Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Cakes; Daring Bakers CELEBRATE!

This truly, is a PERFECT cake. As I have mentioned before, lemon deserts are not my favorites, but OOOooohhh-BOY! This cake may have finally won me over to the dark, lemony side!!! Although, as the title indicates, this perfect cake was ever so delicious, I did have to go two rounds with baking this layered delight. First let me tell you what this cake is all about...

This month's DARING BAKERS challenge comes to us from MORVEN. She made a FABULOUS pick and for our March 2008 challenge, she brought us, "Perfect Party Cake" from Baking: From My Home to Yours, By: Dorie Greenspan. WOOOO-HOOOO! I am familiar with this FANTASTIC book, from my participation in another amazing group, Tuesday's With Dorie. Dorie's recipes, details and writing style make this cookbook a pure delight and an absolute must-own for anyone who finds baking an essential joy of life.

So, that brings us to MY Perfect Party Cake. I made this the Saturday before Easter to take to our family feast. Well, actually what I did was go out to an incredible dinner with Nate on Saturday night. Then I came home and passed out on the couch and if it was not for Nate waking me up and reminding me I was going to be SUPER stressed if I had to do the whole thing before we left to head to our Easter celebration. Begrudgingly, I got up and started making the cake; TAKE ONE.

Fortunately as I mentioned above, I love this book. I find Dorie's recipes, and more importantly they way she words everything makes the instructions easy to follow. I love it, no matter how obvious it may seem, when a recipe will TELL ME HOW LONG TO WHISK THIS THING!! So I stared in on the 2 cake layers. I had heard about other DB'er having trouble with their cake rising. Dorie had suggested it was the TYPE of cake four and recommends if you have a problem with the rising, to substitute the All Purpose Flour/Cake Flour substitute. "1 cup cake flour= 1 cup all purpose flour minus 2 T."

The cake recipe was a breeze and in no time I was pulling them out of the oven. They weren't super-flat, but they weren't risen completely either. But, now it was late, I was sleepy, and I wrapped the 2 cooled layers up and decided I'd "make it work" on Sunday morning before we left.

TAKE TWO: I woke up early enough, and this cake was not 22-steps of crazy to make, so I gave it another go, but using organic cake flour this time (why not, right?)...well, the only difference there, was part of the allure of this PERFECT Party Cake is the beautiful snowy-white cake, frosting and coconut, offset by the yummy bright raspberry filling between layers. What I ended up doing was using two layers of the four-layer cake from the first batch, and two from the second. There was some sticking during the cooling process, and some rough roads during the slicing the layers in half...**I have since learned a slicing layers in half trick that I am looking forward to trying!** This time I used the toothpicks-all-the-way around and a big super-sharp serrated knife. When I got to Easter and was telling the tale of my baking adventure, Mom and Nana said to use dental floss to divide cake layers. Very interesting!!

This was the first recipe I've made where a layer of cake is cut in half to create a beautiful four-layer cake. I only had raspberry preserves that did contain seeds, so I used those, and the buttercream came together beautifully. This buttercream frosting recipe is AWESOME, I think it was some of the best frosting I've ever made!

I didn't run into any problems assembling or decorating this Perfect Party Cake, and even with tons of candy, and a table full of other cakes and deserts, this one still got eaten up!! As Dorie suggests in the forward to this recipe, I will be putting a marker on that page and coming back to Perfect Party Cake time and time again!!

For the Recipe visit
Morven's Blog and if you haven't already, and you love to bake, get this book!
Baking ~ from My Home to Yours By: Dorie Greenspan.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Machaca Inspired Beef

I love machaca, beef or chicken, it is one of my favorite dishes. I have never made it, or had a recipe for it, but have always wanted to re-create it on my own in some way. I found THIS RECIPE on Epicurious. I was making it for a party, so in order not to have as much work to do I adapted this into a slow-cooker recipe for a group and it did not end up coming out exactly like machaca because I pulled it out a little early (so I sliced it instead of shredding in, but the good news is came out fantastic. We served this sliced beef with tortillas, salsa & guacamole for little soft tacos.

The flavor of this dish is amazing. The meat marinates in lime juice, spices and oil overnight and then slowly simmered for hours with peppers, onions, tomatoes and chiles. I can not wait to make this again!! I think I would try it with chicken to switch it up too.

Machaca-Inspired Beef
Adapted from Epicurious
Original recipes serves 6 for dinner, see original recipe HERE
This served 25 people for an appetizer buffet, cooked in a slow cooker.

3/4 C. Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 6 Limes
1 T. garlic powder
2 T. ground cumin
1 1/2 T. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 C. vegetable or olive oil

6 lbs chuck roast trimmed and cut into 1/4 lb portions
2 large sweet white onions
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
3 fresh jalapeno peppers, minced
2 14oz cans tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 16oz can of beef broth
2 T. dried oregano
2 T. dried cumin
2 T. hot sauce such as Chalula or Tapitio

First, prepare the marinade ***(you will be marinating the beef OVERNIGHT!!!)***
Combine all marinade ingredients in a LARGE bowl and whisk until well combined ("to form an emulsion"). Place beef in a LARGE freezer bag and pour marinade over beef, seal the bag and mush it around a bit to make sure all pieces of beef get covered & submerged. Use two bags and divide the meat and marinade in half if necessary.
Remove meat from marinade and place in a very large, clean bowl. Toss the marinade (aka, throw it away, no mas). Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, cans of tomatoes, beef broth, spices and hot sauce to the bowl with the meat and stir until all ingredients are mixed together. Slowly transfer (by pouring or using a ladle and tongs) the beef mixture into the slow cooker. Cook on HIGH four hours or until meat is cooked to your liking and tender....*

*Note on cooking time: Next time we make this I will cook 4 hours on High or 7-8 hours on Low, and then it will be more "shredded" and come apart with forks. THIS time I thought the slow cooker was on high, but, alas I had it on high for 1 hour, then on low for 3 hours (duh!, how do I manage sometimes!?!) So, as guests were arriving for our fiesta, I shut it off and sliced the meat (vs. forking it apart).
We still got rave reviews, it was REALLY pretty delicious! I loved the combination of spices and flavors and CAN NOT WAIT to make this dish again! (maybe in smaller scale this time for a summer dinner!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Family Traditions; Easter Ravioli

You may be stopping by to see some Caramel-Topped Flan, which, for several reasons you will not find here today. I know, I am a total TWD drop-out, but if they will keep me, I do promise (which, I know, I have said before)...much like my state's govenator used to say..."I'll be back!" this Tuesday's with Dorie Link to see all the pretty flan!

The main reason you will not see any Caramel-Topped Flan is that it was EASTER this weekend!! I got super-lucky and pretty much won the husband lottery. He opens my car door (after nearly a decade together), cooks with the best of them, and above all that has an AWESOME family that I am so happy to be a part of!!

Here is the back story of Easter Ravioli....This year was the 20th anniversary of this fabulous tradition. Apparently 20 years ago, when my husband was 10, and although he was young, he obviously understood that his mother and Nana were total badasses in the kitchen, he asked Nana to make him some ravioli. Or, rather, he said, "Nana, how come you don't make me some ravioli." Well, what would any good Italian Nana do?!? She, together with Nate's Papa (who we miss very much, but know he's smiling on us when we get together to make and eat ravioli ever Easter!) would spend a day preparing this spectacular Easter feast. Now, Nate and I are proud to be part of the tradition, and every year, on the Saturday before Easter, we go meet Nana at Mom & Dad's house and roll out some serious food.

I will update this post very soon with the parts of the recipe that I can share with the world (the dough & filling) but as for the sauce, that's top-secret and you'd have to marry one of us to get it!
For now, enjoy the photos of our labor of love! HAPPY (belated) EASTER!!

Monday, March 24, 2008


While I have been away from the blogosphere gallivanting around Las Vegas and not baking (although I did manage to get my Blogging By Mail package shipped, YAY!!)

I was bestowed a fabulous honor by Jaime of Good Eats and Sweet Treats. If you have not drooled over her beautiful, yummy recipes yet, you MUST go check em out ASAP!! A fellow Daring Baker, TWD'er and "Nestie", I am a regular of Jaime's blog and have many, many of her delicious triumphs starred in my Google reader. She was kind enough to share the "YOU MAKE MY DAY AWARD"! THANKS JAIME!!!

In turn I need to keep the love going and pass this award on to 10 blogs that make MY day!! Those blogs (that you need to add to your Google reader THIS MINUTE!!) are:

Culinary Infatuation, by Ally; I have SO many of her fabulous recipes starred in my reader!
Annie's Eats, this was one of the first blogs I got to know and love, it is another favorite for go-to dinner recipes (like Ally's)!!
Dispensing Happiness I mentioned Blogging By Mail above, which is just one small reason to be head over heels with Stephanie's blog! Check out the monthly BLOG PARTY and some seriously adorable photos!
Culinary Concoctions by PeabodyWhat can I say about Peabody's blog that is not SO obvious from taking one look- it ROCKS!! And "makes my day" with every yummy update!
Picky Palate~ Jenny always has awesome dinner ideas, and super-easy, yet beautiful and delicious deserts!
Good Things Catered, Katie's blog is an awesome reference for entertaining or just making a spectacular dinner for two!
Taste & Tell, Deborah's blog has some very, very pretty photos and I love her play-by-play of the monthly Daring Baker's Challenges, it is always a great post!
Confections of a Foodie Bride. Shawnda also has beautiful photography, and I have a blast reading her updates!
Carrie's Kitchen Creations. Carrie (who I just discovered was ALSO sweet enough to share this award with me), well, she MAKES MY DAY!!! I always look forward to seeing what she'll cook or bake next!
Closet Cooking. Kevin, last but not least, is an ADVENTURER! He gets super creative all the time and makes some seriously inspiring food!! It's like taking a vacation all over the world :)

I was also given the E!xcellent Blog award by another one of my favorite bloggers- Ally of Culinary Infatuation. WOO HOO!!
Five Blogs that I think are EXCELLENT, in addition to Ally's are...

Good Eats n' Sweet Treats. Jaime's blog is INCREDIBLE, I don't know how she gets it all done!
Joy the Baker. I just recently discovered Joy, and WOW- her blog (and work) is STUNNING!
I Shot the Chef. Candace has some pretty obvious talent, this is one GORGEOUS blog!
Quirky Cupcake. I literally LAUGH OUT LOUD reading Laurie's blog sometimes, it is one of my all time favorites!
The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Rae, (again last but certainly not least!) is a pretty nifty lady. I aspire to blog as beautifully as she does! I love the way she busts out the photos of EVERY step, from the ingredient line-up to taking a bite!

So, THANK YOU!! For sharing these awesome "good blog vibes with me"!! I know I have been out of the mix all month and these happy bits of good cheer have brightened many of my fellow bloggers day- so for those I give a shout-out too, you may have "been there, done that"- but you still rock the house!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Promise, I am STILL ALIVE!

Well, I have certainly been missing in action, there is no question about that! BUT, I do plan to be BACK IN ACTION soon!!! So where have I been? Not exciting, but here it is: I've been planning a few events (including my B-day, which is this weekend, Nate's BIG BIRTHDAY that is right around the corner), taking a very exciting trip to Las Vegas for my best friends bachelorette party (which I am still recovering from at this very moment)... BASICALLY, I have been OUT OF THE KITCHEN.
I feel terrible for neglecting my poor, dear blog. Not to mention missing some fabulous TWD recipes!!! If you came by looking for SNICKERY SQUARES or RUSSIAN GRANDMOTHERS APPLE PIE CAKE, alas, I did not make them! Please pop over to the Tuesdays With Dorie page.

But next week is a DOOZY so I am setting aside some quality time to tackle it and get back in the mix!!

And on that note, I will be back in the kitchen soon and back on the TWD train next Tuesday!! It's MY birthday this weekend, and I want to treat myself by spending some quality time with my kitchen and my blog!!!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jalapeno Bacon Bites

OH BOY!! How on Earth could you ever go wrong, when something is stuffed with cheese then wrapped in bacon, there is just no way I'm not going to love it.
This also gives me the opportunity to pay homage to one of my FAVORITE BLOGS, THE PIONEER WOMAN COOKS. Many of you may be familiar with this absolutely fabulous blog with it's extremely delicious and user-friendly recipes, topped off with some sensational writing and stunning photography. If all those adjectives didn't inspire you to go check it out, these lil bacon wrapped bites of goodness certainly will!

Because I have a pretty busy work schedule (that in no way relates to making anything wrapped in bacon or whisked into soft peaks) I am a HUGE fan of anything that can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated to bake just prior to serving, that just makes life so much easier!

I made a few lil'changes to the recipe on Rae's site (which is credited to Missy). So visit THIS LINK to see the original.

Jalapeno Bacon Bites
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Serves 30-40

20 Jalapeno peppers
3 8oz packages of softened cream cheese (room temp)
1 cup of shredded cheddar or Cheddar & jalapeno jack cheese
2 packages of regular cut bacon (the thick cut takes longer to bake*

Wash the jalapenos and dry with paper towel. Cut off the top/stem, split in half long-ways and remove the seeds and membrane (that is the heat of the pepper, leave some of the membrane if you want them hotter). Then cut the halves in half so you've got a little bite sized bite! In a large bowl (using a hand or stand mixer with paddle attachment) mix the cream cheese & shredded cheese. Cut one package of the bacon into even thirds. (you will use about 1/3 of the other pack of bacon, and then you'll have some left for the next day's breakfast!)
Fill each 1/4 of a jalapeno with the cheese mix and wrap with bacon, secure with a toothpick. Don't stuff em too full and don't wrap the bacon super tight- these steps help keep the cheese in there and not squeezed out during baking when the bacon shrinks up a bit.
I made these late on a Friday night before a Saturday afternoon shower, so once wrapped and tooth picked, I put the bites into a large freezer bag & froze them overnight, which is a great option.

Weather baking them fresh or frozen, you'll want to line a baking sheet with foil and place a rack (like a cookie-cooling rack) on top of that, so the grease can get away from the bacon-bites. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes, if the bacon is still not quite crispy, broil them about 5 minutes and you'll be good to go.
Serve hot or let cool to room temp, either way these are knock-down-drag-out Delicious and I am very much looking forward to making and eating these again very soon!