Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pumpkin in the form of cake

During this week of hectic preparations for the "kickoff of the holiday season" holiday, I decided to take a break last night and make something sweet to follow-up a great throw-together dinner of roasted garlic chicken sausage with quick homemade sauce over whole wheat spaghetti. In all honestly, I have been neglecting my beloved Kitchenaid Mixer and haven't yet had the opportunity to use it since Kyle installed an electrical outlet directly behind the mixer so that I wouldn't have to drag it (for it's too heavy to pick up) out from under the only spot on the counter where it would fit under the poorly-leveled upper cabinets all the way across to the closest outlet - nearly 4 feet away. I suppose his food-intuition (ie, man's intuition as opposed to a women's or mother's intuition) told him that I would be bringing him home some fantastic cake that I had made earlier that day at my parent's house because the outlet was finished and the counter was cleaned up by the time I came home - it was a complete surprise to me that he was planning to put this outlet in for me. This transaction suited us both perfectly.

So back to last night. I pulled this recipe off one of my new favorite website a few weeks ago and finally had some extra energy (and time) last night to make it. Kyle begged me to make cookie dough even though we didn't have any chocolate chips in the pantry - he just wanted the raw dough to snack on - but I stood my ground and promised him that this would be a great recipe, only going on the hunch that it would be though because how bad could a Martha Stewart recipe be? I haven't had a bad one yet...and this one keeps the streak alive. It turned out to be an amazing, mouth-watering, perfect fall-in-New-England pumpkin spice cake with a cream cheese frosting that will knock your socks off. It seriously was worth the wait and the agony of *watching* the cake cool down far enough so that I could frost and serve it.

I should note a couple of things here:
  1. As much as I was longing to try the honey cream cheese frosting, I omitted the honey because Kyle is allergic to it when it's uncooked. BOO!! Nonetheless, I added about 1 tsp of vanilla and between 3/4 and 1 cup of powdered sugar in place of the honey to assure that the frosting would be sweet enough.
  2. I've had a terrible time as of late adding melted butter to recipes that have eggs. I can't tell you how many times I've cooked the eggs in the wet mixture and had to start the recipe over. This time I decided to heavily soften the butter for the cake batter, but asked Kyle to do so in an effort to quicken the process since I was sifting the dry ingredients, cracking eggs, measuring sugar, etc. After he dumped his version of very soft butter into the bowl and I started mixing, hundreds of little tiny butter clumps arose, and I realized the butter wasn't nearly soft enough (why do I trust anyone other than myself?!?). But I perservered and put the batter in the oven, butter clumps included. It still turned out perfectly but I admit that I was very nervous during those 40 long minutes in the oven.
  3. I learned the hard way that it's necessary to adjust the oven temp when using dark pans. I baked this cake in a dark non-stick 9x9" pan at 325 degrees F rather than 350 and it was done just right.
  4. And lastly, Martha's recipe says that this cake yields 9 servings. One serving of 9 is a very rich serving, and the next time I make this recipe, I'll cut the cake into 12 pieces instead of 9.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Frosting

source: Martha Stewart


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 bar (8 ounces) regular (or reduced-fat) cream cheese, very soft
  • 1/4 cup honey * I subbed 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and between 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar for the honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.
  3. Turn batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack.
  4. Make Honey Frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk butter, cream cheese, and honey until smooth.
  5. Spread top of cooled cake with honey frosting. Cut cake into squares to serve.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40-45 minutes

Yields: 9-12 squares

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake

Who do I think I am coming up with a post like this? Smitten Kitchen? Yeah, I wish! Deb's blog (aka Smitten Kitchen) is seriously one of the most fantastic food blogs I've ever come across. And I'm not entirely sure how I stumbled upon it (although I know it was by accident about 6 or 7 months ago), but Kyle sure is thankful that I did - almost as thankful that I've found solice in so many of Giada's recipes. Deb's blog is incredibly well-written and witty, and of course it features some of the most drool-worthy food porn out there in the blog-o-sphere. (Like my attention to jargon there?) You'll be hard-pressed to find a better food blog...at least I've yet to find one (although, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody ranks right up there).

So, yes, I've been reading Smitten Kitchen, almost on a daily basis for a few months now (love Google reader!), and was so excited to read recently that Deb and her beloved blog were being featured in the Boston Globe - pretty big honors for a woman who creates some pretty big food out of her pretty tiny Brooklyn, NY apartment kitchen. It was reading the Globe article online where I found this recipe of Deb's that had been filed away in her blog archives and probably wouldn't have been found had it not been for the article (as much as I love Smitten Kitchen, I just don't have the time to peruse nearly 18 months of blog posts). So after wiping the drool off my keyboard, I printed out the recipe and immediately decided to make this for my parents while I was down to visit them on good 'ol Long Island (actually, not too far from where Smitten Kitchen makes it's home).

I took full advantage of my mom's new double-oven that weekend, but didn't dare ask to use the brand-spankin' new holy grail of kitchen appliances (aka the Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixer in Onyx) that I had given her the evening before for her birthday. As much as it killed me to restrain myself from asking to use it, I knew that the only person who should break-in the holy grail is its rightful owner. So I used a hand-mixer - no big deal. :)

It's difficult to explain how incredible this recipe turned out without, again, wiping the drool off my keyboard. The coffee cake was exactly how I hoped it would be - dense and flavorful but not crumbly...and it yielded a bonus of a mouthful of chocolate cinnamon flavor in every bite. Can you really get any better than that?? I have to admit that I made the mistake of not cutting the servings small enough (what???) because this cake really is filling. My cake yielded 24 pieces but 32 or even 36 pieces probably would yielded a more appropriate serving size. But nonetheless, neither I nor my parents (nor Kyle after I brought the leftovers home to him in CT) had any regrets about my making this cake. It's perfect for any occasion - brunch, dessert, or an afternoon coffee break - and I will without a doubt make this again.

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake
source: Smitten Kitchen blog
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips (which I tossed lightly in flour before adding to cake to prevent the chips from sinking to the bottom)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and 1½ cups sugar, then mix in the egg yolks and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a separate bowl. Alternately add sour cream and then dry ingredients into butter mixture. Beat eggs whites until stiff, then fold into batter.
  3. Mix last ½ cup sugar and cinnamon together in a separate, small dish.
  4. In a greased 9″x13″ pan, pour in half of the cake batter. Sprinkle the top with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and half of the chocolate chips. Pour remaining batter on top, sprinkling the top with the remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40-50 minutes
Yields: 24-36 pieces

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tara's Ultimate: Mac n Cheese

Cheese is love. Is there any dish more comforting than mac n cheese? You'd be hard pressed to find someone to dispute this and even harder pressed to find 5 people who are in love with the same mac n cheese recipe. It seems like there are hundreds out there...some similar, some very different, some with one type of cheese, some with at least 7 types (really though, why complicate one of the most basic comfort foods?), some with veggies, some with tuna, some with meat, some out of a box with cheesy powder, some out of a box with cheesy goop...overall, it really could be considered one of the world's most perfect dishes - dairy, carbs, protein, and veggies if one chooses to add them. What American doesn't love mac n cheese?? (oh and PS - I didn't arrange the cheese in the pic above in the shape of a heart; it just happened to fall that way as I was grating it.)

It's been at least 6 months since I've made my traditional mac n cheese. However, in that time, I did find a recipe for a more sophisticated mac n cheese; one that calls for prosciutto but when I decided to make my favorite version, I didn't feel like spending $20/lb on some extra protein for the meal. I was tempted to try Tyler Florence's Ultimate Mac n Cheese after oddly enough catching that specific show on Food Network yesterday (last week I put mac n cheese on the menu for last night) but decided that since I hadn't made mac n cheese in so long, I wanted to make sure that it was gonna be great - I passed over Tyler's recipe for fear of it being too different and not satisfying our craving for good mac n cheese.

Now, a little background on this recipe...it's not some secret family recipe that has been passed down through the ages. Simply enough, it comes from the back of the Mueller's elbow macaroni box. However, it's the only recipe my mom has used for years and as I was preparing to move out on my own (now nearly 6 years ago), the only thing I asked for was for my mom to write down the recipe. Instead, she cut it off the next box she used and slipped it in my Christmas stocking (I moved right after New Years). Growing up, she used to add tuna fish (canned) and peas to the dish to round it out as a full meal but I stick to the basics. So yes, if you're wondering, I'm still using the exact recipe mom cut out for me (although I do tweak the types of cheese I use depending on what I have in the fridge - see below). When I misplaced the recipe card once a couple of years ago, I cut another one out of the Mueller's elbow macaroni box and believe it or not, it wasn't the same recipe! I about died when I realized that I didn't have the "right" one and immediately got on the phone with my mom for some help. Luckily, the "right" one resurfaced a few months later and I now keep it in a very safe spot. So here's my Ultimate Mac n Cheese....

Mac n Cheese
source: Mueller's elbow macaroni box

  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard (optional
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I always use skim)
  • 2 tbsp margarine or butter
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded American or cheddar cheese, divided (this time I used cheddar, fontina, and gouda)
  • 8 oz Mueller's elbow macaroni, cooked 5 minutes and drained (I don't necessarily use Mueller's elbows and usually cook them for closer to 6-7 minutes)
  • 2-3 tbsp ground-up cornflakes (not in the original recipe)
  1. In medium saucepan combine corn starch, salt, dry mustard and pepper; stir in milk.
    Add margarine/butter. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in 1-3/4 cups (425 ml) cheese until melted. Add elbows.
  3. Pour into greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with reserved cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered in 375 degree (200 C.) oven 25 minutes or until lightly browned. I bake for 15 then sprinkle the ground-up corn flakes to the top and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
Prep time: 12 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 6

Monday, November 5, 2007

Big Fat French Toast

Admittedly, I've only made french toast twice in my life - the first time was years ago and the second, more recently, was too much of a flop than I'd like to admit. But I had some pretty decent cinnamon swirl bread that I picked up from my favorite apple orchard last weekend that needed to be used up quickly before it started growing your biggest bread enemy and mine: mold. So yes, as much of a huge fan I am of french toast, it's never been a major player in my breakfast repetoire. However, after this attempt, I think I might see what I can do with it in the future...maybe adding fruit? or chocolate?? or fruit and chocolate together????

This recipe is pretty simple and I figured I would jot it down here so that I can use it in the future and if anyone else out there is as inept at making french toast as I have been, there is now a simple recipe for you to use too. :) Considering my lack of french toast making skills, I didn't actually use a recipe, but kinda made it up as I went along...that IS what cooking is about sometimes, isn't it?

French Toast
source: Smells Like Home
  • 8 thick slices of bread, preferably a few days old, about 1" thick each
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 tbsp half n half
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • butter, cinnamon-sugar mixture (2 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon) for serving, and maple syrup
  1. Heat a griddle or large non-stick frying pan to medium heat. Meanwhile, beat eggs, milk, half n half, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.
  2. When griddle is hot, soak bread in egg mixture until softened and place on griddle. Repeat for remaining slices of bread. Flip after about 3 or 4 minutes (bottom will be browned) and then move cooked french toast to a warmed plate in a warm oven until all the bread is cooked.
  3. Top each piece with a small pat of butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture, and serve with maple syrup, if desired.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 8-10 minutes

Serves: 4

Girls Fondue Night

Bringin' back a little of the 70s here but who cares? I've got 2 fondue pots and had the itch to use them recently as I was planning on having a couple of girlfriends from college for dinner while I had a dear friend from freshman year of college stay for the weekend. (As an aside: I went to a small state school in [way] upstate New York for my freshman year of college and then transferred to another school in Connecticut where I finished my final 3 years. My friend, Kristin (Kris), and I lived on the same floor freshman year and have remained friends ever since - it's been 10 years now since I transferred to CT - yikes how the time does fly!! The pic below is us with a couple friends from that year. I'm at the top, Kris is on the bottom right with the hat on.)

OK, enough memories and back to the food. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pics of the fondue but I can truly say that both fondues (pizza and Italian cheese) came out great and the fondue idea overall was a big hit. We were able to sit around, pick away, and chat while the fondue vanished. It really was quite a relaxing dinner. Instead of a meal I was slaving over in the kitchen to prepare, I had the pizza fondue all cooked before the girls arrived and kept it warm on the stove while we had appetizers. For the cheese fondue, I prepped everything a day in advance (including the dipping items) so literally all I had to do was toss the ingredients in a pot on the stove, cook to the right consistency, and pour it in the fondue pot. I opted for the electric fondue pot for the cheese fondue so that the heat could be kept a bit more stable and put the pizza fondue in a traditional fondue pot with a Sterno underneath (covered half-way because the flame was too high).

As I mentioned, both fondues went over with rave reviews. For dipping items, I kept it simple: roasted garlic ciabatta bread, another kind of rustic bread called rustica (I don't make these things up), blanched broccoli florets, and red peppers cut to about 1 1/2" pieces. The cheese fondue had a real nice deep flavor with the combo of Gruyere and Pinot Grigio and the pizza fondue really does taste like pizza (it's a recipe my mom either found or made up years ago. She used to make it on cold winter nights and we ate while sitting in front of the fire.)

Overall it was a fun night with great friends and delicious food and I'm thinking about making it a yearly tradition so we'll see what kind of fondue next year brings!

Italian Cheese Fondue
source: Giada De Laurentiis
  • 8 ounces grated Fontina
  • 8 ounces grated Gruyere
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
  • Freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • Bite-size pieces of focaccia, sliced salami, fresh fennel, Belgian endive, steamed broccoli florets and asparagus spears, for dipping
  1. Toss the Fontina and Gruyere cheese with the cornstarch in a medium bowl to coat.
  2. Saute the pancetta in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate. Pour off any excess oil.
  3. Pour the wine into the same saucepan and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk 1 handful of the cheese mixture into the wine until it is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture in about 4 more batches. Continue whisking until the cheese is completely melted and the fondue bubbles, about 1 minute. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the pancetta. Season the fondue with pepper, to taste.
  4. Transfer the cheese mixture to a fondue pot. Sprinkle with the remaining pancetta and chives. Set the pot over a candle or a canned heat burner. Serve with focaccia and vegetables.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 8-10

Pizza Fondue

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 2 cans (10.5oz) pizza sauce (I used about 2 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 cups (10oz) shredded cheddar
  • 1 cup (4oz) shredded mozzarella
  • Italian or French bread for dipping
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, brown onion and ground beef. Drain.
  2. Stir in sauce and seasonings and heat through. Add cheese by handfuls, stirring each handful until cheese is almost fully melted.
  3. Pour into fondue pot and keep hot while serving. Serve with bread cut into pieces or serve over toasted English muffins for lunch.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6-10

Chicken Quesedillas

A while back I found pre-cooked southwestern seasoned grilled chicken strips (by Perdue) in the grocery store and had the wonderful idea of making quesedillas with them. That was a couple of years ago and I guess the popularity of the southwestern variety has faded because it has become increasingly difficult to find them in the grocery store when I need them. In essence, I gave up on finding them and decided that I could make this chicken for my quesedillas just as good at home - and without any of the artifical additives I suppose were in the pre-packaged stuff.

These quesedillas are always a nice treat and are especially easy and inexpensive if you've got what you need in the house already. I always tend to have leftover flour tortillas from other meals I've made with them and they end up sitting the fridge for a couple of weeks before I realize that I have to use them before they go bad. Use whatever cheese you have in your cheese drawer - cheddar, Monterey jack, gouda, fontina, a shredded taco or mexican mix, mozzarella, American...it doesn't matter - they'll all work perfectly. And for the chicken, if you want to buy the pre-package stuff, go for it, but making it at home is just as easy and quite cheaper. Marinate in the suggested ingredients below or just sprinkle some of your favorite seasonings on the raw chicken and grill until fully cooked. Add a few veggies if you'd like - sauteed peppers and onions would work great but I only had onions in the house the night I made them so that's what I used. Serve them alongside some rice and beans or on their own - with sour cream of course for dipping. :) Good stuff here....

Chicken Quesedillas
source: Smells Like Home
  • 4 (10") flour tortillas
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (pounded to 1/2" thick) or tenderloins
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican mix)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, ground coriander, salt and pepper, all to taste (or use whatever you like/have on hand)
  1. In a Ziploc bag, add lime juice, honey, olive oil, and dry spices; blend well. Add chicken and allow to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  2. While chicken is marinating, in a medium-sized frying pan, heat oil and butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook until very soft, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Grill until fully cooked. Slice chicken into 1/2" by 3" (approximately) strips. When chicken is almost finished cooking, heat a griddle or large non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat. When griddle is hot and chicken is finished cooking and is sliced, place tortilla on the griddle. Add cheese, onions, and chicken to one half of tortilla half. Carefully fold over empty half to sandwich the filling between the two halves of the tortilla. When the bottom half is browned and cheese is starting to melt, carefully turn over to brown the uncooked half. When cheese is melted and quesedilla is browned, remove from griddle. Repeat with all tortillas.
  4. Serve with mexican rice, beans, and sour cream.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 2-4