Cupcake Bouquet with Strawberry Basil Cupcakes

Cupcake Bouquet

Cupcake Bouquet with Strawberry Basil Cupcakes

I have developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. It is a great resource for ideas and inspiration, but sometimes I become a little too inspired and ambitious. I love the way this “project” turned out, but I am going to be perfectly honest – it was a ton of work! The recipients were well worth the effort (I made these for a couple of special Moms on Mother’s Day), but I caution you to enter into this project naively. It can be challenging to find the supplies; I got very lucky to not only find the perfect parts, but to get a super great deal on the pots (Michael’s marked down to $2.99 plus I had a 25% off coupon). I found the water tubes at a local garden center/florist (English Gardens for those of you who are local to metro Detroit), but I had to ask the florist if they had them and if I could buy them (.25 each – a bargain). You can buy the tubes on-line, but you need to order a box of 100 – I will not be making 100 of these gifts! You can use any type of cupcake for this, but I went with my strawberry basil cupcakes because I wanted to use fresh basil as part of the bouquet. Some great alternatives would be lemon leaves (available at most florists), mint leaves, or any other herb or green (edible) leaf. I would recommend using a fairly sturdy stemmed green. The original project on Pinterest did not use any fresh greens (just tissue paper), but why settle for that when I could further enhance it?

When it comes to frosting cupcakes, my skills are lacking (or non-existent). There are a lot of resources on-line that show cool frosting techniques. You can choose any style that mimics a flower for these. I was going to try to do the rose pattern as shown on the original Pinterest post, but that was above my pay grade. I just kind of experimented (on a paper towel) first and ended up with a design that looked a bit like a chrysanthemum or a dahlia (notice I said “bit”). I used my the frosting recipe that for my strawberry basil cupcakes which is a variation of a buttercream/cream cheese frosting, but it contains strawberry puree (great color) and some basil infused milk). The problem was that the frosting was not stiff enough to achieve the petal design and because the cupcakes are kind of tipped when placed in the flower pot, you really need a stiff frosting that won’t drip. The solution for me was to just keep adding powdered sugar, but this took away from the strawberry flavor, so there was no point. I am including a recipe for a traditional stiff buttercream frosting which will pipe well and hold up. You can use a bit of food coloring if you want to achieve a particular color (the gel food coloring – available at specialty food stores like Sur le Table or Williams Sonoma- are great because they don’t dilute the frosting).

Recipe for Strawberry Basil Cupcakes

Basil Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 Cup Unsalted Butter -softened (but not melted)
  • 3-4 Cups Confectioners (powdered) Sugar- sifted
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • 1 TBS. Vanilla Extract (or any other flavored extract you want)
  • 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 4 Large Basil Leaves
INSTRUCTIONS:
Add milk and bail to a small saucepan and heat over medium to just below boiling. Cook for 20-30 minutes. Through October 9 004Allow to cool to room temperature (put in the refrigerator to speed up process) Transfer milk and basil to a food processor and puree. Add the butter to a large bowl (or the bowl of a mixer) and, using an electric miser, beat until smooth. Add about 3 cups of sugar and beat on low. Add salt, vanilla extract and a few tablespoons of the basil infused milk and mix until well combined. Check consistency and add more powdered sugar or milk to achieve desired consistency – should be stiff if you want to pipe flowers. Add food coloring (if using) and mix thoroughly.
Strawberry Basil Cupcakes:
INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 10-12 Medium Fresh Strawberries (should measure 2/3 cup after pureed)
  • 8 -10 Large Basil Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup Milk (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extracr
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (softened)
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg (room temperature)
  • 2 Egg whites (room temperature)

INSTRUCTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners (double up on liners to maintain the cute color or decoration of liners). In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. In a blender or food processor, puree strawberries and basil leaves.Through October 9 005 Add milk and vanilla extract to blender or food processor bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, (or bowl of a mixer) cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg and egg whites. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until blended. Add the strawberry, basil, milk mixture and mix again.Through October 9 009 Add remaining flour mixture and mix until well blended, scraping down sides as you go. Pour batter (evenly divided) into cupcake liners. Through October 9 010Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove cupcakes from pan and transfer to cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting. Frost with desired flowered pattern.cupcake bouquet4

To make the cupcake bouquet:

SUPPLIES:

  • 1 Cute Flower Pot
  • 1 Styrofoam Ball (should fit inside flower pot – diameter of ball should be about the same as diameter of top of pot)
  • Tin Foil or Newspaper (may not be necessary)
  • Toothpicks
  • 3-6 Water Tubes with Pointed Tips and Rubber Tops
  • Fresh Leaves (edible or food safe – basil, mint, lemon)
  • Tissue Paper (coordinating color)

Prepare pot by placing the foam ball in the pot. Use crumpled tin foil or newspaper in the bottom if you need to raise up the ball to desired height (roughly 1/2 of the ball should be above the top of the pot. Fill water tubes with water, place plastic top on each one and set aside. Plan out how many cupcakes will comfortably fit, and determine where the cupcakes will go. Insert toothpicks (two per cupcake) where you will place cupcakes. The toothpicks are easily moved, so you can adjust later if necessary. Insert the water tubes where you want to place leaves (you may want to temporarily place the cupcakes where they will go to determine the best placement and angles). If it is particularly difficult to insert the water tubes, use the tip of a knife or scissors to sort of pre-drill your slot. Add the cupcakes and adjust accordingly. cupcake bouquet5Add the leaves to the water tubes. Finally, fill blank areas with crumpled tissue paper.

Cupcake bouquet2

Popovers

Popovers

Popovers

Popovers are the new favorite roll in our host. They are featured at every Sunday Family Dinner. I usually serve two varieties of rolls, biscuits or bread – the popovers always go first! I’ve also been making some flavored butters to accompany the popovers. Both are super easy and the great thing about popovers, as opposed to most other rolls, is that you don’t need to wait for dough to rise. I’m not exactly sure of the science of the popover, but I do know that the pan has to be preheated, and you should not open the oven during the cooking process. I have a popover pan, but I also use my regular muffin tin and, quite frankly, the muffin pan works just as well if not better. I never have enough leftover to serve for breakfast, but these would be great for breakfast, brunch or lunch as well as for a dinner roll.  Makes 12 popovers.

INGREDIENTS:

3 TBS. Unsalted Butter- melted
2 Eggs – room temperature
1 Cup Lukewarm Milk (heat for 30-40 seconds in the microwave)
1 Cup Flour
1.5 tsp.  Kosher Salt (substitute 1 tsp. regular salt)

INSTRUCTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place a muffin pan or popover pan in the preheated oven and heat for at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, break the  eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk vigorously . Add the warmed milk and whisk again. Add the flour, salt and 2 TBS. of melted butter, and whisk until smooth. Remove the muffin or popover pan from the oven and brush each compartment with remaining melted butter. Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin (fill each compartment 1/2 – 3/4) and return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 35 minutes- avoid opening the oven during the cooking process. Remove the muffin/popover pan from the oven and remove popovers from the pan immediately. If possible, serve warm.
* The popover batter can be made in a blender – follow the instructions above, but blend in blender instead of whisking.
Light and Airy Popovers

Light and Airy Popovers

Honey Almond Butter:

1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter – softened
1 TBS. Honey
1/2 tsp. Almond Extract
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until all ingredients are well incorporated. Taste and add more honey or almond extract if desired. Transfer butter to a small bowl or ramekin and refrigerate until butter reaches desired firmness (I usually serve it a little soft).

Savory Cheddar, Scallion, and Chive Scones

Cheddar Scallion Chive Scones

Cheddar Scallion Chive Scones

Scones are one of my baking “go to” options. I have recipes which include seasonal fresh fruit (berries) as well as recipes which don’t rely on fresh or seasonal ingredients. I love scones for breakfast or dessert, and they’re so easy to make. For Easter this year I wanted to make a variety of of homemade breads/biscuits. I have a great cheddar biscuit recipe which is hearty and rustic, but I wanted something a little more “elegant” than a biscuit for Easter dinner. I decided to incorporate the ingredients (with some additions) for my cheddar biscuits into one of my basic scone recipes. I will say that I was a little bit unsure as to how much butter to use (I decided on none at all) because I would be adding cheese. So I subbed out the cheese for butter, but increased the cream (to get a wet enough dough). The result was great – in fact, better than expected. The scones weren’t as flaky as my typical scones, but that was just fine since they were serving more as a dinner roll. You can alter the ingredient flavors by using a different type of cheese (stick with a cheese of similar consistency) or different herbs or substitute leeks, jalapenos, or roasted red peppers for the scallions. Really, the possibilities are nearly endless.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 TBS.  Baking Powder
  • 1 TBS. Sugar
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Scallions (green parts only)- chopped
  • 1/4 Cup  Fresh Chives- finely chopped
  • 1.5 Cups Cheddar Cheese (sharp, extra sharp, or medium – or your choice of cheese)- grated
  • 2 Cups Heavy Cream (plus a few extra TBS. for brushing tops)
  • Coarse Sea Salt (optional for sprinkling on top)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400°F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add scallions, chives and grated cheese, and mix until well incorporated. Add Cheese and ScallionsUsing a fork, stir in most of the cream until a sticky dough forms. If dough is too dry, add more cream.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead with floured hands (don’t overwork) until dough forms a cohesive ball. Divide dough into two equal balls and flatten each ball to form about 3/4 – 1″   high round disc. shape the doughCut each round into 8 wedges. Brush tops of rounds with additional cream and sprinkle each with a little sea salt.brush scones with cream and sprinkle with salt

Arrange wedges about 1/2 inch apart on a parchment lined  baking sheet and bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 18- 20 minutes.scones out of the oven Cool on a rack or serve warm.chedar scallion chive scones center

 

Cream of Asparagus Soup

cream of asparagus soupJPGI typically serve Cream of Sorrel Soup at Easter, but Spring was slow to arrive here in Michigan and there wasn’t enough sorrel.  So the logical alternative, for a great spring soup was cream of asparagus. Well, that was a great choice. It was definitely a highlight of the meal, even with the kids.  Cream of Asparagus soup at Easter 2014Not only is it delicious, but it’s super easy to make, and you don’t even need good asparagus. I was a little disappointed at how large the asparagus at my local grocery store was, but because the asparagus gets cooked down and pureed, you don’t need to seek out those tender thin stalks that can often be challenging to find. You can adjust the amount of cream in this soup – I went pretty easy on the cream because I loved the flavor of the asparagus. I used chicken stock as my base because I love the flavor (it’s in no way “chickeny”), but you could easily make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth. I served this as a small starter soup, but this would be great for a spring lunch on the patio, or as a weeknight dinner paired with a simple salad and bread, or with a sandwich.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Lbs. (about 2 bunches) Fresh Asparagus- cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 Large Sweet or White Onion -chopped
  • 3 TBS. Unsalted Butter
  • 5 Cups Chicken Broth (use Vegetable Broth for Vegetarian version)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 Cup Heavy (Whipping) Cream
  • Kosher Salt
  • White Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat the butter in a stock pot over medium low heat, add chopped onion and saute until tender. Add chopped asparagus and cook for about 5 more minutes. saute asparagusAdd broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and stir in 1/4 cup of cream; add more to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Heat and serve. Garnish each bowl with an asparagus tip if desired or fresh snipped chives or parsley.

Easter Dinner

Easter Table 3I think I might love Easter dinner almost as much as I love Thanksgiving dinner. Both really embrace and celebrate the season, and I love food that is seasonally fitting. Unlike Thanksgiving, where I it’s almost sacreligious to vary the side dishes too much (although recent years have brought new introductions), there are a lot of side dish options which are fitting for spring and bode well for Easter dinner. I typically serve lamb as the main dish, simply because I don’t really love ham and I do love lamb. If I were feeding a big crowd, I would certainly do both. Sorrel soup is usually a tradition for us (my mother always made it as well), but spring has been so slow in arriving this year, that I don’t have enough sorrel in the garden this year and it’s hard to find any place that sells sorrel. As for vegetable side dishes – the list is almost endless…think green and fresh. This year I plan to serve sauteed snap peas with mint, but I will also serve a light arugula salad. Asparagus is probably the most traditional spring vegetable, and I’ve served that many times in the past. Starchy side dishes are also nearly limitless. Buttered noodles with fresh chopped herbs is simple but appropriate, boiled new potatoes with butter and herbs would be equally great, as would simple herbed white or wild rice. I have made risotto (with mushrooms and asparagus) in the past, however, this year I  will be serving my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes (made with canned evaporated milk). My Dad loved these potatoes and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) was always thrilled to make them. I also usually make a quiche for any vegetarian guests – asparagus and mushroom or leek is always a hit. Bread and rolls are another important component of the meal. Last year I made cheddar scallion scones and they were a huge hit, so I’ll make them again this year, but I’m also going to make popovers because they are my families new favorite. Ah, and for dessert: lemon cakeLemon Buttermilk Cake with Lavender Frosting is the standard and I will serve that again this year since it is Auntie Sarah’s favorite and also because I’ll be making one for my friend Sara, but I think I’m also going to make a rhubarb pie or tart, since rhubarb is another spring icon. Last year I served a coconut cake (now “award winning” since it won our local dessert contest on the Fourth of July).

I love decorating for Easter, and I love coloring Easter eggs. Aracauna egg for EasterBlog thru April 4 003Two years ago I decorated the table with fresh Araucana eggs (they are often called the natural Easter eggs because they are beautiful shades of blue, green, beige and even an almost pink). Last year I died Quail Eggs and I loved the way those turned out.

Mini Easter Eggs (Dyed Quail Eggs)

Mini Easter Eggs (Dyed Quail Eggs)

Click here to see instructions for Dyed Quail Eggs

Click here to see Previous Easter Dinner Menu and Recipes

 

Grilled Leg of Lamb (Recipe by Alton Brown)

I take zero credit for this recipe – normally I can’t resist adding my own personal touches to a recipe to make it my own, but in this case, I wouldn’t change a thing. Click on the link above to go to the original recipe and read some of the nearly 100 five star reviews. Many people comment that, like me, they were skeptical of the mustard, but you just can’t argue with the results. Alton’s recipe calls for a charcoal grill, but you can make this on a gas grill, just turn off the center burner when cooking. It’s important to buy good quality lamb meat; if you don’t find what you’re looking for, ask your butcher. As I’ve mentioned before, we happen to have a farm we buy from, so even though our lamb is frozen, the flavor is always outstanding. This recipe is too good to only serve once a year – it would be great to serve at any occasion.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Boneless Sirloin Leg of Lamb

For the Paste:

  • 4 Cloves of Garlic
  • 8 Fresh Mint Leaves
  • 1 TBS. Brown Sugar
  • 1 TBS. Kosher Salt
  • 2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 5 TBS. Strong Mustard, such as Dijon
  • 2 TBS. Canola Oil
  • 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary

INSTRUCTIONS:

Roughly chop the garlic cloves in the food processor. Add the mint and repeat. Add the brown sugar, salt, pepper, mustard, and oil and blend to a paste. Spread the paste evenly on the meat side of the roast. Roll the leg into a roast shape and tie with cotton butcher’s twine. Leg of Lamb MarinadeFire 2 quarts (1 chimney’s worth) of charcoal (natural chunk is best). When charcoal is lightly covered with gray ash, split the coals into 2 piles and move them to the far sides of the cooker. Close the lid and allow the grate to heat. Then, place the lamb, skin side up, on the middle of the hot grate. Add the rosemary sprigs to the charcoal briquettes and close the lid and grill. After 20 minutes, flip the roast and rotate it 180 degrees. Insert the probe thermometer into the roast and continue to grill until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the roast at 135 degrees. Remove the butcher’s twine from the roast. Cover with foil and rest it for 15 minutes before serving.

 Alternative: Lamb Chop (or Leg of Lamb) Marinade

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12-16 Small Lamb Chops (French Cut) – or 1 Boneless Leg of Lamb
  • 1 Cup Olive Oil
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1/2 juicy lemon)
  • 8 Cloves Garlic – chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Rosemary – chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Thyme- chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Oregano – chopped
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Pour olive oil into a glass baking dish. Add garlic, herbs, and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined. Add lamb chops (or leg of lamb) to pan and season with salt and pepper, turn over and season other side of meat. Spread marinade (including chopped garlic and herbs) over meat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour (2 hours is better). Lamb chops in marinate

Easter Table 5

 

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb Tart

 

Lemon Cake with Whipped Cream and Edible Spring Flowers

Lemon Cake with Whipped Cream and Edible Spring Flowers

Blueberry Braised Short Ribs

Blueberry Braised Shortribs over Egg Noodles

Blueberry Braised Shortribs over Egg Noodles

OK, so some of you might have been tempted to opt out when you read the blueberry part of the title. Well, I’m glad you didn’t. I used to be married to a guy who would say: “I like fruit, and I like meat, but I don’t like fruit with my meat.” I am sometimes suspect when I see unexpected combinations, but I am usually unexpectedly surprised (that’s redundant) at the results. This is a perfect example. I made this because my “fruit and meat friend” had the dish at a local restaurant that is no longer in business.  So, not only is the dish no longer available, the recipe is not available via RSVP (a great column in “Bon Appetit” magazine). Typically, braising liquid requires an acid component- most often it is wine (made from fruit…seeing a connection that is not so unappetizing?). I figured I could substitute blueberry juice, concentrate, flavored vinegar, or puree. I struggled with just which component to use, but my choice was based on the following: 1. blueberries were horribly expensive at the grocery store, 2. the only blueberry juice available was combined with other fruits, 3. I have blueberry balsamic vinegar but figured many recipe readers might have difficulty finding it. I decided to use a combination of pureed fresh blueberries (you could certainly use frozen…this just now occurred to me – duh), and a couple of tablespoons of blueberry fruit preserves (Polamer brand All Fruit spreadable fruit). The fruit preserves gave me the flexibility to make the blueberry flavor stronger or weaker (my “fruit and meat friend” said she would have enjoyed an even stronger blueberry flavor). I also experimented a little bit with the type of short ribs I used. I used half bone-in and half boneless. The bone-in short ribs typically provide more flavor, but also fat (most of which I painstakingly skimmed off). I preferred the boneless cuts in the dish because I didn’t have to work around bone or fat to get to the meat. My tasters agreed that all boneless would have been better. Sometimes I will leave bits of braised vegetables with the meat or I put them in the blender/food processor and incorporate them into the sauce.  In this case, however, I thoroughly strained everything and did not include any vegetables or pureed vegetables in the sauce – I didn’t want anything competing with  that blueberry flavor. One final note, while I will often serve short ribs over mashed potatoes or polenta, I think this dish is better accompanied by good old wide egg noodles – again, the goal was to highlight the subtle  blueberry flavor.(Serves 6)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4-5 Lbs. Beef Short Ribs (bone-in, boneless, or combination)
  • 2 Carrots – peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds (or 12-15 baby carrots)
  • 1 Leek – white and light green parts only, sliced
  • 6 Cloves Garlic – finely chopped
  • 1/2 Medium Onion- chopped
  • 2 Stalk Celery – diced
  • 1-2 Pints Blueberries- pureed in food processor or blender
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Tomatoes- chopped (can use cherry or grape tomatoes cut in 1/2)
  • 3-4 TBS. Blueberry Preserves
  • 32 Oz. (4 Cups) Beef Broth
  • 3-5 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 TBS. Dried ( 2 TBS.  Fresh) Parsley – chopped
  • 1 TBS. Dried (2 TBS Fresh) Thyme- chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3-5 TBS. Corn Starch(optional, for thickening)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 Degrees. Season short ribs generously (on both sides) with salt and pepper. shortribs seasonedDredge meat in flour until coated, shaking off excess. Add olive oil to a large stock pot or dutch oven and heat on stovetop. Working in batches, brown short ribs on all sides and set aside. browned shortribsAdd garlic and chopped onion to pot and saute until fragrant, scraping browned meat bits from the bottom of the pot. Add remaining chopped vegetables and pureed blueberries and saute until the vegetables begin to soften slightly – about 5 minutes. blueberry pureebraising ingredients before liquidAdd blueberry preserves, beef broth (stock), and herbs to the pot. Add the browned shortribs and any juice from the meat, cover the pot and place in 450 degree oven. Cook until simmering – about 20 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 Degrees. during braiseCook for another 2.5-3 hours until meat is tender, but not yet falling apart. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Pour the cooking liquid and vegetables through a fine strainer into a bowl. If desired, puree the vegetables in a food processor and return to the pot – (I did NOT do this, but I do it for other braised recipes). Place the pot with the strained liquid on the stovetop over medium heat. If you would like to thicken the liquid to make more of a gravy (I did), make a slurry (corn starch and a little bit of water combined)  and add to the hot cooking liquid. Stir and allow liquid to thicken to desired consistency (a prefer a not so thick sauce)- for a thicker sauce add more cornstarch water mixture. If sauce becomes too thick, you can thin it with beef broth. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper and possibly more blueberry preserves if desired. sauceReturn meat to pot, return to oven or continue heating on stove top for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour until meat has reached desired tenderness. Serve over noodles, mashed potatoes, polenta, or rice.

Our Blue Themed Table

Our Blue Themed Table

The Ultimate Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

I’ve really been a cake making kick lately. I never used to bake cakes because, well, quite frankly, I didn’t want to be tempted to eat cake everyday, and tempted I would be. However, now that we have a crowd for friends/family dinner on Sundays, I don’t have to worry too much. We typically eat most of the cake, and I can always find some willing takers to pawn off the leftover slices. I’ve also been on caramel drizzle kick lately. That doesn’t need much explanation…almost any dessert is better when drizzled with caramel. This cake is super easy, as is the versatile (this version has pureed banana for extra banana flavor) whipped cream cheese frosting.

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • 1 1/2 Cups Ripe Bananas – mashed  (about 4 large) plus about 1/2 banana sliced to garnish top of cake (use other 1/2 of banana in frosting)
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter – softened
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 1/4 Cups Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar – packed
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk

For the Frosting

  • 1 1/4 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 14 oz. Cream Cheese – softened
  • 1/3 Cup unsalted Butter- softened
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 3/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  • 1/2 Ripe Banana – pureed
  • Prepared Caramel Sauce (store bought or homemade)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease and flour two  9″ cake pans.  In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream  butter, oil, and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in banana mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool ten minutes. Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting. If desired, place cakes directly into the freezer for 45 minutes before frosting- this will make the cake very moist. While the cakes cool, prepare the frosting: In a chilled bowl, use an electric mixer and whip heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, then set aside. In a separate bowl, Whip together cream cheese, butter, and pureed banana until smooth and fluffy on medium-high speed, about 2 minutes. Add in powdered sugar and vanilla and whip on medium speed, about 2 minutes longer. Add half of whipped cream into cream cheese mixture and gently fold until combined, then fold in remaining half. Place one cake on cake plate and frost sides and top. Place second cake on top of first, and frost. Garnish with slices of banana and drizzle with caramel sauce.
banana cake

 Banana Cake topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Banana Cake topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Pork Schnitzel

pork schnitzel with spaetzelMy neighbors and good friends host a foreign exchange student from Germany. He has been enjoying Sunday family dinners with us this year and I kept promising him I would cook him a German dish. At first I didn’t really want to make schnitzel because it’s so “typical,” and I’ve made it before. However, he loved my chicken parmesan – particularly the thin breaded chicken. You can make schnitzel with a variety of meats; Weiner Schnitzel is made with veal, but I haven’t eaten veal in years. Pork is a great alternative because it’s relatively inexpensive and you can easily find cutlets which means all you have to do is pound them out a little thinner. There really isn’t a huge difference between the preparation of chicken for chicken parmesan and the pork that I used for the schnitzel. There are a variety of sauces you can serve with schnitzel, but it’s really traditional to just serve it with lemon wedges. Potatoes make a great accompaniment, but I went with a spaetzel. I didn’t make the spaetzel homemade and kind of regretted it (except for the labor). I also made roasted brussel sprrouts because they are always at the top of the vegetable request list. This is an easy weeknight meal, but it’s also great if you’re feeding a crowd because you can keep the schnitzel warm in a low temp oven and they don’t dry out too much (I wouldn’t keep them warming for more than 30 minutes or so). This recipe serves about 6, but it’s certainly easy to adjust the quantity.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 Boneless Pork Loin Chops or Cutlets
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 3 Large Eggs
  •   3/4 Cup Milk
  • 4 Cups Plain Bread Crumbs (can use 1/2 Italian Seasoned, but this is not traditional)
  • 4-6 TBS Olive Oil
  • 4-6  TBS Unsalted Butter
  • Couple Sprig Fresh Thyme
  • Lemon wedges

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place pork chops/cutlets in a plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound out until about 1/4 inch thick. Season pork cutlets generously with salt and pepper.seasoned pork cutletsPut the flour in a shallow dish or on a plate. Whisk the eggs and milk in another shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Put the bread crumbs in a third dish and, if not using seasoned bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper. schnitzel dregdeLightly dredge each piece of pork in flour, then dip into the egg and then dredge with the bread crumbs.

Lay the breaded pork cutlets in a single layer on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet or large plate and refrigerate, uncovered, for 10 -30 minutes to allow the coating to set.breaded cutlets

Heat about 2 TBS. each of oil and butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a thyme sprig and let it fry for about 1 minute to infuse the oil. Remove the thyme sprig and reserve. Gently lay 3 of the cutlets (or however many fit without crowding) in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy (about 2 minutes, flip and repeat on the other side. Remove cutlets from pan and transfer to  paper towels to drain.Cover with foil to keep hot and cook the second batch. Wipe the fry pan out – removing any crumbs or leftover oil, add remaining oil and butter and thyme and heat, and then cook the second batch of cutlets.  Season cutlets with salt and transfer to a serving platter while still hot. Garnish with lemon wedges and the fried thyme sprig before serving. If you need to keep the cutlets warm before serving, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and place in a low heat (200 degrees) oven.

Crispy Oven Baked Buffalo Style Chicken Wings

spicy buffalo wings plated 4My kids and I  love spicy (Buffalo style) chicken wings. My kids actually love the restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings; I hate it (for a variety of well-founded reasons). So, my solution is to make spicy wings at home. As my blog followers know, I am not afraid to fry- I have a fryer and will use it! However, for just a quick batch of wings, I’d rather avoid the mess and the hassle (and the waste of oil). Typically when I do fry, I fry in big batches that make it worth my while. Now, you might think that wings baked in the oven just won’t be good; I ask that you keep an open mind and give these wings a chance. One advantage of cooking the wings in the oven is that you can cook the sauce right into/onto the wings – of course, you add more sauce at the end- which given the wings a more in depth spice and flavor. I used fresh wings – they were on sale at my grocery- but I most often use frozen wings (sometimes labeled Wing Dings, Drummies, Drumettes). You can make this recipe with full-size chicken wings (or any chicken parts, for that matter), but I prefer the little wings. You could adapt this recipe to accommodate your favorite flavor or sauce (barbeque, terriyaki etc.) because it’s so simple.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3-5 Lbs. Chicken wings  – fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 2 TBS. Vegetable Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Non-stick Cooking Spray
  • 2 TBS. Unsalted Butter – Melted
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Hot Sauce (favorite brand – but typically a red hot sauce)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees. Spray a wire rack (I use my cookie cooling rack) with non-stick spray or coat liberally with vegetable oil. Position the rack over a baking sheet (foil lined for easy clean-up). Coat the chicken wings with vegetable oil, season lightly with salt and generously with pepper and place on the baking rack. chicken wings on rackBake for 35 minutes. baked chicken wingsIn the meantime, prepare the sauce by combining melted butter, cayenne pepper, about 1/2 tbs. black pepper, and hot sauce. spicy buffalo sauceAfter the wings have baked for 35 minutes, remove from the oven and coat with sauce (I just roll them around in the sauce bowl) and return to the oven – bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the wings are thoroughly crisped.coat with sauce and return to ovensauce baked on wings Dredge the wings in sauce one more time before serving. Serve with Blue Cheese or Ranch dressing and a side of fresh carrot and celery sticks.

 

Sushi and Sushi Rolls

A Variety of Rolls

A Variety of  Sushi Rolls

Ahi Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Gian Clam

Ahi Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Gian Clam

We love sushi and enjoy if often. Believe it or not, our local grocery store has great fresh sushi available, and we have a few good sushi restaurants in the area. Our favorite sushi restaurant is in the back of a tiny Japanese grocery store called Noble Fish. If you go at lunch, the sushi bar is packed. In the grocery area they carry all of the ingredients needed to prepare sushi at home; it is the only place I would purchase fish (sushi grade) to serve raw. Of course if you just want to make vegetable rolls, California rolls, or even Philadelphia rolls, you can get all of those ingredients at a regular grocery store. Most large chain grocery stores now have a specialty.ethnic food section which has most of the necessary ingredients. I used to make my own sushi rice seasoning (it’s not hard, but it can be hard to find the kombu seaweed), but it’s just one more step in the process and you can buy great quality sushi rice seasoning in a bottle. I’m not going to lie, preparing sushi at home is a labor of love – there’s a ton of cutting (somewhat precision) and the rolling takes some practice, but I promise you, that if you love sushi, you will love sushi you have prepared – it just doesn’t get any fresher! I am often asked to bring a sushi platter to gatherings (the ex-boyfriend’s family loved it), and everyone always raves about how good it is! This past weekend I hosted a small group for a sushi making dinner party – nothing like being invited over to make your own dinner. 🙂  If you love sushi, you’ll know what ingredients you’ll need; there are some pretty consistent cast of characters like cucumber, and avocado, but feel free to mix in other vegetables (especially if you want to make veggie rolls). I prepped the rice and the veggies and fish before people arrived and then just set everything out on platters. I basically do the same thing if we’re making it just for ourselves. For the party I provided Ahi tuna, mahi mahi, giant clam, and smoked salmon and, of course, fake crabmeat. I also made some spicy mayo and put out cream cheese (not traditional, but good for Philly rolls). I cut up cucumbers, avocado, scallions, and carrots. Look on-line if you need suggestions; we’ve done all sorts of crazy combinations – that’s the fun of making it yourself. You will also need a bamboo sushi rolling mat and some plastic wrap, as well as a really sharp knife. If you’ve never rolled sushi before, it’s probably best to watch a video or pay close attention to the sushi chef next time you go to a sushi bar (they make it look effortless). Here’s a good video that shows how to make an inside out California roll: http://allrecipes.com/video/297/making-california-rolls/detail.aspx  You can modify to make other rolls. One thing I do differently from the video is that I only use a half a sheet of Nori because I like smaller rolls.  I also use the entire mat to help roll, not just the saran wrap as shown in the video. Maybe one of these days I’ll just make my own video.  For the non-rolled sushi – you essentially just place a piece of cut fish on pad of rice that has a little bit of wasabi paste on it. You can purchase a little plastic box type utensil that helpssushi rice shaper you form the rice pads – I love this little gadget. When it comes to wasabi, I prefer to prepare my fresh, using dried wasabi powder mixed with water. You can, however, purchase wasabi paste; most grocery stores carry that, but you may have to go to a Japanese or Asian market for the powder. I’ve listed ingredients for California Rolls, Philadelphia Rolls, and Spicy Tuna Rolls (can make regular tuna rolls by omitting the spicy mayo). Again, once you get the basic idea of rolls down, you can experiment with whatever ingredients and combinations appeal to you. The rolls listed below are all inside out rolls which means that the rice is on the outside of the roll. This is NOT traditional – it is traditional to have the nori on the outside. If you want to make the traditional style rolls, skip the step of flipping over the nori sheet on the bamboo mat. If you like fish roe, you can make inside out rolls and then roll the finished rolls in fish roe to get a nice layer on the outside. Again, there are a ton of on-line resources, so explore and experiment.

Sushi Rice:

Prepare sushi rice (small grain sticky rice – purchase specific sushi rice if possible) according to manufacturers directions. Standard is 2 Cups of water combined with 1.5 cups of rice. Combine water and rice in a pot, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook covered for 20 minutes. cook the sushi riceRemove from heat and allow to sit covered for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork. If you have a rice cooker: cook according to suggestions on rice cooker. Add 1/4 Cup sushi rice seasoning while rice is hot; mix gently with a fork until well combined. season sushi riceAllow rice to cool completely before using for sushi. For homemade sushi rice seasoning: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Sushi-Rice-351070

INSIDE OUT CALIFORNIA ROLLS: (rice on outside)

  • 4 Cups Sushi Rice- Prepared, Seasoned, Cooled
  • 6-10 Imitation Crab Sticks- sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 English Cucumber- peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4″ strips
  • 1 Avocado – peeled, pit removed and cut into thin slices
  • 3-6 Sheets of Nori (Roasted Seaweed) Sheets – I use 1/2 sheet per roll
  • Roasted Sesame Seeds (light or black)- optional
  • Prepared Wasabi
  • Pickled Ginger
  • Soy Sauce for dipping

ingredients 2

INSTRUCTIONS:

Lay a piece of Nori on a bamboo sushi mat covered with plastic wrap. Gently press an even layer of rice over nori until completely covered; you’ll want to keep a bowl of water around to rinse your fingers frequently because they will become to sticky from the rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using) and flip the rice coated piece of nori over on the mat. About 2/3 of the way down the piece of nori, lay two pieces of imitation crab next to each other so that they reach the outer edges of the nori. If they extend over, trim them to fit. Lay 2 cucumber slices just above the crab slices (again, make sure they reach the edge without going over). Lay a 2-3 slices of avocado over the crab and cucumber. Using the mat, roll the edge of the nori (the edge closest to you) over the other ingredients, pulling the mat backward, continue rolling until the entire nori sheet has been rolled. (Watch the video referenced above, or another on-line video if you have never done this – it’s easier to understand visually). Use a very sharp knife to cut the sushi roll into 6-8 pieces; you will probably find it best to wipe the knife clean in between cuts. Serve with prepared wasabi, sliced pickled ginger, and soy sauce.

INSIDE OUT PHILADELPHIA ROLLS:

  • 4 Cups Sushi Rice- Prepared, Seasoned, Cooled
  • 6 Slices of Smoked Salmon – cut into pieces about 3/4″ wide.
  • Cream Cheese – softened
  • 1/2 English Cucumber- peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4″ strips
  • 8-10 Scallion (green parts only) strips
  • 3-6 Sheets of Nori (Roasted Seaweed) Sheets – I use 1/2 sheet per roll
  • Roasted Sesame Seeds (light or black)- optional
  • Prepared Wasabi
  • Pickled Ginger
  • Soy Sauce for dipping

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cover nori with rice and sesame seeds and flip on mat as directed for California rolls. Spread about a 1/2 layer of cream cheese across the nori (about 2/3 of the way down the sheet) Lay slices of smoked salmon on top of spread cream cheese and add strips of cucumber and scallions just above the layered salmon. Roll and slice as directed for California rolls.

INSIDE OUT SPICY TUNA ROLLS*:

  • 4 Cups Sushi Rice- Prepared, Seasoned, Cooled
  • 6-10 1/4 inch wide strips of raw Sushi Grade Tuna
  • 1/2 English Cucumber- peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4″ strips
  • 1 Avocado – peeled, pit removed and cut into thin slices
  • 6 TBS. Spicy Mayonnaise* (to make homemade: combine mayonnaise with desired amount of Siracha hot sauce)
  • 3-6 Sheets of Nori (Roasted Seaweed) Sheets – I use 1/2 sheet per roll
  • Roasted Sesame Seeds (light or black)- optional
  • Prepared Wasabi
  • Pickled Ginger
  • Soy Sauce for dipping

* For regular Tuna Rolls – eliminate the spicy mayonnaise.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cover nori with rice and sesame seeds and flip on mat as directed for California rolls. Spread a thin layer about 1/4 inch wide of spicy mayonnaise across the nori (about 2/3 of the way down the sheet. lay two pieces of tuna strips next to each other so that they reach the outer edges of the nori. If they extend over, trim them to fit. Lay 2 cucumber slices just above the tuna slices (again, make sure they reach the edge without going over). Lay a 2-3 slices of avocado over the tuna and cucumber. Roll and slice as directed for California rolls. Drizzle sliced sushi pieces with additional spicy mayonnaise if desired.

Enjoying some Miso Soup while we Roll

Enjoying some Miso Soup while we Roll