Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chocolate Chip Scones

Scones are one of those breakfast items that are really just a dessert in disguise.  That's not to say I don't love them - I just try not to kid myself into thinking I'm being healthy when I eat one.   I chose these scones for my Project Pastry Queen choice this week because I knew that Joey would love them.  He goes nuts for pretty much any dessert that's chocolate chip-based.  

Mine spread a bit while baking, but it wasn't really a problem.  I stayed true to the recipe with the exception of the pecans - I omitted, as I usually do with nuts in desserts.  I also brushed the tops with some melted butter before baking.  I think a glaze would be extra decadent on these - I think a coffee or mocha glaze would be especially tasty!  Next time I make these I think I'll make the scones smaller though - they were pretty massive when made as directed.

As with most scones, these came together quite quickly, and were equally as low-maintenance.  I only wish I had saved half of them to freeze and bake later - I have a feeling they would have been much appreciated come September when I have a newborn!

Check out the Project Pastry Queen page to see how everyone else enjoyed the scones, and next week we're making more brownies!

Chocolate Chip Scones
The Pastry Queen
makes 8 giant scones
  • 1 cup pecans (optional)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs baking powder
  • 10 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbs butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast 7 to 9 minutes, or until golden brown and aromatic.  Coarsely chop the pecans ad set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Process the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder for 30 seconds in te bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture is crumbly.

Stir the vanilla into the cream.  With the food processor running, slowly pour 1 1/2 cups of the cream through the feed tube.  Stop the food processor as soon as the cream has been added.  If the dough has begun to stick together in a ball, remove it.  If not, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough begins to clump up and form a ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured flat surface and knead in the chocolate chips and pecans, handling the dough as little as possible.  Form the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round and cut into 8 wedges.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet, brush with melted butter, and bake 10-15 minutes, until the scones are a light golden brown.  Serve warm or a room temperature.  The scones are best the day they are made.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blueberry-Oatmeal Crumble Bars

Less than 5 miles from our house is a pick-your-own blueberry farm.  Two years ago, I met up with a few friends and our kids for a morning of blueberry picking.  I had visions of coming home with gallons and gallons of freshly picked berries - what would I possibly do with them all??  Instead, the berries were scarce, the sun was hot, and the kids were cranky.  To say it was an utter failure would be a total understatement.  To put it in perspective, we picked berries for almost 2 hours, and I paid 60 cents for my "bounty."  We all agreed then and there that we'd never do that again.  From then on, I vowed to do my berry picking at the the grocery store or farmer's market.

But this year I decided to give it another go.  Blueberries are Caroline's favorite fruit, and now that she's a bit older, I thought that she might enjoy picking her own berries.  But this time I planned better.  We set out quite a bit earlier, and since it had rained the night before, the weather was nice and cool.  In probably 5 minutes, I had picked more berries than I did the entire time before.  There were plenty down on Caroline's level, and she had her own bucket for collecting them.  We picked and picked, and eventually Caroline got tired of it, because she dumped out her bucket and filled it up with leaves and twigs instead.  Oh well.  I ended up picking almost 2 pounds in just under an hour, which was plenty for some baking and snacking.

We came right home and made these bars.  I wanted to find an egg-free treat that Caroline could not only help me bake, but that she could enjoy as well.  These were a cinch to throw together, and we had a fun time making them.  They reminded me a bit of Nutrigrain bars, and Caroline of course loved them.  I think these would be great with any combination of berries or fruit, and I can't wait to try them in the fall with apples or pears - you know, that I pick myself of course. ;-)

Berry Oatmeal Crumble Bars
adapted from Baking Bites

Blueberry Filling
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbs cornstarch
Crumble and Crust
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into 7-9 pieces
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
To make the filling, combine the berries and the lemon juice in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the berries are soft and tender, 8-10 minutes.  Add the sugar and cornstarch to the berries, and bring to a boil.  Cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.

To a food processor, add all the ingredients for the crust and crumble topping.  Pulse in 1-second intervals until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups for the topping, then press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Use a spoon to drop dollops of the berry filling over the crust, and use a spatula to spread the mixture over the entire surface.

Use your fingers to squeeze together clumps of the remaining crumble topping, and sprinkle evenly over the berry filling.

Bake until golden-brown, 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool completely before slicing and serving, or serve cobbler-style by scooping with a spoon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Creamed Corn

Ask and you shall receive!  When I posted the Blueberry BBQ Salmon, I was asked by several people to also share the creamed corn recipe.  So here it is!

I've actually never been a huge fan of creamed corn.  I think it's kind of soupy, fake tasting, and just not worth the calories.  But I do like the idea behind it, so I set out to find a homemade version.  I made and shared this recipe for Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro and Queso Fresco a few years ago, but this time I wanted to find a more traditional version.

For a side dish, this is fairly labor-intensive.  The corn is first cut from the cobs, then the cobs are scraped clean of the pulp and "milk."  The corn is sauteed with onion, then fortified with heavy cream, the pulp that you scraped off the kernels earlier, herbs, and sugar.  I used my immersion blender to puree some of the corn, but you could also add a portion to a blender or food processor; or just leave well enough alone and serve it as is. 

As much as we loved the blueberry bbq salmon, I think Joey liked this corn even more.  It's a perfect way to take advantage of delicious sweet corn, and it's definitely fun to reinvent such a traditional dish.

Creamed Corn
adapted from Martha Stewart
  • 8 ears of corn, husked
  • 2 Tbs butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh chives
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh basil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cut the tip off of each cob of corn, and stand in a shallow bowl.  Use a knife to remove the kernels by slicing downward.

Over another bowl, use the back of a spoon scrape the kernels clean of the pulp.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add the onion and cook until just softened, 3-4 minutes.  Add the corn kernels, pulp, and 3/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the corn is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the cream and sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Cook until the cream has thickened, 4 to 6 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to puree part of the corn - just pick 5-6 spots in the pan to puree.

Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the chives, and the basil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Peach-Tilapia Packets

I hope that you all love peaches as much as me, because I have no less than 4 peachy recipes to share in the coming weeks.  Some are savory, some are sweet.. but they are all pretty awesome! Peaches are by far my favorite summer fruit, so I definitely take advantage and cook with them as often as possible while they're in season.

I know that tilapia gets kind of a bad reputation, but I actually think it's a great fish.  As far as farmed fish goes, it is one of the most sustainable choices out there - though buying US caught tilapia is a better choice than going foreign.  Plus, it is very mild, cooks quickly, is very affordable, and can be combined with so many other flavors to create tons of different flavor profiles.

This recipe is one of my new favorites.  You make an easy marinade from fresh peaches, garlic, and herbs, and marinate the fish for up to several hours.  Each piece of fish is then wrapped in a foil packet and grilled (or baked).  Super low maintenance, and super tasty and healthy.  I really love pairing fruit with fish, so this was an especially awesome dinner for me.  The herbs and garlic help to keep the peaches from overpowering the delicate fish, but there is still plenty of peachy goodness to enjoy.

And speaking from experience, it is also a very forgiving dish.  My grill ran out of propane as I cooked this, so I had to transfer it to the oven to finish cooking.  I ended up overcooking the fish just a tad, but it still tasted great, and the foil packets really help to keep the moisture in.  I served this with an incredibly awesome rice dish that I'll be sharing in the next few weeks, along with some grilled (umm and then broiled when the propane ran out) zucchini.  It was an awesome summer dinner that I can't wait to enjoy again before peach season is over!

Peach-Tilapia Packets
adapted from How Sweet it is
  • 2 large peaches, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh basil
  • 2 Tbs  fresh mint
  • 2 Tbs  fresh parsley
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 tilapia filets
  • 1 red onion, sliced into rings
 Combine all the ingredients through the pepper in a food processor, and blend until the mixture is combined and smooth. 

Line a medium baking dish with the fish (or use a large ziploc bag), and pour the marinade over it.  Turn the fish a few times to coat well, then cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to 14 hours.

Prepare grill by preheating to medium-high heat. 

Lay out 4 14-inch lengths of foil, and arrange a few onion slices in the center of each one.  Using tongs, transfer 1 piece of fish to each piece of foil, then spoon a little marinade over the tops.  Fold the foil over the fish, folding the edges to seal.

Grill 10-12 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.  Alternatively, cook in the oven at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  Carefully open the packets to serve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Zucchini & Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Joey and I discuss "nature vs. nurture" quite often when it comes to Caroline.  Is she inherently awesome, or is it a product of our awesome parenting?  ;-)  Though in all seriousness, she is a very good eater, and we discuss it at length.  Is it because we are constantly introducing her to new foods, or is it just because she loves to eat?  I guess we'll find out when our second child starts eating table foods, but for now I like to think that I at least had a little something to do with it.  I'm quite sure that I'll screw her up in other areas of life, but at least I know I did something right - she does love to eat vegetables.

We've been eating a lot of zucchini lately - baked zucchini fries, grilled or broiled zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini on pizza... it has yet to get old.  So far Caroline has enjoyed the grilled zucchini the most.  She actually had a third helping yesterday!  "Please more 'kini please!"

I was definitely intrigued when I found this recipe for zucchini and shrimp stuffed mushrooms, because I loved the idea of stuffing mushrooms with more veggies.  I loved the lighter take on them, but I had my own inspiration for the filling.  I love the combination of zucchini and goat cheese, so I ran with that instead.  It's a very simple filling, amped up with the addition of garlic, herbs, and cheese.

As expected, Caroline ate her fair share.  And of course I loved them too:  but then again you could stuff pretty much anything with goat cheese and I'm happy!

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
Pink Parsley original, inspired by Living Lou
  • 10 large button or cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, and stems removed but reserved
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (about half a medium zucchini)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 oz. cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is fine)
  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup) crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 Tbs grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 3 Tbs dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh basil
  • 2 Tbs snipped fresh chives
  • kosher salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Finely chop the mushroom stems.  Toss the zucchini in a colander with a little salt and allow to drain 5-10 minutes, then wrap in a paper towel and squeeze to remove excess moisture.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallot, mushroom stems, and zucchini, and saute until the vegetables have softened, 3-4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove the skillet from heat and stir in the cream cheese, goat cheese, Parmesan, bread crumbs, and herbs.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Scoop the filling into each of the mushroom caps.  Drizzle with additional olive oil.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the mushrooms are cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cheese & Herb Pull-Apart Bread

A pretty standard meal around here is pasta, bread, and salad.  And not that I get bored, but I do like to mix things up a bit - either by trying new pasta dishes, different salads, or variations on bread.  Admittedly, that is probably what I do the least of though - it's just so easy to just grab a baguette from the bakery at the grocery store and heat it up.  I have a few recipes that I make when I want to get fancy - like these herbed dinner rolls or Garlic and Herb Ciabatta Bread, but for the most part I go with the old standby.

This cinnamon-sugar pull-apart bread has been popping up all over the place, and while I can't wait to try that as well, I was extra excited to try this savory variation.  It is layers of soft bread, filled with garlic, herbs, cheese, and then drizzled with melted butter.  The combinations of herbs and cheeses are pretty much infinite, so just use what you have on hand.  I think for the herbs I used basil, chives, parsley, oregano, and thyme.  And for the cheese I used cheddar, gouda, and Parmesan. 

This method seems imrpressive, but it is actually really easy.  It's a pretty standard yeasted dough, but when it comes time to shape it, it is rolled out into a large rectangle, sprinkled with the filling, then cut into squares and stacked into the loaf pan.  You can be as anal or free form as you want, but I preferred measuring my squares to have them be as close in size as possible (I'm a scientist by training - I really can't help the compulsions). 

My favorite part of this bread was the crunchy outer pieces mixed with the soft and doughy inside.  And of course you can't go wrong with gobs of melted cheese.  This was such a fun bread to make, and it would be especially well-suited to serve to company.  Served with pasta, grilled steaks, a roasted chicken - it's so versatile and would be a great addition to pretty much any meal.

Cheese & Herb Pull-Apart Bread

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 packet instant yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs butter, melted
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup fresh herbs (any combination that suits you)
  • 1 cup cheese (I used cheddar, gouda, and Parmesan)
  • 4 Tbs butter, melted
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the water, sugar, and yeast.  Add the first 2 cups of flour, and mix until combined.  Switch to the dough hook, and with the mixer on low speed, add the third cup of flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms.  Knead 6-9 minutes, until soft and pliable, and it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to form a smooth ball.  Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and allow to rise 1-2 hours, until doubled in size. 

Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop the herbs and garlic, melt the butter, and grate the cheese.

Roll the dough out into a 12x20 inch rectangle.  Brush with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, then sprinkle the dough with the garlic, herbs, and cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the dough into 6 equally sized strips using a pizza cutter or knife.  Stack the strips on top of each other and cut into 6 equally-sized squares. 

Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan, and stack the squares on top of each other in the pan.  I found the best way to do this was to hold the pan on its side and stack them that way.  If you lose some of the filling as you stack, just sprinkle it on top once the dough has been stacked.  Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the top.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise 40 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the bread 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and the inside is cooked through.  If the top browns too quickly, cover the bread with foil.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and invert onto a serving platter to serve.

source:  adapted from Petite Kitchenesse and Joy the Baker

Sunday, July 17, 2011

PPQ: Peanut Butter Cookies

If I were forced to choose my favorite cookie (though please don't make me!), I would be hard-pressed to go with anything other than a classic peanut butter cookie.  I, like so many others, just love peanut butter - I love it straight from the jar by the spoonful, on toast, with jelly for a sandwich, mixed with chocolate in pretty much anything... I even love it in savory applications - peanut sauce, anyone? And I'm happy to report that I've passed that love on to my daughter.  Her lunches pretty much rotate between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter on crackers, and peanut butter bananas.  Just last week, we stopped at Starbucks on our way to church.  I leaned over Joey to order my (decaf) iced coffee, then Joey ordered his coffee.  And from the backseat we hear "Please, peanut butter jelly, please!"  Smart Caroline, wanted to place her order, too!

This week was Wildcard Week for Project Pastry Queen, which means we can go back and make a recipe that we've missed along the way.  I don't know why I didn't make these the first time around - I'm guessing maybe I still had some lingering morning sickness or first trimester exhaustion?  Either way, I'm glad I went back to make them this week!

Actually, these are originally peanut butter and jelly cookies.  And while I think that sounds wonderful, I just felt like being basic this week.  So I just made some giant peanut butter cookies instead.  They are wonderfully soft and chewy, with just the right amount of crunchiness around the edges.  And with honey-roasted peanuts mixed right into the dough, you get an extra dose of crunch.

These are without a doubt the best peanut butter cookies I've ever made.  They really are pretty much perfect - and enjoyed with a cold glass of milk, it doesn't get much better.

Sarah of 20-something Cupcakes has the full recipe posted on her blog.  Check out the Project Pastry Queen website to see what everyone else made this week, and next week we're making a giant, peachy cake - complete with Dulce de Leche!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fresh Peach Ice Cream

Growing up, the Fourth of July was one of my favorite holidays.  My sweet grandpa hosted a family reunion every year, and it was pretty much the highlight of my summer.  It was a potluck with lots of yummy food, but for me the highlight was swimming and peach ice cream.  He had an in-ground pool, so all the kids just spent the entire day swimming.  We only got out for 2 things: 
  1. to eat lunch - and then wait 30 minutes before we were allowed back in of course (does anyone still follow that rule?)
  2. To eat ice cream.  A few hours after lunch, Pop would pull out his hand-cranked ice cream maker and churn fresh peach ice cream.  
It was nothing fancy - just vanilla ice cream with peaches mixed in.  But I loooooved it.  Nothing says summer in the south like fresh peach ice cream.  Especially when its still the consistency of soft serve, and the peaches are so ripe that they just melt in your mouth.  I can still remember standing around Pop with my cousins just waiting for him to deem it frozen enough for us to eat ... and then wait another 30 minutes before we were allowed back in the pool.

Lately I've been feeling really nostalgic about my childhood memories, and as a result I've been dying to make peach ice cream.  Plus, it's delicious.  And even though the peach ice cream of my childhood was as basic as it gets, I set out to find a recipe that elevated it.  Of course Cook's Illustrated had what I was looking for.

This is a pretty standard custard-style ice cream (meaning it's made with egg yolks), but it is brought to new heights by the peaches.  They are first macerated for a while, then briefly cooked to form a peach syrup + softened peaches for mixing into the ice cream.  Before the ice cream base is churned, the syrup is mixed into it, and then the peaches are added to the mix just as it's finished churning.  You are left with a subtly peachy ice cream base studded with bits of sweet and juicy peaches.

Since Caroline is allergic to eggs, she can't enjoy this particular batch of ice cream, but I definitely plan to make a batch using no eggs later this summer - because even though my Pop is still alive, he no longer hosts the family reunion and his ice cream making days are behind him.  So we'll just create our own peach ice cream memories, and maybe Caroline have some happy memories of the summer right before her world was turned upside down by a baby boy!

Fresh Peach Ice Cream
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes about 1 quart
  • 3 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup + 6 Tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs Peach Schnapps
Combine the peaches, lemon juice, salt, and  1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan.  Stir well and allow to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.

Heat over medium-high heat until the peaches soften slightly, about 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the Peach Schnapps and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Meanwhile, position a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl set in an ice bath. 

Whisk the egg yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar until the mixture is pale yellow.

Combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steam appears, about 5-6 minutes.  Stream half the mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. 

Return the milk-yolk mixture to the saucepan and set over medium-low heat.  Whisking constantly, cook until the mixture reaches 180 degrees and thickens slightly.  The foam will subside and steam will rise from the custard as it approaches 180 degrees.

Remove from heat and strain mixture into the prepared bowl.  Stir often until the mixture cools to room temperature, then stir in the vanilla extract. 

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (can also be left overnight).

When ready to churn, strain the syrup from the peaches into the vanilla custard.  Freeze the ice cream according to your manufacturer's instructions, and when it's done, add the peaches and churn just until they are incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

Oreo cheesecake holds a very special place in my heart.  Our groom's cake at our wedding was not just cheesecake, but oreo cheesecake.

And since I love reliving our wedding day, I'll share a picture.  This is the Ramblin' Wreck, which is sort of a second mascot for Georgia Tech, behind Buzz.  It is driven onto the field at the start of every home game.  Not only did we have a replica of the Wreck for the groom's cake, but we also used the real thing as our getaway car from the reception.  Driving through the streets of downtown Atlanta in the Wreck was one of the most fun experiences ever.

Anyway, many of our guests still comment on the cake.  I have to admit that even though our wedding cake was drop-dead gorgeous, this cake definitely upstaged it.  It was not only incredibly detailed and ornate, but come on - it was oreo cheesecake!  And the entire cake was demolished within 10 minutes.  I'm glad I got a bite of it when we cut into it, otherwise I would have been out of luck!

So when I came across these cute little mini cheesecakes in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes, I knew that Joey would love them.  And of course he did - and so has everyone else who tried them!  I've actually made these cupcakes several times, though I'm just now getting around to sharing them on the blog.  They are so so simple.  A whole oreo is used for the crust, so no crushing cookies, pressing crusts, prebaking, etc.  And the filling comes together in less than 5 minutes.  It is super simple, and only a few ingredients - cream cheese, cookies, sour cream (though I used Greek yogurt last time I made these with no problem), eggs, and vanilla.  They do require a bit of preplanning, since they need to chill for a few hours before serving, but I'd say the hard part is actually waiting for them to chill before digging in!

Since (obviously) I look back on our wedding day with fond memories, every time I make these cupcakes I'm reminded of not only of such a wonderful day, but also of our incredibly awesome cake!

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
makes 30 cupcakes
  • 42 Oreos - 30 left whole, and 12 coarsely chopped
  • 2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper liners, and place 1 Oreo in the bottom of each cup.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Gradually add the sugar, and beat until smooth.  Beat in the vanilla, then drizzle in the eggs.  When well combined, mix in the sour cream and salt.  Stir in the chopped cookies by hand.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling each one almost to the top.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until the filling is just set, about 22 minutes.

Transfer the tins to wire racks to cool completely, then refrigerate (in tins) at least 4 hours.  Remove from tins just before serving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Grilled Blueberry BBQ Salmon

Four things are well-documented in our house:
  1. Caroline is a blueberry fiend.
  2. I love sweet + savory combos (i.e. fruit with grilled meat)
  3. I've been grilling so much lately that our neighbors joke that my baby will be born a little charred (My belly gets dangerously close to the heat source sometimes).
  4. Pregnancy makes me crave anything with bbq sauce.  
So given all of this, it is obvious that this salmon was a big hit with all of us. I know the combination might sound a little weird, but trust me on this.  The blueberries give the bbq sauce just the right amount of sweetness, without being overpowering.  And the combination of the sweet and savory sauce + the rich and buttery salmon is a match made in heaven. 

Usually I can make an educated guess on Joey's reaction to our dinners.  Sometimes I'll make something knowing that it will be a home run, and sometimes I know that it won't be his favorite (but he always eats it anyway).  I actually didn't expect him to love this as much as he did, but he kept going on and on about how good it was. 

This was definitely a quick and easy dinner, and I served it with homemade creamed corn (pictured here - would you guys want the recipe for that as well?) and some grilled zucchini.  Blueberries, corn, and zucchini - all wonderful summer produce, all things that contributed to our wonderful dinner.

Grilled Blueberry BBQ Salmon
adapted from How Sweet it is, sauce adapted from The Neely's
  •  4 (6-oz) salmon fillets, skin on
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbs grated onion
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • pinch red pepper flakes
Prepare grill to its highest setting.

Meanwhile, pat the salmon dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan, heat the blueberries over medium-low heat until they begin to soften and burst, about 10 minutes.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash them, then add the ketchup, vinegars, brown sugar, garlic, onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes. 

Whisk well to combine and break up the blueberries, then increase heat to medium.  Stirring often, cook until the mixture begins to bubble, then lower the heat to medium low.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened, another 10-20 minutes.  The sauce will be thicker and clumpier than traditional bbq sauce.

Use a paper towel and tongs to oil the grates of the grill well, then lay the salmon, flesh-side-down, on the grill.  Cook 5 minutes, then carefully flip.  Brush the salmon with half the bbq sauce, then cook an addtional 3-5 minutes, or until it is mostly cooked through but still pink in the center. 

Remove from grill,  brush with remaining sauce, and serve.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

PPQ: Arnold Palmer Layer Cake

I made this cake for Project Pastry Queen, but it was not the chosen recipe.  Well, the cake itself, buttermilk cake, was.  But it's supposed to have Jack Daniels buttercream.  A silky, Italian meringue buttercream spiked with whiskey.  And while I do love cooking with it, I don't feel comfortable eating it while I'm pregnant.  So using the beverage inspiration, I came up with a pregnant-friendly alternative - Arnold Palmer cake!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the drink, it is just sweet tea + lemonade. 

I did follow the recipe for the buttermilk cake, and it was a wonderful white cake.  Prior to this, I actually have yet to find a white or yellow cake recipe that I love, so I am excited to have this recipe in my repertoire now.  And going with the beverage-spiked icing, I made a swiss meringue buttercream spiked with sweet tea.  I reduced some tea down to a syrup, added that to my buttercream, then added some more tea to amp up the flavor.  It is still a subtle flavor, but it does intensify the longer it sits.  I reduced 1 cup of tea down to 2 tablespoons of syrup, but I think next time I would start with 2 cups and reduce to 1/4 cup.  And for the lemonade component, I used a lemon cream filling:  whipped cream + lemon curd.

The resulting cake was really fantastic.  A soft and light buttermilk cake, sweet-tart filling, and buttery and sweet frosting.  I absolutely loved this cake, and since the flavors are subtle, it makes for a really light and summery dessert. 

Thanks to Beth of The Powdered Plum for choosing the cake; my apologies for taking so many creative liberties!  I really do want to try the Jack Daniels Buttercream, so I know it will be on my short-list once I have the baby.  I'm thinking it would go really well with a chocolate cake!

Beth has the recipe posted, and check out Project Pastry Queen to see how the other members liked the cake.

Sweet Tea Buttercream
makes about 5 cups
adapted from Martha Stewart's Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • 2 cups sweet tea, plus more as needed
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbs cups sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
Bring the tea to a boil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a small pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly by hand until the sugar has dissolved and reaches 160 degrees. (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the stand mixer and fit with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, mix until still (but not dry) peaks form.  Continue mixing until until the mixture is light, fluffy, glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the mixing bowl), about 10 minutes.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well between each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium, and mix until the buttercream comes together (it can take up to several minutes, but it will come together eventually).  Switch to the paddle attachement and beat at medium-low speed to remove air bubbles, about 2 minutes.  Add the syrup, and mix to combine.  Taste and add more sweet tea if desired.

Lemon Cream Filling
  • 2/3 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbs lemon curd
Whip the cream at high speed until soft peaks form.  Gently fold in the lemon curd.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greek Turkey Burgers

It's hard to beat a classic cheeseburger, but I love trying out new and different variations, nonetheless.  I have had this particular recipe saved for about a year now, and I'm so glad I finally got around to trying it.  This is from a Southern Living from last summer, and these fig-glazed burgers with red onion jam were also featured in the spread. 

It is a turkey burger patty that is enhanced by herbs, spices, and most importantly, feta cheese!  Maybe it's my pregnancy, but I can't get enough feta lately.  I could pretty much eat it on anything and be happy.  And I feel the same way about tzatziki sauce as well.  Maybe my lunch tomorrow should be feta + tzatziki, eaten with spoon?  Rather than following the recipe for tzatziki that is listed with the recipe, I used my favorite version from my favorite Greek. :-)

So needless to say, I absolutely loved these burgers.  The salty feta + fresh herbs play wonderfully off of each other, and the bright freshness from the tzatziki is wonderfully light and refreshing next to the burger.  Served on a toasted bun with some fresh cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, I was pretty much in heaven.  I served these burgers with a watermelon, tomato, and feta salad, and it was a truly wonderful summer meal.  And the leftovers made for a killer salad the next day for lunch!

Greek Turkey Burgers
adapted from Southern Living, July 2010
  • 1 1/4 lbs ground turkey breast
  • 4 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
  • tzatziki sauce (recipe follows)
  • thinly sliced cucumber (or use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons)
  • lettuce
  • tomato
  • 4 hamburger buns, split and toasted
Prepare grill.

Mix together all the ingredients for the burgers.  Using a light touch, form into 4 patties.

Grease the grates of the grill and grill the burgers 5-7 minutes per side, until cooked through, turning once.  Serve with tzatziki, tomato, lettuce, and cucmber.

barely adapted from Elly Says Opa!
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (nonfat or lowfat is fine)
  • 1/2 hothouse cucumber, seeds removed
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
Shred the cucumber on the large holes of a box grater, and using a few paper towels or a kitchen towel (one that doesn't give off lint), squeeze the cucumber to remove as much water as you can.

Combine all the ingredients through the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Top with a drizzle of olive oil, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Caroline's 3rd Birthday Party

My sweet baby girl turned three years old last week (unbelievable), so we threw her a fun party to celebrate!  As I've mentioned on here before, Caroline loves to help me in the kitchen.  No matter what she's doing, if I ask her if she wants to help mommy, she drops everything and comes running.  So it seemed fitting to throw her a "Little Chef" Party.  Her friends could make their own pizzas, decorate cupcakes, and design their own aprons.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, and the party was a hit!

I was so excited to find these invites from Tiny Prints - they were perfect.  I loved the pink and green color scheme and the little girl holding the cupcake.  I think they set the stage for a fun and festive party.

Of course I wanted to highlight some of my favorite pictures of Caroline over the past year, so to tie the banner into the theme I interspersed the photos with pink measuring cups.  I also added some very simple arrangements of spoons and spatulas to the mantle.  And since I have several pink frames, I used them to display a few more pictures.

The kids' table was maybe my favorite part of the set-up.  We created an extra-long table by lining up 2 picnic tables and Caroline's play table, and covered them all with butcher paper.  I used pretty scrapbook paper as place mats, then Joey drew a replica of the little girl from the invite to give the kids something to color.  For the crayons, I just bought a big box of crayons and tied 3 together for each place setting with pink ribbon.

I also placed a juice box at each place setting, and scattered some cute dessert themed erasers along the length of the table.

But perhaps the most popular aspect of the table were these edible centerpieces.  I used grapes and strawberries to mimic flowers, and arranged the skewers in painted pots.  I then used kale to cover the Styrofoam blocks that held the skewers.  This gave the kids something to snack on while they waited for their pizzas to cook.  They loved pulling fruit off the skewers!  And just to be safe, I cut off the pointy end from each skewer.

Another popular activity was decorating the aprons.  I ordered small kid-sized aprons from amazon, and ironed-on each name prior to the party.  The girls' letters were pink and glittery, and the boys were blue.  I ordered Caroline a pink one since she was the birthday girl :-).  To decorate, they used fabric paint and fabric markers.  Sadly, the paint took much longer to dry than anticipated, so they didn't get to wear their aprons for the party, but they made a fun activity and favor to take home, nonetheless.

Caroline's masterpiece!

After they decorated their aprons, the kids made their own pizzas.  I prepared and baked dough for personal-sized pizzas ahead of time, so the only cooking required was to heat the toppings and melt the cheese.  I kept the toppings simple, and just offered sauce, cheese, black olives, mushrooms, and pepperoni.

With parental supervision, each child personalized their own pizza.

It was so fun to see what each child wanted on their pizza!  

And it was even more fun to watch them enjoy their creations!

For the food for the adults and parents, I kept things simple.  We ordered a big platter of various wraps from the deli - turkey with provolone, roast beef with cheddar, and veggie wraps with Pepperjack.  I then cooked up a few simple sides to accompany them.

 Spinach Dip with Feta and Roasted Red Peppers

Pizza Bites with Marinara Sauce.

We also served a simple fruit salad and some chips.  The pizza bites were definitely the hit of the party, with the spinach dip coming in a close second.

 Instead of traditional flower centerpieces, I opted to go the edible route for the food table as well.  Chocolate-dipped marshmallows and Oreo pops in a glass full of jelly beans.  These were obviously also well-received. :-)
One of the details I was (dorkily) really excited about was the colander.  I used it to hold the napkins and forks, and I thought it looked so cute with the rest of the kitchen-themed decor.

And finally, the center of every birthday party - the cake!  I built a cupcake tower, and topped it with a 6-inch "smash cake" to give her a chance to blow out candles.  Half the cupcakes were chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and the other half  were yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  They were all egg-free since Caroline is allergic, but to be honest I wasn't that thrilled with the taste.  I normally find a vegan recipe to try, but this time I just used egg-replacer, and I felt like the cupcakes were all a bit dry.  Luckily the kids didn't seem to mind though.

The ruffle cake was a big hit, and it was so easy it's almost funny.  I literally spent less than 5 minutes decorating it, and it turned out so cute!

Caroline was really really excited for everyone to sing happy birthday, and she was even MORE excited for cake!

She especially loved blowing out the candles.

Since most of the kids in attendance were ages 2-4, I opted to keep the cupcake decorating simple and easy.  I piped the frosting ahead of time, and had several different varieties of sprinkles for them to choose from to add to their cupcakes.  

Lots of cupcake-eating going on!
And finally, even though it's not really related to the theme and it's art that only a mother could love, I wanted to display some of Caroline's art projects for the party.  I used a piece of ribbon and clothes pins to hang up some of my favorite pieces of her artwork from throughout the school year.  

And since clearly you haven't seen enough pictures of Caroline, here are a few more that melt my heart. :-)

Overall, the party went very smoothly and everyone seemed to have a good time.  I am still a little bummed that the paint wasn't dry enough for the kids to wear their aprons, but in the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal.  The most important thing is that Caroline had the time of her life - almost 2 weeks later, she is still asking if it's time for another birthday party :-)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

Brownies are definitely one of the most popular desserts out there, but everyone has their own definition of the "perfect brownie."  For me, I prefer a rich, chocolatey, dense and fudgy brownie over a cake-like one.  And while it's hard to beat a classic chocolate brownie, I still love trying out different flavors and variations.

This particular version is one of my favorite combos - raspberry + cream cheese.  The brownies get a double-dose of raspberry - jam is first mixed into the brownie batter, then more is swirled into the cream cheese layer.  The brownie layer is just the way I like it - rich, dense, and super chocolatey.  And the cream cheese/raspberry layer adds the right amount of sweetness without being cloyingly so.

While these do have a few more steps than a typical brownie, nothing is terribly difficult or time-consuming.  And after test-tasting a few - you know, for quality control purposes - I had to send the rest of the pan to work with Joey.  I can usually handle baked goods in the house, but I was powerless to these brownies.  I'm pretty sure you will be too.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies
Cook's Illustrated, Summer Entertaining

  • 1 (8-oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. leaving the excess hanging over the edges.  Grease foil.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, stirring after every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth.

Whisk in 1/4 cup jam and allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla to the chocolate mixture, and stir until combined.  Whisk in flour mixture until just incorporated.

Microwave the remaining 1/4 cup jam until warm, about 30 seconds, and stir until smooth. 

Scrape half the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish.  Dollop the cream cheese by the spoonful over the batter, and spread into an even layer.  Drop spoonfuls of warm jam over the cream cheese, and use the tip of a knife to swirl jam through the filling.  Spread the remaining batter evenly over the filling.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few dry crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours.  Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into squares.