Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lemon Tea Bread

Is it a cake? Is it a bread? It's a little bit of both. Somewhere between a pound cake and a quick bread, this luscious little treat is perfect for breakfast, brunch or even an evening dessert.

Moist and delicious, it's topped with a lemon glaze sprinkled with lemon zest and a little sugar. Add some lemon curd after slicing and you have the perfect morning treat!

I found this was also great served with a scoop of Edy's Lemonade Swirl ice cream, which makes a wonderful after dinner dessert.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookies are one of those "comfort cookies" that everyone should be able to make. There are countless variations out there and everyone will swear that this or that recipe is the best ever.

Of course, that always depends on personal taste. I grew up on those noxiously sweet concoctions from Little Debbie with the cream filling a la a "whoopie pie." It was one of the few snacks my older sister kept in her pantry when I was a kid that I really loved. (That reminds me that I must jot down the story of "Sissy Crackers" sometime.) Anyway, my taste for oatmeal cookies has been forever shaped (or warped) by those cookies.

But, this recipe which I adapted from Ina Garten is very good. It's somewhat chewy without that rubbery feel of those Little Debbie cookies but at the same time has a bit of a crispness to it that is pleasing. I opted to include toasted walnuts and chocolate chips in my cookies but you could use any nuts or fruits that suits your tastes. I also used a light or golden brown sugar, but if you like your cookies a bit sweeter and with more chewiness, go for dark brown or add a little molasses to the mixture.

As with all oatmeal cookies it's the little things that make a difference. Adding some spices can really kick oatmeal cookies from humdrum to spectacular. Of course, the one ingredient you never want to forget in oatmeal cookies is a good salt! Leaving salt out of oatmeal cookies can turn your fantastic creations into chewy cardboard!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Easy Cheese Puffs

Sometimes things that really should be quite simple can be presented in very difficult ways. Take Cheese Puffs and other things that use a pate a choux dough. You'd think looking at instructions that this would be an all day ordeal fraught with danger. Actually, it can be fairly simple and straightforward.

I'm sure using a food processor in all this probably yields some benefit. However, not all of us are equipped with the latest Cuisinart doohickey so we make do with a mixer. In this case, I found that the dough doesn't fluff up quite as much but it's still very good and excellent for making cheese puffs for hors d'oeuvres. It probably didn't help the fluffy factor that I kept peeking too often because I was unsure if the full 15 minutes was necessary at such a high temp. (Note to self: trust Ina Garten's times as given!)

If you're planning to make a pate a choux for use in cream puffs or eclairs, you might want to go all out and use a food processor and the several step cooking procedures outlined by pastry professionals. However, if you need some quick cheese puff appetizers for a party, then try this for something that is both easy and tasty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry "Cheesecake" Pie

Recently, I used a lovely Marscarpone cheese tart filling for my Cheese Danish. It was so good and so simple, I thought it might be good to adapt it to a Strawberry Pie. The results were surprisingly simple and delicious! The marscarpone and sour cream have a lovely tartness against the sugar and strawberry flavors.

If you have a strawberry pie filling on hand you could easily substitute that for the strawberry icing I used. I think either would work in this case. I just happened to have some strawberry icing left over from my mini chocolate and strawberry cakes from the other day. Likewise, regular cream cheese could be substituted for the marscarpone, although I think the texture of the marscarpone is much better and creamier in this. If you do sub regular cream cheese, make sure you have it at room temperature and slightly softened to make it easier to work into the mixture.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bacon-Onion-Goat Cheese Frittata

Frittatas can be life savers in the kitchen. Like so many "peasant" dishes a frittata allows you to use whatever you have on hand to create a delicious one dish meal.

Of course, a frittata is the Italian version of an omelet. However, it is cooked over low heat and then finished under a broiler. This makes a frittata very thick and luscious - almost nearer a quiche.

The great thing about them is that they are very quick and simple to do. You can use pretty much anything you have on hand from classic breakfast fare to seafood to veggies. Whatever tastes tickle your fancy will work with a frittata! I've even seen pasta based frittatas.

This evening I opted to raid the refrigerator to create a frittata for dinner. This recipe will make a serving for one, but by doubling it and using a 12" pan versus the 6" pan I used, you can easily make enough for two or more. My fixings for this one included some bacon, onions with peppers, Parmesan cheese and goat cheese with herbs. We also purchase pre-cut veggie trays at our local supermarket (often marked as "steaming vegetables") and they're really convenient if you don't want to spend a lot of time slicing veggies for this version.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cheese Crackers - AKA "Fake Cheese Its"

I have always loved Cheese Its™ and most of the various impostors. In fact, lately I really like the "generic" version sold at Albertson's. But, it seems that every year these little treats get more and more expensive. A large box of Cheese Its™ can now cost up to four dollars or more unless you catch a sale. That's really ridiculous when you think what goes into them.

Other than all the bizarre chemicals to make them stay "fresh" on the shelf for months (or years) all of these crackers are little more than flour, milk, and cheese. In fact, even the super expensive "gourmet" crackers they conveniently place near the cheeses and wine aren't hard to make at home and for a lot less money and less chemicals, too!

So, here's a quick and simple recipe for a fake Cheese It™ cracker. It's not an exact taste copy but is very good and something you can serve to adults at a party without feeling self conscious! The great thing about this is you can use it for anything. You can use Parmesan instead of Cheddar. You can leave out the cheese completely and throw in some herbs and olive oil. You can use a little garlic - whatever taste happens to tickle your fancy. You can also cut these in circles like water crackers or wafers or little squares... whatever the occasion this will work!

Plus, this takes only about 10 minutes to bake and less than 10 minutes to assemble the dough and roll it out!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lemon Basil Cookies

I'm a food history buff. I love browsing old recipes. By old, I don't mean "food like Grandma used to make" but really old, like centuries old.

Some of those recipes are familiar and have made their way down through the ages to us as some of our favorite treats. Things like gingerbread and sugar cookies can be traced back to the opening of trade with the East.

But, browsing old recipes you come across taste pairings that most of us would find a bit odd. Ice cream and sweets made with herbs and vegetables would seem odd to the modern palate. However, when spices had to be shipped around the world in sailing vessels things we take for granted were very expensive and hard to come by. Think of it this way. Have you ever looked at a recipe that called for saffron and then passed it up because you just couldn't imagine spending that much money on one ingredient? Well, think of that with something as common as cinnamon.

So, cooks tended to be very creative in the use of herbs and other flavorings in their dishes. Some of those seemingly strange pairing are actually delicious. One of those is lemon and basil (or the herb lemon-basil) baked into a sweet and slightly savory cookie.

This little cookie resembles a delicate shortbread and the lemon places nicely against the somewhat peppery basil to create a real taste treat. Certainly, a step above the usual cookie fare in the kitchen.

Personally, I think this makes a lovely tea cookie - particular when paired with spiced teas.

Give it a try, you'll be delightfully surprised at the lovely flavors.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lemon-Honey Semifreddo

It's that time of the year for nice cool desserts and the cooler the better! My nephew and niece in North Carolina even inform me that their temperatures are hovering around 100° already! Here in the desert we've been up there for several weeks now.

As I was flipping through my latest copy of Food & Wine magazine, I came across an Italian dessert that was right up my alley. Semifreddo means "half cold" and often combines gelato (which I love) with whipped cream into delightful little treats.

This one uses a custard type base along with meringue and whipped cream as the base. This is combined tiramisu style with soft lady finger sandwiches filled with lemon curd or orange marmalade.

The result was fantastic. I love the wonderful light lemony taste of the base with the quick burst of lemon tartness from the lemon curd in the center. The texture is wonderfully light and smooth, similar to a very cold and airy mousse.

If you're looking for a fabulous chilled dessert for Summer, this one should definitely be on your menu!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Banana Cake and Icing

There are so many places you can find recipes on the Internet that it's astounding. However, like all things on the Internet quality varies widely!

I had my Burro Bananas that I wanted to use in a dish. I'd originally had my eye on a Banana Tart Tatin I'd seen at Saveur. But, the more I looked at it, the more I thought it would probably go to waste. With just me and Michael, eating up such a hugely rich dessert is hard. I had no social events on the calendar so decided to opt for something that would keep longer.

I finally decided to do a banana cake. I began searching around the Internet to look at recipes here and there. Finally, I saw one at that looked fairly straight forward. It even had a banana icing.

So, into the kitchen I went with printed recipe in hand. I knew I was going to alter the icing just a bit by leaving out the coconut and nuts. Michael isn't a huge coconut fan (although I love it) and I didn't have any pecans in the pantry at the moment and didn't want to go buy more.

I followed the recipe exactly as described on the site. The result was mixed. While the cake was very tasty, the texture was much too dry and crumbly. I had almost switched up the ingredient order when I read it because I feared that might be the result. However, against my better judgment I forged ahead using their order which had the flour being added much too soon so it was over processed. So, I'll give you the order that I think will correct the problem with the somewhat dry and crumbly texture of this cake.

The icing was truly an experience. It's actually quite good, but I was very surprised to find it had the texture of Marzipan! Yes, I could literally have rolled out this icing just like a sheet of Marzipan. As it was, I didn't bother with my icing knife or spatula and instead used my hands to mold the icing to the cake. I left it plain, but this could easily be decorated quite beautifully.

So, here's the Banana Cake with Icing using my ingredient order that should turn out a much more nicely textured cake.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cheese Twists

Nothing could be simpler than these excellent cheese twists. They're perfect for a party or appetizer and take less than 15 minutes to make! You can really do these with just about anything you like. This version is inspired by a quick recipe that Theresa over at posted in one of the discussions.

The recipe is very simple:

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough
2 tbls. butter, melted
grated Parmesan cheese
grated sharp Cheddar cheese
kosher salt
course ground pepper
1 large egg
2 tbls. water

Thaw puff pastry sheets. Preheat oven to 400°. Melt butter in small dish and brush melted butter on puff pastry. Grate Parmesan and Cheddar cheese and spread over buttered puff pastry. Sprinkle with kosher salt and course ground pepper and bit of cayenne. Pat down cheeses and spices.

Slice pastry sheet into strips and twist each strip in opposite directions to form a spiral. Press down ends of dough slightly to hold down during baking.

Mix together egg and water in small bowl for egg wash. Brush wash over pastry spirals and sprinkle a bit of kosher salt over the spirals.

Bake at 400° for about 10 to 12 minutes or until cheese has melted, dough has puffed and become golden. Allow to cool then remove to a plate or stand spirals upright in a large glass or vase.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Smoky Mountain Snowcaps

Yes, this seems like something I should make in the Winter months. But, these delightful cookies caught my eye recently and considering we're climbing back out of the 90's and should be well over 100° by mid-week, I thought a little "snow" might make me feel better!

This recipe is adapted (loosely) from one presented in the Southern Living Classic Southern Desserts cookbook. I've changed things just a bit because I think pecans say "Southern" more than walnuts do. I also halved the nuts and added in toffee pieces because I love the flavor of toffee, pecans and white chocolate.

This cookie is wonderful and not too crisp or too soft. Unlike many cookies the white chocolate is incorporated directly into the batter rather than being thrown in as chunks or chips at the last minute. That makes the flavor of the butter cookie quite delicious.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chocolate Strawberry Mini Cakes

Cake is nice for dessert, but sometimes if you're having several people over, it's nice to present each guest with their own personal little cake. Of course, Petit Fours are cute but what about something a little more substantial?

Most petit fours and dessert cake recipes call for rather bland bases. I thought it would be nice to have individual dessert cakes that were visually pleasing but also tasted great. So, I opted to start this out with a very old Pound Cake recipe that I kicked up a notch by adding Grand Marnier. Then I cut the large cake into individual size 3-inch rounds that were split and filled with Strawberry Cream icing. Then the cakes were chilled then dipped and coated in chocolate ganache flavored with a hint of Grand Marnier, then rolled in toffee bits, drizzled with white chocolate and topped off with a fanned fresh strawberry.

The results are a great cake that is dense and satisfying and the blend of chocolate and strawberry strikes just the right decadent note for a rich and inviting dessert.

This is a multi-step cake so, you can always cheat just a bit and use a store bought strawberry cream icing. I found the Betty Crocker Strawberries & Cream worked nicely.

If you don't have any Grand Marnier handy you can always use a touch of orange juice or orange flavoring for both the cake and the ganache. As always the secret ingredient to get the wonderful flavor in the chocolate is a teaspoon of instant coffee powder.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cheese Danish with Marscarpone and Puff Pastry

Officially my birthday isn't for another 17 days. But, for the past several weeks Michael has been squirreling away money for my "present." Now, I could only think of a couple things he would have in mind with that amount of cash so it wasn't a big surprise when he casually mentioned we should stop at Williams-Sonoma after we'd left A.J.'s yesterday.

When I asked why he was interested in my favorite cooking store he said they had something I wanted. So, I was onto what he had in mind - a new KitchenAid mixer. Sure enough he came clean. I told him it might be a good idea to check Costco since I'd seen them there a few months back for substantially less than Williams-Sonoma.

Late this afternoon we headed off to Costco to take a look and get my birthday present. As fate would have it they didn't have the Artisan version of the classic Kitchen Aid mixer. But, they did have the Professional version for the same price as the Artisan was listed at Williams-Sonoma. So, I ended up with not only the mixer of my dreams but also the top of the line version of that mixer!

So, this birthday is already shaping up to be fabulous - although I was informed it was up to me to use the new mixer to make my own birthday cake. Hey, who's complaining. I love to bake!

In fact, I couldn't wait to try out the new present. So this evening I whipped up some Cheese Danish. These quick and easy little treats use a Cream Cheese tart filling that tastes very much like cheesecake. This filling is then placed inside little puff pastry dough "packets" and baked to make crispy, puffy and buttery cheese danish.

The preparation only takes about 5 or 10 minutes if you use a frozen puff pastry and they're baked and ready in about 10-15 minutes. Perfect for morning coffee or brunch!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blueberry Muffins

After my experiment with the puff pastry blueberry tarts, I still had quite a lot of fresh blueberries left over. So, I decided to do a small batch of blueberry muffins so that Michael could take a few to work for his morning snack.

There are lots of recipes out there for blueberry muffins. Some are super fancy and incorporate all kinds of things into the muffin. Some resemble cakes and some resemble bran muffins. I think they all have their pros and cons.

I chose this recipe which appears on the Food Network site because it was fairly simple and straightforward. I thought the texture for the muffin would be nice and not too light like a cupcake nor too heavy like a bran muffin. I also like the addition of the cinnamon sugar sprinkle and the use of crushed berries in the batter.

This came together nicely and very quickly so would be a great choice for muffins on those weekends when you want something special but don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. This took about 10 minutes to put together and then about 30 minutes to bake. Plenty of time to get your muffins in the oven, the coffee brewing and the bowls and utensils cleaned up by the time they're ready to serve.

I always like using paper cups for muffins because I hate when they stick to the pan (which inevitability they will no matter how good you grease the tins). However, if you don't want to use paper liner cups, let your muffins cool in the pan for a minimum of 30 minutes before removing or you'll end up with blueberry muffin chunks instead of blueberry muffins!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chocolate Icebox Pie

This classic dessert is a real treat for any occasion. I particularly love a cold icebox pie in the Summer when it's hot outside. Right now in Tucson, the weather qualifies! We've passed the 100° mark pretty much every day now and it will stay hot until the middle of Autumn.

So, there's not better time to enjoy cold treats! Although this is an "icebox" pie it does require a bit of cooking. Much like the pudding bases for lemon meringues and other pies what you're actually making is a chocolate pudding for the base of this pie. This is then refrigerated along with cold homemade whipped cream, some chocolate chunks and pecans for decoration.

The taste is fabulous. It's creamy but with some substance to it. In the version I made I used half white chocolate and half semi-sweet chocolate. If you want to do this version just keep the white and dark chocolate separate and put half of your other ingredients in each. For the final boil, I started with the white chocolate then poured that into my shell and finished off with the dark chocolate using the same pot and poured that into the shell over the white chocolate filling.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Easy Blueberry Tarts

I asked Michael recently what kind of pie he'd like and he decided on blueberry. While I was at the store the other day I found a small container of blueberries and decided to pick it up with the intention of making a pie.

As fate would have it, I never got around to the pie but this afternoon decided to use a bit of my frozen puff pastry and do a few little blueberry tarts in different configurations.

The great thing about these is that they're really great tasting and impressive on the plate but are super quick and easy. Of course, like most things you can make this as complicated as you want. If you really want to spend a day on desserts you can start by making your own puff pastry, then grind up some blanched almonds to make an almond creme or frangipane to use as the base for the tart.

Or you can knock this out in under an hour with these simple shortcuts. You'll want to start with 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry and cut it into 4 sections. You may also be able to find pre-cut small squares in specialty stores. That's what I used this afternoon.

This can also be used with any fruit you wish. I chose blueberry, but you could use any berry or even apricots, lemon curd or orange marmalade!

Pecan Chocolate Shortbread

Shortbread is such a deliciously easy thing to make. It's tasty and with a little creativity can be quite the treat. Most of us think of Pecan Sandies when we think of pecan shortbread, but what about a shortbread actually made with pecan meal or pecan flour?

This lovely recipe uses pecan flour or meal to give this delightful shortbread its nutty taste. The addition of some bittersweet chocolate flavored with coffee and a little orange zest kicks it up a notch to decadent!

You'll find this is quick and easy and sure to please family or guests. This is actually a very delicate and crumbly shortbread and the thought kept going around in my head that this would also make an amazing crust for a cheesecake or other cold pie (a chocolate pie comes to mind!) I'll certainly be keeping it in mind when I want to experiment with a new and different crust.

So, here we go with Pecan Chocolate Shortbread...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Muffins? Cupcakes? I suppose you could call this either one. I often make gingerbread cookies using an old recipe from Colonial Williamsburg. When I did living history for a national park, we would often make either the cookies or gingerbread in the fireplace of an historic cabin on the site. It was a lot of fun and the taste just couldn't be beat - particularly on cool Autumn afternoons when the park was quiet and we could sit down at the table and enjoy the fruits of our labor while playing Farkle, Cribbage, or Whist.

For years I've made this recipe and people always want to know what ingredient it is that gives it a little extra something. Well, when we would cook gingerbread in dutch ovens in an open fireplace or over a campfire I noticed that the gingerbread took on a slightly smokey tone. It's hard to describe but there's a little extra flavor from the wood smoke that just makes the ginger and spices perfect. So, when I started making this at home I used a few dollops of Liquid Smoke which you can find in most grocery stores. It's not a perfect substitute for wood smoke, but it does round out the spices and gives a depth of flavor to the gingerbread that sets it apart from the ordinary.

I finally got around to adapting this to a cupcake recipe. I've used a pretty similar recipe for muffins in the past, but the addition of the lemon buttercream frosting melds my gingerbread, which is always glazed with a lemon glaze and my cookies (or cakes to be 18th Century about it) which have a bit of lemon in the batter and are lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

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