Monday, March 26, 2012

Carrot Cake

I did not grow up eating carrot cake.  I don't even remember my grandma making a carrot cake, EVER.  So I was caught off guard when I had the urge to make one myself.

I could not stand eating cooked carrots as a kid.  Just the smell would send me running to the bathroom in horror.  Raw carrots were okay once in a while, just not the cooked ones.

I can remember being at a church event about 20 years ago and being presented with the opportunity to test someone's "famous" dish.  Not wanting to say no or be unkind, I agreed.  We walked back to the kitchen and there before me was a HUGE bowl of cooked carrots that had been prepared with a ginger flavored sauce.

I found myself in an uncomfortable position….what to do, what to do.

Mentally I was freaking out, and outwardly I had the appearance of a refined lady.  I smiled, took the plate and took the first bite.  I waited.  I expected the carrots to remind me that they were not accepted by my body and to take off running to the nearest bathroom.  

I waited some more…and nothing!  I had been cured of my aversion to cooked carrots.  YEAH! 

To this day, I don't go out of my way to make them often, but I did get the recipe for the carrots I tasted above and have served them several times through out the last few years.  I will search for that recipe and share them this summer when I get some fresh carrots from the farmers market.

My feelings for this vegetable might explain why my family never made carrot cake…LOL  

I chose this recipe to make because it had so many fun ingredients: coconut, pineapple, pecans and carrots.  I felt like it would be a tropical paradise in every bite…and it was!    The title for this recipe has the word "best" included in it.  I can tell you for a fact that every recipe with this word does not make it the best every time.  I have been disappointed and so went into this with an understanding that it may or may not be the BEST.

I can tell you, after the fact, that it is pretty close to being the perfect carrot cake recipe.  I delivered half of this cake to my neighbor and he LOVED it, my husband ate the other half (just about) and the kids thought it was good too.

The cake is beautiful when cut, holds it's shape, stays moist and as it sits for a few days in the fridge, becomes a little bit better.

My daughter who is 5 is always telling me, "Mommy, when I am older, I will like that food".  She is much wiser then I ever was at her age.  She is right.  Our taste buds change and develop as we age and it's always a good idea to try new things throughout your life time.  I am glad that I did and the carrot lesson taught me to revisit some food items from my past that were not my favorites.  Since then I have discovered that I enjoy: beets, grits, beans, blue cheese and of course, carrots.

Enjoy your day!

Recipe:  Carrot Cake 

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 (3 1/2-ounce) can flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Line 2 round cakepans with wax paper; lightly grease and flour wax paper. Set pans aside.

Stir together first 4 ingredients.
Beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrot and next 3 ingredients. Pour batter into prepared cakepans.
Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Cut the cakes in half so that you have four layers.  Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.  See below to frost your cake with out having a ton of crumbs to deal with.

Recipe:  Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick of butter, softened
5-6 cups of powdered sugar
1 tsp of vanilla
3-4 T. milk,  I used coconut milk

Pictures below of instructions:

I shredded my own carrots.  One cup was about 2 medium size carrots.

I filled the cake pans this full and they baked wonderfully.  I was able to cut the cakes in half and this gave my my four layers.

Having the parchment in the bottom of the pans is amazing!  Your cakes will never stick.  Use a pencil to trace the bottom of your pan onto the parchment paper and cut out the circles.  Place them in the bottom and spray with oil and flour.  When your cake is done, turn them over onto a rack and peal off the paper.

Stack your slices and add the frosting to each layer.  Take a basting brush and dust off any crumbs on the plate and on the sides of the cake.  When frosting a cake you do not want lots of crumbs in your final layer of frosting.  By brushing off the crumbs you will eliminate some of this.

The next step is the under layer of frosting.  This is important because this the layer that traps those final crumbs.  I usually do a thin layer to fill in any holes and gaps, level the cake, and insure that the crumbs are all under control.  I take this cake and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  When I add the final layer of frosting it is amazing out simple and easy the process is.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Beef Noodle Soup

If I had to eat one style of food for the rest of my life it would be a toss-up between Italian and Asian. 

 We love the flavors of Japan, Korea, and Thailand.  I don't eat a lot of Chinese food because everything I like is fried…LOL  

I love rice and noodles.  I love soups.  We love the flavors of soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, spicy, sweet and salty.  These are the flavors that I find when we cook Asian meals.  

I always feel good after eating a meal like these because they are not heavy and usually have a ton of veggies.

This soup can be made without noodles too.  In fact, I usually make the noodles separate and add the noodles to each bowl and then pour the soup over it.  The broth is the best part, in my opinion, and so when the noodles are all gone and the veggies have been fished out…I still keep the broth and have it for a quick lunch the next day.  No need to waste the tastiness of this yummy soup.

The broth is what always remains the same and the veggies or meat change base on what I have on hand.  You are seeing two sets of pictures from two different days of preparation.  You can really customize this dish to what you and your family enjoy.

Recipe:  Beef Noodle Soup

1 package of Asian noodles.  I use the Ho Fan (Vermicelli)  These work best for us.  You can use any rice noodle that your family enjoys.

2-3 cups of meat.  I have used chicken, shrimp, and beef in this recipe with excellent results. I usually don't mix the three types of meat, but you could if you like that combination.

10 cups of beef broth  It sounds like a lot, but our family loves this soup and we eat it for two days.

1/3 cup of soy sauce
1 tsp. fish sauce

1 head of bok choy

5 cups of veggies:  carrots, celery, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic, or anything your family enjoys.

cilantro for garnish

Prepare your noodles according to the package.  Read your directions for the noodles.  Depending on which noodles you buy they have different preparation methods and this can mess you up if you have to let your noodles soak for 30+ minutes.

In a large pot, add your broth, soy sauce, and fish sauce.  You will want to taste your broth to make sure the flavor is to your liking.  Some like more fish sauce and soy sauce.   I have given you the minimum recommended amount.

Cook your meat.  I have used ground hamburger, sliced flank steak, grilled chicken or precooked shrimp.

Prepare all of your veggies :

Carrots: sliced or shredded
Mushrooms: sliced or whole
bok choy: I leave about 3 inches of white rib and then slice the leaves in 1-inch strips.
onion: sliced or diced
garlic: minced
bell pepper: diced

Throw these veggies and your meat into your hot broth.  Stirring occasionally to mix the things that float to the top of your pot.  This should cook for about 15 minutes.

In a soup bowl, add your noodles.  Top with broth and veggies.  I like to serve mine with cilantro if I have it on hand….it tastes amazing!


Purple Potato Chips

I love discovering new things to play within the kitchen.  Discovering these purple potato's was so much fun!

I am encouraging you to try and find purple potatoes and surprise your friends or family with purple potato chips.  


Recipe:  Purple Potato Chips

This is David Leite's recipe from Leite's Culinaria.  His site and the original recipe can be found here. My notes are in red.

Peanut or canola oil for frying I used canola.
2 large baking potatoes, peeled if desired I used purple potatoes

1. Pour enough oil to reach a depth of 2 3/4 inches in a deep fryer or a large, deep pot. Do not overfill the fryer or pot as the oil will bubble up when the potatoes are added. Heat the oil to 325°F (163°C). Line a baking sheet with a paper bag cut open or with a wire cooling rack and place it next to the stove.
Reaching this temperature takes longer than you think, this was my error in the past.  Using a thermometer made a huge difference for my chips.
2. Meanwhile, set up a turning vegetable slicer with the straight blade. Cut off both ends of a large baking potato and attach one end of the potato to the grip at the end of the handle; the other end of the potato should sit flush against the blade. Turn the handle, pushing toward the potato with gentle pressure. The potato will rotate through the blade, forming extremely long ribbons of potato.
I used my mandolin set on the smallest width and sliced them into a bowl of water.  With 5 small potatoes, I got about 3 cups of chips.
3. Place the potatoes on paper towels and pat dry; they should be very, incontrovertibly dry before they go into the hot oil, as any residual moisture will cause the oil to bubble up and spatter even more.
4. Carefully add some of the potato ribbons to the hot oil, working in batches. Add only enough potatoes to make a layer that is no more than 2 inches thick. Fry the potatoes until they are golden brown on the bottom. Using long tongs, gently turn the potatoes over. Continue to fry until the potatoes are evenly browned and crisp, about 6 minutes total, depending on the thickness of your ribbons.
I found with the purple potatoes, I knew they were done when they started to turn a slight brown color on the edges and middle…but not too much or you will burn them.
5. When the potatoes ruffles are done, use tongs to carefully lift them onto the paper bag or rack to drain. Serve the ruffles on a platter with a generous sprinkling of fleur de sel.
I found that the oriental round wire scoop that I bought to remove tempura veggies worked great to remove the chips.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup with Mushrooms and Spinach

We have had the best weather this week…today we were over 70.  That is awesome in my book.  We actually never really had a winter in Maryland.  A few dustings of snow and cooler temperatures in the 30s at night but nothing like what we have experienced the last 24 years living in Colorado, Illinois, and UT.  

Wind, snow, blizzards, whiteouts and more snow! Not this year though…Yippee Skippee!

So why would I make soup on one of the nicest days we have had this 2012 year?  It's simple

We love soup.

My family is not picky about only eating soup when it's cold.  We like it all year long!  

Today I also made traditional Irish soda bread.  I used the recipe from Baking Sheet .  Click on the name and it will redirect you to their site.  It turned out really good and it was so simple to make.

I have fallen in love with the flavor and texture of Minnesota Wild Rice and try to use it often.  I already had the mushrooms and spinach that HAD to be used today and so this soup was created.  I think we all went back for seconds and thirds were out of the question because we ATE the WHOLE POT!

Soup and my Soda Bread.

Recipe:  Minnesota Wild Rice Soup with Mushrooms and Spinach

5 cups of Chicken Broth
3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup of sliced green onion
1 tsp minced garlic
3 T. butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup of milk
1 cup of cream
1 1/2 cup of fresh spinach
2 cups of Minnesota Wild Rice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare your wild rice first.  It takes at least an hour for this type of rice to be ready to use.  Follow the directions on the box.  I only used 2 cups of the rice but you can certainly add the whole 3 cups if you like.

In a large pot warm chicken broth.

In a saucepan melt butter.  Add garlic, green onions and mushrooms.  Toss to coat with butter and cook for 5 minutes.

Add flour, salt, and pepper to mushrooms and stir.  Cook over heat for a few minutes.

 Add mushroom mixture to broth and stir.  Add milk and cream and stir.  Your soup will thicken as it gets hotter and hotter.  I did not boil mine and turned off the heat right before this stage.

 I added the fresh spinach and let the hot soup cook the spinach.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes and your spinach should be soft and wilted.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rueben Eggrolls

Sometimes our Rueben sandwiches are messy.  They drip juice and our fingers and hands are sticky. With these little logs of heaven, our hands stayed dry.  Happy dance!

Now don't get me wrong, these will never replace my beloved Rueben sandwich but they are a close second, awesome treat, easy to serve, great appetizer and so tasty good!


Recipe:  Reuben Eggrolls

4-8 slices of Pastrami or Corned beef from the deli
8 slices of Swiss or Provolone Cheese
1 can Sauerkraut
12 eggroll wrappers, large

In a large pot start heating your oil.  I put about 2 inches.  Bring to a temperature that you can deep fry the eggrolls.  I usually test the oil first with the tip of the eggroll, if it starts to bubble then it is ready.

Mix equal parts of mayonnaise and ketchup for the sauce.  Depending on how many eggrolls you are serving will decide how much to make.

While the oil is heating, prepare your mixture.

I used 4 pieces of pastrami, diced. If you want more meat, by all means, add more. I used 8 slices of provolone, diced.  I used 1/2 cup of sauerkraut.  Mix together in a bowl.

Spread out your eggroll wrapper and put about 3 T. of the mixture inside.  Fold over one corner, then the sides and roll towards the last corner.  Use water to seal the ends to the eggroll.

Fry the eggroll until golden brown.  Mine took about 5-6 minutes.  You may need to turn them halfway through so that both sides get browned.

Let cool on a wire rack.  Cut diagonally and serve with the mayonnaise/ketchup sauce.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Recipe:  Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 chicken breast, cut into small pieces
1 T. Oyster Sauce
1 T. Hoisin Sauce
2 T. Soy Sauce
1 T. rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. Sesame Oil
2 tsp. corn starch


1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup of fresh mushrooms, diced
1/2 cup of shredded carrots
1/2 cup of red onion,  diced small
2 small zucchini's, diced small

In a medium-size bowl add chicken pieces all of the ingredients listed under "chicken".  Set aside and let marinate for 15 minutes.  This gives you time to dice your veggies.

Dice and prepare your veggies according to the recipe.

You should have two bowls…one with chicken marinating and one with veggies.

In a pan, heat peanut oil and add veggies.  Saute for 4-5 minutes.  Remove and return to bowl.

In a pan, add more peanut oil and cook chicken with marinade.  The sauce will thicken a bit and should be watched and stirred so that it does not burn.

Once the chicken is cooked add the cooked veggies and stir.

Remove from your heat and serve with lettuce chunks.  I cut ahead in half and then in quarters.  I removed the very center parts and left the darker green parts of the lettuce.

Peanut Sauce makes a little over a half cup

3 T. peanut butter
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1/4 tsp. minced ginger
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. soy sauce

I added all of the ingredients to a microwavable bowl, heated for 30 seconds, stirred and served.

It was tasty, easy and went well with the wraps.

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola

As I was eating this latest version I felt like I was eating Chocolate Pebbles Cereal.  The little oatmeal flakes floated to the top of my bowl and my milk turned light brown.  I thought…could I make a Fruity Pebble flavor granola using different flavorings….my mind was on fire!   I will have to think long and hard to decide if I want to duplicate that very sweet cereal into granola.  It somehow doesn't seem right, but then again, it may be awesome too!

Recipe:  Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola

6 cups of oatmeal, uncooked
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
1 cup of shaved coconut
1 cup of almond slivers

1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of maple syrup, the real syrup
2-4 T. peanut butter…the more you use the stronger the flavor.
1/2 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. EVOO
1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips, I used Ghirardelli 60% chips.

Preheat oven to325.

In a large bowl mix the first 4 ingredients.  You can add other ingredients or substitute other things for what I have used.  Just try to keep measurements the same.

In a small pot, bring the honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, vanilla, and EVOO to a warm temperature…it does not have to boil.  Once the sauce is warm you can add the chocolate chips and stir to melt the chips.  Remove from heat and add to dry mix.

Stir well together to coat ALL of the oats and nuts.

Spread mix onto a large cookie sheet and start to bake.  The total bake time is about an hour.  You will need to stir the granola every 10 minutes.  If you do not stir, then you risk the possibility of burning a portion of the granola.

Let the granola cool and store in an airtight container.

Serve as cereal, on yogurt, ice cream or cobblers. ENJOY

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jaffa Cake (cookie or cake is the question)

I have been hearing about Jaffa Cake from my kids for a few years.  They have been wanting me to make some for a while and I keep agreeing, then I forget to buy the marmalade or something else comes up.

Jaffa Cake is a store-bought treat that you can buy in England.  Some call it a cookie and others call it cake.  In my opinion, it's kind of both because it's the size of a cookie and the texture is like a very airy yellow cake.  Whatever you choose to call it…IT is good!  LOL

Yogscast is a gaming channel that is from England and this is where my kids have learned of this delicious treat.  Could I make it at home was my question?

I found very few recipes from scratch.  VERY FEW!  I basically had to take the few instructions and ingredients and mesh them together and HOPE that it all turned out okay.  Most sites encouraged you to buy sponge cake, cut them into your shapes and then add the marmalade and chocolate…BORING!

If you follow my directions you should have a successful batch.  The key to success is the first part in making the batter over a warm bowl.  Secondly, don't over bake them.  Know your oven.  Use good marmalade and chocolate.

Good luck with making the Jaffa Cookies and let me know how yours turn out!

Recipe:  Jaffa Cake

4 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of flour

Dark Chocolate, for melting and topping

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large pot, add hot water.  Find a bowl that fits inside of this pot large enough to hold about 4 cups of batter.

In the large bowl, add your eggs.  Let them sit for 5 minutes to warm up.  Add your sugar.

Using a hand mixer, mix the eggs and sugar for 3-4 minutes.  This is an important step because you are making the bubbles for the sponge cake.  Your eggs should be very frothy and lemon in color.

Sift your flour TWICE.  Remeasure your flour to equal a 1/2 cup and sprinkle all over your egg/sugar batter.  CAREFULLY mix in the flour.  You do not want to break down your bubbles.

I used three sizes of pans and they all worked.  A cupcake pan, a mini cupcake pan, and an 8in spring foam pan…you choose.

Whichever pan you use, lightly butter.  With a teaspoon, add the batter to the bottoms of your pan.  This does bake and rise, so you want to use just a little bit, enough to cover the bottom.  Remember it's kind of like a cookie.

The cook times are all different for the three size pans you use:

Cupcake or Muffin pan…bake for 12 minutes
mini muffin pan…………bake for 8 minutes
8in spring pan…………..bake for 20 minutes

When you remove the pans from the oven, have a rack ready to transfer the cakes too.  I used a sharp knife and gently went around each one to help them come out of the pan.  You will notice that they hold their shape really good and are springy.

Once they have cooled, add the marmalade to each top.  I used a knife and frosted the marmalade on.

Melt your chocolate.  I use the double pan method.  The mini muffin's I was able to hand dip and the rest it was easier to frost the chocolate with a knife.

Put the cookies/cakes in the fridge to set.  ENJOY your homemade Jaffa Cookies..or cakes..or..YEAH.

NOTE: If you let the cakes/cookies sit out over night they are even better and more authentic to what you get in the package.  The exposure to the air allows the spongy cake to dry on the outside a bit giving you this cookie-cake-biscuit texture that is absolutely to die for!

Pictures for each step and more are below!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Almond Granola

I have been collecting granola recipes for a very long time.   I have also spent some good money on buying lots of granola to try.  Usually, when I buy granola I am disappointed in the flavor and texture.  In my mind granola should be crunchy.  I like to add it to my yogurt, fruit, pies, shakes, and cobblers.  I want the crunch to compliment the soft and squishy of what I am pairing it with.

I have found some amazing recipes throughout the years.  Last week as I was flipping through one of my favorite cooking magazines, Cooks Country, and found yet another granola recipe.  Oh it looked so tasty, good and easy.

Then I had several friends that had also posted delicious recipes for granola.  Chindeep shared her recipe for Maple Granola with Cranberries and Toasted Coconut.  A Little Bit Crunchy A Little Bit Rock and Roll shared her recipe for Dark Chocolate Granola with Peanut Butter.   Click on their names and you will be directed to their posts.

This made me jump up from my computer, go to my cupboards, and, like a crazy woman…gather my ingredients.  I set my stove to preheat and dug right in.

I was so surprised when an hour and a half later I was enjoying a tasty, easy and crunchy bowl of almond granola that I had made with my own hands.  It was awesome!

NOTE:  This granola is not very sweet.  I prefer mine to be that way.  This allows me to add sugar, fruit or more honey to what I am eating to make it sweeter.

If you would like to sweeten your granola more, you can add brown sugar to the wet ingredients and warm until it is dissolved.

I store my granola in a sealed jar to protect the freshness.

Recipe:  Almond Granola

4.5 cups of oatmeal, uncooked.   I used Old Fashion Quaker Oats.
3 T. flax meal
1 cup of slivered almonds, I use the plain almonds from Whole Foods
1/2-1 cup of shaved coconut, I use the large shaved pieces from Whole Foods
1/2 cup of salted sunflower seeds

1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of real maple syrup
dash of cinnamon
1 tsp. of EVOO
1 tsp of Almond Extract

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl mix your oats, coconut, and nuts.  You can add other ingredients to adjust the flavor to your taste buds.  Just take into account, the more you add to the dry, you may need to increase the wet.

In a small pan, warm the honey, syrup, cinnamon, EVOO and almond extract.

Mix together until evenly coated.  Spread out on a cookie sheet.  My mixture was about an inch thick.

This picture is from my phone camera.

Set your timer for 10 minutes.  Bake the granola and then with a spatula, stir the granola.  Bake and stir until the desired "toastiness" is achieved.  I baked mine for about 45 minutes, stirring the cookie sheet granola 4 times.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. My granola cooled in about 15 minutes and was immediately crunchy.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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