Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake

Dan is a picky eater.  Do you know how hard it is to cook for a picky eater? Really hard!  So when I find something that he likes, I tend to latch onto it and go nuts.  For example, he really likes lemon and blueberry flavored sweets -- so far I've made him lemon tarts, lemon bars, blueberry pie, blueberry muffins, and blueberry cake.  This recipe, however, is by far his favorite, as it combines his two favorite flavors.  I like it too because yogurt + minimal vegetable oil are used in place of butter, so I can eat almost as much as I want without feeling too guilty.

The recipe calls for lemon zest, but I don't have a zester. I do, however, have a teeny weeny grater that I use in place of a zester. Isn't it adorable?  Takes forever to grate enough lemon peel to flavor the cake, but it's so much fun to use!

Mmm, blueberries.  Delicious and nutritious.  I usually like to use fresh berries for this cake, but I didn't have any on hand. I did, however, have two packs of frozen blueberries in the freezer from the blueberry pie I never got around to making for my friend Nick's birthday (oops!).  Frozen berries aren't as pretty as the fresh ones, but they look and taste the same once baked.

After baking, the cake is drenched in a lemon juice/sugar concoction that immediately soaks into every inch of the cake, and then drizzled with lemon glaze (optional!).  The end product is moist, sweet, tangy, and delicious -- you won't be able to resist going back for thirds and forths!

Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Cake

1-1/2 flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1-1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or canola oil)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups blueberries

(For the glaze)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

(1) Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour loaf pan or bundt cake pan.

(2) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into medium sized bowl. Set aside.

(3) In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, 1 cup sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla.

(4) Slowly add dry ingredients to wet mixture.

(5) Fold vegetable oil gently into batter.

(6) Mix in blueberries

(7) Bake for about 50 minutes, or until knife in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside for cooling.

(8) While cake cools, cook 1/3 cup lemon juice + remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. When cake has cooled for about 10 minutes, pour lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in.  Turn cake over onto plate.

(9) For the glaze, mix powdered sugar and 2 tbsp lemon juice until thick. Pour over the cake.**

** The lemon glaze is totally optional. When I make it for Dan, I pour it on cuz he likes sugary stuff, but when I make it for my roommate, the glaze is too sweet for her so I leave it off. If you want to go the lower fat route, I'd suggest skipping this step -- but you'd be missing out!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reine De Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)

Another day, another Julia Child recipe. I've wanted to make this particular cake since I saw it on Julie & Julia.  In the movie, Julie Powell makes it for her husband and it's so good that he just eats it by the handful, rubbing it all over his face in ecstasy -- that's gotta be one good cake!

For both the cake itself and the frosting, the recipe called for chocolate to be melted with your choice of rum or coffee.  I didn't have either, but I did have Kahlua.  I figured since Kahlua = coffee flavored liquor, I was actually covering both bases.  Unfortunately, this didn't turn out quite as well as I hoped -- the chocolate got clumpy once taken off the stove, and refused to stay liquid enough for mixing into the batter/frosting. I remedied this by stirring in about a tablespoon of heavy cream, and setting the pot back on low heat.

Holy blurry picture! Sorry about the picture quality, but that's the only action shot I have of Dan helping me make the frosting.  It was a little more complicated than I expected -- we had to melt the chocolate, mix in butter tbsp by tbsp, then slowly stir the mixture in an ice bath until it reached a spreadable consistency.  I can't say I've ever made frosting this way, but I'll be damned if the ice water didn't actually turn the liquid chocolate into rich, thick frosting.  Food science is a wonderful thing.

Technically the almonds are supposed to be brushed along the sides of the cake, but my cake turned out a little stumpy-er than Julia's, and I just didn't think that the nuts would reach their decorative potential that way.  I thought the cake was pretty like this too.

Overall, the cake was delicious (moist, light yet rich, and not too sweet), but I won't be making it often.  It was far too work-intensive -- the actual baking time was very short (25 minutes), but the whole process leading up to that point wore me out.  You can't just throw some ingredients in a bowl and stir, you have to carefully prepare the dry and wet ingredients in different bowls, then deal with the egg yolks and whites separately.  Julia Child makes it sound so simple, but egg whites are ridiculously hard to beat by hand, and it takes forever to whisk the whole thing into stiff peaks.  Also, while the rich chocolate-butter frosting was worth the effort, I can't see myself using an ice-bath to make icing on a regular basis.  This is definitely a "special occasion" kind of cake!

Julia's recipe can be found at www.recipezaar.com.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

First Ever Dinner Party

Happy early Valentine's Day/Chinese New Year, everyone! In honor of these two special holidays, the boyfriend and I decided to host our first official, true blue, not-just-booze-and-snacks, dinner party. "Firsts" are always an exciting event, and we were eager to start out strong.  Unfortunately, by the time we got around to cooking, we were running a couple hours behind schedule, so we had to really fly to get food on the table by 7 as promised.  Which means I had less time to take pictures -- after my 3rd attempt to get the perfect action shot of him buttering the chicken, Dan suggested that we maybe forgo the step-by-step photos this one time and get cracking on the actual cooking. Such a wise man.

Overall the dinner was a success -- a pain in the ass to make, yes, but a success.  Everyone ate well and drank well and left happy.  Still, Dan and I may need a few months to recover before the next party.


- Sliced Italian Bread served with herbed olive oil
- Creamed Mushrooms on Chive Butter Toast (Recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

The recipe called for brioche or good white bread, but I couldn't find any at the local grocery store so I just went with a french baguette.  I also had to substitute portobello mushrooms for cremini mushrooms, because, surprise, my store didn't have any.  Either way, this dish was a big hit with everyone, and was polished off in short order.

- Poulet Roti a la Normande (Roast Chicken Basted with Cream, Herb and Giblet Stuffing)

This was my first time roasting a chicken, so I figured a Julia Child recipe was the way to go.  This proved to be a fantastic decision, as the chicken was juicy and flavorful, the cream cheese/giblet stuffing was a revelation (none of us had ever tasted anything like it!), and the accompanying gravy was the best I've ever had.  

But I have to be honest --- I didn't actually follow Julia's instructions for roasting the chicken.  She called for a lot of flipping and turning and basting and monitoring, and I just didn't have the time to be that involved. So I used this recipe instead for the roasting instructions, but stuck with Julia for the stuffing and gravy. No one complained!

- Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives

OK, 8 gigantic Russet potatoes may be just a tad too much for 7 people to eat.  The picture above was actually taken after everyone had eaten multiple helpings  at dinner -- we barely finished 1/2 of the potatoes, delicious though they were.  Next time I'll just stick with 4 taters and call it a day.

Super easy recipe:

(1) Boil 4 potatoes until soft. (Jab a fork into one of the potatoes and if it feels soft vs. crisp, it's done.)
(2) Peel potatoes. (Or, if you're like Dan and enjoy a little texture with your taters, keep some of the skin on.)
(3) Mash potatoes with 1/2 cup milk (use more milk if you're using more potatoes), and 1/2 cup sour cream.  If you don't have milk on hand, heavy cream works too -- it's just more fattening. Yum.
(4) Throw in a handful of chopped chives.
(5) Add salt and butter to taste.

- Creamed Spinach (Another Smitten Kitchen recipe)

Spinach is probably my favorite leafy green vegetable -- nutritious yet delicious, and so versatile.  I had my first creamed spinach experience when Dan and I went to a fancy steak joint for our 3 year anniversary, and it blew my mind.  Spinach + butter + cream looks mushy and unimpressive, but the delicious flavors just wrap around your tongue and the whole thing melts in your mouth.

One minor edit to the recipe: no nutmeg. I hate nutmeg. Except for when it's baked into cakes and I can't taste it.  So I left it out of this dish and just went about my merry way. No one missed it.

- Strawberry Cream Pie (Recipe courtesy of Crumbly Cookie)

My picture may not look as awesome as Bridget's, but the pie itself was an unqualified success.  Who can resist the siren call of strawberries, chocolate, and cheesecake filling? No one.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Banana Nutella-Swirl Muffins

Day fifty trillion of the Snowpocalypse. No work, no school, no where to go but the kitchen.  Which is where I discovered that I had a bunch of bananas ripening far too quickly on top of the fridge. Mmm, mushy bananas.  Time to smash them up and bake something nice!  

This post from Meet Me in the Kitchen caught my eye, so I dragged my roommate through the snow to get some Nutella from Safeway.  Poor Shanna.  Well, she wanted to buy wine anyway.

This is such a clean and easy, no-fuss recipe. Just mix up bananas, eggs, brown sugar, butter, and sour cream (which I swapped out for plain yogurt), scoop the batter into muffin pans, swirl in Nutella, and bake. Done!

I forgot how thick Nutella was -- it was kind of a pain to swirl through the batter, especially when I scooped too much of it into the cups.  In the end it was more like swirling the batter into the Nutella than vice versa. Still, I thought the overall effect was quite nice.

Banana Nutella-Swirl Muffins (Adapted from Barbara's Recipe)

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 small)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

(1) Preheat oven to 350.

(2) Mix bananas, brown sugar, yogurt, butter and eggs in a large bowl until well-blended.

(3) Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add gradually to banana mixture.

(4) Spoon batter into greased muffin tins.

(5) Add about 1 tsp of Nutella into each cup of batter (or more if you REALLY love Nutella). Swirl to your satisfaction.

(6) Bake for about 18 minutes.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ooey Gooey Monkey Bread

With the Snowpocalypse shutting down the city (and law school!) for the third day running, I was stuck in my apartment with nothing to do.  The snow-covered trees and buildings outside reminded me of frosting, and I just happened to have sugar, flour, butter and cream cheese, so . . . obviously I had to make Monkey Bread!

This was my first time working with yeast -- usually I make this recipe with Pillsbury biscuit dough. But I happened to have some packets of dry active yeast in my cabinets and way too much time on my hands, so I was feeling pretty ambitious. Monkey bread from scratch, baby!

Isn't it amazing how just a little warm water, yeast, sugar and flour can come together and create something as awesome as dough?  The recipe said to let the dough rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place, so I stuck it in the oven (unheated, of course) and ran off to the gym. By the time I came back the dough had risen to epic proportions, and was slightly crusty on top (which worried me a little), but most of it was moist and yeasty, so I plopped the sucker on my table and and started kneading.  

The crusty parts blended with the rest of the dough without a hitch, and the rest of the recipe followed smoothly. Roll out little balls of dough, dip in butter, cover in cinnamon sugar, plop into cake pan.  Then drizzle the stacked layers with brown sugar butter sauce, pop the whole thing into the oven, and wait for your apartment to fill with the mouthwatering scent of cinnamon rolls (which, if you think about it, is more or less what Monkey Bread is).

The end-product is pull-apart soft, buttery, cinnamon-y, and oh so yummy. The brown sugar/butter mixture drizzled on top caramelizes during the baking process, and forms a delightful crust.  Unlike a regular cinnamon roll, this monkey bread is moist and soft on the inside, but sweetly crispy on the outside.  Drizzle some cream cheese frosting on top, and you'll think you're in heaven.

Ooey Gooey Monkey Bread (Adapted from the Cooks.com recipe)

2 cups milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup warm water
1 pkg active dry yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2-1/2 sticks butter, melted

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon 

(1) Dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

(2) In a pot, heat milk until tiny bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pot. Remove from heat, and pour into a medium sized bowl.

(3) Stir shortening and 1/3 cup granulated sugar into milk until dissolved.

(4) Cool milk mixture until lukewarm, then stir in yeast mixture + 3 cups flour.

(5) Transfer dough to a large bowl brushed with oil. Turn dough once to coat entire surface with oil.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours.

(6) Add baking soda/powder, salt, and remaining 1 cup of flour. Knead 4-5 minutes on floured surface. Return kneaded dough to bowl and let rise for another hour. (Although, I only let it rise for another 40 minutes, and it turned out fine.)

(7) While you're waiting for the dough to rise, preheat the oven and prepare two separate bowls. One for 1 stick of melted butter, the other for a mixture of the cinnamon and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

(8) Roll dough into 1-1/2 to 2 inch diameter balls. Dip the balls into the melted butter, then roll it around in the cinnamon sugar. Line and stack finished balls in greased cake pan (see pictures). Set aside.

(9) Melt remaining 1-1/2 sticks of butter in a pot with brown sugar on medium heat. Stir until mixture is thick and smooth. Remove from heat and drizzle it over the dough balls in the cake pan.

(10) Bake the monkey bread for about 45 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes, then smear with cream cheese frosting. (Use whatever recipe you like, but I usually mix 1 stick butter, 8oz cream cheese, and powdered sugar to taste.)

The bread can be eaten sliced or pulled apart by hand.  Best served while still warm and gooey from the oven!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Easy Veggie Pizza

Ah, Superbowl Sunday. A day of feasting on fat things -- chips, dips, fried things, sweets, and every possible permutation of breaded chicken.  Great for the taste buds, not so amazing for the waist line. Who was it that said "a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips"?

So I decided to whip up something healthy-ish (but still tasty) for the Superbowl party Karen and I were going to.  I've made this dish for other parties and it's always been a big hit.  No one can resist pizza!  And besides, what's healthier than a big pile of raw vegetables?

One of the best things about this recipe, aside from its taste and simplicity, is how pretty the final product is. With so many different vegetables mixed together, there's no shortage of eye-catching colors -- it's like eating the rainbow, or maybe a Picasso painting.  I like to use cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, and red onions, but if you like peppers, bell peppers and banana peppers are also a nice touch.

You know that Hidden Valley Ranch commercial where a bunch of kids are at a birthday party and they're gobbling up vegetables like candy because everything is covered in Ranch dressing? This is kinda how this pizza works -- take a flaky crust, cover it with creamy Ranch-y stuff, then load it up with vegetables that complement the sauce.  It's like a veggie platter disguised as something much more appealing.  Guess what future my kids are going to get when I want them to eat vegetables?

Easy Veggie Pizza

2 cans, 8oz. Pillsbury crescent rolls
1 package dry ranch dressing
3/4 cups mayonnaise
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
Any vegetables you want (I tend to use broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, onions, and cauliflower)

(1) Preheat oven according to crescent roll label. (Usually 375 degrees)

(2) In a medium-sized bowl, mix ranch dressing, cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Set aside.

(3) Chop vegetables into small pieces (See pictures -- I use a faux-Bullet hand chopper). Mix vegetables in large bowl and set aside.

(4) Unroll each crescent roll onto a lightly greased pan. Bake as directed. (About 12 minutes, or until rolls are golden brown.)

(5) Once rolls are cool, divide dressing mix between the two pans and spread evenly.

(6) Top rolls with chopped vegetables.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

OK. I cannot tell a lie.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

Kidding, kidding. But seriously, I didn't make these cookies -- my friend Karen did.  It kinda seems like cheating to post her cookies on my blog, but in my defense I'm currently trapped at home during the Snowpocalypse with no baking ingredients, and she was making the cookies anyway.  All I asked her to do was take a few pictures along the way.  Besides, I'm crediting her, so...good enough, right? Right.

Reese's Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


2 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder (I like Ghiradelli, but I think Karen used Hershey's)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups butter, softened
2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
10 oz peanut butter chips (Or however many you want. If you like peanut butter, I say GO WILD.)

(1) Preheat oven to 350.

(2) Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in medium sized bowl. Set aside.

(3) Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy.

(4) Add eggs and vanilla to the butter and sugar, and beat well.

(5) Gradually add flour mixture to batter, beating well.

(6) Stir in peanut butter chips.

(7) Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.

(8) Bake 8-9 minutes. (If you want crispier cookies, leave them in the oven for an extra minute or two.)

(9) Cool slightly before moving cookies to wire rack.


Karen tells me that these cookies are deliciously chewy and satisfying -- the only thing keeping her from devouring the whole batch is fact that in 3 short weeks we'll be prancing around Jamaica in teeny weeny bikinis.  Mmmm.  I can't wait to try them tomorrow!