Daring Bakers: Let Them Eat Cake!

It took quite awhile, but someone from the Daring Bakers finally chose a recipe from Dorie for their choice of challenge. Morven, you made a great choice!

Her choice was so good, I'd actually made it already: Dorie's Perfect Party Cake.

Its a good cake, even though it involves the dreaded buttercream icing that so threw me for the Yule Log challenge. The buttercream that I made successfully the first time I made this cake, and was able to turn to when having so many problems with the Yule log, restoring my confidence.

I had no worries making this recipe. I'd done it before, I knew I could do it again. Only this time, I was taking the challenge on the road. That's not my kitchen counter in the picture.

Yes, Bob went on a road trip. Along with a few other items, like my cake flour and cake pans. Should have brought a few other things with me though, like good spatula, my homemade vanilla, some parchment paper..... The list could go on.

You see, I decided to make the cake for Easter weekend, where I would be making dinner for my family, some of which I only see once or twice a year. This dinner was going to be at my mother's house, though, and even though my mother used to cook, she doesn't anymore. And her kitchen is lacking in a few things that I find essential. Like a good sharp knife. And a spatula. And baking powder.

I managed to work around the lack of stuff, though, and turned out a reasonable looking cake. Morven had given us a bit of leeway with the filling, written as raspberry preserves, so at the last minute I substituted huge, beautiful and fragrant strawberries instead.

At the end of a huge meal for my family (I had bbq'd a very large roast beef, and roasted a turkey), everyone made room for at least a slice of this lovely looking cake. At least three people went back for seconds.

Every months' recipe provides a different challenge: When will I find time to make it? OMG, I need to do what with the sugar?!? Yeast? But I'm afraid of yeast! Sometimes the challenges are easy to over come, other times require a bit more courage and just diving into the recipe, hoping for the best. It is ironic that with this recipe the biggest challenge for me was working in someone else's kitchen. (Okay, and having to remake the buttercream after I put it in the fridge to go do something else and could not get it to soften up again without breaking, that was a challenge as well.)

Many thanks to Morven for giving me a bit of a break this month, a recipe I could dive into with my eyes wide open, and enjoy. I'm sure I'm not the only Daring Baker who enjoyed this challenge, but just in case there is any doubt, check out as many of them as you can, over here on the Daring Baker's Blogroll. Get cozy though, there are well over 600 of us now!

Now, must run off to the DB site and see who is up next! My cupboards are a bit bare, in need of a new recipe.

Daring Bakers: Let Them Eat Cake!

Tuesdays with Dorie: Last minute everything

When Laurie of Quirky Cupcake first proposed doing a weekly recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours, I liked the idea, but didn't join. I think I actually commented on her blog saying that, yes, I owned the book and loved it (can you tell from my blog?), but I had made so many wonderful things from the book already, it seemed kinda silly to join in. So I didn't.

Since then, the group has grown to 100 bloggers, and the only things they've made that I also made was the Orange Berry Muffins, page 3, on January 29, and the Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake, pages 238 and 239, on February 12th. Alot of recipes, not alot of repeats for me. Which made me question.... "Why didn't I want to join up and bake more from Dorie again?"

I give up, I don't know either. Silly me.

So I asked to join. Sunday night, less than 2 days before the posting date of the Caramel-Topped Flan (chosen by my Aussie friend Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon.) Sure, Laurie got back to me ASAP, but if you don't check your email Sunday night and get the email the next day, then that cuts the time down even further! I was even given the option of waiting until next weeks recipe, based on the lateness of my joining, but hey, if I was going to do this, I was going to do this right away! No more waiting!

Oh wait. No milk. How the heck did that happen? I just bought milk last week, right before we went away for the weekend. Where did all the milk go? And typical me, I learned this later in the evening, after I was already in my pj's, unwilling to go out the door to a store. And well after I had already been grocery shopping, sure that there was 4 liters of milk in the fridge.

So here I sat this morning, post day, with no flan and still no milk. Book open to the right page, instructions read through at least twice, but no milk. And could not leave the house until my youngest child woke up. Of course he slept in until about 9am, something he rarely ever does, but hey, that was to be expected!

Fortunately this recipe is a snap to put together and the instructions are very clear. I didn't have the proper sized pan, at least not one that wasn't non-stick, but I did have a pan that would work, and there was no rule (that I know of) that said I had to follow the recipe exactly, specifically, to the letter. And as it needed chilling time and I had to go to work in the afternoon, making it this morning was wonderful timing. Run out and grab milk, throw it together and into the oven, get stuff together for lunches and work, allow flan to chill while I was at work, enjoy it for dessert after a long day.

My children gave me funny looks when I said there would be a caramel flan for dessert after dinner tonight. So they don't know what a flan is, that's not such a bad thing, is it? (Oh wait, children of foodie.... Okay, but they know lots of other food related things!) At least one of them giggle when they heard the flan make a rather rude noise as it slid out of the pan and onto the plate. Then oooh'd when he saw the topping and caramel dripping out over the sides of the flan.

He was even inhaling it until I told him what was in it, then told me he didn't really like it and stopped eating it. Oh well, more for the rest of us!

This flan is one step away from Creme Brulee. And if I owned a torch, I'd have bruleed a piece of it, just to see what it would be like. I still want to try it, but there isn't much left of the flan to play with. Not even enough, really, to share with the neighbors, who do own a torch (okay, a proper blow torch, not a mini kitchen torch.)

I think I need to find a fun colored highlighter in my drawer of school supplies and start highlighting all the recipes I have made from Dorie already, with a second color for all the recipes I will make over the next while as a happy member of Tuesday's With Dorie.

If you are looking for the recipe for this lovely dessert, you have three choices: Try and read what you can from my picture above; Go see Steph's post, where she will have the recipes; Or go buy the book already!

Fried Ravioli, the recipe

It seems the fried ravioli from my February cookbook post brought about some interest. Some serious interest.

So, here is the recipe for those crunchy little bundles. Make them for your dinner tonight!

Fried Ravioli
from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta

Olive oil, for frying (I used canola oil)
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
1 box store-bought bite-size cheese ravioli (I could only find spinach and cheese)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 cups marinara sauce (store bought or homemade), heated, for dipping

Heat 2 inches of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 325F.

While the oil is heating, put the buttermilk and the bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Working in batches, dip the ravioli in the buttermilk to coat completely, allowing the excess buttermilk to drip back into the bowl. Dredge the ravioli in the bread crumbs. Place the ravioli on a baking sheet, while you coat the remaining ravioli.

When the oil is hot, fry the ravioli in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried ravioli to paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle the fried ravioli with Parmesan cheese and serve with a bowl of warmed marinara sauce for dipping.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

There is no Irish in our family. British, yes, French, yes, but no Irish.

Nor was there any green beer or milk, in our St. Patrick's Day, though I did go out and buy a can of beer. Or Guinness, actually, which isn't exactly a "normal" beer, is it?

Instead I went with more traditional types of Irish fare for us to have a quiet St. Patrick's Day celebration, one that would not involve the nasty side effects that would come from spending your night down at the local pub, enjoy a pint or two. Or three, as some people do.

Before I had a chance to go searching for recipes, Anna, went and posted up a selection for people, over on her blog Cookie Madness. Thank you Anna, you saved me some work! From her list, I selected three things, Irish Stew, Irish Soda bread, and Guinness Cake.

Which means I should have bought TWO cans of Guinness, and not one. Oh well, we made do.

Dinner started out with this Irish Stew, which ended up being short changed on the Guinness it required, plus a bit short on the red wine, again, because I can't read a recipe or the volume on a bottle of wine. Not that the stew was lacking in flavor because of this. No, instead it had great body, taste and texture. So much so that even both my children ate their entire bowls, including the broth.

I will make this again, probably with the proper amounts of beer and wine, but will increase the carrots and I may want to thicken up the broth a bit as there was alot of liquid. As my husband said, it was unlike an English style stew in the thickness of the broth, which was not great for dipping bread into it.

Speaking of the bread, I continued with the Irish theme and make Irish Soda bread, again posted by Anna.

This bread was as simple as could be, and came together in minutes, which was good because I was trying to assemble it around the 5 year old who was unloading the dishwasher in front of me, and asking questions a mile a minute. (Yes, I get my 5 year old to unload what he can of the dishwasher, a job that he is happy to do at this point and let's him feel like he's contributing, which he is.) I admit I wasn't sure about the raisins in this, and considered omitting them entirely. Afterall, I was after a bread to go with a lovely, savory stew, and the raisins seemed out of place. In the end they worked out well, though this bread was not really suitable for dunking in the stew. It had good flavor though, warm with melted butter, so it was all good.

The last part of our Irish dinner was Guinness Chocolate Cake. Yes, I baked a cake with beer in it, as well as putting some Guinness in the icing. I was a bit skeptical about the beer in icing, mostly because I do not like beer, either the smell or the taste, but this worked out well. I needed to be a bit more generous on the icing between the layers though, but had been concerned there would not be enough icing for the entire cake, so had been frugal. In the end I had a bit left over.

This cake was not only enjoyed by my own family, but was shared with the neighbors, who claimed it "the best chocolate cake ever!" Guess it was success!

I hope everyone had a lovely St. Patrick's Day, however you celebrated it. Even if it meant green beer for dinner.

Cookbook of the month - for February, of course!

February was a short month, with lots of little obstacles in this way of good cooking and baking, and March is turning into a very busy month, hence I am very late in my post about February's cookbook. Sticking to the theme of celebrity chef's, last month I went with Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta.

This is my first book by Ms. Everyday Italian, though I have watched the show on a number of occasions. Seeing as my boys all very much like pasta, this looked like a good choice of cookbooks to invest in for a bit more variety.

So far, not so much though. Sure, lots of pasta recipes in this book, alot of them looking quite good to me, but not so much so to the boys, who are a bit more fussy than I am. I like seafood in my pasta, I like variety and different flavors and textures. They like spaghetti with meat sauce.
I decided to start this book out with a big leap into the unknown, with Fried ravioli, page 33. Yes, I deep fried pasta and it was great! This was actually my initial jump into deep frying, and was such a success that it lead to donuts shortly afterwards.

This recipe is very simple and would be great as a starter for company. It is actually listed as a starter, but I doubled it and made it dinner on a Friday night, when we tend to go a bit more casual for dinner. It requires store bought ravioli, buttermilk, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and oil. Heat up a bit of sauce for dipping and you are set!

These little puffs of crispiness were very, very good. And still good reheated the next day.

With the success of the ravioli, I moved on to something a bit more adventurous, Italian Vegetable Soup, page 70, and Parmesan Popovers, found on page31.

I don't know now what I was thinking when I saw this soup recipe and thought it might go over well with the boys. Sure, it has pasta in it, but it also has sliced zucchini and artichokes. Adventurous, yes, disaster at dinner? Also a big yes. Actually, none of us liked it. We did the hands in the table in a fist, one, two, three, thumbs up or thumbs down vote, and every one of us gave it a thumbs down. I gave the entire pot to my neighbor and never did hear back from her on it.

The Parmesan Popovers I think I will need to remake though, just to see if I undercooked them or something. They were a bit denser than I expected, and though they tasted alright flavor wise, they didn't really grab anyone either. My 5 year old liked them dipped in the broth of the soup, and ate two of them. These got three thumbs sideways for iffy, and one thumb down.

It was just not Giada's night.

Oh somewhere in between those two recipes, I made the Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette on page 49, though I didn't make the Parmesan Frico from page 229 that went with it. And I forgot to take a picture, so very unlike me, because I was busy eating it and enjoying it. My kids aren't big salad fans, but did enjoy the flavors of the dressing and the oranges. They also like raw spinach because they like the shape of it, looking like leaves.

So not having had a major success with my last attempt, I decided to move on to something a bit simpler and try the recipe for Basic Marinara Sauce on page 224. Yup, it's basic. Plain, simple, basic sauce. A bit sweet, sweeter than I like, but then it really is a basic sauce with not very many ingredients and no extra seasoning. The 5 year old loved it though, asking for more sauce on his pasta, something he has never done before.

Unfortunately I did not have time to try the Arrabbiata Sauce (page 225) that used this basic sauce as part of it's base, but I will have to go back and try it.

My final attempt at the book, before the month ran out, was very adventurous for my guys: Pork and Lemon Orzotto (page 198), with Sauteed Spinach with Red Onion, page 58. A bit too adventurous. I'd forgotten that they didn't like orzo, to start. Nor do they really like risotto, which this orzo was imitating. So two strikes against it before I even started. This dinner was obviously not going to go down as one that everyone liked.

The pork was moist and flavorful, with a nice citrus tang from the dressing. The orzotto, it was okay, though I found the same dressing that worked well with the pork was over kill on the orzo. And it made way too much for me, seeing as I was the only one eating it.

The sauteed spinach with red onion, well it was just spinach and red onion, something I like and my husband tolerates from time to time, but nothing special. Maybe Giada gets better spinach than I do? I dunno, but she and her husband must eat alot of it, as I halved the recipe and there was plenty for us.

As expected after my January try at this, I'm never going to find one cookbook that has nothing but recipes that everyone likes. Heck, even Dorie makes recipes that I know the family won't eat (and that is almost heresy to say!) So I was a bit disappointed in the failures, but also happy with the successes. And I still have at least two more recipes to try, one of which was on my menu plan at least 4 times during February, Rigatoni with Sausage, Peppers and Onions, page 95, but was never made because sometimes life sucks! And sometimes, despite a meal plan and grocery list built together, you still miss an important ingredient or two.

One thing this experience of trying a new book each month is doing is allowing me to explore the cookbooks I own for actual cooking, instead of just pleasurable reading material. It is letting me test the boundries of what the boys will and will not eat, though they have all been very cooperative to try anything out that I am testing for this. Not as cooperative as Freddy from The Great Big Vegetable Challenge, but still cooperative.

It is part way through March now, where I am having more opportunities to cook from this months book of the month, but still owing a post or two about the life of Marvin, my friendly sour dough starter. In the meantime, my little guy is about to ask for breakfast, and Bob is on standby for making a cake to go with dinner tonight.

Btw, on a totally different bent, and speaking of Bob, I have found that Bob has a face. My lovely little 300W KA Standmixer, in his black jacket, has been a fixture on my counter since he came into my home, but recently I discovered the face that goes with him. Yes, Bob is also a wizard. He just doesn't live in a skull.

Did I mention....

That my pal KellyPea over at Sass & Veracity was kind enough to honor me with this lovely award, an E for Excellent! Woot!

You don't know Sass & Veracity? Why the heck not? Get moving, click on the link!

Actually she did this awhile ago, which I knew about, hence her page has been open on my pc for about 2 weeks now. (If you get an analytic page for your blog, your average time spent has skyrocketed thanks to me!)

Uhm KellyPea - am I supposed to pass this one along to some other deserving bloggers? And any chance those cookies were lost in the mail somehow, somewhere? Maybe?

When Mother Nature dumps snow on you....

You make ice cream, of course!

Well, after you manage to either shovel your way in, or out, of your home. In our case, it was shovel our way in, which we did, with the help of kind neighbors and their snow blowers.

The snow shoveling was yesterday, the ice cream from today, when the sun was shinning down on the mountains of snow that surround all of us. And being March Break for the kids, they were both out playing in it, with some of their friends. Until they got bored. (Which, to be fair, took several hours.)

So inside they came. Which sent me looking for a recipe to make with them, something easy, with a quick result, that would satisfy the children. Now numbering three instead of the usual two. Snow ice cream sounded about right to me.

And once again Mary came to my rescue with a recipe for the ice cream, before I even had a chance to go looking for one on the internet! She even knew how many liters in a gallon for me (3.8 for those of you who are curious.)

The three kids thought this was a crazy idea, making ice cream from snow, but none of them turned down the chance to try it. Especially when it came together super quick and they could try it right away. Two of the three kids loved it.

We went with vanilla, but next time might try the chocolate. Which I bet would get a three out of three.

Snow Ice Cream

1 gallon snow
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half and half
2 tbsp vanilla

Mix it all up, adding half and half first then enough milk to the
consistency you want. Then put in freezer for about 20 minutes if you
want "hard" ice cream and serve immediately if you want soft

If you want chocolate, add 1/2 a cup of liquid chocolate milk stuff and
cut back half and half by 1/3 of a cup

Monthly Mingle: How crayons started dinner

Yes, I said crayons. No, we didn't eat them. (What were you thinking?!?) But they were responsible for the start of this dinner.

We had this for dinner last night, and I enjoyed every bite of it. And the idea of it started last week at work, where I was coloring. You know, crayons and paper, coloring. In this case, I was coloring with a couple of little girls, R and V. I was coloring a picture of spaghetti and meatballs.

I don't know why, but we started talking about food and dinner. Maybe it was my picture. I can't remember, but we were talking about foods we liked and dinner, when R said she loved chicken pot pie. I agreed, but said I couldn't make that for dinner because my boys were fussy. She crinkled her little nose and said, "Fussy! Why are they fussy?"

And with that, she challenged an assumption I had been making. I had never made chicken pot pie for my family. I had bought a few frozen ones before, mostly for me, because I like them, but had just been assuming that my boys would not like it. "But why won't they like it?" I thought to myself. It's chicken, which both my children like, my choice of vegetables (and I wasn't going to pick veggies that they don't like!), pie crust of some kind and a bit of a cream sauce. Why wouldn't they like that? Sure, my husband isn't fond of chicken, it usually isn't his first choice, but then he is more likely to order it out than I am, and he tolerates it. He's also been very good at trying everything lately, so I thought, "Why not?"

See? Crayons = dinner. Easy, right?

This chicken pot pie did not involve pie dough, but did involve puff pastry. Which reminds me to never buy this type of puff pastry again - you'd think that a local bakery that makes their own puff pastry on site from scratch would make a butter one, but noooooooo, this one didn't. Never again. It tasted okay, but I know what good, homemade, from scratch, butter puff pastry tastes like, and am fussy myself about a few things. This is one of them.

Under the puff pastry top, a creamy mixture of chicken, onions, carrots, green beans, red and yellow peppers, and mushrooms bubbled and steamed. This was one of those meals that takes longer to assemble than anything else. Chop this, dice that, stir this, season that. I was hungry when I started and even hungrier when I was finally able to pull it out of the oven.

So the verdict on fussy? I think we had a split vote actually. On the like it side was myself, obviously, and my little five year old foodie, who was inhaling his as fast as the heat would allow, when he suddenly caught his brother's "I don't like this" attitude and stopped eating it. He got more than 3/4 of the way through it first though. My husband was iffy on it. Didn't dislike it alot, ate it, and took the extra I made for his lunch in with him today. My oldest was the hold out. He crinkled his nose at it, and eventually ate everything but the puff pastry and the mushrooms. Mostly because he wanted dessert.

I could probably make it again for dinner and people would eat it, but it wouldn't be something they would request.

I'm submitting this pie for Meeta's Monthly Mingle for March, One-Dish Dinners. Sure I made mine in individual containers, but it could easily have been done as a single, large pie. Which is how I was planning on making it initially but, you know, mini is funner in cooking!

Chicken Pot Pie

1 package frozen puff pastry (1 lb), defrosted
3 chicken breasts, diced and seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1/4 each, red and yellow peppers, finely diced
handful green beans, trimmed and cut into small pieces
8 mushrooms, quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.
Heat large pan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown chicken. If necessary, brown in batches. Set aside. Add remaining oil into pot and saute the onions and carrots for a few minutes, before adding in the mushrooms, peppers and garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Stir and saute for 3-4 more minutes before adding in the green beans. Saute an additional 2 minutes before adding the butter. When the butter is melted, add in the flour and stir carefully. Cook for 3 minutes before gradually adding in the milk, stirring continually. Add in the nutmeg. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, thickening. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Spoon mixture in good sized casserole dish, or individual sized dishes (I had 5.) Cut puff pastry to fit inside the dish or dishes. Lay the pastry over top and place dish on a baking sheet before placing in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed, golden, and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
Allow to cool some before eating. Unless you like having a burnt tongue.