Monday, July 2, 2018

ChezCindy: Sweet Almond Cornmeal Cake

Almond Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Strawberries

For as long as I have been baking, it is always a pleasant surprise to come upon something completely new and foreign to me, that turns out to be really fantastic.  I was reading a wine magazine and found a cake recipe using almond paste as an ingredient.  It did not sound too foreign, but new to me in that I was not sure where to buy almond paste, or where to locate it in the grocery store if indeed they did sell it.  After perusing the baking aisle at my local grocer, I did not see it after one pass.  I thought maybe the International aisle.  Nope.  Fortunately, there was someone stocking the shelves who knew exactly what almond paste was, what aisle it was in, and the exact spot on the shelf.  Got it.  Now, take it home and figure out what is this almond paste.

Reading the package ingredients, it is simply blanched almonds, sugar, water and other "natural flavors".  Okay, sounds right.  As I opened the package, I discovered the most pleasant sweet almond fragrance.  Very enticing.  Removing it from the foil package, it was a beige squishy block, almost like shortening but with more substance.  Seems promising.  And it was.  This new ingredient created the most delicious sweet almond cake batter.

The recipe was not complicated, but I did change it just a bit.  With baking, I always recommend following the directions as-is for the first use, then make it your own.  After making it once, I decided on a few changes, and to make individual cakes using a large cupcake pan.  Here is how I made this new ingredient into a sweet success.

Almond Cornmeal Cake
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup almond paste
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup plain yogurt

butter and flour to grease the baking pan
powdered sugar for dusting the finished cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the cups of a cupcake pan to make 6 large cupcakes.  Or, grease an 8-inch cake pan.*  Lightly dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a small bowl, add the cornmeal, cake flour, and baking powder; whisk to combine.  Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and almond paste to the mixing bowl; mix on medium speed until creamy and well combined, 3-5 minutes.  Add in the powdered sugar, mixing on slow speed until combined.  Add in the eggs and egg yolks, one a time, mixing to combine.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add in the yogurt and dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Divide the cake batter evenly into the 6 cupcake wells.  Bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.*  Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove the cakes from the pan; place onto a wire baking rack to continue cooling.  Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.  Serve with fresh strawberries.

* If using an 8-inch cake pan, bake for 35 minutes.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

ChezCindy: Chive Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan Cheese

Chive Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan Cheese

When you have time in the morning and are looking for a special treat, scrambled eggs can be your go-to breakfast.  If you have scones made from another day stored in your freezer, even better.  Irish Cheddar Herb Scones   Today I took inspiration from the fresh chives in my herb garden and made chive scrambled eggs with Parmesan cheese.  

Scrambled eggs may seem simple enough and not need a recipe.  True.  But here are a few tips I recommend.  Use the best quality eggs you can find.  Color of the shell does not matter, but fresh from the farm does.  Cook your eggs in a non-stick pan with real butter.  The butter coats the pan and adds flavor.  Add salt to your eggs, but wait until they are nearly cooked through.  Adding salt to the raw eggs will toughen them.  Remove the eggs from the pan when they still look a bit wet and undercooked.  They will continue cooking on the plate as they set up.  I prefer softly scrambled eggs.  If you like yours a bit firmer, I still recommend early transfer to the plate, just a bit more cooked through for your preference.  Scrambled eggs make a great breakfast, but can be a quick simple meal anytime of day.  

If you are fortunate to have access to farm fresh eggs, count yourself lucky.  The richness of flavor is quite different than store-bought eggs.  The color of the yolks are your first clue that these eggs are a step up from everyday.  

Chive Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan Cheese
2 large fresh eggs
2-3 teaspoons butter
1/2 tablespoon fresh cut chives
1 teaspoon fresh grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of kosher salt

Crack each egg into a medium bowl.  With a fork, break the yolk and whisk the eggs until the yolk and white are completely combined.  Place a non-stick pan over a medium-low heat.  Add the butter to the pan to melt.  Whisk the eggs one more time, transfer to the pan.  With a rubber spatula, gently stir the eggs to form soft curds.  If the pan looks too dry, add another teaspoon of butter.  Add the pinch of salt, chives and cheese.  Stir to combine.  Transfer to serving plate.  Makes 1 serving or 2 small first course servings.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

ChezCindy: What's Up with Avocado Toast?

Avocado Toast with Cherry Tomatoes & Micro-Greens

Why is avocado toast such a "thing"?  The popularity of avocado toast has risen, fallen, and is now back again.  If you have not tried it yet, here's the scoop.  

Avocado toast hit the social media scene, in recent popularity, originating from a restauranteur in Australia.  It then made the jump to New York City, bounced over to LA, then spread through the rest of the country like a California wild fire.  But why has its popularity been sustained for so long?  Well, it is easy to make.  It's satiating due to the healthy fats.  And, most importantly, it's really good!

Here are a few more reasons to give avocado toast a try.  Avocados contain more potassium than bananas.  True, avocados are the fattiest plant on the planet.  But, most of the fat in avocado is oleic acid, the same component found in olive oil linked to heart healthy benefits.  Avocado toast makes a quick portable breakfast when you are on the go.  Or, a tasty mid-day snack to make it through to dinner.  Here's how to make it.  

  1. Start with a good whole-grain bread from the local bakery shop.  Toast slices until nicely browned.
  2. Peel, then mash an avocado until almost smooth.  Mix in fresh squeezed lime juice.  Season with sea salt.  
  3. Spread the avocado mash onto the toast.  Top with sliced cherry tomatoes, micro-greens and course sea salt.  Eat right away.  Smile.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

ChezCindy: Mustard Herb Roasted Turkey

Mustard Herb Roasted Turkey Breast with Roasted Carrots

I could have titled this post "Roasted Carrots that Taste Better Than the Turkey".   Not to imply that the turkey was bad, but the carrots stole the meal.  Roasting vegetables generally brings out the best in all produce highlighting the natural sweetness.  In this case, I used the carrots as a roasting rack for the turkey breast resulting in incredibly flavored carrots.  The juices from the turkey, mustard and herbs basted the carrots, yet they were slightly caramelized from sitting on the bottom of the roasting pan.
Carrots are often an under used vegetable.  They are inexpensive yet are so versatile.  And, anytime we can eat orange vegetables, that is a bonus to our day.  Since winter seems to be hanging on way past its welcome, try this carrot soup recipe to brighten your day.  Carrot Soup

Roasting a turkey breast is a great way to enjoy all the flavor of Thanksgiving meal without all the time and prep work.  I used a 2-pound bone-in turkey breast and it was done in roughly an hour.  You could also prepare this same recipe with the carrots using several large bone-in chicken breasts or a whole chicken.  Just vary the cooking time until the poultry reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees for doneness.

Mustard Herb Roasted Turkey Breast with Roasted Carrots
1 bone-in turkey breast (half) 2-3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs
   a combination of rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound carrots for the "roasting rack"

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the carrots and cut then in half lengthwise.  Place the carrots in a roasting rack, flat side down to form a roasting rack for the turkey.  Place the turkey breast on top of the carrots.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, chopped fresh herbs, salt, sugar and pepper, mixing well.  Pour the mixture over the turkey breast.  Loosen the skin and rub some of the mustard herb mixture directly onto the meat.  Add 1 cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan.
Roast the turkey in the hot oven for roughly 1 - 1 1/2 hours until the turkey is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with the roasted carrots and the turkey juices gathered at the bottom of the roasting pan.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ChezCindy: Quick Pickled Vegetables

Quick Pickled Vegetables

So often we use old expressions without giving thought to the origin.  When someone uses the phrase to be in a pickle, there are numerous meanings.  Generally, it is used when found to be in an awkward, unexpected situation.  It can also refer to one's condition after enjoying too many alcoholic beverages.  Which could be the same as an awkward, unexpected situation, as our favorite spiked beverages can sometimes leave us wondering, "how did that happen?".  Not that this has ever happened to me..... 

In the 1700's, the word pickle referred to a mixture of spiced, salted vinegar that was used as a preservative.  That is where we are going today: a quick pickle to extend and flavor the use of vegetables.  Quick pickles are different than the long-storage pickles that are fermented and stored in the pantry for months.  A quick pickled vegetable will store in the refrigerator for one month.  Pickled vegetables add flavor and texture to sandwiches, salads and other favorites such as tacos!  Here's how to do it.  

There is a basic ratio when quick pickling.  Equal parts water and vinegar, plus equal parts kosher salt and sugar, plus dried herbs and spices for flavor.  The chart below offers examples of what to use.  I often have pickled red onions in my fridge.  The red onions create a pretty pink brine that develops from the color of the onions.  Using a mandolin, thinly slice the onions and add dried cumin see and mustard seed for flavor.  The subtle flavor of cumin makes a difference.  English cucumbers are best to use for making 'pickles' as they have smaller seeds.  These can be sliced thinly for sandwiches or into large chunks to include on a vegetable tray.  I like using coriander seeds and tucking a few cloves of garlic into the jar for a traditional flavor.  Anytime you want to add heat to the vegetables, consider adding dried red pepper flakes.  

Quick Pickled Vegetables     
Glass Jars - Choices
Fresh Vegetables - Choices
Dried Whole Spices - Choices
~English Cucumber
~Coriander Seeds
~Red Onion
~Cumin Seeds

~Mustard Seeds

1-pound vegetables, cleaned and cut into pieces or thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried whole spices, any combination

Place the cleaned cut vegetables into the canning jars, lightly packing to fit.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, dissolving the salt and sugar.  Pour the hot liquid over the vegetables to cover them completely, filling the jar to 1/2-inch from the top of the jar.  Seal the jar tightly with the lid.  Allow to cool on the counter.  Place the cooled jar in the refrigerator.  Wait 24 hours before enjoying so that the vegetables have time to pickle.  The vegetables will develop more flavor as they age.  Store in the fridge for up to one month.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

ChezCindy: Irish Cheddar & Herb Scones

Irish Cheddar & Herb Scones

Winter weather is holding on as we make our way through the month of March.  I can't seem to stop baking.  I think it is the cold weather that makes me turn to my favorite recipes.  Scones are always comforting to me whether I make them savory or sweet.  These cheddar and herb scones bake up golden brown on the outside, but tender and light as you break into them.  Perfect with pot roast Pot Roast...a Perfect Winter Meal  or just with your morning cup of tea.

Irish Cheddar & Herb Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
12 tablespoons butter, diced 
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
4 ounces white Irish cheddar cheese, small-diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  

Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour, baking powder, and sea salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the cold diced butter and mix on low speed until the butter is broken down to pea-size pieces.  Mix the cold eggs and the cold heavy cream and add to the flour-butter mix until just blended.  In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of flour to the cold finely diced cheddar, add in the chopped herbs; toss to combine.  Add this to the dough, mixing briefly until slightly incorporated.  

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until the cheddar and herbs are evenly distributed.  Roll the dough to 3/4-inch thick.  Cut the dough into 3-inch squares.  Place onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the tops with the egg wash.  Bake in the upper part of the oven for 20 minutes.  

Remove from the oven.  Slide the parchment paper onto the counter to cool.  Serve warm with sweet butter and/or cheddar cheese.  

More scone recipes you can try as we transition into Spring!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

ChezCindy: A Magically Disappearing Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I know I just wrote about chocolate cake, but this one is a "welcome home chocolate cake".  My husband had been away on travels and after weather delayed flights, was finally home.  We were both in the kitchen at 1:30 in the morning eating this most comforting chocolate cake.  But that is not what makes this cake magical.

Each time I make this cake, it seems to disappear.  I keep it sitting on the counter in this pretty cake dome.  As I walk through the room, I'll notice another slice has been cut.   Hmmm.... 

This cake is so moist, it could last for days.  But it never does.  It seems to magically disappear until only a few crumbs and smears of chocolate buttercream remain on the plate.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line each with parchment paper, lightly dust the pans with flour.
Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until combined.  In a separate medium bowl, add the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla, whisking to combine.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low, add the hot coffee until combined.  Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and scrape the bottom to be sure all ingredients are well combined.  Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center of the cake.  Cool in the pans for 20 minutes.  Remove cake from the pans, transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons hot water

Chop the chocolate into pieces.  Place in a double boiler pan to gently melt the chocolate.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened butter for 3 minutes until creamy and pale yellow in color.  Add the egg yolk and vanilla, continue beating for another 2 minutes.  Add the sifted powdered sugar, with the mixer set on low, beat until smooth and creamy.  Dissolve the 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder into 2 teaspoons of hot water.  Add the coffee and the melted chocolate to the butter mixture, beat until fully combined.  Spread onto the cooled cake.

This recipe is from Ina Garten's cookbook, Barefoot Contessa At Home with slight modifications.