Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ridiculously Easy Red Velvet Cake

I hate food coloring with a passion. It's so unnatural, and I just imagine it entering my stomach and then turning my internal organs all different colors. Silly, I know, but it makes me a little squeamish. Regardless, when one of your best friends requests red velvet cake for her birthday, you have to suck it up and go buy red food coloring.

I know the list of ingredients for this cake is short... probably too short, but I was not in the mood for a challenge - partly because I was having a hectic week, but mostly because I recently had a disastrous experience with a strawberry cake. Thankfully, the final product had tasted great, but the process was a roller coaster that will not be relived on this blog.  :) Anyway...  I found this recipe for an easy Red Velvet Cake, and it was hassle-free and delicious!

You'll need:
1 package white cake mix
1 package (3.9 oz.) instant chocolate pudding
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
red food coloring (as desired)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease two 9-inch round pans.

Throw all the ingredients (except food coloring) in a bowl - yup, all at once.

Blend everything together until all the lumps are gone and the batter is creamy. People always ask me why I never snack on batter, and it's because I always picture the above picture right before I start to take a taste, and I just can't do it! Luckily, there are usually taste tasters hanging around the house to do the job.

Add the red food coloring gradually, blending until you reach a red that makes you happy. I used a gel to reduce some of the ickyness that comes with liquid food coloring, but either should work fine.

Divide equally into your prepared pans and bake for 27-31 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

After icing the cake with my Cream Cheese & Cool Whip frosting, I piped milk chocolate frosting around the edges and tried to draw a "J" on top for Jade. It looked a little wonky, so Brit took over to make it look better. :)

Dusted with edible glitter.  Purple... Jade's favorite color.

Sending you love (dyed red) from my kitchen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lemon Herb Veggies

This is one of those dishes that would make my mom so proud. (1) Because it's healthy, and (2) Because it's fresh!  Mom gets mad when I use any frozen or canned ingredients, and I have to agree...  the fresh stuff really does make a difference.

Sorry about the "fistful" approximations again.  There really is no reason to measure the veggies exactly... just follow your stomach when it comes to adding some of these ingredients. :)

You'll need:
1 fistful of fresh asparagus spears, halved
1 fistful of  fresh broccoli, cut in bitesize pieces
1 fistful of green beans (with trimmed stems)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 large sweet onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, halved
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (Use 1/2 teaspoon fresh if you have it.)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Dash of salt and pepper

Wash the green beans, asparagus, and broccoli, and then blanch them. (Boil for 3-4 minutes, drain, and shock them with ice cold water.)

Chop the onion, mushrooms, bell pepper, garlic, basil, and oregano.

Start with sautéing the onion in olive oil on medium low heat for 5 minutes until tender.

Add the bell pepper and mushrooms and sauté for another 5-7 minutes.

We want these veggies to be tender and for the onions to start caramelizing.  I actually really dislike raw onions, but onions cooked this way are delicious!

Add the veggies that you just blanched.

Add herbs, salt, and pepper.  Stir and let the mixture hang out for a few minutes.

Add spinach, and fold together.

The spinach will shrink as it cooks, so you'll want to keep folding occasionally so the spinach at the bottom of the pan doesn't burn.

After about 2 minutes, remove from heat and serve!

This is a great side with almost anything!  My batch made a couple of servings, so I ate some of the veggies with a burger tonight, and I can take the rest to work tomorrow with a turkey sandwich. :)  Hope you enjoy!

Sending you love (and fresh veggies) from my kitchen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Triple Chocolate Cake

Everyone needs a go-to cake, and this is mine.  It originally belongs to my best friend's dad, but I feel like I've made it my own by making it at least 50 times... :)  It's so easy to make, and the prep time is pretty short, so I've made it for countless birthdays and special occasions!  I've also made the recipe in several different forms - cupcakes, a two-layer cake, and a bundt cake - and with different toppings - peanut butter frosting, chocolate glaze, and a white frosting.

This particular time I made a two-layer cake with a Cool Whip & Cream Cheese frosting for my supervisor's birthday.  Technically, you can only call it Triple Chocolate Cake if you use chocolate icing, but I won't tell if you don't.

You'll need:
1 box Pillsbury white cake mix
2 boxes (2.1 oz each) instant Jello chocolate pudding mix (Sugar Free & Fat Free)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
4 eggs
1 small container (8 oz.) Light sour cream
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

With a wire whisk, stir together cake mix, pudding mix, and sugar until there are no more lumps.

Add the oil, water, and eggs and whisk together.

Really use your muscle here - the batter is going to get pretty thick.  Add in the sour cream and stir until all the white is gone.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide between two greased 9-inch pans.  Since the batter is so thick, use a spoon to even it out so that the top bakes flat.

Baking times:
Two 9-inch pans: 35-40 minutes
24 cupcakes: 18-22 minutes
Bundt cake: 50 minutes - 1 hour

Cool Whip & Cream Cheese Frosting

You'll need:
12 oz. container of Cool Whip
8 oz. of cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar

Throw all the ingredients in a bowl and blend with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes until smooth and creamy.

When your cake has cooled, frost it one layer at a time.

I meant to get a picture of the inside of the cake, but by the time I remembered, there was not much cake left. :)  You can also top the cake with fresh sliced strawberries, more chocolate chips, or anything else that sounds good to you!

Here are some other frosting options:

Peanut Butter Frosting
2 sticks butter
2 cups creamy peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
*Blend everything together until smooth.  So easy!  I've been told that with this frosting, the cake tastes like a Reese's. :)

Chocolate Glaze
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
* Melt butter and chocolate chips with milk in saucepan on low heat for about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, whisking each time you add some.  Once the last bit of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool slightly before drizzling on cake.  (This works best on the bundt cake.)

Sending you love from my kitchen.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bow Tie Medley

I like to eat things that are pretty.  Obviously, the way something tastes is pretty important, but you know how sometimes you can just look at a dish and know it tastes delicious?  This pasta does that!  It's colorful and flavorful, and would you believe I just threw it together from random stuff I found in my fridge?  Sometimes I get a little ambitious at the grocery store, especially in the produce section, and I buy more than I can eat. :)  So, tonight's mission was to use up some asparagus, baby bella mushrooms, and fresh herbs that were all a day or two from getting tossed.  My first instinct was to call this trash can pasta, but then you probably wouldn't be reading this blog post, would you?  But seriously, feel free to switch out the veggies I used with ones that are nearing expiration in your own fridge.  I hate wasting food, so recipes like this are special to my kitchen. :)

If you're someone who needs exact measurements for ingredients, you're not going to be very happy with me.  (I used "fistfuls" to measure many of the ingredients.)  But this just proves how easy and flexible this pasta is to make.  If you love sun-dried tomatoes, put in an extra fistful.  If asparagus isn't your thing, swap it with a fistful of broccoli.  Make it your own!

You'll need:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 of a medium sweet onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
two fistfuls of baby bella mushrooms
one fistful of pine nuts
one big fistful of fontina cheese, cut in bite size pieces
one fistful of sun-dried tomatoes, cut in bite size pieces
1 tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing
15-20 spears of asparagus
2 1/2 cups of dried bow tie pasta 
half a fistful of fresh basil and oregano, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
(For a kick, you can add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.)

All the random stuff I pulled out of my fridge and pantry...
On the stove, start boiling a medium pot of water (for the pasta) and a small pot of water (for the asparagus).

Wash and cut the asparagus, but don't use the bottom inch of each spear... that part is hard and chewy, so it's not pasta-friendly.

Throw the asparagus into the small pot of boiling water, and cook for 3-4 minutes.  When you drain the hot asparagus, it's important to shock them with cold water so that they stay crisp... same drill with veggies like green beans, snap peas, broccoli, etc. However, I'm slightly lazy so I like to just throw in several ice cubes and toss them around with the asparagus.  Does the trick without using an extra bowl!

Now throw your pasta into the medium pot of boiling (salted) water, and cook according to the directions on the package.  (I like to set a timer because I get distracted easily with the veggies, and overcooked pasta is the worst.)  While that's cooking, begin sautéing the onion with the mushrooms and pine nuts on medium-low heat.

While the onion and mushrooms are becoming tender and the pine nuts are toasting, start cutting the fontina and chopping the herbs for later. Remember to keep an eye on the onion mixture and stir it occasionally so it doesn't burn.

After 5-7 minutes of sautéing, it's time to add more color!  Add the sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus.

Sauté for a few more minutes until heated all the way through, and then turn down to low heat.  Your pasta should be ready by now!  After draining the bow ties, add them to the pan along with your fresh herbs, salt, pepper, and vinaigrette.  You can use almost any kind of vinaigrette - I used Girard's Light Champagne dressing, which is one of my favorites, but I bet a balsamic or red wine vinaigrette would taste great, too.  You may be tempted to add more dressing, but I think a tablespoon is just enough to add some flavor without being overpowering.  Remember that there are so many other flavors here that want to be tasted, and you don't want to mask them with something as silly as salad dressing. :)

Toss everything together, and let all the flavors hang out for a couple more minutes.

Now, add your cheese.

Toss once again and serve.  Since the sauce is so light, the cheese won't melt into it, but instead it will create little clumps of melted cheese throughout the pasta... so yummy.

You could also serve this pasta cold - just wait until after the dish has chilled in the fridge before tossing with the cheese so that it stays intact rather than melts.  Hope you enjoy it!

Sending you love from my kitchen. :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Oatmeal Nutella & Walnut Cookies

I discovered Nutella a few months ago, and I just can't get enough of it!  Whether it's spread on toast for a post-workout snack or right out of the jar with a spoon at the end of a stressful day, Nutella is like heaven in a jar and has a special place in my kitchen.

I've experimented baking with Nutella only once before with these cupcakes, and they were a hit at the office!  Today was a coworker's birthday, so I pulled out my Nutella again for these cookies.  It was definitely a good choice!

You'll need:
1 stick of butter, softened
3/4 cup Nutella
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/4 cups oats

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix butter, Nutella, and sugars for 2 minutes.

Add eggs and vanilla, and mix for another minute.

Add dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon).  Most people mix these in a separate bowl first, but I usually just go ahead and throw it in as I measure.... it all mixes together in the end anyway!

Using a large wooden spoon, mix in walnuts and oats.  Place rounded spoonfuls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  No need to grease with cooking spray; parchment paper is magical, and your cookies will slide right off.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Let them cool for another 10 minutes as the scent of Nutella spreads through your entire house... another reason why the kitchen is the best room.  Just a warning... you may need some milk with these. :)

And they're great for celebrations...

Happy birthday, Debbie!

Sending you love (in the form of Nutella) from my kitchen.