February 23, 2012

Pineapple-Coconut Cake with Pineapple Glaze

This tangy and lightly sweet pineapple-coconut cake is very rich and moist. I love that it has the buttery, creamy texture of indulgent pound cake, but without all the poundage of heavy ingredients.

M and I brought this cake to a taco-night dinner party at our friend's house. It was a fabulous idea for a Saturday night gathering. We were looking forward to strong Margaritas and lots of lime-infused guacamole! 

Earlier in the day we pondered what to bake. M was craving a cake with a dense crumb that would pair well will fresh whipped cream; I wanted to keep it simple and complimentary to the evening's south-of-the-border inspired fare. Together we arrived at the decision of the pineapple-coconut cake as an inspired nod to the tart and tropical flavors of a margarita. 

After lots of cross-referencing various recipes, I settled on Martha Stewart's Pineapple-Coconut Loaf.  We baked ours in a round cake pan instead of a loaf:

Also, since we did not the have sour cream called for in the recipe (nor would I really want to use it), we took a chance and instead used a combination of vanilla yogurt and home-made low fat buttermilk. 

The cake turned out outrageously good. 

It didn't hurt that we made it even more moist and festive with a light topping of pineapple glaze and more toasted coconut. 

We served it with fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of sweet pineapple sauce made from the leftover pineapple juice (recipes below). There were rave reviews all around! I adored how it turned out and it was such a satisfying dessert!

I would make this cake again in an instant. When I come across a recipe this simple, I know it's a keeper, but when it's also bursting with flavors this bright and a texture this rich, I know it's going to be one I will make over and over again.

Pineapple Coconut Cake with Pineapple Glaze: (pineapple sauce and whipped cream recipes below). Serves 8 generous wedges. 

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

*For pineapple glaze: 1/2 cup confectioner sugar and 2 T. reserved pineapple juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and toast, stirring every few minutes, until golden-brown. Set aside. Butter and flour a 9" round cake pan and set aside. 

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. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bang flat against the counter a few times to release air bubbles and smooth top. Bake approximately 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 

In a separate bowl, stir together 1/2 cup confectioner sugar and 2 T. pineapple juice to make a glaze. When the cake comes out of the oven place in the pan on a wire rack. Poke small holes in the top of the cake using a toothpick, then spread the glaze evenly over the cake in the pan. Immediately sprinkle top of cake with the remaining 1/2 cup toasted coconut. Allow to cool completely in the pan.

Cut into 8 slices. Serve with whipped cream and pineapple sauce, if desired. 

For the pineapple sauce: Bring the reserved pineapple juice and 2 cups confectioner sugar to a boil, then simmer 10-15 minutes or until reduced. Remove from heat and stir in 1 T. butter. Cool. 
For the whipped cream: In a cold stainless steel bowl, using an electric mixer on high setting, whip 1 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon confectioner sugar until stiff peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve. 

February 13, 2012

Best Peanut Butter Brownies

These brownies are so rich, fudgy, and intensely chocolatey. You'll want to bake yourself a batch as a weekly gift to yourself... I say this only from experience, since I have been completely helpless against the temptation to make bake multiple batches for my own enjoyment over the past couple of weeks.

I have simply become dependent on my nightly fix of this moist, gooey brownie.

Thankfully, they only taste like they are require the labor of love! They're simple and quick to make....Knowing that I won't lose an entire evening with my head spent in the oven or washing a million bowls is even more reason to delight in treating myself to these regularly.

There's chocolate bursting out of every bite and a little bit goes a very long way. Since I love peanut butter so, much I felt that it could only get better if I added a mix of savory and salty swirl over every sweet cocoa bite.

The original recipe uses toasted walnuts stirred into the batter, and then sprinkled on top of the brownies... But I think that the creamy peanut butter topping makes them more decadent and satisfying. Peanut butter and chocolate in a brownie this good are a dream come true. Bake them for yourself, and I hope you will agree!

Best Peanut Butter Brownies: adapted from Cooking Light
* use the best quality cocoa powder and chocolate chips you can
cooking spray and 1 T. cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/3 cup 2% milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9x9 baking pan with cooking spray and dust with 1 T. cocoa powder. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine 1/2 cup chocolate chips and milk in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave at  high 30 seconds, stir, then microwave another 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and eggs. Add the milk mixture and 1/2 cup chocolate chips to the flour mixture. Stir to combine.
Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Then spoon the peanut butter over the batter and use a knife to cut and swirl the peanut butter through and over the top of the brownie batter. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack and cut into 16 brownies.

Gouda & Spinach Risotto

Cheesy, creamy goodness!

This risotto is incredibly easy, but tastes eligible for a special occasion. You'll love the combination of fresh spinach and meaty sauteed mushrooms with the salty, nutty goodness of Gouda cheese. It can be made with vegetable stock instead of chicken for a hearty and healthy vegetarian main, or would also be delicious bedded under a juicy cut of steak or a tender lamb shank.... both of which are mouth-watering ideas for Valentine's Day dinner if you're still wondering what to prepare for tomorrow's special night!

Gouda & Spinach Risotto: serves 2 very generously, or 4 sides

Melt 1 T. butter over medium heat (I did this all in a rice cooker, but this can be done in a large skillet or saute pan). Add 1/2 of a large diced onion and stir, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 can (7 oz.) of rinsed, drained, and pressed dry mushroom pieces and stems and stir, cooking until lightly browned. Add 1.5 cups of Arborio rice and stir 2 minutes or until the edges of the rice become slightly clear. Add 1/4 cup dry white cooking wine and stir until evaporated, then add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of reduced sodium chicken stock. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, continuing to stir and add water and stock alternately by the 1/4 cup at a time until the rice is almost soft. Add 1 large bunch of rinsed fresh spinach (you can keep the stems on, just snip the bottom if there are tough parts). Stir and cook until the spinach wilts 4-5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of 2% milk, 2 T. grated Parmesan, and 3/4 cup shredded Gouda cheese. Add sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. 

February 8, 2012

Rocky Road Texas Sheet Cake

I admit that I didn't know how I felt about these as I was making them.

First, I was skeptical about the amount of chocolate in the recipe. Was there really enough? (!) Then, I completely forgot to add the sugar until almost the end. (!!) Thank you, baking Gods, for making my pea brain sense that something was missing. I wondered, 'did I just mess up this entire thing?' Then wondered again if I just should have baked brownies, instead.

I don't know why I was doubting this Texas Sheet Cake so much. After all, the recipe did just win second place in Cooking Light's 25th Anniversary "Best-Chocolate Recipe Bake-Off" tournament published in the Jan/Feb double issue. So, this is the second best chocolate recipe that Cooking Light has published in the past 25 years, and I'm over here thinking it's got to be a weird typo.

While the doubts flowed, I was too far along to bother scrapping the whole thing, so I figured I may as well keep going. The traditional version of this cake is topped with pecans, but I made mine a peanut butter- rocky road version. The traditional version of this cake is topped with pecans, but I made mine a peanut butter- rocky road version. The one I created is topped with the recipe's original chocolate frosting, but then I added peanuts and mini-marshmallows, and finished it with drizzles of chocolate peanut butter frosting.

I finished icing and decorating, then tasted a piece. In an instant all of my previous doubts were blown away.  ]I felt the waves of obsession and euphoria that tend to flow forth from such a dessert-loving experience. It's not what you expect, but it's an addicting flavor of light chocolate with notes of warm cinnamon.

Now, I'm a fan, and I definitely understand how this cake edged out 16 other competing recipes to arrive at sweet stardom. I also really adore the rocky-road spin on the recipe, so I hope that you do, too.

This is the perfect dessert to share with friends....mostly because if you keep it around you're going to eat it all!

Rocky-Road Texas Sheet Cake: makes 28 squares
Cooking spray
2 t. cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk*
1 T. vanilla extract, divided
2 large eggs
6 T. butter
1/3 cup fat-free milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1/4 cup mini-marshmallows
1/8 cup smooth natural peanut butter

* Cook's note: I made my own buttermilk by pouring 1/2 cup milk + 1 t., 1/2 t. and 1/8 t. vinegar into a measuring cup, stirring well, and allowing to sit for 5 minutes.

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. Coat a 15x10 inch jelly-roll pan with cooking spray and dust evenly with the cocoa powder. Set aside.

Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine in a large mixing bowl with the next 4 ingredients (through salt). Combine 3/4 c. water, 1/2 c. butter, and 1/4 c. cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Pour into flour mixture and beat at medium speed until well blended. Add the buttermilk, 1 t. vanilla, and eggs. Beat well. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.

Combine 6 T. butter, fat free milk, and 1/4 c. cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and slowly stir in the 3 cups of powdered sugar (I used slightly less). Stir in 2 t. vanilla. Add the peanut butter to a small bowl and pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the chocolate icing into the peanut butter. Whisk together to combine.

Pour the remaining chocolate icing over the entire cake and spread evenly. Top evenly with peanuts and marshmallows. Drizzle with the peanut butter icing. Allow to cool completely, then cut 4X 7 rows.

February 5, 2012

Thai Peanut Pasta Salad

Our book club dinner theme this past week was "what food couldn't you live without for five years?" I thought it was pretty ingenious of our host, as the characters in our book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, endured five years during the war without much else but potatoes. 

Immediately, I shouted back on the email chain, "peanut butter!" I would miss peanut butter the most, that much is clear. Peanut butter in sundaes, on brownies, toast, cheesecake and cookies, or just plain on a spoon.... My love for peanut butter is shameless, deep, and without limits.

But we already had a few members bringing dessert to our gathering (a few other members also immediately replied, "ice cream!" and "chocolate!"

Seeing that we were covered in the dessert category, I thought I would make a savory dish that incorporated my favorite ingredient. I adore peanut sauce in Thai-style stir fries, and we eat it often with rice, chicken or tofu, and veggies. For the sake of feeding a crowd and traveling easily with the dish, I decided to use my favorite peanut sauce in a pasta salad. I used cute little penne tossed with diced red, green, and yellow peppers and shaved carrots for color and nutritional boost.

What's the food you couldn't live without? And how many different ways could you think of using it?

This peanut-butter-based sauce would be lovely with linguine or rice noodles, and your favorite vegetables and proteins, so feel free to get creative. After all, that's what our book characters had to do during the war, as they baked "pies" out of potato peels and mashed potatoes....Even though times are so much better (as evidenced by our huge, varied spread at Book Club dinner) it's a joy and a challenge to play in the kitchen. Especially when you've got your favorite ingredients and food on hand.

Thai Peanut Pasta Salad: (makes 1 cup peanut sauce in 1 lb. pasta)
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup water
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. honey
1 T. Sesame oil
1.5 t. fresh grated ginger
1 t. minced garlic
1 t. Siracha or other hot sauce
zest and juice of 1/2 a lime
salt and pepper to taste
2 carrots, peeled, then shaved with the peeler
1 cup diced red, yellow, and green pepper

Directions: Set the salted water for the pasta to boil in the stove. Add the pasta when ready and boil according to the directions until just al-dente. Drain and rinse immediately with cold water to stop the cooking process. Meanwhile add all of the ingredients up until the salt and pepper to the bowl of a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Add pasta to a large bowl with the carrots and pepper. Toss gently as you pour the contents of the peanut sauce over the pasta. Stir until evenly coated, then salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature. Stores well in the fridge!


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