Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Monkey Cake

While doing a cookbook review, I came across a recipe for Monkey Cake. It's basically a hummingbird cake at heart, and despite the fact that there's only one of me to slowly snack on such a confection, I knew I had to try it.  Plus there's just something about telling someone that you're eating monkey cake.  Like it's made with monkeys or something.

The cake was actually really easy to make, but when I got to the icing, I was stopped short. The recipe in the book called for making fondant from scratch (including a mandatory overnight resting period). I'm more of an instant gratification person, so I knew the fondant icing was definitely not going to work. Instead I went with my mother's recipe for cream cheese icing from her carrot cake recipe, and the world was at peace.

Monkey Cake
Adapted from The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1¼ cups canola oil
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups bananas, ripe, mashed with chunks remaining
1 cup crushed pineapple with juice
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottoms with rounds of baking parchment, then dust them lightly with flour.  Shake out the excess.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon and stir briefly on medium-low speed to distribute the ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla until they are well combined.  Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-low speed just until all the flour has been moistened (less than 20 seconds).

Add the bananas and pineapple and stir briefly, 20 seconds, on low speed to distribute them evenly.  Then add the pecans and mix again on low speed until just combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Do not overmix the batter or the cake will be tough.

Divide the batter equally between the two prepared cake pans.  The pans should be about half full.  Place the pans on the center rack in the preheated oven.  Bake them for 35 to 38 minutes, or until the cake is almost ready to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack and lift off the pans.  Peel off the parchment and right each layer.  Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (1-pound) box confectioner's sugar (about 3½ cups)
Milk or cream to adjust consistency of frosting, if necessary

Beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat in the sugar. Add a teaspoon of milk or cream if the frosting is too stiff to spread; add additional sugar if it's too thin.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever: Curried Chicken Breast Casserole

I'm not even sure what to say here.  Hell, I'm not even sure what I was thinking when I picked this doozy.  What the heck is this thing?  This scary monster of a casserole?  It vaguely reminds me of something from a bad 1950's cookbook, but I can't believe they even ate things this horrifying.

Everything in this casserole seems to be at war with everything else.  It just didn't come together.  And maybe the darn thing was supposed to have black olives on top, but since the lovely directions just said "ripe olives", I went with the ones in my refrigerator.  Not that black olives would have saved it.  Plus the rice was hard.  I HATE hard crunchy rice.  Unless I mean for it to turn out that way.  Mmmm....socarrat.

Curried Chicken Breast Casserole
From The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

1½ cups basmati or another long-grain rice
1½ cup home or prepared chicken broth
1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup pitted ripe olives, quartered
Toasted coconut for serving
Raisins for serving
Dry-roasted peanuts for serving
Mango chutney for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the rice evenly in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish and pour the chicken broth over the rice.

Cut the chicken breasts into 2-inch pieces and dust with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Arrange the pieces on top of the rice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter in a large nonstick skillet and add the green onions, curry powder, and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons flour into the pan and slowly add the coconut milk, whisking to keep the sauce smooth. Cook until thickened. Add the sugar and lemon juice.

Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the rice is done. Sprinkle with the olives.
Put the coconut, raisins, peanuts, and chutney in small serving dishes and pass at the table.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever: Baked Spaghetti Casserole

Have I told you the spaghetti story?  How we ate spaghetti once a week when I was a kid partially to save money but mostly because my dad loves it?  Yeah, well that burned me out on pasta for a long, long, long, long time.  As in my entire adult life so far.  Whenever someone says "want some spaghetti for dinner?", I say "where's the nearest Wendy's?".  Yes, it's that bad.

I figured maybe if I made the spaghetti into a creamy, cheesy casserole I could trick myself into eating it.  Plus, it was my lunch and dinner for a couple of days, so I didn't really have a choice.  Luckily it didn't turn out half bad.  But then again, with two cans of processed soups, I would hope it tasted like sodium heaven.  I'd probably make it again, with some red pepper flakes or something for some heat.

Baked Spaghetti Casserole
From The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

½ pound spaghetti
1 pound ground beef
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped green bell pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of tomato soup
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch casserole with cooking spray.

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions and drain, but do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the beef, onion, and pepper over medium-high heat just until the beef is no longer pink. Add all the remaining ingredients, mix well, and transfer to the prepared casserole.

Cut a sheet of foil and coat with cooking spray. Cover the casserole and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbly.

Makes 6 servings

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Zesty Lemon Bars

Since it was actually relatively warm today (mid-50's is warm, right?), I wanted a little something that would keep the feeling of impending springtime.  And when I think spring, I think lemon.  Lemon with lots of sugar.  Because lemon is pretty sour on it's own.  So really, I think lemon with sugar when it's spring.

Since my oven is crooked and not installed properly, the filling was of course crooked, but I went with it. The recipe says that you shouldn't let the lemon filling brown, but frankly, it was either that or raw egg.  Once the bars had cooled, I cut them and tried them. They're very tart and bright, but not so much that you're sucking your lips from the sourness. The base is actually pretty good, too.

Zesty Lemon Bars
From The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons plus ¾ teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Position one rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9x13-inch pan with softened butter, then line with parchment paper.

To make crust: In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt; process to combine. Add butter to processor and process until mixture is pale yellow and resembles a coarse meal, about 10 seconds. If you don't have a food processor, whisk together flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and work into flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers.

Pour crust mixture into prepared baking dish, pressing down with your fingers to create a ¼-inch-thick layer along the bottom and ½-inch up the sides, pressing firmly at the edges to seal. Transfer pan to freezer and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pan once during baking, until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping: In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and flour; stir in lemon juice, milk, and salt until well combined.

Remove baking pan from oven. Stir topping and pour into warm crust. Return pan to oven and continue baking until topping is just set but not browned, about 20 minutes.

Transfer baking pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into 20 squares. Serve immediately or wrap each bar tightly with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever: Chicken with Mushrooms and Artichokes

I am definitely on a casserole kick.  I want something warm in my tummy in one dish that doesn't require me to use five hundred pots and pans and trash the whole kitchen.  This isn't exactly that dish, but it's pretty tasty.

Anything with mushrooms makes me happy, and if you add spinach or artichokes, you have me convinced, so I knew I would like this one before I even bought the ingredients.  Although I'm still not entirely sure what the tomatoes on the bottom of the casserole were supposed to be doing, the chicken turned out deliciously tender. I was a little scared that the rice wouldn't cook all the way, but my faith was rewarded.  Not half bad.

Chicken with Mushrooms and Artichokes
From The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the dish
2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked rice
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total)
1 (6-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
½ pound mushrooms, sliced
5 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup homemade or prepared chicken broth
½ cup light cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole.

Spread the tomato slices and rice over the bottom of the dish. Rinse the chicken breast halves and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and place them in the casserole dish. Cut the drained artichokes in half and place on top of the chicken breasts.

Heat the 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet. Add the mushrooms and green onions and saute for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Sprinkle the flour over all and stir to mix. Gradually add the chicken broth, cream, and sherry and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour over the chicken in the casserole. (The dish can be prepared ahead to this point, covered, and refrigerated until ready to bake. Add about 10 minutes to the baking time.)

Bake, uncovered, until bubbly and the chicken is cooked through, about 45 to 55 minutes.

Makes 4 servings

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever: Finnish Salmon Casserole

I love trying new cookbooks.  Especially when they promise me the best of something.  Now I know it will probably turn out to be a lie, because honestly, everyone's idea of best is a little bit different, but I'm willing to spin the roulette wheel.

My mom made tons of casseroles when I was a kid because that was the fastest, easiest way to feed a pack of wild little girls.  Everything in one dish.  Done.  It doesn't get any easier.  We ate tuna noodle casserole, hamburger pie, broccoli and cauliflower casserole...  Ah, nostalgia.

I figured since tuna noodle casserole makes me all warm and fuzzy inside that I would start off my kitchen experiments with a fish casserole.  Now, I'm sure you're thinking that sounds a bit crazy.  Start with fish?  Well, what can I say.  I play with fire.  And it didn't turn out that bad.  Or that good.  It smelled amazing, but tasted like...cardboard.  I'm not in love with salting stuff to death, but this thing needs HELP.  Dill to the rescue?

Finnish Salmon Casserole
From The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the dish
1 pound salmon or rainbow trout fillet, skinned
3 medium potatoes (about 1 pound)
2 medium onions
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
⅓ cup fine dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole.

Remove any bones from the fish and cut into 1-inch cubes. Peel the potatoes and cut into matchsticks. Peel the onions and trim off the ends. Cut the onions in half lengthwise. With the cut sides down, cut each half lengthwise into matchsticks.

Put the fish, potatoes, and onions in the casserole and pour the cream and milk over all. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, dot with the 2 tablespoons butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the potatoes are tender and the breadcrumbs are golden.

Makes 4 servings

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Baking: From My Home to Yours: World Peace Cookies

After seeing so much hype for these cookies, I figured it was about time to try them for myself. I mean, I didn't want to miss the cookie train, did I?  Especially when the cookies are the supposed brain child of Pierre Hermé.  Unfortunately, these are not cookies for the impatient.  Since they needed to chill for at least three hours, I made the dough last night and tried to stop thinking about them. I honestly wasn't sure they weren't going to turn out at all since the "dough" was so incredibly crumbly, it was more like a crumb topping than a cookie dough. The final outcome? The cookies are good, kinda sandy, not too sweet. But bringers of world peace? I still vote for the traditional chocolate chip cookie, warm out of the oven.

World Peace Cookies
From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous ¾ cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Makes 36 cookies