Sunday, September 27, 2015

Crazy Cake

This cake is so good that I made it twice in less than a month!  First to bring it to a dinner with friends, then for a potluck that actually featured most of the same people, but I didn't hear any complaints.  The recipe is from the Ben and Birdy blog, and it's one I've been intrigued with for years and am so glad I finally made it.  You know it's good if I make it twice in such a short time period!  The first time I topped it with sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles like in the pictures over on that blog.  It was really, really good that way, but I decided to try a double batch of this frosting this time.  Either way is delightful.

This recipe apparently has its roots in the Great Depression because it was a reliable way to get a fantastic cake without eggs or butter.  It's often called Crazy Cake or Wacky Cake.  Whatever you call it, it's awesome!  The first time I used all whole wheat flour (just wanted to try it out) and Hershey's Special Dark cocoa.  The cake was basically black from the cocoa and everyone loved it.  The second time, I tried white flour and normal cocoa.  Also fantastic!

Note that this cake is vegan if you serve it with a vegan icing, vegan iced cream, sprinkle it with powdered sugar, or just serve it plain.

Crazy Cake

2 1/4 C flour (white, whole wheat, or a mixture)
2 C white sugar
1 C cocoa powder (regular or dark)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp vinegar
2/3 C canola oil
2 C cold water

Preheat an oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Make 3 wells in the dry ingredients and pour the vanilla extract into one well, vinegar into another, and oil into the third.  Pour the cold water over top and whisk thoroughly until the batter is smooth.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cake cool completely before frosting, or you can just let it cool for half an hour or so and serve warm cake topped with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles.

To make sweetened whipped cream, just beat 2 C cream until soft peaks form, then beat in vanilla extract and powdered sugar to taste.  Continue beating it until stiff peaks form, then stop immediately because you don't want to accidentally start turning your whipped cream into butter!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms

This is one of the best chicken recipes I've ever made OR tasted!  It's from AllRecipes and is definitely a winner.  My husband and I both agreed it's something we'd order repeatedly in a favorite restaurant.  I chose it just because it's fairly healthy and looked easy enough for a weeknight dinner.  While I expected it to be good, I didn't think it would be THIS good.  It reminds me of a good Chicken Marsala.  The flavors all marry together perfectly.  It tastes rich, savory, and bright, with a great tang from the vinegar, but it isn't sour.  Whoever created this recipe knew what they were doing!  My only change was to increase the flour to 4 Tbsp so I'd have enough to evenly coat the chicken, and I think that was a good call.  Regardless, I will make this recipe again and again.
Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms
4 chicken breast cutlets (you can cut 2 large chicken breasts in half down the middle), about 1 1/2 lbs
1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lbs mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
3/4 C chicken broth
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp butter
In a gallon Ziploc bag, mix together flour, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.  Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on both sides of the chicken cutlets.  Add to the bag, seal it, and shake to coat evenly.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet.  Add chicken cutlets (discard extra flour) and cook until golden and beginning to brown on the bottom, then turn them over.  Add garlic and mushrooms to the spaces around the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to shrink and soften, about 5 minutes.  Add vinegar, broth, thyme, and bay leaf to skillet, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer 10 minutes.
Remove chicken from skillet, cover with foil, and place in an oven set to warm.  Raise heat of stove to medium-high and cook until the sauce has reduced nicely, about 7 minutes.  Stir in the tablespoon of butter.  Serve sauce and mushrooms over chicken.
Yield: 4 servings

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sally's Banana Bread

Imagine that, a banana bread recipe on my blog!  I have only once in my life eaten a banana bread that I actually enjoyed, and that was about 12 years ago.  Bananas and I are not friends in most instances, and for me, the flavor of baked bananas is even worse than raw.  I decided to make this recipe, though, because I had some bananas to use and have had really good luck with all of the recipes I've made from Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series.  This recipe is called Sally's Banana Bread and is from the book The Sugar Cookie Murder.  I've made at least 5 recipes from just that book so far and we have really liked all of them. 

The banana bread ended up being really good, even though it didn't have any cinnamon.  I had a couple of slices, as did my husband, and the rest of the loaf went to a new neighbor who said she liked it, as well.  It's sweet, moist, and just my idea of the perfect banana bread.  I'm happy to add a second banana recipe to my shelf, in addition to Brown Sugar Banana Cake!

This recipe escaped being photographed because it was eaten up so quickly!  It didn't look different from any other banana bread, though, except that I baked it in this lovely pan.  I love that pan, by the way.  It's great for quick breads and bundt cakes, and so far everything I have baked has come out really easily.

Quick Note:  I cut the salt down to 1/2 tsp from 1 tsp in the original recipe because I used salted butter and thought 1 tsp sounded like too much.

Sally's Banana Bread

3/4 C softened butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
3-4 mashed overripe bananas (you want about 1 1/2 C)
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans, optional (I did not add them!)

Preheat oven to 350and grease a bread pan.

Mix butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in eggs and bananas.  Add baking soda, salt, and half of the flour to the mixing bowl and beat to combine.  Stir in 1/2 of the buttermilk, then stir in the rest of the flour.  Stir in the last of the buttermilk and the nuts (if you're using them) until everything is well combined.  Spread batter in prepared bread pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  You can cover the pan with foil if the bread browns too much.  Let baked bread rest for about 20 minutes, then invert it onto a plate to finish cooling.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Almond Apple Crisp

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog My Hobbie Lobbie.  It's written by a lady named Claire who sounds pretty similar to me, because she loves baking, crafting (especially crochet), and traveling!  I get the feeling we would get along well.

Claire has lots of yummy looking recipes on her blog, and I chose one called Almond Apple Crisp.  I made it about 3 weeks ago on a rather chilly August day.  My husband loved it so much that I had one serving that night, and by the next afternoon, he had completely polished off the entire dish.  Now he does have a sweet tooth, but that's extreme, even for him!  He says I definitely have to make this recipe again.  My only changes would be to increase the amount of cornstarch from 1/2 tsp to 1 Tbsp because the filling was very, very runny, and I'd leave the salt out of the topping because it tasted salty to me.  I made those changes in my version of the recipe below.
Thank you, Claire!  I'm planning to make your Spicy Tuna Pasta here in the next couple of weeks.

Almond Apple Crisp

3 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices (I used 4 large Fujis)
2/3 C white sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp lemon juice

for the topping:
3/4 C flour
3/4 C brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 C sliced or slivered almonds
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick cold butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together white sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon, then add apples and lemon juice.  Stir until the apples are evenly coated.  Spoon the apples and any remaining sugar mixture into the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Now make the topping.  Stir together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then cut in the cold butter cubes (I did all of this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment) until the mixture looks like wet sand.  Stir in almonds.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over the apples.

Bake the crisp until the apple slices in the center are tender (use a fork), which will take about 60-90 minutes (mine took 90).  You can cover the top of the crisp with aluminum foil, shiny side out, if the topping and almonds get too brown.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken & Pasta

This is a recipe I found on the Averie Cooks blog, and had to make it right away because it looked so unique.  For some reason I haven't seen honey feature prominently in many pasta dishes.  I made a few tweaks, like usual, and the main one was that I cut back on the honey significantly.  It was a good call, because we thought it had the perfect amount of sweetness.  This is a great recipe if you need something really quick and yummy for dinner!
Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken & Pasta
2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into 6 cutlets
lemon pepper to sprinkle
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/3 C honey
1/2 C lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon pepper (I used Lawry's)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
13 oz box whole grain angel hair pasta (I used Barilla)
Cook the pasta in salted water while you cook the chicken, then strain and set aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken generously with lemon pepper on both sides, then place in skillet. Brown on both sides.
While chicken browns, make the sauce.  Stir together 1 Tbsp olive oil, the honey, lemon juice, 1 Tbsp lemon pepper, rice vinegar, and dried thyme in a small bowl.  When chicken has browned, reduce heat to medium and pour in sauce.  Cook until it has thickened slightly and chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  The sauce will only thicken a small amount and will remain fairly runny, so don't worry!
Remove chicken to a plate and add the cooked pasta.  Mix thoroughly and heat through, then serve on plates next to the chicken.
Yield:  6 servings