Friday, June 10, 2011

Grilled Panko Crusted Salmon with Honey Orange Vinaigrette

Copper river salmon is finally in season!  To celebrate, I tried something new.  Grilling fish.  Strait on the grill.  

Typically, my husband was always the grill master.  I just didn't want to deal with the extreme 700 degrees of our grill, and quite frankly the grill can be intimidating.  These days, I've had to overcome a lot of my fears, like giving birth, killing spiders, and manning the grill.  Since my husband works fairly late, I try to have dinner ready when he gets home so that we can all eat as a family.  Eating at 8pm, now, is no longer an option with a toddler.

Amazingly, the grill is a lot easier than I always thought.  Not to mention, less messy, less stinky, and more kitchen fires!  The key is to have a really hot grill, flip once, and oil the grates.  I use cooking spray--just stand back--those flames can really kick back. 

Now that we have overcome grilling, lets talk about this fish, shall we?  Copper river salmon is in season only in the summer months.  It's much more 'buttery' in flavor and texture.  In fact, it's the real reason I love salmon today.  Total fact.  Up until 7 years ago, I did not like fish.  Now, I don't know how I ever lived without it.

What I love about this recipe is the crunch from the panko crumbs (japanese bread crumbs that are, well, pretty darn crunchy!).  The finishing sauce, just brightens up the fish.  And who doesn't like sauce?  

Leaving the skin on helps with breakage of the fish on the grill.  Also, you don't even have to flip this thing, just cover with one of those disposable foil/aluminum pans over the top to create a steam cooking system.

Oh, and did I mention this takes 25 minutes?  Yup.

Grilled Panko Crusted Salmon with Honey Orange Vinaigrette
recipe adapted from "Cuisine at Home" magazine

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon
Zest of one orange
1 T shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon 

For the Salmon:
2 T.  olive oil
1.5 T. Dijon Mustard
2, 8 oz Salmon filets, skin on (or choose a size that you would eat)
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
2 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat grill

Wisk Vinaigrette ingredients together.  Set aside.

For the fish:  Mix together 2 T oil, and dijon and salt and pepper to taste.  Brush over salmon filets.

In a separate bowl: mix together panko, parsley, and 2 T olive oil.  Top each filet with the mixture.  

Oil grill (be careful of the flames).  Place salmon on the grill, skin side down. Cover with either a disposable aluminum pan, I used some aluminum pie pans I had.  Cook 5-6 minutes.  Or until fish is done.  Check often for flare ups.**  If topping seems to be getting too burned and fish is still not done inside, you can put fish on a sided cookie sheet on a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes (or until done).  I ended up having to do this.

**tip: Once the fish is on the grill, leave it alone. Don't move it until it's finished.  The skin will generally stick to the grill, don't worry about it, this helps get the fish off anyway.  Also, use a metal spatula and quickly, but gently get under the fish to pull it off the grill.

Serve over roasted asparagus and top with vinaigrette.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Prosciutto and Melon Appetizer with Marcona Almonds

Ok, so technically, I didn't make this.  However, I did manage to put it together in just minutes for a little appetizer while I was making dinner.  It's the perfect appetizer, its quick, simple and SO, SO good.

I have had this many times before, but it finally became a staple on my Italian vacation with my husband.  We would step into a small cafe while shopping and sight seeing, and take a little break with wine and a plate of prosciutto and melon.  Every time I have it, it reminds me of our trip.

The key here is using good olive oil, aged prosciutto (the best you can afford but the 18 month aged is REALLY good) and fresh, in season melon.  We added a few marcona almonds for the side.  Marcona almonds are actually a spanish nut.  Oddly, they are grown in the worst soil conditions, but ironically grow these fabulous tasting almonds.

Prosciutto and Melon Appetizer with Marcona Almonds
1/2 pound prosciutto sliced very thin
1/2 melon skinned, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup marcona almonds (salted with oil)
Good quality extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Katz and Co.)

Directions:  Assemble on a plate, drizzle olive oil over the prosciutto.  Salt the melon with fleur de sel if desired.  Serve.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chicken Marsala

Planning ahead can be really tough when you are busy.  Sometimes I get caught up in all the other tasks of the week that I can't be bothered with sitting down to write a menu for the week, plus a shopping list that I will probably forget or lose at home anyway.

This week, was just one of those weeks.  I came off a busy weekend and I needed to just live with using what was in my refrigerator and pantry.  I usually have chicken breast in the house, a few potatoes and an array of vegetables to chose from.  Since my mushrooms were at risk of biting the dust soon if not used, I decided to make chicken marsala....something I haven't made in ages.

What I liked about this was that it didn't dirty up a ton of my dishes, and I could do most of the work (pounding the chicken) while my daughter was sleeping.  Then, all I had to do was dredge in a seasoned flour mixture and saute.  Easy peasy.

Chicken Marsala
recipe by:  Cafe Coco

2 chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 oz mushrooms
1/2 cup dry marsala wine
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil

Serve with: mashed redskins, and hericot vert if you would like.

Rinse chicken breasts, and pat dry.  Beat with a mallot in between sheets of plastic wrap until chicken breasts are 1/4" thick.

Mix flour, basil, salt and pepper together and spread on a large dish.  Dredge each chicken breast in flour on both sides, shaking off the excess.  Set aside.

Preheat a large skillet.  Add butter and oil.  Once pan is hot and butter is melted, add the chicken breasts. Cook until chicken is brown on one side (about 3-4 minutes).  Flip.  Cook for about 2 minutes, add mushrooms.  Cook for 2 minutes, then add marsala wine and stir mushrooms around.  Cover and simmer on medium for about 8-10 minutes.  Check on the chicken to see if it is done.  Pour sauce and mushrooms over the top of chicken.  Serve.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rose Cake

After a very busy weekend of making the lady bug cake for my friends shower, I was asked to bring the birthday cake for my other friend Leslie to our women's wine tasting club.

I was short on time and energy, but I still wanted my cake to be a show piece.  Even though I need a bit of practice with the roses and piping, I think it turned out really cute.  I stole the idea from my friend over at Dolce by Dana.  I topped it off with some pink and gold disco dust.  Another thing I need a bit of work on!  

I think it was enjoyed by all!  The cake was my go to Valrhona chocolate cake, and was filled with a raspberry yolk-based meringue buttercream, then topped with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tres Leches Cake with Chantilly Cream

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Two words describe this cake.


Ok, that is four.  But seriously, this cake is shout it from the street good!

Last year, I made tres leches cupcakes that were not only dry, but sticky.   A true disappointment since this cake should be extremely moist.  This year, I went simple and went with a recipe from "The Joy of Cooking".  There weren't a ton of ingredients and this took me about 10 minutes to put together.  In my book...there is nothing more simple!

Not only is this cake moist like a sponge when you bite into it, but it melts in your mouth!  I know this cake traditionally has maraschino cherries on top, but truthfully, I don't like them.  I put cinnamon on the top, instead.  In fact, the first time I had this cake, 2 years ago at Forest Grill in Birmingham (February 20th to be exact) it also had cinnamon on top, and was so amazing, I went into labor.  (I wasn't the cake...just sheer coincidence, but it's something I will always remember as being 'my last meal').

This cake will definitely have to be on a rotation because to bust this cake out for only Cinco de Mayo would be too sinful.

Now, GET OUT of here and make this cake!


Tres Leches Cake
recipe derived from: "The Joy of Cooking"

Sift together in a small bowl:
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

In a separate bowl mix until fluffy and light yellow:
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Then-after beating, add 1/4 cup whole milk.  Beat again until combined.

In a clean separate bowl, beat until stiff peaks:
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar

In a separate bowl mix together, and set aside:
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350.

Fold the dry ingredients with the egg yolk ingredients just until about combined.  Then fold in the egg white mixture in 2 portions.  Fold gently, just until the whites are mixed in.

Pour batter in a greased 9x9 pan or 11x7 pan.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and cake springs back.  Mine took about 28 minutes.  Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes in the pan.  Poke holes in the cake about an inch apart with a toothpick.  Pour 3-milk mixture over the top, leaving about 1/8th of a cup leftover (I did because it seemed to be soaked enough) making sure to get all the corners and sides.  Cover pan with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight.

Slice squares and plate.  Top with Chantilly cream (recipe below) and sprinkle cinnamon on top, serve immediately after topping with cream.

Chantilly Cream
1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
2.5 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Whip cream until soft peaks, add confectioners' sugar.  Mix again until combined.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chocolate Flower Cupcakes with Fondant Lady Bugs and Flowers

I made these cupcakes for my friend's shower this weekend in order to fill in the gaps of additional guests.

At first, I chose cupcakes because, typically, they are relatively quick and easy.  Of course, while researching "You Tube" for some decorating techniques for the cake, I found this cute little technique and decided, I had to try it!

Fast forward to the day before the party, I was in full force cake decorating mode.  I get my bag and tip together (a Wilton 124 tip) and discover I had a major problem.  A left handers problem.  Crap.  Why didn't I think of this while I was at the cake store?  Surely they were now closed.  I was going to have to get handy with my right hand, or convince my husband to do it.  I decided that me using my right hand to pipe the frosting was probably my best bet.  By the second cupcake, I had carpal tunnel. (Seriously, my wrists are hurting from rolling out all the fondant from the cake).  Then, the light bulb went off....I could use my left hand, I just had to work in the opposite direction.  From then on, it was smooth sailing.

What I love about these cupcakes is that they look like a flower!  They are so cute and look great with the lady bugs.  These cupcakes were a true hit with all the guests, especially the kids!  I will surely use this technique again!

I used my go to chocolate cake, and this vanilla buttercream.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lady Bug Fondant Cake with White Vanilla Cake and Chocolate Cake and Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Filling

This past week has been 'adventures in cakeland'.  One of my good friends was having a baby shower and I offered to make the cake.  At first, it started out for a group of 50, which quickly turned into 75.  No need to panic....its nothing that a few cupcakes couldn't fix.  In the was one cute dessert display.

Now, most people wouldn't offer to make an extraordinary cake like this on their own free merit.  But if you knew my dear would definitely understand why.

Besides being one of the nicest people I have ever met, she is so genuine, so kind, and very fun to talk to.  We met while standing up for my cousins wedding and got to know each other on a 3-hour car ride to the bachelorette party, which ended up being a 4-hour car ride after we missed our exit, completely consumed in conversation.   We've been friends ever since.  It's so interesting how people come into your life.

When I asked her what kind of cake she would like for the party, she said, "Don't worry about being gender specific, I just want a happy spring-y cake."  As for flavor-she wanted my vanilla bean white cake (one of my personal favorites).  I decided since there were so many people, we would add a small chocolate layer and chocolate cupcakes, also.  Last minute, I added raspberry puree to the swiss meringue buttercream filling.  Just a nice added touch, and something I knew my friend would never ask for, herself.

When doing some 'google' image searching, looking for inspiration, the first image that popped up was this cake.  You know that feeling?  The feeling you get when the hair stands up on the back of your neck?  I got it.

My friends father passed away before I knew her.  I knew they were very close and she once told me how lady bugs reminded her of her dad.  She said that whenever she had a bad day, she would see a lady bug (even in the dead of winter when lady bugs shouldn't even be around) and she just knew it was her dad saying "It's going to be okay."  I had forgotten about it, until I saw this cake.  I knew....I had to make it.  It didn't matter if it took me 2 weeks.  I was making it.

I started the Wednesday before the party--just to be certain there weren't any mishaps.  I made all of my lady bugs, leaves, and flowers first.  Then I worked on the homemade fondant, cake layers, swiss meringue buttercream, and raspberry puree.  Then I frosted and assembled each layer the day before the party, and assembled the entire cake and decorated it the morning of the party.

Of course, I pulled up to the restaurant, at the same time 'the mom to be' did.  I had to tell her to take a hike, because I didn't want her looking at the cake just yet!

By the time I got the cake in, and set up, she was busy mingling.  I was sweating.

I was a bundle of nerves.  First, I was afraid that I was going to drop the cake while walking up the stairs.  Then, I started asking myself crazy questions like:  What if she doesn't like it?  What if she gets to upset over the lady bugs, Is this thing leaning??

Before I could even make myself crazy with anymore of my anal antics,  she turns around to look at the cake and just stands there for a minute.  Then I see tears well up.  She starts fanning her face and hugs me.  And all she can get out is, "The lady bugs, it has lady bugs.  It's just perfect."

Who knew cake would have such an impact....

It really is more than just cake.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cherry Almond Scones with Vanilla and Lemon Zest

Up until this weekend, I was unsure if I liked scones.  The last time I made scones I was just beginning to do a lot of 'from scratch' baking.  I was very novice an unsure of how to kneed dough and what it should look like.  As a result, the scones didn't really turn out well.  They were dry and bland.  This could have entirely been based upon the recipe chosen (I would usually get recipes off All Recipes...because it was the only place I knew at the time).  

After watching too much Food Network on a Saturday afternoon, I printed up several recipes I wanted to try.  This one sat in my recipe folder for awhile and I finally decided Easter morning that I would whip these up to go with the quiche I made for Easter brunch.  I originally wanted to make Neiman Marcus' pop overs with strawberry butter but these babies only take 15 minutes in the oven--the popovers would have to take a back seat this time.

The result?  Completely tender, completely flavorful and utterly satisfying.  I loved these scones and would absolutely make them again.  It would be a great basis to add any fruit or nut.  The only thing is, I may check out a few other recipes--these were almost too good so there is a possibility they had a bit more sugar than needed.  Another thing I would change--the size of these things!  The recipe said to cut into 6 pieces but these were way too big.  You could definitely get 12 out of this recipe and serve them with tea.  My only alteration was adding vanilla extract.

Check out the recipe, here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Banana Cream Pie

I was never one to order or make a pie.  After joining TWD (Tuesday's with Dorie) a few years ago, I began to break out of my cake/cookie mold and started to try new things, including pies.  While I need serious work on my pie crust skills, I must say I really enjoy homemade pie!

The last time I made this pie, I made a ton of alterations-adding a peanut butter layer and a chocolate ganache layer.  It was SOO good but I wanted to just try making a simple version as I was already tackling a few other desserts for Easter.

I made sure I read my notes from the last time I made this--I had a bit of trouble with the custard layer curdling on me.  This time, I was greatly prepared for this and as soon as this started to remotely bubble, I yanked it off the stove as quick as possible and ran it through a sieve over a clean cool bowl.  The custard was a complete success!  I was very pleased with the taste of the cinnamon!   One shortcut I had to make--the pie crust.  I bought a pie crust at Trader Joe; it is very close to homemade if you are in a pinch.  I will say, this pie was excellent...but would have been perfect had I made my own crust.

Click here for the recipe, I followed it to a T with exception of the pie crust.

For my alternative version with peanut butter and chocolate ganache, click here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rack of Lamb with Mint, Golden Raisins and Pine nuts and Greek Yogurt Dip

I have a confession.

I do not like ham, Sam I am.

I'm being serious.  I don't like it at all.  My husband and I would order a ham every year for Easter.   (Lamb is really the more traditional course choice). My father in law would get in line, every year, at the Honeybaked Ham store for all of us.  Bless his heart for doing this.  The last Easter I hosted, the ham just wasn't very good.  And I asked everyone, "Is there a reason we get ham every year?  Does anyone really even like ham?"  I think it was a mixed response of,  "No we don't really care for it," and "We just got ham because that's just what we always did."  End of story....I needed no other reason to make some changes.

My husband's family are wild about lamb over the Christmas holiday.   I make leg of lamb for Christmas with his mom and we make lamb chops for Christmas Eve.  So why not a rack of lamb for Easter?

I've never made an entire rack of lamb, we've always just made single chops.  I must say, this is a welcomed change.  We paired the rack up with a 'relish' topping made of fresh mint, golden raisins, pine nuts, lemon zest and olive oil.  I also had a Greek yogurt dip on the side with fresh mind and shredded cucumber.  All raved over the lamb and its accompaniments.  I think we may have started a grand tradition.  The best part?  It's super easy, quick to prepare, and can all be prepped ahead of time.  Total bonus:  I get to actually enjoy my guests.  There is nothing better than that!

We used this lamb recipe--we seared our lamb racks on the grill until they had grill marks, then put them in a roasting pan in the oven until the thermometer read 135. (About 25-30 minutes).  We also made the pine nut/raisin relish.

Greek Yogurt Dip
16 oz container non-fat Greek Yogurt (I used Trader Joe brand)
1/2 english cucumber, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped fine

In a medium sized bowl, add yogurt and mint.  With a box grater, grate the cucumber.  Wrap the cucumber shreds in a paper towel and drain out the liquid.  Add cucumber shreds to yogurt mixture and mix until combined.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. You can do this the morning of.  The mint tends to brown after being chopped, so I wouldn't really recommend doing this the day before.  This is great with potatoes also!

We served the lamb with roasted baby potatoes and roasted asparagus.  Both were roasted in a 400 degree oven and mixed with olive oil and salt and pepper.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugar Cookies

Last year, I took Easter off.  The thought of hosting a large group of people at my house while I prepped all week, then cleaned up after all the company, was just not in the cards since my little G was only about 6 weeks old.  This year, I was much more able to handle it all--including making 2 desserts.

From the first Easter I spent with my husbands family, I made carrot cake.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  The last few years I've strayed from carrot cake and made a Key Lime Tart, which is equally as delicious, however my husband just isn't a huge fan of citrus desserts.  I decided to bring the carrot cake back into the Easter routine (as well as banana cream pie--you will see that on a future post this week).

I've always made the Better Homes and Gardens carrot cake, ever since I FIRST started baking.   In fact, it was one of the first cakes I made for my husband when we first started dating, 7 years ago.  I just wanted to try something new this time to see what was out there.  I've been pulling out my Joy of Cooking book a lot lately and decided I would give their version a try.  I had to change a few things, but overall--the cake got rave reviews.

It's funny.  When you pull out desserts, people get excited.  I think everyone gets excited for food in general, but there is just something about dessert.  When I set the cake on the table, it got a lot of 'oooh's and ahhh's' but when I said, "It's carrot cake", every man at that table said, "OH!  I want a piece of that!" What is it with men and carrot cake?

Overall, I would make this cake again.  It was extremely moist.  When I say, extremely, it was to the point the night before, when I pulled it out of the plastic wrap I stored it in,  that I pushed on the cake and  it seemed somewhat of a wet sponge.  I panicked.  I thought, did I bake it long enough?  I knew that I surely did.  While assembling the cake, I had to level it off a bit and while tasting the pieces of the crumbs I determined that it was just moist.  Really moist.  I omitted the walnuts (I am not a huge fan of nuts in my cake and I have several allergic family and friends with nut/walnut allergies which meant less sharing opportunity), I also omitted the raisins and pineapple.   I think, had I added them, the cake may not have been so overly moist and the layers may have been a lot higher.

This recipe makes 2, 8-inch round cake layers, each about 1-inch in height.  If I made this cake again, I would double the recipe to be able to slice each layer in half to make this a 4 layer cake.

I paired this with Georgetown cupcakes, "Vanilla Buttercream" recipe, which is really cream cheese frosting.

Carrot Cake
Adapted from "Joy of Cooking"

Sift and whisk together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together in another large bowl:
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir in:
2 cups carrots
(you could also add 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup raisins, and 1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple drained if you wish, just reduce carrots to 1.5 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 8-inch round pans with parchment paper.  Spray with cooking spray, then coat each pan with flour and tap out the excess.  Set cake pans on a large baking sheet.

Whisk flour mixture, then add it to the oil/egg mixture slowly.  Fold in carrots (this is where you would add any nuts/raisins etc) and mix until just combined.  Divide equally into the pans.  Bake 25-30 minutes.  I pulled mine out at 25 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting, (double this recipe), click here.

For my Cream Cheese Frosting Variation:

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Georgetown Cupcake
Yield: Enough to generously frost 1, 8-inch layer cake

3/4 cup butter, room temp
12 oz cream cheese, must be room temp (or else you risk curdling your frosting)
2 lb (8 cups) confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Mix all together until fully combined and fluffy.

For the sugar cookie recipe, click here!
Level cake layers.  Wrap cooled layers in plastic wrap.  Put in freezer for 30 minutes or up to a day (you could do it longer but you compromise the fresh flavor).  Flip 1-layer and place bottom side up.  Frost the top with desired amount of frosting.  Place other layer on top.  Bottom side up.  Frost remainder of cake.  You can pop this in the freezer for 10-minutes in between frosting the layers to firm up the middle.  To place the cookies against the cake, pipe a tablespoon of frosting on the back of the cookie to make it stick.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Lemon-y Sugar Cookies

My baby cousin, Billy (I can call him my baby cousin because my mom watched him when he was just a baby --sorry Bill!  ;)  ), is serving in the Air Force and will be away from the family for Easter this year.  My aunt wanted to make sure he had a nice care package before the holiday so she called to see if I could help out by making 5 dozen cookies.  Of course, sugar cookies had to be on the list and I decided that I would try my hand at decorating with royal icing instead of my traditional vanilla buttercream to keep them from getting smashed in the mail.  I think I need a bit more practice (who better to practice on than family) but I think a few of these turned out really cute!  It took a lot of will power to not eat all of these.  I know he and his fellow airman/and ladies will enjoy these.

This is my 'go to' sugar cookie these days.  I really like it.  It's sugary, and lemon-y and the perfect combination of crunch and chew.  I've tried several over the years, but I always come back to this one.

Send some cookies to someone you love!

Love ya, Billy!  Thank you for serving our country!  xo

Lemon-y Sugar Cutout Cookies
Recipe derived from: "Fabulous Cookies" by Hilaire Walden
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of salt
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1.        In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Then add the sugar and cream until pale and fluffy.
2.       Add the egg and yolk, one at a time. Then add the vanilla and zest.
3.       Sift the flour and salt mixture and add slowly with the mixer running. Be careful not to over mix. Only mix until the flour is just incorporated.
4.  Decorate as desired!  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Antique Book Cake with Yellow Vanilla Bean Cake and Vanilla Buttercream

Quick question:  Does this look like a book?

Hopefully it does!  But it's not!  It's all CAKE!

I look in amazement and smile at this thing every single time I pass it sitting on my counter.  I made this.  

I stared at it for over a day before I finished it (had to 'title' the darn thing) and let's face it, I stink at writing on cakes (if anything blew my cover it was the writing on the cake...).   After a 4 hour cake class with Michelle Bommarito this weekend, I came home with this.  It truly is a work of art.  (This took me WAAY more than 4 hours to complete folks...this does not include baking the cake, making the frosting, or completing the darn thing...)

I must say though, I struggled a bit through the class.  On top of the fact that I work extremely slow:  I, a home baker, and cake novice, practically a no-body at this point, was surrounded by other cake bakers or should I say, cake bussiness/cake decorators/cake artists extraordinaer (someone help me spell this?).  It was humbling at best.

There I was, knowing nearly nothing.  Wondering what mess I got myself into this time and how on earth was I going to pull this off without looking like a total fool.  You know what she said when she came to my work station and saw my Williams Sonoma rolling pin?  "Yea, that rolling pin?  It looks like Susie Homemaker, you have to get rid of that!"  THINK Courtney, THINK..."Ummm", I stammered..."It was a wedding gift".  "  "Baby (she called all of us Baby), get yourself one of these," she say's pointing to a long wooden rolling pin.  I nodded, "I will. I will".

Humor aside, the class was not short of fabulous.  An eye opener to many things other than JUST cake.  Michelle is a true bussiness woman, and I admire her work very much. She worked with everyone on their cakes and spoke quickly in between helping.  It was so much fun and I can't wait to sign up for another class.  I kept thinking, I wonder what it would be like to work in her bakery.  I'd be lucky if she helped me wash her dishes.

Anyway, all you care about is the cake right?

Here we go:  The cake is made of a 9x13 sheet cake.  I carved out the areas to make it look like a book binding, iced the cake, covered it in chocolate fondant, then use tylose mixed with fondant (tylose stiffens up the fondant to the point that makes it dry extremely hard--if you throw it, it will shatter) to make the binding squares.  I used a clay imprinter to make the design on the squares that I borrowed from another student (God bless America).  I then 'painted' the book with clear vanilla extract for sheen.  I used gold disco dust to 'paint' the binding squares then adhered them to the cake.  I wrote on the cake with white royal icing--I know...I need to find a new method- OR- just work on my writing method period.  My Wilton cake instructor always said, "Don't stall when writing on the cake....just keep moving".  It's great I just need to practice.

Even after this cake sat on my counter for a couple of days...when I cut was still moist.  This is one of the best yellow cake recipes I have used thus far.  Super flavorful, great crumb texture and ultra moist.  I really love the vanilla bean flavor coming through.  It's a surprise, but I haven't made it since my "future sister in laws" birthday 2 years ago!  I think I need to bring this recipe back into my regular rotation because it's the best I have tried thus far.

For the cake recipe, click here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mascarpone Pasta with Peas and Carrots

My 21 pound one-year old could eat her body weight in pasta.  This isn't a joke.

After giving her a very good sized bowl at dinner, she signed "more".  So, I walk over to the stove, and scoop more pasta into her bowl.  A short time later, she signs "more" and deliberately points over to the pot sitting on the stove.  3 bowls later, she starts signing again, and pointing.  I had to draw the line.  I mean, her stomach was going to explode.

I've never had issues with sneaking vegetables in to my little one's diet.  Thankfully, she will eat nearly anything I put in front of her, but this pasta dish could hide nearly anything.  I put chicken in this pasta as well.

The best thing about this?  It is homemade (ie no powder cheese sauce here) and it really takes less than 15 minutes to put together.  I simplified a Giada recipe I loved that just took a bit more time than I wished to spend.  The end result, a very happy baby belly.

Mascarpone Pasta with Peas and Carrots
recipe derived from: Giada De Laurentiis

3/4 pound small pasta, I used fiori
6 oz mascarpone cheese
6 oz cream cheese
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (not from the can...)
1 cup low sodium or homemade chicken stock
2-3 large carrots, pealed and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 cup frozen peas

Boil two pots of water.  One pasta pot, and one medium sized saucepan.  In the pasta pot, boil the pasta with salted water until soft or el dente (depending on your taste or who you are serving).  Drain most of the water out (reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water).  Meanwhile, in the medium saucepan, boil the carrots.  Once the carrots are soft, add the frozen peas and cook for about a minute.  Drain.

In the pasta pot with the pasta, add the chicken stock, mascarpone and cream cheese.  Stir until melted and smooth.  Add vegetables and top with parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, April 15, 2011

French Inspired Blue Fondant and White Floral Cake

I decided sometime last week that I was going to start my own baking business.  While I am still working on building a website (I bake cakes...not websites so this will be a work in progress) I have finally decided on a name.  I are all in suspense.  I'll release it when I get my website up.  Besides, I don't want my hard work with an email focus group to go to waste ;).

In order to get my business in order, there are many MANY things I need to learn.  I took a tall cakes class this week to learn the concepts of stacking a tall cake.  I've been scouring the net for weeks for ideas and I couldn't narrow them down until the night before.  Quite convenient really, when I've got a very needy active toddler on my hands.  The fact that she unloaded every single one of my linen drawers in my kitchen was just going to have to happen if I was going to get this thing done.  Quite surprisingly, she enjoyed the cake baking.  She knows the sound of my Kitchen Aid mixer.  So much so, that when she hears it, she is at my ankles... immediately..... waiting for her turn to lick the beaters.  I tell you, it is more gratifying than any cake to watch her do that.
This didn't all run completely smoothly, though.  I made the fondant myself.  Although I have made it before successfully, for some reason, the night before this thing was due, it was giving me H-E --double hockey sticks.  Thankfully, my husband takes great orders and helped resolve the problem.  You can see the fondant is a bit bumpy as a result.  For a test cake....I'm cool with that because it saved me $40 in buying the fondant pre-made.  

I made the flowers out of 3/4 gum paste 1/4 fondant mix.  I realize the flowers don't exactly match.  I needed a smaller cutter but driving out to the cake store was not an option for me.  So I improvised with what I had.   I like both flowers--but they probably belong on separate cakes.  

I LOVE the way the top flower looks.  Very whimsical and classy.  I love the little button details.   It would be perfect for a wedding, anniversary or special birthday.  The smaller daisy ones are more cutesy.  Probably more appropriate for a beach wedding or birthday.  Overall, I like the contrast and will have to work on an improved version of this cake.
I tried a few new recipes with this as well.  Like last time, I was left unimpressed.  Therefore, I am not posting the recipes this time.  Both cakes were too "wedding cake" tasting to me.  Unlike the design of the cake, the cake flavor was dry, and unmemorable.  (Except for my wedding cake of course....I still dream of that thing!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Feta, Kalamata Olives and Dill

I love wandering through Whole Foods.  I could spend an afternoon wandering the isles looking at everything.  These days, I don't get much of an opportunity to sit and clog the grocery isles...because I am quickly reminded I have a toddler with me as a cheerio whizzes by my head.

But, while my little one does not share my patience for shopping, there is one thing we both have in common--we both love food.  What could be better than that?

I found this quinoa salad while wandering passed the salad bar at Whole Foods and fell in love with it.  It's no secret Whole Foods is often called "Whole Paycheck".  While I truly believe good food is worth every penny, there are ways you can make good things at home and maybe save a few bucks.

My secret?  Trader Joe!  It's my favorite haven for everything organic...and everything on the cheap.  I purchased the olives, feta and quinoa at Trader Joe.  I bought the dill at another local store.  AND no, TJ's didn't pay me to post this (If TJ's is reading this...feel free to contact me to be your local cheerleader)  I just love the store ;).

If you are unsure of what quinoa is, its a grain.  It is VERY easy to cook, basically boil water, pull the pot off the burner, throw your quinoa in and cover for a few minutes.  Its super easy and SUPER good for you!  I love the texture of it too.

This is one of my favorite 'go to' salads to have in my fridge.  I think you will love it too!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Feta, Kalamata Olives and Dill
Recipe by: Cafe Coco

1 cup quinoa (cooked according to package instructions)
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup kalamata olives chopped coarsely
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
Olive oil, drizzled on the top.  My personal fave?  Katz and Co.

Cook quinoa according to package instructions, then cool completely.  Add feta cheese, kalamata olives, and dill.  Mix together.  Drizzle olive oil on top.  Serve!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dark Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Mousse Filling and Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream Chocolate Shavings and Chocolate Covered Strawberries

The winter months are busy with birthdays in my family.  Last year, I had just given birth to my sweet baby G, so my husband had to deal with a bakery bought cake.   After pulling off an extraordinary 1st birthday party for my daughter, I knew my 'husbands cake' would be a simple task to pull off.
This time, I made a slight improvement:  I added homemade chocolate covered strawberries!  I also tried a new chocolate mousse recipe for the filling.  I used this filling because it didn't have raw egg in it, and a few readers have asked me for one.  This is definitely good, and a perfect alternative if you are serving this cake to small children, pregnant women, or anyone that may have a compromised immune system ;).  I have never had an issue with using raw eggs, but sometimes, you have to be extra careful.  I will say, while this is the perfect alternative, the other mousse recipe seems to be a bit more rich, chocolaty, and fluffier.

I used my go to chocolate cake recipe, in 2, 8-inch round pans.  Each layer was sliced in half to make 4 layers.  Each layer was filled with chocolate mousse.  The cake was frosted with Italian Meringue Buttercream, and topped with chocolate shavings and chocolate covered strawberries drizzled with white chocolate.  The end result?  Divine.  Just DIVINE!

Chocolate cake recipe, click here.

Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe, click here.

Dark Chocolate Mousse
recipe from Better Homes and Gardens

8 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 egg yolks, beaten lightly
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, add chocolate, eggs, sugar, water, and 1/2 cup heavy cream.  Stir over medium heat until mixture starts to bubble a little along the edges.  Remove from heat and add put in a bowl.  Put bowl over an ice bath.  Cool for about 15-20 minutes.  Stir about every 5 minutes.

Beat remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks.  Fold into the cooled chocolate mixture in 3 additions with a rubber spatula.  DO NOT BEAT, this will cause the cream to break down and cause this to become soupy.  Cover with plastic wrap, touching the mousse.  Cool for about 2 hours or up to one day.

*you can use this as a simple dessert and serve with whipped cream and berries or you can fill a cake with it.  It will fill one 8-inch round cake.  It will fill approximately 3 layers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Halibut Sandwich and Toasted Couscous Salad

Over the weekend, I was able to catch up on my favorite food network shows.  Giada's struck me (maybe it was because they were all hanging at the beach and there is no warm weather in sight in MI yet!).  After watching, my husband and I were drooling.  I look over at him, and said "Should we make this today?"  He gets up immediately from his seat and says, "Yes, I will get a pen a paper and write you a list".   That's my husband.  Mr. Helpful.

We made everything from the show, I made the kalamata dip (no pictured) first so we could snack on that while we prepped dinner.  The halibut sandwich (sorry the picture is rather dark!) was SO good.  Toasting the ciabatta bread with olive oil and then rubbing a garlic clove on it was probably my favorite part...and smelled SOO good!  The toasty couscous salad was also a play on flavors.  Every bite was different and unexpected.  I will definitely make it all again.  I wasn't a huge fan of the beer though.  I like dark bitter beer.  This was WAAAAAY too sweet.  I suppose if you enjoyed bourbon, you might enjoy the star anise and cinnamon in the beer.

Check out the recipes, here!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Apple Blossom Fondant Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

Last night was my last Class #2 of Wilton.  (I've taken them somewhat out of order...and re-took #2 for a refresher).  I was put under a bit of pressure from my fellow classmate, Dolce by Dana, to step outside the box once again and NOT choose something from the Wilton suggestion book.  Originally I figured I might just take it easy this time but as the weeks drew closer I knew I would have to think of something.   Last time, I made flowers out of gumpaste and it was almost as the sky was the limit (there are just SO many beautiful choices with gumpaste).  But, this time, I felt as though I should probably stick with the flowers shown in class as I REALLY need more practice working with buttercream and royal icing flowers.

So off I went one saturday afternoon, working for several hours on 133 apple blossoms.  One discovery I made while in my Wilton classes 2 years ago was mixing a white icing inside the pink icing bag I was too lazy to clean out--it mixes almost a marshmallow-y swirl hue!  So this time I decided that I would mix the royal icing half way through which made the flowers half white/half mauve.  I really liked the way they turned out!

I realize, this cake actually resembles what really SHOULD be a cherry blossom.  I know.  But after googling "Apple Blossom" the pictures that popped up were cakes that resembled this.  And I only realized this AFTER making 133 apple blossoms.  133.  So I knew that, either way, even though it wouldn't be aesthetically accurate, I was going to go through with my original plan to get the practice drawing trees.

I tried some new recipes this time for experimental sake.  The cake is made of the Yellow Downy Cake from "The Cake Bible", and filled with a Chocolate Buttercream made with egg yolks from the same book and frosted with Italian Meringue Buttercream (well, what I had little of anyway).  Then covered in marshmallow fondant that was colored blue (and then somehow changed itself to purple).  I used 2, 9-inch pans, although next time I would definitely use 8-inch pans as these layers turned out way smaller than expected.

I'm not posting the recipe this time because I wasn't really a fan of the cake itself-I felt it was a bit on the dry side.  Overall...the practice was definitely worth the effort!  I will have to try this cake on a larger stacked scale...sometime soon!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Samoa Cupcakes

I hosted a CAbi party at my house last weekend and I knew one good way to get people over to my house was to bribe entice them with cupcakes.  It's sneaky.  Rather sneaky.

I knew that since the party was to be 'fashioned based' my cupcakes better come dressed for the party.  And did they ever!

I saw these sinful silhouettes over at Fields of Cake a few weeks ago and I nearly fell over.  THANKFULLY, I had made the deadline for hunting down a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies last minute.  And when I say, last minute, I mean checking the girl scout website for locations the night before they were set to close up shop, calling said locations, and then peeling into the parking lot at said location 30 minutes before girl scout table shut down, and knocking a few people over with my grocery cart on the way in.  It had to be done.  I meant serious business.

Meanwhile, I get home and realize I made a stupid mistake.  Stupid.  I only bought 2 boxes of Samoas.  Meaning....I only bought enough to make these once.  ONCE.  What was I thinking?  I could have thrown a few boxes of these things in my freezer.  Ugh.  Kicking my own leg....

Anyway, I will mention as a side note, since I was terribly rude to post these when you probably cannot get Samoas anywhere, that these cupcakes actually TASTE like a Samoa so there is no need to put the cookie on top.  It's for looks...and to tell the looker, "Hey, I am a Samoa cupcake, see?"  There are a few things you can do to the top that would probably really make it look like a Samoa, such as: drizzling more ganache on top with the caramel as well as drizzling a bit of coconut on top.  That should do it.

Besides the look of these cakes, I was really interested in the way she made her frosting.  It was something I have never seen anywhere and I read a lot of cake books, and A LOT of food blogs.  She used pudding mix.  I think this replaces a lot of the sugar because, well, pudding mix is basically sugar.  I must say, it creates a very dense flavor without that 'sugar in your face' flavor.  I might have to experiment with this stuff a bit more.  Plus, its super easy to make.

I changed a few of the recipes and ways this was here we go.  

First, what's in this thing anyway?

Lets start with the bottom and work our way to the top:

Cookie Crust bottom
Chocolate cupcake
Chocolate coconut caramel filling
Chocolate ganache
Coconut Rum buttercream
Vanilla caramel
Samoa Cookie

Now before you freak out- yes.  This has a lot of components.  This is true.  BUT all components come together pretty quickly and you can break it down and do each over the course of a day or so.

Cookie Crust
9 oz. cookies (I used TJ's mini choc chip cookies but you can use shortbread cookies and add a few tablespoons of mini chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons toasted coconut
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted

Put ingredients (except for the butter) in a ziploc and roll a rolling pin over it to break it down into small pieces. Add the butter and mix around until all combined. Spoon about a tablespoon into each cupcake liner and tap it down with the back of the spoon. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Let cool and make your cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcake for pictures, click here.

Beaty’s Chocolate CupcakesFrom: Ina Garten

1 ¾ Cups all-purpose flour
2 Cups granulated sugar
¾ Cup good cocoa powder (I used Callebaut)
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 Cup buttermilk
½ Cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 Cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used a French roast)

1. In a large mixing bowl: Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt together.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
3. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry with the mixer on LOW.
4. With the mixer still running on low, add the coffee and mix just until combined.
5. Warning: Batter will be VERY thin (so thin you may think you are missing something)
6. Pour batter into cupcake liners or use an ice cream scoop. Fill 3/4 full.
7. Bake cupcakes for 17-22 minutes at 350 or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Caramel Filling
Recipe derived from Fields of Cake

1/3 cup toasted coconut chopped (mush them up a bit with your fingers)
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup corn syrup
pinch sea salt (fine)
1/2 Cup water
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter cut into 6 chunks
1/2 Cup heavy cream (room temp)
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 teaspoon rum extract

Make sure all of your ingredients are measured out and sitting by the stove.  Caramel moves fast and everything need s to be ready.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pot, combine:  sugar, corn syrup, salt and water.  Whisk until mixture comes to a bowl and sugar dissolves. Cover pot for about 2 minutes and allow the steam to clean the sides of the pot.   Uncover and turn burner to high. Boil mixture without stirring until it reaches 315 degrees, this will take awhile.  (It took mine over 5 minutes but keep an eye on it and don't leave that stove!) Remove from the heat and swirl the pot.  (Mixture should be a light amber color).  Gently drop in the butter pieces and whisk.  Pour in the cream, and whisk again.  Stir in the extract.  Set aside about a cup of caramel (for the finishing drizzle).  Then add coconut, and chocolate chips to the caramel in the saucepan.  Don't worry, the chocolate chips are supposed to melt.  

Coconut Rum Buttercream
Recipe derived from Fields of Cake

1 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
1,  3-ounce package white chocolate pudding mix
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon rum extract
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 cup powdered sugar 

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and pudding mix on high for about 5 minutes until fluffy.  Scrape down sides and add cream and extract.  Beat on high for another 5 minutes.  Turn mixer to stir and add powdered sugar.  Beat on medium high until combined.  Taste and adjust sugar and flavorings.

Chocolate Ganache

6 oz dark chocolate, chopped 
3/4 cup heavy cream

Put chocolate in a large bowl.  Put heavy cream in a microwavable measuring cup and microwave for about 1-2 minutes (until hot).  Pour cream over the chocolate and stir until confirmed.

To assemble:
(after cupcakes have cooled completely) cone out a nickel size hole with a pairing knife.  Pull out cupcake piece and reserve.  Fill with about a teaspoon of the chocolate coconut caramel mixture.  Put cupcake 'cork' back in.  Top with chocolate ganache. (I tipped the cupcakes over into the ganache and swirled them to stand them up).  I then put them in the refrigerator to set the ganache.  Pipe butter cream on.  Drizzle caramel on top of buttercream (the plain stuff without the chocolate/coconut).  Tip: don't put warm caramel on top it will melt the buttercream.  Top with a cookie.  EAT!