29 March 2013

Today is my blogiversary!  Six years!  Hard to believe I'm still going strong after all this time.  In honor of this occasion, I want to share with you a great birthday cake recipe.

Last year I asked my soon-to-be four-year-old, Lena, what kind of cake she would like for her birthday.  She said strawberry.  I found lots of strawberry cake recipes that called for Jell-O, but when I stumbled across one that used real strawberries, I knew I found the one.  Then this year when I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, she said she wanted a blueberry cake.  Now, for those of you who don't know Lena, her favorite color is blue and she is slightly obsessed with anything blue.  So I asked her if she wanted a cake made with blueberries, or if she wanted a blue cake.  Because I thought a cake made with real blueberries might turn out more purple than blue.  She insisted that she wanted a cake made with blueberries.  All the blueberry cake recipes I found were for coffee cake type cakes and not really like birthday cakes.  So I decided to make the same cake I did last year, but with pureed blueberries instead of strawberries.  They both turned out wonderfully.  I got the recipe from I Made That.  I had to adapt it to fit my 9" cake pans instead of 8".

Fresh Berry Birthday Cake with Berry Cream Cheese Frosting

3¾ cup cake flour
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
½ cup buttermilk
6 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz. butter, room temperature
2¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature, beaten
1½ cups pureed fresh berries
1½ tsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat three 9” cake pans with baking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.  In another medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla  Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar until it forms a paste. Add the eggs in a slow stream, beating well after each addition. Beat for 1 minute at medium speed. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture and beat for 1 minute at medium speed.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the pureed berries and the lemon zest.

Spoon into the prepared cake pans and bake until the cakes spring back when touched lightly in the center. Cool before removing from the pan.  Cool completely before frosting.

Berry Cream Cheese Frosting:
16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
6 oz. butter
1 cup powdered sugar
6 tbsp seedless berry jam
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Sift in the powdered sugar, and beat until incorporated. Add the berry jam, vanilla, and salt, and beat well to incorporate.

Makes one three-layer 9” cake.

The berry cream cheese frosting is amazing.  You can make it with any variety of fruit jam, just don't use jelly.

 The cake itself did turn out more blue than I was expecting, but the frosting was kind of purple.  If using blueberries, make sure you puree them right before incorporating them as they oxidize and turn brown like bananas and apples.   I never knew that before making this recipe.

Blueberry cake batter.

Strawberry cake batter.

 Lena, the birthday girl, helping me make this year's blueberry cake.

Little sis, Eva, got to help too, of course.

Makes a very pretty cake.

I made letters out of white chocolate for the top of the cake.  I'll show you how to do that in a separate post.

And candles make it complete.

Got them all!

 This is the strawberry cake I made last year.  I didn't make the berry cream cheese frosting; just a regular cream cheese frosting (big mistake!).  The party was "My Little Pony" themed.

The strawberry cake doesn't come out quite as pink as the blueberry one comes out blue, but it was delicious.

 This year, Lena got her very own camera.  One of the first things she photographed?  Yep, her piece of cake.  I wonder where she learned to take pictures of food? ;)

 This cake is so good!  I didn't eat much of the blueberry one because I don't really like blueberries, but the blueberry fans that tried it loved it.  My preference would be raspberry, but I think the seeds would cause a problem.  

Thank you all so much for reading my little blog these past 6 years!

27 March 2013

Have you had breakfast yet today?  If the answer is no, I've got a great way for you to start the day.  This is a tasty breakfast bake that I sized down for individual portions.  This is perfect for you single folks, or anybody who eats breakfast alone.  Even if you eat breakfast with your family, this is a great way to customize each person's servings while getting breakfast on the table quicker because they cook so much faster than a large dish would.  It's adapted from Martha Stewart.

Individual Ham and Cheese Strata

1¼ cups bread cubes, divided
¼ cup ham, diced
¼ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 green onion, sliced
2 eggs
½ cup 2% milk
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a 16 oz. ramekin with baking spray.

Place 1 cup of the bread cubes in the bottom of the ramekin.  Top with the ham, cheese, green onion, and the remaining bread cubes.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk, paprika, mustard, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Pour egg mixture over the bread cubes in the ramekin.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until eggs are set.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 1 serving.

If you are hosting houseguests for Easter this year, this is a great recipe to have handy.  Each guest can customize their portion (no onions, extra cheese, add black pepper, etc.), so that everybody is happy.  And like I said above, these little ramekins cook up way faster than a large dish.  The original recipe takes an hour and 20 minutes to bake.  Ain't nobody got time for that!

This is a great way to use up leftover ham after Easter too.  It would also be great with cooked bacon or sausage.  The possibilities are endless.

Just be sure to let them sit for a while after they come out of the oven.  I totally burned my mouth on mine because it looked and smelled so amazing that I just couldn't wait to dig in to it!

21 March 2013

It's the third Thursday of the month and that means it's time for another great Improv Challenge. 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.  

This month's assigned ingredients were peas and carrots.  Peas and carrots, huh?  Not overly exciting ingredients, but ones I use very regularly, several times a week.  I didn't spend much time trying to be innovative and do something super creative with peas and carrots.  I'm sure somebody will do dessert, but this month I decided to go with something more standard.  I've had this recipe in my food photo file for several months, but hadn't gotten around to posting it yet.  Peas and carrots aren't exactly the main ingredients here, but they play an important role, so I thought it would be good for this challenge.  It's a slight adaptation of one I saw at Simply Recipes.

Curried Ground Turkey with Vegetables

3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb. ground turkey 
½ large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
1” fresh ginger, grated
¾  cup water
1 tbsp curry powder or garam masala
1 lb.  potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1½ cups matchstick carrots, cooked (3-4 mins in microcooker)
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp salt
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Rice or flatbread (optional)

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Sauté onion until it begins to soften.  Add the ground turkey, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until it browns.  Add the garlic and ginger; mix well and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the curry powder or garam masala, water, and potatoes. Stir to combine and cover. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

When the potatoes are tender, add the carrots and peas. Mix well and cover the pot. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add salt, if needed, to taste.

Right before you serve, mix in the chopped cilantro. Serve alone or with flatbread or white rice.

Makes 4 servings.

I love this recipe for a couple of reasons.  First, I love how it uses ground turkey.  Ground turkey is widely available, healthier than ground beef, and affordable.  I usually end up with a couple of pounds in my freezer, but can't think what to do with them.  Using ground turkey makes this recipe super easy.  Second, I love how you can change up the spices if you want to get a different flavor profile.  The original recipe called for either garam masala, curry powder, or your favorite Indian spices.  I used 1 tbsp sweet curry powder, mixed with 1/4 tsp hot curry powder.  The ratio may sound off, but the hot is really hot!  It doesn't take much.  I want to try this with garam masala next time.  I also like how you can easily change the veggies to suit your tastes too.  I want to try it with sweet potatoes sometime.

Most of all, I love how easy it is to make this delicious one-pot recipe.  I love one-pot recipes!  They make busy weeknights so much easier. And frozen peas and matchstick carrots are a cook's best friend on those nights.

This dish was a big hit with my family.  My husband and both girls loved it.

So the next time you pick up some ground turkey but aren't sure what to make with it, try this recipe out.

Check out the collection below to see all the other great peas and carrots recipes and come back next month to see what I make with eggs and bacon. What a yummy assignment!

18 March 2013

 Happy Monday, everyone!  How was your St. Patrick's Day?  We had a great day.  I dressed my girls up in St. Patty's Day tees for church and then we had friends over for an Irish feast.  I made Slow Cooker Honey Mustard Corned Beef, Slow Cooker Cabbage, Irish Potato Cakes, Traditional Irish Soda Bread, Green Punch, and Irish Cream Brownies.  It was lots of fun.

Last week I was signed up to bring goodies to the Women's Bible Study at my church.  I decided to make bundt cakes, as I bought a bundt cake pan at a garage sale last summer for 50 cents, but had never used it.  Since it was a few days before St. Patrick's Day, I went with that theme. I made an Irish Cream Bundt Cake, and this Chocolate Mint Bundt Cake.  They were both really good.  I thought I would share the chocolate one with you today.  It's adapted from Creations by Kara.  Even though I made it for St. Patrick's Day, it would be great any time of year.

Chocolate Mint Bundt Cake

1 box devil’s food or chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream (I used low fat)
½ cup water
1 (3 oz.) box instant chocolate pudding
½ cup oil
1¼ tsp peppermint extract, divided
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 oz. white chocolate squares
½ - 1 tsp vegetable oil
Green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a bundt cake pan with baking spray.

Combine cake mix, eggs, sour cream, water, pudding, oil, and 1 tsp peppermint extract. Beat until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into bundt pan. 

Bake for about 45-50 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes in pan, then dump out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. 

Melt white chocolate squares in the microwave. Stir in remaining ¼ tsp peppermint extract and a few drops of green food coloring.  Add enough oil to make it runny enough to drizzle. Drizzle over the cake. Let sit until chocolate drizzle sets.  (Best made the day before serving).

Makes 16 servings.

It was a big hit.  It is really dense, moist, and very chocolatey.  So good!  I love the chocolate chips in there. Sorry I forgot to snap a pick of an individual slice so you could see the inside.  It got eaten up too quickly!


 This would make a great Christmas cake by using red food coloring instead of the green.  Very versatile.  I'm really glad I got that bundt cake pan.  I know I'll be making this again!

14 March 2013

 Do you know what today is? It's Pi Day, of course! March 14 or 3-14.  Like I mentioned last year, we foodies like to turn Pi Day from a math holiday into a food holiday by calling it Pie Day.  And of course, I do have a pie to share with you today.  But this Pie Day, I'm going savory instead of sweet and sharing a pot pie recipe I made back in May of last year that I  hadn't gotten around to sharing yet.  It's not your usual pot pie; it's a ham and cheese pot pie.  It's like regular pot pie, but has ham instead of chicken, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower instead of regular pot pie veggies, and a creamy cheese sauce instead of gravy. Yum! It's adapted from a recipe I found at Taste of Home. (I would have inserted the link, but I can't find it on their website anymore. They must have deleted it since I first found it.)

Ham and Cheese Pot Pie

2 (9”) pie crusts
6 tbsp butter
½ medium onion, chopped
1 cup matchstick carrots,
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped
6 tbsp flour
1½ cups milk
4 oz. Velveeta, diced
1½ cups ham, cubed

Preheat oven to 425°.  If using refrigerated pie crusts, remove them from fridge about 15 minutes before ready to use them.  Coat a 9” pie plate with baking spray.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté onion, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower in butter for 5-8 minutes or until onions and carrots begin to soften.  Stir in flour, mixing until smooth.  Slowly add milk, whisking to avoid lumps.  Bring to a boil and cook a few minutes until milk starts to thicken.  Reduce heat and add Velveeta.  Stir until cheese melts.  Stir in ham.

Lay one pie crust inside prepared pie plate.  Pour in filling.  Top with second crust; seal edge and flute.  Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.  Cut into wedges.

Makes 8 servings.

The filling before baking.

 This pie is so good!  The ham and cheese and veggies all go together so well.  It's a combo made in heaven.  A nice twist on the usual pot pie.  Perfect comfort food for these cold winter days that we are still suffering through.  And a great way to use up those ham leftovers you will have in a few weeks after Easter!

Here are a few more pies (both savory and sweet) for your Pie Day perusal:

U.S.S. Missouri Buttermilk Pie
Caramel Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Crisp Pie
Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust and Bacon Streusel
Kiwi Lemon Pie
No-Bake Blackberry Cream Pie
No-Bake Fresh Strawberry Pie
Peppermint Chocolate Pudding Pie

Black Bean Tortilla Pie
Irish Cottage Pie
Spaghetti Pie
Roasted Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche
Butternut Garlic Quiche
Broccoli Cheddar Quiche
Spinach Cheese Quiche with Potato Crust

11 March 2013

St. Patrick's Day is coming up and I still have Irish food on my mind.  Last year I created a great colcannon recipe.  If you're not familiar, colcannon is a dish traditional to Ireland made up of cabbage and potatoes.  I think it is traditionally made with mashed potatoes, but there are hundreds of different varieties out there in internetland.  Some use cubed potatoes, some shredded, some have spinach, some have cheese, etc.  I read a whole bunch of them and then decided to come up with my own recipe.  This one has shredded hash brown potatoes, cheese, and the best part: bacon!

Colcannon with Bacon and Cheese

2 tbsp bacon fat
½ large onion
½ small head cabbage, chopped
30 oz. package frozen shredded hash browns, thawed and dried
1 tsp salt
4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups shredded cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350°.

Saute onion and cabbage in bacon fat.  Add potatoes, salt, bacon, cream, and 1 cup cheese.  Put into 9x13” baking dish.  Cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover, top with remaining cheese and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

Nope, not healthy in the least.  But boy, is it yummy!  I know the idea of a dish containing potatoes and cabbage can be a real turn-off to a lot of people, but adding bacon and cheese can really sweeten the deal!  This would make a great addition to your St. Patrick's Day feast this year.

04 March 2013

Today is reveal day for The 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.

Secret Recipe Club

This month I was assigned Paulchen's Food Blog, written by Astrid.  Astrid is an avid reader, cookbook collector, and cat lover in Vienna.  Her blog is an eclectic collection of recipes.  I found several that sounded really good.  I'm still fully in soup-obsessed mode, so her Broccoli and Cream Carrot Soup really caught my eye.  (I love how it uses coconut milk instead of heavy cream; definitely trying that one soon!)  I am also very intrigued by her Chicken Tagine with Honey, Pears & Cinnamon.  She also has some great desserts over there.  The Chocolate Banana Decadence Cake she made for her brother looks amazing.  But as soon as I saw a category called "Irish" I knew which direction I was heading!  I love cooking according to the seasons and holidays and I have definitely been thinking about St. Patrick's Day lately.  So I jumped at the chance to try Astrid's Irish Cottage Pie.  It did not disappoint!  

Irish Cottage Pie

1 tsp olive oil
½ large onion, diced
1 lb. ground beef
2½ lbs. potatoes
2 tbsp flour
¾ cup stout beer
1¼ cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup matchstick carrots
¼ tsp dried thyme
Milk and butter

Sauté onion in olive oil until tender.  Add ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain off any grease. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add beer and beef stock and bring to a boil.. When it starts to thicken, reduce heat.  Add peas, carrots, and thyme and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until carrots are soft.

Meanwhile, peel, chop and boil the potatoes for 20 minutes or until soft.  Drain the potatoes very well until completely dry. Mash until smooth and free of any lumps.  Add butter to the mashed potato, taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add enough milk to make the mash very soft (heavy mash will not float properly on top of the ground beef mixture).

Pour beef mixture into a 9x9” casserole dish.  Spread the potatoes on top of the meat and brush the tops of the potatoes with melted butter.  Place under broiler for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Makes 4-6 servings.

I didn't change very much about Astrid's recipe.  I think I used more beef, just because I like using a nice even pound.  Makes it easy.  I also replaced some of the beef stock with stout beer just to make it a little more interesting.  The beer taste wasn't overwhelming at all, just gave it a nice depth of flavor.

This was so good!  It really hit the spot on a cold winter day.  My five year old at all of hers without complaint (well, except for the onions, but she ate them anyway).  

The beef mixture.  Yum.

 Comfort food at its best!

 Thanks so much for a great recipe, Astrid!

02 March 2013

Happy Dr. Seuss Day!  Today is Dr. Seuss's birthday and I think it's a really fun thing to celebrate with my daughters.  How do you celebrate Dr. Seuss Day, you ask?  It's simple!  First of all, your local library might be holding some type of event, as the day is also known as Read Across America Day, started by the NEA to promote literacy in America.  But if you don't feel like going out, you can do what we do. I dress the girls in Dr. Seuss shirts, we read lots of Dr. Seuss books, of course, we watch "Horton Hears A Who" on dvd, and we have green eggs and ham for either lunch or dinner.  

My girls on Dr. Seuss Day last year. 

The first year we celebrated Dr. Seuss Day, I made green eggs by mixing pesto into scrambled eggs.  That was really good.  Then last year I tried these omelets and they are amazing.  Both of my girls love them (I leave the cheese out of Eva's because of her dairy allergy), and gobble them up.  They are so good, in fact, that they are no longer reserved for March 2nd; I make them throughout the year.  This is a slight adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe.

Green Eggs and Ham Omelet

2 eggs, beaten
Sprinkle of salt
2 tbsp frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2-4 slices ham (depending on how thick the slices are)
2 tbsp shredded cheese

In a bowl, combine the eggs, salt, and spinach.  Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray.  Add egg mixture.  Cook, stirring with a silicone spatula, until eggs begin to thicken, about 30 seconds. With spatula, pull edges of omelet in toward the center, tilting pan so uncooked eggs flow underneath.  Cook until just set, another 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Layer ham and cheese on one half of omelet.  With spatula, fold omelet in half.  Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.

Makes 1 omelet.

Nutrition Facts:
1 omelet with 1 oz. ham
221 calories
14 g fat
5.5 g saturated fat
455 mg cholesterol
731 mg sodium
0 g fiber
19 g protein

So easy to make and so yummy.  This year we will be having them for lunch as we have to get dinner out after a birthday party this afternoon.  I bought the girls a new Seuss book, The Sleep Book, which I love.  I also got them new shirts. It's fun to have things like this to "celebrate" with your kids, especially during the long, boring winter. And yes, even though it's March, it's definitely still winter around here!

Now, go make these omelets and then read a book to your kids!