Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chocolate cake with brown sugar caramel pastry cream, whipped cream, and toffee

The main focus of this post is to capture my cake recipe, but I thought I would also share my menu.  This year I wanted to do a mainly “dark” menu.  It started with the Sinister Spread from Martha Stewart.  I’ve used this before at a Halloween party, but I like it so much - it’s just a perfect “halloween” cheese spread, plus it uses (mostly) in season fruits which makes me happy.  Most of the recipes were made straight from the original source (links below).  But I created the beet bruschetta, combined 2 recipes to make the pumpkin donuts and created the cake combination.


Beet caprese bruschetta
For the beet bruschetta, I just roasted some beets and diced them. Then combined them with diced parmesan and purple basil and tossed them in some really good balsamic vinegar.  We toasted some yummy dark, Russian rye bread and topped it with the beet mixture and a good drizzle of olive oil.  It was good, but I made way too much!  I will be eating beets all week.  :)

This was the the flop of the night.  The radicchio was just WAY too bitter.  It was nice and creepy looking though.  I didn’t take a stand alone photo of it, but you can see it in the overall shot below.

This came out super yummy!  I was nervous because wild rice can be tricky - too chewy or too nutty - but it thankfully cooked perfectly and all the flavor married well together.  Also, I replaced the chicken stock with mushroom to keep it vegetarian - I highly recommend doing that, I think the added mushroom flavor was part of why it tasted so good.  And the whole dish was a great base for the short ribs.

This recipe is fantastic!  The ribs are cooked slowly and they get so tender.  And with all the veggies and the wine, the sauce it very flavorful.  Plus, it’s better if you cook it a day before so that saves some time on party day.


Chocolate cake with brown sugar caramel pastry cream, whipped cream, and toffee
For the cake… I had something in my head that I wanted and I wasn’t finding it.  I thought about this recipe, but I was afraid the molasses would be too strong.  Then I saw this cake and this cake and I liked the look of them, but I still wanted a darker cake.  And I still wanted a little of the molasses flavor.  So, I used this chocolate cake recipe - which really is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had.  It’s a pretty easy cake to make, despite it’s numerous ingredients.  It is SO moist and SO flavorful!  I then decided on a brown sugar. molasses caramel pastry cream for the center and a little on top.  And I wanted the “piled high” look, so I did just a basic, stabilized, vanilla whipped cream.  I also added toffee pieces and drizzled chocolate on top, which gave it a nice crunch.  I was really pleased with how it came out.  The flavors were exactly what I wanted.

Chocolate cake with brown sugar caramel pastry cream, whipped cream, and toffee

Serves: 8-12

- Brown Sugar Molasses Caramel Pastry Cream
-- 1 1/2 cups Half And Half
-- 1/2 cup Sugar
-- 1/4 cup Flour
-- 1/4 tsp Salt
-- 4 large Egg Yolks, room temp
-- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract, or vanilla paste or almond paste
-- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
-- 1/4 cup half-and-half
-- 2 tablespoons butter
-- Pinch salt
-- 1 1/2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
-- 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Stabilized whipped cream
-- 16 oz heavy cream
-- ¼ cup powdered sugar
-- 2 teaspoons gelatin or vegetarian gelatin
--8 teaspoons water
-- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Other Ingredients
-- Toffee pieces
-- ½ cup dark chocolate chips

Make cake according to cake recipe
Make pastry cream:
- Make caramel by mixing the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until it gets thicker. Add the molasses and vanilla and cook another couple of minutes to dissolve molasses and thicken further.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Warm the half and half in the saucepan until you start to see wisps of steam. It should not actually be boiling.
- Make the Egg-Sugar Base: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the egg yolks and whisk them into the dry ingredients.
- Once combined, pour a little of the hot half and half into the eggs and whisk to combine. Continue pouring the half and half  slowly into the eggs, whisking continuously.  NOTE: be sure not to let the egg/sugar mix sit too long before pouring in the half and half.
- When all the half and half has been added to the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan.
- Set the pan back over medium heat. Whisk constantly. At first, the pastry cream will look very thin and frothy, but it will start to thicken after a few minutes. When it has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, pause whisking every few seconds to see if the cream has come to a boil. If you see large bubbles popping on the surface, whisk for a few more seconds and then remove the pan from heat.
- Stir the vanilla and caramel into the pastry cream.  Make sure the caramel is cooled first.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.  NOTE: cover with plastic wrap that is touching the top of the pastry cream to avoid a skin forming.
Make whipped cream:
- Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of plain gelatin into 8 teaspoons of cold water. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to allow the gelatin to absorb the water.
- Microwave 5-10 seconds and allow to cool.
- Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, but not get completely cold. The gelatin mixture should still be in liquid form.
- In a bowl, whip 2 cups heavy cream until it is barely stiff. Add the powdered sugar and whisk a little more to combine.  Add cooled gelatin to the cream in a steady stream, while continuously stirring.
- Whip the gelatin into the cream until soft peaks are formed
Assemble Cake:
- Take one cake layer and spread ¾ of the pastry cream on top
- Spread over cake layer but leave about an inch around outside because top layer will squish pastry cream out
- Sprinkle with toffee pieces
- Top with second cake layer
- Spread the remaining ¼ of pastry cream in a thin layer over top
- Pile on whipped cream and swirl to make a nice, peaked whipped cream mound
- Top with more toffee pieces
- Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30 second intervals until melted.  Be careful not to heat too much - I did 30 seconds and then 15 and that was enough.  I had a few chunky pieces left and just stirring it melted them.
- Drizzle chocolate over whole cake and allow to run down side

Halloween Food Spread

Monday, July 8, 2013

Island Mint Iced Tea

For July 4th this year I had it in my head to do a meal with a summery beach/tropical/island feel to it.  Most of my dishes were straight from recipes online.. focaccia with caramelized leeks (see below for more on this), green goddess dip with crudites, backyard jerk chicken (although we broiled it instead of grilling), grilled swordfish with cilantro, lemony olive roasted potatoes, summer creamed corn (see below for more on this), and key lime pie.

When planning the menu, I had an idea in mind for a drink, but I could find nothing online that sounded like what I wanted - I wanted something refreshing but everything was too fruity.  So Michael and I tested some ideas and the very first one we tried was spot on.  I LOVE this drink.  I’ve had one almost every night since the 4th.  It was just perfect - refreshing and light, but with a tropical twist.  And I’ve realized that I love cachaca!  It’s such a yummy rum.

Island Mint Iced Tea
(Makes 1 drink)

2 parts Mint & Honey Tea (we used Sweet Leaf)
1 part pineapple juice
Juice of ½ a lime
1 oz of Cachaca

Fill glass with ice, add tea, then pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, rum and stir well.  Garnish with pineapple wedge.

Go sit on a beach (or pretend you’re sitting on one) and relax.  :)


I wanted to post the focaccia and the corn because those were my other favorite dishes.  For the focaccia I used this base recipe and then topped with caramelized leeks, fresh dill, fresh chives and WAY too much salt.  I used the large crystal salt and went a little overboard, but I really liked the basic flavors and the basic bread dough.  I was light with just the right chewiness.

And finally, the corn.  Oh My.  I did not think this dish would be this good.  I wanted to do a corn dish because corn is in season and what I'd seen at the grocery looked so good.  This dish has just a slight amount of cream and the lime juice makes it so light and fresh, with this tartness that you don’t usually get with corn.  And the pinch of cayenne was just enough to give it this little kick.  It was incredibly addictive and I may have to make it again this weekend.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Strawberry Cake Trifle

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve had a goal of recreating the strawberry cake my Maw Maw always made for my birthday, but from scratch.  I feel like I’ve accomplished that goal and I’m happy with my recipe.  But I have another version of the strawberry birthday cake that I came up with quite some years ago that I use for parties or potlucks because the original cake doesn’t travel very well.  This version uses most of the ingredients of the original (boxed cake mix, strawberry jello, vanilla pudding), but I’ve turned it into a trifle.  It’s super easy to make, pretty tasty and moist and perfect for a summer gathering.

Strawberry Cake Trifle

1 box Pillsbury Strawberry cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 (4 serving size) strawberry jello mix
1 pint strawberries, sliced (save a few large one for top)
8 oz whipped cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large package vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk

Make vanilla pudding according to package directions

Whip cream with powdered sugar and vanilla

Combine vanilla pudding and whipped cream, set aside

Dissolve gelatin in 1/2 amount of water called for in package

Take cooled cake and crumble on bottom of trifle bowl

Drizzle with gelatin

Cover with whipped pudding mixture

Cover with sliced strawberries


Cover top layer with big strawberries

New Orleans Jambalaya

This is a fairly traditional, New Orleans jambalaya recipe.  I got the original recipe from my brother in law and I’ve tweaked it slightly.  It’s super easy and delicious!  And much better than the store bought variety.

New Orleans Jambalaya

Makes approx. 8 cups

2 cups converted white rice (must use converted)
16 fl oz onion soup
16 fl oz chicken broth
1 (14 oz) can tomato sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1" cubes
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup celery, sliced
2 stalks green onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp season all seasoning (or creole seasoning)
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 350. In a large, oven proof dutch oven, fry sausage for just a few mins to get crispy.  After about 5-8 mins, add all other ingredients and stir to combine.

Bake @ 350 for 1 1/2 hours. Stir every 1/2 hour for the first hour and every 15 mins for the last 1/2 hour.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cauliflower “Dirty Rice”

For months now I’ve been seeing all of these recipes for replacing various grains with grated cauliflower.  I like these recipes because 1) I LOVE cauliflower! and 2) it’s so very healthy.

I finally decided to try one but the problem was, nothing I had saved/pinned to try had quite what I was looking for.  So, I kind of made it up.

It was super easy and super delicious!  I was going for a “rice-a-roni” flavor, but it came out more like a dirty rice.  My husband thought it tasted like Popeyes dirty rice, so that’s what I’m calling it.  In fact, he was several bites into it before he realized there was no actual rice in the dish.

I have since investigated rice-a-roni flavoring and I want to try again with different spices and herbs.  I also want to try a Mexican style rice with maybe chorizo and chili powder.  Honestly, I want to replace rice with cauliflower in just about everything.  It was that good.

And the best part, the entire dish (the whole bowl you see below) is only 300 calories!!  That is my kind of dish!

Cauliflower “Dirty Rice”
Yield 5 cups

1 tsp Butter
1/4 cup Chicken Stock
1 tsp Chicken Bouillon
1/2 Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, chopped
1 Bell Pepper, chopped
3/4 head Cauliflower
1 tsp Dried Parsley
1 1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Poultry Seasoning, (or dried thyme)
1/2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Seasoning Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

Dissolve bouillon in stock and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds to dissolve the bouillon.  Set aside.

Melt butter in pan

Add onion, carrots, bell pepper and stock mixture to pan and cook veggies until translucent.  About 5 minutes.

Add cauliflower and cook until slightly tender - 5 more minutes

Add all the seasoning and cook for a few minutes more until everything is nicely melded.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Catch up...

I’ve gotten a bit behind on the blog.  The holidays always overwhelm me.  Here are some of the things I’ve made over the past few months....

Crispy Cauliflower With Turkey, Capers, Raisins, And Breadcrumbs
- This was adapted from this recipe
- I added ½ pound ground turkey
- I decreased the olive oil to 1-2 tablespoons
- I decreased the breadcrumbs to ¼ cup, but I think next time I will skip the breadcrumbs altogether
- I used balsamic, worcestershire, and poultry seasoning for seasoning
- I added a splash of broth and a few flavored vinegars (cider, oregano, balsamic)
- It was higher in calories than I wanted, but I think I have a few areas where I can adjust
- Really, you could add just about any herbs and seasoning to this

Winterized Greek Salad
- This was adapted from this recipe
- It was delicious!
- I wanted to use this as a weeknight salad, so I needed to get the calories down to about 100 cals per serving.  So...

- I sauteed the sprouts in chicken broth instead of oil (not as crispy, but still tasty)
- And I skipped the cheese

Pumpkin Chai cookies
- This was the recipe
- I think these would be better with a pumpkin frosting
- The cookie is good and moist but not very sweet.  It’s a little cakey, almost like a scone

We also had an Inter holiday dinner (since we weren’t here for Thanksgiving).  I pretty much followed all of these recipes exactly.
Baked Brie and Cranberry Sauce (Incredibly good and easy!  This will become a staple on my Thanksgiving table from now on)

Mushroom dressing (Also, very good.  I did use a rosemary bread for a little more flavor)

Turkey Wellington (Jamie Oliver recipe... this was very good, but so complicated to make that I think I would prefer just doing a basic turkey)

Double chocolate mint cookies (Really yummy, esp if you like chocolate and mint!)

Gingerbread Trifle (I think this was my favorite of the night!  Everything about it was perfect - a really well put together recipe from Martha Stewart)

I have started making holiday cookie bags for family and friends.  Here is what I made this year:
Peppermint Chocolate Cake Balls (Devil’s Food chocolate cake, Dark chocolate frosting, peppermint patties)

Salted caramel and chocolate chip cookies (these were ok... not my favorite - cookie was a bit dry and crunchy)

Fruitcake Cookies (This was my favorite of the three.  It’s a good recipe with a nice, soft cookie that’s not overly sweet, which I find nice in the middle of the holidays when everything is sweet)

Finally, for New Year’s Eve/Day, I made the traditional foods...
Black-Eyed Peas (Texas Caviar - black-eyed peas, yellow and green bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion, lime juice, green onion, and cilantro),

Cabbage (Cabbage and Olive Salad),

and ham (Fried Spam - yes, Spam.  And it was yummy!!)

I also made:
Beer and Cheddar Bread (and yes it is THAT good!!  wow - this was so yummy!!)

And Snow Pudding (this seemed like the perfect winter dessert and it was - light and snow like and perfectly sweet)