Archive for June, 2009

Old Fashioned “Ice Cream” Cake

Monday, June 29th, 2009
Old Fashioned "Ice Cream" Cake

Old Fashioned "Ice Cream" Cake

I am always curious when someone provides a new unique recipe to try.  I had overheard my friend Katie talking about her father’s favorite childhood cake, an Old Fashioned Ice Cream Cake. Katie’s  Aunt Theresa sent her the recipe and she was going to surprise her Dad with this cake for Father’s day. 

Typical me, I asked for a copy so I could make it too.   The name alone intrigued me, Ice Cream Cake, yet there was no sign of ice cream.  The recipe was originally pulled from Readers Digest and soon became a fan favorite with my friend Katie’s family. 

Old fashioned cake recipes always appear to be simple to make, this was not the case for this cake. The prep and process proved to be anything but easy.  I started the same as always when trying a new recipe - First, I make sure I have read through the ingredients and steps a few times.  Second, I pull all ingredients out. Third, I get the oven heating and grease and flour any pans I may need.  Ready to work!

It would be wise to start with the Ice Cream Cake Frosting (boiled milk frosting) if you plan on making this one…it needs time to cool.  Constant stirring is the key to avoid large lumps.  Do not skip the straining part!  Once frosting base is made, set it aside to cool and start sifting the flour…seven times that is.  I am assuming the flour needs to be sifted so thoroughly due to the fact there is no leavening agent in this cake, and it is eventually folded with egg whites.  While the sifting marathon is going on, I had my egg yolks beating with sugar in a stand mixer until they where a ribbon consistency. 

This cake recipe only calls for the juice and zest of one lemon, although next time around I would zest two lemons for extra pizzazz.  There are so many eggs in this cake that it has a very eggy taste and smell; more lemon may have offset this.  Texture-wise this cake was lovely, light and airy.  Taste-wise, I felt it was missing something.   I had a piece for breakfast the following day, it tasted like a whole different cake – it was much less eggy and the lemon flavor was much more apparent.  Conclusion…make a day ahead and store in the fridge before serving! 

Aunt Theresa’s Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients:
  • 11 eggs, separated at room temperature
  • 1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 heaping cup flour + 3 tablespoons, sifted 7 times
  • The juice of ½ a lemon and the rind

Preparation:

1.) Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.) Prepare two 10 inch cake pans with butter and flour
3.) Beat egg yolks and sugar until they are thick and lemony yellow.
4.) Add lemon juice.
5.) Add lemon rind to sifted flour.
6.) Add flour one tablespoon at a time.
7.) In another mixing bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
8.) Fold in about a tablespoon of flour.
9.) Fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture.
10.) Pour into prepared cake pans and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. Cool on racks.

Fresh Out Of The Oven

Fresh out of the oven...

Ice Cream Cake Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 sticks of unsweetened butter
  • 1 – 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

1.) Boil ½ cup milk in a saucepan.
2.) Meanwhile mix remaining ½ cup milk and ½ cup flour in bowl with a whisk.
3.) Add mixture to boiling milk. Whisk thoroughly, cooking until thick.
4.) Press through a strainer to ensure smooth filling.
5.) Cool completely.
6.) Cream butter and sugar together until smooth.
7.) Slowly add milk and flour mixture…blend till smooth

Happy Birthday Nathan!

Nathan celebrates his birthday with an Old Fashioned "Ice Cream" Cake!

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
Quinoa Salad with Black Beans

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans

I am currently in South America – Buenos Aires to be more precise.  So far, I am pleasantly surprised.  The people are warm and inviting; the food has been amazing; our hotel is surrounded by small shops, markets and trendy restaurants.  More details on my trip, the food and everything else that goes along with the travel experience to follow in a later post. The point of this post is to discuss cooking with the ancient “grain” quinoa, from South America, and it just so happens I am in South America.  There…I have made the connection.  On we go.

I discovered quinoa (pronounced Keen – wah) a few years back while looking for a vegetarian filling for stuffed peppers that was more nutritious than rice. For most, quinoa is known as a type of grain, not entirely true though.  If you want to get techinical, quinoa is actually a seed; it is referred to as a grain because of its cooking characteristics. 

Quinoa has a very delicate flavor and a lovely texture.  People have said it is similar to couscous – I disagree.  The texture is soft, yet there is slight bite from the spiral tail of the quinoa.  Spiral tail?  Yes, as quinoa cooks the outer germ around each grain twists to form a white spiral tail.  This tail is what gives it a pleasant bite or crunch.  The texture combination is why I love quinoa – it is heartier, more nourishing than other grains.  And thanks to its recent exposure in cooking magazines and shows, you can easily find quinoa at most supermarkets and at natural foods stores. 

Quinoa - Close Up

Quinoa - Close Up

Quinoa is high in fiber, calcium and iron, low in fat and is very easy to digest.  Compared to other grains, quinoa is the highest in complete protein which makes it an ideal ingredient for vegetarians.  Quinoa is so nutritious in fact, that it was used to sustain Incan armies who would march for several days on a simple mixture of quinoa and fat, or “war balls” as they called them.  As I stated previously, quinoa is an ancient grain; records show that quinoa has been cultivated in the South American Andes since around 3000 BC.  Quinoa has only been grown outside of South America for a relatively short period of time.  In the US, most quinoa comes out of Colorado.

So, how do you cook this stuff?  I cook my quinoa in a saucepan, a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa.   For the liquid, I usually substitute stock for water as the grains absorb so much of the flavor.   Rinse your quinoa before cooking to remove any leftover residue.  I bring my stock up to a boil, add the quinoa and reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover.  I usually let it sit for about 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.   Then I fluff with a fork and set aside.  Don’t worry too much if there is a bit of excess water on the grains – it tends to evaporate as it sits.  If you feel compelled, you can always drain in a wire strainer.  I suggest reading the instructions on your box as each variety of quinoa cooks differently.  Trial and error works best when cooking quinoa. 

Uncooked Quinoa and Vegetable Stock

Uncooked Quinoa and Vegetable Stock

Quinoa can be used in hot and cold salads and casseroles, or you can add quinoa to soups and stews for more substance.  This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found on EpicuriousQuinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro.  I used roasted red peppers and ancho chili powder for an even richer, smokier “southwest” flavor.  The fresh cilantro adds a bright flavor to the recipe, you notice it immediately – it screams “fresh”.   

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans
Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, drained
  • 3 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • Feta cheese, cut into small cubes

Directions:

1.) Prepare your quinoa to the package directions. Rinse before cooking.  Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.

2.) Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

3.) Stir in the roasted red peppers, ancho chili powder and cumin and salt.

4.) Remove the mixture from heat, place in a large bowl and let stand to cool.

5.) Once your onion mixture is cool, add the black beans, ¼ cup of the cilantro and quinoa.

6.) Just prior to serving sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup of cilantro and feta cheese. This dish is served at room temperature.  Taste again, season with salt and pepper as needed.

Happy Father’s Day…Dad!

Sunday, June 21st, 2009
Lookin Good Dad!

Lookin Good Dad!

Happy Father’s Day – We Love You!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pecan Topping

Friday, June 19th, 2009
Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Pecan Topping

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Pecan Topping

Looking for a tasty, healtier alternative to mashed potatoes?  My mashed sweet potatoes are sweet, crunchy, creamy – just delicious.  They work well with most of your summer time staples…hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken – the list goes on and on. 

A tip to make this recipe even easier is to buy the pre-wrapped sweet potatoes that you microwave. There is no need to remove the wrapping, pierce or wash – just throw them in the microwave for about 5-10 minutes.  For this recipe I microwaved 4 at a time.

Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, remove them from the microwave and let them cool; you want them cool to the touch so you can remove the inside goodness from the skin.  Once they are cooled, slice them in half and spoon out the inside into a baking dish and mash them with a potato masher.

Mash the Sweet Potatoes With a Potato Masher

Mash the Sweet Potatoes With a Potato Masher

This recipe is not only simple, it is nutritious.  Sweet potatoes packed with vitamin A, they are also a great source of vitamin C, iron, calcium and fiber.  The recipe does, however, contain a good amount of sugar and fat in it.  But don’t worry – if you are cooking for someone on a special diet it is easy to adjust this recipe. I was cooking for my mother, so I adjusted a portion of the recipe to suit her diet; I used less of the topping (contains brown sugar and butter) on her portion.  Sweet potatoes are a good option for diabetics as they have the lowest glycemic index rating amongst all root vegetables.

If you wanted to adjust the sugar content even further to make a diabetic friendly version, I would suggest eliminating the brown sugar completely from the topping and replacing the maple syrup with sugar-free syrup.  Sweet Potatoes are naturally sweet so they don’t need much help.

I tried both the full fat, full sugar version and the trimmed version and I must say – they were both excellent.

Ingredients:

Topping:

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, I use the Pecan Pie glazed Pecans by Emerald Nuts
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

The Rest:

  • 6 prewrapped microwavable sweet potatoes
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

1.) Mix the brown sugar, pecans and butter in small bowl. Set aside – preferably in the fridge to chill.

2.) Prepare a glass baking dish with butter. I simply put a bit of butter on a paper towel and wipe. You could even substitute canola oil as well.

3.) Cook your sweet potatoes in the microwave. Remember, you have to pierce sweet potatoes before putting them in the microwave unless you buy the pre-wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes. Cook on high for about 8-10 minutes until tender to the touch. Let cool.

4.) Once your sweet potatoes are cool, place them in a dish and mash with a potato masher.

5.) Beat eggs, maple syrup, vanilla, lemon juice and salt in large bowl. Mix in the mashed sweet potatoes.

6.) Transfer sweet potato mixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle pecan topping evenly over mixture.

7.) Bake until sweet potato mixture is set and the pecan topping bubbles, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes and serve.

A Bit of Heaven, Goat Cheese with Honey

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Goat Cheese with Honey from Whole Foods

Goat Cheese with Honey from Whole Foods

Goat cheese with honey is simple and delicious.  This discovery was found at one of my favorite hang outs, the Whole Foods in Oakville, Ontario.  I am positive that most Whole Foods carry this tasty little treat – it is located in by the prepared foods near the cheese section.  

To some, this may sound like an odd flavor combination – but honestly, cheese and honey go so well together – especially goat cheese and honey.  That slight tang of the goat cheese is complimented so well with the sweetness of the honey.    

The texture of the goat cheese with honey is extremely creamy and it spreads smoothly.  It works well paired with sliced apples as well as spread straight onto a toasted baquette. 

If you don’t have a Whole Foods in your area – you can easily make a goat cheese and honey dip at home. 

Goat Cheese With Honey Dip

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces local goat cheese, bring to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons honey, I like to use a local honey

Directions:

1. Mix the goat cheese and honey together until well-blended and smooth.

2. Place the goat cheese and honey mixture in a bowl – serve with crostini, figs, apples, pears and nuts.  A truly delicious and simple recipe.

My Favorite Tomato Bruschetta

Saturday, June 13th, 2009
Tomato Bruschetta

Tomato Bruschetta

A tomato and basil bruschetta is a classic combination. It’s simple, it’s rustic – it’s delicious.  Bruschetta is a good starter to any meal.

The key to good bruschetta is a good quality baguette.  Even when you want to save time, please don’t be tempted to by the pre-cut, pre-made crostini – they are almost always stale.  Buy a baguette and slice and toast it at home. Ciabatta can also work for your bruschetta.  Here is my favorite variation – Tomato Bruschetta.

Ingredients:

  • Baguette or crusty long loaf bread, sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, 2 minced, 1 set aside
  • Pint of tomatoes, halved, seeded and chopped ( I used a variety pack for more color)
  • Good handful of fresh basil leaves (about 1/3 cup)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling  
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Coarse salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2.) Place bread slices on a baking sheet. Brush a bit of olive oil on each slice. Toast in oven for about 3-5 minutes or until light golden brown. After the bread is removed from the oven, rub a sliced clove of garlic on the toasted side of each slice of bread. Set bread aside.

3.) Place the seeded and chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, a good drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Use a good quality, coarse salt – a kosher or even better, maldon sea salt. It does wonders for the tomatoes.

4.) Pile basil leaves on top of one another and roll into a log. Thinly slice basil into green confetti and loosely combine with the tomato mixture.

5.) Gently combine all of the ingredients. Place your toasts around the bowl of tomato topping. Place a spoon to scoop topping in bowl and serve.

Food Finds – Cakes, Cupcakes & Cookies

Friday, June 12th, 2009
My Food Finds - Unique Cakes, Cupcakes and Cookies

My Food Finds - Unique Cakes, Cupcakes and Cookies


Corn on the Cob Cupcakes
Clever Cupcakes out of Montreal, Quebec prepared these cute corn themed cupcakes for a corn on the cob party (a popular tradition in Quebec).  I love the variety of toppers on each cupcake, all keeping with the corn theme – corn holders, a slice of corn on the cob, corn kernels, salt packets and pats of butter. 

Check out Clever Cupcakes for ideas for your next party.  Or, even better - order some if you are ever in the Montreal area.

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Creative Cake Art
You won’t believe these cakes and cake toppers!  Sarah Cowell of Melbourne, Australia is a true cake artist to say the least.  Her ultra-realistic chameleon cake is just one of the many cakes in her portfolio that will have you ogling.

Her cake portfolio includes life-like replicas of her clients, creepy characters, bachelor party cakes and much more.  Check out her incredible cake portfolio.

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Adorable Bridal Shower Cookies
Marian, from Sweetopia, is a master of cookie decorating.  I love the combination of green apples and blushing brides.  The detail in these cookies is incredible; the white line down the apple to accentuate the curve, the jeweled details and disco dust on the brides dress – so perfect! 

Her cookies are little works of art.  View all of her decorated cookies here - the Rainbow Tea Party Cookies are colorful masterpieces as well.

Sweetopia's Green Apple Bridal Shower Cookies

Sweetopia's Green Apple Bridal Shower Cookies

Sugar Cookies

Thursday, June 11th, 2009
Yum! Sugar Cookies Rolled in Sanding Sugars

Yum! Sugar Cookies Rolled in Sanding Sugars

This weekend my family and I will be doing a bit of camping with some friends.  Like always, I have been selected to provide the sweet treats.  I love cupcakes, but have a strange feeling they won’t hold up in outdoor conditions.  Cookies to the rescue! 

Cookies can be packed in ziplock bags and don’t take up much space, plus they can be eaten on the run.  I needed a cookie that was simple and a crowd pleaser. I make chocolate chip and oatmeal are cookies  on a regular basis so why not switch it up and make that fan favorite…sugar cookies.  I hit my favorite recipe sites and decided upon Alton Brown’s sugar cookie recipe

Like all new recipes, I always do a test batch to see if it’s a keeper.  These cookies, in my opinion, are more like butter shortbread than classic sugar cookie. They have a bit heavier bite to them and far less sweetness…something I enjoy.  Also they definitely will stand up to the outdoors.  I jazzed them up with a handful of mini chocolate chips and green and white sanding sugar on the edges.  They may even make a great alternative s’more…hum?

White and Green Sanding Sugars

White and Green Sanding Sugars

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Directions:

1.) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

2.) Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color.

3.) Add egg and milk and beat to combine.

4.) Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl.

5.) Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

6.) Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill.

7.) Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time.

8.) Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Cookie, Anyone?

Cookie, Anyone?

Cooking with Orzo

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
Orzo Salad With Radicchio

Orzo Salad With Radicchio

I love pasta – all shapes and sizes of pasta, especially orzo.  Orzo in Italian literally translates to barley, which is what it was originally made from.  In the US, orzo is known as rice shaped pasta – which is exactly what it is.  It is a pasta that is made from hard wheat semolina that looks like a piece of rice.  Its unique size and shape make it so versatile.  It makes excellent warm and cold salads; add a protein and it would make a satisfying main; add it to soups to make them a bit heartier.   It is a great partner with several different flavors and ingredients.

When it is cooked properly I like to describe it as having a “creamy bite” –  a creamy texture with a nice bite.  Like all pasta, cook it al dente.  Use a large pot;  just like you would cook any other pasta,  you want to give the orzo space to move around in the liquid. 

Orzo, Up Close

Orzo, Up Close

I usually cook my orzo in a mixture of equal parts water and chicken stock.  It adds extra flavor to the orzo.  You could certainly try other stocks to achieve different results…orzo is a blank canvas.

Once the orzo is cooked, it is time to give it a quick rinse and then drain thoroughly.  There is nothing worse than a “wet” orzo salad.  If it is warm and wet, it is sure to end up a gummy mess. 

Draining can be tricky.  The best method I have found is to drain it in a wire strainer or sieve, shaking it around well.  I’ve gone as far as to pour the cooked, pre-drained orzo out onto a large tea towel to remove extra moisture. It’s a pretty good method actually – make sure your tea towel is large, spread the orzo out onto the towel and gently pat the grains down with a paper towel.  Fold up the edges of the tea towel to make for easy transport.

Having tried many prepared orzo salads from specialty markets and grocery stores, I am convinced the best tasting are the ones you make at home.  Usually the store bought orzo salads tend to be gummy or contain way too much oil.

This orzo salad recipe was adapted from a friend’s recipe.  Thanks Cindi – love this orzo salad!

Orzo Salad with Radicchio
6 servings

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo
  • 1/3 cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (or less, depending on how much oil the sun dried tomatoes added)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped 
  • 1 1/2 cups radicchio, finely chopped (about 1 small head)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Romano cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

Directions:

1.) Cook orzo until firm to bite, but tender. 

2.) Rinse and drain orzo well. 
 
3.) Transfer the orzo to a large bowl.  Add sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and kalamata olives.  Mix and let stand until cool. 

4.) Add the radicchio, pine nuts, Romano cheese and fresh basil.  Taste, and then season with salt and pepper.    

Easy Shrimp Cocktail

Monday, June 8th, 2009
Shrimp Cocktail Made Easy

Shrimp Cocktail Made Easy

There is not much better than fresh shrimp cocktail.  That is probably why you see it served at most gatherings – from small get-togethers to the most special of holiday parties.  When it’s good, it’s oh so good.   The best shrimp are sweet in flavor, with a crisp texture when you bite into them. 

Let me ask you this though….what do you think of when you hear “shrimp cocktail”?  The sad fact is that most people envision that dreaded shrimp ring.  You know it – you’ve probably bought one – the black plastic ring holding several tiny, wet, rubbery shrimp - the sad container of bland cocktail sauce.   

Next time you are planning a get together, do yourself a favor – do your guests a favor and walk right past those shrimp rings.  Instead, head straight to the seafood counter and purchase some frozen, uncooked shrimp or very, very recently thawed uncooked shrimp. 

Why frozen?  Good question!  When you see shrimp at the seafood counter that is not frozen – chances are it was at one time.  So, unless you know exactly when that shrimp was thawed, it may be best to purchase frozen uncooked shrimp and thaw when needed.  Unfrozen shrimp only have a shelf life of two days.  My advice, get to know your fish monger.  Chances are, they won’t steer you wrong.

Shrimp Cocktail

What You’ll Need:

  • large pot or skillet
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • large handful of parsley
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • shrimp/prawn of your choice. We used Hawaiian Blue Prawn.
Hawaiian Blue Prawn for Shrimp Cocktail

Hawaiian Blue Prawn for Shrimp Cocktail

Directions:

1.) Add 1 inch of water to the bottom of your large pot or skillet.  Add 1 stalk of celery, a handful of fresh parsley, a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning  and a hearty pinch of salt to the water. 

2.) Bring the water to boiling, add your shrimp.  The shrimp will cook quickly – only for about three to four minutes – depending on size.

3.) Remove from heat and drain.  Serve hot or cold with your favorite cocktail sauce.  Our favorite cocktail sauce consists of a few tablespoons of the hottest horseradish we can find mixed with ketchup and a squeeze of lemon.


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