Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Go To The Opera!

It is a fresh start to the Daring Bakers this month, as we've gotten our own website! If you go, you'll find our new forum, where non-Daring Bakers and Daring Bakers alike can discuss their favorite topic: food. However, to view the Daring Bakers forum for the challenge of the month, you must first become a Daring Baker, and the details are explained on the website. So, if you've been lurking and want to join, then hop to it my friend!

This month's challenge had me quite intimidated. First of all, our lovely co-founders of the Daring Bakers, Ivonne of the blog Cream Puffs in Venice, and Lis of the blog La Mia Cucina, were hosting this month's challenge, so I knew it was going to be a doozy. Second, when they announced the challenge and that it would be a French pastry, I got really nervous, because I know how painstakingly intricate French pastry making is. And thirdly, the recipe itself blew me away: FIVE pages of recipe, and that's at 10 pt font, too. I knew I had my work cut out for me, indeed.

I won't post the recipe here, as it is quite long and I don't want your eyes to turn square just reading it here! If you hop on over to either Ivonne or Lis's blogs (in the blogroll) you'll be able to find it there.

The only trouble I had with this recipe was that I burnt one of my cakes. Lucky for me, I was able to improvise by halving the rest of the recipe, since I made the cakes first. I just made a mini-Opera cake instead!

I feared that the cake would turn out tasting like cardboard or too sweet or not have enough flavor, but it was none of those things. I chose to make my syrup with Grand Marnier liquer, and added some lemon and lime juice to my buttercream in order to give it some punch and pizzazz. I'd have to say that my favorite part, though, was the white chocolate glaze, it was so yummy. I'm a big fan of white chocolate, and for some reason, it always reminds me of Easter, since my mom used to always get me white chocolate Easter bunnies every year. I took this lovely cake to dinner with my mother in-law and some of her friends and extended family, and it went over really well. And it never fails that when I serve a Daring Bakers challenge to my family, they always end up asking for the recipe, and this was no exception!

The recipe is a wee bit time consuming, so it's probably easier to take it easy and go one step at a time, but it's really worth it for the oohs and aahs you'll get. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Now THAT Is Breakfast!!

I love when my mother in-law comes into town! Not only is she amazing, and sweet, but she always introduces me to new things. I figured that this time around, I'd introduce her into something new as well. See, in our family, I'm pretty well known for my desserts, I can always be counted on to bring a scrumptious after-dinner treat, so I've really been trying to buff up on my breakfast skills, too.

I saw this recipe on during Mother's Day weekend, but I was out of town on Mother's Day (don't worry, I was with my mom, we were just staying at a hotel on the other side of the state) and have kept the recipe printoff floating around in my purse since then. I looked forward to making this for my mother in-law all week.

Creme Brulee French Toast (adapted from
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup (I used maple syrup instead)
6 (1 inch thick) slices French bread
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brandy-based orange liqueur (Grand Marnier®)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Mix in brown sugar and corn syrup, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour into a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Remove crusts from bread (I left mine on, and they added a nice chewiness to the french toast), and arrange in the baking dish in a single layer. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla extract, orange brandy, and salt. Pour over the bread. Cover, and chill at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Remove the dish from the refrigerator, and bring to room temperature. (I carefully flipped the toast at this point, so that it was evenly coated on both sides).
Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, until puffed and lightly browned. (You might want to set the oven to broil for the last 10 minutes or so, until the tops are lightly browned and crisp).

My thoughts: Super duper yummy, soft yet crispy and chewy. To the pre-baked mixture, I added a pinch each of cinnamon and cardamom, which made this taste so breakfasty and nice. As you can see, I added some sliced strawberries and bananas, so we weren't haivng just bread for breakfast. This dish creates its own syrup, and I actually added a bit more Grand Marnier to the mixture, because I really wanted to have that flavor come out. Be warned, though, this will make your baking dish terribly sticky, so you might want to line it with some tin foil. And if you choose to broil it at the end of baking, do NOT bake this in a Pyrex dish, because broiling will cause it to shatter. This would make a really great breakfast for a special occasion, or for whenever you want something other than pancakes or bacon & eggs or regular French toast.



Monday, May 19, 2008

Let's Have Soup

Do you ever have those days when you look in your kitchen and are completely dumbfounded as to what to make for dinner? I had a day like that today. I was just so sick of making the same old stuff over and over (can you say "rut"?).

I had been searching forever for a copycat recipe of Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana, but nothing I found seemed to sound like it would turn out like theirs. I wanted something hearty, slightly creamy, kind of spicy, and totally yummy. So, I decided to adapt two or three recipes I found online, so I could make my own with what I had in my kitchen.

Mehgan's Zuppa Toscana:

-1 lb spicy ground sausage (I like to use the SPICY kind)
-6 red potatoes, thinly sliced (you can peel them if you want, but I left the peel on)
-1 medium onion, diced
-3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-3 cans of chicken broth
-1 cup heavy cream
-2 bunches of kale

Instructions: In a stock pot, over medium heat, brown the sausage with the red pepper flakes, onion and garlic. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer. Add half the potatoes and return to a simmer. Reduce heat slightly and cover. Once the potatoes become soft, add the other half (the first half of potatoes will help to thicken the soup). Once the second half of potatoes is fork-tender, add the heavy cream. Let simmer 5-10 minutes. Add the kale just prior to serving.

My thoughts: This was probably the most amazing last-minute meal I've made in a LONG time. I must thank my big sister for helping me with this recipe, because that girl sure does know her potatoes! She was right there the whole time, helping me chop and dice and stir. And even though it was still pretty warm in our house (the temperature was pushing 80F when I got home from work), it was still nice to have a meal that wasn't super heavy and didn't leave me feeling weighed down (not to say that this was the most diet-friendly meal on God's green Earth, but you know what I mean). Anyway, this soup only takes about an hour and half to make from start to finish, which isn't too bad, since you don't have to babysit it the whole time. Plus, it tastes so close to the "real thing" that you'll really like the fact that you didn't have to pay $6 a bowl for it. Enjoy!


Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's That Time Again!

Time for another Royal Foodie Joust! As I've said in the past, Jenn the Leftover Queen (who has recently become a Mrs!! Congrats!) hosts the monthly Royal Foodie Joust over at the Leftover Queen Forum. Last month's winner, Elle, chose Raspberries, Lime and Almonds for us to play around with for this month's challenge. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to make, and since one of my favorite co-workers is leaving soon (his going-away party was today) I figured I'd make him something yummy for work tomorrow.

I decided on Raspberry and Lime Muffins with Almond & Cardamom Streusel, and boy, am I glad I did! These muffins made my house smell divine, I'm tellin' ya. Here's the recipe:

For the Muffins:

-2 cups all-purpose flour

-1 cup sugar

-1 tbsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp salt

-2 eggs

-1 cup of milk

-1/2 cup vegetable oil (I actually used olive oil, since we were out of veggie oil, and there's hardly a noticeable difference in taste)

-1 tsp lemon extract

-Juice of 1 lime

-1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries

For the Streusel:

-2 tbsp flour

-5 tbsp sugar

-1/2 tsp cardamom

-2 tbsp softened butter

-1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions: Preheat oven to 400F. Line or grease muffin cups. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, with the exception of the raspberries. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Gently fold in the rasperries. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the streusel. Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full with the muffin batter, then spoon modest amounts of the streusel mixture on top. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, serve warm.

I sampled these babies, and boy, are they good! The streusel adds a nice crunch to the top layer, and the muffins are tender with a nice crumb. I like that they're not overly sweet, since the streusel does contain quite a bit of sweetness already. And the cardamom adds an interestin depth that isn't overpowering, but is still present. All in all, a pretty delicious muffin that's good... well, anytime!


Friday, May 2, 2008

That's Like Summer In A Bowl!

I love that quote from "Friends!" Interesting fact about me: I love "Friends"! If I had my way, I'd have one of those multi-DVD player things that hold 5 or 6 discs, I could put an entire season of Friends in there and let it play all day long. But, alas, my hubby thinks I'm weird and therefore, I don't do that (except on days that I have off and he has to work, tee hee!)

My dear friend's birthday was coming up, and I had absolutely NO time to prepare dessert for his birthday BBQ. It was finally sunny outside, which put me in a stellar mood, so I hopped on over to the grocery store for inspiration. Immediately upon entering the produce section, the sweet smells of berries started to crash over me like waves of deliciousness. I grabbed a bunch of different berries, some kiwis, a package of cream cheese, plus some other miscellaneous items, and rushed home to make this beautiful tart for my friend on his special day.

I found the recipe on a while ago, and always fall back on it, depending on what's in season, whenever I need a quick & easy recipe that will impress whoever I'm cooking for. I actually featured a picture of it in my very first blog posting almost a year ago! Here's the link to Paula Deen's Fresh Fruit Tart,,FOOD_9936_32767,00.html

And the recipe:

-1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and sliced

-1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fresh strawberries, kiwi slices, blueberries, raspberries

-1 (6-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
-1 tablespoon cornstarch
-1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
Whipped cream, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the crust: In a food processor, combine the confectioners' sugar, flour, and butter, and process until the mixture forms a ball. With your fingers, press the dough into a 12-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, taking care to push the crust into the indentations in the sides. Pat until the crust is even. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until very lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

For the filling and topping: Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth. Spread over the cooled crust. Cut the strawberries into 1/4-inch slices and arrange around the edge of the crust. For the next circle, use kiwi slices. Add another circle of strawberries, filling in any spaces with blueberries. Cluster the raspberries in the center of the tart.

For the glaze: Combine the limeade, cornstarch, lime juice, and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until clear and thick, about 2 minutes. Let cool. With a pastry brush, glaze the entire tart. You will not use all of the glaze.
Keep the tart in the refrigerator. Remove about 15 minutes before serving. Slice into 8 wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

My thoughts: the crust is so delicious, I could eat it alone with a glass of milk. And the filling is just so yummy, especially if you're a cream cheese lover, like me. And you can't go wrong with fresh berries! I was half-tempted to melt down some milk chocolate to spread over the crust prior to filling, but thought that would be a bit much, especially since I was making this for a guy's birthday party. But, maybe for my next girl friend's birthday I'll make one with chocolate inside!