Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Cookies Part 1- Vanilla Cherry Chocolate

Christmas cookies are a must, right? I honestly wasn't a huge cookie maker for Christmas until this year. Last year I made some cookies for Christmas day, but they turned out to be eh. Then I made some more for a Christmas get-together, and while those were wayyyy better, I still never really got into the Christmas cookie making thing. You know, making crap tons of them, giving them out, having after dinner, putting them out for Santa... Never.

This year I made three different cookies. The first of these cookies is a Vanilla Cherry Chocolate cookie I saw on Ask Aida. These cookies were definitely good, a bit sweet for me, but definitely a hit!

I was definitely excited about making them, but when I read some of the reviews, I was disappointed in people. I know that certain people's preferences are different than other people's, but that doesn't mean that people should tell someone their recipe is wrong. When you read the list of ingredients, yes it does look similar to a Tollhouse recipe. But the difference here is the heavy vanilla and low brown sugar to white sugar ratio. This is not a Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie! This is a sweet, chewy, fruity and yes somewhat chocolaty cookie. So to tell Aida her recipe is wrong was just plain nasty. Say you didn't like it and why, but don't tell the woman she messed up the recipe b/c she didn't.

Sorry, I needed to get that out. People's reviews are just plain nasty sometimes.

Vanilla Cherry Chocolate Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)
1 cup coarsely chopped dried sweet cherries (Use tart cherries if you like them, this is definitely a sweet cookie and using tart might help cut back on the sweetness)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl until evenly combined; set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together the butter and sugars over medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Pour in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate and cherries until they are uniformly distributed.

Scoop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake until the cookie edges are golden brown, about 14 minutes. Leave the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 3 minutes. Repeat this process with the remaining dough. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely before serving.


I sprinkled some extra milk chocolate shavings on top of the cookie before baking them. I like the little bit of extra chocolately goodness :) These cookies were definitely chewy and delicious. I admit probably a bit too sweet for me as I was really only able to have a couple, but everyone else really seemed to like them, so it was a good success for me!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My first time making pasticio for xmas dinner (sort of)

Every Christmas for dinner, we have roast leg of lamb, pasticio and Greek potatoes. Never changes. Well, mom has taken on the task for the last few years of making the pasticio. I've made the filling before, but since I am not a fan of the bechemel on the top, I never really got interested in making it.
This year, things changed.
I made the filling again, but this time, as mom made the topping, I helped (and snapped pics along the way)

I'll be honest, we aren't a measuring kind of family when it comes to food. I'm going to describe how we made it as simply as possible...


First, you start by browning the ground meat in a very large stainless steel pan. We normally use a pound of meat for a pound of pasta to put into a 13 X 9 pan. We used a lot more this time around. We had to do two pans of meat. :)
After the meat is browned somewhat, add ground black pepper, chopped dried onion and ground cinnamon. Start out w/ a sprinkling of each over the entire pan, then mix it up and try it. If you can taste all three ingredients, you're good. If not, add more of whichever needs it. Add one small can of tomato sauce when the meat is cooked. Let this simmer a bit, until the meat is completely saturated and after tasting, you can taste all of the seasonings and it tastes good :)
This is the only dish I'll ever make w/ no garlic in it. Trust me when I say, do not add garlic or really anything more than what I've added. (oh, well, you can sprinkle salt on top, but we're not salt adders)
While you are doing the meat, bring a pot of salted (I know, contradiction) water to a boil. Add the macaroni pasta. You can get this past at a local market that sells ethnic foods. It is No. 5 macaroni (you'll get it when you see all of the pinkish red packages) and it's basically spaghetti length elbow macaroni noodles. If you can't find it, elbow noodles will work fine. Don't use anything else. It's just weird.
After the pasta is cooked to al dente, pour the meat into the strained pasta pot and mix together. Toss in a couple of small handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Use grated cheese, not shaved or shredded. Pour the mix into the prepared pan like the above picture. Spread it all out evenly. Set aside. (Or in my case, just eat as is!!!)
For the bechemel. Everyone does their bechemel different. This is my mother's way.
Heat 4 cups of milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Melt a stick of butter in another saucepan and add equal amount of flour. Mix well. Slowly add the heated milk w/ a whisk (as seen directly above). While you are doing this, place 4 eggs in an electric mixer and let it go. Beat the bejebus out of those eggs. Get them nice and fluffy, like the below picture shows.
Once you've added the milk to the roux and it is completely smooth and not too thick, add some seasoning to taste, white pepper, cinnamon and some more Parmesan cheese. You don't want the sauce to turn red, so don't add a lot of cinnamon, just a bit to taste. Same w/ the cheese, adding too much will make the sauce grainy, so be careful. You can always add more if you want, but you can't take it away once you've added it to the mix!
After you're done w/ the sauce, add a little bit of it to the egg in the mixture, while it is running, to temper the eggs. The sauce is hot and you don't want to cook the egg when you add it to the sauce. Add it slowly and enough to temper, then add the sauce and egg mixture back into the saucepan.
And whisk it all together, like above!
Get your prepared pans out and pour the sauce over the top of the pasta and smooth it out.
The place the pan(s) in the oven at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Check it at about 45 min to make sure it's going well. You want the top to be GBG-Golden Brown Goodness!
I couldn't find my camera before dinner, so I used my phone to snap a couple of pics. I managed to get like the last piece on our serving plate (there was more still in the pan, but it was right there and it had lots of insides scrapes!) The top is a nice golden brown color and it set nicely.
My first serving :) Doesn't look like a lot huh? Don't worry, I had another piece of pasticio and like three more pieces of lamb! Yum!!!

Check this out!

It's a giveaway!

http://ldylvbgr.blogspot.com/2009/12/giveaway-nestle-goodies-and-holiday.html

My godson's first birthday cake

When my cousin asked me to make a cake for my godson's first birthday, I was super excited! I am not known for my decorating skills, but I make a good cake. So I had all these plans on making it cowboy themed. Do you know how hard it is to make a plaid cake? Well, I didn't even try b/c the instructions were nuts! But she nixed me on using too much food coloring b/c apparently, food coloring make skids hyper. Like he's not going to be hyper eating an entire mini cake for himself. But I did my Nouna (godmother) duties and made a simple yellow butter cake w/ vanilla frosting. The cake is the same I made in class last year, so I knew it was a good recipe.

Cake ingredients:

6 large egg yolks

1 cup milk

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line bottoms with parchment paper, then spray again. Set aside.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg yolks, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla extract.

In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until blended. Add the butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the egg mixture, in 3 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg.

Divide the batter and pour into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with an offset spatula. (Pans will be about half full.) Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out w/ little crumbs stuck to it.

Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool, in their pans, for about 10 minutes. Then invert the cakes onto a greased rack. Cool completely before frosting.

The Frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick butter)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream, or more if necessary

1 (16 oz) box confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat and stir in sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until it reaches a spreading consistency. At this time it may be necessary to add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more, if frosting gets too thick. Just be sure to add cream in small amounts because you can always "add to," but you can't take away.

The cake was pretty good. I made the cake the night before, let it cool, wrapped it several times w/ plastic wrap and the refrigerated the cakes overnight so it would be easier to frost the next morning.

I also made a strawberry filling to go b/w the layers. I just cut the tops of the strawberries (I used 1 1/2 quarts of strawberries), then quartered them. Sprinkled some granulated sugar on top. Tossed the berries and sugar, covered the container and refrigerated them overnight. The next morning they were syrupy and sweet.

I put a layer of frosting on top of the bottom cake and them put the strawberries on top. Mistake. I should have just put the berries right on top of the naked cake b/c then the cake layers wouldn't stay straight!!! The cake was a wee bit lopsided, but hey, it was still good. It helps to pipe a circle around the edge of the bottom layer so when you frosting the entire cake, there isn't a big open space where the strawberries can ooze out of the sides. And this is def a cake that it important to do the crumb coat on b/c then it set the cake and frosting enough to be able to spread the rest of the frosting on w/ out the cake being even more lopsided.

top view, not too bad

side view... crooked!!!

In addition to the cake that served the guests, my cousin's friend made a cake using one of those cupcake pans. Pretty sweet cake pan. I want one!
That was Buddha's personal destroying cake. The whole thing ended up being way too huge though. And the frosting was still kinda cold and stiff from being in the fridge since Friday, so after he tried to eat some of the whole cake:
My cousin cut off a smaller slice to let him destroy. He actually probably ate more than he threw on the ground. And way more than any kid I have seen ever eaten on their first birthday!!!

He wasn't doing so bad at first. He was definitely happy!

And after a little while longer... He demolished the thing!!!

So now my little Buddha is 1! And I think he is going to need a cake from Nouna every year! The next one is chocolate though!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert!

Our dessert table had more stuff than the dinner table

For some people, Thanksgiving is all about the dinner. Well, it has been in my family too, but after finishing culinary school and still not being able to take dinner over, I moved onto desserts. We always had a spread of desserts for the holidays, but they were mostly box mixed cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and jello, all made by my mom or aunt. Well, I boo that b/c there really is only so long a person can go eating boxed mixes. Honestly, I will use the mixes for stuff like cake balls or if I am making something that adds more to it than just what is on the box, but not often. I don't mean to offend those who do, I really hope no one feels that way. I just feel that I've reached my max at making boxed stuff.

So I make desserts from scratch now. And apparently, the baking bug has hit some of my other family members too!

My one cousin has always liked baking things, but she's a senior in high school now, taking way too many AP classes and involved in way too many extracurricular stuff to have time to bake. My other cousin, who is in 6th grade, is really into Food Network and cooking and baking now, so he made cupcakes. He made 48 cupcakes! 24 chocolate and 24 vanilla. Mixed, baked and frosted all by himself! Awesome!!!

My mom made two pans of boxed brownies and my aunt, who wasn't really into baking/cooking lots, made an Ina Garten cheesecake topped w/ berries. It was delicious! Very good for her first time!

I made a pumpkin chocolate cheesecake and the most awesome ever apple pie!!!!
I'll start w/ the awesome apple pie b/c in all honesty, I can't hold back on this baby.

Upside-Down Apple Pie

Topping:
6 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

2 refrigerated pie crusts

Filling:
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large apples of your choice, peeled, cored and sliced***

Directions:

Coat a deep-dish pie plate (I used a 9 inch cake pan) with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Coat the paper with cooking spray also.
In a small bowl combine 6 tbsp melted butter, brown sugar and pecans. Mix well and spread evenly over the bottom of the pie plate, on top of the parchment. Place one of the crusts in the pie plate, pressing it firmly against the nut mixture and up the sides of the plate. Set aside.

(Since I had a 9 inch cake pan and the pie crust were for 9 inch pies, I had to roll the dough out a little. I thought this worked better anyway b/c the first time I made this it was in a regular pie pan w/ less topping and the crust was too thick and over-powered the pie)

This picture is from the first pie. I used a shallow pan and less topping, the topping REALLY makes the pie.

In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. Mix well. Add the apples in and toss gently to coat. Spoon into the pie crust.

Place the second crust over the apple mixture. Trim and fold the edges together to seal and cut some slits in the top of the crust for venting. Because my cake was so deep I rolled the top layer of dough out some too, so that I could push the edges into the cake pan on the sides that didn't have much overlap and press the two pie dough layers together. I really couldn't fold and seal but I got it closed.

Bake
1-1/4 hours or until crust is golden brown in a 375 degree oven. Make sure to place a cookie sheet on the bottom oven rack to catch any drips from the pie. There will be drips since the brown sugar and butter mixture will boil over the sides. I'd also place a piece of foil on top of the cookie sheet to help w/ clean-up.
You want to make sure you have the maximum baking time w/out burning the crust of course. This guarantees that the butter sugar mixture will melt fully and ooze nicely over the pie when you flip it. Also, when I melted the butter in the saucepan, I put the brown sugar in the saucepan and let it melt into the butter for a couple of minutes before putting it into the lined cake pan. Again, another trick to get the sugar to melt better and not be grainy.

Let the pie cool for 5 minutes and then place a plate that is larger than the pie on top of it and flip it over. Use oven gloves as it will still be HOT. Remove the pie plate and gently lift the paper. Allow to cool, but not completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(it's way better served warm!!!)

See the yummy melty caramelized gooeyness??? YUM!

Look at all those apples, yummmmmm
Nice huge yummy piece for daddy :)


***For the apples, I cored the apples w/ a corer, then peeled them w/ a veggie peeler, then cut the apple in half, from top to bottom. Then I sliced the halves, not too thinly, as you can see. I did one apple at a time. To keep them from browning, I had a shaker of cinnamon sugar next to me and would shake some over the sliced apples. This is way better than using a bowl of lemon water. That makes the apples to wet and will make your filling less stable. This way, the apples don't brown and you get more cinnamon sugar goodness. :)

On to the awesome cheesecake!!! I used Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake. It is a great base to work with, I've used it many times in the past!

Pumpkin Chocolate Swirled Cheesecake

Crust:

One box of chocolate teddy grahams
1/2 stick of melted butter

Filling:

4 (8 oz) pkgs of cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combo of the two
1/2 melted milk chocolate, slightly cooled
15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix!)

Directions:

Spray a 9 inch spring form pan w/ non-stick cooking spray. Wrap the bottom of the pan w/ two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Set aside.

Crush or grind the cookies, depending on your preference for the crust. Stir the crumbs w/ the melted butter. Press into the prepared pan. Bake the crust at 350 degrees F for 10 min. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F

Put a small saucepan of water on the stove top and bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, make the batter.

Beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft, about 4 mins. W/ the mixer running, add the sugar and continue to beat about another 4 mins, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating a full minute after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the sour cream/heavy cream.

Take out half of the mixture and place in a large bowl. Add the pumpkin to the half in the bowl and fold it into the batter, until completely incorporated. Add the melted (but slightly cooled) milk chocolate to the batter left in the mixing bowl and mix at a low speed until the chocolate is completely incorporated.

Using one measuring cup for each batter, dump a cup full of the pumpkin batter and then a cup full of the chocolate batter on top and then the pumpkin again and keep doing this until all the batter is in the pan. You don't have to make it perfect, it can be lopsided, it can have more of one layer than the other at different parts, it doesn't matter, as long as you dump one at a time on top of the other. It'll look like this:
This is about halfway through filling the pan

Once you've filled the pan w/ all of the batters, place a large roasting pan on the oven rack. Place the cheesecake pan in the middle and then slowly and carefully pour the boiling hot water into the roasting pan. Slowly and carefully push the rack into the oven and bake the cheesecake for 1 1/2 hours.


After the cheesecake has finished backing, turn off the oven and prop open the oven, just enough to let the air escape, like this:
This is what the cheesecake is going to look like inside the oven, sitting there... cooling...
Take the cheesecake out of the roasting pan and allow it to cool to room temp on the counter. Once it has reached room temp, place the cheesecake in the refridgerator for at least 4 hours, but overnight is preferred.

Once you've cooled the cheesecake, carefully remove the springform. Some people use a hair dryer to remove it, but honestly, I just take a very thin knife blade, run it along the inside, careful not to knick the cake and then pop off the springform.

See, the layers aren't perfect, but you can see them, which is cool. And the cheesecake is delicious. Smoothy, creamy, dense, awesome!

It's best cut w/ a long thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. You will want to wipe the blade w/ a warm wet towel after each cut, or at least every other cut, to ensure a pretty slice of cheesecake is being placed on the plate. The first piece is always the hardest to get out, so don't be worried if it comes out a mess. The next ones will look better :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peanut Butter and Jelly (and more!) Thumbprints

Okay, so I have a hard time refusing anything peanut butter. Really, I do. I love the taste, texture, stickiness, everything about peanut butter! So when I see new peanut butter cookies, what do I do? Make them!!!

It actually started out when I was reading Shannalee's post on foodloveswriting and I saw the delicious peanut butter cookies she made... I wanted them badly. Well, I finally got to making them one horrible night, but instead of dipping them into chocolate, I pressed the bottom of an apple peeler into the middle of them half way through the baking process and made thumbprints instead!

So the fillings aren't homemade. I used Smuckers red raspeberry preserves, black raspberry preserves, Smuckers hot fudge and that caramel stuff that you can get at Jewel to dip your apple slices in. I was lazy, upset, and needed a quick fix, what can I say???

Peanut Butter Thumbprints

adapted from foodloveswriting, who adapted her recipe from Joy the Baker

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover two large cookie sheets w/ foil or parchment paper.

Beat the butter and peanut butter w/ an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed for a minute.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.

Scoop the dough into even sized balls w/ a cookie scoop (it's like a really mini-ice cream scoop). Place on the lined cookie sheet aprx 2 inches apart. Bake for aprx 10 min, until they are puffy. Take the bottom of an apple corer (or any kitchen tool w/a rounded bottom) and press the tip onto the top of the cookie, creating a little bowl for the topping. Bake for another 6-7 mins, until the edges are a golden brown.

Let cool just a bit and fill w/ whatever your heart desires!!!

It's better to have them cool a bit but not completely so that whatever topping you choose can melt a bit into the cookie.

I have to say, I was outside getting my car blessed (short version of a long story, me and my car were hit w/ the evil eye. I'm not crazy) so I took the cookies out at 11 mins to make the impressions in them and then they were in another 6 mins, and my mom took them out, but I let them cool too long before topping them, so the topping really didn't "glue" itself to the cookie. No biggie. We all ate them anyways!!!

Black raspberry and red raspberry flavors
Caramel and hot fudge topping. The caramel was my fav, hands down. I did have to melt the hot fudge for 20 secs in the microwave to make it easier to drop into the cookie imprints. Yum.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apple Cider Pound Cake

I must be getting old. Lately, I have been so wiped out that I've been just wanting to go home and veg out when I get home from work. I have so many posts to put up and I have been slacking. I could be posting once every couple of days if I just stopped being so lazy, but in all honesty, I've been in a funk lately. It has a lot to do with my car. Things are getting better, but in all honesty, I am in a funk. I'll get out of it though. Thanksgiving helped and Christmas will help a heck of a lot more!

So after the pumpkin fiasco I decided to make an apple cider pound cake that night. This cake is phenomenally yummy.
It didn't call for apples in the batter, but I had a ton of them still left from picking (btw, I still have a ton left! Those things are still good and I got them mid-October!) and I decided to small dice two of them and toss the apples in there. In all honesty, the cake would have been better w/out the extra moisture from the apples getting tossed in, but it still wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was DELICIOUS. :)

Apple Cider Pound Cake w/ Caramel Glaze
slightly adapted from Amanda's Cookin, which is slightly adapted from CDKitchen :)

Cake:

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Caramel Glaze:

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with a baking spray that has flour in it. It makes the cake come out nice and easy and CLEAN!

For pound cake, beat the softened butter. Gradually add sugar, beating for 1 minute. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating for 1 1/2 minutes after each addition.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Blend together cider and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with cider mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until just completely blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for aprx 1 1/2 hours, or until done. I normally check cakes about 15 min before the bake time on the recipe to be safe . Cool the cake in pan for ten minutes, then remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

While the cake is baking, make the caramel glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add sugar and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salt and cream; bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring, for 2 minutes. If the cake is done before the glaze, let the cake cool completely before you top the cake w/ the glaze. Once the glaze is done cooling, at least 15- 20 mins, and the cake is cooled, pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip in the middle and on the outside.

EAT and ENJOY!!!

The batter in the pan. Look at how thick it is. Btw, those apples I talked about before. If you want them in there, just small dice two medium apples and fold them into the batter after it is completely mixed.

Almost done baking.
Finishing cooling on my mom's retro (ahem, old) cake plate
Covered in ooey, gooey deliciousness
I can seriously drink that glaze. Oh it was soooooooo good. The cake, the glaze, everything. It definitely made me feel a bit better after the rough day I had. It's definitely a great fall dessert, but honestly, I'd make this all year long!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My trip to KY and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

I have to tell you guys, I never thought I'd go down to KY and enjoy myself. But I did. Not enough to live there, but since the boy has property down there, I know I'll enjoy camping down there once a year. Even though I still haven't been camping.

Our intention was to go camping. Well, ok, let me clarify. Our original intention was to leave Wed night and go to Pittsburg, PA. Things didn't work out so we weren't going to take a trip at all and I didn't take Thurs off, just Fri, so then the week of Halloween, we decided to go to KY and see his property and go camping. Well, somewhere on Wed, we discovered it was supposed to rain. A LOT. So we just decided to go down there to see his property and hang out in Louisville. We left about 8ish on Thursday night. See where I am going with this???

So we end up somewhere outside of Indianapolis around 1 in the morning Friday morning. We stopped at the Best Western, which let me tell you. Fridge, microwave, king bed, comfy as hell and like 6 pillows. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss.

So after our free breakfast, we headed back out on the road around 11... We made it to his property, which is about an hour west of Louisville around 1 ish. We walked around his 9 acres and breathed in some absolutely awesome clear clean air...

Where are the pictures you ask? Don't. My dumbass wasn't thinking and didn't take any. (I took some in Louisville though).

So after chillin w/ his neighbors for a bit, we headed to Louisville. As we were pulling into the city, I saw a sign at the top of one of the taller buildings... Ruth's Chris in bright lights in the distance... Then we get closer and closer and before you know it, I realize they are right across the street from our hotel. It was fate. Earlier in the day, I had asked my babes to let me take him someplace nice for dinner for all the driving he did and everything he was paying for. I didn't imagine it would be Ruth's Chris.

I've never been there before. I've heard of them. I've heard of how they sear the meat at 1800 degrees and topped with fresh butter so they sizzle all the way to the table. Which, btw, the plates are so hot, the meat is still cooking on the plate.
On the balcony of the 16th floor, where Ruth's Chris is located. We make a cute little couple :)

They have their fall/winter classics menu that we both ordered from. You start off with a starter of select salads or soup. I chose the Harvest Salad, "mixed greens with roasted corn, dried cherries, crispy bacon and tomatoes in a white balsamic vinaigrette, topped with goat cheese and Cajun pecans" and he chose Louisiana Seafood Gumbo, "classic gumbo with Andouille sausage, shrimp and crab meat"
Louisiana Seafood Gumbo
I could have eaten five plates of that salad. It was hands down the best salad I've EVER HAD!!!!  Seriously if you go just for the salad, please do!  Let me tell you I have gone to Ruth's Chris since in IL and have ordered that salad to go.  So good!!!!
For dinner, I chose the 11oz filet, medium rare and he had the 16 oz ribeye. There were additional items that aren't on the online menu for an add'l $10. I also chose to have a crab cake and asparagus topped onto my filet. Delicious. The crab cake had barely any breadcrumbs or mayo-like sauce holding it together. It was like they managed to get crab meat and seasoning smahed together long enough to cook and top onto my filet without it falling apart. OMG was it good!
Yummy Filet
I chose green beans w/ roasted garlic as my side and the boy had the sweet potato casserole
Sweet potato casserole, definitely not the same as the marshmallow topped stuff!
Do you see how delicious that casserole looks? OMG, it was even better in my mouth (we shared our sides). Let me tell you, that side was more like a dessert than a side dish with dinner! It was sooo good, I'm making it for Thanksgiving dinner, even if he and I are the only ones eating it!

You'd think by this point, we wouldn't want dessert. Ha. Me, not want dessert? That's why we boxed up half our sides, so we had room for dessert!

Our dinners came with a dessert, a pairing of a carrot cake & a chocolate cup filled with chocolate mouss. But our waiter gave us the option of choosing something off the regular menu. Which, of course, we did. I ordered the Creme Brulee w/ fresh berries b/c I love creme brulee, but I hate making it since it takes forever and it is soooooo bad for you.
Creme Brulee
Babes ordered the Caramelized Banana Cream Pie. Wow was that good. They bruleed the sugar on top and it was delicious. I would hate to be the one to wash that dish though. :)
Caramelized Banana Cream Pie
The banana cream pie was only half eaten and taken to go. The creme brulee was finished though, since it wouldn't have boxed well.

We were dying after. OMG, I went back to the room and thought my stomach was going to explode inside of me. We were attempting to go to Waverly Hills Sanitarium Haunted House. They have a haunted house around Halloween, but during the rest of the year, they have tours of the hospital. Unfortuntely, they weren't doing any b/c of the haunted house and you can't even reserve a spot for a tour until January. So, we'll have to go back...
I finally managed to get off the bed and get moving. We got there and there was a line and it was pouring rain. The ticket guy gave us garbage bags to cover our heads. How nice. Everyone else had umbrellas and rain coats. We had garbage bags. Silly tourists.
It was pretty decent. We are huge fans of haunted houses that are longer than 5 min and this took some time to go through, so it was cool. Lots of dark places for people to jump out at ya. Which of course is the best part.

So Sat we went wandering around the city, which isn't that big. But there are lots of horses. Painted horse that is.
Sat night we headed in our flannel plaid shirts (if you knew me before my boy, I hated flannel plaid, I love it now!) out to check out more haunted houses Sat night. Baxter Street Morgue was one of them. That one was def cool. The other place we went to had two haunted houses in them and those were really cool. We got lost in one of them and of course, I was terrified of the clowns and chainsaw guys, but hey, you know it's almost over when you hear the chain saw going!!!

We look so cute in plaid :)

Three other places to check out in Louisville. Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen has homemade ice creams, pies, cakes, cookies and a deli/cafe w/ soups and sandwiches. We went there Sat afternoon and both got an ice cream cone and a slice of red velvet to go. Babes had never had red velvet before. He loved it. Being that it is my favorite cake, I'm happy he likes it to since I make it often! It wasn't as good as my recipe, but it definitely hit the spot that night. :)

The other place we went to was Mark's Feed Store. OMG, was that good. I had a pulled pork sandwich and their burgoo, which is the grossest looking soup ever, but very good and spicy!
Their BBQ sauce was so good, even if it was mustard based :) There are three locations in Louisville and one in New Albany, IN. Definitely a must try if you are out there!
Little piggie outside the restaurant. Oink, oink!

The last place I want to tell you about is Ernesto's Mexican Restaurant. They had some really yummy mexican food, just when I was craving it! They aren't like El Gallo or Los Comales in Chicago, but they were really good for commercialized mexican food. Definitely not like ChiChi's or Chili's. The steak fajitas were juicy and tender and not at all salty, like some places... Check them out!

So yeah, I am thinking I like KY. A gorgeous place to visit, clean and not crowded and definitely a good time!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My cousin's 30th b-day dinner

I decided to make dinner for my cousin for her 30th b-day. Instead of going out or letting her cook as usual, I decided that I wanted to make something for her. I had to think of something that she would love and of course, something that I can make at home so I didn't dirty up her kitchen, but still could finish cooking at her place so it was yummy and fresh from the oven and hot and delicious. LASAGNA!!! Duh!!! What else is there? :) Oh, and of course, chocolate cake w/ tons of chocolate frosting!!!

I made the sauce, cake and frosting all the night before. My sauce is not exact, so I apologize, but I'll give you the basics. The sauce MAKES the lasagna. That and the cheese. Mmmm.... the cheese.....

Sauce:
Saute one whole large yellow onion and an entire head of garlic in a pan w/ butter. Once the onions are pretty translucent, add them to a simmering pot of 4 (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce, 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste and 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes. In the same pan that you were sauteing the onions, brown the 2.5 lbs of ground beef until fully cooked. Season w/ salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some garlic powder if you like lots of garlic. Believe me, this was not too garlicky!

There are no measurements in my sauce. Which is why it always comes out good. I normally add a palm sized amount of the following dried herbs and spices to give it flavor and then add more as my taste test says I need.
Garlic powder (yep, I love that stuff!)
Ground black pepper
Greek oregano
Basil
Parsley
Cinnamon (yep, that's right, cinnamon)
A wee bit of salt, as needed

If you are making less sauce, obviously start w/ less seasonings!

I usually will add all of these, let it simmer for about 15 mins before I taste it. Then I add as needed, allowing for 15 mins of simmering time in b/w each taste test.

I used a 12 3/4 X 10 3/8 foil roasting pan to make the lasagna in b/c it is a little deeper than more 13X9 pans and I don't have to clean it when I'm done!
I started by pour some of the sauce in the bottom, just enough to coat. Then I topped that with the lasagna noodles. Here is the deal. You can use the Barilla no cook noodles or you can use the ones you need to cook first. Honestly, it does not matter. I've used both and they both work just fine.
So after I placed a layer of noodles down, I spooned a mixture of ricotta cheese, grated parm cheese, parsley and garlic powder over that. I bought the largest tub of ricotta from the store, put a palmful of dried parsley, half palmful of garlic powder into a bowl w/ the cheese and mixed it. I let it sit out a bit before doing this, just so the cheese would soften a little and be just a bit easier to work with. After putting the ricotta mixture on the noodles, I put more sauce over that, then topped the sauce with shredded mozzarella cheese. I repeated this until I was super close to the top, about 3 full layers. On top of the final noodle layer, I put more ricotta on top, the remaining sauce and completely covered the top with shredded mozzarella and shredded parm. Make it a thick layer. It'll brown up nice and yummy later.
So here's the tough part. I baked mine for about 45 mins, then took it over to my cousin's house to finish cooking in her oven. I set the oven to 350 degrees F. When I got it to her house, it took an additional hour to finish. I know it is b/c I transferred it from my house ot hers and it cooled some by the time I got there (she only lives 10 min away), so it won't take you that long. I would hike the oven to 375 or 400 degrees F and just watch it after about 45 mins to see how much longer it needs.

Yummy, cheesy layers. And a nice brown cheesy top.

And now the cake!!! Oh yum is all I gotta say. I found this recipe on epicurious.com after searching through tons and tons of recipes to pick the best one. I did change two little things- I didn't add espresso powder and made two 9 inch layers rather than three 7 or 8 inch layers. I WILL make this cake again, but with one minor change. I will use milk chocolate for the ganache instead of bittersweet. I did it for my cousin, but next time, it is all about me!!!

Chocolate Ganache Cake
adapted from epicurious.com

3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Not Dutch-process)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9 inch (or three 7 or 8 inch) round baking pans. Cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans; spray again.

Whisk the water and cocoa until smooth then whisk in milk and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar w/ an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and cocoa mix in batches, starting with the flour mix and ending with the flour mix. Do this at a low speed until just combined.

Divide the batter amoung the two or three pans. Make sure the tops are smooth. Bake on the middle rack for aprx 30 min. Taste the cake w/ a knife or toothpick. If there are little crumbs clinging, it's done. It is it coated w/ gooey-ness, it's not. Cool in the pans for about 30 mins, then invert onto the cooling rack, remove paper and cool completely.

The cake is much easier to work with, i.e. spread frosting on if you make the cakes the day before, cool them completely, then wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the refridgerator overnight.

Ganache filling and frosting
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 oz of fine-quality, finely-chopped chocolate. I used bittersweet this time, but next time, you better believe I am going with milk chocolate

Bring cream to a simmerand remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill, covered stirring occasionally until thickened but spreadable, about 4 hours.
You can make this the night before, but take it out before you are ready to spread b/c it will be too hard and it will be too hard on the cake.

I strongly advise placing wax or parchment paper underneath the sides of the cake to keep your cake plate clean. After you've put a nice thick layer of ganache on top of the bottom layer, place the top layer on and put a crumb coat on and place it in the fridge to "harden" up. It'll be easier to spread a nice thick layer of frosting on after you do that.
I've heard of the trick of taking a blow dryer to the cake as you're spreading the frosting to make the frosting shiny. But I didn't have a lot of time to mess around and I didn't want it to melt. So it was a matte finish :)

I also melted some red candy melts, put it in a sandwich baggie and snipped of the tip off and wrote on the cake. I'm a horrible decorator! And duh, I should ahve realized that the candy melts would harden, but I was so tired and out of it. They ate them off instead of trying to cut through them!

So Happy 30th Birthday Rita!!!! I hope you enjoyed the dinner and cake and good company! Thanks for Susan and Jamie for joining us in the celebration!