Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vegetable Biryani

1 more week and I get to have a mini-vaca and go home to visit family and friends! I'm very excited, and have been looking forward to it for at least a month. We'll be doing some apartment hunting, as I'll be moving in the later summer to get set up to do my Masters degree in the fall. I'll also be baking and setting up for my good friend's wedding shower! I've finally decided on a design for the cake, but I'm not 100% on the actual cake. That's the problem when you have 2 months to plan something- you can't stick with one recipe because new ones keep coming up and things constantly change. I have a good idea though, but I can't say what exactly because it has to be a surprise!

This Indian dish packs a punch of flavour and nutrition all in one! The curry-scented vegetables, lentil, dried fruit and nut pilaf is a delectable dish with a variety of textures and flavours. It's great served on it's own, but I found serving it with naan bread and a scoop of Greek yogurt (or just plain yogurt) added an extra something. The yogurt is a great addition if you use a spicy curry paste and need something to cool your palate. Sean laughed at me when I said there was a little heat to the dish even though I used a mild curry paste. I openly admit that I have no tolerance for heat whatsoever... I blame it on my mother. You see, she never cooked spicy things for us growing up, so I never developed a taste for it, and now I'm just a big baby. So unfortunately you won't see too many spicy things posted on this blog; however, some you will be able to adjust to your taste, like this one. Use whatever curry paste suits your taste for this dish!

Yield: 4-5 servings
3/4 cup lentils (canned or dried- drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry paste (once again, adjust to your taste. I added a little more than this)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup raisins or dried currants
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

If you're using dried lentils rather than canned then add them to a saucepan of boiling water, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat and saute onions for 3 minutes. Add carrots and continue to saute for another 3 minutes, or until onions are deep golden brown.

Add the garlic, curry paste, salt and pepper, and saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in cauliflower, rice, raisins and lentils to coat.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the rice, lentils and vegetables are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir in peas and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve with a scoop of yogurt and naan bread, or as desired.

Source: Canadian Living: The Vegetarian Collection
What else? This is my favourite cookbook! I think if you're a vegetarian, you really should invest in this book. I think even if you're not, it's worth looking at!

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Creamy Mac' and Cheese

Mmm, look at that cheesy-delicious-goodness! Does it not look fantastic? Well to me it does, maybe because I've eaten it and it is sooo yummy. With the corn on the cob, it just looks like a fantastic way to start into summer. This really is a great mac' and cheese dish; it's very simple to make and takes probably 45 minutes max- and that's with 25 minutes of baking time; it's got a nice tang and great flavour from the old cheddar cheese; and the crisp panko crumbs on top is the perfect crumb to give it a bit of crunch, so you can get a balance of soft and gooey to crunchy. AND it's out of my favourite cookbook: The Vegetarian Collection by Canadian Living. I've tried many many recipes out of that book and they're almost always a hit.

With this recipe I added in some roasted red pepper, because I think it gives it that extra kick. I can't say the idea was mine- I used to work at the Hard Rock Cafe as a server and my favourite dish there was the Twisted Mac and Cheese (also why I choose to use cavatappi noodles), and they used roasted red pepper as well. Not that I'm a strong endorser of eating out, but if you do have a Hard Rock Cafe in your area, I strongly recommend trying the Twisted Mac and Cheese. Oh, and get cheese added to your garlic bread that comes with it... to die for.
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
pinch of cayenne
dash of pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, whole grain is fine if you don't have regular
2 cups old cheddar cheese, grated, plus more for top
1 roasted red pepper, diced
panko bread crumbs
2 1/2 cups dry pasta of your choice, I prefer cavatappi for this dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or grease the insides of a 9x9 square dish.

Everything tossed together before being sent to
the oven to bake!
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, cayenne, salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Add in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and mustard, and whisk until bubbling and thickened. Once the mixture is thick, remove from heat and add in half of the cheese. Stir until all the cheese is melted, then add the second half. Mix in the diced red pepper.

In the meantime, cook the pasta you've chosen to use in a salted pot of boiling water. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Strain and set aside until the cheese sauce is all done; then coat the pasta thoroughly with the cheese sauce. Spoon the pasta mixture into the baking dish and flatten out on top. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and then sprinkle enough panko crumbs on top to create a good crust.

Bake in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and the panko crumbs are browned, about 25 minutes.

Source: slightly adapted from Canadian Living: The Vegetarian Collection

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Coconut Stuffed Chocolate Cake Cookies

Wow that is one pretty intense alliteration- Coconut Stuffed Chocolate Cake Cookies... what a mouthful! It was really for a lack of any better name. And is it just me, or does this picture oddly resemble a Christmas scene? Maybe it's just the red and the chocolate... it wasn't my intention to have it look like the holidays. What can I say, I'm no pro at photography or props and scenery. I'm very new at this still so most of the time I'm just going with what I think looks good. Sometimes it comes back to kick me in the butt, and often I've been able to correct it later in that day or the following day and try something new. Unfortunately I wasn't able to do that with this, as all of the cookies disappeared in pretty much a day and a half. A good handful went to work, a couple went to me and Sean (although I'm pretty sure I've eaten all but one of those), and the rest went to volunteering right away. It's not that I'm a super-giving person (although I do enjoy giving and it makes me happy), it's more so that if I keep all of these goodies around my house I WILL get fat. So shipping them off to somewhere else as soon as possible IS the answer.

I've been wanting to make these cookies for quite awhile now. I flagged this recipe from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen right when it came out. When I finally got around to making them, I realized that the cookies were made out of a cake box mix... I was very disappointed. I must admit I'm a bit of a self-professed food snob. I don't do box mixes; to me it feels like the cheap way out of things, and I can't say that I made the item from scratch. And let's face it- I like to take the credit for my work, not give it to a box mix. All the glory to me! 

These cookies were pretty good. I'm not going to say they were REALLY good, because they need just a slight bit of tweaking to get them there. While most of the people that tried them told me they were amazing, I felt that they lacked just a teeny bit of flavour. Not only that, but in a couple of the ones that I ate, I didn't get enough coconut, and the coconut is the best part. This all can be easily remedied I think.

These are the changes that I will make the next time I bake these up: I would replace 1/2 cup of the brown sugar with white sugar, add 1 more teaspoon of vanilla extract, and possibly add another 2-4 tablespoons of cocoa powder. I'd also use less dough for the actual cookie and try to flatten it out more, because the cookie- as it's a 'chocolate cake' cookie, bakes up quite a bit and is very fluffy, and so it was a bit too much cookie to coconut ratio. Also, I made way too much of the coconut filling, and put the remainder in the freezer to use for next time (I can't stand wasting food!) I've reflected the changes for that below. If you're making these you can use the original recipe or try with my additions, which I've starred beside the original ingredients.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen cookies

1/2 cup cocoa powder  *+ 2-4 tablespoons extra
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar  *1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar instead
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract  *+ 1 teaspoon extra
3/4 cup milk

For the filling:
3/4 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
(You may still have extra for this as I did not measure when I originally made it, and I'm guessing for how much you should use for less, as I had too much)

Combine the condensed milk and coconut in a small sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Stir regularly to avoid burning until the mixture has thickened and begins to pull from the sides, approximately 10-12 minutes. Once this is done, transfer to a bowl and set in the freezer to cool for an hour.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare the batter. Combine the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk until evenly combined. Combine the softened butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand-mixer and beat until light and fluffy, approximately 2-3 minutes. Mixing on low, add one egg until combined, and then add the other egg. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add half of the flour mixture, and beat until mostly combined. Stir in the milk, and then the remaining flour mixture. Allow the batter to stiffen in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Remove the batter and coconut mixture from the fridge and freezer and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop out approximately 1 teaspoon of batter and drop it on the baking sheet. Flatten the batter and create a well to drop the coconut into. I found it very helpful to dip a spoon into flour and flatten it with that, as the batter is very sticky. It's funny, you can see me in the reflection of the spoon if you look closely. Now what I'd like to note is that I would use less batter that you see here in this picture. Try to make them thinner too and make more of a well. The spoon works great for this.

 Add a scoop of coconut onto the cookie. I used approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon, but I wish I used more! Stuff in as much as you can :).

Add another scoop of cookie dough on top. This is where it gets tricky. Because the dough is so sticky, it's difficult to handle. Make sure you have that bowl of flour nearby, because you will need it. Try your best to flatten the dough as much as you can before plopping it on top. Seal the top piece with the bottom by pinching the top and bottom together.

Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Source: adapted from Ann Arbor Pin It

Friday, May 11, 2012

Panko-Crusted Salmon

Part II of my previous post is the other half of my meal from that evening. I also made a green-bean casserole but wasn't able to snap a picture before it was partially demolished. It's so good! Eventually I'll get it up here. Let me just say that this has become my go-to salmon dish. I can't get enough of it. It's so easy to make but so delicious at the same time. Perfect for a quick night meal or even a fancier meal. I found it on Annie's Eats- she's so awesome- a few months ago and this is at least the 4th time I've made this salmon. And that's saying a lot because I probably only buy salmon/fish once or twice a month! (It really depends when it's on sale- it can be so dang expensive up here!) Normally I'm not a chintzer (word?) on food- I would rather spend more money on good quality and healthy food than buying a new shirt or pair of shoes- but sometimes the price is just too high for my budget.

In other news, the countdown is on till I visit home and get to bake up a storm for my best friend's wedding shower! I'm very excited; this has been in the works for quite some time and my mind has been busy with ideas on what I should make and how it should look. I'm not completely set on some parts, and if anybody would like to post links or comments on some wedding shower ideas I would LOVE to see them! And of course I'm not going to tell you all that I have planned so far, you'll have to check back and see in the weeks to come! 3 weeks exactly and I'll be home, so if I'm being realistic it might be a month before wedding shower goodies are posted... I can't wait! (Is it weird that I get very excited at the idea of making baked goods for a wedding shower 2 months in advance? Yes, I was already excited a month ago.)

Back to the salmon...

3/4 cup panko crumbs
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley (dried works fine if you don't have fresh, just don't use as much)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 salmon fillets, skin on (if skin is not on, skip step below*)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I use whole-grain but whatever is your preference)
lemon wedges for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Combine the panko crumbs, minced parsley, lemon zest, salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss with a fork until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface, and brush with the Dijon mustard until completely covered (you may need more or less than the allotted amount depending on the size of your fillets and your preference. I like lots :) ). Press the panko mixture on top of each fillet and press down firmly so that the mixture adheres to the mustard.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat (* if you get fillets without the skin on, skip this part, and add an additional 2-4 minutes cooking time in the oven). When the oil is hot, add the fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes without flipping in order to sear the skin.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the salmon is just cooked through and the panko mixture has browned. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

*If you don't have an oven-safe skillet, like myself, I heat the baking pan that I will be transferring the salmon fillets onto while they are searing in the pan. Then I add aluminum foil to the pan and make a quick transfer and no one is the wiser. And if you buy salmon without the skin on, like I did this last time, you don't even need to worry about this step and they can go directly into the oven.

Source: How Easy is That? by Ina Garten
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Scalloped Hasselback Potatoes

This post is going to be short and sweet. Pretty busy these days, crammin' in school assignments before work, crafting projects after work, and doing a 6-day work week this week (if you include an 8 hour volunteer shift). This is actually a meal I had last week. Occasionally I'm able to make myself a full sit-down meal with all the basic components (for me it's fish, veggies and either more veggies or a carb of some sort like rice or potatoes, though I rarely eat potatoes). So this side dish was a treat for me! You see, I work evenings. I may have mentioned this before. My shift is 1-9, and so the majority of the time I find myself making a dinner that is easily transportable, and it gets made in the morning before work. It's easiest for me to make a larger amount so I can not worry about making food for the next few days. My biggest go-to is soup, although I'm sure once the warmer weather really hits that will not be so appealing.

Hopefully you don't have to wait for a special opportunity to come up to make these baked potatoes, because they're pretty special and pretty simple. :) Part II of this dish will come up in my next post.

2 baking potatoes, cleaned
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream and chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes on their flattest side, and use a sharp knife to slice the potatoes at 1/4 inch intervals. Be careful not to slice all the way through. Place the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Stuff the potatoes with the thinly sliced pieces of butter and Parmesan cheese, alternating between the two. Sprinkle the potatoes with the garlic powder and salt, then drizzle the olive oil over them.

Back for 45 minutes to 75 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender (mine were actually closer to an hour and a half- depends on your oven and the size of your potatoes). Remove from the oven and drizzle the heavy cream over the potatoes, and top them with the cheddar cheese. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and browned. Serve topped with sour cream and chives, if desired.

Source: Tracey's Culinary Adventures

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Carrot Curry Soup with a hint of Coconut

This picture really does not do this soup justice. I LOVE this soup. It is SO tasty, SO easy, and SO healthy (well maybe not SO healthy, but it is all veggies!). I love curry. Or at least I think I do; my experience with curry really has been pretty limited to the few dishes I've made with the spice, and I'd like to make a distinction that I haven't actually had a 'curry' dish, if you know what I mean. For example, when people say 'let's go grab some curry' in the noun sense, rather than eating a dish with the spice in it. I hope I'm making sense. The point of what I'm saying is that I love curry, but I really haven't tried it too much, so maybe I don't like the real curry as much? Whatever.

This soup is really very easy. Half of the ingredients are tossed in first to soften with some oil, and the other half are added when the liquid goes in. Everything is pureed in the blender to create a beautifully smooth soup, and then it's reheated and some coconut milk goes in for a special kiss of flavour. I just love it so much. I will let you know though that the soup is on the thinner side, so if you like a thicker soup perhaps don't add as much liquid, or you could even add some flour in before adding the liquid. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Yield: 4 servings

2 1/2 large carrots, chopped
1 med-large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (or whatever oil you have on hand)
1 heaping tablespoon curry
pinch of cumin
2 medium potatoes, diced
4 cups vegetable stock (or for those meat-eaters, chicken stock works)
1 cup water
1/3-1/2 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a dutch oven or large saucepan on medium high and add oil to heat. Add in carrots, onion, celery and garlic and cook until softened, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, about 8 minutes. Add in the curry and cumin, and stir until fragrant. Add in the potatoes, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat until simmering and cover with a lid. Simmer the soup until all the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly before blending**. Once cooled, blend the soup until smooth. You may have to do this in 2 portions. Return to heat and bring to a quick simmer. Add in the coconut milk and salt and pepper to taste. Serve when hot. Enjoy!

**I don't know if you've ever made the mistake of putting piping hot liquid into a blender and blending it, but if you have, you know that it almost always equals a disaster. Something about the hot liquid makes the blender explode, and so at least twice before that I can think of my kitchen has been covered with unusually bright red or orange liquid of some kind. Not just my kitchen, but usually myself as well, and when the liquid is hot it can really burn you. Not fun. You don't need to cool it completely, but when you do blend it make sure that the lid is closed tightly and wrap a towel around the top, just in case.

Source: A Sweet Treats & Healthy Eats original

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cherry Chip Cake for a Baby Shower!

My first time doing TWO things: a ruffle cake and ombre icing! When my co-workers started planning a baby shower for a woman I work with, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity for me to try the cherry chip recipe I'd been eyeing and the ruffle icing. It was so much fun! I just love making pretty things, and I thought the ruffles resembled a little tutu dress that a baby girl might wear. Everybody exclaimed how amazing this cake looked and that it seemed so difficult to make, but really it's not! Even strangers on the bus were commenting on it.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the inside of the cake or how to make the ruffles. I thought it might be a little odd if I brought my camera along to work and stopped everybody before eating so I could snap a few pictures. Sean has gotten somewhat used to me doing that at home... but I think at work would be a bit of a stretch. There's a really great video tutorial on youtube for how to make the ruffles here. It takes no time at all and can be very forgiving; you don't notice a little blip nearly as much as if you might when looking at a 'smooth' iced cake. Credit goes to Deborah from Taste and Tell for creating such a lovely cherry chip cake recipe from scratch, as there are so few out there! Paired with my favourite vanilla Italian meringue buttercream it makes a stunning cake, visually and in taste!

 Yield: This recipe is made for 2 9-inch pans. However, I ended up using 2 6-inch and the remainder went into 2 3-inch pans.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup milk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cherry extract
1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice
1 10-ounce jar maraschino cherries, finely chopped (I used my mini food processor to get them quite small. You want to make sure they're small enough so that they don't sink to the bottom from their weight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 9-inch pans with shortening and then dust with flour. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk and egg whites.

In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy, at least a couple minutes. Beat in the cherry extract and cherry juice. Add in third of the flour mixture, beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the egg-milk mixture, then another third of the flour, beating until each addition is incorporated. Beat in the rest of the milk mixture and then the remaining flour. Beat the mixture for 2 minutes. Fold in the chopped cherries, then divide the mixture between the two pans.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. My cakes took an exceptional amount of time, 40-45 minutes for 6-inch cakes! Now, I do use the Wilton baking strips, which are wrapped around each pan and help the cake to rise levelly (is that a word?), rather than having that dome on the top. They're actually quite brilliant, but I do find that they cause the cake to take a little longer to bake. Anyways, I would take a look at maybe 30-35 minutes and see how it's going, and go from there. Once they're done, transfer the pans to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and release the cakes from the pans. Cool completely on the cooling racks.

For instructions on how to make a classic Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMB), see this post. I had to make a double batch, and of course instead of using strawberry puree, add in 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. If you don't want it to be colored at all, use clear extract as opposed to natural.

Also, I have a great piece of information!! In the past I've struggled with coloring the IMB, and upon researching why, I found out that the food coloring has nothing to adhere to, because the icing is basically fat (only sugar and butter and egg whites). So unlike American buttercreams that use icing sugar, some gel food coloring will just sit on the surface. However, I found one post that stated that unfortunately Wilton food gels do not mix in well at all (my experience), and rather brands like Americolor work wonders. This was fantastic because I had just purchased a large bottle of red Americolor gel, which worked out perfectly on the icing. I would highly recommend buying Americolor gels if you're hoping to color IMB or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing. Yay!

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