Friday, February 27, 2015

Chocolate Strawberries and Cream Cake

Let's clear some things up before I start talking about this cake. I rarely ever bake cakes. And I never make layered cakes. So I really didn't know what I was doing before I made this beauty up there. While I did take one fondant and one cake decorating class a few years back, I don't remember much about the technique, but I do have to say it was pretty fun to put together.
I offered to make a "wedding cake" for a YW mutual activity we were having and I knew it had to look fancy. I knew how to bake a cake, but frosting it was another story. It's so hard to make the frosting look smooth. So I decided to make some ganache to pour on top to cover some of my mistakes. Ha! And also because ganache is delicious.
Strawberries seemed to go perfectly with the ganache so not only did they go on top, but they went in the filling as well. Let's just say this cake turned out better than I even thought it would and it was a real hit at our activity. And it was also SO much easier to make than you would think. Trust me! This is coming from an inexperienced baker.
The best part was I learned some new techniques on how to make a box cake mix better with some simple substitutions. I'm all about making things simple so a box mix works best for me, but they definitely could use some improvement.
I had planned to take a picture of the inside of the cake, but by the end of the night it ended upside down in the lid of my cake stand (in my car...) Thankfully none of it got on the floor of my car, but it wasn't very pretty anymore.

Chocolate Strawberries and Cream Cake
Adapted from Rachael Ray and AllRecipes
Cake
1 (15.25 oz.) white cake mix (I prefer Pilsbury)
ingredients needed on the back of the box 
*Substitute milk for water & Substitute melted butter for oil (to make cake more moist)
*granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 strawberries, chopped for filling
10 strawberries, sliced for topping 

1. Preheat oven and follow instructions on the cake mix box to make the cake batter. Stir in vanilla until combined. Prepare 2 (8 or 9-inch) round pans by lightly coating them with baking spray or using butter and a flour dusting. (This is very important so the cakes come clean out of the pan.) 
2. Pour batter into pans and sprinkle with a small amount of granulated sugar to prevent the cakes from rising too much. Place in oven and bake for allotted time written on the cake mix box.
3. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, remove cakes from oven and let cool before removing from pan. Cool cake completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the powdered sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Chocolate Ganache
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power for 1 minute to soften chocolate; set aside.
2. In a small microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, heat the half-and-half on high power just until it begins to bubble and show signs of boiling, about 30 seconds to a minute. 
3. Pour hot half-and-half over chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Whisk vigorously until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth and velvety. Add vanilla and whisk to combine. Set bowl aside for about 5 minutes, allowing ganache to cool and thicken a bit.

Cake Assembly
1. Top bottom layer of cake with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting for the filling using a metal icing spatula. Place chopped strawberries evenly on filling and place second layer of cake on top.
2. Finish frosting the entire cake by placing a generous amount of frosting on top and work your way down.
3. To smooth out the sides, hold your metal icing spatula under hot water, dry off and then carefully run the edge along the sides of the cake until smooth.
4. Whisk ganache mixture briefly before preparing to drizzle it over the cake. Start in the center and pour along the edges of the cake so it will “drip” down the sides. Smooth the ganache with the spatula as desired.

5. Place strawberries on top in pattern as desired. Store cake in refrigerator.                  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cheese Ravioli with Lemon Basil Butter Sauce

This sounds pretty fancy, doesn't it? It tastes fancy, but is probably one of the easiest things to make and one of our new favorite pasta dishes. Fresh basil is my new best friend and combined with lemon? Yummy. It is one fabulous herb.
This butter sauce is lighter than you would imagine and makes you feel like you're eating at a classy restaurant. But of course, it's always better to be eating at home in your comfy clothes.

Cheese Ravioli with Lemon Basil Butter Sauce
Slightly Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
20 oz. cheese ravioli
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Extra basil for garnish, optional

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a pinch of salt and cook ravioli according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. While the ravioli is cooking, make the butter sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Pour the ravioli in a serving bowl. Pour lemon basil butter sauce over the ravioli and stir gently to combine. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and extra basil, if desired. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grilled Greek Chicken Gyro and Tzatziki Sauce


I seriously LOVE Greek food. Give me a gyro over a burger any day! Or something like this will do, too.

Ever since I watched Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants almost 10 years ago (what??), I have been dying to go to Greece. The views are unreal and the culture is so intriguing to me. And if the food is anything like it is here in the States (or better I'm sure) I'm all for it. One day...

Anywho, this idea of GRILLED Greek chicken is amazing and the tzatziki is great as well.
Like I've said previously, I'm a HUGE fan of feta and I cannot get enough. It's my favorite cheese. No contest.

Be sure to try this recipe out! Especially if you live in the West and it's warm enough to grill. Such an odd winter!

Grilled Greek Chicken Gyro and Tzatziki Sauce
Adapted from Creole Contessa
2 large boneless chicken breasts
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried dill
6 pitas, warmed
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
tomato slices, red onion slices, optional

For the Tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt, plain
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 tsp. garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. dried dill

1. Combine garlic, lemon zest, yogurt, oil, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, pepper and dill in a medium bowl. Place chicken in bowl and coat with marinade. Refrigerate and marinate at least an hour.
2. To grill chicken, heat grill and cook about 8-10 minutes per side, until juices run clear and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove from grill and allow to rest at least 5 minutes.
To Prepare Tzatziki Sauce:
3. Grate seeded cucumber and combine with remaining ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Slice chicken breasts into thin strips and serve in warmed pitas. Top with Tzatziki sauce and crumbled feta. Top with additional veggies if desired. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fresh Broccoli Pasta Salad

We all know about fresh broccoli salad, right? Crisp, crunchy broccoli dressed in a sweet and creamy dressing topped with bacon, etc. It sounds downright terrible if you really think about it, but it's completely opposite. It's perfect. Every time.

This is one of those dishes I know I have tried in the past at various family get togethers and know that I love it, but I've never got around to making it myself.
Then one day I needed to make a quick side dish for a dinner at our neighbor's and could only use what we had around the house. Enter my variation on this classic salad.

Since we are a no-nut family, I nixed the usual nuts, kept the bacon, used craisins instead of raisins and added some feta. Because well, feta makes everything better. I also added two cups of pasta to give it some girth and I loved the addition!

Long story short, this is a new favorite and I will most likely be bringing it to future get togethers. You're welcome. ;)

Fresh Broccoli Pasta Salad
Adapted from All Recipes
2 heads fresh broccoli
2 cups bowtie pasta, cooked
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
3/4 cup craisins
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled feta

Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl, combine with pasta, bacon, craisins and feta.

To prepare the dressing, mix the mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar together until smooth. Stir into the salad until toppings are completely coated with dressing. Let chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hearty Tomato Soup with Parmesan-Crusted Croutons

I honestly cannot believe I'm posting yet ANOTHER tomato soup recipe on this blog. Or tomato anything for that matter. I don't even know who I am anymore. Apparently my tastebuds are growing up finally. It only took a few years...
So onto this soup. Isn't that the prettiest red you've ever seen?? I'm in love with how these pictures turned out. And the soup wasn't too bad either. Another new favorite of my husband and mine.
And the Parmesan-crusted croutons aren't too bad of an idea either. Actually they're an amazing idea and I'm trying to think of anyway I can incorporate them into every meal. SUPER easy to make, too.
This soup is hearty, but you can decide how thick or smooth you want it to be, and it has a great rich flavor. Make sure to have some bread, croutons or a grilled cheese on hand to use as a dipper to get the full effect.
You will not be disappointed.

Hearty Tomato Soup with Parmesan-Crusted Croutons
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Servings: 6
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 (14.5 oz.) cans whole tomatoes
16 oz. chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

Croutons
1/2 whole baguette, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat, then add onion, garlic, and carrots. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir, cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Add canned tomatoes with their juice, broth, and water. Stir together and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
2. Use an immersion blender to puree, still leaving some texture to the tomatoes. Add half and half, salt, pepper, and basil; simmer for another 5 minutes.
3. To make the croutons, drizzle baguette rounds lightly with olive oil. Place Tablespoon sized piles of Parmesan in a nonstick skillet. Place a baguette round on top of each pile. Turn on the heat to medium. Press with a spatula as you melt the cheese into each round. When set, flip to the other side to toast.
4. Serve soup with one or two croutons on top and a little bit of basil.