Tuesday, March 31, 2009

.carrot cake balls.

I've been thinking about Easter.  It's coming up soon, you know.  Well, I wanted to put together a variety of Spring-type desserts and foods and put them here on the blog.  

What do you traditionally have at Easter anyway?  I usually do a ham with herbed gratin potatoes, some type of veggie and/or salad, rolls, and a dessert -- usually lime pie.  I'm thinking of doing something different this year and would love to hear what you fix.

So back to these Easter-y, Spring-y recipes.  The lemon meringue cupcakes fit into this group as do these:  Carrot cake balls.  Yummy!  I'm sure your family and friends will enjoy these nuggets of goodness this Easter holiday!

Begin by making 1 carrot cake.  (recipe)

Then make some cream cheese frosting by creaming 1/2 cup butter and 1 8oz pkg cream cheese.  With the mixer on low, slowly add 4 cups powdered sugar.  When all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, add 1 tsp vanilla.

Now comes the fun part -- crumbling the cake!!  Get the kids involved if you want.  There's no wrong way to do this but just make sure they break it apart good enough so there aren't big chunks.

Spoon in the cream cheese frosting (yes, ALL of it!)  If you think this might be too sweet, then by all means, don't dump it all in.

Mix well with using a spatula.

I've heard people using a teaspoon, spooning some out, rolling it in their hands, and then dipping in chocolate.  I didn't have that kind of time because the hubs was taking these to work so I used my small (2 Tbsp) ice cream scooper.  It worked PERFECTLY!!!  I really suggest going that route.

My freezer isn't wide enough to slip a cookie sheet in there, so I used plates.  See how yummy those look?

Before dipping in chocolate, you're definitely going to want to put these in the freezer for awhile (like an hour or longer) to firm them up and make them not so sticky.

Recipes I have seen called for regular chocolate.  Chocolate and carrot cake doesn't sound good to me, so I used white chocolate. 

If you've never worked with white chocolate, it can be a total pain.  It needs to be melted on LOW heat and watched like a hawk.  If you start getting it too hot, it will begin seizing on you.  If this happens, add a little vegetable oil to bring some fat back into the equation and work out the lumps.  It's happened to me so I know. :)

However, what I did *this* time was use 1 1/2 bags Ghiradelli white chocolate and 1 bag Wilton vanilla candy chips.  The candy chips aren't nearly as fussy as white chocolate and I didn't run into any seizing problems.

I apologize for not having pictures of the actual dipping process but it's pretty straight forward.  You do NOT want to put the balls directly into the chocolate because it will 1) warm them too much and 2) they'll start breaking apart and you'll have cake pieces in your chocolate.  Not what we want.

So put a cake ball directly on a fork (or candy fork) and use a spoon to ladle the chocolate over the cake balls.  I kept a knife handy (just a small paring knife) to push the cake ball from the fork to a piece of parchment.  The parchment was sitting on  bakers rack.  Repeat this until all of the cake balls have been coated.  Put these in the fridge to firm up the chocolate.

I had leftover chocolate, so I tinted a little green, a little orange, and put into piping bags and made little carrots on top.  (That way they know what kind of yummy carrot goodness awaits them!)

These were a lot of fun to make and even though they were for my husband's co-workers, I did try one (poison testing!!) and they were fabulous!!!

Trim off any excess chocolate at the base of the balls if you want.  These need to be stored in an air-tight container in either the fridge or freezer.  They can be held up to a week in the fridge.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

.lemon chicken.

So the other day I asked you guys what I should make for dinner. Mango Shrimp or Lemon Chicken. Well, DH woke up wanting chicken so I went with the latter choice. Here in this town we moved to, there's a chinese restaurant but honestly, in my opinion, it really stinks. The food is just awful and there are no other chinese choices so if we want that type of food, I have to make it myself. I'm not complaining, but making chinese food can be very time consuming. This dish, however, isn't bad at all. In fact, you can have this made in about 45 minutes! You can't beat that!

The chicken is going to take the longest because we have to ensure it's baked through. Yes.. I said baked. Instead of deep frying and having all of those extra calories, we're going to put this in the oven.

Start by taking 4 chicken breasts (or 1 per person) and put on some saran. Wrap the saran so that it's on the top and bottom of the breast. Using a mallet or a heavy saucepan, pound out the thickest part of the breast. We want to make sure the chicken is the same thickness throughout to ensure even baking.

Season the breasts with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle some flour on both sides of the chicken and rub in to coat.

In two separate bowls, put 2 eggs in one, and some panko in another. Panko is japanese bread crumbs that are super super fine and light. I love them and they are essential in Japanese/Chinese cooking.

First coat the chicken breasts in the egg, then put in the panko and make sure they are well breaded.

Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish and place the chicken breasts in. Pop in a 350* oven for about 30 minutes. To check if they're done, touch the chicken breast and if it's still squishy (which it shouldn't) then cook a little longer. The breast should be firm but not hard.

Now, while the chicken is in the oven, make the rice. The rice will take 20 minutes to prepare. In a pot put 2 cups rice and 3 3/4 cups water. Bring to a boil and stir. Put a lid on, turn the heat down to low low low and let it steam for 20 minutes. You will *always* have perfect rice doing it this way.

Once the rice has been put on the burner, let's make the lemon sauce. So super easy!

Juice enough lemons to make 2/3 cup. This took us about 6 small lemons. Strain so there are no seeds and put in a saucepan.

In the same saucepan, add 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup water, a couple shakes of black pepper and 1 Tbsp cornstarch. Whisk everything together.

Before you throw away the juiced lemon rinds, use a vegetable peeler to peel off some of the zest. We don't need a lot but just enough to give a yummy lemon boost to the sauce.

And then, of course, you will want to thinly slice a lemon. Make sure you remove all the seeds. These will be added to the sauce at the very end to give it visual prettiness. :)

The sauce itself, does not take long to cook. Maybe 7 minutes, so don't make too early or else it could form a skin on top.
All you have to do is put the saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil, whisking consistently. Do not add the lemon zest and slices until the sauce has been completely thickened.
That's it! So simple!

Remove the chicken from the oven, let rest for a minute, then slice on the diagonal against the grain. Plate and spoon on some of the lemon sauce. Serve with rice. I also served mine with broccoli made asian style. If you're interested in that recipe, read on. Otherwise, bon appetit!

Asian style Broccoli

3 cups cooked broccoli
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce (aka mushroom soy sauce)
1 cup beef or chicken stock
2 tsp cornstarch
salt and pepper
In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp of oil. Saute the garlic for a minute. Don't let burn. Add the broccoli and coat with the oil and garlic. In a small bowl, add all of the liquids and whisk well with the cornstarch. Pour into the broccoli and stir until thick. Season with salt and pepper.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

What's for Dinner?

TGIF everyone!  Thought I would start the weekend with a poll:

What's for dinner?

I'm waffling between two different things and thought maybe you all could help finalize the menu.

So... should I make Lemon Chicken -or- Mango Shrimp?  (Can you tell I'm in a fruity mood?  Dad, don't you DARE say a thing. lol)

Hope you all have a great weekend!!!


.pasta e fagioli.

To me, soup means comfort and I love comfort foods.  This recipe for Pasta e Fagioli was one I found in a new cookbook I bought about a month ago.  I changed it a little and it was so tasty.  If you've ever had this at the Olive Garden, you'll know it's kind of an Italian style chili with pasta and beans and a rich tomato broth.  It's also very easy to make so if you have a child in your home who likes to help in the kitchen, this is the perfect dish to prepare for little hands.

You'll need 3 carrots, cut up, 1 onion, diced, 4 celery stalks cut up, and 1 clove garlic, minced.

The recipe in the cookbook did not call for any meat, but we had to put some in.  I had some spicy italian sausage in the freezer that I thawed and used.  Remove the meat from the casing.  (If you want exacts, I used three sausage links.)

In a soup pot, heat some olive oil.  Saute the garlic and a bay leaf for a minute.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn.

Add the sausage and start breaking it apart as it cooks.  

When the sausage is almost cooked through, add the onion, carrot, and celery.  Stir well and cook until the onions are almost translucent.

Add 5 cups beef broth (you can easily use vegetable broth if you want to keep this vegetarian) and 1 jar spaghetti sauce.

I used a garlic and olive oil flavored sauce from Bertolli.

Without straining either of these, dump in 2 cans Cannellini beans and 1 can diced tomatoes.

Make sure you season at this point with some salt, pepper, and 2 tsp oregano.

Stir everything well and let it come to a boil.  Cover and reduce to low.  Let this cook for about an hour.  The longer you let it simmer, the more those flavors have a chance to marry.

For the pasta, I used ditalini, which is a short macaroni noodle.  It has a nice firm texture that holds up well in the soup.  You can swap this out using orzo or elbow macaroni.

About 30 minutes before serving, cook half the box in it's own pot of boiling water.  The reason why I use a separate pot to cook the pasta it will take away all of the liquid in the soup if you threw it into the main pot.  This way, if you cook to al dente, you'll have cooked pasta that still has room to absorb the flavor of the soup, but it won't take away all that delicious tomato goodness.

Drain the pasta well and add to the soup pot.  Stir well.

Serve and top with some fresh grated parmesan cheese.  Fresh baked italian bread is the perfect companion.  I love using it to sop up the broth in the bowl.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

.asian style brisket.

***This is probably the EASIEST, MOST DELICIOUS recipe you will EVER EVER MAKE!!!!!****
 :D :D :D

Asian Style Brisket!!!  And this is the ONLY picture you need to make it.  Seriously.  All you have to do is take a 2-3 pound piece of beef brisket, trim the fat off, put it in a baking dish and dump on the asian sauce.

What goes in the asian sauce, you ask?  Easy easy easy.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin (found in the oriental section of your grocer)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced ginger

Cover the baking dish well with foil and pop in a 200* oven for about 6-7 hours.  You could probably put this in a crockpot too.

It turned out so moist, and so delicious.  Serve with rice and veggie.  The perfect Sunday night meal.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

.salmon w/ cheesy crumb topping.

I have a very easy, delicious recipe for you.  Salmon with a cheesy, crumb topping.  I received this month's issue of Woman's Day a week ago and while flipping through it came across this recipe.  I tweaked it a little because I didn't have everything they listed, but it was very good and something I will be making again.

I realized I don't make nearly enough fish and that's something I want to fix.  Paige isn't quite excited about the plan though, but she did eat the salmon, and picked off the cheesy topping.  Go figure.

In a mixing bowl, put 1 8oz package cream cheese (I used low fat), 1 cup bread crumbs (fresh preferred), 1 tsp dill, 1 tsp thyme, 1 clove minced garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

Cut a salmon fillet into individual pieces and put in a baking dish that has been drizzled with olive oil.  Make sure you put the skin side down.

Spoon the cream cheese topping on top of the salmon.  Use your finger to push around if you need to.  Pop in a 350* oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes.  When the flesh is a light pink the salmon is done. 

So super easy and healthy, and delicious.  While the salmon was in the oven, I sauteed some fresh spinach leaves with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper.  I put a spoonful on the plate and rested some salmon right on top.  Delicious!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

.lemon meringue cupcakes.

My mom always taught me, when life hands you lemons... make lemon meringue cupcakes.  Okay, maybe she didn't really teach me that, but today is so gloomy and yucky that I needed to make something to bring a little sunshine into my family's life.  And what's better than cake, and lemon, and fluffy, toasted meringue?  (I can't think of much else)

Someday I really would love to open another bakery and offer a big line of cupcakes.  These will definitely be on the menu because they were so delicious.  A little sweet, a little tart.... yum yum yum!

There are three steps to making these.  Step 1:  The lemon curd.  Step 2:  Lemon cake.  Step 3:  Fluffy meringue.  You can buy the lemon curd if you need to, especially if you're in a hurry, but the curd *can* be made at least 2 weeks ahead of time and held in the fridge.

In a bowl, put 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks.  Make sure you reserve the whites from those 4 eggs in a separate bowl.  We'll need them for the meringue.

Whisk the eggs and yolks together.

Zest 3 lemons.  I use the small grater on my grate box to do this.  Don't zest your lemons too far in advance because these will dry out if left out too long.

Set the zest aside.

After you've zested, juice all three lemons.  Set aside.

In a saucepan put the 2 eggs/4 yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, and the lemon juice (which should be 1/2 cup).

Turn the burner onto LOW and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.  There will be lumps in this but don't be worried.  We'll take care of that in a minute.

Remove the curd from the burner.

Dump it all into a fine mesh seive and use the wooden spoon to force it through.  This will filter out any of those lumpy egg particles.  Make sure you scrape the bottom side of the seive once it's all been pushed through because there will be a lot clinging to it.

Add the lemon zest to the bowl and mix in.

Now take 4 Tablespoons of butter.  Drop one piece in at a time and stir as it melts.  This will incorporate the butter into the curd, giving it a velvety smooth texture.  Repeat until all of the butter has been added.  Do not add it all at once.  It won't work and will cool the curd off too fast before it all melts in.

Cover the curd with saran.  Make sure you let the saran sit directly on top of the surface.  This will keep a skin from forming.  Put in the fridge and allow to chill.

Now for the cupcakes!  In a mixing bowl, put 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temp and 1 cup sugar.  Cream until smooth.

Add 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition.

Make sure you scrape down the sides of your bowl too.

In a bowl, mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt.

In another small bowl put 1/2 cup buttermilk and 2 tsp oil.

Alternate adding the buttermilk and the flour mixture until it's all added.

Scrape sides with spatula.

Zest 1 lemon, and then juice it.  Add all of it to the bowl and mix well.

Spoon cake batter into a greased muffin tin about 2/3 full.

Put in a preheated 350* oven for about 20 minutes. 

Remove from the oven when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Pop from the pan and allow to cool on a baker's rack.

When they're finally cool, use a sharp knife to cut out the centers.  I removed some of the cake from the "lid".

Spoon some of the chilled curd into the little hole.  Put the lid back on top.

Place all of the filled cupcakes on a baking sheet.  Time to prepare the meringue.

Remember those 4 egg whites we saved from the curd?  We're going to need those.  They need to be almost room temperature.  You'll get fluffier egg whites if they lose the chill from the fridge.

When the whites start getting frothy, slowly add 1/2 cup sugar while the mixer is on.  (You should be whisking on high)

As soon as the sugar is poured in, add 1/4 tsp cream of tartar.  

Allow to whip until the meringue has nice, firm peaks.

It'll be like fluffy clouds of goodness!

Put the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a wide round tip.

Pipe onto the the surface of the cupcake.  I made it all spikey, but you can pipe it on however you like.

Pop under a broiler for a quick minute, keeping a VERY close eye on them.  If you do spikeys like I did, the tips will start to burn so you need to make sure you pull them out before you have a giant fireball of meringue in your oven.

Keep these stored in an air-tight container in the fridge (if they last that long).  

This recipe makes 1 dozen cupcakes.

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