Thursday, May 31, 2012

Luscious Lemon Buttercream Frosting

This one is for all the lemon lovers out there!  A creamy, sweet, tart, and lemony buttercream that I found on AllRecipes.  I'm not very fond of most non-chocolate frostings because I despise the flavor of powdered sugar.  Weird, I know, but it just has a strange flavor that is really intense in the majority of homemade frostings.  To compound the issue and possibly even stranger, I also dislike the flavor of vanilla extract in frosting, so most buttercreams offer up a double whammy of unpleasantness for me.  This buttercream is different though!  The bright lemon flavor masks the powdered sugar flavor, and there's just a few drops of vanilla in it to round things out.  It's also stiffer than some buttercreams, which means you could pipe it easily.  I suggest only using the full amount of lemon juice if you want a tart and lemony frosting.  We loved it, but it did cover up the subtle strawberry flavor of the cupcakes I made to go with it (note: the strawberry cake turned out wonderfully, but I want to make it again with more strawberries before posting the recipe).  If you want your frosting to taste less lemony, just substitute a tablespoon of water for one of the tablespoons of lemon juice.  You could also add some lemon zest.  Yum!


These cupcakes were made in honor of my bunnies' birthdays.  Yes, their birthdays are celebrated every year; yes, it's partly an excuse to make cake; and yes, I am a crazy bunny lady, but I'm okay with that!  Below is our one eared boy getting a little taste of his birthday cupcake.  He definitely approved, though I'm sure he wishes I'd given him more than just a tiny piece!

Luscious Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1/2 C salted butter, softened
2 T lemon juice (or 1 T lemon juice and 1 T water if you want it more mild)
about 5 drops of vanilla extract
3 C powdered sugar
optional: a drop or two of yellow food coloring

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter with the whisk attachment until smooth.  Add lemon juice and vanilla, then add the powdered sugar.  Whisk on low until the sugar is incorporated, then bring it up to medium high and beat it for a couple of minutes until fluffy.  The longer you go, the fluffier it will get.  If it's too thick, add water a teaspoon at a time and if it's too thin, add powdered sugar 1/4 C at a time.  If you're using food coloring, beat it in at the end.  You can of course also use a hand held mixer.  Use the frosting right away or else cover it because the surface will dry.

Yield: Enough frosting for about 18 cupcakes if you use lots like in the picture, or 24 if you spread on a thinner layer.  I have not tried it yet, but I think it would be enough to frost a 9 by 13 cake.  If you want to fill and frost a layer cake, you should make one and a half batches so you have enough.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Best Hamburgers Ever (aka Umami Hamburgers)

On Monday night we bought an inexpensive propane grill!  I've been wanting one for a while because I'm terrible at cooking anything other than veggies, steak, or hot dogs on our hand-me-down round charcoal grill.  My one attempt at grilling chicken resulted in what appeared to be charcoal briquettes.  Last night we had grilled barbecue chicken using Christie Jordan's barbecue sauce from her Southern Plate cook book.  They chicken turned out amazing and I would love to share the recipe for the sauce, but I feel kind of weird doing that since she specifically chose not to post it on her own blog.  The sauce was great but I want to make a few changes next time and will share my version then.  Tonight we decided to go with our favorite hamburger recipe and in the next week we're planning to do portobello mushroom burgers and grilled pizza, too.  Yum!  If anyone has a favorite grill recipe that they think I should try, I would love to hear about it!

Now, on to the recipe.  If you can believe it, I had never cooked a hamburger until about a year ago.  Once or twice I'd made turkey burgers, black bean burgers, and portobello mushroom burgers, but never hamburgers.  They just aren't my thing.  The only ones I ever really cared for are the ones my uncle makes, which are full of garlic.  But then I came across this recipe over at White on Rice Couple and was intrigued by the addition of fish sauce to the meat.  Diane and Todd promised it made the meat extra savory and I just had to try it!  The burgers ended up being out of this world delicious and I've made them several times now over the past months.  I still don't like hamburgers from other places, but we both think these ones are incredible.  This is my tweaked version of the original recipe (with lots of garlic, like my uncle's hamburgers!) and how we love them best.  If you've never tried fish sauce before (or have a bottle languishing in your fridge already), this is a great recipe to use it in!

Sorry there's no picture, I meant to take one but we were hungry!  They just look like your standard hamburger though.  The flavor is what makes them special.

Best Hamburgers Ever

1 lb ground beef (I've used lean and fattier beef with great success)
1 T fish sauce
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t salt

Gently mix together ingredients, being careful not to handle it too much or the burgers will be tough.  Form into 4 patties.  Make them thinner and wider than you want the finished burgers to be because they will shrink when cooked.  Poke a hole in the center with your fingertip so the burger will cook evenly.  To cook the burgers on a stove, heat about 2 T oil in a large nonstick skillet (believe me on the nonstick!) over medium-high heat and cook on one side until browned, then flip and cook on the other side until the burgers reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can add a bit of water to the skillet if the bottoms of the burgers start cooking too much.

If you want to cook the burgers on a grill, just grease the grate and cook the burgers on one side until browned, then flip and cook on the other side, being sure to cook them to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you want cheeseburgers, when the burgers are done you can top each one with cheese and close the lid on the grill for about a minute or until the cheese melts.  Serve the burgers on toasted buns with whatever toppings you'd like.  A bit of mayonnaise and sliced avocado is especially good!

Yield: 4 hamburgers

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Grandma's Baked Garlic Mashed Potatoes

 This fantastic recipe comes not from my grandma, but from the grandma of Kristen, who writes the blog called Forkful of Comfort .  When I saw the recipe I knew I had to try it and I made it a few nights ago.  The result is some of the best mashed potatoes we have ever had!  Creamy, rich, a bit tangy, garlicky, with a delicate crust on top.  We loved them so, so much that after instead of following my original plan to make gnocchi with some of the leftovers, we ate them as is because they were so good.  Just as great is the fact that the mashed potatoes are baked, so you're free to finish up the rest of your cooking while they bake and you can hold them in the oven for a while to stay warm if necessary.  Kristen wrote that she never got to meet her grandma, but if these potatoes are any indication, she was one heck of a cook!

Quick note:  I don't have garlic salt so I made a mixture of 1 part garlic powder to 2 parts salt and used that.  Works just as well and undoubtedly cheaper!

Grandma's Baked Garlic Mashed Potatoes

3 1/2 lbs potatoes
1 t salt for cooking water
1/2 C butter, 2 tablespoons set aside for top
4 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
2 t garlic salt, plus a bit more for top
1/2 t garlic powder (optional, taste it first- I didn't need it)
dried parsley for top
paprika for top

Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks and place in a large pot.  Top with water and add 1 t salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain water and return to pot.  Mash with a potato masher, then add butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, mashing until smooth.  Stir in garlic salt to taste- you may not want to start with the full amount in case yours has a higher ratio of salt to garlic.  I used the full amount.  Add the optional additional garlic powder if you think it needs more garlic- I did not need to add it.  Preheat oven and grease a 2 quart baking dish.  Spread potatoes in dish.  Cut remaining 2 T butter into little pieces and arrange evenly over top.  Sprinkle with a little garlic salt, parsley, and paprika.  Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes.  If the top is not browned at all, you can crank up the broiler, but be sure not to walk away!  Let potatoes set for 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: About 10 servings

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Caesar Salad

This is not a traditional caesar salad since it calls for mayonnaise instead of raw egg and probably has some other oddities about it, but it's delicious anyway and I've been making it since shortly after my husband and I started dating.  It is one of our favorite salads, but who doesn't love caesar salad?  You can add whatever other veggies your heart desires (my heart desires tomatoes!) or cooked chicken or shrimp if you want.  The recipe is based on this one from AllRecipes.

  Caesar Salad

3/4 C mayonnaise (you can use light mayo or a mixture of light and regular)
3 T freshly grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 t lemon juice
1 1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 t dijon mustard
2 t anchovy paste
1/4 t salt (or to taste, you may not need any)
1/4 t black pepper
1 head washed, dried, and torn up romaine lettuce (or about 2 bags of washed and torn romaine)

Whisk together everything but croutons and lettuce (no surprise there!) until smooth.  If it's too thick (brands of mayonnaise are all different), thin it with a little bit of milk.  Right before serving, place as much lettuce as you need in a large bowl and top with croutons and however much dressing you want.  Toss with tongs until lettuce is evenly coated.  Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan on top.  The dressing will stay good in the fridge for about a week, but only toss as much salad as you will eat right then because the dressed salad wilts quickly.

Yield: Depends on how much dressing you use and how big your salads are.  I would say about 10 side salads.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Drop Cookies

As of yesterday, I am completely finished with all things school related until August when I begin my student teaching at a local elementary school.  The application process for the program began back in December and was pretty involved.  I won't go into it, but the last hurdle to jump before being officially accepted was passing my classes this semester.  While it pretty much goes without saying that I passed my classes (A's all around), things were rather stressful with one of  my Elementary Education classes because of a huge final project that was worth 40% of the grade.  Plus it was up for the instructor of that class to decide whether or not we're all ready for our internships and that decision was not necessarily related to the grade the student earned.  For example, last year a student got a B overall but was failed from the class and had to take it again this year.  There are others that have not been allowed into the student teaching program either because of this instructor's decision.  I wasn't REALLY worried that things wouldn't work out, but it was a concern, you know?  Thankfully, I got 99 out of 100 points on my project, the go ahead from the instructor, and am now officially accepted into the program.  PHEW!  And YAY!  It will be an extremely busy year, but I'm really looking forward to it!

So, why did I tell you all this?  Well, I needed an excuse to bake cookies and figured this was as good as any :oD  This particular recipe is called Chocolate Cherry Drops and is from the old Betty Crocker's Cooky Book from the 1960s and is a variation listed for the plain Chocolate Drop.  It is the third recipe I've made from the book.  First was Canadian Honey Drops back in October, and in December I made the Candy Cane Cookies but kinda sorta forgot to post about them so am waiting until this Christmas.  I really liked those two cookies and am happy to say that Chocolate Cherry Drops are definitely a success, too!  Way to go, Betty!  The cookies turned out fantastically and are everything I hoped they would be.  On their own, they are nice and fairly chocolaty and the cherries are really wonderful.  The chocolate frosting spread on top really punches them up though and turns them into winners!  If you have the book, I used Marie's Chocolate Frosting, which was one of the three frostings suggested for this cookie. I did have to make a couple small changes based on what I had, but nothing significant, and I noted my changes in the recipe.

The texture of my cookies is kind of "different" though.  They're similar to chocolate chip cookies in that the edges are a little crisp and they're soft and chewy in the center, but they're also kind of cakey and kind of brownie-ish.  The thickness ended up being pretty interesting.  Mine turned out on the thin side (though not ridiculously so) and are fairly fragile.  I did some internet snooping and found photos of the Chocolate Drops other people produced from the same recipe.  Some turned out thin like mine, others turned out very tall- almost spherical- just like in the picture in the book, and some turned out in between.  I really have NO idea why we there are so many different results, but I'll bet they're great in all forms!  My mother-in-law really wants to try the Chocolate Cherry Drops so I plan to make them again when they visit this summer and if I get different results I will update this post.

Chocolate Cherry Drop Cookies

2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I used 2 1/2 oz by weight of bittersweet chips)
1 C sugar
1/2 C butter, softened
1 egg
1/3 C buttermilk (or 1/3 C milk combined with 1 t lemon juice and allowed to sit for 10 minutes)
1 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 C maraschino cherries, drained (keep the juice) and chopped roughly (I just used a 16 oz jar)

2 T butter
2 oz unsweetened (or bittersweet) chocolate by weight
3 1/2 T cherry juice from the jar, warmed
2 C powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  The parchment paper is very important, if your cookies turn out like mine they will be fragile and they come off the parchment paper very easily!  In a medium sized microwave safe bowl, microwave chocolate in 15 second increments, stirring thoroughly between heatings, until chocolate is melted.  Be careful not to cook it too long!  Set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature for a few minutes.  Stir in the sugar, butter, and egg until smooth, then stir in the buttermilk and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir into chocolate mixture, then stir in cherries.  The dough will look like chocolate frosting, yum!  Drop the dough by teaspoons onto your lined cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies.  The dough will probably spread so plan accordingly and don't make them too monstrous.  Bake until set, 8 to 10 minutes.  These cookies need less baking time than the average cookie.  Allow cookies to cool on sheets until you can pick them up easily, then move them to a cookie rack so they can cool all the way.

When the cookies have cooled, make the frosting.  Place the butter and chocolate together in a medium sized microwave safe bowl and microwave in 15 second increments until butter is melted, about 30 seconds in all.  Stir until chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth.  Stir in cherry juice, then stir in powdered sugar.  Add a little more cherry juice or powdered sugar if necessary to get a spreadable consistency.  Spread frosting on cookies.  Don't pile on too much or it will cover the cherry flavor!  Let cookies sit until frosting is firm, about 30 minutes to an hour.  Store them in a tin with wax paper between the layers and keep them refrigerated so the cherries don't get funky.

Yield: 3 to 4 dozen depending on how big you make them

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Allspice Apple Crumb Muffins

Continuing the muffin bender I seem to be on, here is another fantastic muffin recipe!  This one comes from the blog In Jennie's Kitchen.  I was already trolling for my next muffin fix when I came upon the recipe and immediately knew I had to try it.  Although I'm an unrepentant cinnamon fiend, I also appreciate allspice and always put lots of it in my apple butter and applesauce so it made sense that it would do great in the leading role of apple muffins.  Usually I'm not wild about soggy pieces of fruit in my muffins, but you grate them for this recipe so they just add sweetness, moisture, and a bit of texture without any sog.  The muffins themselves don't have all that much sugar- not even the topping- but the overall effect of spicy, soft, apple sweetened muffin with mildly sweet, crunchy topping is nothing less than delightful.  In the past I have tried apple crumb muffins and not been terribly impressed, but these bad boys are not only wonderful, they're also the best muffins I've made.  Maybe even the best ones I've ever had and that's saying a lot!  In short, make these muffins!

Quick note:  The original recipe does not contain vanilla or applesauce.  I tossed in vanilla as a force of habit, and added applesauce because my batter was so thick and dough like that I could have rolled it out and made biscuits with it.  I measured carefully so I'm not sure what happened there, but the applesauce addition certainly did not harm the flavor or texture!  Even with it, the batter was very thick.  Also, I assembled my batter slightly differently from Jennie.  A little more dumping of ingredients and a little less adding in small increments.  You can check out her recipe if you want to do it the right way.  And last of all, I got 20 muffins out of this recipe rather than the 12 it's supposed to make.  Not sure what happened there, but my muffin tin is the standard size that's also used for cupcakes.

Allspice Apple Crumb Muffins

1/2 C butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 C sour cream
1/2 C applesauce
3 C flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t allspice
2 C grated peeled apples (this was 2 largish Fuji apples for me)

2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
1 T white sugar
1/2 C flour

Preheat oven to 375 and grease 2 muffin tins or line with muffin papers.  Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in eggs until smooth, then vanilla extract, sour cream, and applesauce.  In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients.  Stir dry ingredients into wet mixture, then stir in grated apples, being careful not to over mix.  Batter will be quite thick.  Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 full.  To make the topping, melt butter in a small bowl, then stir in sugars and flour until well combined.  Crumble evenly over muffins.  Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve immediately or else let them cool completely, then cover and store in the refrigerator.  They stay delicious for several days but are best fresh as the topping softens after being stored.

Yield: 20 regular sized muffins

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fresh Spring Rolls with Tofu and Nuoc Mam Cham

We first had these spring rolls at a friend's house several years ago, shortly after my husband and I started dating.  He wasn't a huge fan of the rolls, but I really liked them.  Today I got it into my head that I wanted fresh spring rolls for dinner and I had a hunch my husband would like them better now since he's much more of an adventurous eater than he used to be after several years of eating my cooking (not sure if that's a compliment to me or not!).  I was right, too!  He enjoyed the spring rolls and I loved them.  Don't know why it took me so long to make them myself because this was a truly stellar meal and healthy to boot.  If you've never had them, they're assorted veggies and usually a protein of some sort (tofu in this case) wrapped up in a softened rice wrapper.  Might not sound all that special, but I promise the combination of crunchy veggies, crisp but soft, but sweet and sweet and sour tofu, chewy rice wrapper, and nuoc mam cham is divine.  Don't be intimidated by the multiple steps, they're quite easy to make.  Assembling the spring rolls can be a tad bit tricky because the wrapper likes to stick to itself, but it's really not a big deal.  They're actually a lot of fun, making them is kind of like a very different twist on taco night because each person can put whatever they want in their rolls!

The spring rolls are served with nuoc mam cham, which is a delicious Vietnamese dipping sauce with a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and sour flavors that really add to the spring rolls.  According to what I have read, there are countless variations on nuoc mam cham and you can pretty much use whatever proportions of the ingredients you'd like.  I got the base recipe from one of my favorite blogs, White on Rice Couple (read the comments for an interesting discussion), and there's some more great info about it on The Ravenous Couple.  You could use soy sauce instead of fish sauce if you want the spring rolls to be vegan, but I implore you to try it with the fish sauce if you are not opposed to eating fish!  Don't be scared off by the smell of the fish sauce if you've never used it before, I promise it's good in the nuoc mam cham (among other things).

 My selection of veggies: green onion, cucumber, carrots, and lettuce

For the filling, I used lots of veggies and tofu.  You can use just veggies, or add meat like cooked shrimp or chicken, or really any number of things.  I just slightly adapted my Baked Tofu Bites recipe to be cooked on the stove, and it was wonderful in the spring rolls.

Spring roll wrappers
Here are the wrappers.  They are very thin and translucent.  You can find them in the Asian section at the grocery store.  This package was less than half an inch thick but had 16 wrappers in it!  Another brand I have seen a lot is these Banh Trang ones.  If I can find them without any trouble here in Alaska, I'm sure you can find them, too!

 Nuoc mam cham, ready for dipping

Nuoc Mam Cham

2 cloves minced garlic
1 Thai chili or Sriracha sauce to taste (I used 1/4 t which is quite mild)
1 T sugar
1 T lime juice
1 t rice vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 C fish sauce according to taste (I used 1/4 C) *you can use soy sauce to make it vegetarian*
1/2 C water

Place minced garlic and Thai chili in the bowl of a mortar and pestle and crush thoroughly.  If you don't have a chili, add the sugar to the mortar and pestle with the garlic to help break it down.  Place in a glass jar with a lid along with all the other ingredients and shake well to combine.  Taste and add more of anything if you think it needs it.  The nuoc mam cham will keep well in the refrigerator and you can use it to dip other things in or as a marinade.

 Tofu and extra sauce, ready to go in the rolls

Sauteed Tofu

16 oz block extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
about 2 T vegetable oil
2 T ketchup
2 T honey *you can use maple syrup to make it vegetarian*
1 T rice vinegar
4 T soy sauce
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 t Sriracha sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium.  Add tofu cubes and cook, tossing tofu occasionally with a spatula, until lightly golden.  This will take about 20 minutes.  While tofu cooks, stir together remaining ingredients.  When tofu is finished, add sauce to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.  Scoop tofu cubes into a bowl and pour the extra sauce into another small bowl to serve along with the spring rolls.

 Assembled spring rolls, ready to be devoured

Spring Rolls

spring roll wrappers
prepared tofu and extra sauce
nuoc mam cham
veggies of choice, such as:
torn lettuce
thinly sliced carrot (I used a vegetable peeler to make ribbons)
thinly sliced cucumber
thinly sliced green onion
thinly sliced zucchini
sliced bell pepper
bean sprouts
Thai basil

Follow directions on spring roll wrapper package to soften wrappers.  Basically, fill a large bowl with hot water and submerge the wrappers in the water one at a time until softened.  Remove to a plate, gently dab dry with a paper towel if necessary, and fill with tofu and veggies.  Fold in the sides, then roll up like a burrito.  Serve with nuoc mam cham and the extra sauce from the tofu.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

On the weekends I like to make a nice breakfast.  Recently I ran across a recipe for cinnamon roll pancakes and HAD to try them ASAP, so I decided to surprise my husband with them for breakfast this morning because he loves cinnamon rolls just as much as I do.  They are more complicated than regular pancakes and I honestly only recommend you try them if you have experience with making and flipping regular pancakes, but they are so worth it!  I burned the heck out of my pinkie when wiping out the pan between pancakes and I still think they were worth it.  My husband declared them to be the best pancakes he's ever eaten and I must agree.  They are everything wonderful about cinnamon rolls and pancakes, all in one delicious, fluffy package.  I think they would make a superb breakfast on Christmas morning because they're truly special, but quicker and less labor intensive than regular cinnamon rolls.

This recipe is originally from the Recipe Girl blog.  She has great photos to help you out as you make the pancakes!  It's kind of amusing, I first came across the recipe on a different blog.  That blogger had changed the recipe a fair amount and left some important things out (like wiping the pan out between pancakes).  As I went along, there were a few things I needed to tweak, but after I typed up this recipe and found the original on the Recipe Girl blog, I realized that most of my changes mirrored exactly what was in the original, though I did make a few other small ones.

Sorry my pancakes aren't so pretty.  The one you see is the first one I made.  I burned my finger while wiping out the pan after the very first one so it was hard to control the cinnamon swirl on the others and they look even worse!  Still taste great though.

Update: I've since made these pancakes without the cinnamon swirl and they're perfect!  Thick, fluffy, and yummy. This is now my default pancake recipe, and that's saying a lot because I've tried many pancake recipes.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

For Cinnamon Swirl:
4 T butter
6 T brown sugar
1/2 T cinnamon

For Pancake Batter:

1 C flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 C milk
1 egg
1 T vegetable oil
butter to grease the skillet

For Icing:
2 oz cream cheese
4 T butter
1 t vanilla extract
about 3/4 C powdered sugar

Make the cinnamon swirl first.  Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon until smooth.  Spoon into a plastic Ziploc bag and set aside to cool.  You want the cinnamon swirl to be fairly thick and can run the bag under cold water to help cool it down faster.  Cut the very tip off one of the corners of the bag.  Line a bowl with a paper towel and cut the very tip off one of the corners of the bag of cinnamon swirl, then place it, cut tip up, in the bowl so it won't leak.

Make the batter next.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add milk, egg, and vegetable oil, and whisk until smooth.

To make the pancakes, turn your oven to 200 degrees and place an oven safe plate in the oven.  You will put your pancakes in the oven as you make them so they stay warm.  Melt a small amount of butter in a nonstick (this is very important!!) 6 inch skillet over medium heat.  Spoon in 1/3 C batter, then grab your bag of cinnamon swirl and pipe it on in a spiral, starting in the center.  Cook the pancake until the edges are dry and there are bubbles on the surface.  Carefully flip the pancake using a wide spatula and cook for another 45 seconds or so until set.  The pancake will not feel as firm as a regular pancake, but the second side never needs as much time!  Don't over cook or the sugar will burn.  To get the pancake out of the pan, I suggest pulling the oven rack out with a pot holder and flipping the pan upside down right over the plate so you don't get cinnamon sugar goo all over the spatula.  After you've removed the pancake, wipe the pan out with a folded paper towel, and for the love of all that is holy, be CAREFUL because molten cinnamon sugar is extremely painful!  Make sure to get all the sugar mixture or it will burn onto the next pancake.  Proceed in the same way with all the other pancakes.

Once all the pancakes have been made, make the icing.  Place the cream cheese and butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until butter has melted.  Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla extract.  Whisk in the powdered sugar a little at a time until it's as thick as you would like.  Drizzle the icing over the pancakes to serve.

Yield: Six 5 inch pancakes

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chocolate Chip Muffins

There are two kinds of muffins: the healthy, not too sweet kind (like the wonderful bran muffins I made recently), and the kind that are basically cupcakes without frosting.  My husband loves muffins and he tends to prefer those of the cupcake variety.  Several days ago I got it into my head that I should make chocolate chip muffins.  Found a recipe on AllRecipes, whipped it up, and ta da!  Delicious muffins, and definitely the "dessert for breakfast" type that my husband likes so much.  We both really enjoyed them while they lasted, which sadly wasn't that long since the batch only makes 9.  The original recipe says to make mini muffins and I think those would be really good and cute too, but last time I sent him to work with cute food (the manatee cookies!) he kind of belly ached about it.  No complaining happened with these muffins though because they're really good and I suppose the size is adequately mannish.  They're packed with chocolate chips, as you can see, and they have a flavor like chocolate chip cookies which isn't surprising since the ingredients are the same.  They are a tad denser than your standard muffin and I doubt the batter would be particularly tasty sans chips, but it stands up nicely to the chocolate and, well, no complaints here!

Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2/3 C mini chocolate chips
1/4 C butter
1/2 C milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a muffin tin.  In a glass measuring cup, melt butter in microwave.  Set aside to cool while you mix up the batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients, including mini chocolate chips.  Pour in slightly cooled butter (cooled so it doesn't melt the chocolate chips), then use the same measuring cup to measure the milk.  Pour that in, then crack the egg into the measuring cup and beat it until mostly smooth.  Pour into bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  Stir batter just until everything comes together, being careful not to over mix.  Spoon batter into muffin tin.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.  Good warm or room temperature.  The muffins stay nice for a few days but are best served within a day or two.

Yield: 9 muffins (or approximately 18 mini muffins according to the original recipe)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creamy Garlic Tomato Soup

 The ingredient list for this soup may not look very impressive, but trust me.  It.  Is.  GOOD.  Really good.  It's kind of creamy since it's roux based and has milk, but is not too bad for you.  The flavor is great and the garlic stands out.  It also takes less than 10 minutes to cook!  Perfect to whip up on a busy night with salad and bread or a good ol' grilled cheese sandwich, which is how I served it tonight, using the rosemary wheat bread I made earlier today.

Credit for this recipe goes to Inge, the mother of the wonderful family I stayed with when I lived in Austria.  Inge was a fantastic cook and could make anything taste good.  She often made a variation of this soup using whatever tomato products she had on hand.  The best version used tomato puree she canned from her own tomatoes every summer instead of the broth, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  She also used a little cream instead of milk and a bit of beef bouillon, but it was essentially the same!  I've fiddled with the recipe a bit since I sadly do not have the home canned tomato puree, and this is the best version I've come up with.  Enjoy!

Creamy Garlic Tomato Soup

3 T butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T flour
2 C chicken or vegetable broth
1 C milk
16 oz can tomato sauce
6 oz can tomato paste

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add garlic and saute until lightly golden, then whisk in flour.  Whisk and cook until roux is light golden, about 2 minutes.  Whisk in broth, 1/4 C at a time, making sure mixture is smooth before adding more.  Whisk in milk, tomato sauce, and tomato paste until smooth.  Cook until soup comes to a boil and simmer for two minutes, stirring constantly.  Add salt if necessary, but taste it first because it should be salty enough from the broth and tomato products.

Yield: 4 servings

Rosemary Wheat Bread

 I am very fond of this bread recipe.  It was the very first recipe I ever made that used yeast and I made it for the first time when I was 13 years old.  I was very new to cooking and baking and I did it all by myself without help from my mom (who as far as I know has never baked bread) or a stand mixer.  The bread turned out very well for a first try, my family loved it and when I took it to school for lunch I ended up giving most of it away to friends who wanted to try it.  Over the next couple of years I made it 3 or 4 times, but sadly have not made it since.  This morning though I was thinking about the bread I used to make, googled the name, and found it on this blog!  I practically rushed into the kitchen to get started and am happy to say that the bread is just as yummy as I remember.

The original recipe is named "Ocean's Bombs of Love Bread" and is completely vegan.  It calls for vegetable oil rather than olive oil, no rosemary, and no oil or salt on top.  You could easily use vegetable oil and leave out the rosemary and salt to get a very tasty whole wheat bread.  The huge majority of wheat bread recipes only call for a little bit of whole wheat flour because whole wheat flour just doesn't work as well for bread, but I think the multiple rises and kneadings help with that because the resulting bread is tender and delicious.

The original recipe description encourages the baker to incorporate whatever dried fruit, seeds, nuts, or spices they wanted, and that first time I made it I remember sniffing through all of my mom's bottles of dried herbs and deciding on rosemary.  My passionate love of rosemary was kindled that day!  I think the bread could also be very good with roughly chopped kalamata olives or sun dried tomatoes kneaded in during the last kneading, and if the loaves were formed into rounds instead of baked in bread pans since you'd get more surface area for the olive oil and kosher salt topping.  I'll update the recipe if I ever get around to trying those things, been wanting to try them ever since I first made the recipe but for this first revisit I wanted to make it the old way.  I can say with confidence that I will definitely make this bread again many times and I wish I hadn't stopped making it!

Quick note: To make a warm spot for my dough to rise, turn the oven to 300 degrees for 45 seconds, then turn it off. With my oven at least, this makes the perfect place for bread to proof.  When you let the sponge rise, I suggest turning the oven on again for 20 seconds 45 minutes in to warm things up again.  Also, here is a good video that shows how to knead dough if you aren't familiar with it.

 Rosemary Wheat Bread

1 C lukewarm water
1 packet yeast (2 1/4 t)
4 T maple syrup, divided
4 T extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more
2 C lukewarm water
2 t salt
7+ C whole wheat flour, divided
2-3 t crushed dried rosemary (I use 3 b/c I love rosemary!)
Optional: kosher salt or crushed sea salt

In a large bowl, stir together 1 C lukewarm water, the yeast, and 1 T of the maple syrup.  Cover with a dish towel and let proof 10 minutes.  Mixture should look creamy.  Stir in remaining maple syrup, water, salt, and 4 C of the flour until smooth.  It will look like a thick batter.  Cover again with the dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. 

Add dried rosemary, then 3 C flour, one cup at a time.  Stir at first, then use your hands (or a stand mixer with a dough hook if you have one) when it becomes too hard to stir.  Add more flour 1/4 C at a time if necessary to make a smooth, very slightly tacky dough (I ended up adding 1 C extra).  Knead by hand (don't use your stand mixer, it's too hard on the motor) until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 to 10 minutes depending on how good you are at kneading!  Place dough ball into the bowl you were using earlier and coat lightly with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Punch dough down, divide into two balls, and knead each ball of dough for about 5 minutes (you can use your stand mixer for this, if you do only knead 2 to 3 minutes).  Shape each ball into a log and place in lightly greased 9 by 5 bread pans, pressing dough into corners.  Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until dough has risen half an inch above the edge of the pans, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake loaves until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Cover the loaves with aluminum foil, shiny side up, if they start to get too browned.  Remove loaves from oven and brush them with a bit of olive oil.  If you're planning to serve the bread that day, sprinkle on some kosher salt or crushed sea salt but leave it off otherwise or the salt will draw moisture from the bread and form little water droplets on top.  Let loaves cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn them out onto a cooling rack.  The bread is delicious served warm, but be sure to let it cool completely before wrapping it up to store on the counter for a couple of days or in the freezer wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil.

Yield: 2 loaves

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baked Chiles Rellenos

Chiles Rellenos are one of my favorite things to order at Mexican restaurants.  A chile stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter, cooked, and drowned in enchilada sauce?  Yes, please!  For years now I've been meaning to make a baked version of Chiles Rellenos and finally got around to doing it today since it's Cinco de Mayo, using my spin on this recipe.  I expected the result to pale in comparison to the real thing, but it was actually really, REALLY good.  My husband and I both stuffed ourselves, and I don't think it's just because we adore green chiles.  Still not as good as authentic Chiles Rellenos, but a nice approximation!  We will definitely have it again and again.  It's also super easy to make- I have a terrible cold and my husband decided to make it while I supervised.  He did a great job!  Next time I'm going to try putting a string cheese (mozzarella) in each chile instead of laying them down flat, but as written it was delicious, too.

Baked Chiles Rellenos

2  7 oz cans whole green chiles, drained
8 oz shredded monterey jack cheese
3 eggs
2 T flour
5 oz can evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed!)
10 oz can red enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350 and grease an 8 by 8 baking dish.  Slice down one side of each green chile so it can lie flat.  Pat dry and arrange half the chiles in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Top with half the cheese and the remaining flat chiles.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then beat in flour until as smooth as possible.  Beat in evaporated milk, then pour mixture evenly over chiles.  Bake in preheated oven 25 minutes, then top with enchilada sauce and remaining cheese.  Bake 15 to 20 more minutes, until bubbly around the edges.  Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Easy Horchata

We loooove horchata, my husband in particular.  If you've never had it, here's an article with more info.  Basically, the horchata we are used to is sweetened rice milk with vanilla and cinnamon.  It has a rather unique flavor and is very good!  There are recipes out there to make it completely from scratch and I fully intend to give it a try sometime soon, but this "cheater's" horchata made with packaged vanilla rice milk is good, too!  I suggest you make it several hours ahead of time (or even the day before) so the sugar has time to dissolve and the cinnamon has time to soften and disperse through the milk.  The cinnamon will never blend in completely, but it will still be good!

Easy Horchata

1/2 gallon vanilla flavored rice milk
1/3 C sugar
1 t cinnamon

Place everything in a pitcher and stir to combine.  Refrigerate for several hours and stir again before serving.

Yield: 8 1 cup servings