Monday, February 24, 2014

Mardi Gras King Cake

   Have you ever heard of a King Cake? I must confess I had never heard of it until my friend, Jason, asked me if I knew how to make one. I had no idea, but like I always say, "How hard can it be?" Well, first I needed to find out what it is, and here's what I found!
 It's kind of like a iced coffee cake, and is traditionally made to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany all the way up to Mardi Gras. So named for the 3 Kings who visited the Christ child, the cake is usually decorated with colored sugars in the royal colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power). It often has a trinket such as a small plastic baby (said to represent the baby, Jesus), either baked inside or placed underneath the cake. It has become customary in the Southern culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake or host the next Mardi Gras party. 
 So there you have it. Fun, huh?
 I searched through several recipes and decided to try the one from Southern Living. I figured Southern Tradition + Southern Living = a good match. Even though I tweaked it ever so slightly, it turned out great!!  Jason brought it to a party and it was a huge hit! So, the next time you decide to have a Mardi Gras party, you should make this cake. Yes, it has a few steps to it, but it's not difficult to make and I'm sure your guests will love it! Oh, one other thing...Yes, I'm always very pleased whenever someone enjoys my cooking and baking, but I have to say this time I even impressed myself. I never knew I could make something so delicious! It's making me want to try other breads and pastries!!! So give this a try. Maybe YOU'LL be inspired as well!!

1 (8oz) container sour cream (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 to 3 1/4 cups bread flour

1/2 cup sugar
1 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sparkling sugar sprinkles

Mix first 4 ingredients. Set aside.
Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5-10 minutes.
Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, egg, and 1 cup flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough remaining flour (2 to 2 1/4 cups) until a soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.
Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Beat 1/2 cup sugar, cream cheese,  egg, and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving 1-inch borders.
Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with second dough roll, placing it next to the first one on the baking sheet. Carefully place one roll over the other on both ends until you have a rope design. Bring ends of rope together to form a ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal.
Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 375° for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cake on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle Creamy Glaze evenly over warm cake; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors and forming bands. Let cool completely.

For the glaze, mix together:
 2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

If you don't have bread flour, you can use all purpose flour. You'll wind up with a cake that it a little more dense, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
If you're not a fan of cream cheese, just spread the dough with butter and sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar over it, then roll it up as directed.
If you don't want to do the rope design, you can just simply roll out the entire dough instead of cutting it in half, spread it with the cream cheese, roll it up as directed, the bring the ends together to form an oval ring.
Instead of kneading the dough by hand for 10 minutes, I just placed all the dough ingredients in the bowl of my Kitchenaid and let the dough hook do all the work. It made a VERY smooth dough. Easy!
Before glazing the cake, I placed it on a cooling rack over a baking tray. Then when I poured the glaze over it, the glazed dripped down onto the tray. Then I carefully slid the cake onto the serving plate. No pools of glaze around the sides of the cake!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Strawberry Cornbread

Have you ever thought of having cornbread for dessert? I never thought of it until I saw Anne Burrell making her plum cornbread. I thought, hmm, I wonder how that would go if I used strawberries instead of plums. So I gave it a try, and here we are! Looks delish, doesn't it? And let me tell you it tastes just as good as it looks. And it was so easy to make, you don't even need a mixer. You just mix up the dry, mix up the wet, and then stir them together. Simple, right?! Oh, and one other thing. Anne served hers with vanilla ice cream, which would be fabulous, but I served mine with a cream cheese glaze. Absolutely divine. Whichever way you decide to serve it, I'm sure your family will love it.

1 pint (or more) strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 tbs sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 stick melted butter, plus extra for baking pan
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 pint vanilla ice cream, for serving

Place strawberries in a small bowl with 3 tbs sugar and gently toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Butter an 8-inch cast iron skillet or an 8 by 8-inch square baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In another mixing bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and whisk to thoroughly combine. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix gently to combine. When the mixture has just come together, transfer it to the prepared skillet or baking pan. Sprinkle the strawberries in an even layer over the top of the batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it tests done in the center. Remove from the oven and let cool before cutting. Serve topped with cream cheese glaze or vanilla ice cream.

Cream cheese glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbs milk 

Beat cream cheese until very creamy. Beat in powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla. Add 3 tablespoons milk or enough to make it the right drizzling consistency.

When you toss together the strawberries and sugar, you'll notice after a half hour that they will have developed a lovely syrup. Don't add this to the cornbread, but for heaven's sake, don't throw it out! It's absolutely delicious on ice cream or waffles or pancakes. Or on a spoon right out of the bowl.
 This recipe clearly lends itself to any kind of fruit. I think next time I might try it with blueberries or peaches. Maybe both!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


 This is one of the most elegant cookies you'll ever make, but you won't even believe how simple it is  to make! I first saw Ina Garten making them (with just sugar and a pinch of salt), but when I saw Anne Burrell making them with orange and cinnamon, I knew I needed to try them. They're SO easy and AMAZINGLY delicious. And aren't they the cutest little things you ever did see? I bet your special somebody will love you for it if you make a batch of these flaky crispy little heart shaped cookies for a little Valentine's Day treat. Then again, you really don't have to wait until then. Make them for anyone! Make them for yourself! Better make a double batch. They won't last long!

1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 (17.3-ounce) package (1 sheet) frozen puff pastry, thawed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon and orange zest in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 the sugar mix on a clean work surface. Lay the puff pastry on top of the sugar and sprinkle the remaining sugar mix on top of the pastry.
Using a rolling pin, roll the sugar into the dough, and roll the dough into an even rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick.
Working from the short ends of the rectangle, roll up each end of the dough to meet in the middle. Lay the rolls on top of each other and gently press to secure. Wrap the dough in plastic and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into slices that are 1/4-inch thick. Lay the slices on 2 parchment paper or silpat-lined sheet trays and bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 6 to 7 minutes. When done, the cookies should be golden brown.
Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack before serving.

To make the heart shape, roll them up as directed, then pinch the bottom of each one after you slice them and place them on the baking tray. Easy!
If you're not an orange/cinnamon fan, you can make them like Ina does with just plain sugar and a tiny pinch of salt. I love anything orange, so I threw the sugar and orange zest and cinnamon into a food processor, then blitzed it up a little. It helps to evenly distribute the orange zest.
 Orange Sugar!! Yum.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Brownie Pudding

Usually, when one thinks of a Valentine's Day dessert, one thinks of something decadent and CHOCOLATE. Am I right? You've just had a lovely dinner, and now you want something rich and dark and sinfully delicious, right? Well, how about a luscious brownie pudding? It's an easy throw together and it will conquer ANY chocolate craving. And nothing says I Love You like a home made chocolate dessert. So give this one a try! It's an Ina Garten recipe and I made it exactly as written. It's perfect just as it is (no tweaking needed!). Make this one for your special somebody, serve it with some vanilla ice cream or fresh berries, and I guarantee it'll seal the deal.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon framboise liqueur, optional
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

 Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Lightly butter a 2-quart (9 by 12 by 2-inch) oval baking dish.
Melt the 1/2 pound of butter and set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.
When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, framboise, if using, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.
Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2 inches from the side will come out 3/4 clean. The center will appear very under-baked; this dessert is between a brownie and a pudding.
Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.

If you don't have a vanilla bean, just use a tsp or two of pure vanilla extract.
If you only have large eggs instead of extra large eggs, I'd use 5 instead of 4. Just sayin.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Coeur a la Creme

 If there was ever a dessert that screams Valentine's Day, this is it! Translated, it means Heart of Cream, which is exactly what it is! It's a delicious velvety heart of luscious cream that is rich and decadent and light and fluffy, all at the same time. Basically, it's kind of like if whipped cream and a cheesecake had a baby, it would be Coeur a la Creme. Absolutely fabulous, right????
 I first heard of it when I saw Ina Garten making it on Barefoot Contessa, and immediately knew I'd be making it for my next Valentine's Day post. I even went on Amazon to buy the heart-shaped dish (which was very inexpensive, btw). And it turned out perfectly!!  Fun, huh?
 So if you have a certain someone special that you'd like to surprise with a fabulously delicious and easy dessert, this is the one to make! It couldn't be easier, and you should definitely serve it with the raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries. I PROMISE you'll absolutely impress the hell out of everyone. Like, seriously. Add some candlelight and soft music?
 Best. Date. Ever.
You're welcome.

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
Raspberry and Grand Marnier Sauce
2 half-pints fresh raspberries

Place the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the beater and bowl with a rubber spatula and change the beater for the whisk attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the heavy cream, vanilla, lemon zest, and vanilla bean seeds and beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick, like whipped cream.
Line a 7-inch sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels or coffee filters so the ends drape over the sides and suspend it over a bowl, making sure that there is space between the bottom of the sieve and the bottom of the bowl for the liquid to drain. Pour the cream mixture into the cheesecloth, fold the ends over the top, and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, discard the liquid, unmold the cream onto a plate, and drizzle Raspberry and Grand Marnier Sauce around the base. Serve with raspberries and extra sauce.
 Raspberry and Grand Marnier Sauce:

1 half-pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier)

Place raspberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and orange liqueur into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth. Chill.

The heart-shaped dish which is specifically made for this dessert has holes in the bottom to let the liquid drain, but you really don't need it. You can just use any kind of mesh strainer. Just know that your final product will be in the same shape as your strainer. Of course, you can always purchase one on Amazon buy clicking on the Amazon link on the right side of my page!
If you don't have a vanilla bean, just add a couple extra drops of pure vanilla extract.

For the sauce, I added a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice. I think it needed a little burst of brightness. 
 Not a raspberry fan? Try another berry instead, such as strawberries or blueberries. I bet the sauce recipe would still work! I'm gonna hafta give that a try.
 This sauce would be AMAZING poured over ice cream, or angel food cake, or chocolate cake, or brownies, or lemon pound cake, or pancakes, or waffles, or french toast, or your significant other. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Classic Beef Stroganoff

 I absolutely LOVE the Olympics. I know, I know, that may be a surprise to some, since I never follow any sports at all. But every two years I'm completely GLUED to the TV for two weeks watching every Olympic event, every personal back story, every medal ceremony, and everything about the host country's culture. It's always SO exciting!
 For the Sochi Olympics, though, I have to say I was a little bit torn. With all of the political controversy surrounding the games (especially since it goes against me personally), I wasn't sure if I would do my usual Olympics blogpost. But in the true spirit of the Olympic Games, I've decided to do as I always do, even though I don't agree with certain beliefs and laws. I've decided to set aside politics, support the athletes, and celebrate the Games by highlighting a classic dish from the host country. And frankly, I don't believe that one man's opinions are that of an entire country, so here we go.
 I did some research and apparently this is one of those dishes that has a million different variations, and no one dish is THE classic. This actually happens quite often with well-known dishes because everyone has a Grandmother who "makes the best in the whole world", and so forth. I always try to find the version that is the most popular, or at least the one that has the most things in common. And I think I've found it! Of course, I've tweaked it here and there, but here we are!
 It's really simple to make, it just takes a little extra time. And it's SO flavorful. For me, it's all about the wine and the sour cream. ABSOLUTELY delicious! It's hearty and comforting and I didn't want to stop eating it, even after I was full. Maybe you can serve it to your family as you watch The Games! Definitely give this one a try.

1 tbs vegetable oil
2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs butter
1 medium onion, sliced or diced
8oz sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbss all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 10oz can beef broth
1 cup sour cream
1 tbs fresh chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
 Season beef generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add beef to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until liquid evaporates and meat browns. Remove meat from the pan and set aside. Stir butter, mushrooms and onions into the pan and cook and stir over medium heat until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until incorporated. Stir in wine and beef broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Bring to a simmer, cook for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Return beef to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook on low heat for about 1 hour with the lid on, until the beef is tender and the sauce is thick. Stir every 20 minutes scraping up the bottom of the pan to make sure it doesn't burn. After an hour, or when the beef is very tender, stir in sour cream. Stir in chives. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with rice or buttered noodles.
I'm not sure if mushrooms are very traditional, but many recipes seem to include them, so why not?
Be sure it doesn't burn while it's simmering for an hour. I just used a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan as it simmered, and it just kept getting richer and deeper in flavor. LOVE that.
If you want to make this ahead, I would follow it right up until it's time to add the sour cream, and then add it right before serving.