Sunday, January 31, 2010

Let them eat CAKE and soup!

With the weather predicted to be freezing rain, sleet, or a few inches of snow, I desperately wanted to make something warm, filling, and delicious before the power went out. I experienced a week without power last winter during an ice storm. I admit I am terrified of being without heat again. This time, the night before it was all supposed to hit, I felt a need to make sure my belly was full in case something happened the next day. So, we went to eat pasta at the Pesto Cafe. It was a delicious meal. I had pesto pasta and I don't remember what David had but it was good. We decided on a lovely-sounding dessert: Pear Frangelico. With pear, Frangelico, and ice cream listed as ingredients, who could resist? It was in fact, the pear in this dish that gave me the idea of trying to make a pear dessert of my own. I found a Pear Upside-Down Chocolate Cake recipe to try.

I already knew I wanted the main dish to be soup. Few things sound as comforting in the cold of winter, especially as sleet hits the windows and you are quivering with the thought of the heat going out at some point that night.

I have little experience creating dishes with squashes but I was eager to try a butternut squash soup. This recipe I adapted from a Paula Deen one on the Food Network website.

This soup was an adventure. It is a simple recipe but I kept running into stumbling blocks. I was unable to find fresh butternut squash at the grocery store until the checkout girl rang up my last item. Yes, at this moment, I spied them in a corner with some other types of squash. I hadn't even gone over there because I'd been attracted to a pile of squashes more centrally located. Why must they separate the squash!?! Fortunately, before I checked out, I had looked in the frozen section and found the frozen variety ( I didn't even know they sold frozen butternut squash). Also, while laying out all the ingredients, I noticed that the half an onion that I had in the fridge had molded! I was forced to use dried minced onion in its place (trudging back to the grocery store in several inches of snow seemed unappealing). I do hope your soup endeavor runs smoother than mine. I know I'll be more prepared next time.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from a recipe by Paula Deen

You'll need:

- 2 lbs of butternut squash. If using fresh, halve the squash, peel it, and make sure all the seeds are out before cutting into 1-inch pieces. If using frozen, simply defrost before use.

- 1 1/2 cups diced onion (again, mine molded so I used the dried kind, following the rule: 1 tablespoon minced dried onion = 1/4 cup of fresh onion)

- 2 carrots, peeled and diced

- 41.25 ounces of chicken broth. The recipe called for three 13 3/4 oz cans, but I get a kind that doesn't come in cans)

- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter + 1 tablespoon butter (divided)
- 1/2 cup of cream
- Croutons, if desired
- Shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired

In a large saucepan, sauté squash, onions, and carrots in 1 tablespoon of butter. Add broth and salt and simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes. Allow soup to cool somewhat, add remaining butter and puree soup in a blender or food processor. Stir cream into soup.  Serve warm with croutons or bread. Sprinkle on shredded Parmesan cheese if you wish (oh, you'll wish).

You can make your own croutons by cutting up good bread and toasting in the oven. You can add spices, but I found that just a good toasting works when making croutons for this soup.

And now for the cake!

The cake recipe called for ground toasted almonds. I bought a 6 ounce bag of sliced almonds and toasted the whole lot. I think probably you only need half the bag for the cake recipe. Live and learn right? To toast the almonds, spread the nuts out evenly on an ungreased cookie sheet (the kind that has higher edges is best so you don't lose almonds over the edge). Toast them at 325 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, checking and stirring often to prevent burning. They will burn quickly! Let them cool a bit and then run them through a food processor to "grind" them.

Pear Upside-Down Chocolate Cake
adapted from a Food Network recipe


- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 Bosc pears


- 1/3 cup of milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup finely ground toasted almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup non-Dutch processed natural unsweetened cocoa (plus some additional for dusting)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- Confectioner's sugar for dusting
- Dark Chocolate bar (at least 70%) for shaving on top of the cake

To prepare the Pears:
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering the paper too. Melt the butter, brown sugar, lemon zest and juice over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the pears and cover, allowing to simmer for about four minutes (until the pears are soft and juicy) making sure to turn pears over once. While the pears are cooking, set a strainer over a saucepan. Once done, pour the pears and the syrup into the strainer. The saucepan should catch all the liquid while the pears stay in the strainer. The juice you will later reduce and pour over the cake. Arrange the pears in the cake pan with the stem ends toward the center and rounded sides down, trying to leave 1/4 inch between them and the sides of the pan. The recipe says you should have one pear left and to chop it and use enough of it to fill the center. However, I found that I had 3 halves left and didn't really need but a few small pieces to fill the center.

To prepare the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move the rack to the middle of the oven. Scald the milk in a small saucepan and keep warm for later use. Stir together flour, almonds, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes). Increase speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so all the sugar is incorporated. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and beat an additional minute. Turn speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time, making sure to mix well before adding the next. Very slowly and in small portions, add in the flour mixture, again making sure to mix well before adding the next portion. Turn off the mixer and fold in the hot milk.

Spread the batter over the pears carefully as not to disturb them. Tap the pan lightly on the counter to settle the batter and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (about 50 minutes). Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes then invert the cake onto a serving dish. Allow to cool more before carefully peeling the parchment paper from the top. Cool completely. Once the cake is cool, boil the reserved pear syrup until it is slightly thick. Brush it on the top of the cake. Mix together a small amount of cocoa powder with an equal amount of confectioner's sugar and sift over the cake. Add the chocolate shavings and serve. Yum!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christmas and the New Year

Hello! I have been busy. Wow! I have eaten so many wonderful meals in the past months. David and I took a trip to New York for New Year's Eve (no, we didn't see the ball drop, not even on tv). We splurged on some very yummy food and visited my dear friend Susan and her dog Gretchen. What a wonderful time! I managed to take several pictures of some of our food outings anyway. I will try to post them as soon as I can. I also made some fantastic old-fashioned caramels. To DIE for. Yes, Susan, I will be sending you some in a very small box. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of these before sending them out.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Foul-mouthed Julie Powell has nothing on me.... well, at least on Boeuf Bourguignon anway. I tried this recipe today. Yep.... it pretty much took the whole day. I'm sure someone more efficient in the kitchen could have smoothed their way through it in less time, but I had fun.

I should probably mention that I have no intention of cooking my way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as Julie Powell did. Nor do I need to find myself. I already know who I am. I feel a bit defensive about Julia Child. Like, "I knew who Julia Child was before that darn book or movie came out. And I am not cooking because of either!" In my defense, I did already know who Julia Child was before "Julie and Julia" came out. In fact, I had already read her autobiography. I remember watching a bit of a show here and there when I was at my aunt's house. I found her funny even then. I have also made Soupe A L'Onion (forgive the absence of accent marks as I do not yet know how to add them on here). This was simply the best onion soup I had ever had. Period. David and I had both been a bit dubious as neither of us likes raw onions or the overabundance of cooked onions. But this onion soup was to die for!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fresh Fruit Pizza

I thought I would try to make a semi-healthy dessert though I'm not sure it counts if you add sweetened-condensed milk and chocolate. But I did use fresh fruit (and canned mandarin oranges) and the chocolate was organic and above 70% cocoa. Does that count? I used way too much fruit. One thing I really hate about recipes is that they tell you for example on this one.... I was supposed to have 3 cups of crushed pretzels and 7-8 cups of fruit. Okay.... exactly HOW am I supposed to have a clue how many bags of pretzels I need to make 3 cups of crushed pretzels? AND how am I supposed to know how many cut grapes makes a cup or how many plums I need to make a cup....? Seriously? Just a clue please........

Oh... and just a tip....drain the fruit after you've cut it up and put it in a bowl together. Otherwise, you might end up with fruit juice leaking over the edge of the pan like mine did!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The fish stick critic.....

Our 8 year-old food critic thought the fish sticks I made were "okay." Since he only ate three of them, I have used my deductive skills to conclude that he didn't really like them but had the good sense to be polite. He's learning the man answer early. You know the one. It's what you get when you ask a man how those shoes go with this dress or if he likes your new 'do. He says whatever he thinks you want to hear. I'm so glad David at least makes an attempt to give me his honest opinion (bless his heart, I'm sure it's not easy). I'm not sure what other women want, but I really DO want to know if that hat looks totally hideous on me. I won't wear it and embarrass myself if it does!

Anway..... back to the food. We did manage to find the grape ice cream at the grape festival. I admit I was naively expecting this creamy homemade version made from local grapes. While I can't say for sure that it wasn't homemade and from local grapes (because I didn't watch them make it), I will say that it looked like the typical soft-serve fare that you can get at a chain restaurant. Only this was faintly purple and did have a grape-y flavor. Oh I finished it and liked it, but the lilac soft-serve wasn't quite what I'd had in mind. Oh well. I never did find those local grapes that they were selling. I saw someone walking around with them, but never saw the vendor myself. Again.... oh well. There's always next year, right?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Will homemade fish sticks hold up to 8-year-old critic?

So, I'm picking up my nephew, Noah, tommorrow after work. I've planned hot dogs for dinner that night (how many kids don't like hot dogs right?). The Tontitown Grape Festival is going on, so of course ,we will be riding all the rides the pocketbook will allow and will splurge on grape ice cream (wonder if it's very purple?). But for one meal Saturday, I'd like to make a healthy fish sticks version. I made these for David and myself one night and we LOVED them. But will an 8 year old boy? We shall see! I'm looking forward to it!

No pictures today... just links to follow...

- The fish sticks recipe I use

- Tontitown Grape Festival

Friday, July 31, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

David was craving chocolate and decided that chocolate chip cookies would be just the thing. I couldn't find the recipe my mom uses, so I adapted this recipe from the back of the Nestle's Toll House semi-sweet morsels package. And believe me, if you follow their recipe exactly, your cookies will be a lot flatter than these! The secret is to add more flour, which has been done already in the following recipe.

-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

- Combine the following in a small bowl:

3 1/4 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

- In the mixer, beat until creamy:

1 cup (2 sticks) of softened butter

3/4 cup of granulated sugar (the only granulated sugar that I had was vanilla sugar)

3/4 cup of brown sugar, packed into measuring cup

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

- Add 2 large eggs into the mixer one at a time, making sure the first is well-mixed before adding the next.

- Gradually, add the flour mixture into the mix. If you add too quickly, you get a big "pooof!" of flour flying up.

- Stir in 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Spoon the dough onto greased baking sheets, being sure to leave space between cookies for expansion. I know some people like to use a small ice cream scoop to put the dough onto the cookie sheet so that they're more uniform, but I really like using a spoon and scraping the dough off with my finger. For whatever reason, it makes me feel like they're more homemade.

- Once they're on the sheet, slide them in the preheated oven and let them bake for 9-11 minutes or until they're golden brown. Let them cool completely on wire racks ...... or eat them warm .... whatever!!