Thursday, June 30, 2011

Creamy Parmesan Pasta Salad

Before going to my daughter's house for dinner, I asked what could I bring. She replied, "A good pasta salad."  I can count on one hand the times I have made a pasta salad... and while they got eaten, I didn't think that they were all that good!  Thankfully I had my latest issue of Food Network Magazine and they had an article on pasta salads. It was a handy article to have as they gave you a list of different combinations that worked well together and three different dressings to choose from... seriously folks, the combinations are endless!  I went with using roasted red peppers and broccoli in my pasta salad. My daughter and husband highly approved and so I guess I finally found a "good" pasta salad I could make!
The secret to adding broccoli to a salad is blanching it.  I used to never take the time to do it, but once I started to do so it made a big difference in my salads.  Not only does blanching give your broccoli a nice vibrant color, but it also gives it a nice crunch.

How to blanch broccoli:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. The water should ideally taste faintly salty.
Fill a large bowl with water and ice. Make sure to leave enough room for the broccoli to comfortable fit.
Once the water has reached a boil, put the broccoli into the pot and allow it to boil for 3 minutes

Remove the broccoli from the pot and put it directly into the ice water, making sure the broccoli is covered with the water completely.  Drain and use.

Creamy Parmesan Dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
            Combine all the dressing ingredients together except the parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pasta salad
1/2 pound pasta of your choice ( I used small bow ties) 1 cup broccoli florets,
1 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced.

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.  Combine ingredients and pour creamy parmesan dressing over; toss gently to cover pasta.  Add 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese and toss again.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and serve.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cookie carnival: Lemon Tea Cookies

Let's face it, cookies have a place on our planet.  They can be gooey, chewy, crunchy or melt in your mouth heaven.  I love trying out new cookie ideas and am always thrilled when one is so tasty that I can add it to my cookie rotation. This recipe was good... but they were fragile and sticky.... not exactly something that would work for the cookies I bake for the Volunteer house. Still, it is a good cookie and will likely make them again for a ladies tea or special event.  Cookie Carnival Challenges are great fun and there is always room for others to join in on the fun!

Lemon Tea Cookies
from Betty Crocker website
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Filling :
2/3   cup granulated sugar                                                                                       
2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel                                                                                        
3       tablespoons lemon juice                                                                                       
1       tabelespoon butter or margarine                                                                                        
1       teaspoons cornstarch                                                                                       
1/4    teaspoons salt                                                                                       
 1       egg, beaten

In large bowl, beat butter, 1/3 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Stir in flour until dough forms. Cover; refrigerate 30 minutes for easier handling

Heat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Press thumb into center of each ball to make indentation

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes

In 1-quart saucepan, heat all filling ingredients over low heat about 25 minutes, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Cool slightly, about 15 minutes

  Fill each thumbprint with rounded 1/4 measuring teaspoon filling. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon powdered sugar over cookies

Monday, June 27, 2011


Blog-checking lines: Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I must confess that the thought of making my own phyllo dough was a bit terrifying.  The dough just seemed so fragile and looked like it would be quite complicated so why bother when it was available at the grocery store? While there are numerous steps to the process, though dough itself was easily conquered.  Sure the stuff at the store is convenient, but if you are looking to all out impress someone with your culinary talents, by all means give the home made dough a try!

Phyllo Dough: 
*Note 1: To have enough to fill my 9” x 9” baking dish with 18 layers of phyllo I doubled this recipe. 
*Note 2: Single recipe will fill a 8” x 5” baking dish.  
Note 3: Dough can be made a head of time and froze. Just remove from freezer and allow to thaw and continue making your baklava

1 1/3 cups (320 ml) (185 gm/6½ oz) unbleached all purpose (plain) flour
1/8 teaspoon (2/3 ml) (¾ gm) salt
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) cider vinegar, (could substitute white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar but could affect the taste)
1. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine flour and salt
2. Mix with paddle attachment
3. Combine water, oil and vinegar in a small bowl. 
Rolling your Phyllo  
* Remove all rings and jewelry so it does not snag the dough**
Use whatever means you have to get the dough as thin as you can. I used a 3/4 inch pvc pipe which I cut down to a good rolling size.  You may also use a pasta machine if you have one, or a normal rolling pin whatever works for you. 
1. Unwrap your dough and cut off a chunk slightly larger then a golf ball. While you are rolling be sure to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.

2. Be sure to flour your hands, rolling pin and counter. As you roll you will need to keep adding, don’t worry, you can’t over-flour.
3. Roll out the dough a bit to flatten it out..

4.Wrap the dough around your rolling pin/dowel

5. Roll back and forth quickly with the dough remaining on the dowel
6. Remove; notice how much bigger it is

7. Rotate and repeat until it is as thin as you can it. Don’t worry if you get rips in the dough, as long as you have one perfect one for the top you will never notice.
8. When you get it as thin as you can with the rolling pin, carefully pick it up with well floured hands and stretch it on the backs of your hands as you would a pizza dough, just helps make it that much thinner. Roll out your dough until it is transparent. NOTE: you will not get it as thin as the frozen phyllo dough you purchase at the store, it is made by machine. Set aside on a well-floured surface. Repeat the process until your dough is used up. Between each sheet again flower well. You will not need to cover your dough with a wet cloth, as you do with boxed dough, it is moist enough that it will not try out.
Baklava Recipe  
Adapted from Alton Brown, The Food Network
30 servings
For the Syrup
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) honey
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) water
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) sugar  
1 cinnamon stick 
1 piece fresh citrus peel (lemon or orange works best
a few cloves or a pinch of ground cloves 
When you put your baklava in the oven start making your syrup. When you combine the two, one of them needs to be hot, I find it better when the baklava is hot and the syrup has cooled 

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pot over medium high heat. I did not leave my citrus peel whole, I zested it and used it that way.  Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved
2. Boil for 10 minutes, stir occasionally.                                                                
3. Once boiled for 10 minutes remove from heat and strain cinnamon stick and lemon, allow to cool as baklava cooks

Ingredients for the Filling:

1 (5-inch/125 mm piece) cinnamon stick, broken into 2 to 3 pieces or 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) ground cinnamon
15 to 20 whole allspice berries ( I just used a few pinches)
3/4 cup (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) blanched almonds
3/4 cup (180 ml) (155 gm/5½ oz) raw or roasted walnuts
3/4 cup (180 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) raw or roasted pistachios
2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm/ 5 1/3 oz) sugar
phyllo dough (see recipe above)
1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225g/8 oz) melted butter ** I did not need this much, less then half**

1.Preheat oven to moderate 350 F/180 C/gas mark 4.
2. Combine nuts,sugar, spices in a food processor and pulse on high until finely chopped. If you do not have a food processor you may chop the nuts with a knife, but it would be best to use ground cinnamon and ground allspice. Set Aside.
 3. Trim you phyllo sheets to fit in  your pan. 
4. Brush bottom of pan with butter and place first phyllo sheet
5. Brush the first phyllo sheet with butter and repeat approximately 5 times ending with butter. (Most recipes say more, but homemade phyllo is thicker so it's not needed)                           

6. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top.                                                                     7. Continue Layering phyllo dough and buttering, repeating process 4 times.                     8. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top.     
9. Continue layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times10. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
11. Continue layering and buttering phyllo 5 more times. On the top layer, make sure you have a piece of phyllo with no holes if possible, just looks better.
12. Once you have applied the top layer tuck in all the edges to give a nice appearanc
13. With a Sharp knife cut your baklava in desired shapes and number of pieces. If you can't cut all the ways through don’t worry you will cut again later. A 9x9 pan cuts nicely into 30 pieces. Then brush with a generous layer of butter making sure to cover every area and edge

14. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 30 minutes. (Oven temperatures will vary, you are looking for the top to be a golden brown, take close watch yours may need more or less time in the oven)
15. When baklava is cooked remove from oven and pour the cooled (will still be warmish) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. It looks like it is a lot but over night the syrup will soak into the baklava creating a beautifully sweet and wonderfully textured baklava

Next morning all syrup is absorbed
16. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled cover and store at room temperature. Allow the baklava to sit overnight to absorb the syrup.
17. Serve at room temperature
Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: There are a few ways to store your Baklava. It is recommended that you store your baklava at room temperature in an airtight container. Stored at room temperature your baklava will last for up to 2 weeks. You will notice as the days pass it will get a little juicier and chewier. You may choose to store it in the fridge; this will make it a little harder and chewy, but does increase the shelf life. You can also freeze your baklava and then just set it out at room temperature to thaw.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Monthly Challenge Blogaversary: Black Bean Enchiladas

The June Monthly Challenge was to recreate a recipe from the blog.  I chose the Black Bean Enchiladas that had originally been posted in May of 2009. 

The changes I made was to use the entire recipe for the black bean mixture, made more own corn tortillas and enchilada sauce.
The recipe is from the Food Network Magazine  and can be found here.  The used the black bean mixture for two recipes; once for burgers and then using the remaining mixture for the enchiladas.  I used all of the recipe for the enchiladas... I like ours filled! The bean recipe by itself was rather bland and I would definitely have to spice it up if I was to use it in burgers.  However, the enchilada sauce I used worked well with it and gave it lots of flavor.

Black Bean Burgers:

  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
    • 8 corn tortillas
    • 1 cup leftover black bean burger mixture
    • 1 can enchilada sauce (or try my recipe which follows!)
    • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar
    • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • In a food processor, pulse onion and garlic until finely chopped. Add 1 can black beans, cilantro, parsley, egg, and red pepper flakes and pulse to combine.
    Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the remaining can of black beans and the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and mix until well combined.
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    Pour half the of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking dish.
    Warm tortillas by wrapping in a damp paper towel and heating in microwave for 45 seconds or until soft and pliable.
    Place 2 tablespoons of black bean burger mixture onto the bottom third of a tortilla. Roll the tortilla up and place seam side down into the baking dish. Repeat with remaining black bean burger mixture and tortillas. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the filled tortillas. Top with the Cheddar and bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.
  • this is my recipe for Enchilada Sauce.... I have had it for years and don't recall where the recipe came from

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, diced or minced whichever you prefer
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
15 ounce can tomato sauce or 2 (8-ounce) cans if that's what you have on hand
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
     Heat the oil and and cook the onion until it is soft.  Add the chili powder, garlic, cumin and sugar,tomato sauce and water.  Simmer and cook until it is thickened. 

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

When I heard that this month's Have the Cake challenge was going to be Boston cream pie I knew exactly what to make, Martha Stewart's Boston Cream Cupcakes. Cupcakes just always seem to fit the bill for me... I mean, who doesn't like cupcakes??? they turned out yummy and were just the right size for this rich dessert. 
The recipe for her cupcakes can be found here on her website.   If there were to be any changes I would make in her recipe it would be to add more vanilla into the cream.  Using an actual vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste would have put this recipe over the top! There were some cupcakes left over and when I took them out of the fridge the next day, they were even better!
Be sure to check out the Have the Cake website to see all the Boston Cream Pie entries.

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes
by martha stewart
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for tins
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
    • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for tins
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    •      Directions:
    For cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour standard muffin tins. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Warm milk and butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  • Beat eggs and sugar with a mixer on high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in dry ingredients.
  • Bring milk and butter to a boil. With mixer on low speed, add milk mixture to batter, and beat until smooth. Add vanilla. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each halfway. Bake cupcakes until light gold, about 15 minutes. Let cool in tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Let cool.
  • Using a serrated knife, cut each in half horizontally. Spread 1 tablespoon vanilla cream on each cupcake bottom. Sandwich with top. Spoon glaze over each, and serve immediately.

Vanilla Cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  •      Directions:
  • Whisk yolks until smooth. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add milk in a slow, steady stream. Cook, stirring, until mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour 1/3 of milk mixture into yolks, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until thick, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in vanilla
  • Pass vanilla cream through a fine sieve into a bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.

  • Chocolate Ganache
    • 2/3 cup heavy cream
    • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    •      Directions
    • Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan.Remove from heat, and add chocolateand corn syrup. Let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and let cool, stirring often. Use immediately.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chocolate Apricot Bark

If I wanted to make this candy look super pretty then I would have to painstakingly place each piece of dried apricot, cranberry and cashew on top of the melted chocolate to give it color and presence. There's just one problem with that... see, I am critical of the way my things turn out.  Some people can toss upon their ingredients and create an elegant dish.  Alas, I am not one of them!  I sit there with my tweezers and place each piece gingerly down and still think it looks funky.  In all honesty, I tend to just give it up and toss the whole think into a bowl and mix it all up.... it keeps me sane.
The trick to making a good chocolate bark is using a good quality chocolate.  A rookie mistake is using the flavored barks that are often sold around the holiday season for candy making.  While they do melt nicely, they don't taste all that fabulous.  I like to stock up on the Ghiradelli candy bars when I find them on sale.
I like to use the 60% cacao bittersweet and their semi sweet chocolate for use in this recipe.
Chocolate Apricot Bark

  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or Craisins

Line a  small sheet pan with parchment paper; the bigger the sheet of paper, the thinner the bark will be.  I like to keep my paper trimmed down to about 9inch x 10inch.

Chop the chocolates and melt the 2 chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt completely. Add the cashews, apricots and cranberries and mix together.  

Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle, drizzle with white chocolate if desired. Let set for about 2 hours. Cut the bark into desired size and serve.  Can be stored at room temperature in container with tight fitting lid.