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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Caesar Salad + Authentic Dressing + Homemade Croutons

Whenever I bring this salad to a party/potluck/function, I always get recipe requests.  It makes me feel extra good, because the dressing is my very own concoction!  I came up with it after sampling lots of Caesar dressings and poring over cooking websites, comparing different Caesar ingredients and adapting it to my taste.

If it grosses you out to use anchovy paste, then you have no business trying to make homemade Caesar dressing, because that's what makes it completely divine (sorry to my vegetarian friends).  I have made this once without anchovy paste, and it was still delicious, but lacking that totally over-the-top flavor.  You can usually find anchovy paste with the Asian foods or near the canned tuna, depending on your grocery store.  It comes in a tube, which comes in a box.  Like this:

You can whip up the dressing and store it in an airtight container the fridge for a while--I'd say about a week (and mind the lemon seeds when squeezing the juice!).

'Un croĆ»ton' is one of the ends of a loaf of bread in French. It probably didn't take people long to figure out that the crusty ends were good to use to dip in soups or as a garnish for other foods.  Homemade croutons are SO EASY that you'll never go back to those stale crusties that you get in a box.  They are also much easier on your teeth, and they don't explode in half when you try to stab one onto the end of your fork.  But, I digress . . .  
It doesn't matter if your French bread is fresh or older for croutons
I usually use the traditional Garlic & Herb
Mrs Dash blend for my herb-butter
Remove from the oven when the edges get brown.
I just use my butcher knife to cut each
slice into about 12 bite-size pieces
Mmmmm . . . so much better than crunchy, store-bought croutons.
Tip: save leftover croutons in a Ziploc bag, then toss 'em for a few
minutes over medium heat in a nonstick skillet to "re-crisp" them
before you serve them a second time.
Add some grilled chicken and make it even better

This salad is great as a side, but I've served it to my family as the main course with grilled chicken breasts and it's a great dinner.  My kids love having "tiny garlic bread" on their salad.  It's so delicious.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Best Yellow Butter Cake & Fancy Chocolate Frosting

This is my very favorite cake.  Though I love chocolate cake a great deal, I think that baking a beautiful, moist butter cake with rich chocolate frosting is prettier, tastier, and just maybe a little more sophisticated.  It's what I want every year on my birthday.
I originally got both the cake and frosting recipes from Martha Stewart, but have adapted the directions (Read: most Americans do not have such frivolous things on hand as parchment paper), and cut the frosting recipe by a third.  Since there is still plenty of frosting for FOUR layers, I shudder to think of the frosting-to-cake ratio before this reduction.

But Martha gave me a great formula for frosting four layers.  Maybe it was obvious to everyone else how to cut each cake in half and then stack and frost them in the most aesthetic way, without your frosting getting gummed up with crumbs and one side of the cake being much higher than the other (I speak from experience).  You layer the cake in this order: one of the cake tops on the bottom (top up), frosting, then a cake bottom, (bottom side up), frosting, the other cake bottom (bottom side up again), frosting, and finally the second top (top side up) goes on top before you frost the whole thing.  It turned out beautifully.

Cake for breakfast the next day?  Maybe I did.  So?

Other cake tips:
1- Take the time to bring your butter and eggs to room temperature, which will allow you to get more air into your batter and frosting.  Set both out on the counter the night before.
2- The cake flour really does make a difference (it's more finely milled and can hold larger amounts of fat and starch without collapsing).  You can make a cake flour substitute with 3/4 cup flour plus two tablespoons of cornstarch.  That said, the cake you see in these photos was made with only all-purpose flour.  It was still delicious.
3- Always let the cake cool in the pans on a rack!  It will release so much easier if you don't try to rush it while it's still warm.
4- Try not to eat all of it yourself.  But if you do, don't be ashamed.  Sometimes you just need cake.

My daughter Mollie loves anything that involves using the pastry
brush.  She did a very thorough job, and I love it that she wants
to wear her Lowe's "Build and Grow" apron when she cooks.
Just before entering the oven . . .
Parchment paper? No thanks.
The finished product on my favorite tablecloth
It's hard to make this only on special occasions.
I want it every week.
Satisfied customers!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Basil & Feta Bruschetta

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite appetizers, from one of my all-time favorite people.  I raved about this bruschetta so much that Debbie made it just for me after I had my fourth baby.  Book club blessings, I tell you.
Toast your bread slices for about 6 min @ 350,
then spread with mixed cream cheese & feta
Saute the tomatoes (I used Romas), basil, & garlic for about 5 min

Spoon warm tomato mixture on each slice, then top each
with a small amount of torn, fresh mozzarella
Oh, my.  Yes, please.
Everything Debbie makes is divine.  She loves to cook and she is so good at it.  But really, can anything be betta than bruschetta?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Satiny Whole Wheat Bread

This is my very favorite 100% whole wheat recipe, from my dear friend Juli, and I'm pretty sure she came up with this recipe on her own.  It makes three large loaves, but I usually make two large loaves and four mini loaves with it.
Mollie always asks, "Can I paint it when it comes out?"
Each loaf gets a thin coating of butter brushed on the top
If you are interested in health news and research, you can't avoid the current hype about sugar versus high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the links between fructose intake and obesity, and the difference between how your body breaks down down fructose, sucrose, and glucose.  I'm certainly not an expert, and I am inclined to think that much of the hype is just that . . . hype.  Health trends seem to come in waves and often the science changes.  

Buuu-uuuut . . . there's a really easy, effective, and yummy way to lower the glycemic load (how quickly your food breaks down into sugar in the body) of your breads: add a handful of whole grains.  

It's pretty easy to understand how this works: a grain that's already "broken down" (like flour) takes your body less time to break down on it's own, so it converts to energy (sugar in the bloodstream) more quickly.  But if you want foods that take longer to break down (releasing a steady trickle of energy instead of a spike), you want to eat them in as close to their original form as you can.  

That's why an apple is better for you than applesauce is better for you than apple juice.

"But, Becca," you say, "People are not horses!  I don't want to munch on a nosebag of oats."  Me neither, peeps.  Ew.  Remember how I said this is yummy?  Yummy is the kind of healthy I like.  That's why, even though this is a very healthy recipe, there is a bit of butter painted on the top of each loaf.  It keeps the top from getting hard, but it's also the best flavor there is.
Add one scant cup five-grain cereal (or rolled oats)
when you add the flour and salt after the first rise.
The bread already has a perfect crumb and delicious texture, and a few chewy bites of whole grains puts it over the top.  My seven-year-old son is a pretty picky eater, but it's in his favor in the case of breads, because he likes only this bread.  

I make a batch every week, and we all love it much more than the sawdusty store-bought bread (okay, with the exception of Granny Sycamore's white loaf--I am sure it has a sky-high glycemic load, but it makes the best French Toast you've ever had).

After the second rise
After Mollie "painted" the top
Comes out perfect every time--my husband loves
this bread to make himself a thick PB&J sandwich
"Mom, are you shamelessly exploiting my cuteness
and blue-eyed-ness for you recipe blog again?"
You might have to go to a specialty store to buy lecithin (breaks up fat & cholesterol, byproduct of soybeans) and dough enhancer (usually made of whey, citric acids, and vitamin C--adds flavor) and wheat gluten (protein derived from wheat) . . . but it is worth it.  I get mine pretty cheap at Walton Feed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cantonese Light Sauce

I love sesame oil!  This sauce uses just a little bit,
but the warm nutty flavor goes a long way.

I got those cute little salt and pepper shakers at the D.I.--
my kids love it when they each have their own!
Oh, and the sauce over brown rice & stir fried veggies is yummy.
I like this sauce with a pork stir fry, but it's just as good with chicken. If you don't have fresh ginger, use a tablespoon of ground ginger. Also, I usually use green onions instead of scallions, because I always have them on hand.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Asparagus, Chicken, & Pecan Pasta

This is a fairly recent find from one of my favorite cooking websites: Allrecipes, {introduced to me three years ago by my dear friend Emily--you can't go wrong with Spaghemily and Meatballs}.  I used their cool ingredient search tool and entered "asparagus" and "chicken".  When this recipe came up, I was so excited, because I also happened to have some pecan halves . . . which doesn't happen as often as I would like it to.

Oh my, it is delicious.  And fairly healthy--especially if you are using wheat pasta.  I have made it too many times since I discovered it . . . not because we are sick of it, but because pecans are so pricey and I am stretching my grocery budget.  A little bit does go a long way, thank goodness.  I actually prefer it with pecan pieces (though pecan halves look prettier), which are a little less expensive.

The Baked Brownie

{The following is what I wrote back in October 2011 . . . I just wanted to add some recent pictures I took}

I'm back.  I've taken an almost five-month break from devoting any time to this blog, because I had a bun of my own baking.  Two months ago, we welcomed our fourth child to our family!  His name is Calvin and he is just perfect.  In honor of his perfection, I decided that my first new recipe card after my maternity leave should also be perfect.  So here you go.
I took this picture of my most recent batch of the baked brownie.
Trust me, people, they really are that good.  I actually prefer them
after  they've cooled because they are too rich for me when warm.
I have a confession to make: whenever a recipe calls for eggs at room temperature, I get a smuggitty little smile of smugness on my face.  Because I keep chickens and ducks.  And I always have room temperature eggs.  Either I can go out and collect some right when I need them, or I already collected them and they're on the counter waiting to be cleaned, or I already collected them, cleaned them, and put them in the fridge . . . but they're not quite as fridge-cold as the eggs that I collected, cleaned, and cold-ed the day before.
Almost too pretty to eat . . .
But, darling egg-layers notwithstanding, I am smug every time I make these brownies anyway, because they. are. THE. BEST.  No, I'm serious.  I never thought I would invoke Oprah's name on this blog, but I found this recipe  because the picture of the brownies looked amazing, and when I clicked a link to find out more, I read an article about how this recipe is from Baked, a fancy bakeshop in Brooklyn, is one of Oprah's favorite things, and is also America's Test Kitchen's favorite brownie recipe.  Hell-o.  With an endorsement from A'sTK, how can you go wrong? (For other delicious recipes from A'sTK on this blog, you might want to try Barbecued Dry-Rubbed Chicken, Ultimate Cinnamon Buns, and Asian Lettuce Wraps).

They are super rich, which I love, because I'd rather taste more chocolate and less sugar in my brownies.  And they have that gooey, perfect crust that only the best brownies have.  I have adapted this recipe slightly to mine and my husband's tastes: adding another 1/4 tsp of salt and another tablespoon of cocoa, leaving the brown sugar unpacked, and cutting out the teaspoon of instant espresso powder (I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints {Mormons}, so I don't drink coffee or tea and try to avoid other caffeinated beverages).

You can google "The Baked Brownie" and get all kinds of amazing pictures, but this is one of my own actual photographs taken on my own actual mommy camera.

It's as difficult to get a picture of this brownie as it is to get one of the elusive Bigfoot--they vanish before your eyes into the dense undergrowth . . . er, into the dense husband's mouth . . . er, they just vanish quickly.

You're very welcome.