Running the fine line between too hard and too easy

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Let's Bake a Cake!

I am more of a cupcake person, but I wanted to try and bake a cake. For no other reason than pure practice. I pulled out my Martha Stewart Baking Handbook for inspiration. I decided to try a traditional yellow cake. I wanted to start with something easy, and eventually work my way up to more complicated cakes.

Yellow Butter Cake (makes one 9-inch layer cake)
--2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for pans)
--1 1/2 cups AP flour, plus more for pans
--1 1/2 cups cake flour*
--1 tablespoon baking powder
--1/2 teaspoon salt
--1 3/4 cups sugar
--4 large eggs
--2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
--1 1/4 cups milk

*I could not find cake flour. With the help of my husband in the middle of the flour aisle at Publix, we googled and found that you can substitute AP flour for cake flour if needed. I used all AP flour for this instance. The cake did taste very good, but it took on the flavor of a pound cake due to the more dense flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cake pans and then line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and then dust the cake pans with AP flour.

Into a medium bowl, sift flours, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (~3-4 minutes). Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Divide batter in pans and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester put in the center comes out clean (about 30-35 minutes). Transfer to wire cooling racks and let sit for 20 minutes to cool. Invert cakes onto wire racks and peel off parchment then reset the cakes onto the wire racks to cool completely.

The yummy buttery yellow cake

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

OK, so it's not my cooking...

But it's so huge and yummy that I had to share just one picture! We hosted a birthday party for my 3 of my family members this past weekend. We had some of the food catered out from one of my husband's co-workers (she does catering on the side). She made this lasagna which "feeds about 18 people". Wrong! It feeds an army! Look at this thing! It was so heavy and we had more than half leftover. Needless to say, we are enjoying the incredible food days later. She made a lasagna, meatballs, and chicken parmesan. Everything was very good and we would recommend her to anyone!

The 20 pound lasagna

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tatanka Chicken Pizza

My husband and I share a love of Buffalo Chicken. Wings, sandwich, and even pizza. This is one of my favorite pizzas to make at home.

--2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
--2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
--refrigerated can of pizza dough
--wing sauce (about 2 cups, more if you like it really saucy)

Wing Sauce: We usually make our own concoction and just kind of make it to taste, but a good staple is Texas Pete Wing Sauce.

Cut up the chicken into little bite sized pieces. Saute them with some nonstick spray until fully cooked. Meanwhile, roll out the dough on a sheet and pre-bake it (per directions on the package). After the dough has been pre-baked, put some sauce on the dough, then some cheese. Toss the chicken in the remaining sauce and then scatter them onto the dough. Put some more sauce on if you feel like it :) Then finish by topping with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Bake per the package's directions.

I was so excited to eat it, that I forgot to take a picture until it was almost gone!

Oh and "Tatanka" means Buffalo. We learned this by watching Dances with Wolves.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Football = time to blow your diet

Let's face it. Football and beer and fried food are in fact synonyms. They just go hand in hand. A football game is not the time to introduce crustless cucumber sandwiches for the crowd to enjoy.
For New Years Eve, we hosted a small get together to watch the Peach Bowl. It was a great excuse to make chili. My husbands' chili is top secret, but I can tell you that it involves using three meats (which three are part of the secret, sorry!). We decided to have chili (over Fritos and/or rice) and a bunch of nasty bar food to nosh on all night.

My husband's chili close-up

I chose to take the easy route and buy ready-made pigs in blankets and mozzarella sticks. And I threw some marinara sauce into a ramekin and called it a day. Sometimes "no muss, no fuss" is the best way to go.

I also made some really easy cookies that went over well at work for a team meeting. I found them from one of my new favorite websites and they are the easiest thing I have ever made. The secret lies in letting the pre-packages cookie dough soften a good bit (about 2 hours) on the counter before molding into the mini-muffin pan. The recipe is one you will not regret trying! I altered the recipe and used chocolate chip cookie dough and then Reese's peanut butter chips for the topping. They are so moist and gooey; it's just delectable.

Don't they look like bite size bites of heaven? YUM :)

So, I understand that you shouldn't use a football game to make "light" versions of anything. However, a few years ago I found a recipe for Spinach and Artichoke Dip on Shape Magazine's website and tried it. And I haven't steered from it since. It's one of the best dips I have ever tasted and who would have thought it would be? With all the light and fat-free ingredients, it's still tastier than most I find in restaurants. After I finished making it on the stove, I transferred it to a mini-crockpot to keep warm and topped with low-fat colby jack cheese. And I didn't stray very far from it all night, ha!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A new gift becomes a new staple

So, I posted about the Easy Taco Casserole that I made for a friend who just had a baby a few weeks ago. Well, I was intrigued by the recipe and wanted to make it for dinner one night. My husband has sinced coined it "Mexican Lasagna".

The original recipe is supposed to be a mild meal for new moms. However, I adapted the recipe and made a delicious mexican meal. After I browned the meat, I mixed in a generic Taco Seasoning packet for a little flavor. After the meat was finished, I dumped it into a bowl with salsa and corn (I used two cans of kernel corn because I love corn!) and I re-used the pan to saute about 1/2 cup of yellow onion. After the onion had become translucent, I added it to the mixture and began layering.

The Mexican Lasagna was delicious! It was still pretty mild, so my husband added some hot sauce to it. Next time, I intend to add some chiles and peppers to the mixture. It's like yummy hot nachos with all your favorite fixings. Perfect meal for a tired evening where you just want to veg.

What's a breakfast casserole?

You mean....there are casseroles that people eat for breakfast?

Maybe it's time I admit something on this blog. I am a sectional eater. Don't get me wrong; I love food. But, I prefer to enjoy each thing individually and let the flavor of each course come alive in my mouth. During a conversation with friends, I realized a breakfast casserole may not be the genre of food for me. Most of the recipes involved mixing toast, sugar, eggs, etc all together. However, in the spirit of trying new things, I thought I would make one for Christmas morning.

My friend Brittany offered up this recipe for Hash Brown Casserole:


1 (2 lb.) bag frozen hash brown potatoes
2 (8 oz.) cartons sour cream
1/2 c. chopped onions
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
2 c. shredded cheese, cheddar, sharp or other
2 c. corn flake crumbs
1/4 c. butter, melted

Thaw potatoes, combine soup, sour cream, onion and cheese; mix in potatoes. Spray 3 quart casserole with Pam, put in mixture. Mix melted butter and crumbs and sprinkle on top. Have oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake 1 hour.

I made it on Christmas Eve (minus the corn flake crumbs and butter) and placed in the freezer for the evening. On Christmas morning, I made the crumb and butter mixture and put it in the oven. We opened presents, drank coffee, watched A Christmas Story, and then breakfast was ready.

The verdict: My husband very much enjoyed it. I thought it was okay. However, I must be fair and say that I love my hash browns very cripsy, and this recipe isn't what I think of a "traditional has brown" tastes like. But it was very tasty, and I would be happy to make it again.

Run run run as fast as you can...

In an effort to try something new, my husband had mentioned that he liked Gingerbread cookies. I knew I had the most perfect cookie cutter for this occasion.

Meet Mr. Gingerbread

I found a recipe for Basic Gingerbread Cookies on Martha Stewart's website. On Christmas Eve, I made the dough. As I was mixing in the 6 cups of flour, my KitchenAid was showing a little sign of weakness. I couldn't believe it. After 5 years of using my KA mixer, I finally had found a flaw. The bowl was too small for this recipe. Sigh. I have the Artisan mixer, so if you have the Professional Series (maybe Santa will upgrade me one day..) you will do fine. The last two cups or so I had to beat in by hand. And this dough is by no means light! It was definitely a workout for the arms.

Per the recipe's instructions, I divided the dough into thirds and put it in the frig to chill. Well, being Christmas Eve, I had more things to bake and cook, so it sat. For a few days. Once I finally got around to rolling out the dough and making the cookies, my husband had worked up quite the craving for them.

Thankfully for my husband he didn't have to wait much longer. The cookies stayed simple and without icing or sugar, just the way he likes them.

The cookies now hold a special place in my heart. Making them was a joy because it reminded me of when we first started dating and we watched Shrek. We must have watched it a thousand times and we always laugh and still quote the memorable scene with the gingerbread man being tortured. "Not my gumdrop buttons!"

The Scene from Shrek that still makes us giggle.