Sunday, February 28, 2010

Swedish Meatballs

Ever since my first visit to IKEA, I have been in love with the Swedish Meatballs they offer in their restaurant. They also sell them frozen in their little Swedish Market along with a packet of dry gravy mix. We had bought those a few times and while they were not bad at all, they just weren't great either especially since the dry gravy mix has a ton of additives, including the dreaded MSG.
I knew I could find a version much more to our liking along with being able to use all natural ingredients. I spent time searching all over the internet and through recipe books and magazines but nothing really struck me as mouthwatering, until I came across Tyler Florences Lena's Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce which looked incredibly promising.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. You make your meatballs and while they are cooking in the oven you make the sauce. After the meatballs are cooked through, you add them back into the sauce and have them "hang out" for a while to mingle the flavors.

I followed the recipe almost exactly with a few minor substitutions and additions. First off I did not use 3 lbs of meat. We are a family of five and 2 lbs is more then enough with plenty of leftovers for us.
So I went ahead and used 1 lb lean ground beef (93 %, which also cuts some of the fat), 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground veal but I suppose you could use any combination of these meats.
I cut the heavy cream in the meatball "dough" to 1/3 cup but used all the other ingredients as written.
For the sauce, I didn't have chicken stock left in my freezer so I just went with canned chicken broth (I prefer Swanson chicken broth which has won several taste tests).
I also added another 1/2 tsp. of ground allspice to my gravy along with 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg.
It turned out amazing. Never will I buy another frozen meatball or dry gravy mix again.

Here are a few tips:
Tyler adds black current jam to the sauce, and I did as well, it makes the dish. You can find it at most supermarkets. I went with a brand called Hero: Black Currant Fruit Spread which my regular neighborhood  Fry's Supermarket carried.
The heavy cream adds a velvety feel to the sauce but if you are trying to save a few calories I'm pretty sure you can use Half and Half and still get great results.
I served this over egg noodles but it also tastes great over mashed potatoes.
Don't skip the Lingonberries  for serving. They are really what finishes this dish and there are no substitutions. You can find Lingonberries at select grocery stores, the internet or just go to your local IKEA, they carry it in their little Swedish Market.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Coconut Cupcakes


Unless you really, really like coconut this is probably not the right post for you. If you do though, then continue on and enjoy! After flipping through the pages of my  Martha Stewart Cupcakes Book  and putting little post it notes all over the pages, I finally settled on her Coconut Cupcakes. 
This cupcake takes coconut to a whole new level. Every component of this cupcake has coconut in it one way or another. All the ingredients are straight forward and available at the supermarket. Look for the unsweetened coconut milk in the Asian food section and make sure to not buy sweetened coconut milk.
I had no problems finding unsweetened shredded coconut at my Fry's supermarket either but if yours doesn't carry it, most health food stores will.

First off let's talk about the cake. It is basically a yellow cake with all of your usual suspects of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. The addition of finely ground up sweetened coconut and unsweetened coconut milk takes this cupcake to a whole new level. It has a perfect crumb and sweetness without being overly sweet.

Next up, the frosting. This one is called Seven-Minute frosting. You start by making a sugar syrup that gets boiled to 230 degrees F (use your candy thermometer). The hot sugar syrup then gets added to lightly whipped egg whites which then get whipped with an electric mixer for seven minutes (hence the name). The frosting receives it's coconut taste from coconut extract that gets added towards the end of the seven minutes. The mixture becomes billowy and almost as light as whipped cream. The finished result tastes like a really fluffy coconut flavored marshmallow creme.

And after all of this the cupcake is pushed completely over the top by being sprinkled with unsweetened flaked coconut.

I loved this cupcake and so did the rest of my family (minus our youngest). We all thought it was a well balanced cupcake. I will most definitely make this recipe again!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup


I have always loved soups, even as a kid. There is something so comforting about a bowl of soup along with some crusty bread especially when it is cold outside. Since we live in Arizona and the weather is just plain hot for 9 month out of the year and the other 3 months don't offer too many cold days either I jump on every opportunity of bad weather I can get. Yesterday was one of those days; we had a high of 57 degrees F and best of all rain, lots of rain. Now what could be better soup weather then that.
I decided on making an old family favorite: Italian wedding soup which translates to minestra maritata ("married soup"). The literal term does not mean that the soup is being served at weddings but rather refers to the marriage of all the ingredients, meaning they go rather well together. 
The hardest part of this soup is making the meatballs, everything else just falls into place. This is a good hardy soup with a lot of flavor. Hope you'll give it try.

Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 egg
1/2 medium onion, grated
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
1 piece white bread, crust removed and torn into little pieces
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Black pepper to taste

For the soup:
2 medium stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
6 cans (84 ounces) chicken broth
8 ounces Ditalini or other small pasta
2 cups packed baby spinach, cut in half
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a medium bowl combine, beef, pork, egg, onion, grated Parmesan, white bread, parsley, salt and pepper.
Mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Shape into 1/2 inch balls (this should make about 100 little meatballs). Set aside.

In a large pot bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the celery, carrots, pasta and meatballs and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 8 minutes. Add the spinach and parsley; cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
Serve with additional Parmesan and a crusty bread!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

S'mores Cupcakes


S'mores - who doesn't like them? Seriously when I saw this picture in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes  I admit it was hard to contain my excitement over this delectable looking cupcake. After showing it to the rest of the family and getting nods of approval all the way around I set out to create this. What I didn't realize is that this is not your average cupcake. This is not something thrown together in 30 minutes so I needed to step out of my comfort zone, but more on that in a bit.

The cupcake has 3 components: a graham cupcake - topped with a chocolate ganache - which then is topped with a piped on marshmallow creme. Sounds simple enough, right?  Well it really wasn't that hard and the finished cupcake was quite the reward.

The graham cupcake is basically a really good cinnamon spiced cupcake that gets a bit of crunch from the graham flour. Graham flour is NOT ground up graham crackers but rather a kind of whole wheat flour. I searched the flour and health food aisles at the grocery store but to no luck. I started to think I wouldn't be able to make this, but after reading the graham flour description I decided to use organic stone ground whole wheat flour which has a much coarser texture then commercial whole wheat flour and added 1/2 cup of ground up graham crackers into the mix. It worked like a charm and the cupcake part turned out nicely.

The second component of chocolate ganache is straight forward. Good quality chocolate gets finely chopped and melted down with the addition of hot cream and light corn syrup which makes the ganache incredibly shiny.

Last but not least the marshmallow topping. This was going to be my "stepping out of the comfort zone" layer. In order to make this you have to bring sugar and water to the soft-ball candy stage which means I had to use my candy thermometer and the last time I did that things didn't go so well. But the candy gods must have been with me yesterday as everything went according to plan. After you have your hot sugar syrup it gets added to  unflavored gelatin which is then whipped for about 10 minutes until thick and shiny, just like store bought marshmallow creme. It then gets piped on top of the ganache covered cupcakes. The marshmallow creme is then lightly toasted with a small blow torch (my husband had fun with that) just like a campfire marshmallow.
This was definitely a hit at our house and will make an appearance again.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicken Parmigiana

Sunday Dinners are an important part of our family. I love spending a quiet day in the kitchen trying my best to prepare a special meal that I wouldn't necessarily have time for on a weekday. I take pride in making all of the components by scratch and the process is made even sweeter by having my husband work side by side with me. That, along with some good music playing in the background makes for a perfect day.

Chicken Parmigiana is one of those meals that takes a little more time then I usually have. The meal itself is not a hard meal to cook but putting all of the different layers together certainly takes a bit of time. The meal has a fantastic tomato sauce that's spooned over breaded browned chicken which is then topped with Parmesan and Mozzarella and baked in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and golden. This is best served with some Spaghetti and a slice of warm, crusty bread.


Chicken Parmigiana

For the sauce
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
Fresh basil, chiffonade cut
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste

For the chicken
4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Kosher Salt and Pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup dried plain bread crumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

For Finishing
1 (8 ounce) ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh Basil, chiffonade cut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. When the oil gets hot, add the onions, garlic and bay leaves; cook and stir for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and fragrant. Add both of the vinegars and carefully add the tomatoes (crushed and sauce) along with the basil. Season with red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and the sauce is thick about 15 minutes. Lower the heat, cover and keep warm.

Put the flour in a large shallow bowl, season flour with salt and pepper, and mix to distribute. Put the two beaten eggs into another shallow bowl and lastly combine the bread crumbs, along with the Parmesan and chopped parsley in a third shallow bowl.

Dredge the chicken breasts one by one first in the flour, then dip them into the egg wash and finally into the bread crumb mixture making sure to coat them entirely. 

Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a pan and when the oil is hot add the cutlets and fry for about 4 minutes on each side until they are golden brown and crusty.

Place the browned chicken into an oven proof dish and ladle the tomato sauce over the chicken. Arrange the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden. Finish the dish with the rest of your basil and serve over spaghetti.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hazelnut Nutella Pound Cake


My daughter has been bugging me to come up with a recipe that incorporates Nutella into it. With this in mind I set out to create a cake that incorporated the sweet chocolate flavor but also played on the hazelnuts that are in the Nutella. Another requirement was to find the perfect balance to ensure the cake wasn't overly sweet and most of all that my husband would eat, since he prefers anything without chocolate. The cake turned out great and came together very quickly. The cake is perfect with a cup of coffee for breakfast or even for dessert, especially if you add a scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream. If you love Nutella as much as we do in our house you'll need to give this pound cake a try. 

Hazelnut Nutella Pound Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts, finely ground or chopped
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 oz. (about 1 cup) Nutella

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan and dust with flour, set aside.

In a medium sized bowl combine flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder and salt.  

Combine the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
With the mixer on low speed add the flour-hazelnut mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scrapping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Don't over mix.

Spread about 1/3 of the batter into your prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Add 1/2 of the Nutella over the batter and smooth as well. Add another 1/3 of the batter and the rest of the Nutella making sure to smooth each addition. Finish with the remaining batter and smooth the top. Run a knife through the cake to create a marbling effect.

Bake the cake until it is golden brown  and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes and then invert it onto a wire rack, making sure to turn it right side up on the rack to cool completely. 
You can store the uneaten cake wrapped well at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Honey Wheat Cookies


In my attempts to try out new and different recipes, I came across this one in the Baking: From My Home to Yours. This cookie sounded unlike anything we have had before and was definitely a departure from your "average" chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by this one.
I think it is a "grown up" cookie that is sophisticated in its flavors, but still pleasing enough for kids to enjoy. The subtle tastes of lemon and honey dominate this cookie while the wheat germ adds a pleasing crunch. 
The cookie dough comes together in no time. You pretty much fix it, wrap it up, and set it in your fridge until you are ready to bake . After the dough has chilled for a couple of hours you roll it into balls, which are then coated in more wheat germ before putting them on a parchment lined baking sheet were you flatten them out.
This cookies taste even better with a good cup of coffee or tea. Give them a try and let me know what you think!


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies 3-Ways


Everyone has to have a "go-to" Chocolate Chip cookie recipe. It doesn't matter what age you are, there is nothing better then a tall glass of milk along with a freshly baked cookie. My cookie recipe is a fairly basic one that always delivers the perfect combination of crunch and chew. This time though I decided to "play" around and add my own touches to it. There are 3 cookies : Coconut-Cranberry-Chocolate Chip, Espresso Chocolate Chip and of course the old favorite Chocolate Chip. I had my taste tester Lukas give them all a big thumbs up!

Chocolate Chip Cookies 3-Ways

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 (11.5 ounce) package Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup chopped Walnuts
1 packet Starbucks Via Ready Brew Italian Roast (extra bold)
1/2 cup sweetened Coconut
1/4 cup Craisins Cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and give it a good whisk to get any lumps out.  

Beat butter, white sugar, light brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy and light in color. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Gradually beat flour into the butter/sugar/egg mixture.
Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Divide dough into thirds.
Add the Starbucks Via to one third.
Add coconut and cranberries to another third.
And the final third of dough will stay as is.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined cookie sheet .
Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes and then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Coconut-Cranberry Chocolate Chip

Espresso Chocolate Chip

Chocolate Chip

Tips for Great Cookies:
  • I always line my cookie sheets with Parchment paper, even if they are non-stick
  • In order to prevent over-salting my cookies I like to use unsalted butter
  • I let all my ingredients  come to room temperature before starting to bake
  • Invest in good quality ingredients. If I spent the time, I want to have the best possible end product.
  • A good chocolate or chocolate chip is a must. The cookies can be made with any kind of chocolate chip but in my opinion with a darker chocolate the cookies don't get over powered with sweetness. There are a lot of brands of chocolate out there. You can go VERY wrong with cheap chocolate. I found that Ghirardelli or even Lindt Chocolate (chopped by hand) provide the best flavor without breaking your pocket book
  • Buy an Ice Cream Scoop, it will produce uniform cookies every time
  • And most of all, have lots of milk on hand. Trust me, you'll need it ;o)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No More "Supermarket" Salsa


In my quest of finding the perfect Salsa recipe I think we have finally found and perfected the "one". It does not get any easier then this and if you have a food processor and about 5 minutes to spare I promise you will never go back to store bought.

No More "Supermarket" Salsa

2 cans (15 ounce) Whole Tomatoes with Juice
2 cans (10 ounce) Rotel Tomatoes with Juice (mild or any other variety)
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 Jalapenos, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt (less if you use table salt)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Black Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Ketchup
1 cup Cilantro, rough chopped
1-2 Limes, juiced (depending on size of lime)
Splash of white vinegar (optional)

Combine all of the above ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until you get the desired consistency you like. Test for seasonings and add some more if needed. Let the salsa sit for at least an hour or so in the refrigerator to let the flavors blend. This will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Perfect Party Cake

For my husband's 40th birthday I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something completely different. A 4-layer cake. I had tried 3 and 4 layer cakes before but was never happy with the results. The layers were sliding, it didn't look neat and I just got frustrated before the cake was even done. This time I wasn't going to go down this road again. After reading countless Tuesday with Dorie blog entries and purchasing her book "Baking: From My Home to Yours" I was all set. I decided on her Perfect Party Cake. The cake takes time, it is certainly nothing you will throw together in half an hour but was it ever worth it. My family and especially my husband loved it. It looked perfect and tasted even better. This will be my go-to Party Cake from now on!


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