Thursday, July 28, 2011

Don't Overthink It

I have been eating dried cherries like they're going out of style. Just eating them by the handful. In between meals... for dessert... when I should be eating something of greater nutritional value. Basically, whenever I remember they're in the pantry.

I figure it could be worse. I could be popping happy pills M&M's instead. At least the cherries were fresh fruit once upon a time. Unfortunately, though, somewhere between springing forth from the Earth as a delicious, edible marvel and their arrival in my local grocery store, they were defiled by tons of sugar. {I know they have "no sugar added" dried fruit, but the particular ones I've been eating are not... which may be why they are so addictive.} So much for a "healthy" snack.

Since I still had the better part of a full bag staring at me when I opened the cupboards this morning, I decided that I needed to do something with them -- fast. Of course, my first instinct is always to bake something sweet and delicious. But that would sort of defeat the purpose of diffusing the whole sugar situation since... duh... I'd most likely be adding more sugar to a baked good. Back to the drawing board!

Incidentally, have you ever thought about how you come up with ideas? Probably not. Most people don't sit around thinking about how they think. I have a feeling that you and I don't have the same mental processes when we're trying to come up with something, mostly because I'd like to think that you are not nearly as crazy distractable as I am.


Just for kicks, I thought I'd give you a little peek at how I came up with an alternative plan for my dried cherries. It was surprisingly direct. For the most part, anyway:

"Hmm... cherries... make me think of sweet... sweet and sour... sour... like vinegar... balsamic vinegar... Where does this balsamic come from?:::looking at bottle::: Is it Italian? Oh my gosh, I really want to go to Italy. I wonder if there are any good travel deals right now... But first, a plan for dinner. So, balsamic.. like my vinaigrette for salad... which is so good with crumbled goat cheese. Oohh, yum, crumbled goat cheese. Do I have any in the fridge right now? I'm kinda hungry... No, focus! Ok... cherries, balsamic, goat cheese, and... protein, protein... Chicken. Yes! Chicken stuffed with dried cherries, and goat cheese, and balsamic glaze. Mmm. Is it dinner time yet??"

I exhaust myself. But I did come up with a meal that earned the hubby seal of approval: No leftovers. At all. Like, not even one little chicken particle.


I served the rollatini alongside a roasted butternut squash mash {that I may have to share the non-recipe for very soon. It was good.}, and the combination tasted a bit like Thanksgiving. In July. And I liked it.


Anyway, I hope this recipe will take some of the "think work" out of your dinner plans. :) Enjoy!

Cherry & Goat Cheese Chicken Rollatini with Cherry-Balsamic Glaze
A Kitchen Prep Original, Glaze Inspired by This Recipe

You'll Need:
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cherry preserves {I used Simply Fruit Black Cherry}
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In an oven safe skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, let dried cherries sit in balsamic vinegar for about 10 minutes.

2. Season chicken breast halves lightly with salt. Carefully spoon crumbled goat cheese onto each piece {About 1/8 cup on each}.

3. With a fork or slotted spoon, remove cherries from balsamic vinegar and distribute evenly among chicken breast halves. Reserve vinegar for glaze.

4. Carefully roll up each chicken breast and secure with toothpicks {or if you're like me and realize you're out of toothpicks at this integral moment, lay them seam side down so the stuffing doesn't fall out}.

5. Add chicken rolls to pan with olive oil, seam side down, and sear until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer to oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

6. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add balsamic vinegar and whisk in 1/4 cup of cherry preserves. Allow to come to a low boil, whisking every few minutes, then reduce to a simmer until it has reduced and thickened.

7. Remove chicken from oven. Spoon balsamic glaze over top of the rollatinis. Serve hot.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eighty-Eight Years of Sweetness

Ok, ok... I promise this will be the last dessert recipe I post for a bit. I do not want to be held responsible for cavities or expanding waistlines. ;)

On Saturday, we had the great pleasure of celebrating a very special birthday: My grandma's 88th! She is something else, that lady.

Looking sassy... circa 1940-something.
Abuela has always been a great cook and baker, and she definitely instilled that same love for feeding others in me. Her Arroz con Pollo {Chicken & Rice} has reached semi-famous status around these parts, and pretty much anything that comes out of her kitchen is amazingly delicious. Grandmas just know how it's done.

For Abuela's birthday, I wanted to make her a special cake. Instead of baking a run-of-the-mill layer cake, I decided that a Tres Leches {Three Milks} cake would be perfect for the occasion. To give it a little extra flair, I turned it up a notch by making it a Coconut Tres Leches.


Tres Leches is basically a spongy vanilla cake that is doused with a sweet, creamy milk syrup made with... well... three milks, hence the name. The cake is perforated with little holes that drink up all that delicious richness and make for a moist, decadent dessert. To top it all off, a billowy meringue frosting is dolloped or piped over the cake. It's a milky spoonful of Heaven. Mmmm....


Traditionally, the three milks included in the mix are evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. For my recipe, I swapped out the condensed milk for coconut cream and used half and half instead of heavy cream just to lighten it up a tiny bit.

Horrible picture of the inside...
I was obviously ready for cake & pictures were an afterthought. :/
Surprisingly, the cake does not become soggy despite the addition of enough milk syrup to drown a small animal. {You will think that the cake is not going to absorb all the liquid when it is not visible under the sweet dairy pond, but it will. Have patience, grasshopper.} So, even though you may think "Ew, soaked cake?" I suggest you don't knock it before you've tried it. You'll definitely be missing out!

The birthday girl loved her cake, and while it certainly was sweet, nothing could be sweeter than my Abuelita. Happy Birthday! May God bless you today and always, as He has blessed us with your presence in our lives.


Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Cake Recipe from Alton Brown, Frosting Recipe from 3 Guys from Miami


For Cake:
  • 6 3/4 ounces cake flour {approx 1 1/2 cups}
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces sugar {approx 1 cup}
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine.

Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. {This will appear to be a very small amount of batter.} Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the syrup.


For Syrup:
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk {NOT condensed}
  • 1 can Cream of Coconut {I used Goya brand}
  • 1 cup half-and-half


Whisk together the evaporated milk, cream of coconut and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the mixture over the cake. Refrigerate the cake overnight.

Frosting:

4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup {I only used 3/4 cup}
1 and 1/2 cups sugar {I only used 1 cup}
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks. Set aside.
In a separate pan, mix the water, sugar, and corn syrup. Cook over a high heat, stirring constantly until a candy thermometer reads 230°F. Remove from heat.
While beating the egg whites with an electric mixer, immediately pour the hot syrup into the egg whites; continue beating for about five minutes until thick and glossy.
Let frosting cool in refrigerator. Spread or pipe a thick layer of the frosting on the cake. To serve, cut individual squares, top with a red maraschino cherry, and serve cold. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gluten Free Oatmeal & Flax Cranberry Cookies

So, apparently I can only manage to post once a week these days {even though I've been in the kitchen whipping up things like Spicy Baked Cajun Sweet Potato Fries, Coconut Curry Chicken & Rice, Creamy Parmesan Quinoa Pasta with Asparagus, fluffy Blueberry Pancakes, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Jammy Thumprint cookies...} without completely overwhelming myself and ending up in the fetal position.

It's been a weird week. For starters, I began the week thinking that we were going to be moving out... this weekend. Don't ask. {But just to clarify, it was by our own devices, not due to eviction or any juicy reason that would make for good reading material.} Turns out we're staying put for a little bit, but I think I expended way too much energy getting wound up over everything going on, and consequently, haven't properly documented anything to share with you. {Read: I ate all of the delicious aforementioned foods without taking any pictures. Sometimes I like to eat my meal while it's still hot and not examine every angle that I could photograph it in my poorly lit apartment. So, sue me. :P}

But now that I know {for the most part} that I will not be packing up our belongings at lightning speed this week, I can get back to focusing on the important stuff. You know, like cookies.

I know I have been posting WAY too many sweets lately {sorry health nut friends!}, but it's just so hard to keep these recipes to myself when they turn out so fantastically that all I want to do is stuff my face shout their praises from my rooftop...er... laptop. So bear with me. Or close your browser. I won't know which you choose. {Or maybe I will... I have my sources... You think about that.} ;)

I do, however, have good news about the recipe I am about to share with you. It is semi-healthy. {No, that's not anything like Semi-Homemade. I've read some of the things out there about how people feel about that and, man, can people get snarky over a tub of whipped topping.} So, you can feel semi-good about eating a few of these and still semi-fit into your jeans. Or something like that. But, yeah, back to the cookies.


These cookies contain one of my favorite ingredients: flax. I currently have a little food crush on flax. It has this nutty crunchiness that is really yummy and satisfying. And it's good for you, too. I tried to find information about the health benefits, but when I got to the words "8th Century" and "King Charlemagne", my eyes sort of glazed over and I just wanted to eat another cookie. Suffice it to say, flaxseed goes way back and is in the elite category of foods containing "good fats". You had me at "good". {Let's forget the "fat" part, shall we?}


Guess what else? These cookies are gluten free... and more importantly... they actually have the texture of a real cookie! Imagine that. {If you've experimented with gluten free baking, you know that proper texture can be an issue.} The chewy, oatmeal raisin-like texture of these will keep you reaching for "just one more".


So, without any further ado.... Gluten Free Oatmeal & Flax Cranberry Cookies. Yum.

Gluten Free Oatmeal & Flax Cranberry Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

  • 6 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup GF baking mix {I used Pamela's Products brand}
  • 3/4 cup GF rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)
  • 1/4 cup whole flax meal
  • 1/4 cup whole flax seeds
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts {I only had a few tablespoons left in the pantry so mine weren't too nutty, but add as many as you want}
 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and water until fluffy.

2. Mix in the flour, oats, flax, and dried fruit and nuts.

3. Refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour, for the flax and oats to soften.

4. Scoop the dough by the rounded tablespoonful onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheets. Using the bottom of a drinking glass or measuring cup, flatten dough balls into 1/2 inch disks. {Dip into granulated sugar to keep from sticking.}

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Like Buttah

Ah, it's great to be able to breathe! And taste! And, well, move!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I've been a bit under the weather. While I'm still not quite feeling 100%, I'm back and ready to share some new and exciting things. Ok... exciting to me, bearable to you. Whatev.

I know the 4th of July was over a week and a half ago, and while I'm obviously late to the party, I figured it's better to post about it now rather than 6 months from now when it's really obsolete. Although, honestly, when is cake ever obsolete? Never!

My mother-in-law asked if I would bake something to bring along to their 4th of July get together and I was more than happy to oblige. She had no specific requests, but I knew it had to feed over a dozen hungry party-goers, be tasty, and of course, look festive.

In true Dianna fashion, I chose to stress myself out challenge myself by trying out Swiss Meringue Buttercream, a frosting that I had not yet added to my baking repertoire. After doing the requisite research, I decided that I could - and would - master SMB for this project, as well as a new piping technique while I was at it. {As a side note, I should mention that unless you are prepared to fail miserably and start from scratch or come up with an alternate plan, you should probably not cook something for the first time when you are making other people eat it. Do as I say, not as I do. Just sayin'.}

So, back to my research. I already knew that I wanted an easy, predictable cake - one less variable. The 1-2-3-4 Cake recipe from the back of the Swan's Down cake flour box makes for a simple, tasty layer cake that comes together quickly. I decided on a simple layer of fresh strawberries between layers. For the buttercream, I found a great tutorial from Sweetapolita, and got to work.

Like a good little baker, I read through the directions to make sure I had all the ingredients and understood all the steps before getting elbow-deep in egg whites and sugar. And then... I saw it. "It" being the amount of butter the recipe called for. And I couldn't believe my eyes. {No, really. I called Steve over and made him look to make sure I wasn't hallucinating.} ONE POUND OF BUTTER?! WTF?? {What The Frosting, obviously. Potty mouth! :P}

After the initial shock passed, I marched on with the SMB and said a little prayer that I wouldn't kill anyone by bringing their arterial flow to a screeching halt with a butter barricade. Sometimes you just have to trust that people will have self control {or really good, heart healthy genes}. 


So, guess what? My SMB turned out great. And guess what else? I couldn't bring myself to add that 4th stick of butter, so I only used 3 and it was still just fine. And my final discovery? I don't particularly enjoy Swiss Meringue Buttercream. {Oh my, I feel like a mob of food bloggers may end up at my front door with torches, ready to oust me for muttering such blasphemy. Yikes.}


SMB isn't for everyone. If you are the type that salivates at the thought of rolling a stick of butter in sugar and taking a bite, then by all means, give it a try. At the risk of sounding like an idiot {oh, wait... lol}, this buttercream tasted a lot like... butter. Sweet, light, fluffy and delightfully smooth butter. But butter nonetheless. And as I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before, I'd much rather take my calories in the form of cheesecake or sweetened condensed milk right out of the can. And that's all there is to say about that.

{It does, however, make for a lovely frosting to decorate with I must say. Check out the quick tutorial on making SMB ruffles. So easy and SO pretty!}

Not perfect, but still pretty!
The good news? Everyone loved the cake. Both the presentation AND the flavor. {Although I did notice about 50% of the crowd left the outside layer of frosting on the plate.} And the even better news? Everyone was still alive & kickin' when they left the party. ;)

So, if you want to make your own layer cake with "killer" SMB, find the recipe I used here. {And remember you can leave out that last stick of butter.}

**P.S. This particular 3 layer cake required making 2 batches of SMB for filling & frosting. I only used about 1 full batch and a little over 1/4 of the second.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

She's Alive!

Hi. Remember me? It's the girl who likes to cook stuff and annoy you with her random thoughts. {Although, if you're reading this right now, it seems you might be a bit of a masochist...}

I just wanted to let you know I'm alive. Yes, I realize I have not posted anything since, oh, two weeks ago. That's no way to get to 100 posts & 50 followers.

Mostly, it's because aside from a lovely and very tasty cake I made for the 4th of July {which I will share with you eventually}, I haven't done much of anything except for work and be away every weekend. I'm also getting over a small bout of the plague  a summer cold and I am just now starting to feel like myself again after almost 3 full days of misery. Since I've barely even left my couch {I even sleep there when I'm sick... it hugs me.}, I obviously have nothing good to share with you today.

Except maybe pretty much everything seen here. Did you know it's National Ice Cream Month? I can't make these things up. {Plus, I never joke about ice cream.}

Back to recuperating.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Berry" Tempting Ice Cream Cake

I am not one to go out and impulse buy kitchen appliances, especially those that are single purpose and take up valuable countertop real estate - a precious and scarce resource in an already-too-small kitchen. But I've got to tell you, friends, that the summer heat {and obsessive browsing of fabulous recipe sites featuring homemade ice cream like this, this, this and this} has got me ready to break my own rule and "invest" in an ice cream maker. Seriously.

I remember when I was a kid, we had one of those ice cream makers that used rock salt. I would practically climb up on the table where it sat churning away and peer over the edge hoping that I could somehow will the thing into freezing the contents into something even remotely resembling ice cream just a little bit faster. It was a torturously long wait. As I recall, I don't think we ever allowed it to work long enough to create anything other than a very limp soft serve. {If I'm remembering correctly, the machine only came out of the box twice. Gee, with a child precariously teetering over an electrical appliance, I can't imagine why it wouldn't have been used more often...}

Today, there are lots of great ice cream makers that take far less time and patience {thank goodness, because I'm still not very good at the whole waiting part}. But, I'm still not sure that I'm willing to make room for yet another kitchen gadget in my already overstuffed cabinets.

In the meantime, I've had to settle for cooling down with recipes that take a little help from store bought ice cream or sorbet. You won't hear me complaining. Ice cream means happiness in my world no matter where it comes from!


I found this recipe for Chocolate-Berry Ice Cream Cake in one of my Everyday Food magazines, and I knew that it would be perfect to share for my father-in-law's birthday weekend. {June birthday? In Florida? Ice cream cake it is!} I used dark chocolate cocoa powder in the cake base for a richer chocolate flavor, but you can certainly switch it to your favorite cake recipe {or maybe something blueberry to make it a red, white & blue cake?}. It was simple, it was pretty, and it was well received. I can only imagine that it would be made even better by homemade ice cream... but I'll let you know for sure if I give in and head to the store to pick up a new kitchen toy. ;)

Bad pic... good cake!
 So, if you're looking for a sweet, cool treat to whip up this 4th of July Weekend, or an easy dessert to beat the summer heat, give this one a try!

Chocolate-Berry Ice Cream Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart's Everday Food

You'll Need:
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder {or dark chocolate cocoa powder}
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blackberries (I used frozen raspberries, but any berry would be yummy}
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
  • 1 pint raspberry sorbet, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch springform cake pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in egg yolk, buttermilk, 1/4 cup warm water, oil, and vanilla. Pour batter into pan and bake until cake pulls away from sides and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack, 1 1/2 hours.
  2. Place blackberries in a medium bowl and lightly mash with a fork. Stir in vanilla ice cream.
  3. Working quickly, spread ice cream mixture in an even layer over cooled cake with a small offset or rubber spatula.Freeze until ice cream is very firm, 2 hours.
  4. In a small bowl, stir sorbet until spreadable. Spread in an even layer over ice cream and freeze until set, 1 hour (or, covered, up to 1 week). To serve, unmold cake and allow to sit and slightly thaw for 15-30 minutes.