Sunday, June 27, 2010

Zucchini Bread

My garden has been growing well, for the most part. Recently, my cucumbers and zucchini have really started to take off. I have two very large zucchini at the moment. Since I know my husband will not want to eat any of the zucchini as it is and I know I won't be able to eat two monsterous grilled zucchinis on my own, I decided to make zucchini bread. I used a recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. Their website does not have the recipe that I used.

This bread feels light and soft and baked up really well for a baking powder-raised quick bread. The color is light for a whole wheat bread because I used white whole wheat flour. I am starting to prefer it over traditional whole wheat flour. I like that it still has all the fiber of whole wheat, doesn't have the bitter tannin-like taste of whole wheat and isn't processed like white flour. It sounds like the best of all worlds to me.

I just tasted some of this bread and the texture is perfect. It is not dense like many whole wheat breads and the zucchini makes the bread super moist. The bread tasted good on its own, but I also tried it with some yogurt-based butter that I have. That was the ideal flavor combination for me. The butter was a great addition that took a good bread up to a next level.

I am looking forward to many more garden-inspired recipes in the future. My tomato plants have lots of buds and several green tomatoes at the moment. I have a feeling they will all ripen at the same time, so I will start thinking of things I want to do with all the marinara sauce, tomato soup, fried green tomatoes...and many more things.

Peanut Butter Cake Truffles

I was perusing the internet for various food sites and I came across a new trend in baking...cake balls. Or cake truffles, as they are also called. This seems to be something that is up and coming in the baking industry. One website I checked out sells 6 for $18.

What are cake balls? First you bake a cake, let it cool slightly and then crumble into small pieces. Pour in the desired frosting and mix well. After a brief stint in the refrigerator, form the cake/frosting mixture into balls and freeze two hours to overnight. They are then dipped in chocolate coating like a truffle and allowed to set. And voila! The other option is to use lollipop sticks to make cake lollipops.

I came up with several flavor combinations that I wanted to try out, but I only got a chance to try out one...yellow cake with peanut butter frosting coated with milk chocolate. This worked out really well. I was afraid there would be some logistical problems, like the amount of frosting to add or how large to make the balls, but it really went smoothly. I chose to use a small melon baller to get a consistent size by combining two scoops for each ball. This size seems to have a good cake to chocolate ratio. It is a lot bigger than a bite-sized treat, but if I went smaller, then there would be lots more chocolate than cake.

According to several places online, these will last for several days when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. It is best not to store them in the refrigerator because the chocolate will start to sweat.

I started with a 9x13" cake and one recipe of frosting. This resulted in just over 50 cake truffles. So while they take more work than a cake or cupcakes, the yield is fairly high. I will continue to pursue this track and see where it takes me. I have lots of other flavor combinations that I would like to try. Hopefully other people will like them, I will start sharing some of my peanut butter cake truffles starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chick Fil A spicy chicken sandwich update

I am a little bit behind at the moment, my husband and I actually tried out the spicy chicken sandwich last Thursday night. I had a crazy week at work and then a long weekend, so I didn't get a chance to write about it.

Overall, I was fairly happy with the sandwich. I got the deluxe version with pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato. I can't remember actually having a regular chicken sandwich from Chick Fil A, it is not a place I have visited many times in the past. I thought the breading on the chicken had a good consistency, it wasn't hard and crunchy and the chicken itself was moist. I can agree with others than it isn't really spicy, but I was assuming it would be lighter than I would make on my own since I have been getting used to a lot of heat in my food. The spice had a good flavor all around and I was happy with it. Though I will admit I added two packets of Texas Pete hot sauce to my sandwich because I was craving some major heat that night. If I just wanted a 'baby kick,' then the sandwich would have been perfect the way it was. My husband agreed with me, though I think he would more often opt for a regular chicken sandwich over the spicy one.

I just checked out the nutrition info on the deluxe, which actually has more calories than the hotly contested KFC double down (540 vs 580 calories...the regular spicy chicken sandwich has 490 calories). People have been outraged that things like the double down are leading to the downfall of our society by increasing obesity. And yet at the same time, people are applauding the arrival of the spicy chicken sandwich. Now tell me how that makes sense?

The bottom line is that fast food is not to blame for the increase in the weight of Americans. Fast food on occasion is not going to make someone gain 50 pounds. People just need to learn about moderation and also need to learn on how to rely on themselves to prepare healthy, easy home cooked meals. Then the occasional fast food splurge will not have an effect on your weight or overall health. It is all about balance and the choices that we make.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cheddar Apple Pie

Finally! I made an entire apple pie from scratch. I chose a recipe that had cheddar in the crust, hoping that the cheese would entice my husband to taste the pie. I don't think that he is bit on apple pie, but I thought the addition of cheese would be a good lure.

In my rush to get the pie completed before a party last weekend, I did not realize that the 2 1/2 cups of flour was not all in the crust. 1/4 cup of the flour was meant for the filling. When making the dough, I added quite a bit more water than the recipe called for, but that was what I needed in order for the dough to come together so that I could roll it out. But in my practice with pie doughs, I am getting a better feel for what the consistency should be.

It wasn't until I made the filling that I noticed my mistake in the crust. It was too late to turn back now, so I just went with the rest of the recipe. I used a vegetable peeler to remove the apple skin and then an 8 piece apple cutter to core and start the slices. I then cut the slices in half so that there were 16 identical sized slices. This worked out really well and didn't take near as long as I thought it would. I didn't measure out the apples, so I had quite a few slices left over when I added them to the pie crust. I made a huge mound in the pie and put the remainder in a container in the fridge.

I rolled out my top crust and fit it on top of the monster pile of apples the best that I could. It looked alright and definitely good for a first try, but I will need to practice the presentation more before I am completely happy with it. I had some trimmings from the crust left over so they went in the fridge as well. And now that I am writing this, I think I was supposed to dot 2 tablespoons of butter on top of the apples before adding the crust. I completely skipped that step in my rush, but to be honest, I didn't notice a thing that was lacking in the filling.

The pie baked just as suggested, no need to change the time or add the foil earlier than the recipe called for. The one thing that I did do differently was I spread a little butter on the top crust after it came out of the oven in hopes of preventing the crust from being too hard (which is a technique used for softening bread crusts). I feel like it worked well, though I wonder just how crunchy the top would have been without it.

The pie cooled just in time to take to the party. Everyone enjoyed the pie and no one mentioned anything wrong with the consistency of the crust. This was one baking mistake that didn't make or break the final product, which I am very glad for. I stored the little bit of leftovers in the fridge and had another piece last night. I tasted it both cold and after warming in the microwave. I definitely prefer a warm apple pie and the cheddar in the crust gave just the right amount of flavor without being over whelming.

I am very excited for the outcome of the apple pie and maybe I will make one when I visit my parents for the 4th of July...what is more American than an apple pie?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chik fil A Spicy Chicken Sandwich

I normally shy away from fast food, and try to eat out other places only once a week, but I think that rule will be broken this week. For some reason, the Chik fil A spicy chicken sandwich has me all excited to try it. You have to admit, their marketing ploys on this one have worked out tremendously. I missed the whole 'reservation' thing, but that is alright. I think my husband and I will have that for dinner later this week. I had already thawed meat for dinner tonight and tomorrow when I realized that the sandwich was finally available, so it is looking like a Chik fil A trip on Thursday or Friday (that is, unless my husband jumps the gun and goes for lunch sometime before that). Like I've been saying, I am on a spicy kick, so this sounds like it will be right up my alley. From all the buzz I've been hearing, it has some heat but not too too much. That is understandable. There is a fine line to walk to make the heat-lovers happy and still attract people that don't eat many spicy things. I wonder if they have extra hot sauce packets so that I can add more if I want to? That would be perfect. I will be sure to write about my impressions once I finally get a chance to try it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Genoise...fancy name for sponge cake

When I went to visit Paula Deen's cousin a while back, one of the things she mentioned was the need to know basic techniques and the best (only) way to get that is through professional training. She said I would need to know how to make things (she couldn't even remember the type of cake that was so essential for me to know). I correctly guessed genoise, a type of cake I had read about but really didn't know anything about how to make it. So it went on my mental list of things I wanted to teach myself to make.

Turns out, genoise is just a fancy name for a sponge cake. I had made a sponge cake with the strawberries a few months ago, but still wanted to make another. I chose to follow the directions from the Joy of Baking website since it was so thorough ( and it contained chocolate!

I had no trouble at all following the recipe or the techniques involved. I worry that I beat the eggs a little longer than I should have since the cake rose out above the 9" cake pan. But since it rose straight up, I think it was alright. I made this a weekend before a party and put it in the freezer since I knew it would be a hectic week at work. Freezing worked out really well. I took the cake out Friday morning, then made the mousse Friday night and put it all together that night to be ready for a lunchtime party on Saturday.

When making the mousse, there was a lot more than I was expecting. I had about twice as much mousse as in the cake in the picture. Rather than serving it separately, I added another mousse layer to the top of the cake. I will need to remember the mousse recipe, since it looks like it will be a good versatile recipe to have in my repertoire.

Overall, I am very happy with this chocolate genoise, it tasted and looked great! One more technique that I understand and now its time to move on to the next!

More Gnocchi!

I have posted about making gnocchi in the past, but it is something that I really like to have in the freezer for a quick weeknight dinner. I bought three baking potatoes and baked them in a 450F oven until soft. I figure if I am going to spend the time to make gnocchi, I may as well make lots of it.

After cooling and peeling the potatoes, I thoroughly mashed them and weight them. According to what I have seen online here is the best ratio for the gnocchi dough:

about 7-8 ounces mashed potato
1 cup flour
1 egg 1/2 tsp salt

I adjusted the amount of mashed potato to be 28 ounces so I could easily quadruple the recipe and off I went. This time, making the dough went so much quicker and smoother. I feel like I am getting a hang of it and definitely feel more confident about knowing how much flour I need. I quickly shaped pieces of the dough into ropes about the size of my thumb and cut into small pieces using my bench scraper.

There are two things I did differently from in the past. I made the pieces smaller since they puff up some while cooking and I also didn't bother with making the fork prints in each piece. That saved a significant amount of time. It just seemed like in the past that the fork prints didn't do much for the texture and taste of the gnocchi, they seem to be more for authenticity. But my husband won't notice and if it saves me some time, then I am more than happy to skip that step.

So I have a whole tray of cooked gnocchi that I can divide into about three bags for the freezer. That should last us for a while and I feel accomplished making something I once thought would be too complicated and difficult.

Honey Wheat Rolls

I wanted to keep working on my yeast breads, so this weekend I opted to make Honey Wheat Rolls using a recipe from King Arthur flour ( As usual, the recipe was easy to follow.

I added almost all my ingredients to the bowl of my stand mixer and got to the potato flakes, which I had a box of in the pantry. It turns out, I only had about 1/4 cup of potato flakes. Since I already added everything else to the bowl and didn't feel like going to the store, I just went with what I had. I added a bunch more flour to make the dough into a nice soft ball and transferred the dough to a greased glass bowl and covered for the first rise.

I got caught up in errands and other things, so the first rise was for about 5 hours, much longer than the suggested time. I divided the dough into 16 pieces (I am loving my kitchen came to the rescue again!) and placed them into the 9x13 pan for the second rise. I intended to let it rise for the suggested 1.5 to 2 hours, but right as I was about to turn on the oven, my dogs were whining for their afternoon walks. So again, the rise went longer than it should have, about 3 hours before baking. By this point, the rolls had grown to completely fill the pan. I knew the rolls would all run together when I baked them, but that didn't matter to me.

I followed the baking instructions, but my rolls never turned a mahogany brown. I baked them a little extra without the foil at the end, but the color wasn't turning, so I pulled them out of the oven anyway to prevent over browning on the bottom.

The end roll was quite tasty, despite not being as pretty as they could be. They are a bit sweet, but I like it that way. In the end, the extra rise time and the lack of sufficient potato flakes did not seem to be a bit deal. I am sure they would have turned out even better if I had followed the directions a bit more closely, but to be honest, I like the rolls good enough as they are.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Shrimp Curry

Last night I decided to play around a little in the kitchen for dinner. I had some shrimp, peas and cauliflower in the freezer, so I cooked those in some minced garlic and added celery salt and lots of curry powder. To make more of a sauce, I included some Kraft Philly cream cheese and some milk once everything had heated through.

The flavor was nice, but I will admit that there was something missing. I couldn't figure out if it was a flavor I needed to add or simply another texture. Perhaps the curry would have gone better with a piece of naan or some rice. I also think mushrooms and tomatoes would be a good addition next time, or even a little cayenne or other pepper for some heat. This was just an experiment, and I learned a lot to apply when I make a curry again in the future. I only added a little bit of cream cheese since that was all I had left from the contest and more would have been a better idea. But the whole point of the dinner was to use things that I already had in my kitchen so that I didn't need to go to the store.

I have some left over for dinner tonight, so hopefully I can remember to take a picture to add to this post.

So I completely forgot to take pictures Saturday of the shrimp curry before I finished it off. I will have to make sure I take some next time I make it.

Garden Update

I was able to harvest the first few things from my garden this week...a handful of cherry tomatoes and two jalapenos. I was so excited for the cherry tomatoes that they were eaten before I finished making dinner that night. The next couple I was able to wait and add them to my salad. Either way, they were wonderful! It was such a great feeling to have something homegrown and straight from the garden, especially my own garden!

I took two of the largest jalapenos when we grilled out for Memorial Day. They probably could have grown a bit longer, but I was getting impatient to taste them and there are lots more on both of the plants. I chopped up the grilled jalapenos and added some to a grilled portabella mushroom and to my spinach and asiago cheese sausage. Both ways, they were great. I have been eating more and more spicy foods, even putting red pepper on my pizza and adding hot sauce or something hot to lots of my foods. I guess its true when they say that hot stuff is addictive! Though, I am still hesitant to add hot sauce to scrambled eggs at the moment. I wouldn't put it past me to try it eventually though.

I really had no idea how much I would enjoy having a garden. Sometimes it is a bit of a pain to water all the time since the area does get so much sunshine, but I have found the time and it works out well since my dogs can get some good running time in in the backyard while I water or tend to my garden.

I am excited to try the Roma and Early Girl tomatoes that are growing, but are still green. Hopefully they will ripen soon. Other things growing but not quite ready include two green bell peppers (they might not make it through the weekend...I am getting impatient!), more jalapenos and some of my cayenne peppers are turning red. My basil and oregano plants are coming along nicely, so perhaps it is time to make some tomato sauce to store in the freezer. Freezing the sauce makes for an easy dinner some night.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Real Women of Philadelphia

Unfortunately, they announced the final two people that will be making the journey to Savannah last night. I hoped and prayed as much as I possibly could, but it just wasn't meant to be. They have all sorts of other things in the works, though this was the biggest part of the community. I will keep logging on to see where it all goes and hopefully something will put me in the right place at the right time and all the stars will align.

My husband will be out of town this weekend, and even though I have a lot of things planned that I want to get done, I will be trying to get some good baking in, as well. I haven't fully decided what I want to make, but I am leaning towards making some honey wheat rolls, a cake of some sort and something creative with the blueberries I have in my fridge. Maybe this will be the weekend I make my yeast cinnamon rolls. I have an awfully ambitious plan for the weekend, so we will see just how much I can get through!