21 February 2013

Oh boy, do I have a great recipe for you today!  It's reveal day for this month's Improv Challenge.  I love participating in the Improv Challenge, but didn't post last month because the dish I made didn't turn out well and since I was in the process of moving, I didn't have time to try something else.  Not a problem this month!  

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.  

Our clever hostess, Kristen, came up with a theme of "hearts and flours" for this month.  Cute!  She said, "You can make anything as long as it is either heart shaped or served/photographed in a heart serving dish and contains at least one flour of some sort."  I decided to veer from her guidelines just a bit, but I think you'll agree that my dish does contain the two ingredients: hearts and flour.

Instead of doing something heart-shaped, I thought it would be fun to make a recipe with artichoke hearts.  The only thing I could think of that combined artichoke hearts and flour would be some kind of fried artichoke hearts.  After doing some research online, I ended up adapting two different recipes and came up with a yummy crispy-coated artichoke heart with a super tasty dipping sauce.  The artichoke recipe is adapted from this Sandra Lee recipe, and the dipping sauce is adapted from one I saw on Big Oven.

Crispy Coated Artichoke Hearts with Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce

½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp dried dill
2 cans medium-sized artichoke hearts
½ cup flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
½ tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp salt
4 cups canola oil

Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, Gorgonzola  vinegar, and dill in a small bowl.  You can leave it slightly chunky, or pulse it in a food processor or stick blender to make it smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Drain the artichokes. In a small bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, Italian seasoning, and salt.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil on high until hot. Dip each artichoke heart into the flour mixture, tossing to coat. Drop a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until golden, about 2-3 minutes. Repeat with remaining artichokes. Serve immediately with Gorgonzola dipping sauce.

Makes 14-16 artichoke hearts and about 1½ cups dipping sauce. About 8 servings as an appetizer.

They turned out amazing!  I never fry things, and I was reminded of why, because it does make quite a mess, but it was well worth it.  The thing I like most about this recipe is that there is no heavy batter on the artichoke hearts.  Just dusting them with flour, cornmeal, and seasonings gives them a nice crispy coating instead of being wrapped in breading.  The flavor of the artichoke heart itself shines through.  I love the beautiful golden color they turned.  

Aren't they beautiful?

This is the Gorgonzola I used for the dipping sauce.  It's a very mild Gorgonzola; not super strong-tasting like some can be (although I love those too).  This would be a good one to use for people who aren't huge fans of bleu cheeses.

This dipping sauce is so good; I think I would eat it on anything.  I had to restrain myself from not eating it just with a spoon!  I had some of the leftovers with crackers the other day.

It paired so perfectly with the artichoke hearts.  

My daughters really liked these artichoke hearts.  Lena, almost 5, commented that they were a little "sour", referring to the marinade they come in.  But not so sour that she wouldn't eat them.

Eva, 2 and half, had no problem gobbling hers up!  My husband was at work when I made these, so I saved two for him and he reheated them.  I don't know if they were as good reheated, but he raved about them.

See how light and delicate the coating is?  It doesn't fall off too easily either.  Just perfect!

I had so much fun with this month's Improv Challenge!  Check out the links below for all the other "hearts and flours" recipes.

13 February 2013

I had to share these wonderful little bars with you in time for Valentine's Day.  As I've mentioned before, my favorite flavor combo for Valentine's Day is chocolate and raspberry.  It's decadent, indulgent  and romantic!    Last summer I saw these Chocolate Fudge Roasted Strawberry Cookie Bars at Roxana's Home Baking, and all I could think about was how lovely they would be for Valentine's Day.  They've been on my "Valentine's Day" Pinterest board ever since and I couldn't wait to try them.  I'm sure they are amazing with the strawberries, but I couldn't resist trying them with raspberries instead.

Chocolate Fudge Raspberry Bars


1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups flour
⅓ cup sugar
¾ cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup seedless raspberry jam
½ cup fresh raspberries, chopped
1 tbsp raw sugar (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a mixing bowl, combine the softened butter, sugar, and flour. Mix until incorporated and the dough is crumbly.  With floured fingers press the cookie dough into the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish.  Bake for 15 minutes.

When the cookie base is almost done, heat the sweetened condensed milk in a small saucepan, add the chocolate chips and cocoa powder and stir until melted.  Spread over the hot crust.  With a spoon, drop raspberry jam over the chocolate fudge. Top with chopped raspberries and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using.  Bake for another 27-30 minutes.

Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

I made these last weekend when my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting us at our new house.  They were a hit!  They have a delicious shortbread crust, a rich and creamy fudge layer, then topped with bright raspberries.  The chocolate and raspberry are so good together!  I increased the measurement for the jam from ½ cup to ¾ cup because I thought they could have used a touch more raspberry.  I decreased the amount of fresh berries from 1 cup to ½ cup because my husband is picky about seeds.  

The picture above really doesn't do these bars justice.  I apologize for my poor photography lately; I haven't unpacked all of my blog picture-taking stuff yet and I have to do some experimenting here at our new house to find the best lighting.

If you think these look good, you might also be interested in what I made last year for Valentine's Day: Chocolate Raspberry Parfaits.  Yum!

Happy Valentine's Day!

11 February 2013

Well, the move is complete, but things are crazy around here! We just got our second POD unloaded yesterday, so we are living in a sea of boxes.  I'm still too busy to get back into the swing of blogging regularly, but I did want to share this recipe with you before the time to do so got away from me.

We had a fairly new tradition at our church in Michigan.  Each year on Epiphany, someone makes a traditional King Cake, and hides a plastic Baby Jesus or a pecan half inside.  The cake is cut and everyone takes a piece.  Whoever gets the piece that has the Baby Jesus in it has to make the cake next year.  This is a really fun tradition.  King Cakes are traditionally eaten on Epiphany (January 6, signaling the end of the Christmas season), and also on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.  Last year, my husband got the piece of cake with the Baby Jesus in it, so it was his responsibility to make the cake this year.  Since I have never, in our 11+ years together seen him bake anything (cook, yes. Bake, no), I volunteered to make the cake on his behalf.  I was a little intimidated, since I have limited experience with yeast doughs.  I considered making an "easy" version that used frozen Rhodes rolls instead, but my sweet friend, Gloria, who I think started this tradition at our church, insisted that I try her recipe.  Hers is amazing and I didn't think I could do it justice, but she was adamant that I try it.  

King Cakes aren't what you would think of as a regular cake.  It's more like a sweet bread with a yummy cream cheese filling inside.  I made Gloria's recipe and it actually turned out pretty well.  I didn't have any trouble with the dough; it is a really easy dough to work with.  Here is the recipe; the only thing I changed was to cut the glaze recipe in half because it made way too much for my cake.

King Cake for Epiphany or Mardi Gras

5 tsp active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
4½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vegetable oil 
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar, divided
1 plastic Baby Jesus or a pecan half
3½ tbsp milk, divided
1½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
Purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook. (If the dough is uncooperative in coming together, add a bit of warm water a tablespoon at a time, until it does.)

Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.  Get out a 15” pizza stone.  If you don’t have one, line your largest baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30” long and 6” wide.  Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then place the Baby Jesus or pecan half somewhere in it.  Flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together.  Shape the dough into a log and place it on the pizza stone or baking sheet seam-side down. Shape the dough into a circle and pinch the ends together. Cover the ring with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tbsp milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the icing, combine the remaining 1½ tbsp milk, lemon juice, and remaining 1½ cups powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar sprinkles, alternating colors around the cake.  The cake is traditionally cut into 2” thick slices.  Whoever finds the Baby Jesus in their piece has to make the cake next year!

Makes 20-22 servings.                                      

Here is a pic of the cake before rising and baking.

Now, I know that it looks like a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but it really is pretty simple.  Like I said, the dough is super easy to work with and quite forgiving.  I did have some of the filling spill out of one place, but overall I think it wasn't too bad for my first time making it.  My picture isn't the greatest, and I forgot to take one of an individual piece to show you the inside (sorry!), so I will have to make another one next year and hopefully start this tradition up at our new church here in Wisconsin!

It can be difficult to obtain a tiny plastic Baby Jesus and the right-colored sprinkles.  In our small town in Michigan, we had a little New Orleans-themed restaurant (shout-out to The Big Easy!), and they make individual King Cakes around Epiphany and Mardi Gras.  We simply kept the Baby Jesuses (Lena calls them "Baby Jesi") for future use.  The Big Easy also graciously gave me three small containers of the colored sugar that they use.  I offered to pay her for them, but she wouldn't hear of it.  Thanks Sandy!  So if you have anyplace like that near you, that could be a good resource for those things.

I give Gloria all the credit for the success of this cake.  She really has a winner in this recipe!  Thanks so much, Gloria!

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!

04 February 2013

I'm taking a break from my inter-state moving hiatus to participate in this month's Secret Recipe Club. 

Secret Recipe Club

The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

This month I was assigned a great blog called Delishhh.  Delishhh is written by Ewa, which I understand is pronounced like "Eva".  That's pretty cool because Eva is my youngest daughter's name.  :) Ewa was born in Sweden, raised in Asia, and now lives in America.  So she has a really interesting culinary perspective!  Her blog is very aptly named as everything on there is amazing.  Her recipes represent every place that she has lived across the world.

I had a hard time deciding which recipe to make.  If the timing had been slightly different, it would have been a slam dunk.  I really wanted to make her Västerbotten Cheese Pie.  I love me some cheese, and this pie is so beautiful.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find Västerbotten cheese.  If I had been assigned Ewa's blog just one month later, it would have been a breeze. I mentioned that I am in the middle of a move? We are moving to Kenosha, Wisconsin, home to the infamous Mars Cheese Castle.  Yes, a whole castle full of cheese right in my own town!  It's a foodie's dream!  I am certain that had I been there already I could have found that cheese there.  But as it turned out, I got this assignment about a week after visiting there for the last time before the big move. You better believe I will be trying that pie as soon as we get settled there and I have my kitchen set up again.

Several other recipes caught my attention too.  I really liked the looks of her White Bean Puree (I love white bean dips), Swedish Split Pea Soup (perfect for that -4 degree weather we had last month!), and her No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake. Yum!  The recipe I finally chose was her Thai Chicken with Plum Ginger Sauce.  I just loved the sound of that flavor combination.  Ewa makes that dish using chicken, but she says in her post that she is sure it would be great with other types of protein and that if anyone tries a different one, to let her know how it turned out.  I decided to take her up on that and made it with salmon.  I just love fruity flavors on salmon (in the past I have done orange, lemon, apricot, blackberry, and even rhubarb).  So I jumped at the chance to add another one to my repertoire.  

Plum Ginger Thai Salmon

4 (4 oz.) salmon fillets
⅓ cup plum sauce
2 tbsp whiskey (optional)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp hot chili sauce

Place the salmon filets in a Ziploc bag.  In a bowl combine plum sauce, whiskey, sugar, fish sauce, ginger, garlic and chili sauce.  Pour the marinade into the bag with the salmon and close.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°.  Remove salmon from bag and place in an 8x8” or 11x7” baking dish.  Pour marinade over the salmon.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until salmon flakes easily with a fork.

Serve over gingered brown rice.

Makes 4 servings.

I love cooking Asian food but had never tried plum sauce before.  It is so good!  It's sweet and tangy and very complex.  The plum sauce combined with the other ingredients (I left out the whiskey because I didn't have any) makes for one flavorful marinade.  A little sweet, a little tangy, a little salty, and just the right hint of heat.  And I love how the ginger really stands out too.  Love that stuff.

So, Ewa, now you know that this is really good on salmon too! Thank you so much for an awesome recipe.  Everyone at my house loves salmon so it's always great to have another go-to recipe for it.  And I'm definitely going to try this sauce on chicken sometime too!

You probably won't see much from me this month, but I hope to be back to doing regular posts in March.  Have a great February!