Monday, December 31, 2012

Cream Cheese Frosting

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I had to take a cooking course for my occupational credits.  My mom and I had just moved back to Washington and it was a graduation requirement, so off to summer school I went.  The course was 8 hours a day for a month and we used a full sized professional kitchen.  It was SO much fun and I learned a lot about cooking!  During that course is when I made frosting for the first time.  Another girl and I were handed a recipe for cream cheese frosting, and we whipped up about a gallon of it to frost several giant pineapple carrot cakes.  It ended up being easily the best frosting I've ever had, and the cake was incredible as well. 

Unfortunately for me, I did not save the recipe for either.  I just assumed that all cream cheese frostings would be as delicious since the ingredients were only cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract.  Easy, right?!  Yes, definitely, but I have NEVER had cream cheese frosting turn out as perfectly since and I have no idea why!  They've basically all been big flops for me.  Vanilla frosting, too.  Maybe the powdered sugar I used in the cooking course was a different kind?  I've mentioned before on this blog that powdered sugar has a strong, strange flavor that completely turns me off, I think it's the cornstarch they add to it.  Whatever the reason, I was never completely happy with another homemade non-chocolate frosting recipe until I tried this one from Southern Plate.  It's nice and sweet, not too tart (but still obviously cream cheese based), and has a rather interesting addition: butter flavoring!  Lucky for me, the addition of butter flavoring completely masks the unappealing powdered sugar flavor.  You can either try it with the butter extract or just use vanilla if you like. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick salted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 t butter flavoring or vanilla extract
3 1/2 to 4 C powdered sugar

Beat together butter, cream cheese, and flavoring until fluffy.  Beat in powdered sugar until frosting is thick and has the desired consistency, you will probably use the full amount.  You can add more powdered sugar 1/4 C at a time if necessary, or thin it with about a teaspoon of milk at a time.  Use immediately. 

Yield: Enough to frost a 2 layer cake, or a 9 by 13 cake with some leftover.

Hershey's Red Velvet Cake

Well, it looks like 2012 is almost over!  My first complete calendar year of having this blog.  I haven't shared a lot of recipes this month, but I HAVE cooked lots of good ones.  This is the red velvet cake that I made for our Christmas dessert.  It's not the first red velvet recipe I've tried, but is definitely the best!  It turns out that red velvet is kind of hard to make really good, it always seems to have an odd texture or flavor.  This recipe though is not just good, it's great.  Moist, tender, fluffy, and sweet with a hint of chocolate flavor.  It also stayed fresh for a good 5 days!  If you want to try a red velvet cake recipe, I suggest you try this one!  Normally red velvet cake is topped with cream cheese frosting, my favorite recipe is here.  Sorry there aren't any photos, we loved it so much and devoured the whole thing rather quickly.  I do believe it will become a Christmas tradition here!

This recipe is from the Hershey company and can be found here.  My only changes were to halve the amount of salt because I thought 1 teaspoon sounded like too much and to bake in a pair of round cake pans. 

Hershey's Red Velvet Cake

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 C flour
1/2 t salt
1/3 C cocoa powder
 1 C buttermilk (or 1 C milk with 1 T vinegar added and allowed to sit 10 minutes)
1 oz bottle red food coloring
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 T white vinegar

Heat oven to 350 and grease 2 round 8 or 9 inch cake pans.  I used nonstick pans and Baker's Joy spray, my cakes came out of the pans perfectly after cooling!

Beat together butter and sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla extract.  In another bowl, stir together flour, salt, and cocoa powder. In a measuring cup, stir together buttermilk and food coloring.  Beat in a third of the dry ingredients, then a third of the buttermilk mixture, and repeat until both have been completely incorporated into the batter and batter is smooth.  Add baking soda and vinegar, then mix thoroughly.

Evenly divide batter between pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Olive and Caper Tomato Sauce

As much as I love tomato based sauces and pasta (as evidenced by the large number of this kind of recipe on my blog!), I am kind of particular about tomato sauce.  In my experience, usually they have to cook for a long time to be very good.  Over the years I have tried many quick recipes and they nearly always end up kind of blah.  Not bad by any means, but lacking character and any level of deep or complex flavor.  What I usually do is make up a great big batch of bolognese sauce or meatless marinara and freeze it since they take quite a while to make and it's easy to make big batches.

This recipe, however, is a sauce that only takes about half an hour to make (chopping time included) and is really, really good!  How can it not be when it's full of olives and capers, then simmered until thick?  I got this recipe from Giada de Laurentiis' book Everyday Italian and have made it several times over the past couple of years.  The recipe is called "Spicy Tomato Sauce" in her book and is apparently her version of arrabbiata sauce, but it honestly does not seem spicy to us at all with just a big pinch of red pepper flakes for heat.  It's really good though without being hot and you can add as much pepper flakes as you want.  Even olive haters may be alright with this one.  My husband only likes plain black olives you buy in a can, but he enjoys the salty, briny flavor of kalamata olives and capers in this recipe.  This sauce is astonishingly good, as good as any sauce I've had that was simmered all day.  As another bonus, you can keep the ingredients on hand and whip it up really quickly!

Quick note: This is a great choice for a vegan meal if you use eggless pasta and don't add any parmesan.

Olive and Caper Tomato Sauce

3 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C pitted kalamata olives, chopped coarsely
2 T drained capers
large pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy!)
salt to taste (recipe calls for 1/2 t but canned tomatoes, olives, and capers are already salty)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes

Heat olive oil over medium high and saute onion until it begins to brown, then add everything but the crushed tomatoes.  Saute for a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.  Serve over your favorite pasta, we like linguine.  A sprinkle of parmesan on top does not hurt!

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Friday, December 14, 2012

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

I absolutely love making all kinds of cookies and treats during the Christmas season, and this is the recipe I picked to kick things off!  It is from AllRecipes and is virtually unchanged.  Only difference is I did not make the glaze.  Mine may not have turned out super pretty, but they taste like they were sent down from cookie heaven.  The tart, sweet, kind of gooey (but not wet) jelly in the middle of the cookie goes perfectly with the sweet, mild, slightly almond flavored cookie.  They are proof that simple things are often the best as they only have 5 ingredients and are really quick and easy to make!  Also, to my surprise, the cookies are still fantastic several days after they were baked.  The jelly center has not made the cookie soggy at all and the cookie part is still wonderfully crisp.  If you like crunchy shortbread, these are a surefire hit!  My husband is a purist when it comes to cookies, pretty much only likes his family's recipe for chocolate chip cookies, AND hates crunchy cookies, but he still liked these.  Oh and they are an even tastier version of Pepperidge Farm Verona Cookies.

If you make these, my one tip is to use more jelly in the center than you think you will need.  It will melt down in the oven and some of the liquid will boil off, so you need enough jelly.  Other reviewers cautioned about making the thumb print too deep, but I did not run into any problems at all, and to make sure to bake the cookies until light golden so that the bottoms are cooked enough to stand up to the jelly.

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

1 C salted butter, softened
2/3 C sugar
1/2 t almond extract (can use more if you want them really almondy but we liked them as is)
2 C flour
about 1/2 C seedless raspberry jam or jelly (or another flavor if you prefer)
optional: about 1/4 C sugar to roll the dough balls in

Preheat oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper (the parchment paper is important in case you have jelly overflow!).  Cream together the butter, sugar, and almond extract, then stir in the flour, being careful not to over mix.  Form dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, roll balls in granulated sugar if desired, and place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Carefully make a large thumb print (not too deep!) on each dough ball and fill the thumbprint with jelly.  Bake until cookies are light golden and center is bubbling, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool completely before tasting as that jelly is molten!  When cookies have cooled, stack them in an airtight container.  They will stay fresh for at least several days.

Yield: About 28 to 36 cookies (I got 28, the original recipe says 36)