Saturday, April 30, 2011

Classic Angel Food Cake

A few weeks ago we celebrated my husband's birthday. I kept asking him what kind of cake or dessert he wanted for the special occasion and he would tell me, "nothing." HELLO! You can't have NOTHING to celebrate your birthday, it's a special day. Truth is my husband is not big on any celebration, be it Christmas, birthdays or whatever. I do, however, love to celebrate anything, especially when I can make something special to eat.

Since spring has been peaking around the corner the past little while, even though we woke up to snow flurries this morning, I wanted to do a dessert that was light, fresh and tasty. I immediately went to strawberries and lemon curd. I love, love, love lemon curd. I could totally eat it off the spoon, but that's beside the point. So I was thinking of a strawberry shortcake kind of deal and had to figure out what kind of base to put all that strawberry-lemony goodness on.

Angel food cake seemed perfect for the task. I had never made one but heard they were much better than store-bought versions. Plus, I had lots of egg whites in the freezer that needed to be used. The cake was actually really fun to make and I love how it came together. I baked mine in a bundt pan, although it calls for a tube pan, because that's what I had and, it turned out fine. I was a little leery when the directions said to bake in an UN-greased pan but I trusted and went with it. I think the trick is to let it cool enough that it all comes out in one piece.

This is the perfect cake for any spring dessert with lots of fruit and cream. It would even make a great trifle! Oh, and here's my favorite lemon curd recipe.

Classic Angel Food Cake
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
12 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 325°.

To prepare cake, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and 3/4 cup sugar, stirring with a whisk.

Place egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt; beat until soft peaks form. Add 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Beat in vanilla, juice, and almond extract. Sift 1/4 cup flour mixture over egg white mixture; fold in. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time.

Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, spreading evenly. Break air pockets by cutting through the batter with a knife. Bake at 325° for 55 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Invert pan; cool completely. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Invert the cake onto a plate.

SOURCE: Cooking Light on

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Cherry Pistachio Biscotti

Just about every month we have a family dinner and celebrate everyone's birthday that falls in that month. A while back it happened to be my mom's birthday and we decided to have an Italian-themed meal. I put it together with my sister and it was lots of fun and a big hit! We had spaghetti and meatballs, Zuppa Toscana, garlic bread, yummy salad and for dessert my sister got some spumoni ice cream and I made these biscotti.

Biscotti are fun to make and you can create so many flavor combinations, probably as endlessly as cookie combinations. For this biscotti, I really wanted it to just "scream" Italian and I thought pistachios and dried cherries were perfect, especially since they are two of the flavors in traditional spumoni. The biscotti turned out wonderfully! The saltiness of the pistachios worked great with the sweetness of the dried cherries. It was also a great dipper for our ice cream.

Cherry Pistachio Biscotti
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup dried cherries

In a small bowl, beat sugar and oil until blended. Beat in eggs, then almond and vanilla extracts. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to sugar mixture and mix well (dough will be stiff). Stir in pistachios and cherries.

Divide dough in half. With floured hands, shape each half into a 12-in. x 2-in. rectangle on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 18-22 minutes or until set.

Place pan on wire rack. When cool enough to handle, transfer to a cutting board; cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 3/4-in. slices. Place cut side down on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until firm. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container. Yield: about 2-1/2 dozen.

SOURCE: Adapted from Taste of Home

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lasagna Rolls

I have had this recipe for so many years, I can't believe I'm just now getting around to posting it. The first time I made it was for some friends we had over for dinner and it was a huge hit!

I've had some serious cravings the past couple of months. Pregnancy will do that to you once in a while. I could not stop craving lasagna so I just had to make it again. Now, I don't usually make meals with so much dairy when my husband works (lactose-intolerant), but he had the week off so he said to bring it on.

I like that this lasagna uses a marinara rather than a meat sauce. I felt like the cheese and spinach mixture were definitely filling enough and more the star of the dish. However, we all loved the little crumbs of bacon here and there, which gave it a yummy kind of smoky taste.

Although these lasagna rolls may have an extra step or two compared to your typical lasagna, it's definitely worth it and not difficult. To save time when you're actually putting it together, you can do some of the steps ahead of time, like prepare your favorite marinara sauce, cook and crumble the bacon and even make the bechamel right before. You've gotta try these, you'll just love them!

Lasagna Rolls

For the Bechamel Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

For the Lasagna:
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
6 ounces bacon
1 large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

Turn oven to broil. Place bacon slices on a cookie sheet and broil about 4-5 minutes on one side. Flip bacon over and cook another 4-5 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Once cool, crumble bacon and reserve.

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup mozzarella, bacon crumbles, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. (I actually used my stick blender to blend the spinach, ricotta and egg together, before I added the rest, so my girls wouldn't pick out the spinach. And it worked too!)

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Salt, if desired. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite; about 1-2 minutes shy of what the package says to cook them for. (Note: I always add 2-3 extra noodles in the pot in case I need more or they rip.) Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Butter a 13x9 glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom. Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3-4 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. Starting at one end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll. Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down on top of the bechamel sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon the marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls. Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes to firm up a bit.

SOURCE:Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

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Friday, April 15, 2011

BLT Pasta

I made something similar to this dish several months ago when I had my mom and sister over for dinner. I kept craving it, but knew I wanted to change it a little bit. I'm glad I finally got back to the dish because after a few tweaks, this dish instantly became some delicious comfort food!

I love the combination of flavors going on here. First of all tomato and basil are an amazing duo and really brighten the dish. Next, the Parmesan and bacon contrast that with a little saltiness, and, of course, the pasta ties it all together. Oh, and I can't forget to mention the spinach, which served as the "lettuce" and adds heaps of color and good nutrition.

BLT Pasta
12 slices smoky bacon, cut into half-inch dice
1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
A handful of parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
A pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 pint (about 2 cups) cherry tomatoes, quartered (or other less-juicy tomato like Roma)
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper
3/4 pound bowtie pasta
4 cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 cup basil leaves, about 20 leaves, torn or coarsely chopped

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat; add bacon and brown to crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Leave about 3-4 tablespoons of drippings in the skillet, add the Panko crumbs and toast to golden brown. Add the parsley and grated Parmesan. Toss to combine, turn off heat and reserve the crumbs.

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt water and cook bowties to al dente. Drain pasta and pour into a 2-quart baking or serving dish.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook to soften, about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chicken broth and diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add fresh tomatoes, along with the reserved bacon, basil and baby spinach. Let simmer for another minute or so until the spinach just barely wilts. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour sauce over bowties and toss to coat. Sprinkle with reserved bread crumb mixture. Serve warm.

SOURCE:Adapted from Rachael Ray and Let's Dish

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oreo Cupcakes

I have to admit I'm not a fan of store-bought cookies. Maybe that's not a surprise though since this is a food blog. Ever since I can remember I've had in my mind that store bought cookies are just not worth the calories (ok, maybe the huge Costco ones could come close to homemade and maybe I could eat about 4 or 5 of them in one sitting).

Oreos are pretty much one of the only store bought cookies that I could go to town on. Man, those things are addicting, especially when you have a nice cold glass of milk to dip them in and wash them down with. Once when I was first married my husband and I brought a package of Oreos camping with us and I ate so many of them that I vowed I would never eat them again. It took me several years, but I eventually caved.

When I was looking for a birthday cupcake treat for a friend, I knew these would be perfect and they were. I really loved the batter, especially the cookie bits inside. And the Oreo cookie on the bottom was a nice surprise. I used a cream cheese frosting, but a whipped cream frosting would be just as nice.

Oreo Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
24 Oreo halves, with cream filling attached
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
20 Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped (I quartered them)

For the cream cheese frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. heavy cream

For the garnish:
Oreo cookie crumbs
24 Oreo cookie halves

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line the wells of two cupcake pans with 24 paper liners. Place an Oreo halve in the bottom of each liner, cream side up.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla extract.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Add the milk and beat just until combined, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Gently fold in the chopped Oreos with a rubber spatula until evenly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in the vanilla extract. Beat in the powdered sugar until incorporated and smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed just until incorporated, then increase the speed to medium-high and whip for 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Frost the cooled cupcakes as desired. Sprinkle with Oreo crumbs and garnish with Oreo halves.

SOURCE: Annie's Eats

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Chipotle Bean Tostadas

Have you ever made a fresh pot of beans? There is nothing like them and they don't even compare to what you buy in a can at the store. They taste so fresh and just free of "stuff." If you've never made your own beans, you should at least try once, it's about the easiest thing you can do. Just add water and boil. You can buy uncooked beans in 1-2 pound packages at your local market but they are not usually the freshest and take longer to cook, though they can still turn out a good product as long as you cook it long enough. I like to buy my beans at my local WinCo where they have a nice selection of bulk foods that tend to be more fresh since they are stocked more frequently.

I grew up eating tostadas a lot so this concept was nothing new to me, but I was used to topping them a little differently. I think these more closely resemble an authentic Mexican Tostada and boy are they good! Topped with beans, tomatoes, cilantro, radishes and queso fresco, they are pretty simple, but feel free to add salsa, Crema Mexicana (or sour cream), lettuce, guacamole, olives, you name it! You can buy pre-made tostada shells, but frying them up at home only takes a little time and effort.

Chipotle Bean Tostadas

For the beans
1 lb. dry pinto beans (about 2 cups)
2 quarts of water

Rinse beans and remove any bad beans, pieces of dirt or stones.

Put the beans in a pot and cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered for about 2-3 hours (time will vary depending on the freshness of the beans). The beans are done when they are soft and skins are just beginning to break open.

Strain beans of cooking water and return them to the pot. Add about 1/4 cup (or more) water and either mash with a potato masher or use a stick blender to puree the beans. Add salt to taste.

For the tostada shells
1/2 cup high flash-point vegetable oil, such as grapeseed oil, peanut oil, or canola oil
1 dozen corn tortillas

To prepare the tortillas, heat the oven to 200°F. Line a baking pan with paper towels and place next to the stove. Heat 5 Tbsp of oil in a small skillet on medium high heat, until the bubbles form immediately when you insert the edge of a tortilla in it. Using tongs, place a tortilla in the hot oil and let cook until golden brown on both sides, about 30 seconds per side. You can use a metal spatula to flatten down the tortilla while cooking.

Use tongs to lift the cooked tortilla out of the pan, allowing the excess oil to drip off of it, back into the pan. Place the cooked tortilla on the paper towels to absorb more of the oil. Sprinkle a little salt onto each warm tortilla. Do each tortilla one at a time this way. As you fill up a baking pan, put the pan in the oven to keep the tortillas warm.

Add more oil as needed. Carefully monitor the oil temperature. Don't let it get too hot, or the tortillas will burn, or too cool - they won't fry up crisp enough.

For the Tostadas
4 cups smashed pinto beans
4 tsp. Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (not regular)
1 tsp. cumin
1 dozen tostada shells
Cotija, Queso Fresco or Feta cheese
finely diced fresh tomato
thinly sliced red radishes
cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Just after finishing cooking the beans and while they are still warm, add the chipotle tobasco sauce and cumin. Adjust seasonings if necessary. If beans are too thick, add more water, if they are too thin, cook them down a bit.

To assemble the tostadas, spread 3-4 Tbsp. of the beans on each tostada shell. Either top with tomatoes, cilantro, radishes and cheese and serve or put the topping in separate bowls on the table and let each person top their tostada how they wish. Garnish with additional toppings as desired.

SOURCE:Adapted from Simply Recipes

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