My Cake Decorating Gallery

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Daring Bakers Do It Again: December 2009 Challenge, Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Well, I have made a gingerbread house once before (for my gingerbread house decorating party... where I made all four of the really!), but this was a "first" for me on many levels. I have never made a gingerbread house with windows or any kind of a light fixture, so that was a fun aspect to include. I also hadn't done any piping on the gingerbread pieces before assembling the walls of the house before but I also really liked that fact.

I have an old Wilton Gingerbread House/Holiday book from like 1983 thanks to my mom, and I thumbed through that to pick out my favorite project to work on. There were so many good ideas but this church was my favorite and I just had to do it. (I've always wanted to do a replica of my suburban house but that'll have to be for next time)... there were templates in the back of the book so I transferred them to parchment paper and then cut out poster board templates.

We were given two recipes to choose from but after comparing them to my tried-and-true 1980s recipe I just had to go with the one in the magazine. It seemed people were having problems with dry dough and mine is a dream to work with. Let me know if you'd like the recipe! Anyway, after rolling out the dough (chilling is not even necessary), I carved out all the pieces and baked and they all grew slightly but in the same amount so they assembled together nicely.

I waited for them to cool and worked on my electrical portion of the project. The nice man at Ace Hardware helped me set up a large battery that connected via wires to a socket and flashlight bulb which I inserted into a carved out whole of my two 16x16 cakeboards. It's not too festive looking if you look at the battery but all I have to do is make a connection with the wires and then the light is on. I should be able to use this year after year.

Next I whipped up some royal icing, also the recipe from the book - 3 tbsp meringue powder, 1 lb powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and 3.5 oz of warm water.. mix for 6 or 7 minutes until light and fluffy. This worked as a tasty and perfect glue for assembling my pieces. I used a small circle cake decorating tip to put designs around the windows of my walls. I also made some hard candy... which I subsequently forgot about and almost burned (but luckily it was a golden amber color when it was all said and done) and poured out hot sugar for my "glass shards" which would be pasted on for windows with more royal icing.

Once all of the pre-assembly details were done, it was time to put up the walls. That really didn't take long thanks to the royal icing and how quick it dries. Then the roof and the front part of the church. I also piped out a cross for the top and put on the door, but all the rest of the decorating would be saved for the next day.

The following day I had a "sugar party" which was similar to my gingerbread decorating party but we were decorating Christmas cookies and Christmas cupcakes instead.

It was very fun and I was happy to have Megan, Chris and Carol over, and they did an awesome job even though they claim to be novices.

After all the cookies and cupcakes, it was time to finish off my gingerbread church which had dried overnight. I used necco wafers for the roof and jelly bellies for the bottom border/foundation, and then silly gummy spearmint green candies for bushes. I used the rest of the frosting to make snow and eventually ran out but that was OK.

I was very pleased with my ltitle creation and I hope I will be able to donate it somewhere to some one who will enjoy it, as I have no kids and feel it is sort of a shame to let go to waste. Maybe some one on facebook will want it. :)

 Thanks to Anna and Y for such a fun challenge, I just loved it. Today (the 23rd) is my birthday and it is a great way to ring in my 29th year, by displaying a gingerbread church for all to enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Kitchen Bliss!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another Daring Cooks Adventure: Beef Wellington

Hi All! It's another delicious edition of the Daring Cooks and this month the challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online. This was very very exciting to me because while the salmon looked totally delicious, I have always wanted to make Beef Wellington.. it is one of our favorites and we get it almost every year for my birthday (though not needed this year) and we even had it for our wedding entree. I only had a chance to make the Beef Wellington (just in the nick of time yesterday!) but I would love to make the salmon recipe because it looks so delicious, and I bet my parents would love it too. (Sometimes The Husband needs some coaxing to eat fish...)

We had two holiday parties this past weekend - Friday and Saturday night - both with fancy and hearty meals so I must say we were feeling a little burnt out from fancy meals by the time it came to Sunday night's Beef Wellington. But.. for Daring Cooks.. the dinner must go on!

I tried a short crust pastry for a pumpkin/pecan pie I made for Thanksgiving and the crust was a little tough, so I was a little nervous to try out yet another short crust pastry but I felt that I should just try it again, that would be the main part of the challenge for me, plus I had all the ingredients. I put the crust together much like I remember Audax's awesome directions (in the Daring Cooks forum) and hoped for the best while it chilled. I always seem to need to add extra water to my crusts. Anyway, meanwhile, I made the duxelles .. I followed a recipe I saw online. Duxelles is a mixture of shallots, button mushrooms, garlic, and thyme all chopped up and sauteed which I then set aside to be wrapped around the meat. I had some leftover fillet of beef from a large Costco one that I chopped up and froze in pieces, which ended up being more than I expected and we had tons of leftovers! Some of the beef wellington recipes I saw online said to wrap the beef and duxelles with prosciutto but I have a vendetta against that stuff so I skipped it.

What I did do was follow the Good Food Online recipe and made some herb crepes. The purpose of these crepes (just milk, flour, herbs) is to absorb any extra liquid from the duxelles and meat, so that the flakey crust can stay nice and crisp. I laid down the crepes on plastic wrap, spread the duxelles mixture on top and then laid the seared beef across and wrapped everything up into a log. That got chilled while I rolled out my pastry.

The pastry worked out OK and I wrapped the log of meat in the pastry and popped it into the oven. I stuck an instant-read thermometer into the thickest end and waited for the meat to get to 123 degrees. This didn't take too long. I left the log to rest and the temperature did rise a good 10 degrees.

Even with how burnt out we were with holiday parties... we both agreed.. this was an awesome meal.  My fear of short crust pastry is no longer with me as this crust actually turned out flakey and delicious. Yay! Take that, Mom! This recipe is totally Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or New Years Eve-worthy... this would also be an excellent recipe to impress some dinner guests. You can make the duxelles and crepes in advance and the whole thing can be chilled.. it really isn't that much work, minus the quick pastry. I will definitely make this recipe again.. we served it with a Detroit specialty - Zip Sauce, and with some broccoli. Yum! Thanks to Simone for making me try this recipe and I can't wait to try the salmon version.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cannoli

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of  Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Gosh, I have the Soprano's cookbook but I didn't even bother to consult it and just used the recipe as posted in the The Daring Baker's forum. Anyway, YUM! I never deep fry anything - except a turkey here and there, and in fact I think it would be bad news for me to own a deep fryer, but these cannoli are proof that fried foods are as fantastic as ever. I have probably only had real cannoli once or twice, luckily I work with an Italian-American and he's brought in homemade delights before... and as soon as I put together this easy-to-assemble dough, the smell of the Marsala and cinnamon and cocoa really smelled exactly what a cannoli should smell like.

After refrigerating the dough overnight, it was time to start making the cannoli tubes! I rolled out the dough into to parts and used a 3-4in biscuit cutter which resulted in "small/medium" sized cannoli. The dough kept shrinking back on me but I tried to roll out the circles as thin as I could and wrap them around my brand new cannoli metal shape forms. I picked those up at the cake supply store by my house for only $4, wahoo! More kitchen utensils!

I didn't quite have 3 inches of oil but that was way too much for my 2-at-a-time cannoli cooking method. My Le Creuset worked out just fine for this task and I used metal tongs to place and remove the cannoli as they were frying. They only took a minute or two to brown up. I would've preferred the dough to be a little lighter so that I could enjoy that golden crispy glow a little bit more, as these probably look "burnt".. but just check out the color of my raw dough and know that I cooked them until crispy and that was it. :)

I only deep fried the tip of my middle finger for a moment.. yeoow.... but other than that, no injuries. I also didn't heed the recipe which said "wait for the cannoli forms to cool down before rolling another circle on".. I was too impatient and just went with it. I only had a few of my cannoli bust open due to a fault egg-white seam breaking, which those turned into puffy discs which were great taste testers for my fillings!

Let's talk about these killer fillings. First, I made half of Lisa's posted recipe using this wonderful mascarpone cheese which I picked up from a great market - Colasanti's in Milford. Oh it was soo creamy and sweet before I even added any sugar or flavoring, and you wouldn't believe it was cheese after this filling was complete. I skipped the candied orange peel and nuts since I didn't run into any at the store plus The Husband probably wouldn't like it, and just used chopped chocolate chunks. With the cinnamon and creaminess of the mascarpone, it was just such a wonderful filling. This was leagues ahead of that pesky "Pastry Cream" I made for the vols-au-vent Daring Bakers challenge... that pastry filling was pretty much just vanilla pudding. Now this mascarpone cannoli filling was so light and airy, my mom even had to ask me if I had whipped cream in there - nope! It was a perfect filling which I think would go wonderfully in cakes, doughnuts, and other pastries. Yum!! See the recipes below! To even top this awesome filling, I did dip a few of my cannoli into melted chocolate chips and roll them into chopped nuts.. that was SO good!

Second, and I hope I don't get Tony Soprano's mother to roll over in her grave, but.. I came up with a savory cannoli filling that was very unorthodox... I was thinking "hmm deep fried shell.... and.. .. how about mexican?? " I whipped up some refried beans and cheese and squirted that into the fried crispy shells. Topped with even more cheese and popped into the oven under the broiler for about 5 minutes, and these little puppies were delicious! These would be great with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and/or cilantro and they would make a very unusual and tasty appetizer. I had a little concern wondering what the marsala-cinnamon-chocolate dough would be like with beans, but have no fear - it was delightful.

So this was an extremely fun challenge - something totally off the wall for me that I would never have tried, and successes all around with both of my fillings. I was happy to be able to share these with my brother and sister-in-law who were up from South Carolina visiting us in Michigan. It's always nice to be able to share Daring Baker challenge goodies with friends and family and I think they picked a good weekend to visit!

Lidisano’s Cannoli

Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli

Prep time:
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes


2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish

Confectioners' sugar

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.


1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Gooey Bars - Revisited

These Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake Bars... my goodness, they are so delicious I have made 3 batches in the last few weeks! The first lucky recipients of a double batch were my coworkers during my annual chili cookoff at work.

However, my brother and sister-in-law were recently visiting us in Michigan and they had seen my previous post of the Pumpkin Gooey Bars and said "these look really good!" So, one more batch was whipped up in honor of their visit from South Carolina. It was even sunny when I was taking the pictures so check out this excellent looking portable stack of Pumpkin Gooey Bars which they got to bring home with them.

Thanks again to Paula Deen (click here for original post and recipe) for another delicious fall dessert adventure, this would be perfect for Thanksgiving dessert These are too easy and so delightfully delicious. I am even wondering if I should bother with the Epicurious version of Pecan Pumpkin Pie from Paul Prodhomme for Thanksgiving or if I should just make another batch of Pumpkin Gooey Bars in a springform pan and call it good! Let me know if you have an opinion on which I should do for Thanksgiving!

Thanks for visiting, Andrew and Jessie, we had a great time!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

This is certainly one of my family's favorite restaurants. My parents have only been able to go once or twice, while I was living in Ann Arbor, but The Husband and I used to make this a tradition to go for my birthday dinner to the establishment in Ferndale. The food and tea and setting are pretty much the same so just go to the one closest to you! The last few years we replaced the Blue Nile birthday tradition with the Holly Hotel to work into our schedules a little better, so we hadn't been in a few years but we finally talked my brother and sister-in-law into going during their brief visit to Michigan this past weekend. Oh yummy yum yum, it was just as delicious as we remembered!

This kind of cuisine needs a little bit of explanation - Ethiopian food isn't very common for Michiganders and I will admit I had no idea what to expect my first time visiting the Blue Nile when I was in college. First off, it's a really beautiful setting with rich tapestries, bright bold colors, and ethnic decor. The Ferndale location has many purple/blue/magent fabric umbrellas hanging upsidedown from the ceiling. It is a romantic setting and you typically have two options for styles of table - one is a more ethnic choice, either low chairs or normal chairs set around a tall basket. The food is served to you in the basket and everyone in your group leans over to eat from the same tray. Likewise, they have booths which you can also be served in, which might be more comfortable for those who do not like low tables.

What does it taste like? Well I can't really say it's like Indian because The Husband hates Indian but loves Blue Nile... but the style of stewing the meat and lentils seems similar... it's just a different flavor profile than Indian, like nothing we have had before anywhere else.

As far as I am concerned, there are only two options of menu items - Vegetarian or Meat. We always get the meat choice and it is around $19 per person... but before you freak out about spending that much on stewed meat and lentils, it is all-you-can-eat so you won't leave hungry or disappointed. The food is served family style - they bring out a big tray that is lined with their spongey edible "bread" called injera, and they have several bowls of various items to dump onto your injera-covered table. You also get a basket of injera which you use as a utensil to scoop up all of the delicious meat and lentil dishes.

Because we never spend much time looking at the menu, we don't usually learn the ethnic names of the dishes but I was able to do a little research. My all-time favorite "Spicy Beef" and "Spicy Chicken" are Zilzil Wat and Doro Wat... I must find a recipe for these dishes somewhere online. The Husband and I just totally love them. These are the dark red meaty items in the picture above. They also have a mild chicken and lamb dish, and our lamb was a little chewy this time but the chicken was very good.

That's it for the meat dishes and they surround all of those with several vegetable dishes - spicy red lentils (Yemisir Kik Wat), Kik Alecha (split yellow peas), Tekil Gomen (cabbage), Gomen (collard greens), and one of my favorites - Mixed Vegetables (it sounds simple but the potatoes, carrots, etc are totally delicious). There are few more veggie lentil/pea dishes too, and they're all very enjoyable.

I didn't realize this before but the website says that Ethiopian food is extremely healthy and has very little added fat, etc to their foods. I guess it is pretty healthy but - I usually eat waaaay too much here so I associate it with being incredibly full! I also always insist on getting the Ethiopian Tea which is basically cinnamon flavored but it is naturally sweetened with orange and lemon peel and I just love its spiciness and sweetness.

Anyway, if you are an adventurous diner and looking for a unique restaurant - something totally out of the ordinary - that's delicious, healthy and fun... then try the Blue Nile! It is one of our favorites and continues to be a family favorite, so I hope they stick around in Michigan.

The Blue Nile
545 West Nine Mile Rd
Ferndale, Michigan
Blue Nile Website

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Magic Blondies

Hmmm I must not have released this post because it was waiting for a picture, so it is a little old. This was the Cookies-For-A-Cause recipe I chose for August 28th...

A new fundraising record! These Magic Blondies from Martha Stewart's "Cookies" book were definitely tasty treats. I whipped up a double batch and they consist of blondie batter studded with walnuts (and some pecans which I had on hand), dried cherries, chocolate chips, and coconut. Then more coco-nut-choc-cherry topping goes on top and bake in easy-to-unwrap cupcake liners.

The recipe makes 12 but I squeezed out a few extra and brought the big batch into work. This was our highest amount of money that we were able to raise so far, and I am pleased to say that we raised $32.33 for the Alzheimer's Association, making our new total money raised over $200 just by my baking and my generous coworkers! As I've mentioned before, my Cookies for a Cause work as a one-woman bake sale - my donations are the ingredients and time baking and 100% of my coworkers' donations are given to charities of my choice.

I'll keep baking if they keep donating! Hope you enjoy if you try the recipe!

Magic Blondies
from here on Martha Stewart's website

Makes 1 dozen
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
9 tablespoons (1 1/8 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. Stir together coconut, chocolate, walnuts, and cherries in a medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until combined.

Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix, scraping down sides of bowl, until well combined. Mix in 1 cup coconut mixture.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each about three-quarters full. Sprinkle remaining coconut mixture over tops. Bake blondies until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 25 minutes. Blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.

From Holiday Cookies 2005, Special Issue 2005

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anne-Marie's Apple Cake

I work with a wonderful french lady who was nice enough to share her grandmother's recipe for a deliciously moist apple cake with me. The original recipe does not call for any cinnamon so the only change I made was add just a touch of cinnamon, and when I buttered the pan, I sprinkled cinnamon-sugar into the pan and swirled it around to cover the sides. It was delicious and worked out perfectly even though I thought it looked like too many apples when mixing the batter.. have no fear, it will work out great. I was happy to use my bundt pan, the poor neglected thing.

Anne-Marie's Applecake Recipe

3 eggs
250 g flour
150 g sugar
100 g butter
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small pieces
vanilla flour - 1 bag (I just used vanilla extract here)
optional - 1 tablespoon rum

2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon for pan

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a bundt pan and pour in cinnamon sugar, and shake and swirl until all of the sides and bottom are covered. In a large bowl, mix melted butter with sugar and add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract and rum if using. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda (and cinnamon) and then add into your egg mixture. Add the apples. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Loaf pan can also be used.

The directions were a little unclear with how hot and how long to bake the cake so I believe I took the average of the two temperatures, and baked the cake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy this delicious, moist amd simple apple cake! Thanks Anne-Marie! The Husband loved this recipe and so did Marco.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moroccan Slow-Cooked Lamb

Yes, this dish is totally fabulous!  I made this for a birthday celebration for my dad.. it was my mom's idea to do Moroccan and dad likes pretty much anything so I went with that idea. I just couldn't decide between our favorite Moroccan dish - Lemon, Olive, and Chicken Tagine recipe and this new Moroccan lamb stew recipe I saw on, which sounded equally as delicious. We don't have lamb very often, but I knew the chicken dish was a winner.. finally I decided, we're doing them both. Leftovers will be delicious, if there would be any, and we get to compare these two dishes side by side. We had already had our chicken tagine recipe for dinner on Wednesday but we were both like "I'd definitely have that again Sunday" and the lamb dish was going to offer a different set of flavors - apricots, chickpeas, fennel seeds, lemon, cinnamon, ginger... it sounded very flavorful!

Everything turned out perfectly - I followed the recipe exactly and sure enough, about an hour and a half later, the lamb was incredibly tender and the flavors were awesome. The sweetness of the apricots offset the spicy lamb and the chickpeas added a nice body to the stew. Topped with some fresh cilantro, and this is possibly our new favorite Moroccan dish. This is a must try, simply delicious.

Moroccan Slow-Cooked Lamb
Find the recipe here on

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds trimmed boned lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 15 1/2-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1 cup dried apricots (about 5 ounces)
2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons (packed) grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Mix first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add lamb to skillet and cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally and adding 2 more tablespoons oil to skillet between batches, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to another large bowl after each batch.

Add onion and tomato paste to drippings in skillet. Reduce heat to medium; sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add broth, garbanzo beans, apricots, tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and lemon peel and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return lamb to skillet and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until lamb is just tender, about 1 hour. Uncover and simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.)

Transfer lamb and sauce to bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Lime Meltaways

I thought these looked great from Martha Stewarts Cookie book, but I must say they were not the favorite cookie of anyone who tried them at work except my mom who also tried them. I guess some people don't like lime, and while I do and I thought the cookies were good, it's just not something I would ever crave or say "you have to try this right this second they are so good!" I thought the dough was a little salty and desparately needed a thick coat of powdered sugar around the outside, but it was still a nice cookie. I would be happy with this cookie if I wanted to make a festive cookie platter, this would be a nice cookie that would offer a sweet-tart counterpoint, something unusual but still tasty.

On the bright side, we did raise some money for Capuchin Soup Kitchen - I collected $15.93, bringing our grand total to $395.13 for various charities that I have chosen. As usual, my donation is the preparation and ingredients for the cookies (and sometimes a dollar or two if I eat one at work), and 100% of the money collected from my coworkers goes to charities. This is going awesome and we're almost to $400!!

I was happy to have inspired one of my best friends, Andrea, to try and start up a one-woman bake sale at her workplace. She was all fired up and brought in a batch of one of our favorites -  Brown Butter Toffee Bars - to her office.... and it turns out she wasn't allowed to be raising money at work!! So they made her take down her jar, even though she had already done really well with her collections, and we were both super bummed out about her not being able to carry on. Kudos to Dre for trying, anyway. Maybe they will change their rules... go to the head of HR!! :)

Lime Meltaways
Find the recipe here on Martha


Makes about 3 dozen

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt


Put butter and 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add lime zest and juice and vanilla, and mix until fluffy.

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Place each half on an 8-by-12-inch sheet of parchment paper. Roll in parchment to form a log 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow log. Refrigerate logs until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove parchment from logs; cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. While still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

From The Martha Stewart Show, March 2008

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Still The Ultimate Quiche

Today was my "bagel day" for the bagel club at work, and we have so many people in the club that the last time I brought in bagels was like February or something. I always like to do something a little special in addition to just bagels and donuts and coffee (Panera for bagels and coffee and Knapp's for the best donuts, in my opinion!) and I thought this time I would make a double batch of my Ultimate Quiche recipe that has turned out well in the past (Except for in Montana for whatever reason which caused me to believe my original post was in err but turns out it is correct!) I whipped up a batch of the recipe noted in my original Ultimate Quiche post here. I did make a few changes because of what I had on hand, so I just wanted to point that out:

* I only used 2 cups of heavy cream (actually slightly less and the rest was filled up with skim milk) and this didn't reduce the richness or deliciosity (haha not a word) at all

* I forgot to buy gruyere but luckily I had 6oz at home so I used monterrey jack cheese as the rest of the cheese and it turned out wonderfully, so any mix of swiss/white cheese is probably delightful.

I made the same changes to the original recipe as I did last time - used an 11x17 pan, doubled the recipe, used 1 lb bacon, probably extra fresh grated nutmeg, and it was done after the 45 minute mark. I also had no problem baking this the night before, letting it cool mostly and then suran-wrapping it to sit in the fridge overnight. Then when I woke up, I popped it in the oven at 350 while I got ready for work for 40-50 minutes, and even an hour and a half later, by the time I got to work, the quiche was still warm and just delicious. This is a great recipe for a make-ahead breakfast or brunch and it works very well reheated or being served at room temperature. My boss even said it was "divine" and I already gave the recipe out to another coworker. So if you are looking for a delicious alternative to doughnuts and bagels as a breakfast to bring into the office, try this quiche recipe and you won't disappoint. Thanks to Chris again for this recipe. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Gooey Bars

Okay. These are pretty killer. Paula Deen? You shouldn't have. Okay, well, maybe you should have... but these little delectable treats are borderline evil. Paula's original Gooey Butter Cake recipe is delicious on its own, and it is also delicious once you add in chocolate chips which I've done before. She notes on her website that the Pumpkin Gooey Bar version is her favorite of all Gooey Butter Cakes, and so when I was looking for a dessert to make for my work's Chili Cook-Off, I decided it was the perfect time to try out her Pumpkin Gooey Bars.

These are great because they are simple - you start with a yellow cake box and add a few ingredients and pat them into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. I made two batches at a time and it was great. Then you mix the pumpkin, cream cheese, egg, powdered sugar and such and spread that over top the cake bottom and then bake. Not too shabby!

And the result? These are sooo tasty. They are a gooey cakey chewy bottom with a sweet pumpkin pie topping, almost like a cheesecake. The topping blends perfectly into the cake bottom and there certainly were no leftovers when I unveiled these at the Chili Cook-Off. If you love pumpkin pie, you must try these - I'd be surprised if you didn't prefer these over the classic version of pumpkin pie! This might be a good recipe for some one who wants a pumpkin dessert but something a little different than your average boring pie. (Don't get me wrong, pumpkin pie is delicious.)


Pumpkin Gooey Bars
From Paula Deen as found on here.


1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Variations: For a Pineapple Gooey Cake: Instead of the pumpkin, add a drained 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.

For a Banana Gooey Cake: Prepare cream cheese filling as directed, beating in 2 ripe bananas instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

For a Peanut Butter Gooey Cake: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter to the cream cheese filling instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

Try these, you'll like them!!!!!!!! Unless you're one of those people who doesn't like rich, deliciously decadent desserts. :)

Halloween Cupcakes Take 2

Just another set of Halloween cupcakes that I made a few weeks ago for The Husband's boss' birthday to share with the office. I am also planning on making some more this week for my work. Now that I have that handy cupcake carrying case, making cupcakes is perfect for office treats!

I made pumpkins, spiders on spider webs, ghosts, and mummies.

Since I was already making the 6 batches ginger brownies and a butternut squash soup, I didn't have time for 6 kinds like I did last year. I sure do sign myself up for a lot of cooking activities. :)

These aren't very difficult to make, it just takes a lot of time to make all the different colors and different frosting bags and then switch all the tips and squeeze out all the details. My hands were definitely sore by the end of the night but it was fun. :)

Happy Halloween!

Another Daring Baker Challenge: French Macaroons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S from Baking Without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Before joining the Daring Bakers, I would think of a sweet, chewy coconut cookies when I hear "Macaroons" but in reality this is a classic dessert - the French Macaron - and it has nothing to do with coconut.

French macarons/macaroons are meringue "cookies" that are sandwiched with a filling - like a chocolate ganache or jam or something. I've never seen one of these in a bakery before (or maybe just never knew what they were if I had) and have never had a real macaroon, but I was excited to try this recipe because I loooove meringues and especially with chocolate. Yum!

The recipe is relatively simple. Unfortunately I had to purchase a $12 bag of almond flour (I guess I could have ground my own but almonds are pricey anyway) but after that the ingredients were easy to find - room temperature eggwhites (5) and a little sugar, plus powdered sugar and any flavoring for the meringue and fillings that you can think of. I started out by whipping the eggwhites to soft peaks and then adding the sugar. Then they were whipped to stiff peaks and I wisked the almond flour and powdered sugar together.

I think the next step must have been where I went wrong - I must have folded the flour mixture into the too roughly even though I was trying to be gentle, or maybe I took too long. I noticed the eggwhites had lots a lot of their fluffyness and this was obvious once I piped the cookies onto the parchment and silpat.

Needless to say, I sorta botched this challenge - my macaroons were flat as little chewy pancakes. However they were still tasty and I made up a quick ganache out of cream and semi-sweet chocolate chips, and peeled the flat macaroons off the parchment and made a few sandwiches. I found the silpat was worse at releasing the meringues than the parchment paper was. The Husband liked them too so at least I had one happy customer but now I will have to try the recipe again or try to find a real macaroon somewhere in the area. Thanks to Ami for a great challenge, and I'll try and do better next time! :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger

I must admit right off the bat that the photo above is not actually the ginger squash soup but it is a picture of my other favorite, curried butternut squash soup. I ended up not getting a photo of the ginger squash soup but - it looks pretty much the same, a beautiful warm velvety orange color which looked spectacular with the chopped fresh flatleaf parsley garnish (also not pictured). This recipe was recommended to me by Chris who said it was one of Karen's favorite soups and I regard both of their foodie opinions highly so I was really looking forward to trying it. I love pumpkin pies and acorn squash with butter and brown sugar so I thought this recipe which combined fresh ginger and a cinnamon stick would be right up my alley and not too unusual.

I followed the recipe exactly except I didn't measure my two giant squashes so I think they were way more than called for and maybe my chicken stock was not salty so I did end up adding some salt and also a few splenda packets to sweeten it up a bit.

The purpose of making this soup was for the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers soup exchange/Oktoberfest beer tasting night. I have been part of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers (a band of ladies who reside in Michigan and blog about food related topics) for a few months but this was my first chance to participate in a gathering, yay! I made the soup (and ginger brownies which I was also bringing) on Thursday night and packed everything up to go to work on Friday. I work in Milford and this event was in Ann Arbor so I was going to head over right after work before making the long trek home. Well, Friday just wasn't my best day. I started out running late (no surprise for a Cookies for a Cause morning) ... but then I realized about 40 minutes into my commute that I was missing one important item.... soup? no, that was here,.. crockpot? nope, had that,... spoon, extra bowls and parsley garnish? check,... 6 batches of ginger brownies? check... purse? check. Stupid laptop so I can do some work at work? Argh! No laptop! Unbelievable. I had to turn around, drive 40 minutes, and then drive another hour back to work. I would have considered just working from home but that would waste all those cookies and I needed to be in A^2 that night anyway.

That wasn't the end of my bad luck however! The soup exchange was at 7 so I worked until 6 and made up some time there, and walked out to my car with enough time to stop and get some of my favorite beer, Weihenstephaner hefeweissbier and head over to partay..... I started to drive away and then realized my car wasn't handling very well. DAMNIT. I knew it was another flat tire. Totally flat by the feel of it. I pulled off into the lobby parking lot and sure enough, my stupid tire was completely flat. This is incredibly infuriating because this is my 4th flat tire in three years, plus that was my 1 new tire.

What a drag..... I called AAA and they offered to come within an hour but luckily, the nice security men at the proving grounds hooked me up and found the metal shard in my stupid tire and put the spare on for me. I wonder which of my three times between work and home had given me the gift of the metal shard.. oh well at least I didn't get a blowout on the expressway.

This story is getting long so I'll hurry it up as best I can... I got the beer and headed out on my way about 40 minutes behind schedule, and totally ended up getting lost probably due to talking on the phone and it being dark and apparently I was looking for a dirt road - but didn't know it. I ended up in downtown AA (not correct) and that's when my out-of-gas "ding" went off. Awesome. No time for getting gas and there were no gas stations anyway so I had my dad help me over the phone find the house (on an empty tank). Cindy and Alison nicely helped me adjust my directions after the party so that I would hit a gas station before heading home, but that was only after I was lost in their subdivision and went around Loch Alpine circle a few times. Awesome, gotta love being lost twice on an empty tank in the middle of nowhere! My dad helped me over the phone again and I eventually made it to said gas station..... to find that it was closed. Awesome again! It took me 40 minutes to get a few miles to this closed gas station so this night was really turning out awesome. I luckily didn't get on the expressway and found a Meijer gas station a little bit down the way... then it was the long trek home on my stupid spare tire so that I could only go 60mph. Luckily my mom talked to me on the phone so I had no trouble staying awake (it had been a loooong week.. and AA-Troy sure is a boring drive).

Anyway the actual soup exchange and beer/oktoberfest party went great and it was nice to meet some other MLFB ladies. We all brought portions of different soups and food home with us and everything was delicious. I can't wait to get all of the recipes. I look forward to the next event.. sounds like a holiday cookie exchange! At least I got all my bad luck out of my system, the next party should go swimmingly. :)

Here's the recipe, try the soup, it's tasty! And join the MLFB if you're a Michigan Lady Food Blogger. :)

Butternutsquash Soup with Ginger
As seen on here!

Yield: Serves 6

2 butternut squash (about 4 3/4 pounds total), halved lengthwise, seeded
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cinnamon stick
5 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth
Chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil baking sheet. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake until squash is very soft, about 50 minutes. Using paring knife, remove peel from squash; discard peel. Cut squash into 2-inch pieces. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Mix in onion, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. Cover pot and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Add squash and 5 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Discard cinnamon.

Working in batches, purée soup in blender. - Or just use your submersible blender if you have one, which makes this incredibly easy and no need to dirty another dish. :) I added a little salt and splenda to taste.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.) Return soup to pot. Season soup with salt and pepper. Bring to simmer, thinning soup with more broth if necessary. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cookies For A Cause: Ginger Brownies

I had a busy day of cooking/baking last night with the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers soup swap/Oktoberfest tonight and my husband needing a batch of Halloween Cupcakes for his boss' birthday plus there are hungry coworkers expecting cookies! The charity cookie recipe I chose this week was one that I felt originally sounded on the verge of gross. Ginger Brownies! Doesn't that sound somewhat odd... a peculiar combination? I can't say I've had chocolate and ginger before but these had good reviews and Martha's claim of them being easy to put together also sounded good. This is another recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies book, which is where most of my Cookies for a Cause recipes are coming from since there are so many delicious looking cookies inside that book! I haven't found a recipe in that book that wasn't also on her website for free so don't worry if you don't have the book.

Most of Martha's brownie recipes call for an 8x8 pan. I guess I like generous portions but that sounds like 4 or 6 brownies to me, so I figured I should double that just to fill a 9x13, and then double it again to make the normal amount I bring in for Cookies for a Cause at work. Then with the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers event, I thought "all that soup and beer, maybe we'll also want something sweet?" and these are ladies with sophisticated palettes, so I felt they deserved another double batch at least. So, I was "sextupling" the recipe!

I calculated out all of the "6 x" ingredient amounts and then thought "having to break this into thirds sounds like a pain plus I'm not sure I have anything that will hold this much" so I decided to do two stages of Ginger Brownies and do a quadruple batch followed by another double batch. I recalculated the quadruple amounts for all ingredients and made a stupid mistake.... Instead of 2/3 * 4 = 8/3, I calculated this to be 4/3 so we were missing some flour. Of course I didn't realize this until I was making batch #2 and low-flour batch #1 was already baking in the oven! Argh!! Oh well, too late. At least the third batch would be right, and I decided to keep it for the MLFBers since they likely have more discerning taste buds compared to my ever-hungry-eat-anything stinky-fish-microwaving coworkers.

Once both batches were out and cooled down, I tried one from the Evil-Not-Enough-Flour Batch.. hmm.. pretty darned fudgy, moist and delicious. I then tried a bite from the normal batch.. they were slightly taller and had a smoother consistency and held together better but pretty much the same flavor, so the first batch was still going to go for charity cookies and it wasn't a total waste, yay! 

Now about the strange chocolate/ginger combo - try it, it is delightful! My husband and 2 coworkers hated it but about 25 other people loved it. I just told The Husband he had a simple unsophisticated palette.. I mean.. he doesn't even like peanut butter so I'm not too worried about his opinion. hehe In all seriousness, this is a delicious recipe with a deep dark fudgy chocolate brownie flavor that is highlighted with fresh ginger and wonderful spices. They are quite delicious and if you aren't totally turned off by the idea of ginger/chocolate, I think you will love them like I did.

As far as the charity goes, as usual, 100% of the money collected went to a charity of my choice. Today we raised $31.35 for Forgotten Harvest which is a wonderful charity that collects unused foods from grocery stores and restaurants to donate to food shelters and those in need in Metro Detroit. That brings the amount of money I've raised for charity to a fabulous new total: $353.95! Woo hoo, we're over $350. I also had a few "IOUs" so I know a few more bucks are coming our way.

My coworkers probably never knew they were this generous and I've tried many new wonderful recipes in the mean time so it's a win-win situation. I'll keep baking if they keep donating and I look forward to seeing the progress we'll have made by the end of the year. Thanks for looking!

Chocolate Ginger Brownies
As seen on Martha Stewart's website here.
Makes 16 (or like 6 for a decent size)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Line bottom with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches to hang over 2 sides. Butter parchment; set aside. Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining ingredients.

Pour batter into prepared dish. Smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Lift out, and let cool completely on rack. Cut into sixteen 2-inch squares. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks' Challenge: Vietnamese Chicken Pho

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. I have never actually had real pho (we found out from Jaden that it is really pronounced fuh? - yes you pronounce it like a question.. I still always think "faux" when I see "pho" but I'm working on it). I've been to vietnamese restaurants twice (and I really want to try the new place in Clawson!) - once in Honolulu and once in Maui. Both times I ordered.. well I'm not sure what it is called... but it was awesome.. some kind of big platter with beef and all sorts of veggies and noodles and herbs, plus rice papers which you make little "summer rolls" out of. I just love the vietnamese food that I've tried. I also loved the fried spring rolls served with lettuce-wrap sides and dipping sauce, and also I absolutely loved the iced coffee which came out in a french press to which you add sweetened condensed milk to. How could that not be delicious????

So I was really excited to try pho. I've seen it on all the menus and I never really knew much about it. It turns out that pho is all about the rich broth. Jaden gave us two recipes that we could choose from - one long version for making your own chicken broth, and one short version with store-bought broth. Unfortunately I was already making a penne rustica and chicken chili that night so it was the store-bought broth version for me!

I had to buy some interesting ingredients - fish sauce, which I've purchased before but didn't use much of - whole coriander seeds, and whole star anise. I couldn't find that at Kroger and eventually found a great cheap package in the asian section of Ninos for $1.99. Way better than the $7.00 bottle I saw this morning at VG's. Yay for me! Toasting whole coriander seeds (maybe I will use these again in indian cooking), star anise, and cloves starts you off with this recipe. Then you add the broth, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, and simmer a chicken breast and onion in all of this flavorful goodness. Later, the chicken is shredded and the broth is served at the table with an assortment of embellishments - rice noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, hoisin, lime, chili sauce, sliced red onion, and peppers.

I hope to make the lengthy version of pho sometime but I was pleasantly surprised by the mixture of spices in the flavorful broth and with the bean sprouts, lime, onions and cilantro, etc. Delicious and thanks to Jaden for helping us with this recipe! I probably would have never tried it and now I know how to at least pronounce it if I were to order it at a restaurant too!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Brown Butter Toffee Blondies

We're back with another edition of my one-woman charity bake sale! The recipe I brought in for my coworkers this week was Martha Stewart's Brown Butter Toffee Blondies from her "Cookie" recipe book. Holy moly, these are delicious and rich and well worth trying. I am a huge fan of brown butter and it works perfectly in this blondie recipe. The result was a moist and chewy bar and while some of my coworkers may have scoffed at the "brown butter" (which they had never heard of), it only took one bite to be totally hooked. This is a fabulous recipe!

I am pleased to report that I collected another large amount for my double batch of these cookies - $30.50. The charity I chose was one that is improtant to me as well as one of my coworkers, the United Mitochondrial Diesease Foundation, which is a wonderful cause. My donation was just to make the cookies and 100% of the money I collected from my coworkers went directly to this charity!

So if you are looking for a rich and decadent bar cookie that is relatively easy but not "run-of-the-mill", definitely give this recipe a try. You won't be disappointed!!

Brown Butter Toffee Blondies
From martha stewart's website and her book "Cookies"


Makes about 1 dozen

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (about 4 ounces)
1 cup toffee bits


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter and flour parchment paper.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns golden brown; remove from heat, and let cool. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine browned butter and both sugars; stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Attach bowl to mixer; add eggs. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour mixture, walnuts, and toffee bits. Mix until thoroughly combined, and pour into prepared pan.

Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before turning out of pan onto a cutting board. Peel off parchment paper; cut blondies into 3-inch squares. Blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

We're back with more cookies for charity! For September 11th, I chose the recipe "Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies" from Martha Stewart's "Cookies" cookbook as the cookies I brought in to raise funds for charity from my coworkers. In honor of the heroes of September 11th, I chose the charity of Tuesday's Children, an organization providing services and programs to the families of 9/11 victims. 

Also, I am happy to report that these little sweet cookies raised our highest donation amount yet! For my double batch, I collected $35.42 for Tuesday's Children, which puts our grand total raised at $241.32! As I've said before, 100% of donations for the cookies go directly to the charity of my choice. My donation is the batch of cookies and I'm very excited about the wonderful progress my coworkers and I have made in just a few months! I now have a "Cookie Following" and people stop by throughout the week in attempt to snatch a cookie early or see what I'll be baking for Friday. And heaven forbid I am busy on a Thursday night, as I found bakery-made donuts were "no replacement for homebaked cookies!" While the expectations are high, thanks to Martha Stewart's delicious recipes, I am very excited to be trying a new recipe every week!

As always, I'll keep baking if you keep donating! So far so good! One of my coworkers, Marco, said these banana cookies were the best cookie he's ever had and he has begged me about baking another batch ever since I brought these in. He even called his wife and tried to make me tell her how to make them, so I just forwarded them Martha's link! Anyway, they are quite delicious. I thought "banana bread meets chocolate chip cookie" sounded strange but they are totally yummy and you will love them. Give this recipe a try for something different and delicious. Enjoy!

Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
From the Martha Stewart Cookie book and her website


Makes about 3 dozen

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch chunks

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flours, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12 to 13 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers up to 2 days.