Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Opera Cake with a Twist

I have to say I am one of many who get very excited when the new challenge is posted. I am always wondering where my skills are going to be tested. Thanks to Daring Bakers Lis, Ivonne, Fran & Shea for giving me a great challenge this month in making an Opera Cake. Please visit Ivonne's blog for the full recipe.

I have to say that there were a couple of challenges for me with this recipe. After making the French bread the lenght of the recipe didn't scare me like it might have in the past. One of my challenges was when I was going to get this all done. I was going to try and make this month's recipe for my Mother-in-laws birthday which is on Friday but the post date is before that. So I made it for Mother's Day which turned out to be a nice little treat. I have to stop doing this with long recipes but I made it all in one day...which can be done but very tiring to say the least.

My next challenge with the recipe was how I was going to flavor this cake. A traditional Opera cake is flavored with chocolate and coffee but ours was suppose to be a twist on that tradition. We need to come up with a light in color and flavor instead of the dark and heavy. I being my mother's child had a very hard time with this because when it comes to food I can't make up my mind (my mom is famous for changing her mind when we used to go out to eat...lets go here or no maybe here or wait how about here...that would go until we got to a restaurant).

Just look at all the elements of an Opéra Cake:
Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).
Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.
Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.

I had a bunch of different ideas on how to flavor it which came to me from looking at a drink recipe book. Pina Colada, Mojito, and a bunch of crazy drinks that I can't remember the name of. I chickened out and just made one of the verison that was given to us as an example. I sort of thought of it as a verison of a Baklava which to me seems really fun.

I used the recipe for the joconde which is an almond cake...lucky for me I have a frozen years and years supply of grounded almonds. My syrup I flavored with honey and some spices traditional found in a baklava. I made the buttercream also with honey because one thing I noticed with a lot of Opera cake recipes is that they kept the syrup and the buttercream the same flavoring. I flavored my Ganache/Mousse with Rum because I thought I had a couple of liqueurs but they were not there.

Review: I enjoyed making this cake and all the elements that go into it. I have to say that I have gotten really good a making buttercream thanks to the daring bakers. The recipe for the buttercream is by far my favorite of all the ones we made and I would use it again for another cake. Overall i found the cake I made too sweet for my taste and for most of my families taste as well. I served half for mother's day and froze the other half to serve for the bbq I had this past weekend. Most people said that cake was too sweet and didn't really want to eat it. I think that is my fault because I probably used way too much honey to flavor everything. The next time I make this cake I am going to try the traditional flavors because this is a very easy (yet time consuming) and beautiful cake.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On a Hot Day...Bake Bread!

I have been saying for a long time (mostly to myself) that I want to start making my own bread more often. I really love the satisfaction that comes from the whole process of it. I really got hooked on the idea back in February when the Daring Bakers had our French Bread challenge. Yes it can be a long process but the results are always worth making it again.

It is not a surprise that after our trip to King Arthur Flour that I am totally and 100% in love with everything to do with them. I even have the Baker's Banter RSS feed on the front page of My Yahoo! About 2 months ago there was a post for a bread recipe called Scali Bread that totally caught my eye and I put it in my recipes I want to try folder. Before I went to bed last night I decided that today (well really tomorrow) I was going to make it.

Please visit the Baker's Banter for the recipe and a more detailed step by step photo essay but enjoy mine below.

This is a picture of the starter I made last night before going to bed.

This is the starter the in the morning...

I forgot to take a picture of the dough divided into 3 equal parts but here is the picture after I braided them together and in the middle of the next rise. I didn't have any sesame seeds in the house but I did have a bag of the artisan seed mix you can buy via King Arthur Flour catalog (or at the store like I did during our visit).

Fresh out of the oven and looking/smelling really good.

Review: I enjoyed making this recipe and I will totally make it again. It was fun going to bed and waking up in the morning to see if my started had "started". The next time I make this I will braid the dough onto parachment paper which I didn't do this time. I will also try to bake it on my pizza stone if it will fit. I might go out and buy just sesame seeds to see how it taste with that because the seed mixture has some strong flavors...the caraway seeds I believe.

Kath's May Recipe- Kabobs on the grill

Not sure if this counts as the May recipe, but theres beef in it too :). I wanted to bbq for Kevin the other night, and not just burgers so I thought I'd try to make some kabobs. I had plenty of chicken at home, so I stopped at the store and bought some cubed beef figuring a mixture of both would be good. They were pretty basic kabobs, I started off by marinating the chicken in some Kraft roasted red pepper w/ parmesean italian dressing and marinating the beef in some italian ( didnt have enough of one to marinate both the chicken and the beef ). I think because the chicken pieces were thinner then the beef, the chicken took the marinate much better. The chicken melted in your mouth..mmmm...I also added one green peper, one onion, some brocolli to each skew. I have to say, they turned out great. I had to buy some skews to use on my baby weber grill and found the cutest set in CVS by me. It came with 6 metal skews and a metal holder you put them on ( so they dont sit on your grill ). Kevin loved them, I had no leftovers!!

I'd definally make these again. I think the beef didnt have enough marinate to soak in the flavor so next time I'll make sure I have enough dressing. This meal was very quick to prepare and fun to cook on my grill.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

I decided to have family over on Sunday for a little BBQ to celebrate Memorial Day. A little family function turned into a large family function. Before I knew it I was preparing for a 13 person family dinner...not a problem but I panicked a little bit.

I decided instead of doing the normal hamburgers and hot dogs I would mix it up a little bit. I made a couple of new things and had the standard hamburgers just in case. On the menu was kabobs and shrimp boil.

Grilled Chicken Kabobs (Greek style)
Everyday Foods

Serves 4
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into twenty-four 1-inch pieces
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into sixteen 1-inch pieces
1/2 small red onion, quartered, layers separated
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a resealable plastic bag, combine chicken, zucchini, onion, oil, oregano, and 2 tablespoons vinegar; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and teaspoon pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate up to overnight).

Heat grill or grill pan to medium. Soak eight 6-inch wooden skewers in water for 15 minutes.
Onto each skewer, alternately thread 3 pieces of chicken with 2 of zucchini and 2 of onion (see below). Grill skewers, turning occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes.

Review: Really very easy to put together and marinate overnight which helps when you are making it for a party. I liked that I could do this ahead of time and focus on other last minute things before my party. When we went put the kabobs together I knew it was good when everyone was commented on how great it smelled in the kitchen. They were very very yummy and something I can't wait to make again.

I have been thinking about making this Shrimp boil for over a year now...ever since we had it at The Summer Shack in Cambridge, MA. It was one of those things that you eat and so WOW I want more of it. I figured this was a good oppurtunity to try it out. The only mistake I made was making one one batch of this recipe and not two like my husband suggested. I had a taste, turned around to do something, and when I went back it was all gone. I even made the sauce with it that the recipe had which is SUPER easy to make and totally worth it.

Shrimp Steamed in Beer from Gourmet is worth a visit to the epicurius website for the recipe.

The only mistake I made with this bbq was not having my camera out a ready to take pictures.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Michelle's May Recipe

I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner last night...which always makes me think about what my mom used to make us for dinner. I was also trying to think about what recipe I was going to make for this month's theme.

I am probably going to mess up the details this story but you will get the idea of it. I think when my Mom and Dad first got married my Mom tried to make this for dinner one night. The recipe is Porcupine make a long story short. They didn't come out right and the rice was hard as a rock and were really like porcupine needles.

Porcupine Meatballs
1 pound lean ground beef
1/3 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
dash ground black pepper
1 can condensed tomato soup
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup water

Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, 1/4 cup of the water, salt, and pepper. Shape meat mixture into 12 to 15 meat balls. Combine the soup, chili powder, and water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Add meatballs; reduce heat, cover, and simmer over very low heat for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.Serves 4.

Review: I thought that the meatballs tasted great and was a great twist on just plain old meatballs. The only thing I found "wrong" with this recipe is that it really had no binding ingredient. I looked at a bunch of recipes and about half called for none and half called for at least one egg. If I make these again I will make them like I do my normal meatballs and just add the uncooked rice to it. I didn't get to the market yesterday so I had to use what I had on hand...a jar of tomato sauce instead of the soup.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Key Lime Tarts

So the end of June my mother-in-law is having a BBQ to celebrate my brother-in-law's marriage (it was a small wedding at Disney this past Feb.) and her husband's birthday. I told her that I would make the desserts. She asked me to make a small wedding cake and birthday cake. I started to panic when I realized I've never really made and decorated cakes before. I've decided that I want to practice before I make anything. So this weekend I'm going to try to make buttercream icing for the first time and practice my decorating skills. I also started to think about what other kind of desserts I can make for the BBQ. I want to make stuff that is simple, easy and bite sized. So looking for ideas I came cross a recipe for Key Lime Tarts on the Food Network's website.

Key Lime Tarts

Key Lime Tarts
by Paula Deen

24 Key Lime Cooler cookies
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice, preferably Key lime
1 teaspoon lime zest
Fresh sweetened whipped cream
Mint leaves or lime zest, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Fill 2 (12-muffin) mini muffin tins with paper cups. Place 1 Key Lime Cooler cookie in the bottom of each cup, flat side down.

Prepare filling. Beat together cream cheese, egg, sugar, lime juice, and zest until well mixed. Fill the cups to the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove tarts to cool. When completely cool, fit a star tip in a pastry bag and fill with the whipped cream. Pipe the whipped cream on top of the tarts. Garnish with tiny mint leaves or lime zest.

My Review: One word...YUMMY!! Easy to make and delicious. The only problem I came a cross was that I couldn't find the lime cooler cookies. But I did find mini Nilla Wafer cookies. They worked perfectly. I'm definitely making these for the BBQ. Oh and I didn't take the picture above that's from the Food Network's website as well.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Peanut Butter Crunch French Toast

I've been kind of obsessed lately with trying to find Breakfast recipes. A few weeks ago I made banana pancakes, because I had a few bananas going bad so I found that recipe. To my surprise Mike asked me to make them again the following weekend. They were good, but I guess better than I thought.

So I was looking around and came a cross a recipe for Peanut Butter Crunch French Toast on Yahoo. I used the recipe more as a guide line because the recipe made enough for 8 servings. It's a basic french toast recipe, but with added flavors.

Peanut Butter Crunch French Toast

6 slices of bread
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
peanut butter
crushed corn flakes

1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl. In another bowl add crushed corn flakes
2. Spread a 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on one side of one piece of bread and another topping of your choice on the other side. I used Fluff and Nutella.

3. Dip sandwich into egg batter

4. Then roll in corn flakes and cook on a hot griddle pan.

My Review: If you can make french toast you can make this recipe. So easy and the possibilities of flavor combinations are endless. The first picture is of the three varities I made. Just peanut butter on the top, the bottom left is peanut butter and fluff and the one on the right is peanut butter and nutella. So good, but can be on the sweet side. I'll make this again!!

I entered this recipe into a Peanut Butter Event on Peanut Butter Boy's Blog. Check it out!

May recipe - Beef Burgers

I couldn't tell you the last time I had a homemade burger. I remember when I was little I use to hate it when my mom would make burgers from scratch. But I found a new respect for the flavors that can enhance the taste and take it to a whole new level. I didn't get crazy with the burgers I made, but I'm willing to practice until I found a recipe I love.

Beef Burger

1/2 lb ground beef
1 small onion grated
a few dashes of worcestershire sauce

Mix ingredients together, shape into burgers and cook.

I got to use one of my new gadgets for the kitchen/grill. A grill press. It flattens the burgers and helps cook them faster.

My Review: Burgers were easy to make and tasty, but I cooked it a little to well done. Not juicy enough. But I'm going to keep I trying. If anyone has a good recipe, please share!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I tried to be Top Chef...

I have posted about this before but I love reality TV...especially cooking shows. So last week when I saw Top Chef I wanted to try a couple of the winning recipes. I made the Stir Fry Whole Wheat Noodle Tuesday night for dinner and the Rice Salad with Seared Skirt Steak for dinner last night.

Review: The one thing about cooking recipes from Top Chef is that they give you a great list of ingredients. However, the way the directions in the recipe are written it is a little hard to figure out how to cook the least for me. The stir fry tasted like something I have made before and because of that I wasn't impressed with it. The Rice Salad on the other hand was simple but the flavor was there. Mike didn't like the dressing that I made to go with the salad (it was a tiny bit strong) but I got an idea of how complex but simple their plates are on the show.

I don't think I would make the stir fry again just because it is something I have made before in the past and no added value for me with this recipe. I might make the rice salad again but use a different dressing. It was a nice side dish to our grilled steak but then again I think Mike would like the two of them separate better then together.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Taco Salad Bowl

Since last night was Cinco de Mayo I always like to make something taco like for dinner. I saw in the recent magazine Kraft sends out a Taco Salad Bowl recipe. I was going to make the exact recipe but decided to just make my usual taco meat and a salad to go with it. I did however make the taco bowl like in the recipe.

Taco Bowl Shell
8" inch tortilla shell
cooking spray
chili powder

Preheat the oven to 450.

Take a sheet of foil and make it into a 3" ball. Put on cookie sheet and drape tortilla shell over the ball. Spray outside with cooking spray and sprinkle with chili powder. Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes until browned.

Review: The shells are really easy to make and really couldn't be any easier. I think I bought a larger size shell because it didn't really create a bowl like I thought (I was thinking about the taco bowls you get at restaurants). The other little issue I had was that the bottom was square so it didn't sit well on my plate. I have seen on the Kraft website a another recipe using smaller shells and putting them in muffin tins.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Cinco De Mayo

Today at work we had a Cinco De Mayo party. A few people were bringing in dip and chips so I decided to make something different. Churros!


1 cup water
2 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter
1 cup white flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat 1 1/2 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a 10 to 12 inch frying pan to 375 degrees F. In a separate dish mix the 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon and set aside. In a 3 qt. sauce pan add the water, brown sugar, salt, and butter and heat to a good boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour. Mix it in until well blended.
In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and vanilla together and then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until well blended and all the egg is completely mixed in. Fill a pastry bag with the star tip attached, with churro dough.
Check oil to make sure it's hot enough and then squeeze about a 4 inch long dough into the oil. You'll have to release the dough with your finger. Cook about 1 minute and then turn with a slotted spoon. Once golden brown they are done. Remove the churros with the slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel. While still warm roll each churro into the dish with the sugar and cinnamon.

My Review: This was easy to make. The only problem was that I made them the night before and by the time I brought them into work the turned soggy. Definitely something to eat the same day you make them. I tasted one after I made it and it was good.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cake

Someone my husband works with is very kind and generous to us. She have been giving us a bunch of clothes and toys for Jacob. This has been going on for a while now and I feel like it is time to repay her in some way. The best way I know how to do this is by making her something homemade. The first time I did this was during the fall and I made her my very yummy pumpkin bread. This time I had something different in mind...a recipe that I have been wanting to find and make Chocolate Chip Cake.

It was like it was meant to be because on our trip to King Arthur Flour we all bought a bunch of stuff from their store. I have been thinking about getting The Baking Sheet which is a bimonthly, full-sized print newsletter. So while I was there I bought an issue to see if it was something I would be interested in subscribing too. I opened it up and what is the very first recipe on the very first page...Chocolate Chip Cake!!

Review: I didn't change the recipe but I decided instead of making it a cake with a filling in the middle of two layers...I would bake it in my mini loaf pan (and I had some batter leftover to make 7 mini cupcakes). The recipe itself was easy to make and the only ingredient I don't normally have on hand is the sour cream which is a good thing because that is what prevents me from making this more often.

The note from KAF is that they were trying to reproduce Entenmann's filled chocolate chip coffeecake. From the mini cupcake that I tried I think it is so good and so what I was hoping this would be. If I wasn't trying to watch my weight a little bit I would be tempted to run to the store and do a taste test.

Like my husband says...add to the list of things I should make again. If I get invited to a brunch I might make the recipe as is with the filling and all.

Update: I just ate a piece of the chocolate chip cake from one of the mini loafs I made...oh my I am in love with this cake. It was way better then the mini cupcake I had yesterday. The chocolate crumbs on top add another layer of sweetness to it which is awesome! I can't wait to try the original recipe with the filling the next time I make it...and YES there will be a next time!


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