Monday, August 29, 2016

Strawberry White Chocolate Blondies

I recently made these for my friends' Kath and Tony's 30th Anniversary party and they were a big hit! Then I made them again for my friends' Ginna and Charlie's annual summer party. Again, rave reviews! I'm not surprised, though. They're really crazy good! I found the recipe on a blog called Love and Olive Oil (of course, I tweaked it ever so slightly) and they were exactly the sort of picky-uppy summer dessert I was looking for! So add this to your dessert menu the next time you plan a party. You'll definitely get rave reviews too!

12 oz white chocolate chips, divided
10 tbs butter, cut into pieces
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tbs vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and diced

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Line the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. (this will help the blondies come out of the pan later). Butter parchment. Set aside. Measure 1/4 cup chips. Set aside. 
In a double boiler or a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt the remaining chocolate chips and butter, stirring constantly, until smooth. (I use a whisk so it all comes together). Remove from heat and stir in sugar. 
 Whisk in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add sifter flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir until just incorporated. Fold in strawberries. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with reserved chips. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cook completely. Use the parchment to lift the blondies out of the pan, then cut into squares.

When I made them for Ginna's party, I used half strawberries and half apricots (because Ginna loves apricots!) but use whichever kind of fruit you like! Peaches? Raspberries? How about both?!
Be sure to bake them until they're golden on top and set in the middle. You don't want to underbake them because he extra liquid from the fruit will make them too gooey. I prefer to err on the side of overbaking them. It doesn't make them dry, it just makes them more chewy!
Don't need so many? Freeze half of them! Or just cut the recipe in half and bake them in an 8x8 pan!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins

 Ok, so, what do you do when you're kinda bored and wide awake at 11:00pm? Obviously, you bake something! Correct? Well, at least I do! As I was watching the Olympics, I was browsing recipes and trying to find something to do with the extra rhubarb that I had leftover from the last time I made jam. I didn't want to do a pie, but was thinking more along the lines of some sort of bread. Then I thought Oh! Muffins! It didn't take me long to find this recipe from the website for Fine Cooking Magazine. It's crazy easy and the results are amazing! They're slightly sweet, slightly tart, and VERY moist. And btw, they smell heavenly while they're baking. Perfect! Definitely a muffin and not a cupcake, these little babies are perfect with a cup of coffee or a nice little something to have with an afternoon tea. You should definitely make them. Like, right now. No, seriously.

2 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder 
1 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
1 cup sour cream 
1 stick (8tbs) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly 
2 large eggs 
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
1-1/2 cups 1/4-inch-diced rhubarb 

3 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and whisk to blend. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Lightly stir the sour cream mixture into the dry ingredients with a spatula until the batter just comes together; do not overmix. Gently stir in the diced rhubarb. The batter will be thick.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups, using the back of a spoon or a small spatula to settle the batter into the cups. The batter should mound a bit higher than the tops of the cups.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Sprinkle a generous 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over each muffin.
Bake the muffins until they’re golden brown, spring back most of the way when gently pressed, and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins out of the pan—if necessary, loosen them with the tip of a paring knife—and let them cool somewhat. Best when served warm.

This is a great basic cinnamon muffin batter that you can use with any number of variations. I bet it would be great with diced peaches or apples!
These muffins freeze very well, so if you're not going to eat them right away, you can store them in the freezer, no problem!
Be generous with the cinnamon/sugar topping. You really want that sweetness to balance the tartness of the rhubarb!
 The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of rhubarb, but I definitely added more like 2 cups. Tbh, I think you could even go further and add a little more! More is more!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake

  Usually, when you think of a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, you usually think of a sheet cake with pineapple rings, and a cherry in the center of each one, correct? Well how about making it in a bundt pan instead? Clever, huh? No, this is definitely not my own idea, but it's too good not to share! Actually, I'm not even sure where I originally saw it. (probably a video on Facebook).
 So, I decided to look into it, but it seems MANY recipes use a cake mix to start. Am I the only one who still prefers to bake a cake from scratch? I mean, seriously, baking a cake from scratch is really only one or two steps more than a boxed cake mix, and the results are just SO much better!  Well, I FINALLY found a couple recipes that looked pretty good, and this was the one I picked. (Actually, I was originally gonna try a different one, but then discovered that included corn starch in the cake batter. Any idea why one would add corn starch? If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them) Anyway, this is a tweaked version of a recipe that I found on a blog called Bundt Cake Season. It uses basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand, it turned out perfectly and it got rave reviews! And of course, it's a showstopper. Just look at how beautiful it is! It's just the thing for a special occasion, but simple enough for any Sunday supper. For an added treat, try serving it with a scoop of coconut ice cream. YUM.
If you're a fan of pineapple, then I KNOW you'll love this one!

1 (20oz) can pineapple rings, drained
16 maraschino cherries

2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter (softened)
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tbs vanilla
1 cup whole milk 
1/4 cup pineapple juice from can

1/2 cup butter
1 tbp corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Drain pineapples reserving 1/4 of the juice. Slice pineapple rings in half. Set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar. Beat on medium speed until mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add vanilla and pineapple juice to milk. Add sifted four mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating well after each addition.
Coat bundt pan generously with a baker's cooking spray that includes flour.
 Make the caramel by combining the butter, corn syrup, and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Pour into bottom of prepared pan. Stand half rings on end in the pan, then place a cherry in between each one, as shown.
Very gently spoon the cake batter over the pineapples, making sure they're still standing upright.  Bake for about 60-70 minutes or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for a good 20 minutes before inverting the cake onto a serving platter.

-When you make the caramel, it will be SCREAMING hot. Please please please be careful not to burn yourself!
-Be sure to let the cake cool in the pan for a good 20 minutes. If you invert it right out of the oven, the caramel will spill out all over the place, which is potentially dangerous and not at all what you want. At the same time, you don't want to let it cool completely in the pan, because then the caramel will stick to the pan, and your design will be ruined. You want to find that sweet spot where the caramel has set up but is still soft enough to come out of the pan in one go. 20 minutes worked perfectly for me!
-If you dump all the batter into the pan at once, you'll knock over all the pineapples like dominoes. So that's the reason for spooning it in a little at a time. Just take your time, spoon some of the batter in between each slice of pineapple, right over the cherries. Then you can go ahead and pour the rest of the batter over everything. The cherries will also help to keep everything standing up straight.
-The caramel will bubble up the sides of the pan while it's baking, so be sure to put a sheet of foil or even a baking sheet on the rack below, in case any of it bubbles over. Easy clean up!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Feijoada, Brazilian Black Bean Stew

 Are you as excited for the Olympics as I am??? If you know me, you know that I don't watch sports AT ALL. But when it's time for the Olympics, I'm glued to the TV for two weeks. I love all of it! The ceremonies, the victories, the lifelong dreams, the backstories, and of course I love learning about the culture of the host city. When I learned that the Olympics were going to be held in Rio, I immediately started researching Brazilian recipes. I decided to go with their national dish, which is this delicious and hearty black bean stew called Feijoada (pronounced fay-ZHWA-da).
 Now, I have to confess, I had never heard of it, I've never cooked Brazilian food, and the closest I've ever been to Brazil was when I went to a Brazilian restaurant. But from what I understand (and correct me if I'm wrong) this is one of those dishes that has as many versions as there are home cooks. Everyone has a family recipe, which of course is better than any other. This is clearly Brazilian comfort food at its best! I just like the fact that it's another delicious stew to add to my repertoire. You put the pot on the stove, let it simmer all afternoon, and the whole house smells amazing. 
 I made this for my family's Opening Ceremonies party (in which everyone brings a different International dish), but you don't have to have a party to make this. Just pick a Sunday when you know you'll have a few hours at home and let it simmer all day. I promise you'll be glad you did!

1 lb dry black beans
a few glugs of olive oil
1 lb boneless pork, cut into chunks
1 lb beef cubes
2 large onions, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb carne seca or corned beef, cut into chunks
1/2 lb sausages, such as chorizo or Italian sausage
1 lb smoked sausage, such as linguica or kielbasa
1 smoked ham hock or shank
3-4 bay leaves
1 6 oz can tomato paste
Fresh parsley or cilantro
sliced oranges

 Pour boiling water over the black beans and let them sit while you prepare the rest of the stew.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and brown the pork. When it has browned, remove the meat from the pot, set aside. Do the same thing with the beef cubes, removing them from the pot after browning. Now add the onions to the pot. Brown them, stirring occasionally, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and stir well. Add the beef and pork back to the pot along with the other meats and the bay leaves. Add just enough water to cover. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Let it simmer for about an hour. Drain the black beans from their soaking liquid and add them to the stew. Simmer gently, covered, until the beans are tender, about an hour and a half. Add the tomato paste, and stir well. Continue to simmer, uncovered for about another hour or until the meat begins to fall off the ham hock. Serve over white rice with a sprinkle of fresh parsley or cilantro and a few slices of fresh orange. A classic side dish would be sautéed collard greens, if desired.

The key to this dish is having lots of different meats and letting them simmer for a long time. It also lends itself to using whatever kind of meats you like. It's basically just a lot of pork and beef, leaning a little more on the pork side. Do you like things spicy? Use a spicy sausage to flavor your stew and serve it up with some hot sauce. You could also add some crushed red pepper. 
Full disclosure, the addition of the tomato paste is not authentically Brazilian, but I found several recipes that include it, so I went with it. I've also seen recipes that use different kinds of beans, white beans, etc, but from what I understand, black beans are classically used here.
I didn't add any salt at all because there is quite enough from the corned beef, the ham hock and the smoked sausage. Just sayin!