Monday, May 26, 2014

Quinoa Salad

Need a little something different for a side dish?  I love this salad.  I make it a little different every time and it is always delicious.  And you just have to feel good eating it!  Protein, protein, protein!  It contains quinoa, edamame, almonds...  It is super healthy!  Healthy and delicious always makes me happy.

Normally, I use the white quinoa in this salad, but last time I purchased quinoa I got the red kind instead.  It's great!  By the way, I get my quinoa at Costco - it is a giant bag, yes, but it is much less expensive than the bags in the regular grocery store, and it lasts quite a while.  Or, it might not once you make this salad.... 

Quinoa Salad
serves 4-6
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarians!)
1 red pepper
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame
1/2 cup dried cranberries
~1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
chiffonade of basil and oregano or thyme, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little for the quinoa prep
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or vinegar of your preference
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

If your quinoa is not pre-washed (it will say so on the bag/box), rinse it in a mesh strainer for about 2 minutes.  This will wash off the quinoa's natural coating, which can taste bitter.  Even if your quinoa is supposed to be pre-washed, it can't hurt to rinse it again!  Drizzle a little bit olive oil in a mediuim saucepan and toast the quinoa, allowing the water to evaporate.  Add the chicken/vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.  Cover, and reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let the quinoa stand for 5 minutes, covered.  Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

In the mean time, dice your red pepper and steam the edamame. I purchase edamame in a steam-able bag, so this is easy!  Allow the edamame to cool. 

Whisk together the 2 TB olive oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

When quinoa and edamame are cool, toss together with the diced red pepper, cranberries, and herbs.  Add the vinaigrette to taste.  Just before serving, toss in the toasted almonds.
Printable Recipe

This recipe is a regular go-to in our house.  I often make it for pot-lucks and bring it to parties.  You can easily make a larger amount and it is always well received.

Make this and smile at your awesome healthy meal!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Another playsuit!

My second playsuit/Jon-Jon for the clever boy!  This is an Oliver + S pattern, called the Tea Party.  This pattern is really made for a girl, and comes with a sundress and bloomers pattern, but I thought I could make it work for a boy, too.  I added the pockets in the front.  Cute, huh?  Pockets on baby clothes always make me grin.  I mean, what do little kiddos have to put in their pockets?  A miniature billfold?  Keys to their cool ride aka stroller?  *smile* 

Another fabulous thing about this outfit is that every bit of it used items from my stash!  Yahoo!  The fabric is a cotton/tencel blend, which is very soft but wrinkles something fierce!  Oh well, it is definitely comfortable, so that's the important part!

If you sew for kiddos, you should definitely check out the Oliver + S patterns.  They are great.  Very well written, classic looks.  They now have an adult (women's) line, and recently made a pattern that would work for men as well.  I love Oliver + S.  I have a ton of their patterns on my shelves! 

The one thing I will change in the future about this pattern, and any other playsuit/Jon Jon pattern, is the use of snap tape.  That stuff is garbage, in my humble opinion.  It is a pain in the watoosie to sew on, and the snaps themselves are flimsy.  They don't stay snapped!  What is the purpose of snaps that don't stay snapped?  For the next Jon Jon I made, I purchased a snap setter.  THAT is the way to go!  A post about the next one will come soon!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Tropical Napoleons

Our recipe for Tuesday's with Dorie this week is Tropical Napoleons.  I just have to say, "YUM" to this recipe!  It is light and fresh and feels super healthy even though it does contain meringues and whipped cream.  And we used a fun technique for the meringues, so that is always fun.

You might be looking at the picture and saying,  "what meringues?"  See, the thin layers between the fruit ARE the meringues.  I always thought that meringues were puffy things, but not this time!  This time they are wafer thin!  They contain the usual meringue ingredients, i.e. beaten egg whites and sugar, but less sugar than a typical puffy meringue.  These also include some sweetened flaked coconut, to add to the "tropical" part of the recipe.  Once you have the meringue ingredients together, you make a little template to help make these thin circles.  The template is made from a plastic lid.  The author of the recipe, Charlotte Akoto, suggests using a large sour cream or yogurt lid, but I didn't have one of those at the time.  Instead, I used the plastic lid from a spinach box container. 

First, you trace something that is about 4 inches in diameter on your piece of plastic.  Look in your pantry and grab a big can of tomatoes or something like that.  Trace around it with a marker and carefully cut around that line, and then cut about an inch or so around that circle, leaving a tab at the bottom so you can hold it in your hand.  This next picture shows the tab better:

If you look closely, you can sort of see the tab poking up at the bottom left corner.  It is tricky, since this plastic is clear!  Anyway, you gently spread a thin layer of meringue on a BUTTERED AND FLOURED baking sheet, filling your little circular template.  Peel the template away and you have a perfect (mostly) circle of meringue!

According to Ms.Akoto, the meringues should cook for about 5-7 minutes and start to turn lightly golden.  I found that it took MUCH longer than that.  Regardless, when they came out of the oven they were thin, light wafers.  I used a thin, metal spatula to immediately wiggle underneath each one and place it on a parchment-covered pan to cool.  These are supposed to be fine to keep air-tight until use.  I found that mine became a bit sticky, so I popped them back into the oven for a few more minutes before plating the dessert.  I made the meringues in the morning and served them in the evening, so there was a time lapse there.  And I live in Houston, where it is already humid and summer-like, so it is possible that others in a non-humid climate will not have this problem! 

The rest of the recipe is simple.  You slice up whatever fruit you intend to use and make the whipped cream.  And OH GOODNESS this whipped cream!  It includes vanilla and DARK RUM, something I have never put in my whipped cream before.  WHY NOT?  It is heavenly.  I was seriously missing out on something amazing by NOT adding rum to whipped cream.  Note to self:  whipped cream + rum = delight! 

Each little napoleon includes the following layers: 
  • a small blob of whipped cream deliciousness to hold down a meringue
  • meringue
  • amazing whipped cream
  • fruit of your choice
  • meringue
  • whipped cream
  • fruit
  • meringue
  • whipped cream
  • small bit of fruit
Are you salivating yet?  You should be!  Here is the recipe so you can make them too!

Tropical Napoleons
adapted from Baking with Julia
serves 6

The Wafers
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Move oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat to 325F.  Butter and flour 3 baking sheets, and line a sheet pan with parchment.  I buttered and floured a piece of parchment and put that on the baking sheets - less clean up! 

Prepare a circular template:  Trace a 4-inch circle into the center of a plastic lid from a large container of yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, greens, etc.  Cut approximately 1-inch around the circle you made, including a tab from the edge of the container lid.  Now carefully cut the inside of the circle, on the line you traced.  Make sure you cut all of the marker part away and do not cut through the side of your ring. 

Make sure the bowl of your electric mixer is very clean - any greasy residue will make for poor meringues.  You can wipe it down with white vinegar to make sure it is nice and clean.  Put the egg whites and salt into the bowl, and whip with the whisk attachment for about 3 minutes, or until they hold medium-soft peaks.  Leave the mixer running, and slowly add 3/4 of the sugar.  Continue to beat until the peaks are shiny and firm, about 4 minutes.  Add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 more minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold 1/2 cup of the coconut flakes into the meringue.

Place your handy template onto one of the floured/buttered pans and spread a thin layer of meringue into the center.  It helps to use a thin, offset spatula.  Lift the template and continue making meringue circles on the pan.  You can place them close together, as they will not spread.  Sprinkle the meringues with the remaining coconut flakes and the sesame seeds.

Bake at 325F for 5-7 minutes (according to the recipe, but closer to 10+ minutes for me).  Check frequently, as they can go from golden to burned quickly.  Remove them from the oven as soon as they start to color.  Immediately remove them from the baking pans by wiggling a thin spatula under the edges, keeping the meringue wafers flat as you do this.  Transfer the wafers to the parchment-lined sheet pan too You can stack the cooled wafers between layers of parchment in an airtight container for a day or two, keeping them at room temperature.  If they get sticky, put them back into the oven for a few minutes to crisp up!

The Cream
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
3/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups (approx.) assorted fresh berries and small slices of tropical fruit, such as mango or kiwi, for layering

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl, using with chilled beaters, until the cream holds soft peaks.  Add the rum and vanilla and beat until the peaks are firm.  Fold in the powdered sugar using a rubber spatula. 

Constructing the Napoleon
Place the whipped cream into a pastry bag with a star tip, or just use a spoon.  Place a dot of cream in the center of each of 6 dessert plates and gently press a meringue on top.  The cream acts as glue so the napoleon will not go sliding off of the plate!  Spoon or pipe some whipped cream on the meringue and arrange fruit over the cream.  Top with another wafer,  more cream, and more fruit, and then another wafer.  You can either dust this top meringue with powdered sugar or place more cream atop this last wafer finish with a small dab of fruit.  Serve immediately.
Printable Recipe

This is a really beautiful dessert that takes a tiny bit of patience for a really fresh and delicious result.  We served these at a dinner party to rave reviews!  If only I could bring some more tropical things to my life... like the beach, the ocean, a nice hammock, a cabana boy bringing me a pretty drink with an umbrella...   I dream large, I know.  For now, I'll settle for this dessert and the brilliance of adding dark rum to whipped cream. That is a fantastic treat in itself!

To see what others thought of this dessert, head to the TWD blog and click on "LYL: Tropical Napoleons".  You'll find links to the other blog posts there!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Birthday Confetti Cake!

My clever baby is 1!  Crazy.  It really is amazing how much a baby develops in that first year.  They are busy little bodies!  Imagine if we were learning and growing at that rate all the time!  Well, we'd be giants, for one thing, but besides physical growth, babies brains are constantly working... learning new skills, figuring things out.  They don't chill out for days like we might.  They go-go-go.  You can actually SEE it happening.  Crazy.  Anyway, to celebrate the birthday of this special boy, we had a little party with some friends and I made a confetti cake!  Yes, of course there are lots of cake mixes out there for confetti cake, but certainly you don't think I'd use a mix, right?  Ick.  I happened to get the April/May issue of Cooks Country around the same time I started thinking about birthday cakes, and low and behold, there on the very back page was a recipe for confetti cake!  Is there anything as cheerful and party-ready as a cake with confetti on the inside?
Now, you  might not be able to tell from that first photo, but I made a tiny baby cake for my little man, not a big giant cake.  This photo gives you a better perspective of size.  He had to be able to delve into that thing!  So I pulled out my 4-inch round pans and made two 4-inch cakes.  (The second was for "just-in-case".  The rest of the batter became cupcakes for the party!

Where is the confetti?  Well, not only is pressed around the bottom edge and top of the cake, it is BAKED RIGHT IN.  How's that for a fun surprise? 

This cake was delicious and really easy to make.   Try this out to surprise someone in your life.  It is really quite easy! 

A happy birthday boy!
Confetti Layer Cake
adapted from Cooks Country

3/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 TB unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, softened

Adjust the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line with a circle of parchment, butter the parchment, and dust pans with flour.  Set aside.

Pulse 1/2 cup of the rainbow sprinkles in a mini food processor until they are coarsely ground, 8-10 pulses.  Set aside.

Whisk the egg whites, milk and vanilla together in a bowl.  Remove 1/2 cup of the egg white mixture and set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on low speed for about 30 seconds.  With the mixer running add the butter, one piece at a time, until it is incorporated and the mixture looks like moist crumbs.  Add all of the egg white mixture except the 1/2 cup that you set aside, and mix until just combined.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  With the mixer running, add the remaining 1/2 cup of the egg white mixture in a slow stream.  Scrape down the bowl and beat on medium-high until well combined, about 15 seconds.  Stir in the ground sprinkles.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  (If you are using a 4-inch pan like I did, it takes 1 cup of batter.)  Smooth the tops with a spatula.  Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, 21-25 minutes rotating pans halfway through baking.  Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from the pans, discard the parchment, and cool completely on the rack.

Place one cake layer, top side down, on a plate or pedestal.  Spread frosting evenly over the top.  Top with a second cake layer.  If this layer isn't flat across the top, even it with a serrated knife before placing it cut side down on the first layer.  Spread more frosting over the top of the second layer.  Top with the third cake layer, top side up.  Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Press the remaining sprinkles around the bottom edge of the cake, or decorate however you like!
Printable Recipe

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
adapted from Sweet Savory Life
makes about 2.5 cups frosting
- note:  if you are making a 3 layer cake, you will need to double this recipe!

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks, or 1/2 pound), softened
3-4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1/4teaspoon salt
1 TB vanilla extract
seeds of 1 vanilla beans
up to 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Beat for a few minutes on medium speed.  Slowly add 3 cups confectioners sugar, with the mixer on the lowest speed, until the sugar is incorporated into the butter.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the salt, vanilla extract, vanilla beans, and 2 TB of the milk/cream.  If you are adding food coloring, start doing that at this point, and add more as you beat as needed.  Beat for 3 minutes.  If the frosting needs to be a stiffer consistency, add more powdered sugar.  If it needs to be thinned out, add more milk/cream! 
Printable Recipe

So good, it made him want to sing!
Though I think the clever boy got more all over the floor and ON his body than IN his body, this cake is really tasty.  Besides looking good, it tastes good, too!  It is nice and moist and light.  And I am a sucker for vanilla bean buttercream.  This is one fun party cake! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Coconut Cake

April is a month of many cakes for us.  Both the clever boy and Mr. Clever Mom have birthdays in April, only 3 days apart.  Yes, I agree it was very thoughtful of me to provide Mr. Clever Mom with a son for his birthday last year!  It is a gift that keeps on giving! 

Though I often make a coconut cream pie for Mr. Clever Mom (his absolute favorite) I decided to try a new recipe this year - for Coconut Cake!  This is a Barefoot Contessa recipe, and we all agreed that it was DELICIOUS!

The layers were wonderfully moist, and the frosting!  Oh, my lands!  The frosting was just spectacular!  I will definitely be using this frosting recipe for other cakes...  It is the perfect blend of a cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting.  Heaven!

I had one brilliant idea for this cake (in my humble opinion), once it was already in the oven, of course.  While the recipe calls for milk in the cake, next time I will try using coconut milk!  Take the coconut flavor to an entirely new level!!  Mmmm.   

Coconut Cake
adapted from the Barefoot Contesssa

3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for buttering pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk - try using coconut milk!
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 lb. confectioners sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line with a circle of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment paper and then dust the pans lightly with flour.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer, using a paddle attachment.  The mixture will get light and fluffy, which will take about 3-5 minutes.  Turn the mixer down to medium speed, and add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl down once during mixing.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.  If the mixture looks somewhat curdled, don't worry.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Turn the mixer to low speed and alternatively add the dry ingredients and milk to the batter in three parts - beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix until JUST combined.  Do not overmix.  This is the undoing of a good cake!  Fold in the 4 ounces of sweetened coconut with a rubber spatula. 

Pour the batter evenly into the two prepared pans.  Smooth the top with a spatula.  Bake in the center of the oven for 45-55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pans on a rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out of their pans and back onto the rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting:
Combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract and almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on low speed. Slowly add in the confectioners sugar, a little at a time to avoid a powder-coated kitchen!  Mix just until smooth.  Don't whip!

To assemble, place one layer of cake on a flat serving plate, top side down.  Spread frosting over the top of this layer.  Place the second cake layer on top of the first, top side up, and frost the top and sides.  Sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides.  Serve the cake at room temperature.
Printable Recipe

Since we ended up having a lot of cake in our house at once, this cake stayed in the refrigerator longer than I would prefer.  And guess what?  Many days later, it was STILL delicious and pretty moist!  Amazing! 

My coconut cream pie cannot be beat, but this coconut cake is a definite winner.  If you have a loved one that loves coconut, you must give this a try.  The Barefoot Contessa knows what she is doing with this cake!  It is divine!