Monday, May 30, 2011

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Upon preparing to photograph this glorious bowl of soup I asked my husband what he thought would make it look its best. His reply, "There's nothing you can do. No matter what it is going to look like baby poop." All right. Thanks for that piece of insight.

I know that's just what you wanted to read at the beginning of a post on a food blog, but you know that's probably what you are thinking or will be thinking the more you study the picture. It really was a good bowl of soup. A bit bland, as all split pea soups are, but very hearty. And just so you know, my husband had two bowls of this soup that he referred to in the above manner, so there. Enjoy!

Split Pea Soup
2 quarts of water
2 cups of green split peas
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound of ham (shaved or cubed)
salt and pepper

Fill stock pot with 2 quarts of water; add green split peas, celery, carrot, onion, thyme, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, and ham. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium (or a simmer) and boil slowly until peas are tender (at least 20 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve or puree in your blender.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Along with the raspberry checkerboard cake I made for our MOPS meeting, I also whipped up a batch of these beauties for the thank you luncheon for our MOPPETS helpers. Yes, I know, they really aren't beauties, at least not when you compare them to the ones I saw that sparked my desire to bake them. But you win some and you lose some, right?

What I loved about these cupcakes was that they don't use a box mix (not that I'm against box mixes, I just wanted something that said I put a little more effort into their thank you) but they are super simple to make. The white chocolate cupcakes went off without a hitch. The frosting. however, is another story.

I made an entire batch of strawberry cream cheese frosting and an entire batch of white chocolate cream cheese frosting. You can see from the title of the post which one dominated the cupcakes and which one I will be making again. Don't get me wrong, the white chocolate frosting was heavenly but it couldn't stand up to the strawberry cream cheese. I even followed the suggestion of putting both frosting flavors in separate baggies and then putting both bags into a pastry bag so that they squeezed out simultaneously without mingling in the bag. Totally did not work for me. The strawberry, probably because it was a bit wetter and therefore not so dense, squeezed out easily while the white chocolate didn't make its appearance (no matter how much I squeezed) until the last few cupcakes.

Whichever frosting you chose, both will compliment the white chocolate cupcakes well. Enjoy!

Side Note: I had A LOT of leftover frosting. I was disappointed that I added 7 cups of powdered sugar and I still didn't have a stiff frosting that could stand up during piping. I would definitely only make half of a batch of frosting next time and not worry about the piping consistency so much.

White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
Sources: Fake Ginger from Baking Bites

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt the chopped white chocolate by heating it in 30 second intervals in the microwave. Stir well with a fork between each interval and cook only until the chocolate is smooth when stirred.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by melted white chocolate and vanilla extract. Working in two or three additions, alternate adding in some of the milk and some of the flour mixture, ending with a final addition of flour. Mix until just incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.

Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-23 minutes until a tester comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Cool completely before frosting.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup strawberries, food processed or blended
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
7 cups powdered sugar

Using a stand mixer, combine cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add mashed strawberries and vanilla and mix until combined. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it reaches piping consistency.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dipped Shortbread

Another item crossed off my top 100 list! Sugar cookies are usually my thing but I decided to branch out and try a dipped shortbread.  I'm so glad I did!

I chose a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa. Her thick, rectangular shortbread cookies drizzled with chocolate looked so appealing that I knew it was the one I wanted to try for my first shortbread recipe.

I made very few changes to the recipe. The ingredient list is the same except for the addition of 3 ounces of white chocolate along with the semi-sweet chocolate. The only change I made in the process of making them was to roll the shortbread dough to a sugar cookie thickness and to cut with a cookie cutter. Personally, I think that they could be cut even smaller and drizzled lightly with chocolate over the entire surface. Small, rich, chocolatey, good. Enjoy!  

Dipped Shortbread
Source: Slightly modified from the Food Network

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough and cut with a cookie cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When the cookies are cool, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put 3 ounces of the semi-sweet chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Repeat the steps with the white chocolate. Allow them to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.

Drizzle 1/2 of each cookie with just enough chocolate to coat it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Checkerboard Cake

The beauty of this cake is that it looks simple and unassuming, yet it is not until you slice into the layers that you get a peek into the incredible design that is awaiting you. I really had a hard time deciding on the particular recipe to use for my first checkerboard cake. So many of the recipes out there (even the one that came with my pan set) are for a chocolate and yellow checkerboard cake. While I am perfectly okay with chocolate and yellow cake together (it is one of my favorite flavor combos for cake and frosting) I wanted something a bit different and a bit more summery. This particular checkerboard cake was going to our end of the year MOPS bash and I wanted it to reflect the summer theme we had chosen.

What a challenge finding a recipe though and feeling confident with it. I read so many reviews of checkerboard cake recipes that had some touting it as the best thing on earth and then others saying it was beautiful but the driest cake they had ever eaten. Couldn't there be a happy medium? Couldn't there be a cake that tastes great, is moist, and looks beautiful? Sometimes you just don't know until it comes to show time.

I had my doubts that this cake was going to turn out right from the beginning. The very first step is to cook down the frozen raspberries and raspberry syrup into a thick-ish syrup. I always doubt myself when it comes to the thickness of syrup necessary for my recipes. That and I really have little patience for waiting for raspberries (or any fruit) to break down and thicken up over the stove top. I guess it would help it I didn't wait until late in the evening before starting the recipe. I had good intentions of doing this step well before I needed to mix and bake the cake but as usual I let time get away from me. So, back to the syrup. It took a while for the raspberries to break down. Once I had enough of waiting I ran the sauce through a sieve to separate out the sauce and the seeds. It was supposed to yield me one cup of syrup. The fact that I had two cups of syrup meant that I hadn't broken it down near enough. So back on the stove top it went. This time I boiled and boiled and boiled the syrup until it looked like it was close to 1 cup. Voila! It measured at exactly one cup. However, it was now after 10 o'clock at night and there was no way I wanted to mix a cake I had never made before that required some technical components and bake it before bed. Instead I set my alarm for EARLY in the morning to finish.

Early the next morning I set out to mixing up the batters. It was a surprisingly easy process. The basic batter was the same, it was then divided in half (which I used my scale to do). To one half I added milk and 2 cups of the flour, to the other half I added the raspberry syrup and the other 2 cups of flour. I could tell that the batters were very different as far as texture was concerned. When I got them in the pan they were insanely different. This was the second time that I thought this cake was doomed. You can see the variations in texture between the pink and white circles even after the cake was done baking.

Since I was short on time I stuck them in the freezer to cool completely. After they were cool I added a thin layer of raspberry jam to one of the pink layers and then the white layer. I decided not to shave the tops to even the layers so I ended up stacking the bottom two layers top to top. Meanwhile I whipped up the white chocolate frosting. This was the third time that I thought this cake was doomed. It seemed as though the frosting was going to be way too thin but it ended up holding its form nicely.

And now, for the verdict. This was an awesome cake! It met all the criteria for a checkerboard cake. It was beautiful on the outside and had perfect layers on the inside. It was moist and each taste was distinct, yet they went together perfectly. Enjoy!

(Side Note: I followed the recipe exactly, minus the red food coloring. I had a lot of leftover frosting so I think next time I might only make a half of a batch of frosting.)

(This thin slice was all that was left after our MOPS meeting! 
I'm glad I had it so I could snap a picture of it, but it isn't the most appealing piece.)

Raspberry Checkerboard Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
Source: Chefs Catalog

2 - 12 ounce packages of sweetened frozen raspberries
1 cup raspberry syrup, such as Torani
4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
12 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
a few fresh raspberries for garnish

Tips: Spread the jam between layers very lightly to preserve the checkerboard effect. Adding about 5 drops of red gel food coloring to the raspberry syrup will deepen the red hue. (I didn't add any coloring.)

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Lightly coat the cake pans with cooking spray and dust with flour. Set aside.In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine frozen raspberries and raspberry syrup. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and continue cooking until liquid reduces by two-thirds.

Remove from heat and strain, pressing on the raspberries to release all the juices. There should be approximately 1 cup. Dispose of the raspberry pulp or reserve for another use. Add the food coloring, if using.

If there is more than 1 cup of juice, put in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to 1 cup; cool to room temperature. If there is less than 1 cup, add enough water to equal 1 cup.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Divide the batter in half. To one half of the batter, beat in the 2 cups of the flour mixture alternately with the milk to the batter, beating after each addition until smooth. To the remaining batter, beat in the remaining flour mixture alternately with the raspberry syrup to the batter until smooth.

Place checkerboard divider into one prepared pan. Then spoon in the two batters (red and plain) as described in "How to use your Checkerboard Cake Set."

Place all 3 pans in oven at same time. Rotate pans halfway through baking. Bake approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes rest in the pans, set on a rack, for 10 minutes. Place a cooling rack on top of each cake, invert the cake and remove the pan. Cool completely.

Using no more than 1/4 cup of jam, frost a very thin layer on top of one of the white cakes and on the raspberry cake.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Beat in the almond extract. Reduce the speed to low and carefully drizzle the chocolate into the cream cheese. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat until well incorporated.

Spread a thin layer of frosting on the jam-covered white cake. Place the raspberry cake on top of this cake and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Place the last white cake on top. Frost the sides and top of the checkerboard cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Strawberry Scones

Strawberries don't seem to last long, do they? I had about 3 cups of diced up strawberries that I knew I couldn't use before they went bad so I started searching for a scone recipe. I came across a few but settled on this one in the end.

I ended up making two batches, one for my mom and one for my family. I baked half of my mom's batch and froze the other half. My family's I just put right into the freezer and didn't pull them out until a few months later. I initially took them out for breakfast the next morning but I was craving some fresh baked goods and it was too late in the evening so I didn't want to start from scratch. Of the six I baked for breakfast the next morning we ended up eating three that night. The next morning I decided to spruce them up with a bit of icing.    

Strawberry Scones
Source: Confessions of a Tart

1 cup strawberries (cut into bite-sized pieces)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar + extra for sprinkling
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, in cubes, slightly softened
2/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Sprinkle strawberries with 1/2 tablespoon sugar; set aside. Combine remaining sugar with flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter (you may want to use your fingers to be sure butter is evenly mixed into flour). Stir in strawberries; then add cream/half-and-half/buttermilk all at once. Use spatula to gently stir dough until it holds together.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Be gentle so you don't break up the berries and don't overwork the dough. Sprinkle dough with flour if it gets sticky.

Form the dough into a circle 3/4 inch thick. If any berries peek out, push them into dough. Cut circle into 6-8 wedges, then transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them. Bake 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake 5-10 more minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown and spring back when you push them (keep checking on them - you do not want dry scones!). 

* You can add icing by mixing powdered sugar and water to the desired thickness.

Makes about 8 scones

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Granola Bars (Fig, Date, and Almond)

Homemade granola bars! Doesn’t the idea sound great? I love a good granola bar but I find that I am no longer into the ones that I used to enjoy as a kid. Now I want something a bit hearty, and while I like a bit of sweet added to it I don’t crave something that is over the top sugar.

When I came across a post on homemade granola bars I was very excited! Not only did she give a recipe for the particular granola bars that she made, but she also gave the necessary components for a granola bar so that you could mix and match any number of ingredients and still have a granola bar for the finished product.

For my first foray into the homemade granola bar arena I chose to use her basic recipe but I am really looking forward to experimenting with other flavor combinations. My husband and son devoured them but I have to admit that my first bite was a little disappointing. I was anticipating these granola bars to be like the ones I had always eaten that were pre-packaged, but once you get past the fact that they are not dry, but are moist and chewy and fresh you really won’t mind that you didn’t take it out of a package. Add to that the fact that you can make just about any flavor you want and that you have endless possibilities waiting for you. Enjoy!

Granola Bars (Fig, Date, and Almond)

1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 + ¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup chopped dried figs
1/3 cup chopped dried dates
1/3 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, applesauce, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Stir in the oats, making sure that it is evenly mixed and all of the oats are moistened. Mix in the almonds, figs, dates and raisins.

Turn the mixture out into the baking pan and press into the pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and tightly packed.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the freezer until the bars are firm, at least 1 hour. Remove from the pan and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.