Luscious Red Velvet Cake…..

orng chx slm patDSCN3016_2696Red velvet cakes seem to be all the rage these days.  I am particularly fond of one bowl recipes.  This one is very, very simple and really moist and delicious.  Most recipes have only a teaspoon or two of cocoa.  I like to taste more chocolate so I’ve made adjustments to my recipe.

Being that this cake is so moist, I highly recommend lining the pans with parchment paper.  It is awful to have a beautifully baked cake that won’t come out of the pan!!

Red Velvet Cake

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring+ water to equal 2 ounces (or 1 teaspoon gel food coloring)
2 heaping tablespoons Hershey’s cocoa
1 cup buttermilk (or mix 1 teaspoon vinegar + milk to equal 1 cup)

1)  Preheat the oven to 350′.  It is always a good idea to line the bottom with parchment paper.  With a pencil trace around the outside of the pan and cut it out.  Place in the bottom of the pan and coat well with cooking spray.
2)  In a large mixing bowl using  an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until well blended.
3)  Sift the flour, soda and salt together in a small mixing bowl, set aside.
4)  In a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, add 1 teaspoon red food coloring and enough water to equal 2 ounces.  Add 1 teaspoon vinegar and the cocoa.  Whisk to thoroughly blend.  Add to the beaten egg mixture and mix well.
5)  Add the flour and the buttermilk alternately to the egg mixture.  Beat until all ingredients are incorporated.  Do not over beat.  Pour into prepared pans.  Bake for 32-35 minutes.  (check at 32)  The top should be firm to the touch and toothpick should come out clean.
6)  Cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 ounce softened cream cheese
4 ounces softened butter (one stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
milk as needed

1)  With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy.  Add the vanilla and the powdered sugar.  Mix on the lowest speed of the mixer and add milk 1 teaspoon at a time to get a smooth spreading consistency.
2)  Ice the cake generously with the frosting.  Refrigerate cake.  Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

So delicious and simple to make.  Enjoy!


Turkey & Beef Enchilada Casserole On Next Week’s Menu….

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Turkey & Beef Enchilada Casserole is one of my family’s favorites!  For this week’s menu I’m doing half beef and half turkey, just to mix it up.  Click here for the recipe.

I’m implementing a few ideas from the new meatless cookbook I bought a couple of weeks ago. In lieu of a soup I am doing a vegetable curry. Very light mind you, rich in flavor. Enjoy over simple steamed brown rice for a killer vegetarian dinner! If you’d like rice with it, let me know.

I haven’t offered pork tenderloin in a while. The side dish and salad will be amazing with the simply seasoned pork.
Here’s the plan:

Grilled pork tenderloin, seasoned with fresh herbs
Apple, leek and butternut squash gratin
Green salad with warm goat cheese rounds, cider vinaigrette
Buttermilk oven fried chicken strips-kid AND adult fav!
Corn cakes-delicious little cornmeal patties made with fresh corn
Homemade coleslaw, light yogurt and celery seed dressing
Turkey/beef enchilada casserole-delicious seasoned beef and turkey layered with whole wheat tortillas and Mexican cheese.
Cactus salad with grape tomatoes, grape tomatoes, crumbled Mexican cheese with fresh lime cilantro dressing.
Vegetable curry-. Caramelized bok choy, peppers & shitake mushrooms w/ fresh basil in a mild red coconut curry. So good! (light coconut milk)
Mixed bean salad with fresh herbs
Cantaloupe & blueberries
Old fashioned date walnut bars

Because of you I get to do what I love. I cannot thank you enough!


Lovely High Tea, Amazing Shrimp Salad!

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I had the pleasure of preparing delicate tea sandwiches and pastry for a high tea recently.  This is Georgia in her beautiful dining room.  Her table was absolutely gorgeous as you can see.  All of her guests wore hats.  So fun!

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I’ve never been to high tea. I will either host one soon or go to the Drake in Chicago for high tea.  How fun!

Here were my offerings….

1)  Chipotle shrimp salad sandwiches on white bread.
2)  Traditional English cucumber and boursin cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread.
3)  Egg salad on mini whole wheat buns.
4)  Chicken salad with toasted walnuts and craisins on mini whole wheat buns.

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I realized after the fact that all of the pictures I took were of the dessert & sweet bread offerings.  Although I didn’t get pic’s of my sandwich offerings, I was happy that I thought to bring my camera!  Pictured above are my mini cheesecakes with chocolate gnache and fresh strawberries.

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Here you see my cream scones and blueberry streusel bread.  (made with blueberries I picked in Michigan last summer!) I also made a strawberry butter to serve with the delicate scones.

I was wracking by brain trying to think of something different to do with the shrimp salad as all of these salads are mayonnaise based and tend to have the same taste.  As always, I cut the mayo with plain greek yogurt.  Love the light less “mayonnaisey” taste.  I decided to make a chipotle shrimp salad.  I did not use much of the chipotle.  It was amazing!

Shrimp Salad with Chipotle

1 lb. shrimp, cooked and completely cooled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 medium shallot, minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup non fat greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon pureed chipotle (small can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed in food processor
2 pinches salt
1 pinch pepper

1)  Prepare the shrimp.  Bring enough water to cover the shrimp to a boil, lower heat to medium and add the peeled and deveined shrimp.  Cover with lid and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Take a peek.  If they’re pink, they’re done.  Do not over cook as they will become rubbery.  Drain and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator.  Chop finely and keep refrigerated.
2)  In a  medium size mixing bowl add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to blend completely.  Taste.  If you’d like a bit more heat, add more chipotle.  Add the finely chopped shrimp.  Mix gently until all is combined.
3)  To assemble tea sandwiches, spread a very small amount of mayonnaise over the bread slices.  With a spoon, add enough salad to go almost to the crusts.  You’d want about 1/4″ of salad on the sandwich.  With a serrated knife, carefully remove the crusts.  Then cut on the diagonal into halves, then again, very carefully into quarters.  You need a very delicate touch to do this.  Refrigerate.
4)  Also incredibly delicious on a soft roll with lettuce or arugula or on a bed of mixed greens.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups of shrimp salad.



The Lion King Cake…..

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I made this cake for my favorite four year old, Maddie.  This was so fun!

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The base is a basic chiffon cake.  It’s a lovely one bowl recipe, the only difference is after you mix all ingredients you fold in beaten egg whites.    The result is a light and airy cake that is not too sweet.  My right hand gal Nancy baked the cake and made a delicious real butter cream frosting.   I also needed a small rectangular cake for the base of my large rock formation.   I am no ready, I have the perfect canvas for a Lion King cake.

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First I mixed a basic butter cookie recipe and kneaded some cocoa into enough dough to form the large and small rocks.  I baked them and set them aside.

I cut the rectangular cake on the diagonal and put the two identical pieces together.  I added cocoa to some of the butter cream and I iced the wedge or base for the rocks.  With a toothpick I traced into the icing where I’d put the water.  I iced the top of the cake brown.  I added blue food coloring to some of the butter cream to form water and iced in the water.  I sprinkled graham cracker crumbs around the brown base to make it look like sand.    I placed cookie rocks around the cake with some grasses coming out of them.  I bought the grasses at Michael’s for .59 each.

Now I’ve got to start thinking about what I’ll be making for Ryan’s next cake!

I feel good about making a delicious birthday cake with real ingredients.

Have a wonderful week!


Oven Roasted Vegetable Salad With Roasted Garlic Dressing…..

orng chx slm patDSCN3042_2722I served this salad at my appetizer party a few weeks ago.  A bright vegetable salad was needed in the mix.  Forget about serving an ordinary salad, this one will be a hit!

I roasted garlic last week in olive oil and saved the oil.  This is really easy to do.  Peel a head of garlic and put the cloves into a small sauce pan.  Cover the garlic with olive oil and place over the lowest possible heat on your range.  Watch it closely.  Once the garlic is golden brown, it’s done.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic.  I used the garlic in other salad dressings and I saved the oil.  You must refrigerate both the roasted garlic and the oil.  You can also buy garlic infused olive oil.

I used vegetables that required different roasting times in the oven.  Don’t let this detour you!  They can be roasted a day ahead if necessary.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

1 head of broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1 head of cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large bunch of asparagus
1 pint grape tomatoes, washed and halved (unroasted)
1 cup mozzarella pearls, drained

2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons roasted garlic olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

1)  Preheat the oven to 375′.

2)  Place the broccoli in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon garlic olive oil over the broccoli.  Add a couple of pinches of salt and one pinch of pepper.  Toss to coat.  Place on a non stick foil lined cookie sheet.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, carefully give them a turn in the oven after 10 minutes.  Place into a large bowl.

3)  Prepare the cauliflower the same as the broccoli.  Roast for 30-35 minutes or until nicely browned.  Add to the bowl with the broccoli.

4)   Trim the ends of the asparagus.  Coat with the garlic olive oil.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven.  Cool and slice into 1″ pieces on a diagonal.  Add to the bowl with the other vegetables.

5)  Once the vegetables are cool, add the halved grape tomatoes and pearl fresh mozzarella.

6)  Whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the salad.  Toss gently to coat.  Serve immediately.  Serves 8-10 people.

*If you’re making this salad a day ahead, don’t dress it until right before serving.  Serve with crusty french bread.



Appetizer Party/Ham & Gruyere In Puff Pastry……

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Here’s the menu from last night’s appetizer party.  I like to print out what I’m serving.  I think it’s nice for guests to know what they have to look forward to.  It can also keep you on task with what you’re serving.

orng chx slm patDSCN3048_2728I saw Ina Garten prepare this appetizer recipe on Food Network.   So simple that I didn’t need her exact recipe.  I think she used a thinly sliced deli ham in hers.  I choose to use spiral cut smoked ham because I had some on hand.  Either one works very well.

The beauty of this appetizer is that you can make it ahead and simply warm it in the oven for 12-15 minutes before serving. It is equally delicious at room temperature.  You could also bake it before guests arrive, time it so you take it out a few minutes before they’re due to arrive.  That way your house will smell amazing when your guests arrive and you’ll be ready to serve after everyone gets their cocktail.  It’s a perfect plan!

Ham & Gruyere in Puff Pastry

2 puff pastry sheets, thawed
8 ounces gruyere swiss cheese, shredded or 12 slices
1/3-1/2 cup dijon mustard
1/2 lb. smoked ham, sliced thin (deli ham or off the bone)
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

1)  Preheat the oven to 375′.  Defrost the puff pastry according to package directions.

2)  Dust the counter top with flour and place the puff pastry sheet over it.  Lightly flour your rolling pin and gently roll out the dough into a 12 x 18″ rectangle (approximately).  Place the dough on a large parchment lined cookie sheet.

3)  Spread an even layer of dijon mustard over the dough leaving a 1/2″ border.  Layer the ham evenly over the pastry.  Top evenly with the shredded or sliced gruyere cheese.

4)  Roll out the second piece of  dough the same size as the first one.  Brush the outer edge of the base puff pastry with the egg wash.  Top with the rolled out puff pastry and press the edges together with your fingers.  Using a fork, press around the entire outer edge of the dough.  Poke 6 holes in the top of the puff pastry to release air while baking.  Brush the entire pastry with egg wash.

5)  Place in the preheated oven.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  The crust should be beautifully golden brown.  Allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes minutes before serving.



It’s A Food Day…..

Hello everyone-

I’m at my computer with my Ry-guy doing homework next to me enjoying his goldfish with chopsticks.  So cute.   He’s really good at it!  He’s a true foodie in training.  I couldn’t be happier.

I have been cold all day.  I just put the biggest pot in the house on the stove with three turkey breast carcasses from my freezer, celery, onion and carrot.  Soups on!  Fortunately my vegetable drawer had soup essentials.  Since cooking in my awesome commercial kitchen I know more of what I have on hand there than at home.  Last night I had to scrounge around for a fresh garlic clove!

I was out most of the day gathering delicious ingredients for the appetizers I’ll be preparing for 3 parties over the weekend.    I’m using three of my favorite cheeses, boursin, gruyere, and blue cheese.  Here’s what I’ll be making:

1)  Bacon wrapped dates

2)  Bacon wrapped shrimp with chipotle dipping sauce

3)  Smoked ham & gruyere with dijon mustard in puff pastry (Ina Garten)

4)  Zucchini puffs with blue cheese

5)  Bread sticks wrapped with prosciutto, boursin and baby arugula.

Dessert?  Of course!  Mini key lime tarts.  If I have time, I think I’ll make tiramisu.  It’s out of the March 2013 Cooking Light Magazine.  Might have to go a little heavier on the Kahlua than they recommend:-)

I’m ready for the weekend!

Have a great evening~


Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting…..

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This recipe is a one bowl recipe, my favorite.  It is very, very moist and especially delicious with the cream cheese frosting.  Refrigerate after you frost it and pull it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.  Cover and refrigerate any leftover cake.

I’ve changed the recipe a little bit.  The original recipe called for only 1 teaspoon of cocoa…what?!  I wanted the cake to have a little more “chocolate” taste.   Use three 9″ pans and you’ll have a nice high cake.  Baking times may vary according to your oven.  See my post on baking and frosting tips.

There is a great deal of food coloring in this recipe.  I strongly suggest you use what’s required.  I tried it with less and it didn’t have the same dramatic affect.

Red Velvet Cake

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons fine or table salt
4 tablespoons cocoa (it’s a good idea to sift the cocoa if you don’t plan on sifting the rest of the ingredients)
2 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk at room temperature
3 tablespoons red food coloring (use the liquid or gel not the paste)
1 1/2 teaspoons white or cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cream cheese frosting, recipe below

1) Preheat the oven to 350′.  Generously coat 3 9″ pans with cooking spray and dust evenly with flour.

2)  In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.  In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

3)  Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

4)  Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans.  Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart.  Bake 25-30 minutes.  Set the timer for 25 and check the cake.  (see my cake tips post below this one)

5)  When done, remove the cakes from the oven and run aknife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans.  Cool 10 minutes then invert onto a plate, then reinvert onto a cooling rack.  (Now the bottom of the cake is resting on the rack, rounded sides up)  Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 lb. cream cheese, softened
2 sticks softened butter (1 cup)
6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
milk as needed

1)  In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or an electric mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until well blended and creamy.  Add the sugar 2 cups at a time and mix on low speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  When you add the last 2 cups of sugar, you may need to add milk to get the perfect consistency.  Add one teaspoon at a time.  Once all of the powdered sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla and beat briefly until fluffy.  You’re ready to frost the cake.

2)  When assembling a two or three layer cake, you’ll want the cakes to be relatively flat.  If your cake has a dome like top, use a long serrated knife to level it off.  (It  is critical here to go ahead and taste the cake.  You know, for quality control purposes)  Place the cut side down either on the plate or on the top of the bottom layer.  It is far easier to frost the bottom part of the cake (the part that was in the pan as opposed to the cut side)  Hope that makes sense!

3)  Use lots of frosting.  Joking aside, it’s quite nice to not worry about crumbs on your finished cake.  You first do a “crumb” layer.  Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes before proceeding to the final layer.

4)  Put a splotch of frosting on the plate to hold the cake in place.  Put your first cake, cut side down if necessary and ice the top of it.  Proceed to layer two and layer three.  Using lots of frosting, ice the sides filling in any gaps between the layers.  Finally, frost the top.

5)  Frost the chilled cake with the final layer of room temperature frosting.  If you prefer a very smooth surface on your cake, you can dip your spatula into water and smooth out the seams on your cake.



Valentine Cookies…..

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I just love Valentine’s Day!  It’s any chocolate lovers dream!  Try my recipe for a basic cut out sugar cookie.  (recipe below)  It is key to refrigerate the dough before rolling out and cutting them out.

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Ice the cool cookies and then coat well with colored sugar while the icing is wet.

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For chocolate chip cookies, press colored M&M’s into the tops for a festive looking cookie.

Best Roll Cut Out Sugar Cookie Recipe

2 cups sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter, one pound at room temperature
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
7 ½ cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Icing (recipe below)

1) In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy and add one half of the sugar, beat, then add the rest. Add two eggs and beat. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Add the remaining three eggs and vanilla, beat until nicely incorporated.
2) Lightly measure out flour into a separate mixing bowl. Add baking powder and salt, whisk until blended.
3) Add half of the flour mixture to the egg/butter mixture and beat well. Add remaining flour and blend until all ingredients are incorporated.
4) Shape into a large ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then put into a large zip bag. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.
5) When ready to bake, allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375’ and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Have cooling racks ready to receive hot cookies.
6) Cut off a chunk and begin working with your hands to make it pliable enough to roll out on a floured surface. Roll to 1/8” thickness. Cut out with your favorite shapes and place on prepared sheets, leaving at least 1” of space between cookies. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Cool for five minutes before removing from cookie sheet onto a rack. Cool completely before icing.

For the icing:

3 cups powdered sugar
milk or water
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla
gel food coloring, available at craft stores such as Michael’s

Put the powdered sugar into a medium size bowl.  Add liquid small amounts at a time and stir.  You will want the consistency to be thick enough that it will not run off the cookie but loose enough to easily spread.  Don’t worry, if it isn’t perfect on the first cookie you can either add more liquid or more sugar to get the right consistency.

While the icing is wet, coat with colored sanding sugar.  Allow them to set up for several hours uncovered.



Tilapia With Kalamata Olives & Grape Tomatoes…..

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Tis the season to lighten things up!  I don’t know about you but I’ve gotten into quite a nibbling habit over the past few weeks.

Tilapia is  a favorite of mine.  It’s mild and thaws beautifully.  My kids really love it plain without fuss.  I kept their portions plain and I decided to liven up the rest for Joe and me.  I put a mediterranean twist on a brothy sauce I served with the fish.  Loved it when it pooled  into the rice pilaf.  No heavy, cheesy, creamy indulgent sauce.  Just delicious.

You will notice that I do not add salt to the sauce as the kalamata olives are quite salty.  Taste the sauce at the very end, (with an olive) before adding more seasoning.

Tilapia with Kalamata Oives & Grape Tomatoes

4 tilapia fillets, thawed
salt & Pepper
1/3 cup cornstarch
Olive oil

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons (or more) minced garlic
1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup ripe grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

For the fish:

1)  Preheat the oven to 350′.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.
2)  Heat a non stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat, add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
3)  Put cornstarch into a medium size bowl.  Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Dredge into the cornstarch shaking off excess.  Carefully add the fish to the hot pan with the olive oil.  Resist the temptation to move things around in the pan.  You want the fish to get nicely brown without falling apart.  About 5 minutes per side.
4)  Place the fish on the prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes.

For the sauce:

1)  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Once hot, add the garlic, cook for about one minute.
2)  Add the olives and tomatoes, allow to cook for about two minutes.
3)  Add the wine, chicken broth and lemon juice.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Season to your own taste.  Spoon the sauce over the fish.  Serve with rice pilaf and steamed or oven roasted green beans.