Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Cake

As Michael eyed three cake layers cooling on the table he wanted to know if that was his "late" birthday cake. I distinctly recall asking if he wanted a cake and being told "no." Oh well, I guess he can claim it as his birthday cake.

This delicious chocolate concoction started out from a recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta for a Caramel Cream Cake. It looked wonderful but I decided to take it a step further and add another layer of icing in the form of a whipped chocolate and coffee ganache. The results are really rich and wonderful. The interior of the cake has a lovely mild chocolate and caramel flavor while the outer icing gives an intense burst of dark chocolate and coffee. What a rush!

This is one of those cakes that takes a little time to make as you have 3 layers to contend with and you must let them be completely cooled before adding the frosting. It's also best to let the cake chill in the freezer or refrigerator before adding the final chocolate ganache icing. But, the multiple steps and time are well worth the effort!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Moroccan Chicken and Couscous

This was a foray into new cuisine in our house. I'd seen a recipe for couscous on Ina Garten's show several weeks ago and thought it looked like a very easy and unusual dish to try. So, the other day I bought some bulk couscous at Sunflower Market.

Michael was a little reticent since he'd never had Moroccan fare, so we put off making it for awhile. Finally, I decided to pair the couscous with a Moroccan inspired chicken dish featuring sauteed chicken, lots of spices and vegetables. The results were a hit.

Michael describes couscous as "rice that melts in your mouth." The whole meal is very fragrant and pleasing with layers of spice flavors that play nicely together. The couscous with the pignoli nuts and raisins is slightly sweet against the warm spices that permeate the veggies and chicken.

If you enjoy Indian food, you'll probably really enjoy this Moroccan inspired meal. The nice thing about this is you can adjust the various ingredient portions to suit your tastes.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moist Lemon Muffins

When we were out shopping the other day I noticed some scrumptious looking lemon muffins in the bakery at Sunflower Market. Immediately, my lemon taste buds began to salivate. Luckily, I managed to resist the temptation to buy a box, but as I was contemplating something slightly sweet for my Sunday baking project those muffins came to mind.

I wanted something that was going to be rather moist but with lots of lemon tartness. They also needed to be slightly "cakey" without the hard shell that many muffins tend to get but also without being crumbly or too light.

So, I glanced through a dozen or so lemon muffin recipes online and off and finally pulled together this variation using some bits and pieces from here and there. The result was better than I could have expected. The lemon flavor is wonderfully tart and the muffins are moist and cake-like without being too crumbly.

These will be a perfect morning pick-me-up! The recipe makes 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular muffins.

Review: Buitoni Riserva Meals

I don't usually do product endorsements or reviews here. However, recently I've received two coupons to try out Buitoni products for free.

Several weeks ago we tried one of the refrigerated pasta dishes. We chose the Quattro Formaggi Angnoli which features whipped ricotta, fontina, Parmesan and Granda Padano along with garlic. It made a very nice quick pasta meal and I served with with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan. It certainly was among the best pre-made pastas I've used in a long time. The flavor was fresh and the pasta was delicate. The only drawback to it was that it is a bit on the expensive side when compared with some other brands. For the two people, one package probably will do nicely if you don't expect huge portions but serving it for a family or a dinner party could add up quickly. Still, the price beats ordering out from a restaurant and the taste is comparable.

Last night, we tried the Chicken and Mushroom Ravioli in Marsala Wine Sauce. This is one of the frozen meals. While the label says that this serves two, it really was enough for a large portion for one. If you want to stretch this to two people you'll certainly need to beef up the meal somewhat with other side dishes and courses.

However, the entire meal came together in under 10 minutes and the taste was superb. Again, I sprinkled the finished dish with a dash of fresh grated Parmesan and served it with a side of garlic bread. This certainly would lend itself to being served alongside the Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart.

Buitoni also puts out a line of sauces including Pesto. I've found that's especially convenient since they are less expensive than the "house" versions available at specialty stores and I can find them in the same supermarket where I do my normal shopping.

I'll probably be keeping some Buitoni products on hand in the future for those nights when I don't feel like cooking a meal from scratch but want to serve something that is flavorful and well crafted.

NOTE: This blogger received coupons for two free samples of Buitoni products to try at home. Buitoni did not require a review of the product in order to receive the trial offer and this product review reflects this blogger's personal opinion of Buitoni Quattro Formaggi Agnoli and Chicken and Mushroom with Marsala Wine Sauce.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary Mac's Pecan Pie Muffins

It's been many years since I visited Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta. It's one of those places that are legendary in the South. While lots of folks from "away" know places like the Lady and Son's Restaurant (Paula Deen) in Savannah, Mary Mac's is not quite as well known in other locales. Yet, it is a true Southern gem.

John Ferrell, the current owner, has published a cookbook that not only provides the wonderful recipes used in the restaurant for the past 65 years but also a charming and enlightening history of the restaurant from its opening in 1945 until the current day.

This is one of those books that is a "must have" if you're going to be doing Southern cuisine. The dishes span everything from appetizers (including a cornmeal dipped French Fry) to side dishes and entrees right down to the breads and desserts. Nestled among all these mouthwatering recipes was one for Pecan Pie Muffins. It looked scrumptious and very easy so I decided to make it my 3a.m. baking project.

The results are great and this will become a classic in my kitchen repertoire for gifts and baskets of baked goodies!

Asian Grilled Chicken with Fried Rice

If you enjoy "Chinese" food then you'll love this rather easy recipe. It features a boneless, skinless chicken breast marinated in soy sauce, olive oil and Dijon mustard that is then given double duty as a sauce. Combined with a quick stir fry rice and you have the makings of an excellent Asian inspired meal.

The marinade/sauce for the chicken imparts a great sweet and sour flavor and the addition of the Dijon mustard is an interesting flavor surprise. The rice is very easy to do and if you have some leftover rice in the refrigerator from earlier in the week this is a great way to use it up. If you're using fresh rice, just be sure you've allowed it to chill at least 30 minutes to an hour before you fry it for best flavor.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with this dish. As Michael noted using fresh ingredients really kicks it up a notch from what you'll find in most Chinese take out places where frozen ingredients are often the norm. In addition the use of olive oil instead of peanut oil really lets the flavors of the spices and the dish shine through.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This delicious coffee cake was featured in the Culinary Institute of America Cookbook. It's fairly easy to do and the results are quite delicious. What's even better is that this batter is very flexible. You can do this coffee cake in a Bundt pan, a loaf pan or even as muffins.

The flavor is great with a base that reminds me of a very light sour cream pound cake. The streusel adds wonderful flavors of pecan, cinnamon, brown sugar and chocolate.

The original recipe calls for finely chopped walnuts but I decided to use finely chopped and toasted pecans instead since I had them on hand and like pecans in baked goods more than I do walnut.

The only real caveat I would give with this recipe is using mini chocolate chip morsels instead of the regular size which have a tendency to clump up in the batter and melt together in clumps.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars

If you've ever wanted cheesecake but didn't want to have to make a whole one then this is for you. Part cookie bar and part cheesecake, this dessert or snack is a real treat for both the chocoholic and cheesecake lover.

Rather than pulling out spring form pans and water baths this is made in a handy 9x13-inch pan with a simple shortbread type crust. It's delicious and easy and perfect for parties, brunches or after dinner treats.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chewy Ginger Spice Cookies

This recipe is based on one from Ina Garten's TV show. I've changed it up a little bit but the basic cookie dough is pretty much the same.

This creates a soft and chewy ginger cookie with lots of wonderful spice flavors. Ina's recipe calls for the addition of crystallized ginger pieces in the dough. However, I decided to bump up the ground ginger a bit and add in one of my favorite Indian spices, Garam Masala, that imparts a super warmth to the cookie. The resulting cookie is soft and chewy on the inside with just a bit of crispness on the outside.

Without a doubt this is one of my favorite spice cookies. The sugar coating on the cookie imparts a beautiful sparkle to the finished product as well as giving a tantalizing sweetness and crispness to the outside of the cookie.

I found that making these rather large produced a great cookie that can be served individually as a dessert. Warm it in the microwave and add a little ice cream to the top and you have a perfect after dinner treat!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

This is one of those quick and easy dishes that tends to impress guests. You can really use whatever cheeses you like for this one. Classic combinations are Mozzarella and goat cheese but you could also use Parmigiano Reggiano, Feta, and even good old Cheddar if you'd like. The classic combination for the herbs involves basil, however, you can also add other things. In the version I made this evening I julienned some basil and sprinkled it on the cheese, then layered some baby spinach on top and topped the whole with a sliced tomato.

This whole thing comes together in just a few minutes and then can be popped into the oven to finish. It's a perfect appetizer or side dish.

This recipe makes one tart but you can double, triple or quadruple it easily depending on your needs. I find that doing single tarts for each person works well although if you're having a big meal you can always "double up" and split the tart in halves.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Indian Stuffed Bell Peppers

A few nights ago I was slicing a bell pepper to saute and thought it would be nice to use some for stuffed peppers. I hadn't given it a lot of thought but finally decided to adapt a recipe I'd had for Indian Mashed Potatoes (Mash Aloo) to a stuffed bell pepper recipe.

This starts out by soaking the peppers for 4-5 minutes in very hot water. This helps reduce some of the bitter flavor the peppers can acquire during baking and helps them bake faster. Then the peppers are stuffed with mashed potatoes done using Indian spices and topped with cheddar cheese. Pop it in the oven and shortly you have a wonderful side dish.

I used yellow peppers since that is what I had on hand, but green or red also work and I think they would make a nice contrast to the color of the cheese in this dish. Using the yellow peppers created a bit of a monochromatic effect for the meal!

Michael has proclaimed this among his new favorites in my repertoire so I have a feeling it will be making repeat appearances on the dinner table in the future.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Strawberry Kolache

As I understand it, this little fruit cookie originated in Czechoslovakia and has become a staple at a festival in Texas which celebrates early Czech immigrants to the state. Regardless, it's a super easy treat to make with just four ingredients!

You'll find this has a taste similar to unfrosted Pop-Tarts. The cookie itself is not sweet but rather has a taste similar to a plain pastry. The flavor tones come from the butter and cream cheese. The sweetness, obviously, comes from the strawberry jam or preserves filling. Therefore, it's best to use a good quality jam when making these. You really do want something people will enjoy eating and that can carry the sweetness and fruitiness of the cookie.

These do not get really brown. It's a very light colored cookie so resist the temptation to overcook them trying to get browned edges or a "golden" tone to them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread remains one of my favorite treats. This recipe is fairly simple and straightforward. I added a few of my "secret" touches to make the depth of flavor even more interesting, but this is a really easy recipe for anyone who wants a nice gingerbread cake.

I think this will suffice for Michael's birthday cake as well. His birthday is coming up on Tuesday and when I quizzed him about what kind of cake he would like he reminded me that he doesn't really like cake so didn't want a birthday cake. Oh well, I'm sure he'll have a little of this.

It's topped with a very flavorful and easy lemon glaze and garnished with lemon peel and granulated sugar that serves double duty as garnish and kicking up the flavor of the glaze.

I always like to add a few drops of liquid smoke to my gingerbread cakes and cookies. I found many years ago at Colonial Williamsburg that the flavor imparted to baked goods by the old wood fired ovens just couldn't be beat. It's sort of like adding a bit of instant coffee to melted chocolate. You don't really notice that it's there, but you you'll miss it if you don't have it. 

This is a great Summer treat when served with some lemon or vanilla sorbet or ice cream.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pecan Pie Cookies

With Independence Day upon us, I thought I might be somewhat cliche and do an apple pie. Of course, the one I decided to do was actually an Alsatian Apple Tart. This classic dessert features apple slices sauteed in butter and sugar then arranged on a pre-baked tart shell. The whole is then smothered with a custard and baked until set and topped with powdered sugar.

Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men... Everything went along wonderfully and the pie had the most delicious scent while baking. At the halfway point I checked on it and to my horror discovered that the custard filling had found a crack in the shell and run out onto my half sheet pan! My beautiful Alsatian Apple Tart was ruined. Oh well, better luck next time. Of course, Michael tested the half baked version before I chucked it in the trash and pronounced it very good! I can only imagine if it had made it all the way through.

So, this afternoon I decided to work on Pecan Pie Cookies. These lovely little cookies combine the flavor of pecan pie with a butter cookie. They're very attractive and quite tasty. Probably the most difficult part of the whole process is the pecan filling which was rather hard to roll into balls in preparation for use on top of the cookies. I finally decided to simply scoop the filling directly onto the cookies rather than trying to form it into little balls ahead of time. I also found that slightly flattening the cookies with a glass dipped in water before baking made it easier for the filling to say in place.

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