Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Dessert #2 - light and fruity

To balance out the dessert platter with the chocolate piece, I decided to cook something fruity. When I went to the supermarket and saw that strawberries were only 99 cents I knew they would be the winner! The recipe I picked was for a Strawberry Creme Caramel Tart. It looked delicious and I had such high hopes for it!

Making home-made caramel:
Did you know all you do is heat white granulated sugar? Nothing else in the pan. It eventually gets VERY hot and turns into a brown liquid. It is imperative that you stir constantly though or it will burn.

Then I cooked up the custard portion on top of the cooled caramel. The recipe said to cook it for about 40 minutes, but that wasn't enough for mine to solidify, so I left it in there for about 7 minutes more until it looked like this:

The most interesting thing about this recipe was that it required you to bake the crust separately. When it was cooked you remove it from the pie plate, flip it upside down to lay on top of the custard and then flip the whole thing over so that the caramel drips down the whole thing.

Here's the final product:

Easter fun - cookies, eggs and a basket!

Sometimes I am still such a little kid at heart, and Easter is such a great time to enjoy doing the little things in life. My friend Ali says I need a child. I think I'd much prefer to borrow my friends kids or have a little niece or nephew, but for now I will still enjoy doing them myself!

Friday night Ali and I had a girls night. We ordered pizza, chatted for hours and had a ball making Easter cookies. Since I wanted to spend the time to decorate them we just popped in some of the pre-made sugar cookie dough while we entertained her son Caleb and Mooshu. I had some ideas (that I totally stole from pictures in magazines) and Ali was more of a traditionalist, but it was a lot of fun.

Here's some of the finished products:

Saturday I was busy being domestic (cleaning the house, laundry, etc.) so I decided to take a break and try out the coolest things in egg dying history from Paas. They are q-tips with the dye in them already!

They worked so nicely for making more complex patterns (or would if you have more creative talents than I do), though they did leak a bit when you first cracked them. However, it was still much less of a mess than the traditional bowls of dye.

Next I whipped up a little Easter basket for Brad. It's kinda silly I suppose, but he's my "sugar baby" and I enjoy doing it. I added some Peeps (his favorite things EVER), Reese's peanut butter eggs, some of the Easter cookies I made, some home-made chocolate-covered strawberries, and a bottle of Echinechea (because he's been sick). I thought I took a picture of the basket because it was so cute, but I guess I forgot! Oh well.

Hope you all had a fabulous Easter and enjoyed the festivities too! =)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Dessert #1 - Chocolate

Last year I got the opportunity to host Easter dinner at my house. I had a wonderful time planning, cooking and hosting, so I'd hoped to do it again this year. Due to a series of interesting/odd events this would not be possible, so my mom offered to host it at her house. She put me in charge of bringing salad, desserts, and wine. Since the salad and wine choices are pretty simple I decided to get creative with dessert.

In a recent search through Cooking Light's "Lighten Up" section, I ran across something un-creatively named "Cool, Creamy Chocolate Dessert". I am not a huge cream cheese or "mousse" textured dessert fan, but it got rave reviews from readers so I decided I would make it as my chocolate dessert. It looked fairly simple to make, so I was determined to make it look good too.

Look how pretty the crust is!

The recipe said the cream cheese and sugar mixture should come out "fluffy". I'm not really sure what that means, but I beat it for a good 5 minutes until it became creamy...

The final product - pretty if I do say so myself! The cocoa powder decided to over-pour a little just as I was finishing it up, but nevertheless I'm pretty pleased with the final product.

Will let you know how it tastes after Easter!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chicken-Ham Lasagna - creamy and satisfying

I've been trying to use up items in my pantry lately (mostly in an effort to try some new things and stop spending so much on groceries), so I was looking for a recipe to use up some chicken broth that was about to go bad, and some No-bake lasagne noodles.

Since I know most pasta is fairly fattening, I decided to look on Cooking Light's website. One of my favorite things about this website (and magazine) is that they don't necessarily have the typical "diet" foods, but they try really hard to lighten up the yummy comfort foods we all want to eat anyway. One of my major pasta weaknesses is Alfredo sauce, and my all-time favorite thing from Olive Garden (though it hasn't been on the menu in years) is Fettuccine Chicken Florentine. It is a mix of chicken and spinach on top of fettuccine with a rich alfredo sauce and covered in Parmesan cheese. TO DIE FOR. Seriously.

Anyway, I ran across this recipe for Chicken-Ham Lasagna and knew it would be the perfect fit. Using suggestions from other people's reviews, I sauted up some white onion and garlic before adding in the chicken broth, and I added spinach (about 2 9oz. packs of frozen spinach, de-thawed of course) as a layer with the chicken and ham. I also chose to use cornstarch instead of flour (to make it gluten-free - about 3 Tbsps.), omitted the parsley, and significantly reduced the cheese as I didn't have enough. Nevertheless, this recipe was spectacular! Love that it was light in calories and still packed the punch of the craving!

NOTE: I am still not a fan of the no-bake lasagne noodles, but thankfully they are almost gone! =)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunset Dream Cupcakes

Had a craving for cupcakes and fruit (must be spring, eh?), so I decided to whip up a batch inspired by the pretty sunset...

I used a simple yellow cake mix (due to lack of time) and put a marachino cherry in the middle of each cupcake. I was hoping it would stay in the middle of the cupcake as it cooked, but sadly gravity made it sink to the bottom. Has anyone done something like this? What is the key to keeping it in the middle of the cupcake? Perhaps by putting it in when the cupcakes are partly cooked?

Anyway, I made a frosting similar to the pineapple one I made previously, but I added some of the juice from the marashino cherries and dyed it orange.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pina-Colada Cupcakes (Gluten free)

I have a slight obsession with anything pineapple. My latest love affair, and afternoon snack, is Yoplait's "Pineapple Upside Down Cake" Light yogurt. It really makes my days bright and my sweet tooth dwindle.

I have some leftover ingredients I'd been meaning to use (coconut from my dad's German Chocolate Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting from Brad's Red Velvet cupcakes), so the creative juices were flowing. The other day I saw a recipe for a coconut cupcake on Sunset's website and thought it sounded delicious. However, I am not a huge coconut fan plain, so what better to add then some pineapple and rum to make it that much better? I have also been told the gluten-free flour works better on baked good such as breads, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to try again with the flour.

My changes from the recipe:
  • Used Jules' Nearly Normal Flour to make it gluten-free (plus I added an extra 1/2 cup)
  • Only 1/2 cup of coconut milk (I used light)
  • Add 1/2 cup of pineapple juice
  • No almond extract - substituted rum (It wasn't nearly enough though, next time I'd probably add about 1/2 cup instead)
  • Added the pineapple chunks (1 small can) to the frosting, and topped the cupcakes with maraschino cherries.

The outcome:
  • The frosting was absolutely sinful! It was a bit too runny, but it was sure tasty. (I have extra so I may have to make something else with what's leftover. Perhaps something with real wheat flour next time.)
  • The cupcakes were good, but they were a bit too cake-y (vs. light and fluffy)/ If I try it again I will definitely add more liquid and probably leave out the extra flour.

* I must complain minorly for a moment as the house I am staying in does not have a stand mixer. I have become spoiled by mine, I had forgotten how much work it is to do by hand! Yikes! I may have to go rescue mine from storage...

Monday, March 16, 2009

German Chocolate Cake for Dad

It is my Dad's birthday (Pi Day) once again, so I was trying to decide what rendition of a German Chocolate cake I would make this year. For months I've been reading about filled cupcakes, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try to make some. I found a recipe that sounded good (from Bon Appetit it had to be good, right?) and was planning to make the modifications suggested in the comments. It seemed, however, that I would run into several problems along the way.

1. In trying to find German chocolate, I was just not going to be successful. After 3 different grocery stores I gave up and decided to use a mix of semi-sweet and dark chocolates.
2. Get back to my mom's house only to find just 1 cupcake sheet (with spots for 6 cupcakes). Deciding this would take WAY too long, I gave up on my filled cupcake idea and decided to just bake a cake.
3. I decided to roast the pecans to give it a better taste, but my Dad arrived home while they were in the oven. Thus I forgot about them until I smelled smoke! Oh no! Fortunately, I had some left over, but nowhere near how many the recipe called for. Oh well.

The ingredients:

The cake came out pretty well, though I did have to pour the frosting on before I was able to let the cakes really cool. Not the greatest idea, but I needed to get out of the kitchen. The icing was sinful (and I am not even a big GC icing fan) - my Dad couldn't keep his fingers away from it (guess I know where I got it from)!

The finished product:

As a gift I got him a PC mixer and software (you can hook up a turntable or tape player to your computer to turn your old media into digital music) which he was pretty excited about too!