Monday, April 30, 2012

Homemade Dulce de Leche

I love, love, love Mexican food and am so excited about Cinco de Mayo this weekend that I've planned my whole dinner menu this week with almost all Mexican food. I've also got a bunch of Mexican recipes to throw your way to get you in the mood too and give you some ideas if you're like me and love to celebrate.

The first is this dulce de leche. I'm sure most of you have heard of it. It's a dessert sauce, almost like caramel, sweet and creamy. I'm not sure if it's typical in Mexico, but I know they eat it all over South America and I ate it by the kilo when I lived there, so I'm going with it.

This is one dessert sauce you will never want to live without, especially when you find out how easy it is to make. There is one, and only one ingredient: sweetened condensed milk. Now, I know you can do this in your crock pot without ever taking it out of the can, but man, I just can't wait that long. This'll take you just over an hour from start to finish, and you 'll be enjoying this over cake, ice cream, or just by the spoonful (my favorite way)!

Homemade Dulce de Leche
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Open the can of milk and pour into a shallow baking dish, like a pie plate. Cover tightly with foil. Make a water bath by placing the shallow dish in a larger dish; a roasting pan works great. Fill the roasting pan with water until it reaches about half way up the smaller dish. Bake for about an hour, then lift the foil to check the color. If it's not a caramely brown color, let it bake another 15-20 minutes.

Remove pans from oven and transfer dulce de leche into a jar with a tight fitting lid-I used a canning jar. You can let it cool some before doing this but don't wait too long or it will start to set and get too sticky and messy to scrape out of the pan.

Enjoy warm or chilled.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blueberry Banana Granola

I've been making my own granola for quite a while now and I think I can say with fair certainty that this granola is my favorite one yet! In terms of crunchiness and flavor, this is a real winner. To kick up the crunch a little, I added just a bit of brown sugar to my wet ingredients and while I usually use applesauce as a binder, I decided to use pureed banana. It not only added a touch of natural sweetness but flavor too. Blueberries and bananas go so well together.

If you have never made granola before, don't hesitate, it couldn't be easier. The few minutes it takes to throw together is well worth the end result, and in our house it lasts a couple of weeks. By making your own granola, you get to control what goes in it; that means no preservatives and the amount of sugar you like. If you're not sure where to pick up the nuts, seeds and dried fruit, typical in granolas, check out your local grocery or health food stores that have a bulk foods section. There you can purchase what you want and in the quantities you want as well.

Blueberry Banana Granola
6 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup pureed banana (about 1 medium banana)
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (if you don't have cardamom, just use more cinnamon)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups dried blueberries

In a large mixing bowl, add the oats, nuts, seeds and shredded coconut and toss. In a smaller, microwave-safe bowl, add the honey, coconut oil and brown sugar. Microwave it on about half power until coconut oil is melted. Add banana puree, cinnamon, cardamom (or another 1/2 tsp. or cinnamon) and salt and stir until combined. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture and toss until evenly coated. Spread over 2 cookie sheets and bake at 325 for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Cool and toss in blueberries. Store in an airtight container (in the fridge if you want it to keep longer).

SOURCE: adapted from Bob Vivant

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Salad Demos

For those of you who came to my class night at the church, here are the salads I demoed. Thanks to all who attended, I had so much fun!

Asian Slaw with Roasted Peanuts and Ginger Lime Dressing

Mango Chicken Salad (Since mangoes were not ripe when I went to the store, I substituted mandarin oranges, and to keep it more budget friendly, I omitted the chicken.)

I realized that I actually demoed the Greek Pasta Salad (swapping lettuce for the pasta) rather than the Greek Panzanella I originally posted. However, I love them both and they do use the same dressing, which is one of my favorites. So, make either or both. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lemon Basil Penne with Grilled Chicken

One of the things I love to cook with most of all is fresh basil. Is that weird? I love the bright, fresh flavor that just makes a dish pop! I've tried growing it on my window sill, but we don't get very much direct sunlight here and we don't have a yard (because believe me I would be growing mounds of it if we did). I have a couple of local grocery stores near me that sell fresh basil for a reasonable price, so I splurge every once in a while.

Fresh basil is one of those hallmark flavors of spring and summer fare and pairs perfectly with fresh lemon. I grabbed my basil at the store the other day, not knowing before hand I was going to with it (even though I just had to have it). When I got home and found three lemons in my fridge that needed to be used, I immediately knew I wanted to make this pasta dish. It is so quick and easy and delivers up tons of flavor! I love how just a few fresh and simple ingredients can make some of the best food. This pasta can be served with or without the chicken.

Lemon Basil Penne with Grilled Chicken
for the marinade:
4 chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness
good drizzle of olive oil
juice of 3-4 lemons
a good squirt of Dijon mustard (about 1 Tbsp.)
dash of salt

for the pasta:
1 pound penne Pasta
4 Tbsp. butter
3 whole lemons, juiced
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
20 basil leaves, chopped into ribbons
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

Pour all the marinade ingredients into a gallon zip-top bag and add chicken, tossing to coat. Marinate several hours, up to overnight.

Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of hot pasta water when you drain. Set pasta aside in a colander.

While pasta is cooking, grill chicken either on an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan. Cook until no longer pink. Let cool at least 5 minutes, then slice into strips.

In the same pot used to cook the pasta, melt butter over medium heat. Squeeze in the juice of 3 lemons. Whisk together. Pour in cream and whisk until hot. Add cheese and whisk until melted. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Check consistency, adding some of the hot pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.

Pour pasta back into the pot, along with the basil and tomatoes, stirring to coat. Pour into a large serving dish. Top with sliced chicken breasts. Serve immediately.

SOURCE: Lightly adapted from Pioneer Woman

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chocolate Crepes with Nutella and Whipped Cream Cheese Filling

Crepes are one of my husband's my favorite foods. We even got a crepe pan a couple of years ago to celebrate something or other and it sat unused in my cupboard, behind all the other pots and pans. Why it stayed there, I do not know. I mean, who doesn't love a good crepe?? They are so easy to make (you don't even really need a crepe pan, a frying pan will do just fine) and the fillings are endless; both sweet and savory. So, when another little celebration came rolling along, my husband asked for crepes and I heartily agreed, deciding it was time to dust off that pan! I'm so glad we did and I'm happy to report we've made crepes several times since then, not even having time for dust to gather.

I decided that these chocolate crepes would be the first we'd make. I knew nutella, strawberries and whipped cream were a must but I also decided to do a flavored whipped cream cheese. The combination was heavenly! I'm dreaming about them right now as I write this!! Hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

Chocolate Crepes with Nutella and Whipped Cream Cheese Filling
For the crepe batter:
1 cup milk
4 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup Hershey’s Dark Cocoa Powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the fillings and toppings:
Sliced fruit-we love strawberries and bananas
Cool Whip or Whipping Cream
Whipped Cream Cheese (recipe below)
Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
Chocolate syrup (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)

To make the crepes, put all the batter ingredients in a blender and blend until well-incorporated.

Heat a non-stick crepe or frying pan on medium heat. Pour about 1/3 cup of the batter in the pan, swirling the batter out around the edges. Crepe should be very thin, so you may need more or less batter depending on your pan size. Cook crepe about 30-60 seconds until slightly browned on bottom and top is just about cooked. Carefully flip and cook another 15-30 seconds on the second side. Remove to a plate and continue with the rest of the batter.

There are a couple methods to assembling crepes. Probably the most popular is the burrito way, where you spread out the crepe, lay your fillings down the middle, roll it up then top with whipped cream and drizzle with chocolate sauce. I like to do it another way. Spread out the crepe. On one half, spread the nutella then whipped cream cheese on top of it. Fold the top over, in half, then fold it over again, in fourth. Top with sliced strawberries, cool whip and a drizzle of chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.

Whipped Cream Cheese:
8-oz block of cream cheese
2-4 Tbsp. powdered sugar
a couple drops of coconut extract (although almond, orange or vanilla would also be delicious)

Soften cream cheese to room temperature. Place in a mixing bowl and whip until light and fluffy. Gently add the powdered sugar until incorporated and to taste, then add the extract last. Refrigerate leftovers.

SOURCE:Crepe batter from The Clever Culinarian

Monday, April 16, 2012

Balsamic Chicken Tortellini Salad

This little salad has easily become one of my new favorite quick and easy dinners. It's kind of funny because it's also the salad that got my two older girls to eat sweet peppers. I had brought home a big bag of mini sweet peppers one day, primarily for this salad, and they thought they were the cutest thing and just ate them whole! Now they love them.

You can tackle this salad in the time it takes the tortellini and chicken to cook, making it ideal for a soccer night or any weeknight for that matter. I use fresh baby spinach as well as a little fresh basil, which makes the flavor just pop! Fresh basil can be pricey if you don't know what to look for. Sometimes grocery stores will carry small, unpackaged bunches that are near the fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro. That seems to be the least expensive that I have found, but I have also found a living basil plant that comes with roots, which you can keep for a while at home. Of course, the easiest and most definitely least expensive would be to grow your own in your garden or even on your window sill.

Balsamic Chicken Tortellini Salad
For the salad:
1 7-10 oz. package cheese tortellini (or multiple smaller packages)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded thin if they are thick)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 sweet bell peppers, seeded and diced
fresh baby spinach, chopped (about half a 10-oz bag)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

For the balsamic vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake to combine. Add about 1/3 of the vinaigrette to a zip-top bag. Add the chicken and marinate for 1-2 hours. When it's time to cook the chicken, remove it from the zip-top bag and discard the marinade. Cook either on indoor grill pan or outdoor grill. Once cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to boiling and cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and cool.

While the chicken and tortellini are cooking, chop the veggies and greens and add them to a large salad bowl. Add cooled chicken and tortellini. Toss with remaining dressing and parmesan cheese.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Snickerdoodle Cake

I'm so lucky, I get to make desserts and goodies most often for our family parties, usually once or twice a month. It's almost my favorite thing to do, next to sleeping (not that I get any) and eating chocolate. I happened upon this cake on pinterest, no surprise there. I remembered the ONE time I made my girls snickerdoodle cookies instead of chocolate chip and they couldn't stop eating them! They were the new favorite around here. Then I remembered these snickerdoodle muffins that my sister makes, which are heavenly and I decided that this cake was probably worth a shot.

I'm so glad I tried it, it totally was worth the shot. The cake baked up beautifully and was dense and moist. The frosting is absolutely heavenly; incredibly creamy and totally unique. The brown sugar in it gives you little bursts of flavor and texture with every bite.

I liked this cake more than I thought I would and can't wait to make it again. It is on the sweeter side, so when you dish up, make sure you have a tall glass of milk!

Snickerdoodle Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy and pale in color. Beat the eggs in one at a time, then add the vanilla.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk in three 3 batches, starting and ending with the dry. Scrape down bowl as necessary.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake, rotating midway through, for about 35 minutes or until the cake tests done.

Let the cakes cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes before turning out onto the racks to finish cooling. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (preferable overnight).

Brown Sugar Buttercream
3 sticks butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbsp. heavy cream

Mix butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Alternating, add powdered sugar and heavy cream. Beat 1-2 minutes longer until light and fluffy.

To assemble the cake:Slice each of the chilled cake layers in half horizontally. Place one of the bottom layers on a cake board or platter. Top with a layer of frosting, spreading evenly as you go. Repeat with remaining layers. Crumb coat the top and sides (very thin layer-you will still be able to see the cake in some spots), then refrigerate for about 30 minutes. With the remaining buttercream, frost the top and sides again, smoothing it out evenly as you go. Refrigerate for about an hour or so before serving.

SOURCE:Slightly adapted from Always with Butter
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