Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Little Beef Wellingtons

For Thanksgiving I roasted a huge Turkey and ate it and ate it and ate it. So for Christmas I wanted something different. I'd made Beef Wellington once before but with a beef tenderloin going for a whopping $75 I decided to trim it down. Instead I bought three small fillet mignons. I browned them in some butter and then cooled them to room temperature. In the same pan I sauteed some finely chopped mushrooms and a tablespoon of sherry. Since I don't like liver pate, I left that out of this recipe. To cheat a little I did use premade frozen puff pastry BUT I did go for the fancy all-butter kind by Dufour. Yum! I rolled it out and cut it into squares. A steak was placed in the middle of each and then the pastry was crimped together like a dumpling. I cut mini snowflakes out of the fourth square and "pasted" them on with a little water. An egg wash cemented all the pastry together and then I popped it in the oven at 400 degrees. Thirty minutes later, golden brown mini beef wellingtons emerged from the oven and onto our waiting Christmas plates. Admittedly, they don't look as perfect as I'd have liked them. Next time (and there will be a next time) I will probably wrap them in the pastry and put the seams on the bottom so they have a smoother, showier look. Despite their rough edges they were very tasty. Too bad I can't afford to have this kind of dinner every day.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Luke’s Monkey Cake

For Luke’s 1st birthday, I decided to create a cake based on his favorite stuffed animal: a monkey. I googled monkey cakes and found a dizzying array of ideas, but my favorite came from Martha Stewart. No surprise there. The recipe was for a banana cake with yellow and chocolate buttercream frosting. I baked the cake in a stainless steel bowl, cut into three layers to add a little height, and frosted. The ears were made of a cupcake cut in half. The cake was lots of fun to make and tasted very much like banana bread with decadent frosting. Luke certainly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Better than a Reese's

Normally I am a chocolate snob - Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Callebaut. But when confronted with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, I have no control. I could eat a whole bag. So, when I received my December issue of Cook's Country and opened it to their cookie contest, I was already planning my grocery list. Their contest winner entered a cookie called Fudgy Peanut Butter Mousse Cups. It was a bit of work but soooooo worth it.

The easy part was mixing a bag of sugar cookie mix with some chopped pecans and melted butter. This was pressed into the cups of a mini muffin pan and baked until golden brown. Once these cooled, a teaspoon of ganache was poured into each cookie cup. A mixture of peanut butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and whipped cream formed the "mousse". I used a tiny ice cream scoop to divide this among the cups. Then more ganache was drizzled on top. Finally, a stint in the refrigerator firmed them up so they didn't gush all over when bitten.

I didn't eat the WHOLE pan but I admit I didn't leave many for my husband. Oops. Guess I'll have to make them again. Soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snowman Cakes

For the bake sale at our church, I had a delicious vanilla cake I made from scratch a week prior waiting in the freezer. I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I wanted it to be playful and fun. I decided to use my biscuit cutters to punch out circles of cake to create snowmen. I cut my cake rounds in half to add a layer of butter cream. Then I cut the head circle first, overlapped into that hole slightly to cut the middle, and overlapped again into the open hole to cut the bottom. When I put them all together, they fit like puzzle pieces. I did a simple glaze of powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water over the top. I took a few coatings to get the white opaque. I used my left over white glaze and created colors for the eye, nose, etc. I should have thickened it a bit more, but it worked ok. Packaging for the sale was tricky because the cakes would pull apart easily. I placed them on rectangles of cardboard wrapped in wax paper and used cardboard cake rounds scored and folded to hold that rectangle in place. Getting only 5 total snowmen out of my cake, I decided to add to my bake sale offering with some mint chocolate covered graham crackers and pretzels. Thank goodness bake sale season is over!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Peppermint Biscotti

‘Tis the season to eat! As I contemplated recipes for two upcoming bake sales, I was asked to please not make chocolate chip cookies. Apparently, there are too many folks donating those this year. With “The Chewy” sidelined, I needed something different. A standout in the mile-long table of baggie cookied bliss. Biscotti! Tasty with a hot beverage, lasts for weeks, and endless decorative options. A glance in the pantry told me I had some peppermint extract in need of use, so peppermint became the default flavor. The italian treat was not one in my repertoire, but it was easy to make with the right recipe. The first I tried was a true italian recipe with no butter. The cookie was hard as promised, but I added a bit too much extract and gagged on the results. Sam loved it. I ventured off into an oil based recipe for the second batch. This created a more american style biscotti with a softer texture. No good. The third time was thankfully just right with 4T of butter and just 1/4t of extract. I couldn't decide how I wanted to decorate them, so I tried four different ways and liked them all. I continued doing all four and each bag for the sale has the four unique designs. Hopefully I’ll stop eating them before they make it into bags tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

In an attempt not to gain my traditional holiday pounds, I'm opting for one dessert per week from now until January 1. Of course, that means the dessert I pick each week has to be good. So, this week, I saw Ina Garten make these decadent chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and knew I had a winner. These cupcake bake up beautifully and are delicious. I almost hated to cover the tops, but once I made the peanut butter frosting, I not only covered the tops, but I also put a generous dose of frosting inside the cupcake too. That's when I ran out of frosting and had to do the second half of the cupcakes with chocolate ganache for frosting. All had peanut butter inside. Let's just say that I got my fill for sweets that day. Here is a link to that recipe on Food Network:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Almost-No-Knead Bread

I love perusing food blogs and encountered one that extolled the virtues of a recipe for bread requiring no kneading. I personally don't mind kneading dough and waiting for it to rise several times but I thought I'd give it a try. After all, it does do all the work itself, right? A few days after downloading the recipe, I received an updated version from Cook's Illustrated. Theirs looked just as easy and I had all the ingredients so I set to work.

Flour, salt, instant yeast, water, beer, and vinegar. All I had to do was stir it together, let it sit for 8 to 18 hours, knead it for a few seconds, let it rise for two hours and pop it in the oven. The most important part is what you cook it in. A cast iron dutch oven that's been preheated in the oven for 30 minutes with the lid on at 500 degrees. Very important! Because the dough rises on top of a parchment sheet, it's pretty easy to lift and plop into the hot pan. Put the lid on, reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 30 minutes. Take the lid off and bake for another 20 minutes.

Out comes a hot, crusty, golden loaf of bread that is irresistable! It is perfect with butter or maybe dipped in some olive oil. The only drawback to this recipe is that the bread's texture doesn't withstand time. It really is best eaten the day it is made. But then that's never a problem in our house.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Devil’s Food Cake for an Angel

I attended my first post-birth baby shower today for a good friend in our neighborhood. I had high hopes for making petit fours for the special event. As you can see from the picture, the petit four making did not go well. My first attempt was a sponge cake baked in a jelly roll pan. I wanted to go the traditional route and sponge cake recipes looked more appealing than genoise. The sponge cake was delicious, but inconsistent. In my attempt not to over stir at the end and ruin the airy egg composition, I did not fully incorporate my ingredients. So, parts of my sponge cake were delicious and others were just egg whites cooked. So, I thought maybe pound cake might be safer and possibly more predictable. I didn't have any recipes for chocolate pound cake, so I ventured to the internet. I found what I thought would be a good recipe, but the batter would have filled my 9 x 5 loaf pan to the top. Nervously, I split it between two and then proceeded to under cook the cakes when my toothpick came out clean. Sigh. Determined to make some sort of cake, I turned to my Cooks Illustrated baking cooking book and chose the Devil’s Food Cake recipe. It promised to be a decadent chocolate experience. Thankfully, this cake turned out nicely and tasted wonderful. Perhaps a bit less stable than most cakes I have made, but delicious and almost brownie-like. I will try again someday, but three cakes in one weekend is more than I ever care to do again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Snickerdoodles are a new cookie to me. I did not grow up eating them, so I don't really have any preconceived notions of what they should be. When I discovered they were a favorite of a dear friend of mine, I decided to add another cookie to the repertoire. To my delight, these were tasty and easier to make than traditional sugar cookies that require rolling out dough. I searched several sources for my recipe and decided on one from that got high marks from over 1800 people ( Coming off my success with chocolate chip cookies, I substituted half the flour in the recipe with bread flour. I also sifted my dry ingredients (minus the sugar) together to help keep the cookies light. I was leery of the shortening in the recipe, but I decided to let that one slide this time. Using my small cookie scoop, I squeezed 5 dozen cookies out of this recipe. They were light, chewy, and delicious. The perfect size for eating 6 in a row without thinking. Sweet tooth beware!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apple Pie

Two weeks ago we went apple picking with our four-year-old. Cameo apples were ripe. They were so good that we picked two baskets full of them, munching on fresh apples as we went. Since we have a 7-month-old baby in the house, I cooked up some crock pot applesauce and froze it in cubes for him. The rest of us enjoyed homemade apple pie - three of them so far! I make my pie crust with butter. It tastes great and is easier to roll than one made with shortening. Then I fill it with six cups of apples, 1/2 cup sugar, juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon. To top it off, I make a crumb topping of flour, brown sugar and butter. Served with ice cream, there is no better dessert.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Friends were coming for dessert a few weeks ago and I wanted to impress. So I pulled out my copy of Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess and began flipping through the pages. I knew chocolate was a favorite so I flipped to the section conveniently marked "Chocolate." And there it was . . . Chocolate Mousse Cake. Basically it is a flourless chocolate cake taking its structure from eggs instead of flour. Using Callebaut chocolate and organic eggs I set to work. It was really very simple. All I had to do was melt the chocolate with some butter and sugar. Whisk that together with egg yolks. I whirred the egg whites to soft peaks and then folded in the chocolate mixture. I poured it into a springform pan wrapped in foil. Dunked it in a water bath and pushed it in the oven. An hour later, out came this dreamy cake. So yummy. And they were impressed. Very.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

As an avid cookie baker, I'm always looking for a really great recipe for the classics. I enjoy venturing out into new treat territory, but with Sam requesting chocolate chip cookies most often, I have been on a quest for the perfect recipe. I have found it! Tonight I baked my personal best batch of chocolate chip cookies thanks to Alton Brown.

After scanning the Food Network search results from my cookie query, I noticed a cookie listed as “Chewy” with a 5 star rating based on 485 reviews. This I had to try and it did not disappoint.

Thankfully, I had a bag of bread flour waiting in the pantry and kosher salt on hand. These appeared to be the only out of the ordinary ingredients. The dough had to be chilled for a bit and then, using an ice cream scoop, I plopped out 6 “gimantic” (as Sam would say) balls of dough on my parchment lined cookie sheets. Just 14 minutes in the oven and I pulled out the large, beautiful cookies that turned out perfectly chewy, but not under done. There was also a nice golden crisp to the cookie exterior that combined nicely with the chewy interior.

This recipe is a must for any chocolate chip cookie lover you know:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Makin' Whoopie

Nine years ago, before my husband and I were married, we took a drive through Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. I was enthralled with the Amish people at the time and gawked at their quilts, their clothes, their buggies. We stopped at a little bakery to have a snack and bought a two Red Velvet Whoopie pies. It was love at first bite!

Now I know I can't recreate the same romantic mood we had nine years ago during our courtship. But I'm determined to recreate a Whoopie pie that takes us back in time. So far, I've tried three recipes; this is my fourth attempt. My husband says I'm getting closer. Obviously, you can tell these are not Red Velvet but that's nothing a bottle of red food coloring can't fix. Basically, though, this is a Devil's Food Cake recipe plopped onto parchment in 1/3 cup portions. It makes separate little cakes that get smooshed together with a creamy filling. It's the filling that I'm having a hard time with. This filling was made from powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and Marshmallow Fluff. He thinks it tastes too marshmallowy but I like the light texture it imparts to an otherwise heavy buttercream frosting.

Don't worry. These Whoopie pies are disappearing fast, leaving me free to look for another recipe and start makin' whoopie again!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Baby Shower Coconut Cake

This past weekend, we had a little baby shower for my friend Kristy at a nice restaurant in Pittsburgh called Willow. I called the restaurant to make sure they would allow me to bring in my homemade cake and then got to work. I love the recipe from “The New Best Recipe” cookbook for coconut cake. The key, in my opinion, to any good coconut cake is toasting the coconut and using only real ingredients (real butter and no imitation anything). After making the cake and frosting it with the coconut buttercream, I pulled out the pram template I designed for another shower (Manske's, of course) and did a flat pram on top with a little decorative royal icing around the edges. Lots of fun and very tasty!

Animal Mobile

Baby mobiles tend to be either insipid pastel things or extravagant affairs with blinking lights and crooning lullabies. When my baby, Adam, was born I looked and looked for a simple bright mobile to hang above his crib. Unfortunately, the one I liked cost $100 so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Literally.

I bought some felt, colored thread, and seed beads at my local craft store. My friend Anne showed me how to take images offline that I liked, cut them out, and use them to trace my design on the felt. I cut out two of each shape, stuffed them with wool, and sewed them together with a blanket stitch. A few beads sewn on for eyes and some felt glued on for ears and legs made my felt animals just detailed enough. I tied these shapes onto the inner ring of an embroidery hoop that I had painted yellow. Some bright ribbons were glued onto the ring and tied together to complete the mobile.

Now, Adam drifts off to sleep while smiling at the sheep, giraffe, kangaroo, and porcupine that float overhead.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Train Cake

When it was time to make the cake for Sam's 4th birthday this year, I pulled out the train cake pan I conveniently received for Mother's Day. I had only attempted a cake with this much detail on the pan once before and the results had not been very good. Thankfully, I learned a lot from that terrible castle cake and with a tip from Sassy, the train cake came out wonderfully. The greasing and flouring part of the process is critical. I sprayed the pan with Pam to get every nook and cranny, but then wiped out as much as possible with a paper towel. The grease is still there, but not in big droplets which leave pock marks on the exterior of your cake. Then, I used Wondra® flour, which is a special flour usually used for sauces and gravies. It is super fine and also helps the outside of the cake remain nice and smooth. Finally, Sassy warned me not to follow the instructions on the cake pan, which said to "spread the batter so it reaches the top edges of each well". Instead, I filled the cake wells 1/2 to 2/3rds like normal and then, using a small spatula, pulled the batter up to the edges on all sides. That worked perfectly! I wanted a nice color on the cakes without losing the detail behind the frosting. So, I used a simple recipe of powdered sugar, water, vanilla, and food gels to create a thick, runny glaze that coated beautifully. I wanted to go back with white piping and add more detail and little candies, but I ran out of time. Thankfully, Sam had no idea and the cake was a hit with the kids.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Peach Season

It is peach season here in Maryland. Since my son has a penchant for picking every growing thing and eating it, we decided to take him peach picking. Eighty peaches later, with peach fuzz tickling our necks and arms, we hauled our loot home and perused recipes. So far, I've made peach jam, peach cheesecake, cold fruit soup, and a peach pie, of course. I still have a few peaches left but they are starting to get mushy. I saw a recipe for roasted peach ice cream, touted as a perfect way to use peaches beyond ripeness. Maybe you'll see a picture of that soon!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

All Aboard Invite

We’re less than two weeks away from Sam's 4th birthday and the train party plans are chugging right along. We'll be walking around the neighborhood tomorrow to visit his little friends and give them their “tickets” to the party. He is very excited about the steam engine on the ticket and can’t wait to eat cake made with the Williams-Sonoma train pan I conveniently received for mother’s day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cupcake Evolution

"Make cupcakes!" is a command often heard at my house. And since I have a sweet tooth too I make no objections to pulling out my muffin tin and plopping in a few cupcake papers. Last week I chose a recipe from Cooking Light entitled Lemon Angel Food Cupcakes. I substituted Key Lime zest and juice for the lemon but otherwise the recipe remained unaltered. My idea was to present summery light cupcakes topped with a real slice of tart key lime. So simple. So sophisticated. As you can see . . .

However . . . my son, Jonathan (age 4) promptly ripped off my lovely limes and demanded sprinkles. Sprinkles are an important affair in our house. They go on pancakes, ice cream, bagels, cereal, or can even be eaten as snacks unto themselves. So, sprinkles were selected.

As we were just finishing the last cupcakes, my son realized that the frosting I'd used (a delicious limey one by the way) was not dyed the blue he had originally desired. I'd hoped to get away without making any blue frosting. After all, the blue lips and tongue I get after eating anything blue do little to enhance my appearance! But since I had extra frosting we swirled some blue gel into the last of the icing. The boring white frosting was scraped off and replaced with the brilliant one. And the last of the sprinkles went on.

So, in my house . . . cupcakes often go through an evolution. From sophisticated to sprinkles to simply perfect for a preschooler!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Printable Frosting

Last summer, my son Sam asked for a marching band cake for his 3rd birthday. I had been eager to try a cake with the printable frosting that is available through most grocery store bakeries. It was pricey at my local Giant-Eagle with the printed sheet running about $8.00. So, I squeezed as much as I could onto one 7" x 10" sheet. I handed off my "art" to the lady in the bakery and the next day I picked up my printed frosting sheet. I carefully cut out all my marching band figures with an Exacto knife and had them ready to go once my cake was frosted. I gently pressed them onto the side of the wet frosted cake and used the blunt end of a fancy toothpick to press the edges neatly in. Sam loved the cake and each piece was served with a different marcher up the side.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Meet Mr. Rosemary

My first garden in Colorado is starting to come into its own. I delight in visiting it each day with my 2-year-old. We call the rosemary plant "Mr. Rosemary." We had friends over for shrimp and grits Saturday and I baked Rosemary Focaccia from the Moosewood Cookbook with the help of Mr. Rosemary, of course.

The recipe is super easy, and the smell of fresh, organic rosemary baking with the bread fills the house with pre-party excitement. My daughter helped set the table and we talked about sharing her toys with our friends' two boys. Then we looked at the just-baked focaccia. "Look, it has grass in it!" she squealed.

The beautiful flowers were a hostess gift from my guests. Mysti is a talented jewelry and flower designer.

Red, White, and Blueberry Popsicles

My son, Jonathan (age 4), loves those psychedelic popsicles filled with artificial sweeteners and colors. I try to get him to go the all-natural route but they just don't please him artistically. So, in the spirit of the 4th of July, I created some patriotic popsicles. I blitzed some strawberries with a tablespoon or two of sugar and poured a bit into some small plastic cups. After 30 minutes in the freezer I stuck some red, white, and blue coffee stirrers into the middle. The second layer was some organic nonfat vanilla yogurt plopped on top. Frozen again. Finally I whirled some wild Maine blueberries in the blender. No sugar needed for those. They were perfectly sweet! Once the popsicles were topped off, I slid them back into the freezer for one last time. When we took them out of their molds they were perfectly patriotic. And oh so good!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cookie Pizza

A few weeks ago, my son Sam (3) and I made sugar cookie pizzas. We rolled our our sugar cookie dough on a pizza stone and trimmed around a plate to get our circle. The pizza slice cuts were scored into the dough before cooking and then again immediately after we pulled it from the oven. The frosting sauce could have been more red, but we just didn't have enough food coloring gel to get it that dark. White ball sprinkles worked for the cheese, although shredded coconut or white chocolate would have looked nice, too. We sliced gummi fruit snacks for the pretend pepperoni and olives. Now when Sam asks for pizza for dinner, I have to clarify that he is not getting a big cookie for his meal.