Monday, April 30, 2012

Turn That Frown Upside Down

I do my very best to come up with creative post titles when I have the energy. But I think I've pretty much exhausted all of my cake references. I've done "Let Them Eat Cake" and "I'll Have My Cake and Eat It Too", and since it is Monday morning and generally no one likes Monday mornings, I'm stretching it to include frowns and references to the "upside down" in the cake title. But I'm pretty much out.

Anyway, my parents celebrated their 25th anniversary last week and I made this cake to bring to the dinner. Generally, my parents fall into the fruit dessert category. They are much less likely to order something insanely rich and chocolate. So as I was perusing through the Mother's Day cake ideas on Bon Appetit's website, I found this recipe and thought it would be perfect for the occasion. It was incredibly delicious. Sweet, but not overpowering. The cake was dense and had substance, but wasn't too heavy and wasn't at all dry. I think it would be a perfect cake for hot summer nights. Both of my nieces also enjoyed it, so it's a kid-friendly dessert too. Finally, the difficulty-factor was pretty low. I actually whipped it up Friday morning before class, cooked it while I showered and got ready, and then let it cool while I was gone. Definitely give it a try!

Blackberry Buttermilk Upside Down Cake
recipe from here

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
2 1/3 cups cake flour (sifted, then measured) plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries note: I got two containers, closer to 12 ounces and I loved it
1/4 cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

I'm looking back over the recipe now and it occurred to me that I used regular flour, not cake flour. My cake turned out great, but I only cooked it for an hour (instead of the hour and twenty five minutes the recipe called for) and as I mentioned, it almost had a pound cake-type consistency. I'm wondering if the lighter, more refined cake flour would have changed that? I'm not sure and I'm also not sure I would want it changed. It was pretty delicious as it was.

First, I greased the pan. I used a 9" spring form pan with a removable bottom. Then I put down a pre-cut 9" parchment paper and greased the top of the parchment as well.
Then I floured the entire inside of the pan.
 Then I laid out all of the blackberries.
And I sprinkled 1/4 cup sugar over the top of the berries.
Into a medium sized bowl, I sifted together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
In a large bowl, I creamed together the rest of the sugar and the softened butter.
Then I added the eggs and mixed them together. I also added the vanilla and the orange zest and mixed together.
Next, I added 1/3 of the flour mix and mixed and then 1/2 of the buttermilk. Then I added another 1/3 of the flour, mixed, the rest of the buttermilk, mixed and the last bit of flour and mixed. Basically I just added the ingredients slowly so that they had time to absorb and mix without getting clumpy.
I poured the batter over the berries and smoothed the top.
I baked the cake for 1 hour and 5 minutes at 350 degrees. The recipe suggested an 1 hour for 10" pan and 1 hour and 25 minutes for a 9" pan. But that seemed a bit odd to me, so I checked it after an hour and added five more minutes and then it was done. I inserted a toothpick in the center and it was clean. But you could also test it by gently pressing with a finger and it should bounce back.
I let the cake cool for 15 minutes and then removed the outside of the pan.
Then I flipped the cake over onto the wire rack and gently peeled off the parchment.
More of the bottom of my cake came off than in the original picture, but I think that was because I used more blackberries. Next time I'll let the parchment stay on a bit longer and see if it helps.
 I sprinkled powdered sugar over the top, but because the cake was still warm, the sugar immediately melted in certain places.
So when the cake was cooled, I added some more.
When it came time to eat, I sliced it up and we all gobbled it down. I love the pretty purple layer on top. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Rosemary Chicken with Artichokes and White Beans

I have very little to say about this recipe. It was delicious and quick. It made a ton and is super healthy. But perhaps I just don't have a lot of words right now. It's a very rare occurrence so I think I won't fight the urge for brevity. I made very few changes to the original recipe, just added a small onion and a few cloves of garlic. Oh and I used quinoa instead of rice. But honestly, I think you could eat the chicken and sauce mixture by itself. Definitely give this dish a try, don't let me quietness fool you, it's a keeper.

Rosemary Chicken with Artichokes and White Beans
recipe adapted from here

- 2-3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
- 1 onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
- 2 Tblsp olive oil
- 1 14 oz can, diced tomatoes
- 1 14 oz can, white beans drained
- 1 14 oz can, artichoke hearts (quartered if you can find them, if not just drain & roughly chop up whole ones into quarters)
- 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives
-3/4-1 cup dry quinoa

 I started by putting the quinoa in a pot with 1.5-2 cups of water. I brought the water to a boil, then reduced the heat to simmer. Let the quinoa simmer for about 15 minutes or until the water is just about absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave the top on so the last remnants of the water disappear. Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil and cook the onion until just about tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

In a small small, mix together the rosemary, slat and pepper. Sprinkle on top of your chicken. I like to slice my chicken breasts into tenders to make the cooking process easier, but it's up to you.
Place the chicken in the center of the pan, spiced side down, and cook for about 4 minutes until that side of the chicken is browned. Flip the chicken over.
Add the beans, artichoke hearts and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat.

To prepare, put some of the quinoa in a large bowl.
Add the olives and cook for another five minutes on low heat, or until the chicken is cooked through the sauce is slightly thickened.
Put a few of the chicken tenders and some of the sauce on top of the quinoa and enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Picking Favorites

This past weekend bf was visiting and I made Russian tea cakes. I wanted him to have some to take home and brought some to class the following day. Lately bf has been OBSESSED with Russian tea cakes. No exaggeration. He has even gone so far as to say that they are his favorite dessert. The first time he said that my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. He continues to insist they are the best, which I strongly contest, but the whole conversation got me thinking about favorites.

How does one rank food? Especially dessert? It's one thing for someone to ask what your favorite dinner is, because usually that answer includes sides and bread, etc. But to me, desserts are way trickier. As you know, I like to cook. I love to bake. And I love love love to eat dessert. So when someone asks me what my favorite dessert is, the answer inevitably turns into something like this: "well, my favorite cupcakes is x, my favorite cookie is y, my favorite cake is z". Very helpful I know. But I can't help it. Dessert selections are so particular to my mood and the occasion. So in line with all of this blabbering, I decided to make a list that include my favorites in every dessert category. That way, I don't have to choose just one!

For me this category is super tricky. I have four favorites. One is chocolate. You have to have a chocolate option in the cookie category. Am I right or am I right? So here are my favorites.

Chocolate chip cookies. Traditional. Necessary. Terrible picture, but you get the idea.

Molasses cookies. These can go very bad if you don't have a good recipe. This recipe is amazing.

Sugar cookies. Not only are they amazing, but they are so versatile.

As you can see, they show up for pretty much any holiday.

Iced gingerbread cookies. I love how amazingly flavor-filled this recipe is, but the cookies remain soft. It's really the best.

I love cupcakes. I've always loved cake, but I think having a little personal cake is so much fun. Plus they are easy, great to transport and allow for so many fun decorating ideas. Narrowing down this category was tricky, but I managed to select two.

Red velvet cupcakes. I made these for Valentine's Day, but you could decorate them however you want. This recipe is amazing because it appeals to both chocolate lovers and not.

Pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. This recipe was one of my favorite finds of the last year. The cake is so moist and the frosting is phenomenal. It's especially delicious around the holidays.

Cakes can be tricky. The layers can be intimidating and there is nothing worse than going through all of that effort and ending up with dry cake. That is the very very worst.

I have a favorite sour cream chocolate cake, but I don't have a post of it yet. It's been a family favorite forever, but the frosting has always presented a problem. Basically, the recipe called for you to melt chocolate, add it to powdered sugar, and then mix in sour cream. But it always ended up very clumpy. It tasted amazing, but looked less than perfect. I'm pretty sure I figured out how to fix it and for the next birthday I'm making it. Of course I will share. You will thank me and never make a different chocolate cake.

But not everyone is obsessed with chocolate. My parents in particular love non-chocolate desserts. My dad is all about lemon and my mom loves berries. So this lemonade cake is my dad's favorite. Frankly, everyone loves it. Even lemon-hating-bf. It's pretty flawless. The cake is so unbelievably light and moist and it's from Cooking Light Magazine so it's not the most unhealthy cake.

So what is your favorite dessert? How do you choose what you want? Is there anything I missed on my list that I shouldn't have overlooked? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Challenge Accepted

This post is a little bit out of the ordinary. A couple of weeks ago my friend, we will call her Sam, asked if I was up for a challenge. I sort of thought she meant like find a good recipe. So I said sure, no problem. I did succeed, but the challenge was a bit more tricky than I expected. Sam asked me to find something she could make for a snack during long hours of studying that is healthy, quick to put together, and will keep her full for a while. But I said I would accept the challenge, and I was determined to achieve victory. Achieve it I did. It just took me a while. Initially I was quite stumped. But then, I remembered some good advice a different friend, we will call her Amanda, had given me. If there is a theme to this post, it's that very little of the creativity was from me.

So Amanda has been really into eating clean lately. Basically eating without preservatives or processing. I'm amazed she is sticking with it because the thought really overwhelms me. I think it's so awesome and I definitely don't have the willpower or determination to stick with it. But, I loved the breakfast idea she told me about and so I appropriated it for Sam. Hypothetical names of course. Technically this meal started as a breakfast. But, I've taken it to school as a snack. I tested it out in a Tupperware and it travels wonderfully. If I'm being completely honest, I should also say I've eaten for lunch and dinner. So, enjoy at any time of the day or night.

What You'll Need
1/2-1 cup of low-fat plain yogurt (not vanilla)
a few drizzles of honey or agave nectar (depends on how sweet you want it)
a handful of raw oats
berries or sliced fruit

Start with your yogurt in a bowl or container.
Add your agave and oats.
Then your fruit. I love some sort of berry and kiwi. The kiwi was Amanda's suggestion and it goes great with the tart yogurt. Seriously, I know that sounds weird, but it's so true. Trust me.
Mix together and enjoy! Mission accomplished!

P.S.- If you knew that the title was a reference to Barney from "How I Met Your Mother", you are super cool in my book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Attempting to Make Lemonade Out of Lemons

Last week was bad. The week actually ended nicely. BF was visiting and I had a big professional growth event. But there were also some bad moments that I'm having trouble shaking. Perhaps most importantly, I was swamped with work and had NO motivation to cook, let alone go to the grocery store to get food with which I could cook. I did actually create this recipe last week or the week before (they are totally running together) but I struggled to find the words to describe the dish. Deep breathe and here I go.

The recipe itself was all wrong. The ingredients were great, but the proportions just didn't fit. I started to get a feeling that I needed to make some changes as soon as I started to compile the ingredients. I think I'm going to share with you the recipe as it should be. Then I'm going to show you what I actually did and how it turned out. My creation (aka-the way the recipe should have been, is really really good, so I'd highly recommend it. It's quite similar to the Quinoa Avocado salad I posted a few months back, but just some different ingredients)

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Veggies
1 cup uncooked quinoa (2 cups cooked)
1-2 avocados depending on size and preference
8 ounces mozzarella cheese (you want a large fresh cube that you can chop)
1 bunch asparagus
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 14 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
dijon mustard
a few tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the salad the same way I did below. In addition, use slightly less Dijon than I did and either roasted the asparagus or grill. I personally would slice it up and saute for a few minutes in some olive oil.

The Recipe I Actually Made
4 cups quinoa cooked
1 avocado
4 ounces mozzarella
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 cup chickpeas
olive oil

I started by tossing the tomatoes with olive oil. I covered a baking sheet with olive oil to aid in clean up.
I baked the tomatoes at 375 for 45 minutes. After about 30 minutes, I tossed the tomatoes to make sure they were evenly cooked. When the tomatoes were done, I sprinkled some salt on them.
 Meanwhile, I cooked the quinoa according to the package directions. When it was done, I tossed the quinoa with the avocados, cheese, tomatoes, chickpeas and 3-4 tablespoons of pesto and 3 tablespoons of dijon.
Here is the final product. As you can see, there is a major problem. For me, quinoa is never the main ingredient. It is the rice to the beans and chicken. It is backdrop to the meal, never the star. This salad was WAY too dominated by quinoa. So next time, I'll reduce the amount by half and add a bunch more things. I think it was also really missing a green vegetable and asparagus would work brilliantly. Finally, I would use slightly less dijon mustard and let the pesto flavor come out more. All in all, quite a few changes. But, I think the recipe I listed above is a winner and is super easy. Definitely something I am going to try this summer and I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tomato Basil Soup

I've been wanting to share some dinner recipes lately, but my creations have been falling seriously flat. But it hasn't been my fault, I swear. I made two different recipes where the recipe just kind of sucked. And it was super disappointing because usually these sources are great. I'm going to share one of them later this week, I've tweaked all of the proportions and amounts and I think I've transformed it into something great. This recipe also needed a bit of tweaking. With my tweaks, it would be quite delicious. It was actually very tasty the day after once the tomato flavor had a chance to sink it, but could be a bit better. Anyway, because I didn't love the recipe initially, I'm not comfortable making this meal a "Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner" meal. But it's worth trying anyway.

Tomato Basil Soup
recipe adapted from here
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups prechopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (the recipe called for fire-roasted, but you know my wussy taste buds!)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 can tomato sauce (not a jar of marina, but the canned sauce- this is my addition)
1 cup 1% low-fat milk (the recipe initially called for 2 cups and no tomato sauce, but the tomato flavor could have been increased)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste, the initial recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon, I thought it needed more)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 So I started by chopping the onion and garlic. I cooked the onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil for three minutes or so, and then added the garlic and cooked for another minute. You want the onion to be tender.
 While the onion was cooking, I chopped the basil and then added it and the can of tomatoes to the pot. If you are following my recipe, at this point I'd also add the tomato sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the cream cheese and stir until it's melted into the soup.
 Next, pour the soup into a blender and puree, or use a blender do-hickey like the one I have. I have no idea what it's called after all of this time.
Pour in the milk and add the salt and pepper and mix. Cook for a few minutes until hot.
Ladle the soup into bowls, top with extra basil and enjoy with crusty bread.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dining Nook Shelf Project

I've been wanting to tackle the wall in the dining nook for quite some time. Originally it seemed like the only decoration that would look right was a really large piece of art. Unfortunately, that kind of investment is sort of out of the cards right now and I didn't want to settle for bare walls. Then, the other day, I was watching a design show on HGTV and I saw a bedroom makeover with a large shelf and a collection of art. I thought it was such a neat way to utilize a collection of pieces in a layer way, that still looks polished. I thought I might give it a try. I put a piece of painters' tape on the wall for about a week to make sure the shelf concept was appealing and then went for it.

 I started by picking up these two wooden brackets and a basic white wall shelf at the home depot. Initially, I went to Ikea, but they didn't have what I wanted and it turns out the same thing  was 1/2 the price at Home Depot.
 When I got home, I sprayed the brackets with two coats of primer and then two coats of white spray paint. Usually, I don't use primer but since the wood was untreated and not the highest quality, I wanted to be safe. I didn't want any wood grain seeping through.
After extensive measuring, I drilled two holes in the wall for each bracket, inserted two wall hangers and then drilled in the screws. Somehow, I managed to turned my camera sideways and make these anchors crooked. They aren't.
 Once the screws were in the wall, I slipped the brackets onto the heads of the screws.
 See? Not crooked.
 Next, I laid the shelf on top of the brackets and noticed it was a bit wobbly. I didn't think it would go anywhere once the art was in place, but just to be sure, I slid a piece of double sided sticky stuff on top of each bracket and under the shelf.
 Then I started to play around with my art. It took me a while to figure out which combination I like best, but I think I finally settled on a good arrangement.
 Here is the left side.
 Here is the middle. Oh and by the way, the painting of the iris is older than I am and needs a non-seventiestastic frame, but that is still a work in progress.
Here is the right side.
And for those of you wondering, this picture shows the height above the dining room chairs. In an ideal world I'd probably put the shelf a few inches lower, but I wanted the chair to remain usable and I think it turned out just fine. I'm so exited to finally have something up in this room. Every time I'm sitting on the couch and turn around I'm surprised that there is something there! It's such a nice feeling to be happy with the project I waited so long to finish. I hope you like it too!

Here is the room. In fuzzy quality because I was lazy and didn't want to hook up my camera and sending a picture from my phone seemed much easier. Pardon the clutter on top of Winston's litter house. That space is in transition. But at the very least, the picture shows how the shelf nicely takes up the wall space. Although, in person I think it has a great deal more presence. It really jumps out at you which I failed to capture in this photo. Oh well, you'll have to take my word for it.