Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Piece of cake? Not exactly.

My dad's birthday was this past Sunday and he requested a German chocolate cake, which my mom asked me to bake. I was excited to do it, since I rarely make cakes or frosting from scratch. Based on recommendations from the What's for Dinner board on the Nest I used the Baker's recipe for both the cake and the frosting. Things with the cake started off rocky. What a pain in the a@@ that cake was! Separating eggs, melting chocolate, whipping egg whites, folding ingredients. It honestly took me close to an hour to prep my baking pans and mix up the batter for the cake. The cakes went into the oven just fine though, and after 30 minutes they were brown and crisp on the edges and tested done in the center. When I tried to remove them from the pans, however, each layer fell completely apart. They did not seem to be cooked all the way through, although they had seemed to be done... After a mini temper tantrum on my part (which may or may not have included me cursing and hurling broken chunks of cake into the sink) I ended up making the cake with a box mix the next morning. I did, however, proceed with the coconut-pecan frosting, and that turned out wonderfully! And the cake looked beautiful, homemade or not. I'm posting only the recipe for the frosting, because that cake recipe can go to hell. Happy birthday, Dad!

Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting

4 egg yolks
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 pkg. (7 oz.) BAKER'S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut (about 2-2/3 cups)
1-1/2 cups PLANTERS Chopped Pecans

BEAT egg yolks, milk and vanilla in large saucepan with wire whisk until well blended. Add sugar and butter; cook on medium heat 12 min. or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
ADD coconut and pecans; mix well. Cool to room temperature and of desired spreading consistency.
USE to frost your favorite cake or cupcake recipe.

Sweet Dinner Rolls

Mmmmmm. That's all there really is to say about these delicious rolls. They are soft and light and just a tad sweet - perfect nice and warm slathered in some butter. Ever since my success with the Hawaiian rolls I have been dying to make more fresh rolls and bread. I found the recipe for these rolls on Amber's blog, but I followed the instructions from All Recipes and kneaded the dough in my breadmaker. I also decided to try the crescent shape - for the most part it went well, but I think I let them rise too long because they came out huge! But hey, bigger is better, right? I halved this recipe and got 8 rolls.

Sweet Dinner Rolls

1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup warm milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup butter, softened

Place water, milk, egg, 1/3 cup butter, sugar, salt, flour and yeast in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Dough/Knead and First Rise Cycle; press Start.
When cycle finishes, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 12 inch circle, spread 1/4 cup softened butter over entire round. Cut each circle into 8 wedges. Roll wedges starting at wide end; roll gently but tightly. Place point side down on ungreased cookie sheet. Cover with clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place, let rise 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cat Crackers

One way to guarantee that you won't snack on what you're baking? Bake something for your pet! There's nothing like a little tuna in the dough to keep you from licking the spoon :) My pet rescue group often participates in local craft fairs for fundraising. We always have tons of goodies for dogs - bandannas, homemade dog cookies, toys, etc. - but rarely anything for the cats. So for an upcoming craft show I decided to make some cat treats for our table. This recipe came from SimplyPets.com. There were many cat treat recipes on the Internet, but I chose this one because it was quick, required only 3 ingredients and called for tuna. What cat can resist tuna? So go ahead and treat your kitty to these crunchy snacks - and let HIM lick the bowl!

Cat Crackers

6 ounces (1 can) undrained tuna packed in water
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into treat sized pieces.

Place on a greased cookie sheet. (I used non-stick cookie sheets and just stirred the treats occasionally while they baked rather than greasing the pans - they came out fine.) Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden. Let cool.

These treats are Roger approved ;)

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I am embarrassingly proud of these rolls. I admit it . I adore bread of all kinds, but aside from using my bread machine, I have never made yeast bread from scratch. I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and give it a try, and when I saw these Hawaiian Rolls on Pennies on a Platter I knew they were destined to be my first. I did not, however, have high hopes for their success. First of all, I may be the only person on earth who does not love her stand mixer, but it's the truth. I don't think I ever properly bonded with it (or learned how to operate it) but when I tried to use it to knead this dough I wound up with a big, frustrating mess. I ended up kneading it by had. Then, the dough didn't appear to rise after it sat for 2 hours. In fact, I almost tossed it right then, certain it was ruined. But then I figured I had come this far and I might as well finish.

I was a little more optimistic after I shaped the dough into rolls - they did seem to rise this time, which was a good sign. So I crossed my fingers and popped them in the oven. I can't even describe how excited I was when I opened the oven door 40 minutes later expecting flat, white rolls only to be greeted by these big, fluffy golden beauties. Woo hoo! And even better, they tasted as good as they look. They were soft and subtly sweet with a hit of pineapple. Yum! Joe and I both had 3 each. I can't wait to make these again. I halved the recipe, since I didn't need 18 rolls, but now that I know how good they are I may make the whole batch next time!

Hawaiian Rolls

1 1/4 cups pineapple juice
2 packages instant dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
5 1/2 to 6 cups flour

1. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and butter. Beat in the yeast packages and the pineapple juice. Beat in 3 of the eggs, the vanilla, salt and ginger until well combined. Add 3 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 2 1/2 cups) to make the dough easy to handle.

2. Using the hook attachment on your stand mixer, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes, using up to 1/2 cup more if necessary. Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn greased side up. Loosely cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Dough is ready if you poke it and the indentation remains.)

3. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Divide one half of the dough into nine equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and pull the surface taut by tucking the dough in at the bottom of the ball. Place in a greased 9-inch round cake pan, tucked side down. Continue until the pan is filled. Repeat with the other dough half. Cover the rolls and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, lightly bat the remaining egg. Brush over the rolls and sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sugar. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

Recipe Exchange: Grilled Shrimp with Citrus Dipping Sauce

I love to try out new recipes, especially ones that come recommended by other food lovers, so I was excited to participate in a recipe exchange with the girls on the What's for Dinner board on The Nest. The theme for this exchange was healthy recipes, and I received Grilled Shrimp with Citrus Dipping Sauce. Joe and I both love shrimp so this dish sounded perfect. Unfortunately, neither of us liked it at all. I think it was the strong orange flavor of the sauce that didn't appeal to us. I won't be making this again, but I don't think it was a bad recipe, just not to our tastes. Since my shrimp were small I drizzled the sauce directly over them rather than using it for dipping.

Grilled Shrimp with Citrus Dipping Sauce

1 cup cooked rice
Cooking spray
2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Coat a stove-top grill or griddle with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat to preheat. Season both sides of shrimp with salt and pepper. Place shrimp on hot pan and cook 2-3 minutes per side, until bright pink and cooked through. Sprinkle shrimp with cilantro.
Meanwhile in a small saucepan whisk together orange juice, lime juice, ginger, cornstarch and garlic. Set pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer 2 minutes, until mixture thickens. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer sauce to a serving bowl. Serve 2/3 of the shrimp with the rice and dipping sauce on side.

More fun with Fritos

Oh Fritos, how I have underestimated you all these years. I always viewed you as a greasy snack chip that I had no interest in. But if only I had discovered your versatlity sooner. First, you dazzled me in Frito candy, and now you helped me create the most delicious chili I've made to date. In fact, I'm not sure I can ever enjoy chili WITHOUT Fritos again!
This recipe came from the March issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. Two things make this stand out to me - one, of course, being the Fritos, and the other being the fact that the cheese is melted into the chili while it's still in the pot. The result is creamy and just delicious! As you can see, Joe and I were not the only ones unable to resist this chili.

Tex-Mex Corn Chip Chili

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can (15 oz) black beans
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans (I used kidney beans)
1 (10 oz) can tomatoes with green chilis
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (I omitted)
12 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese (I used cheddar)
Fritos corn chips

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook 7 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add the beans, with their liquid, and the tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occassionally, until thick, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the cilantro then top with cheese. Cover and let stand until cheese melts, about 5 to 10 minutes. Place a handful of Fritos in each bowl and top with chili.

Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken

It's no secret that I love my crockpot, so when I came across the Easy Slow Cooker Cookbook on clearance in Barnes & Noble last year I snatched it up. For some reason though I haven't made many recipes from it, but last week I decided to make dinner from it. The Hawaiian Chicken jumped right out at me. While I am not a huge fruit fan, I LOVE pineapple so this recipe was right up my alley. I liked it a lot, but it is pretty sweet - Joe isn't a fan of sweet meals so he didn't love it. But if you like pineapple and a little bit of sweetness for dinner, give this a try!

Hawaiian Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt to taste
1 (15 ounce) can pineapple slices, juice reserved
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup cornstarch

Place chicken in slow cooker sprayed with non-stick spray and sprinkle with a little salt. Place pineapple slices over chicken. In a small bowl, combine pineapple juice, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger and cornstarch and stgir until combined. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or hight for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Serve over rice.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Small Batch Baking: Pecan Raisin Muffins

Joe has been very sick with the flu and hasn't had much of an appetite, so I thought I'd make some muffins for him to have as breakfast or snacks to perhaps entice him to eat a bit more. These muffins, from my Small Batch Baking cookbook, were actually meant to be Cranberry Walnut Muffins but they sort of accidentally evolved into Pecan Raisin. For some reason I had in my head that Joe does not like cranberries (he informed me after I made the muffins that he does, in fact, like them) so I put in raisins instead. But I had every intention of using walnut, but after I dumped the nuts into the batter I realized I had grabbed the pecans instead. Oh well. I created a new muffin - and these are very good! Nice and dense and the crunchy cinnamon-sugar topping gives them the perfect sweetnes. I doubled the recipe to get six muffins.

Pecan Raisin Muffins

Unsalted butter at room temperature, for greasing the muffin cups
½ cup all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
Yolk of 1 medium egg
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup fresh or frozen cranberries (I used raisins)
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts (I used pecans)

For the topping:
¾ teaspoon sugar
Pinch of ground cardamom or cinnamon

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Lightly grease the bottoms of 3 muffins cups, then rub a little butter around the rim of each cup (this will help the muffins form a more rounded top).
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom in a large bowl. Place the egg yolk, sugar, milk, oil and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to blend. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until dry ingredients are just moistened. Gently stir in the cranberries and walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the three prepared muffins cups, dividing evenly.
Make the topping – combine the sugar and cardamom in a small bowl.
Sprinkle the topping evenly over the muffins. Fill the empty muffin cups halfway with water to prevent scorching.
Bake the muffins about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 3 muffins.

Small Batch Baking: Sweet Potato Tea Bread

I got the urge to bake on Saturday afternoon and decided to turn once again to my Small Batch Baking cookbook. I had a sweet potato in my cabinet that needed to be used so I decided to prepare this Sweet Potato Tea Bread. Yum! This tastes a lot like pumpkin bread (thanks, I guess, to the pumpkin pie spice) but you definitely have a hint of sweet potato as well. I really liked this - I ate the whole loaf myself :) I followed the recipe pretty closely except I doubled the pumpkin pie spice and added some cinnamon.
Sweet Potato Tea Bread

Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pan
½ cup all purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan
¼ cup baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used about ½ teaspoon plus a sprinkling of cinnamon)
¼ cup cold mashed sweet potato (about 1 small sweet potato baked, peeled and mashed)
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon buttermilk (I had no buttermilk so I used half and half)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 medium egg

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Lightly butter and flour a 5x3” loaf pan.
Place the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend.
Place the sweet potatoes, sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla and egg in a small bowl and whisk to blend.
Add the sweet potato mixture to the flour mixture and stir until dry ingredients are just moistened.
Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 26-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool bread in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and cook completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Love Bites

For Joe's faculty meeting this month I wanted to make something a little Valentine's Day-ish but I didn't want to buy a lot of ingredients. Right after Christmas I had picked up a bag of Dark Chocolate Mint Truffle Hershey's Kisses on clearance because I thought they sounded delicious (and they are, they taste just like Andes mints, which I adore). But I didn't need to eat the whole bag myself, so I thought I would use them up and make the recipe for Mint Capped Brownie Cookie Cups that was on the back of the kiss bag. I added some red sprinkles and candy hearts for decoration - a little nod to the holiday is better than none, right? These are very tasty and simple to make. I finally got to use my mini muffin tins, and I loved them for this recipe because it helped me with portion control (I tend to make giant cookies and then I don't get as many out of my recipes) and allowed me to bake all 48 cookies at one time. The chocolate and mint go wonderful together, but you could use any flavor Kiss you like - and with all the new flavors they keep unveiling you have a wide variety to choose from!

Mint Capped Brownie Cookie Cups

48 Hershey's Kisses brand Dark Chocolate Mint Truffles
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Hershey's cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Powdered sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 350 and line 48 small muffin cups with paper or foil baking liners. (I just sprayed the tins with non-stick spray and they were fine.) Remove wrappers from chocolates.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, water and vanilla in a large bowl on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs; beat well.
Stir together flour, cocoa, salt ang baking soda. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating on low just until blended. If necessary, refrigerate until firm enough to handle. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place in prepared muffin cups. (I did not refrigerate the dough and just spooned the dough into the cups free-form.)
Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until cookie surface is set. Cookies will appear soft and moist - do not overbake. Cool about five minutes in muffin cups on wire rack. Press Kiss into surface of each cookie cup. Cool completely in pan on wree rack. Sprinkle each cooke with powdered sugar, if desired.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ode to Frito Candy

Oh delicious, indulgent Frito candy, where have you been all my life?!?! I spotted this recipe months ago on Anna's fantastic blog, Cookie Madness, and bookmarked it immediately. I wanted to try it desperately, but I was also slightly afraid of it - Fritos and chocoalte? Really? But this weekend I finally decided it was time to be adventurous and whip up a batch. Holy hell. This stuff is just amazing. Amazing. I couldn't stop eating it. It was like crack. Salty, chocolatey, gooey, delicious crack. I brought (what was left of) the batch to my friend Jamie's party on Saturday night (see below for more goodies from that) and then made another batch to give to some friends and family - I had to share the love! Don't wait - make this today! And Anna, you are my hero! :)

Sweet, Salty, Frito Candy

2 cups pretzels
1 cup Fritos
8 mini peanut butter cups (I used 4 regular-sized cups broken into pieces)
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or however many you want)
Optional: Some peanuts for the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a 13×9 inch pan with parchment paper or no-stick (Release) foil.
Place pretzels in food processor and pulse to break - don’t pulverize. Add Fritos to processor and break them up with pretzels. Dump into pan. Unwrap peanut butter cups and throw them in the mix.

Place butter in a non-stick saucepan and melt over medium heat. When butter is melted, stir in brown sugar. Bring mixture to a full boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring once or twice. Pour over Frito mixture and bake for 8 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over hot candy. Return to oven for 1 minute to soften chips. Spread softened chocolate chips over bars.

Cool at room temperature until you feel the pan is cool enough to be transferred to your refrigerator, then transfer to refrigerator to set the chocolate. When chocolate is set, lift from pan and break the candy into pieces. The finished candy can be stored at room temperature, but I liked it best nice and cold from the fridge!

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars

My friend Jamie hosted a little girl's night get-together at her place this weekend and I wanted to bring some dessert as my contribution to the evening. Jamie had prepared tons awesome treats for us (including some incrible coconut pineapple rum punch - mmmm) but I think these little bars fit in nicely. They were very easy to make too, which is always a plus. I'm not a cheesecake fan so I can't personally speak for the success of the recipe, but people seemed to enjoy them! Thanks to Baking Blonde (the dessert guru!) for suggesting them - the original recipe comes from Pillsbury.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup coconut, if desired
1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® Create 'n Bake® refrigerated chocolate chip cookies

Heat oven to 350°F. In small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and egg until smooth. Stir in coconut.
In ungreased, 9- or 8-inch square pan, break up half of cookie dough. With floured fingers, press dough evenly in bottom of pan to form crust. Spread cream cheese mixture over dough. Crumble and sprinkle remaining half of dough over cream cheese mixture.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until chilled. For bars, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows. Store in refrigerator.

Oreo Goodness

I'm a little late in posting this recipe, but the cake is worth waiting for! Our friends Lauren and Pat invited us to their house for dinner two weeks ago and I offered to bring dessert. I had seen this cake in an issue of Kraft Food and Family magazine and thought it would be a good addition to Lauren's delicious dinner of baked tortellini. The cake is super easy to make and quite yummy! It actually wasn't as sweet as I anticipated, which wasn't a bad thing, and it was nice and chocoaltey. I made quite a mess pouring the melted chocolate over the top - patience is key here to keep it from running all over, and anyone who knows me knows that patience is not really my thing. But aside from rivers of chocolate on my kitchen counter and floor, this cake was a winner!

Chocolate Covered Oreo Cookie Cake

1 pkg. (2-layer size) devil's food chocolate cake mix
4 squares BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut up
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
12 OREO Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, coarsely crushed

PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Prepare and bake cake mix as directed on package in two 9-inch round baking pans. Cool 5 min.; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.
MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in small microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Cool 5 min.
BEAT cream cheese and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gently stir in whipped topping and crushed cookies. Place one cake layer, top-side down, on serving plate. Spread top of layer evenly with cream cheese mixture. Cover with remaining cake layer, top-side up. Spoon chocolate glaze over top of cake. Let stand until set. Store in refrigerator.