Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Asian Inspired Cucumber Salad



We are a family of salad lovers. I know I've said it before, but I'm truly blessed with children who are not picky and always willing to give something new a try. They also adore their "greens" and a meal at our house would not be complete without a salad or vegetable along with dinner. Sure they all have their favorites, but even some of the less liked vegetables get eaten. They are all in agreement though when it comes to cucumbers; every single one of my kids loves them. They enjoy them when tucked into their lunchboxes with a little bit of light ranch dressing, but also love cucumbers with abundance when included in any kind of salad. 

My husband brought home two gorgeous looking English cucumbers a couple of days ago and after snacking on one, I still had one leftover to make a salad. I was looking for an Asian inspired recipe since I was preparing a Thai meal that evening. Checking the inventory of my fridge I also found carrots, radishes and red onion and figured all of them would fit perfectly into a salad. I found a basic recipe on Savory Sweet Life and decided to give it a go. This salad comes together quickly, it's the cutting of the carrots and radishes into matchsticks which will take you the longest. Once all the vegetables are cut, they are combined with the dressing. The vinaigrette is a simple mixture of rice vinegar, sugar (which I reduced from the original), chili garlic sauce and salt. The dressing is added to the vegetables and then everything is refrigerated for a couple of hours. I added two teaspoons of the chili garlic sauce and found it a sufficient heat level, but feel free to add more or less to taste.

This salad turned out great. The kids and us adults really enjoyed this great mix of sweet and sour along with the crunch of the vegetables. This is definitely a keeper and lends itself to so many different meals. I especially loved this salad since it is very light and with no oil in the vinaigrette it is also not too shabby on your waistline and boy, don't we all know that the bathing suit season is approaching!



Asian Inspired Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:
1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (a mandolin works great)
1 large carrot, peeled and matchstick-julienned
4 radishes, matchstick-julienned
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:
In a microwavable bowl add rice vinegar, sugar, chili garlic sauce, and salt. Heat the bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds. Stir the vinaigrette until the sugar is completely dissolved. In a medium size bowl add the sliced cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and red onion. Pour vinaigrette over the cucumber mixture and toss. Cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

Slightly adapted from: Savory Sweet Life 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mini White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecakes

 
Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. I can honestly say it's been a blast. 19 years of laughter and love and hopefully many more to come. 
We decided to keep our special day fairly low-key and enjoy it with our children. The weather was spectacular with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the high 70's. Perfect!
We started our day with a lovely brunch of salmon and different cheeses along with artisan bread, fruit and of course mimosas (for the adults). We spent the afternoon just hanging out on the back porch, reading and sharing a good bottle of wine. Our dinner was just as lovely and truly a combined effort. My husband grilled some nice looking T-bone steaks and fresh asparagus, while I made roasted herbed fingerling potatoes and my Favorite "Fancy" Salad. I knew I wanted something special for dessert and knowing how much my husband loves anything with fruit that's not too sweet, I thought a cheesecake would fit the bill. 



I found this great recipe on foodnetwork.com for a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. I did make a few changes to the written recipe and it turned out great. Instead of making one big cheesecake I thought it would be fun to make mini cheesecakes. There is something that appeals to me every time when presented with a "personal" dessert. The crust is simply composed of graham crackers and slivered almonds, ground up in a food-processor until well combined and mixed with butter. That's it, no extra sugar required, which I really liked considering the filling is quite rich. The cheesecake part is pretty much your average recipe, but is in enhanced with melted white chocolate which takes away a little more of the tartness of the cream cheese and leaves you with an incredible smooth mouth-feel with every bite. It also helps adjust the sweetness level since the filling only calls for a little more than 1/2 cup of sugar. To make my cheesecakes even more special, I decided to add dollops of seedless raspberry jam to each of my Mini Springfrom Pans and gently swirl it into the filling with a toothpick. The mini version of this dessert bakes up in just 25 minutes. You will however have to cool the cheesecakes in the refrigerator over night which really helps "set" the finished dessert.

We ate these fantastic cheesecakes with fresh raspberries on the side and they were indeed a fitting ending to a wonderful Anniversary! I think these cheesecakes would be wonderful for any occasion. I could definitely see them being served for baby showers, birthdays, a special dinner, or simply as the perfect dessert for the perfect husband!



Mini White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecakes
~makes 6 Mini Cheesecakes~

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups (7 ounces) graham crackers
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
7 ounces fine-quality white chocolate
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam, slightly warm and whisked to remove any lumps
Fresh raspberries for decoration (optional)

Directions:
For the crust: Finely grind almonds and graham crackers in a food processor and add butter, blending until combined. Press over bottom and 2/3 up the sides of 6 mini springform pans*. Set aside.

For the filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, and remove from heat.

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy, then beat in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well at low speed and scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Beat in flour and vanilla until just combined, then add melted chocolate in a slow stream, beating until filling is well combined.

Pour filling over crust. Add a couple of teaspoons of raspberry jam to each pan and gently swirl with a toothpick to get a marble effect being careful not to overmix.

Set mini-pans on a baking sheet and place in the middle of oven. Bake for about 25 minutes or until cake is set, but center is still wobbly when pans are shaken gently shaken.

Remove from oven, run a thin knife around edge of cake to loosen, then cool completely in pans on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools). Serve chilled with additional raspberries if desired.

*Alternately you can just make this in a 10-inch springform pan. 

Adapted from: Foodnetwork



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Snickerdoodle Muffins



I bookmark and print out a lot of recipes almost daily. There are so many fabulous bloggers and blogs out there that have appealing dishes, that my list is ever growing. Unfortunately, it also means there are not enough hours in the day to make all of these delicious sounding and looking dishes. If there was, I'd be in serious trouble and probably would be spending more time at the gym than in the kitchen anyway. Every once in a while though, I look through my piles of papers or bookmarks to try something new. This week was the perfect opportunity to make some muffins. The kids were on spring break and had been begging me to fix some muffins for breakfast. Looking for something that could be made quickly, I remembered a recipe for Snickerdoodle Muffins which I had printed out a while back from Tasty Kitchen.

I made Snickerdoodle Cupcakes almost a year ago and the entire family loved them, but they are hardly what I call breakfast appropriate. These muffins seemed to fit the bill a little more. Now, don't get me wrong, they are still not healthy, but they are a great occasional treat. The dough comes together quickly, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla are mixed with flour, baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar. The addition of sour cream and buttermilk are what makes these muffins light as a feather though. The dough is fairly stiff once it is all mixed together and this is were the real fun starts. You drop "blobs" of it (a 3 Tbsp. ice cream scoop works great) into a cinnamon sugar mixture and carefully roll the dough around in it to make sure it is coated on all sides before carefully placing it into a lined muffin tin. Then, another sprinkle of cinnamon sugar is applied on top before being baked.

These muffins bake up beautiful. The top starts to crackle and gets a nice little cinnamon sugar crust. The muffins itself aren't overly sweet, but have a great flavor because of their "bath" in the sugar mixture. The inside of the muffins are incredibly delicate and light, they literally melt in your mouth. Huge hit with the entire family and they are perfect with a cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, which is how my crew decided to enjoy them. This recipe got two thumbs up all the way around, or in the words of my 13 year old "Mom, these muffins are super duper delicious!"


Snickerdoodle Muffins
 ~makes 20 muffins~

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup buttermilk

For the topping:
2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and buttermilk and mix to combine. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until you have smooth batter, making sure not to overmix.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping. Use an ice cream scooper (I used a large 3 tablespoon one) and plop a scoop of batter into the bowl with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently roll the batter in the sugar and cinnamon. Place the ball into the muffin liner.

When you have completed all of the muffins, sprinkle the leftover cinnamon sugar onto the tops of all of the muffins.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for about 15-18 minutes or until they are golden on top and just baked through.

Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen

Thursday, March 24, 2011

German Soft Pretzel Bites



I grew up eating pretzels from a young age. Us Germans start early on with cultivating our love for certain foods, in fact, even young babies around 1 year of age tend to have their first pretzel experience by being handed a piece of pretzel to chew on. There are so many ways to enjoy a good pretzel in Germany. In Bavaria for example, a good pretzel or "Brezen" is enjoyed with beer, a pair of Weisswurst and German sweet mustard on the weekends for brunch. While the soft pretzel shape is very popular in Germany, the same dough is also formed into rolls or bread-sticks, before being immersed into a lye mixture which will give the pretzels their typical color and taste. For the "home-baker" though, a baking soda/water solution will produce a similar result.

You would think with eating pretzels all my life I would be an expert on making them as well, but forming a decent one is more difficult than it looks. I've tried it many years ago and while they didn't look half-bad, it is much easier to purchase them, especially when living in Germany. You can find great bakeries on almost every corner. Their prices are great and most of these bakeries still produce their daily offerings on site. Unfortunately, the closest thing I've ever found to an authentic tasting German pretzel here in the United States happens to be at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia where some of the Amish vendors sell them and they taste almost like home.



While browsing blogs, I happened to come across these Pretzel bites on Two Peas and Their Pod and was instantly intrigued by the color of these little gems along with the ease of the recipe. Would I be able to produce a similar tasting experience I grew up with? The dough is a simple yeast dough which comes together with ease, especially when using a Kitchen Aid or a bread-maker. The dough then sits to rise for about an hour before being formed into long ropes. The ropes are cut into 1 1/2 inch size pieces before being immersed into a water/baking soda mixture for 30 seconds. Finally, the nuggets get a brushing with egg-wash and a sprinkle of Kosher salt before being baked.

These little guys are perfect! The do taste very similar to the pretzels I remember and I was instantly thrown back to my childhood. As soon as I pulled one tray out of the oven my husband and kids kept nibbling away on them and I had to remind them that I still needed a few to take pictures with. I served my pretzel bites with assorted mustards and they were simply fantastic. These nuggets would be fabulous served at any time and a glass of cold beer on the side makes them even better. Now I wish I could just get my hands on a pair of those Weisswursts.




German Soft Pretzel Bites

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse Kosher Salt

Preparation:
Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and 4 1/2 cups of flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 yo 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.

Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring the water to boil in a pot over high heat and add the baking soda (be careful while you do this as your pot will start to bubble over very easily).

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (I ended up with 9 pieces) about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape. Cut the dough into 1 1/2- inch pieces to make the pretzel bites (a bench scraper works wonderful for this). Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches (about 15 pieces at time). Boil for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooing spray. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minute or until golden brown. (The color of my nuggets is pretty much spot on with a German pretzel).

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. Serve with mustard. 

Adapted from: Two Peas and Their Pod

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nutella Chocolate Cookies



Dear Mr. Pietro Ferrero, 
I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for inventing "Pasta Gianduja" or as we have come to know it, Nutella, in 1946. Because of your incredible creation you have brought me hours at the gym joy in eating, and just as much happiness baking with this wonderful chocolaty goodness. It is rare that something that is quite simple in ingredients would sweep nations and cause almost "mass hysteria" when showcased in a dessert. You have done an outstanding public service, and for that I'm eternally grateful!
Sincerely,
Susi's Kochen und Backen Adventures

Oh yeah, my love for Nutella is like no other. I'm hardcore and prefer it straight up, with a spoon, but also can't pass up a great dessert made with this stuff. So it was only logical when I came across today's recipe and saw it was utilizing one whole cup of the brown gold, that I had to make it. Another good reason (or justification), all three of my kids are on spring break and we all know that kids and cookies go together hand in hand, right? This recipe makes for pretty thin, crispy cookies, but the center stays semi-soft. Most of my family prefers big thick chewy cookies, but I haven't heard any complaints so far and the batch is almost gone. 
This cookie doesn't look fancy, but don't let that deceive you. The batter is kicked up with the addition of Nutella, chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips. Both of the latter ingredients mimicking Nutella and with that, the cookie is full of flavor and depth. 

The batch makes quite a lot of cookies, but after sending some to work with my husband and countless neighbor-kids "passing by", there are only a handful left. I had a couple of 9 year old boys tell me that I make the best homemade cookies. That made my day and earned this recipe a permanent spot in my recipe files. So, if you are like me and harbor a quite unnatural love for Nutella and cookies, don't wait to make these little guys. There is never a wrong time to bake cookies and these chocolaty gems taste great with a big tall glass of milk or a cup of coffee.



Nutella Chocolate Cookies
 ~makes 6 dozen~

Ingredients:
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup Nutella
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter in an electric mixer for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and Nutella and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each. Add the vanilla and mix for 10 seconds.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda (do not skip this step as sifting eliminates clumps of cocoa). Mix into the butter mixture on low speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the bottom and sides at least once to ensure even mixing. Fold in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts and refrigerate the dough for ten minutes.

Spoon tablespoon-sized drops of dough onto parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes. Allow to cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Adapted from: Simply Recipes

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

 
Would you like to know how to make new friends? It's actually quite easy, first thing you have to be invited to a party. Secondly you need to make some very tasty "adult only" cupcakes and bring them along to said party. Lastly, sit back and enjoy watching everyone moan while eating those cupcakes. Follow all of these steps and I guarantee you will be an instant hit at any party. 

These cupcakes are made up of three distinct components. A chocolate Guinness cupcake filled with a white chocolate Bailey's truffle center and topped with Bailey's buttercream. Oh yeah, these little babies are laced with liquor and are somewhat reminiscent of a drink called an "Irish Car Bomb". It consists of a glass of Guinness along with Irish Whiskey and Bailey's Irish Cream. The whiskey is floated on top of the Irish Cream in a shot glass, and the shot glass is then dropped into the stout. Talk about potent!

Guinness and chocolate are a match made in heaven and I'm now officially in love with with this combination. You can't tell that the batter is made with beer, but it rather enhances the chocolate flavor and adds a rich undertone, almost reminding me of espresso. I also chose to go with an extra dark cocoa powder which along with the beer makes for a not too sweet cupcake which happens to be the perfect vessel for the truffle center and frosting. The truffle center is chopped white chocolate (I used Lindt) mixed with hot heavy cream, butter and Bailey's.  After the cupcake is baked I used an apple corer to remove part of my cupcakes so I could fill them with the truffle mixture. Putting the truffle mixture into a disposable pastry bag made filling the cakes a cinch.  I didn't even bother replacing the tops since I knew the holes would be covered by frosting anyway, and this way they ended up being my afternoon snack. The buttercream is simply butter with powdered sugar, and for additional flavor more Bailey's Irish Cream is incorporated.

These cupcakes were really a hot commodity at the party. People were pleasantly surprised, especially by the Guinness in the cupcake batter and every single person that tried them was in agreement that these cupcakes were pretty much one of the best ones they had ever eaten. So, if you are still looking for a little something to bring along to a St. Patrick's day celebration or just looking for a great dessert after that corned beef and cabbage, then this is your recipe. On Thursday make sure to wear something green, drink a green beer, but most of all have a happy St. Patrick's Day. Éirinn go Brách - Ireland Forever!


Also, make sure to check out some of my posts from the previous year when my blog was still in its infancy if you are looking for more St. Patrick's Day inspired recipes:

Glazed Corned Beef
Irish Colcannon Potatoes
Fried Cabbage
Irish Soda Bread
Shepherd's Pie
Irish Cream Cupcakes with Bailey's Frosting



Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey's Truffle Centers and Bailey's Buttercream
 ~makes 24 cupcakes~ 
(Print this Recipe)

Ingredients:
For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes:
1 cup Guinness beer
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

For the Bailey's Truffle Centers:
8 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons Bailey's Irish cream

For the Bailey's Buttercream:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5-8 tablespoons Bailey's Irish cream

Directions:
For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the Guinness and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the Guinness/butter mixture and beat just to combine. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Bailey's Truffle Centers: Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, the pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds). Add the butter and Bailey's and stir until combined.

Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. (You can use the refrigerator to speed the cooling process, but be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooling).

Meanwhile , cut out a portion from the center of each cooled cupcake with an apple corer or using the cone method (a small paring knife words best for this). Once the truffle mixture has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe it into the cupcakes.

For the Bailey's Buttercream: Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and Bailey's until smooth. Add more Bailey's if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Slightly adapted from: Annie's Eats

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

 
Every year we celebrate St. Patrick's day. Not because we are Irish, in fact neither my husband nor I have one bit of Irish blood running through our veins, but we celebrate it simply because we like the food. We also like the beer, are fond of Irish butter and cheese and who can say no to some good Irish coffee? We also enjoy listening to U2 and are fans of The Cranberries. Most of all who can forget the years of reign by The Lord of the Dance,  Michael Flatley and his crew, as they were touring the world (even though it is quite debatable if being able to move your legs like this is completely natural). See, with all of this said, we could "almost" pass as Irish. Hence, we are not, but we can at least pretend once a year. Our typical meal for this holiday does include Corned Beef and Colcannon, however our kids are not the biggest fans of this dinner, so in order to keep the peace, I decided to smooth things over with another Irish specialty beforehand.

Shepherd's pie refers to an Irish meat pie made with minced beef (ground beef) and with a crust made from mashed potatoes. I've been tinkering with a few different recipes for this dish for years and while the end results were tasty, I was convinced they could be improved upon. While I was searching for yet another version to try, I found this recipe on Foodnetwork.com. It is a recipe by Melissa d'Arabian who starred in The Next Food Network Star. In all honesty, while she was competing on the show I wasn't a big fan of hers, and I don't think I've ever watched her show, but she definitely hit a home-run with this recipe. This Shepherd's Pie is the real deal. It is full of flavor and utterly delicious.  A great filling and an even better topping make this truly a stand-out. Bacon, onions and ground beef are cooked along with carrots and peas in a flavorful gravy composed of Guinness Beer, beef broth and spices. The topping receives extra love from 10 garlic cloves, sour cream, more beef broth and cheese which will assure that every bite of this will make for a wonderful dining experience.

This Shepherd's pie, in my opinion, is as good as it gets and is my new go-to recipe. My kids loved this meal and so did the adults. It is comforting and perfect for a chilly day. Yes, this will take you a little bit longer than opening a jar of gravy and mixing it with ground beef and frozen veggies, before topping it with boxed mashed potatoes as many recipes I've seen suggest, but sometimes good things require extra love and time to turn into something truly spectacular.  So, keep in mind that if corned beef might not be your first choice for St. Patrick's Day, this recipe is a fantastic alternative, especially when served with a nice glass of cold Guinness. Cheers, or as they say in Ireland; sláinte!



Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:
For the Garlicky Potato Topping:
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into eights
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 to 2/3 cup beef broth
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Filling:
4 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used 93 % lean)
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bottle of Guinness Beer
1/2 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions:
For the Garlicky Potato Topping: In a large saucepan add the potatoes and garlic and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Transfer the potatoes and garlic to a large bowl. Add the sour cream, 1/3 cup of the broth, butter, salt and pepper, and mash until everything is smooth and the ingredients are incorporated. If the mixture is too dry, add the remaining 1/3 cup broth. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch  baking dish with nonstick spray.

For the Filling: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and almost crisp, about 7 to 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate; set aside.

Add the oil to the drippings in the skillet and put over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and just beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar, and cook, stirring, occasionally, until the onions begin to caramelize, about 3 minutes. Stir in the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the beef begins to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots, peas, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the beer, bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked bacon, the broth, rosemary, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and the pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 10 - 15 minutes.

Spoon the meat mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the potato topping evenly over the beef mixture. Bake until the filling is hot, the topping is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Let rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Adapted from: Melissa d'Arabian

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chocolate-Raspberry Marble Pound Cake with Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze



Do you ever cook or bake something and when it's time to write your post you are at a loss for words? Well, that's how I feel today. I should talk about this great cake I made, but I would much rather talk about my youngest son and the awesome soccer season we've been having. Or how about my middle son, he just got done with a big science project. I could certainly tell you about the effects aspirin has on plants. Not your thing? Well then how about my oldest? She is a senior in high school and we are in the middle of prom season. Would you like to know about all the emails she sends me daily of the pretty dresses she is finding all over the internet. I could also talk about all the yard work we've been doing since our weather has been gorgeous and we are having a big graduation party coming up in just a few short months. None of those are of interest to you? Well, then can I tell you about my two silly, extremely loving dogs who've been enjoying the warmer days by exploring the yard like they've never seen it before. In fact our little Cocker Spaniel is out there with her nose on the ground and her little "nub" wagging all day long, that is as long as I'm out there with her, since she has a slight case of separation anxiety, but we'll save this subject for another time. All of those things are going on in my life and I could easily talk about all of them for hours, but coming up with an interesting post about this recipe is just not in my cards today. I really don't want to bore any of you, so I guess I better try and turn this around and bring it back to my cake (how did you like this extremely smooth transition?).

OK fine, let's talk about this recipe. This is an extremely tasty cake, which I found in a great little book called "Cake Keeper Cakes" by Lauren Chattman. This cake is a kicked up version of a marble/pound cake. Kicked up with raspberry flavor that is. The chocolate part of this cake comes from melted bittersweet chocolate which is folded into half of the dough. The other half of the dough gets some berry love from raspberry jam. Both are layered alternating into a loaf pan and then swirled with a knife to get the marbled effect. Once baked, the cake gets even more flavor from raspberry jam, which is brushed all over the cake. Last, but not least, once the cake is cool, a chocolate glaze with a little bit of Chambord liqueur adds the finishing touch for this delectable dessert. 

This is a great cake with a wonderful, but yet subtle raspberry flavor. The whole family (minus my chocolate hating husband) really enjoyed this. In fact, my youngest was terribly upset when he got home from school and realized his brother and sister had gotten to the last couple of pieces before him. Yeah, it is that good and apparently it makes a 9 year old very upset when gone. I'll be making this one again and this time a little someone already put "dibs" on the last piece.


Chocolate-Raspberry Marble Pound Cake with Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze
 ~makes 1 cake~


Ingredients:

For the cake:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup raspberry jam

For the glaze:
1/4 cup raspberry jam
6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoons raspberry liqueur (Chambord)

Preparation:

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan and dust with sugar.

Put 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler or a small saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Place the chocolate in the top of the double boiler or in a stainless steel bowl big enough to rest on top of the saucepan, and set the bowl on top of the simmering water, making sure that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Combine the eggs and vanilla in a glass measuring cup and lightly beat. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, pour the egg mixture into the bowl in a slow stream, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer on low speed an d add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. After the last addition, mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Scrape half the batter into a medium mixing bowl and whisk in the raspberry jam. Whisk the melted chocolate into the batter remaining in the mixer.

Scrape 1/2 the raspberry batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top, then add 1/2 of the chocolate batter. Repeat the layers with the remaining batters. Run a butter knife blade through the batter to create marbling. Do not overmix.

Bake the pound cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, and then turn it right side up on a rack to cool completely.

For the glaze: Heat 1/4 cup raspberry jam until loose, and use a pastry brush to brush the warm jam all over the top and sides of the cake. Combine the heavy cream, corn syrup, and chocolate in a samll pot and heat over medium, whisking until smooth. Stir in the raspberry liqueur. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes. Spoon the glaze over the cake, smoothing it over the top and sides with a small metal spatula to cover. Let stand until the glaze firms up, about 1 hour. Slice and serve.

Adapted from: Cake Keeper Cakes

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spicy Tuscan Soup



The days for comfort food are dwindling down and with temperatures on the rise I knew I had to get in just a few more of those homey recipes before I start focusing on some lighter fare for Spring. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before how much I adore soups. I like them actually year round, reserving some of the heartier ones for the cooler months and reaping the benefits of the wonderful produce available in the spring and summer for creating fresh and light tasting ones.

I found the recipe for this soup a couple of years ago on Tasty Kitchen. The description mentioned that this soup comes pretty close to one that Olive Garden serves. Not being a fan of any chain restaurant, I actually can't vouch for this statement since I have never eaten there before. However, the ingredients sounded interesting and unlike any soup I had in my repertoire, so I gave it a go.
This dish has become a family favorite ever since the first time I made it. This is a nice "stick to your ribs" kind of recipe, which is perfect, especially on those cool evenings.



Talk about a pork feast. Spicy breakfast sausage, red onions and bacon add tons of flavor, especially when paired with garlic, Yukon gold potatoes and kale. The liquid base of this soup comes from chicken broth. I used a homemade one (I usually have some in my freezer) which adds some nice depth, but even a quality store bought kind will do the trick and works very nicely, especially when short on time. A little bit of heavy cream added during the last few minutes of cooking adds richness and rounds out this fantastic soup.

The first time I made this recipe, I really wasn't sure how Kale would go over with the family, but everyone ended up loving it so much, that I have been increasing the amount of Kale by quite a bit more. This in turn really helps me justify the health factor of this dish. ;-)
This soup has it all. Flavor, spice, and creaminess without being too heavy. When paired with a nice loaf of bread or some bread sticks, it makes for a wonderful quick weeknight meal. Friends of ours who have actually eaten the Olive Garden version before thought this was even better than the original. I would say that is quite the compliment.



Spicy Tuscan Soup
~makes 6 servings~

Ingredients:
1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
1 whole medium red onion, diced
3 slices bacon, diced 
3 cloves garlic, minced 
4 Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/4 lbs.), peeled and diced 
6 cups chicken broth  
4 cups loosely packed Kale, cleaned 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste  


Preparation:
Crumble sausage into a dutch oven over medium-high heat until cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add red onion and bacon to dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium and cook until onions soften and bacon begins to crisp. Add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the diced potatoes and chicken broth. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes or until potatoes are almost done. Return crumbled sausage back to the dutch oven.

Add the kale and let simmer for another 5 minutes or until kale is wilted and soft. Add heavy cream, warm through, but don't boil.  Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread


Remember how incredibly proud I was of my little lemon tree, which produced more fruit than ever this year? Well, I got quite the reality check when my neighbor knocked on my door a couple of weeks ago with a HUGE bucket full of lemons, inquiring if I would like some of those lemons and that she had plenty more where those came from. Her bucket surely put my little tree to shame. However, I didn't waste any time to answer yes and was "convinced" to take some lemons off her hands. I kept thinking of all the sweet dishes, savory dishes and lemonades I could possibly make with this abundance of citrus. Faced with the extremely hard task of what to use my bounty on first, I began searching the internet for lemon desserts. No sooner had I started looking than when I found this great looking and sounding recipe for a lemon poppy seed loaf. I have loved the combination of those two for a long time and have made Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins countless times since I first featured them on my blog.

This recipe comes courtesy of Joyofbaking.com.  This bread uses a slightly different method than what I have been used to. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy before adding the eggs, this recipe goes about it in a reversed way. All the dry ingredients are mixed together before adding all of the softened butter and half of the egg/milk mixture. The premise behind this method is that it will reduce some of the gluten formation and with that produce a wonderful quick bread that is almost velvety in texture. What also sets this bread apart is a simple glaze of fresh lemon juice and sugar which is cooked until syrupy, and then brushed over the freshly baked loaf that has been poked with a wooden skewer. By doing so the lemon flavor will penetrate throughout this already wonderful bread and you will get full on, mouth-puckering lemon flavor without adding any artificial lemon extract and as an added benefit it will make this bread even more moist and tender. Each and every bite is loaded with a citrus explosion.

This recipe makes one loaf. Mine turned out a bit short since my loaf pan is slightly bigger then what the recipe calls for, but that certainly did not affect the taste one bit. The first time I made this bread, it was gone in the blink of an eye (I'm talking less then 12 hours). I've baked several of these loaves since, giving some to neighbors (especially my lemon bearing friend), friends, colleagues, high school kids and teachers. As soon as I bake one of them, it pretty much disappears and it is safe to assume that this recipe has been an absolute hit with everyone who has been on the receiving end. I'm even going as far as saying that this recipe has replaced my previous favorite, which happened to be Dorie's lemon poppy seed muffins. I'm pretty sad since my lemon abundance has come to an end and I will have to wait almost a whole year before being able to reap the benefits of  the lemon trees in my neighbors backyard again. So Tahnya, if you are reading this, I'll be more than happy to take some more off your hands next year. Deal?



Lemon Poppy Seed Bread
~makes 1 loaf~

Ingredients:
For the bread:
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (outer yellow skin of the lemon)
3 tablespoons (30 grams) poppy seeds
13 tablespoons (184 grams) unsalted butter, softened

For the lemon syrup: 
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice 
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (8 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, and milk. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and poppy seeds until combined. Add the softened butter and half the egg mixture and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about one minute. (This aerated and develops the cake's structure).  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating about 30 seconds after each addition. (This will strengthen the structure of the batter).

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 to 65 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may have to cover the bread with buttered foil after about 30 minutes if you find the bread over-browning.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and lemon juice to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the bread is done, remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Pierce the hot loaf all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick and then brush the top of the loaf with about half the hot lemon syrup. Cool the loaf in the pan for about 10 minutes then invert onto a greased wire rack. Brush the remaining syrup onto the bottom and the sides of the loaf. Re-invert the bread so it is right side up and then cool the bread completely before wrapping. Store for a few hours before serving to allow the lemon syrup to distribute throughout the loaf.

Adapted from: Joyofbaking.com

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