Sunday, September 25, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Honey Corn Muffins

I'm back with another Baked Sunday Mornings post today! This time around, we made Honey Corn Muffins, an easy, delicious muffin if ever there was one. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or as an accompaniment with dinner, these little cuties taste like cornbread with a glossy sheen from the honey. They're good at room temperature, but they're phenomenal when they're warm.

I have really grown to love cornbread lately, but making these muffins made me realize something; I think I like my cornbread savory, rather than sweet. These were scrumptious, don't get me wrong. But I had to think of them like a sweet muffin in order to fully embrace them. When I thought of them as a corn muffin, I found myself wishing I had cut down the sweetness in the recipe. If I make these again, I think I will still add the honey, but omit the brown sugar. I just don't think they need both.

I'm really glad I made these; otherwise, if it weren't for the blogging group, I may have overlooked them completely. And that would have been a shame! To see if the other members of the group liked these, head on over to the blogroll, here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MSC: Peanut Butter (No Jelly!) Cupcakes

I'm so happy to be back blogging along with the Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Club again this month! I skipped out last month but now I'm back and ready to talk about some Peanut Butter Cupcakes! The original recipe was for Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes, but I just decided to leave out the jelly. I dunno, maybe it's un-American of me or something, but I just don't eat the peanut butter/jelly combo. I know, what a weirdo! If you give me anything peanut butter/chocolate, I'm yours, but for some reason I just don't really love jelly all that much.

I halved this recipe and made 10 cupcakes. I came across some reduced-fat natural peanut butter, so I used that in place of standard natural peanut butter in the batter. I don't know if my reduced-fat pb was the culprit for this, but my cupcakes turned out super dense. Like, must grab a big glass of milk to wash this cake down with dense! Also, I left out the chopped peanuts. It was good, peanut buttery cake, it just felt thick in your mouth.

For the frosting, I wanted to reduce some of the fat there, too. Sooo, I used fat-free cream cheese. Again, not the most perfect frosting in the world. It was a bit grainy in texture, and not very sweet. That was okay with me, but I don't think I would have served it to company or anything. I think putting the dollop of jelly on top could have masked the frosting's texture a bit, but obviously I will never know.

My verdict on these? They are good, especially if you're a die-hard peanut butter fan (which I am). But they do need a little something else. They need a contrasting flavor/texture to balance out all that pb. I ate these with a little splotch of chocolate sauce on the top, and that really did help out. Some ice cream alongside would probably improve these, too.

Thanks to Karen of Karen's Cookies, Cakes, and More for the selection! Check out the MSC blogroll to see how the others fared with these cupcakes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Caramel Apple Cake

I had the privilege of making the Baked Explorations book's Caramel Apple Cake last weekend for my Baked Sunday Mornings group. Boy, what an undertaking! This was not your simple, thrown-together kinda cake. This was much more of a clear-your-calendar, spend the whole day covered in flour and frosting cake. But let me tell you, it was worth every second spent on it! It was nothing short of magnificent.

I broke the recipe up into steps; it made the whole thing so much easier and more manageable. I made the homemade applesauce, which goes into the cake batter, about two days before I was going to bake the cake. I made the homemade caramel, which is incorporated into the frosting as well as drizzled on top of the finished cake, about three or four days prior to baking day. I have to say, my confidence was totally boosted by making both the applesauce and the caramel; I had great success with both! I tend to mess up when making caramel, but this particular batch turned out pretty perfect. The applesauce was my first ever attempt at making it from scratch. It was completely easy to do and came together beautifully.

For the cake itself, I decided to cut the whole recipe in half. I was serving this for my brother-in-law's birthday, and there were going to be 7 of us eating the cake. Since this is a very decadent cake and I didn't really want there to be tons of leftovers lingering for days later, I thought a two-layer cake instead of a three-layer cake would be best. The cake was easy to whip up; I used two 9-inch round pans for it. The baking time was a bit less than the book indicated, but I am pretty sure it's because I switched things up.

The frosting, which is a cooked flour frosting, turned out way better than I expected it to. I've made this type of frosting before, and both times I have hit a bump in the road. Not this time. This batch came out great; satiny, luxurious, with a perfect hint of caramel flavor. Addictive stuff! I reduced the amount of frosting I made to just a third of the original amount, and it wasn't actually enough to frost the top and sides and fill the middle layer. So, I improvised. I had some leftover butterscotch frosting from my son's birthday cake, so I used that to fill the middle of the cake. It worked beautifully! The butterscotch complemented the spice cake so well, and the pale orange color coordinated nicely as well.

The cake was a huge hit, needless to say. Everyone really loved it. It was impressive to look at (even though my cake decorating skills need some work) and tasted unbelievably delicious. The cake was so moist from all that applesauce, and the spices were gentle but present. Everything comes together wonderfully in this cake; I don't know what else I can say about it!

But maybe there are some other people who have different things to say about it. Go check out the Baked Sunday Mornings blogroll to see the group's thoughts on this cake.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo (Lightened Up)

After a week off from blogging, I'm back! I can't promise that I will be posting quite as frequently as I used to, but I'm definitely not going to fall off the face of the Earth, either. There's been a lot of cooking going on around here, but for some reason when it comes time to post about the latest dishes I've made, I find myself highly unmotivated. I've decided that I should only blog when I really want to, rather than holding myself to a stricter schedule that sometimes becomes more of a hassle than a joy. I started blogging because I knew I would enjoy it, and I would like to continue to enjoy it. As soon as it becomes just another chore, I think it's a bit pointless to force myself to do it, you know?

But I came here today to talk about Fettuccine Alfredo, so that's what I'm going to do! I am pretty enamored with Fettuccine Alfredo, but I try to eat healthy more often than not, so that pretty much takes one of my favorite pasta dishes off the menu. I have tried countless times to recreate this creamy, decadent meal in my home kitchen, except I always try to lighten it up as much as possible. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Most often, the texture is just not right. Sometimes it turns out way too dry, and not nearly creamy enough. Sometimes the texture is right, but it doesn't seem as cheesy as I would like. A good homemade, healthier Fettuccine Alfredo is nearly impossible to achieve.

Thanks to Cooking Light, I think I have come pretty close. First of all, the addition of shrimp is genius. It bulks up the meal with lean protein so you can have a smaller portion and still be satisfied. Using a really good-quality Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is key here, too. You want that flavor to shine, so it had better be good. I used half and half, which is not as luxurious as heavy cream. Just a little bit doesn't set you back too far in the fat department, but it gives the dish that creaminess that's so essential. Finally, the secret weapon here is reduced-fat cream cheese. This, combined with a bit of reserved pasta cooking liquid, allows you to reach the desired consistency. There is one slight catch: you need to serve and eat this dish right away. If it sits too long, it can get a bit gluey and lose the creamy texture. If this does happen, just refresh it with a bit more hot water. This meal was the best kind for me; it fit within my nutritional requirements, but it totally tasted like cheat food!

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 8 servings

3/4 lb. (12 ounces) fettuccine
1 lb. peeled and deveined medium shrimp
2 green onions, chopped (I subbed in a shallot)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. olive oil
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
6 Tbsp. (1 1/2 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4-1/2 cup cooking liquid. Combine shrimp, onions, and garlic in a small bowl.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil; swirl to coat. Add shrimp mixture, and saute for 4 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove from pan; keep warm.

3. Reduce heat to medium. Add reserved cooking liquid, Parmigiano-Reggiano, half-and-half, cream cheese, and pepper to pan. Cook 2 minutes or until cheeses melt.

4. Combine pasta, cheese mixture, and shrimp mixture. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Biscoff Fudge

There's a new love in my life, and it's called Biscoff Spread. I stumbled upon it in a nearby gourmet grocery store, and I grabbed it, regardless of the fact that I had promised myself I wouldn't impulse buy that day. Oh well; I had to have this stuff! What is it, you ask?

The best way I can think of to describe it is peanut butter meets a cookie, then they have a baby. This Biscoff Spread tastes just like Biscoff cookies and looks exactly like peanut butter, with pretty much the same consistency and texture. One taste (okay, I didn't stop at just one taste!) and I knew I'd be doing great things with this stuff. But where to begin?

Making fudge seemed like a great start to me. I found a very simple peanut butter fudge recipe, then adapted it slightly to substitute Biscoff Spread for the peanut butter. It worked absolutely beautifully, and this stuff turned out nothing short of addictive. It's evil and it must be stopped!

The recipe is extremely easy; there's only three ingredients, and it can pretty much be whipped up, start to finish, in about 15 minutes. The longest part is waiting until the fudge is cool to cut it into squares. Or you could just eat it straight from the pan. I wouldn't blame you.

Biscoff Fudge
adapted from Sugarbaby
makes about 30 squares

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 ounces (10 Tbsp.) evaporated milk
5 Tbsp. Biscoff Spread (or smooth peanut butter)

1. Grease or line with foil an 8x8-inch square dish and set aside. Combine the sugar and milk in a large saucepan and place on low heat. Stir until the sugar melts, then turn the heat to high.

2. Stirring constantly, allow the mixture to come to a full boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, still stirring, and cook until the mixture reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer (this takes about 5 minutes if you do not have a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and add the Biscoff Spread to the saucepan in dollops. Leave the mixture alone (no more stirring) for 5 minutes.

3. Stir the Biscoff Spread vigorously into the milk mixture, working quickly to incorporate the ingredients before the fudge becomes too hard. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared dish and spread to the edges.

4. Allow the fudge to cool completely (this can be done on the counter or in the fridge/freezer). Cut the fudge into squares and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Meatless Mondays: Cornmeal-Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart

This must be my 1008th post this summer about zucchini and summer squash, but I like to think that this one is the most dazzling of them all! Ellie Krieger's first cookbook features this vegetarian Ratatouille Tart with a cornmeal crust, and it seemed like the stars had finally aligned for me to whip it up. I had everything I needed (minus the eggplant), and I had the time to put it together.

Although the tart is easy to make, it does require a bit of time because there are a few steps. I roasted all my veggies the day before and stored them in the refrigerator until I was ready for them. I baked up the cornmeal crust early in the afternoon of the day we ate this for dinner. I let it hang out and cool on the counter after par-baking it, then I let it hang out in the fridge too.

When assembly time rolled around, it went quickly and smoothly because I had everything ready to go. The veggies went into the crust, along with a good sprinkling of cheese, and then I baked it up. It filled the house with the most amazing smells, and it turned out looking completely gorgeous!

It ended up tasting delicious, except for the crust. I'm not sure where I went wrong, but the crust turned out wet and soggy and mushy. I know that the veggies were giving off a lot of liquid; I squeezed them out over the sink before assembling the tart so they would release the excess. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. You could still eat the tart, and of course the veggie part of the thing was pretty much to die for. But maybe next time I should just roast the veggies immediately before assembling the tart? I don't know exactly, but it is definitely worth a second try because I know this tart has wonderful potential!

Cornmeal-Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart
adapted from
makes 8 servings

For the crust:
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup whole-grain pastry flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. canola oil
3 Tbsp. water

For the filling:
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced (1/3 cup)
Cooking spray
1/2 lb. thinly sliced yellow summer squash rounds (I used this in place of eggplant)
1/2 lb. thinly sliced zucchini rounds
1/2 lb. small tomatoes, thinly sliced (Ellie uses 3 medium tomatoes)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Make the crust: 1. Combine the cornmeal, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Add the butter and oil and pulse about 20 times, until the mixture resembles small pebbles. Add the water and pulse until the mixture forms a loose dough.

2. Remove the dough from the processor and press into the bottom and about 1/8 inch up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a detachable rim. Press aluminum foil into the bottom and up the sides of the pan on top of the dough. Weight it down with uncooked rice or pie weights.

3. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the rice and foil and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the filling: 1. Heat 1 tsp. of the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook the shallots, stirring, until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, coat two baking sheets with cooking spray. Arrange the squash, zucchini, and tomatoes on the sheets in a single layer and brush with the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and roast the vegetables until soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Assemble the tart: 1. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Lay the squash slices on the bottom of the tart, overlapping them if necessary; cover with one-third of the mozzarella and some of the shredded basil. Add the zucchini and shallots, top with another third of the mozzarella and the remaining basil, then the tomatoes. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and all of the Parmesan.

2. Bake until the cheese is melted and the vegetables have further wilted, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, and cut into 8 slices. Serve warm.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Mom's Olive Oil Orange Bundt (Better Late than Never)

After mixing up my dates for two of Baked Sunday Mornings' selections, I am now finally posting about the Olive Oil Orange Bundt that the rest of the group made nearly a month ago. I am so glad I decided not to just skip it; it was so worth the wait!

It is a pretty straightforward bundt cake recipe. The only major difference between this cake and bundt cakes I have made before is the incorporation of olive oil. It takes the place of butter or any other oil in the cake, so its presence is definitely noticed in the finished product. Fresh orange zest is added to the batter, and it gives the cake such a fresh, bright flavor. Finally, the method of separating the egg whites from the yolks and whipping them before adding them to the batter makes it a bit lighter in texture than other, denser bundt cakes.

I was kinda grateful that others had made this before me, because I could learn something from their tips. The most important lesson I learned from the other bloggers was that I should cut down on the baking time, just slightly. I believe I checked the cake around 37 minutes, and it was just right. The recipe, as written, indicates more like 40-50 minutes. I don't know how much of a difference it made for my cake, but mine was perfect as is.

I hope the other members of Baked Sunday Mornings enjoyed making the Coffee Ice Cream that I made by mistake last month! You can see their results on the main blog, here. To see how everybody liked this Olive Oil Bundt, you can click on the blog post about it over on the main blog, here.