Use 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring between heating.)

While cake layers are still warm, spread the chocolate evenly over each layer. Allow the layers and chocolate to cool completely.

Cake layer with the white chocolate spread over it.
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
5-6 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup strawberry preserves

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, extracts and half of the confectioners' sugar. Mix until smooth, then add in the preserves and continue adding the sugar by the 1/2 cup until the desired consistency is reached. If the preserves don't make the frosting as pink as you'd like, you can add a drop of red food coloring. 
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
Spread a layer of frosting over the bottom layer of your cake, then top with second layer and frost the top and sides. Store the cake in the refrigerator.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Broccoli Rice Casserole

A general rule of thumb to go by when feeding my family is that, with very few exceptions, there must be at least one dissenter to the enjoyment of each item at the table. I've related this weird family quirk to y'all before, and it hasn't changed! I knew when I chose to make Broccoli Rice Casserole (for the first time, I might add!) some of my family wouldn't appreciate it. Out of the six of us - our family plus a good friend - this side dish received 3 thumbs up, one thumb sideways, and 2 thumbs down. I also made Fried Chicken Fingers, Roasted Rosemary Potatoes, and Sweet and Spicy Carrots (in the cookbook).

Broccoli Rice Casserole

1 small head broccoli, trimmed and finely chopped
1 cup dry rice, prepare according to package directions
6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 (10-3/4 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
12 butter-flavor crackers (I use Club), crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted

In medium-sized bowl, combine broccoli, cheese, soup, sour cream, salt and pepper. Add in rice; mix well. Pour into a greased 9 inch square baking dish. Combine the cracker crumbs and butter, then sprinkle over the broccoli-rice mixture. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until crackers are golden-brown and casserole is bubbly.

Tip: Any time I need a smallish amount of crumb topping like this, I use this method: Place crackers in a small zip-top bag. Crush the crackers with the back of a spoon, a measuring cup, whatever's handy. Then pour the melted butter directly into the bag, smushing it all around to coat the crumbs evenly. Then pour the crumbs out over the casserole!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quinoa Cakes

One of my favorite pasttimes is perusing cookbooks and scouring the internet for new recipes. Often I find recipes that with just a little tweaking make it into my regular rotation. I first encountered quinoa (KEEN-wah or KIN-wah) when researching recipes for my diabetic father-in-law. Quinoa is a type of grain, though more a seed, that is packed with nutrition: it's high in protein, lysine, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, and iron. It's also gluten-free. One serving contains 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It's prepared much the same way as rice - one cup of quinoa to two cups of water - and the texture is similar to brown rice.

I found two quinoa recipes I wanted to try that are pretty similar and sounded delicious! In planning to prepare them, I combined elements from both to come up with my own creation. Served with a salad, they'd make a healthful, filling lunch. I usually use a combination of finely diced broccoli, spinach, peppers, shredded zucchini or whatever I'm in the mood for to equal about a cup. I stir that into the mixture to boost the nutrition level.

Quinoa Cakes

2 cups prepared quinoa
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons diced green onion
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt (adjust to suit taste)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the quinoa mixture into the hot skillet, pressing down to form patties. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve with dipping sauce if desired.

Dipping Sauce - I use this whenever I need a savory dip!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Our Favorite Yeast Rolls

In addition to the large-batch roll recipe I shared yesterday, I have two other recipes I use all the time for family dinners. I used to be nervous about making yeast breads and rolls, thinking it was too labor-intensive or that something would go wrong, ruining the entire batch. After a bit of practice I've realized that most yeast recipes are pretty fool-proof as long as you follow the directions. Also, I love having a stand mixer - it's really an essential piece of kitchen equipment if you make a lot of things from scratch. It takes most of the elbow grease out of recipes. As with all bread/roll recipes that call for white flour, I substitute up to half with whole-wheat flour. If you're making rolls for the first time, I highly recommend one of these easy recipes!
Butternut Squash Rolls are nice because along with flour, sugar, and butter, they also contain an actual vegetable! You can use any kind of squash - butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc. or sweet potato, even white potato. You can find butternut squash in the freezer section already mashed; thaw it and you're ready to go!

Baker's Dozen Yeast Rolls are quick, easy, and make just enough for the five of us for dinner. Handsome loves rolls, so he puts away a good number of those and if there should happen to be any left over he takes them to work the next day. These are interesting because they contain shredded cheese and are brushed with a honey- garlic butter glaze after baking.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Honey-Wheat Yeast Rolls

I have a stand-by roll recipe I use when I'm making them for a crowd, and one I use when I'm just making them for the family. The recipe I'm sharing today makes about 36 rolls and when I make them for our Sunday night crowd there are typically just enough left over for Handsome to take to work for a snack the next day. Last night we had 3 left! They also polished off 2 slow cookers full of potato soup, but that's another post for another day! Anyway, I adapted the recipe from Taste of Home and I thought it was about time I wrote down how I actually do it instead of adjusting the recipe in my head every time.

Honey-Wheat Yeast Rolls

2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast, (4-1/2 teaspoons)
2 cups warm water (110° to 115°) 
1/2 cup honey
1 egg 
1/4 cup canola oil 
2 teaspoons kosher salt 
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the honey, egg, oil, salt, 1 cup bread flour and 3 cups wheat flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. You don't want it to be sticky, but too much flour will make the rolls dense. Start slowly (1/2 cup at a time) and don't forget that you're adding more flour when you knead the dough, and they'll be on a floured surface when you shape the rolls, too.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 3-4 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. I use a sharp knife to cut the dough into four portions, then eight. Each of those portions I just cut into "roll-size" blobs. You can roll them neatly into balls by cupping them in your palm; use the blobs as-is; or shape each blob into a rope, then tie it in a knot and tuck the ends underneath. However you do it, place them on a greased baking sheet. I like my rolls soft, so I place them with sides touching. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick spray (or a kitchen towel) and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.  

Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool. I usually get about 3 dozen rolls out of this dough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spinach & Feta Hummus

Back in May I went to a wedding where one of the appetizers served looked and tasted like what must be green hummus, probably spinach-based, though edamame crossed my mind, too. A few months later, I found a Spinach and Feta Hummus on Tasty Kitchen. The ingredient list sounded enough like what I'd tasted that it would at least be similar. Now it's been so long since I tried it that I don't remember anymore if it compares! But the good news is, the hummus I made is really good. The Boy even likes it, but then he loves spinach (because it makes his muscles grow!).

I adapted the recipe for my taste and for a smaller amount, though even this makes a good-sized batch (about 2 cups) - especially when it's just me eating it.

Spinach & Feta Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed well
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup fresh parsley
4 ounces crumbled feta (regular or reduced-fat)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Scant teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic (small or large, depending on your taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Process all ingredients together, adding a touch more lemon juice, olive oil or water to thin if necessary. Once it's just reached the consistency you like, taste it and adjust the seasonings. This was even better the second day after the flavors had time to come together. (It will probably thicken overnight, so just stir it up and thin it again if you like.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Soup and Salad

I'm not one to consider a salad a meal, and only rarely will I opt for soup and salad as a meal. I have certainly changed that this week! It started with a craving for Caesar salad last week. I added Romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese and Caesar dressing to my grocery list for Friday and started looking forward to some yummy salad. As I passed by the organic section on Friday the soup section caught my eye. I'm already a fan of Imagine's Garden Tomato soup and I thought that would go well with a good salad. Thankfully, not only was the soup on sale, there was a coupon available for $1.00 off two cartons. In addition to Garden Tomato, I picked up the Potato Leek soup. Now THAT was a great choice! While I like to jazz up the tomato soup, I found the Potato Leek soup to be perfect on its own: peppery, creamy, and smooth.

I highly recommend this line of soups!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Maple Bacon Cupcakes

This seems to be such a popular combination of flavors these days! After tasting it, it's not hard to see why. In my opinion it tastes like Saturday morning breakfast - just eat one with a cup of coffee! For you skeptics out there, they really do taste like pancakes with syrup, and bacon on the side. I asked our college people what they thought and I got really good reviews - and a lot of surprise that they were actually tasty! Try 'em today!

Maple Bacon Cupcakes:
1/3 cup butter, softened 
1/3 cup bacon fat, firm (refrigerated)
1-1/2 cups brown sugar 
2 eggs 
1 teaspoon maple extract 
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup milk
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled 

 In a large bowl, cream butter, bacon fat and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in maple. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with milk. Fold in bacon pieces. (Do not over-mix.) Fill paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. Frost cupcakes. Yield: 18 cupcakes

Maple Bacon Frosting:

5 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons bacon fat, firm (refrigerated)
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
3-4 tablespoons milk

In a bowl, cream butter and bacon fat. Beat in sugar and maple. Add in enough milk to reach your desired consistency.

Note: I definitely recommend using cupcake liners with these, and they're best served fresh. They have to be refrigerated, and in my opinion aren't as good cold. Bring them up to room temperature before serving if they've been refrigerated. 

New Recipe Experiments

I haven't been making up a lot of new recipes lately, but I've been trying out some from other sources. I've found several that are real keepers!

I've used two gnocchi recipes over the last couple of months that were terrific:
*Gnocchi Mac & Cheese
*Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gouda Cheese Sauce - I added thyme and sauteed ham to the sauce.

These Parmesan Roasted Potatoes are simple and pretty similar to my Roasted Rosemary Potatoes in ingredients and method, but my takeaway from this recipe is that you don't have to use a baking sheet! I made this in a regular baking dish and they turned out beautifully.

Last night I made a batch of Sneaky Vegetable Muffins and thought they turned out really well. Different, but good! I used green onion instead of regular white onion, but kept everything else the same. I don't know what "Tasty" cheese is, but I used sharp cheddar. They were almost a cross between a quiche and a muffin.

A few weeks ago, I made Bacon Cheddar Puffs when we had some friends over to play cards. Two tips - don't under cook them, and don't make them too big or they won't "puff".

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cottage Cheese

I know, most of you cringed at the title of this post! I don't like the stuff either! But my girls love it and always have. It was a great transitional food for them when they were getting used to chunkier baby foods. It has tons of protein, which is good for when stronger tasting protein-rich foods aren't so palatable to baby. They like it now with a touch of caramel sauce or blended with fruit. At any rate, I did some research on how to make my own since it can be kind of expensive - especially considering how much the girls love it! It's slightly cheaper to make it, and though I won't do it all the time it was a fun experiment. I used Alton Brown's recipe, followed it exactly, and it turned out perfectly! The only slight modification I made was to mix the finished cheese with whole milk instead of half and half or cream.

My Oldest Girl says it's no Breakstone's, though! Oh, well.