December 30, 2012

Peanut Butter Lover's Sandwich Cookies

... Soft, scrumptious, and absolutely overloaded with major peanut butter flavor. 

Every year, since I was able to hold a spoon, I've baked cookies at Christmastime with my grandmother. And ever since I could eat solid food  have been obsessed with peanut butter. So while my other cousins help grandma craft beautiful and traditional Christmas cookies for the hundreds of cookie plates she gives away to neighbors and friends, I have always baked some indulgent version of a peanut butter cookie that doesn't make it onto the plate... because we want to keep it to eat for ourselves. 

These may have been the most over the top. 

The cookie itself is amazing -- it's perfectly soft, chewy, and super nutty. Then, the creamy, salty, sweet peanut butter frosting is what takes this dessert to another level. If you love peanut butter as much as I do (and as much as my entire family does, as these did not last very long), don't wait to make these. They're fun to make and eat, and will bring smiles far into the New Year. 

Peanut Butter Lover's Sandwich Cookies: makes about 24 sandwich cookies
Cookie Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter (creamy Skippy preferred)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1.2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup peanut butter chips

Cookie Directions:
Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. With electric mixer set to medium speed, beat the butter, peanut butter, and white and brown sugars until very fluffy. Beat in each egg one at a time, then the vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture until just combined, then gently stir in the oats, peanuts, and peanut butter chips. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Refrigerate the dough 15 minutes, then roll 1" balls and place two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake about 10 minutes or until barely browned around the edges. Cool on the cookie sheet 5 minutes, then carefully remove to cooling rack. Cool completely, and meanwhile make your frosting. 

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter, preferably Skippy
3.5 cups confectioners’ sugar.
*Beat all ingredients together until well combined

Cookie Assembly: Using a piping bag, or a spoon, turn one cookie upside down and fill to about .5" to the edge of the cookie with frosting, then gently press another cookie on top. Repeat until all cookies are assembled into sandwiches. 

December 9, 2012

Lemon-Filled Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Don't you want my creamy, luscious layers? 

There are so many dimensions of flavor and texture in this cake. It's addicting. 

The plentiful filling of lemon curd is both sugary sweet and mouth-puckeringly-tart. 
It's slathered on top of dense layers of seriously rich, moist white cake (think pound-cake consistency)
then the whole cake is enveloped in thick, tangy cream-cheese frosting. 

I swear it's the perfect combination of cake, filling, and frosting. I'm a little obsessed now.
I baked this cake for my sister's baby shower and it was a real hit. 
Even non-lemon lovers admitted they got converted. 

The cakes were pretty huge, which was perfect to feed a crowd. 
I've been craving it ever since I finished off the last tall, huge leftover piece. 

The best part is that a lot of the cake can be made in advance. 
I made vats of lemon curd and froze it weeks earlier. 
The cake layers and cream cheese frosting were made and the whole cake assembled the day before. 
A seriously impressive cake got seriously simplified!

Now I'm just thinking of an occasion to make this for again soon...
Usually I'm a carrot cake or chocolate-fudge cake type of gal, but let's face it, 
right now I'm totally a sucker for lemon. 

Lemon Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: makes one 4-layer cake
Lemon Curd: (recipe from Ina Garten)
3 lemons

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Using a carrot peeler, peel off the yellow zest of each lemon. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter, then beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. It should be cooking at just below a simmer. Remove from heat and cool completely. It is easiest to work with the curd in the cake layers when it is chilled out of the refrigerator. 

White Cake: from Smitten Kitchen's 1-2-3-4 Cake. Failproof as far as cakes go!
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

3 cups sifted self-rising flour*
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 8"-9" cake pans, oiled and dusted with flour 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Drop each cake pan flat against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove and cool in pan 10 minutes, then carefully invert onto a wire rack for complete cooling. 

* Self-rising flour has both salt and baking powder in it, but you can make your own at home with the following formula: 1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour, minus 2 teaspoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract

Cake Assembly:
Bring cream cheese frosting to room temperature, and assure that your cake layers are completely cooled.

Using a serrated knife, carefully slice each cake round in half horizontally to create four cake layers.

Spread a spoonful of cream cheese frosting on the center of a cake plate, then place the first cake layer down. Spread one cup of lemon curd in the middle of the layer, keeping 1 inch away from the sides (curd will begin to spread as the cake is layered, so do not spread it to the edges). Top with the next layer and repeat with 1 cup lemon curd, next layer of cake, last cup of curd, then fourth layer of the cake.

Refrigerate until curd is re-firmed, then use half your cream cheese frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake, catching the crumbs and setting the crumb layer. Refrigerate 1 hour or until set.

Frost with the remaining frosting and decorate as desired. Serve slightly chilled.

November 18, 2012

Candied Lemon Peel

Last Halloween, M dressed up as a lemon head. I never eat lemon heads, but that night he carried around a box full and I ended up nabbing a few. My first thought when I tasted these tart, sweet candied lemon peels was, "Hey! These are like an all-natural, way more delicious, homemade lemon head!"

These lemon peels pack lots of pucker. As tangy as they are, don't get me wrong -- they're definitely 100% sweet treat. I love the slight outer crunch that gives way to a chewy center. I also love knowing that these are homemade. Once you make these lemon peels you'll start to get obsessed with candying all sorts of citrus peels... I can't eat an orange or grapefruit without saving the rind for candying!

A few ideas.... Dip each slice in melted dark chocolate, set on wax paper to cool, and dole out in favor baggies as hostess gifts or a thoughtful present this season. Chop them coarsely and sprinkle atop holiday cakes for an element of decorative shimmer and texture. Create beautiful crunchy and sweet chocolate bark with lemon peels and pistachios. Or simply keep a bowl out on the mantel for nibbling through the season. Next time you're using a lemon for its juice, reconsider tossing the peel. There's so much more to create!

Candied Lemon Peels
8 lemons (washed in fruit & veggie wash, or organic)
4 cups sugar, plus extra for coating

Cut top and bottom off each lemon. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off strips of skin, lengthwise from top to bottom. Place peels in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for one minute. Drain and repeat two more times. Remove peels to a separate bowl. Combine four cups sugar with three cups cold water in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the lemon peels and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for one hour over low heat. Drain peels from liquid, reserving liquid for later use in drinks or recipes as desired.

Spread out the lemon peels on a baking sheet to cool. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then toss with the extra sugar. Dry 8-10 hours or overnight, then store in an airtight container.

October 27, 2012

Quinoa, Spinach and Poached Egg Skillet

This recipe uses the filling from the Quinoa and Black Bean Stuffed Peppers. It's a delightful meal that's cozy, rustic, and substantial while still being light. I love any meal with a soft, barely oozing egg on top. It adds a layer of richness, like velvet, to every bite. 

"Next Night" Quinoa, Spinach, and Poached Egg Skillet: serves 2
6 cups of raw spinach, chopped
Any amount of leftover filling from the stuffed peppers. (See recipe to make from scratch
Optional: 1 chicken breast cut into 1" pieces
Two eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup quality white cheddar cheese

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or dutch oven to medium. Add the spinach, filling, and chicken breast if using. Cover. Allow the spinach to cook down and the chicken to just cook through, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Distribute the ingredients evenly throughout the skillet, then use a spoon to move some mixture aside to create two shallow "wells." Crack one egg carefully into each "well." It's okay if the whites run over and onto everything else. Cover and allow to cook until the egg is firm around the edges but still soft and runny in the middle. Turn off heat. Use a spatula to transfer half the filling and intact egg on top to each of two bowls. Top with cheddar cheese and serve. 

Slow-Cooker Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

It's been a crazy week. The kind of week where I left work every day and papers were still scattered across my desk. I don't do scattered papers. The scattered papers were like a big red flag -- relax! slow down!  

Enter slow-cooker and these quinoa stuffed peppers, a dish that allowed me to both slow down and relax for an evening. These incredibly nutritious veggie bowls are packed with protein-rich quinoa, meaty black beans, and salty-good cheese. To round it all out, the sweet packaging of bright bell pepper and tomato sauce topping balance those savory flavors perfectly. 

Hmm... Balance. That's another welcome feeling at the end of my day. 

2 T. butter
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow zucchini, diced
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1.5 cups quality chicken or vegetable stock
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 t. garam masala
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
dash of cumin
1/2 cup quality white cheddar cheese
1 can diced tomatoes in puree
2 t. tomato paste.
2 red or yellow bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed inside

Preheat a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add and melt the butter, then add the onion and cook until translucent and soft. Add the garlic and stir, one minute, then the zucchini, and cook another minute more. Add the quinoa and stir to toast lightly, 2-3 minutes, then add the stock, beans, garam masala, salt, pepper, and cumin. Stir and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa grain is translucent and the grain has developed a "tail" off the end. Stir in cheddar cheese at the last moment.

Inside the crock pot, stir together the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Use a spoon to fill each bell pepper with mixture. Carefully place each pepper into the crock pot and set to low 7-8  hours or high 3-4 hours. Spoon tomato sauce over pepper and serve.

Use leftover filling to create "Next Night Quinoa, Spinach, and Poached Egg Skillet." It's delicious!

October 13, 2012

Peanut & Coconut-Crusted Tofu Nuggets

I didn't know tofu could satisfy the "battered-and-fried" craving, but now I've tasted that it can. Thankfully, these are battered but they are not fried, and they've still got all the crispy flavor of a nugget that's taken a dunk in the oil hot tub.

I first came across some form of coconut-battered tofu at Whole Foods years ago. When I lived in downtown Manhattan I used to wander to the Houston Street Whole Foods daily on my work lunch break. For the better part of an hour I'd find myself cruising through the food-porn library that is publicly known as their prepared food bar (added bonus: the Houston Street Whole Foods has a DESSERT BAR, too. It's just not appropriate. There should be a rating warning on that).

Anyway, back to my point. One day this battered, crisp, coconutty tofu appeared. Since it made its debut years ago (it's been a regular on the prepared food line since) I've been wondering, "how did they make that?"

Prayers/fantasies/longing has been answered.

Dare I say these might rival than the ones I can pick up at Whole Foods? You'll have to try them for yourself. WF, I love you, but this recipe involves peanuts, too, and I love peanuts. Plus the price on that prepared food is kind of steep... No matter how little I put in my container it always weighs enough to be $12 for five, admittedly delicious, bites... I still haven't figured that equation out.

This equation is fail proof: peanuts + coconut + tofu = party for your palate.

Peanut & Coconut Crusted Tofu: makes about 16 "nuggets". Adapted from Cooking Light.
1 14-oz package water-packed extra-firm tofu
1/2 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

Cut tofu lengthwise into 4 1/2 inch slices. Place on several layers of paper towel, cover with additional paper towels, and let absorb for five minutes. Cut each tofu slice again in half lengthwise, then cut strips in half crosswise to create 16 "nuggets."
Place peanuts in food processor; process until ground. In a shallow bowl, combine peanuts, coconut, cayenne, and Panko, stirring well. Combine coconut milk and egg in a shallow dish, stirring well. Place flour in a separate shallow dish.
Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan and swirl to coat. Dredge half of tofu in the flour, dip in egg mixture allowing excess to drip off. Dredge in peanut-coconut mixture. Add coated tofu to pan. Sautee a few minutes per side, turning each piece after a few minutes, to allow each side to brown separately. Repeat with the second batch.

Serve as desired. I put them in warm corn tortillas topped with shredded lettuce, guacamole, onions, and cheese. Delish!

October 4, 2012

Chocolate Chip Walnut Blondie Thins.... With No Butter or Flour in Sight

Okay, I did it. I made dessert out of beans and other healthy things.   

"Gross! Ew!" my sister groaned on the phone when I told her my plan, "I like my dessert to be dessert and healthy stuff to be healthy."

I get you sister-friend, I really do.

But first you have to try these blondie thins. You'll want your dessert to be healthy and your healthy stuff to be dessert, and then you'll be so mixed up you'll have no choice but to agree with me when I say that these chocolate-chip walnut bad boys are too darn tasty to care what's in 'em.

The only thing I'll change next time is to double the batter and make them thicker, like traditional dessert bars. But then they wouldn't be thins (okay, I had to call them thins because I spread the batter thinly into the pan.... This was likely because I couldn't stop eating the raw batter, which is totally safe to eat and I'll probably make just a batch of that next time, too). We could just call them cookie bars, because they're soft, gooey, and chewy, just like the blondie's cousin, cookie.

Semantics aside, whether you bake them thin or thick you'll certainly be glad you did in the first place. Looks like I'll be having these (healthy) cookies at breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

Chocolate-Chip Walnut Blondie Thins: makes 16 squares. Inspired by Deep-Dish Cookie Pie. This recipe has less sugar and a few more taste-boosting ingredients.)
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup cinnamon or regular applesauce
1.5 tablespoons canola oil
1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, coarsely chopped

Optional delicious-boosting ingredients:  *note: If not using, decrease applesauce by half
1 tablespoon ground flax-seed
1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon PB2 peanut butter powder or regular peanut butter

Set aside an 8x8 non-stick baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (toast walnuts in there as it preheats as a time and energy saver). Meanwhile, add all ingredients except walnuts and chocolate chips to a food processor and process until smooth. Consistency and taste will be like a sweet, thick hummus. Stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Spread evenly into the pan, using damp fingers or spatula for greater ease. Bake 20 minutes. Cool 5-10 before cutting into 16 squares.

October 2, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Is it a giant Reeses cup? No, it's better than that. 

Yep, I said it's better than that.

I know. I couldn't have imagined that there was anything better than an enormous, platter-sized peanut butter cup either. But then this happened. As my birthday approached I jokingly said to M, "How about you bake me a cake this year?" All right, I was 30% joking and 70% seriously praying that someone other than a restaurant would serve me dessert on my birthday. 

Is it wrong to want your husband to bake you a cake? Is it so bad to realize that my husband is awesome in every other way, but by baking me a cake he could actually achieve being-the-perfect-husband for just a day? 

My mom said, "Lauren, you didn't tell him to do that!" I did. 
I might have even suggested it more than once. 

But dang! He knocked it out of the park! Does my husband know me or what? I almost fell over when I was hanging by the candy table at my S'mores Birthday Party (more on that totally fun shindig later) and out of nowhere came M, holding a candle-blazing cake stand with this on it. 

I had not expected him to bake for me. But I certainly didn't expect him to dream of a cake so outrageous... I swear the moment almost trumped our wedding proposal. 

You know you married the right man when he knows exactly what dessert will make you weak in the knees... something so peanut-buttery, so lusciously creamy, and so chocolate-fudgey as this. 
Cheesecake + Peanut Butter Chocolate = best birthday I've ever had. 

M, you're on as head birthday baker for the rest of my life.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake: (adapted from Nigella Lawson)
Ingredients: (all should be room temperature before you start)
1/2 (14-ounce) box cinnamon graham crackers (2 cups crumbs) 
1/2 cup salted peanuts 
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp

1 bar regular cream cheese
1 bar 1/3 less fat cream cheese
3 eggs 
3 egg yolks 
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 
2 tablespoons light brown sugar

9-inch springform pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Process the crackers, peanuts, dark chocolate chips, and butter in a food processor. Once it comes together in a clump, turn it into a springform pan and press into the bottom and up the sides to make the crunchy crust. Put it in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Add all the filling ingredients to a food processor and pulse until it becomes a smooth mixture.
Pour and scrape the filling into the crust and bake for 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes. The top, only, should feel set and dry.Take the cheesecakes out of the oven and set aside while you make the topping. 

Warm the sour cream and semisweet chocolate with the brown sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat. Gently whisk to blend in the chocolate as it melts, then take the pan off the heat.Spoon and spread the topping very gently over the top of the cheesecake, being as careful so as not to break the surface, though it is okay if  you do.  Put it back in the oven for a final 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and cool. 

Serve when set. 

Make Ahead:
Make the cheesecake up to 2 days ahead. Do not cover until completely cold, then cover with a plate or plastic wrap, making sure that the covering does not touch the surface. Remove from pan and serve as directed in the recipe. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days total.
Freeze Note:
The cheesecake can be frozen for 1 month. Make sure it is thoroughly chilled then wrap, still in its pan, in a double layer of plastic wrap and layer of aluminum foil. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and eat within 2 days. Do not worry about condensation that may occur. 

Pin it on Pinterest!

September 23, 2012

Homemade Whole-Egg Mayonnaise

Making homemade mayo was surprisingly easy and fast. I now only make it from scratch -- it only takes a few minutes, so it's ready and available right when I need it. Mayonnaise is a condiment that I use both sparingly and infrequently, so it is especially helpful to be able to make a small amount on demand.

And don't worry about not having the ingredients... other than the use of a lone egg (highly likely you've got one lurking in the fridge), this recipe exclusively calls for pantry-only ingredients. Plus, many mayo recipes call for only the egg yolks, but I hate waste so this one uses the whole egg. No fussing and separating required.

I'd much rather whip this mayo up in a few minutes than take ten to run to the store for a big jar that will sit there taking up fridge space for months! You'll find this homemade spread to be far fresher and creamier than anything you'll find on the shelf. Enjoy!

1/4 t. dry mustard powder (or 1/2 t. dijon mustard)
1/4 t. salt
1 whole egg
1-2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil

Directions: Using a food processor (or immersion or regular blender) add the first four ingredients up until the oil. Turn the processor on and allow the ingredients to mix. Then, VERY SLOWLY drizzle the cup of oil into the running processor. It will look to be a liquid consistency at first, but you'll notice that toward the end of the cup of oil it will have firmed up to be thick and creamy.

If desired, add a little more vinegar (I like mine slightly more tart) or even spices like curry or cayenne to create a flavored mayo.

Pin it on Pinterest!

September 17, 2012

Tropical Paradise Cupcakes

Pineapple pound cake cupcakes with pineapple glaze and coconut-pineapple cream cheese frosting.

Tropical enough? Grab a pina colada to tide you over until these cupcakes are done. I baked these for our annual retreat at work, where we planned to have a cupcake competition. I immediately dubbed the competition "Cupcake Wars" (because I obviously am glued to the show on the Food Network) and it was GAME ON.

I immediately knew I wanted to do a pineapple pound cake with cream cheese frosting.... because it's warm and beautiful out, and what's better than a vacation-inspired, zingy and invigorating cupcake flavor? Plus, the thought of a "work retreat" made me think of being far far away on a remote island. That inspired this cupcake-wars-like cupcake display that I made for my cupcakes to lounge in:

 My favorite Philly bakery, Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, makes an incredible pineapple pound cake cupcake that made me fall in love with this flavor years ago. I never before knew that a cupcake could be refreshing, tart, and sweet all at the same time.

There's also something magical about cream cheese frosting. It transforms this juicy, bright cupcake and takes it to a seriously decadent level...

What's that you say? Used up all of your vacation time this summer? No worries here on cupcake island. All you'll need now is a little toasted coconut; colored umbrella and swimsuit are optional.

Tropical Paradise Cupcakes: Makes 18 cupcakes

Pineapple Pound Cake
1.5 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 6-oz. container of vanilla lowfat yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or lowfat milk with 1+1/2+1/8 teaspoons white vinegar stirred in and left for 5 minutes)
1.5 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained, with the liquid pressed out very well through a strainer and reserved, Crushed pineapple processed for a few seconds in the food processor

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and toast, stirring every few minutes, until golden-brown. Set aside. Put cupcake liners in cupcake tin.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on high speed until fluffy. Then add each egg, one at a time, mixing after each addition. 
Stir together the yogurt and buttermilk (or sour milk). In another bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Then add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and beat on low. Add 1/2 of the yogurt mixture and gently mix again. Add the flour, beat, then the yogurt, beat, and end with the flour mixture, stirring in each stage until just combined. Do not overmix!
Now fold in 1 cup of the toasted coconut and the crushed pineapple (1/2 cup extra will be used to decorate cupcakes). Fill each cupcake tin about 2/3 of the way full, then bang the cupcake tin flat against the counter a few times to release air bubbles and smooth top. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove each cupcake to cool completely on a wire rack. Meanwhile, prepare frosting and glaze as directed below:
Coconut-Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter, room temp
8oz. cream cheese, room temp
4 cups powdered sugar
2 T. lemon zest
2 t. pineapple juice (from reserve, above)
2 t. coconut milk (or 1 t. coconut extract)

With electric mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until completely incorporated. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beat on high until smooth and incorporated. Add lemon zest, pineapple juice, coconut, and beat again until fully mixed. Refrigerate 20 minutes to stiffen slightly before using to decorate.

Pineapple Glaze:
1 T cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Reserved pineapple juice from 20 oz. can, above
2 t. butter

Add cornstarch and granulated sugar to a small saucepan and stir. Place over high heat and all pineapple juice, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a low boil and cook five minutes or until thick and reduced, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat, add the butter, and stir until butter melts. Keep at room temperature or refrigerated. 

Cupcake assembly: Use a toothpick to poke almost all the way through each cupcake from the top down a number of times. This will create tiny "channels" for your pineapple glaze. Pour 1 teaspoon pineapple glaze over each cupcake and spread across top. Allow it to seep in for a few minutes. Pipe frosting atop each cupcake, then garnish with toasted coconut. Top with a piece of candied pineapple. Keep extras refrigerated, remove 15 minutes before serving.

September 4, 2012

Blueberry-Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt

What is that contraption dispensing delightful frozen treats into my dessert bowl? It's called Yonanas, and it was my carefully premeditated impulse buy of the weekend. This isn't a product review, but briefly: the Yonanas machine has a super-fast set of rotating blades inside that cranks creamy frozen yogurt like dessert from frozen bananas and other fruits. It's ice cream -- sans milk, fat, and added sugar. Sign me up.

I found out about it when I walked my dog past someone else's overflowing recycling bin two weeks ago and noticed the box popping out. It doesn't take much more than a picture of a dessert machine to stop me in my tracks. And I am sorry, unknown neighbor person, that I might have casually rummaged through your bin while looking over my shoulder to make sure nobody was around. I just needed a second look at the Yonanas box. And also I have no shame.

Part of me wishes I had never seen it, because then a) I'd be $50 richer, and b) I wouldn't have just eaten large bowls of (healthy, fruit-disguised-as) dessert two nights in a row. But I'm 99% glad I did see, it because this thing is awesome!

Problem: Matt hates bananas. Issue: This machine was born literally to process frozen bananas. After extensive research, I was glad to read that it happily accepts other fruits along with the bananas, and even other fruits on their own if you want something a bit more sorbet-like in texture. But I needed to know that I could accomplish that creamy, fro-yo texture and taste without bananas (Let's be honest, while I love feeding M, this was really about being able to justify to him that we actually needed this machine so I could keep it). 

As I swiped my credit card at Kitchen Kapers, the entire store's staff (okay it was just three people) were taking bets on whether Matt would end up falling in love with the machine even though he hates bananas.

I probably owe those people a follow up phone call. Because tonight we made some very truly delicious true frozen yogurt without the use of bananas. Knowing that I can use Yonanas to do this fast-tracked this machine from the "meh, maybe?" lane to the "frozen yogurt at the touch of a button!? let's keep it!" category.

I'm probably overly excited to keep trying different frozen yogurt, fruit, and ingredient combinations. Some I'm thinking of:
Apple pie: vanilla yogurt, dried apples, oats, and cinnamon
Peanut butter chocolate: frozen banana, peanut butter, cocoa powder
Peach cobbler: vanilla yogurt, frozen peaches, graham cracker

Allright, I'll stop, but I'll surely share with you more recipes as I make them! But move over Ben n' Jerry's Frozen Greek Yogurt -- we've got success with this homemade, totally healthy, pure ingredient Blueberry-Graham Frozen Greek Yogurt. That's dessert done right. 

*Note: I believe that you can use your food processor and/or blender to make this dessert, too. Some reviews online said that the Yonanas machine simply churns out a somewhat creamier and more cohesive product, but I am sure you'd have great results with what you've got.

Blueberry-Graham Greek Fro-Yo: serves two
1 6oz. cup blueberry greek yogurt (or other berry flavor)
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 rectangle graham cracker, broken
a dash of cinnamon

Stir the Greek yogurt to combine the berry flavor. On a non-stick baking sheet, dollop small rounded spoonfuls of the yogurt, then place in freezer until firm (about two hours). Next, using a Yonanas machine or blender, add (alternating, in this order if using Yonanas) frozen yogurt dollops, blueberries, graham cracker, cinnamon, bluberries, graham cracker, and ending with more frozen yogurt. Enjoy while cold.

Feel free to check out this link if you're interested in buying Yonanas.

September 2, 2012

Baked Quinoa & Broccoli "Mac n' Cheese"

I love it when an entire dish evolves into being because of a single ingredient. I guess you could call it "ingredient inspiration," when you've got one star ingredient and so you create the meal to spotlight and elevate it.

That's how this dish came about for me. I'd like to say that it was because I wanted a really healthy meal, but that's a lie, so I'm not even going to go into all the crazy health benefits of this bowl of gooey goodness -- you already know quinoa is a perfect protein, cheese is high in calcium and protien, too, and broccoli is basically super food of the universe.

To be honest, it all started with my favorite cheese, a sale, and a checkout girl.

Now I know that a lot of people call Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" because it can be quite pricey to shop there, but I wander its aisles often enough to have noticed that there are certain Whole Foods products that are priced daily at a cost that is more economical than regular grocery brands (and is likely much better quality). But that's in in-depth discussion/love story for another day.

One example, though, is this cheese that keeps going on sale.  This particular Tilamook Farms natural white cheddar cheese is staring me in the face when I walk in the door. And its once again $2.99/lb. When I see this my eyes do that cartoon thing where they bug out. (I think there is a sound cue that goes something like baroooga!) I run to the stack of beautiful, creamy blocks of tightly wrapped cheese and begin to cradle them, deciding which weight I'll be coming home with.

It's a happy love story where I devour the cheese daily in any form I can. Like right now, as I write this, I keep pausing because I'm slicing off giant hunks and eating it atop crisp slices of Pink Lady apple. AMAZING COMBO!

But, back to another amazing combo. This dish. So I'm checking out and the check out girl goes:
 "Isn't it awesome when this cheese is on sale? It's soooo good. I use it in Quinoa Mac n' Cheese and it's, like, the best. I mean, what's not healthy about Quinoa mac n' cheese?"

A credit card swipe later and I'm running home, cheese in arm like a football, and heading straight for the kitchen. NEED-QUINOA-MAC-N'-CHEESE-NOW.

And so do you.

Baked Quinoa & Broccoli "Mac n' Cheese": serves 4
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance butter
1/2 large Spanish onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock for vegetarians)
salt & pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 lb. frozen broccoli florets (cut into smaller pieces)
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 
1 cup shredded cheese, for topping

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and swirl to coat pan. Add the onions and saute until translucent and slightly golden. Add the garlic and stir, one minute, then add in the quinoa and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add in the chicken stock, salt & pepper, and nutmeg, stirring well.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. During the last 2-3 minutes of simmering, add in the frozen broccoli. Turn the heat up to return to temperature, then allow the broccoli to warm through.

While the quinoa is cooking, preheat the oven to 400ºF and lightly grease an 8" or 9" square baking dish.

When the quinoa is done, let it sit off the heat for about 5 minutes and in the meantime, whisk together the milk, egg, and Parmesan cheese. Add 1 tablespoon of warm quinoa mixture to the egg mixture to temper it, then quickly stir the liquid into the pan of quinoa. Add the 2 cups of cheese and pour it all into the baking dish.

Top with the remaining cheese and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top.

August 19, 2012

Spicy Grilled Tuna and Arugula Salad with Creamy Guacamole

Why does Trader Joe's have to sell a bag of four avocados for $3.29? (and why am I complaining about it?) The problem is that it's such a good deal that I can't pass it up, and then I spend my week thinking about avocados. I love guacamole and could eat it daily. But in the name of creativity, and since it would be a crime to allow an unused avocado to go bad, I try to think of new ways to incorporate avocado into a meal.

I was in a meeting at work when I started planning out this spicy tuna and and creamy guacamole salad. There were a few thought processes that went on while I dreamed of dinner at my meeting:

Non-meeting-related thought #1: I love spicy tuna rolls. I wondered how I could somehow pack that fiery flavor into my tuna steak.

Non-meeting-related-thought #2: Oooh, and what about that guacamole served at El Vez? (a restaurant on the street just behind my office). My favorite of their unique guacamole selections includes one with goat cheese and pistachios mixed in. It's unreal.

More non-meeting-related-thoughts ensued. I realized I had feta at home. The feta would add a salty, creamy zing to my creamy avocado topping. Then I secretly surfed recipes on my phone and started mentally concocting a marinade for my tuna steak based on a few different ones I found.

When the meeting ended I looked down at my notepad. What I'd written was....

Ingredients: serves 2
3 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
One jalapeño, stem removed
1/4 cup fresh lime juice + the zest of half a lime
2 tuna steaks
1/4 cup sliced red onion, divided
1 teaspoon chopped basil
1 teaspoon chopped mint
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1 ripe avocado
Sea salt

4 oz. arugula
2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Half of the above red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Directions: In a dry skillet over medium heat, cook jalapeño and garlic cloves, turning occasionally until each is gently charred (a few minuted less for the jalapeño). Allow to cool, then purée in a blender with the lime juice, zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pat tuna steaks dry and place in a shallow baking dish. Pour 1/8 cup of the purée over the fish and turn to coat both sides. Marinate 10 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add to the remaining purée in the blender: half the red onions, basil, mint, cilantro, avocado, and a dash of salt. Purée until smooth, salt to taste. Set aside.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tuna steaks. Cook 4 minutes on each side for a medium steak, turning only once. Pile half of the arugula on each of two plates. Sprinkle the remaining red onion, and feta cheese, on each. Whisk together olive oil, balsamic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl to make a dressing. Place one tuna steak atop each salad. Scoop half of the creamy guacamole on top of each tuna steak, then drizzle the olive oil and balsamic dressing on top of the salad. Serve immediately.

August 13, 2012

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Sorry I went MIA for a while. I was away on vacation on Martha's Vineyard, where I baked these lemon vanilla cupcakes with raspberry cream cheese frosting. I baked 30 cupcakes - one for each of the 30 family members there at our outdoor fried dough and grilled pizza party. I figured there would be plenty of leftovers since we also had my sister's amazing chocolate chip cookies to devour (more on those cookies later). There was barely a cupcake left by the end of the night.

I loved the dense, moist cake of this cupcake. It was substantial and satisfying to bite into and was truly luscious. The fresh lemon zest really brightened a basic vanilla batter with a summer citrus twist.

It was a addicting enough, then it got worse.

Cream cheese frosting is the best. Sorry to anyone who doesn't agree, but get me in front of a thick, perfectly tangy and sweet cream cheese frosting and I'm a goner.

Since it was a warm summer night, I wanted more than just any cream cheese frosting. I wanted each cupcake to feel like it was topped with summer berries.

 Sweet. Tart. Perfect.

Sorry -- these photos are from my phone. At dusk. It's hard to get worse conditions to do such injustice to such a yummy dessert.

Oh, and I know, the strawberry on the top of each is a little misleading, but when I finished baking and decorating I looked in the fridge to realize that the only fresh fruit I had left for garnish was a pint of strawberries. Doesn't it still look pretty?

At your next gathering consider these cupcakes. They're easy for guests to grab and devour in just a few bites, while still talking, drinking, and enjoying the evening. To me, that's what summer truly means.

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes: makes 24 (I 1.5x the recipe to make 30)
2 1/2 cups flour 
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 stick (12 tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar (I used 1 1/2 cup sugar)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of one large lemon
1 1/4 cup milk

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly spray cupcake wrappers with non-stick spray. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt together. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time so that each is well incorporated. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk. Take care not to overbeat. Divide batter evenly into cupcake wrappers (should be about 2/3 the way high). Bake for 16 to 20 minutes and toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes then transfer cupcakes to cool completely. 

Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 block (8oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more to adjust to taste and consistency
1/4 to 1/2 cup cup raspberry jam
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Beat butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy. Add cream cheese and beat on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy (about 1 minute). Sift powdered sugar over creamed mixture and beat on medium low until the sugar is all incorporated. Add jam, and lemon juice to thin as desired, and continue beating. Do not overbeat. Refrigerate to set, then frost cupcakes.

July 29, 2012

Orecchiette with Peas & Pesto

Laid back and playful, while still feeling refined and put together. 

I know, the description suits me perfectly. But I'm actually referring to this orecchiette pasta salad with peas and pesto. 

Orecchhiette means "little ears" because the pasta shape is like a mini dish (ears are like little satellite dishes, right?). I'd rather think of orecchiette like little dishes, or perhaps bowls, that are meant to hold all of the wonderful flavors right inside every bite. And that is exactly what this pasta shape does.

In this pasta salad, pea & parsley pesto is garnished with toasted pine nuts, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, and of course once again, our brightly colored friend the pea in its whole form. The combination of textures and flavors is really lovely. The pine nuts lend a crunch. The Parmesan cheese is like salty, savory ribbons laced throughout. And those peas -- those wonderful little peas -- are tiny bursts of earthy goodness. They like to hide inside the orecchiette "bowls". 

 Eating this is like a delicious and addicting game of flavor hide and seek. This pasta salad brings its A-game. 

Like I said, playful, but still pretty darned classy.

Orecchiette with Peas & Pesto: makes 1 lb
1 lb orecchiette pasta, cooking water reserved
about 1 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
salt & pepper to taste

Directions: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, to al dente. In the last two minutes of cooking, add the peas to defrost them. Drain pasta and peas completely, reserving the cooking water. Quickly rinse with a little cold water to stop the cooking. Cool the pasta and peas in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so. 
Add pasta and peas to a large bowl. Toss with the pesto, then the pine nuts. Top with Parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve lightly chilled or at room temperature.

July 24, 2012

Summer Squash & Potato Gratin

This recipe was born to incorporate the pea & parsley pesto, but would be really delicious with any pesto variety. I wanted something rich and rustic (pesto + toasty, bubbly cheese), but still relatively healthy (cue loads of veggies).

The combination of bright summer squash and pesto, right along with hearty potatoes and cheddar, was just the right balance of light and heavy for a summer's night.

Comfort food meets summer flavors for match made in heaven!

Summer Squash & Potato Gratin: serves 2
olive oil
5 small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 small yellow squash
1 small green squash
1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a mandoline (or knife, carefully), very thinly slice the potatoes, yellow and green squash, to about 1/8 inch thick. Coat two small baking dishes with olive oil. Spread a tablespoon of pesto at the bottom of each. Beginning at the outside and working in toward the center of the baking dish, layer the potatoes, then zucchini, then spread a couple tablespoons of pesto and sprinkle with a small amount of cheese. Season with a little salt and pepper on each layer. Repeat evenly until all ingredients are used, finishing with pesto and more cheese on top.
Cover each baking dish with tin foil (oiled lightly with olive oil) and bake, covered 30 minutes, then uncovered for 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

July 19, 2012

Pea & Parsley Pesto


Pesto is a quintessential summer puree. It's bright in both flavor and color; something that just seems a little too cheery in the winter months. Summer is pesto's time to shine. Since summer is a time to play, it seemed reasonable to play with pesto, too.

I thought, why not reinvent pesto with what I have on hand? Then I re-purposed it a couple of times over, in two recipes I will share with you later. First I wanted to share this basic recipe. Note to self: pesto is not just for basil. It can include so many other ingredients, from nuts, to herbs, to cheese, and a variety of greens. I had a bunch of parsley on hand from my potato salad making. I had a bag of peas in the freezer. I had a bit of arugula left in the salad bad. No need to waste! They can all go into the processor for a creamy, flavorful pesto.

And they did. Use the easy technique (aka: everyone get into the food processor) to whip up a pesto of your imagination. Stir it into pastas, sauces, over fish and beef, or even into eggs. See? It's that versatile.

Summer is about being flexible and relaxed; dinner included.

Pea, Parsley (& Arugula) Pesto:
2 cloves garlic
sea or kosher salt
1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup arugula
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
1/4 a lemon, juiced and zest
more salt & pepper to taste

With the blade of the food processor running, drop in the garlic cloves and mince. Add a pinch of salt. Stop the processor, then add the parsley, peas, and arugula to the work bowl. Turn it back on, and pour in the parmesan cheese, then slowly pour in the oil until it begins to puree into a thick liquid. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest. Add more oil to thin out, if desired. Salt and pepper to taste.

July 15, 2012

Nonna's Potato Salad

Since I was a little girl, I have adored my Nonna's potato salad. Only. I have never enjoyed one bite of any store-bought potato salad I've tried in my 26 years, but put me in the vicinity of Nonna's potato salad and I'm like a rabid dog. I get blinded by my insatiable hunger for the flavors and textures. It's awkward to admit, but I have never been able to stop eating it until I feel really, over the top, uncomfortably full.

Nonna's potato salad is full of nostalgia, yes, but it's also got an addictively (did you know that's not a word? Spell check is yelling at me right now) tart and vinegary flavor. It's that zing that made me lick my bowl at as a kid, sneak spoonfuls from under the plastic wrap before it was ready to be served at family picnics as a teen (I was soooo bad), and call my Nonna twice for the recipe as a young, and now not-as-young, adult.

Nonna hasn't made this potato salad in a few years. It's not that she's not able to, but she's 90. No doubt that family members have held back their requests because they know that she would gladly tackle the labor of peeling pounds of spuds in a heartbeat.  It would be a lot to ask.

She never writes her recipes down and she's never used a recipe card to cook with, as far as I've ever seen. When I call her for a recipe it's all "a little bit of this, some of that, if you have it." That may have been why I was a little skeptical when I called her most recently for this recipe, having lost it over the years since she last recited it to me. When she explained the steps it just seemed too easy.

"Are you sure that's it?" I pressed her over the phone.
"Yes..." She hesitated. "Yes. Oh, I add a little parsley if I have it in the garden, but some people don't like it."

Later, I texted my sister:
Got recipe. It's silly simple.
Must be something missing. 
I will make it and let you know if it tastes the same or not.

Her reply:
Do you think she remembered right?

Two days later I had time to make it. I took my first bite immediately sent my sister a text:
Wish I could send you some! Tastes JUST like Nonna's.
Evidently she was right about her own recipe. 
Serves me right for doubting the master.

Nonna's Potato Salad:
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
homemade mayonnaise, recipe below (or quality store bought)

finely chopped white or red onion (about 1/2 cup)
salt & pepper
chopped fresh parsley

Boil the potatoes until soft and a knife inserted goes in easily. Drain well, allowing potatoes to steam out the moisture for a few minutes. In a large bowl, add the potatoes in small batches, generously sprinkling equal parts vinegar and oil to coat for every layer of potatoes. Toss gently, allow the vinegar and oil to soak into the potatoes. Stir in mayo to desired creaminess, then stir in the onions, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with additional vinegar if desired. Chill in the fridge, or serve at room temperature.

Homemade mayonnaise: To the bowl of a food processor, add one whole egg. With the blade running, add 1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Keep blade running, and very slowly pour in 1 cup of vegetable oil. Salt to taste.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...