Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Panna Cotta with Homemade Strawberry Syrup

I saw a picture of this on Handle the Heat and decided that I had to try it because it just looked so pretty. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Panna Cotta here is some background, but it is basically an Italian dessert with cream, sugar and gelatin. As much as this sounds like it is just creamy jello, it is much more than that. Being someone who can not stand any kind of whipped cream or cool whip with her jello, this is a delicious combination of creamy, sweet and firm, similar to a custard.

It was incredibly easy to make and kept well in the fridge. The tough part was getting it out of the cup smoothly, it definitely has to be sprayed well with cooking spray so that it comes out easier. I would also suggest halving the recipe since it made way more than I could eat. I also used some homemade strawberry syrup that I had canned in May when the berries were coming in. I liked the taste and texture of the whole berries and the cream together.

Panna Cotta Recipe from Handle the Heat

Friday, June 24, 2011

Best Chocolate Cake EVER

I have found the recipe for the best chocolate cake EVER, and I really do mean to capitalize "ever". I found the recipe on Desserts for Breakfast, a great food blog, and followed the recipe exactly. The cake was rich and chocolaty without being too sweet. I mean there are almost 8oz. of chocolate alone in the icing!

I would post pictures, however I am going to just let you rely on the images from where I got the recipe. I didn't finish putting it all together until 9pm and by then it was too dark to get the natural light I needed for a good pic, but trust me, mine looked just like the pics on the blog. The icing was shiny and smooth while the cake was dark and very moist.

Here are a few warnings/tips if you make this cake, which I highly suggest! First, the icing really does need to stay cold/cool to spread and actually stay on the cake. I stuck mine in the fridge to cool down, but not to the point that it was solid. You should still be able to stir it and it should look shiny.
I made the mistake of letting the cake sit in the car on my way home from work while I ran into the store to grab more flour and sugar (I ran out... imagine that!). In the heat, the icing ran down the sides of the cake and ended up pooling on the plate.

Second, I used two 9" round pans and it just barely fit. I was lucky that it did not run over into the oven, but I would probably do the same again. I also only cooked it for the minimum amount of time listed... since my oven is finicky.

Third, I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment instead of flouring it (which I hate to do) and it came out just fine.

Really, give this cake a just might cry it is so good!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Family Reunion and Berry Trifle

This past Sunday was spent getting together for our annual family reunion. It was wonderful to see everyone and spend time outside by the pool. It was an even better surprise to see my sister Emma, who showed up unannounced from Ithaca! She is fabulously talented and always busy with work, so it was nice to be able to catch up with her and her boyfriend.

One of the best parts of the reunion of course is the food. When I was much younger the family would get together at a park and there would be rows and rows of food, but also many more people. Now that everyone is much more spread out, we just get together at a cousin's house to play frisbee golf, swim and of course eat good food.

My mom offered me the job of cooking/ preparing the food for the day and I was glad to take her up on that offer. So I ended up making the mini caprese salad, a berry trifle, and Mediterranean pasta salad.

The berry trifle was a huge hit so here is the recipe. I found this by searching online for a trifle recipe, however I do not really follow the recipe, I really just needed some ideas. So this is my variation on what I found.

Berry Trifle

1 box vanilla pudding
1 orange
1 c. milk
1 c. sour cream
2 c. whipped topping (or whipped cream)
3 c. blue berries (I just buy 2 boxes at the store, or use as many as will fit in the dish)
2 c. strawberries sliced
1 pound cake (you could also use angel food cake and other "light" ingredients to make it low fat and low calorie)

Mix milk, sour cream and pudding together in a bowl until blended. Then zest (use a small grater to shave off the skin of the orange, but not the white part) the orange and mix into the pudding. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. I do this over my hand to catch any seeds. Mix well. Finally fold in the 2 cups of whipped topping and place in the fridge.

Wash berries and slice strawberries. Slice the pound cake into small cubes about 1 inch by 1 inch.

Place sliced strawberries around the base of a clear glass trifle bowl or other tall dish. Cover the bottom with a single layer of cake. Next top with 1/3 of the cream mix. Then add a layer of blueberries, cake and 1/3 cream. Next is a layer of the sliced strawberries, cake and cream. That will take me to the top of the bowl. Sometimes I have to mix in the rest of the whipped topping with the last 1/3 of the cream mix to have enough to cover the cake. Finally top with a layer of blueberries. Feel free to vary the layers as you see fit. The first time I made this (see pic above) I was not able to get as many layers in the bowl because I used too much cake.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Eggs in a Basket with Creamed Spinach

I love going into the fridge and coming up with a new twist on an old favorite using what I already have available. So this morning when I was craving something hearty and healthy I decided to make Eggs in a Basket topped with some shredded Gruyere cheese and Creamed spinach. It turned out delicious and was the perfect combination of salty, creamy, and crunchy.

Eggs in a Basket with Creamed Spinach

1 slice of bread
1 egg
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
fist full of spinach leaves
2 tbs. cream
1/4 c. shredded Gruyere cheese (approximate amount; you can also use swiss cheese)

Cut a hole in the middle of the bread slice (I use a 1/3 measuring cup to do it).

Heat pan on medium, add olive oil to coat bottom of the pan. When hot, place bread in pan, slide it around a bit to coat with oil then flip and do that to the other side. This will coat both sides with oil so the bread doesn't stick.
Crack egg into the hole in the bread. You can break the yolk or leave it as is depending on how you like your eggs.
Then add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on that side until the bread is browned and the egg and bread slide easily around the pan.
Very carefully flip the slice of bread and egg. Allow to cook until bread is browned. If you want the yolk more done, then reduce the heat so that it doesn't cook at quickly.
Shred the cheese over top of the egg and bread while it is in the pan.
When done, place bread on a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan and add the spinach. I don't chop the spinach. As it starts to wilt, add the cream and some more salt and pepper. Stir it around in the pan until all the spinach is cooked. The cream might boil a bit, that is okay since it will reduce the liquid. Place ontop of the egg and bread.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Food Swapping

I am a frequent reader of the fabulous food blog Eat the Love, by Irvin. It is his blog that made me aware of the food blogging community and got me started with my own blog. It is so nice to know that I am not alone in my obsession with food!

I recently read his posting about food swapping... and I was completely in love with the concept! The only places that I found online that do this are Brooklyn and possibly DC. I so badly want to try this... any takers?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mini Caprese Salad

Berry Trifle with Orange Cream, Mini Caprese Salads and Chocolate Covered Strawberries (all chocolate dipping was done by a co-worker and so I unfortunately can't take credit for the beautiful platter on the end pic!)

I recently hosted a happy hour for my department for two fabulous women who are retiring. I enjoy hosting as it gives me an excuse to beak out my nice dishes and really give my house a good cleaning. As I was racking my brain for something light and healthy, but also a finger food (two things that don't always go together) when I came across a great idea from Barbara Bakes. She put the mini salad on an entire skewer, but I was looking for something a bit more compact than that. So I decided why not use a toothpick. I bought a container of the mini mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. I stacked a tomato, piece of basil leaf and then a motz ball. They ended up fitting perfectly. I finished with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. They were a huge hit!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pasta a la Leftovers

Let me start by saying that growing up we learned to be very creative in the kitchen. When I would go to a friends house and we would get a snack, I was always amazed at the quantity of food in their fridge. It was not like that at my house. Not that we never had a packed fridge, just that more often than not, it was full of very random things or very little at all. So my sisters and I have basically learned how to create something from just about nothing, or remix leftovers into something completely different.

The best way to do the remix dinner is to start with pasta, something that was always lurking in the back of the pantry. In the summer we could always rely on veggies from the garden to create something delicious.

This evening I did some scrounging in my fridge to put together a tasty dinner since I was just back from a weekend away and the pickings were slim.

Here is what I was able to come up with:
1 zucchini
1/2 a jar of homemade bruschetta (tomatoes, garlic, onion, dried basil)
A sprinkle of fire roasted dried tomato bits
Parmesan Cheese

Everything except for the pasta and parm went into the pan to cook with a bit of olive oil.

I boiled my new fun shaped pasta from Marshall's (they carry the best random food items to cook with). By the time the zucchini was cooked through, but NOT mushy (nothing worse than mushy veggies!) the bruschetta had cooked down to create a thick-ish sauce. I placed that over the drained pasta and topped it with some grated parm cheese and it was tasty, quick and very easy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thank You Apple Pie

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my Memorial Day weekend at the Beach! While it was perfect beach weather, my sister and I were not there just to enjoy the rays, but to also get the beach house in working order for the summer, yard work and some serious cleaning! Needless to say the beach was calling to us and so we were very efficient in our house work.

The weather and beach were fabulous and though it is still not officially summer yet, it sure feels like it now, I don't want to go back to work! But before I get to the food, a word of warning...don't ever use sunblock from the previous summer! Just go out and but a new bottle! I am speaking from a painful experience here. I used a new bottle of the spray stuff on Saturday and came home with a nice tan, but Sunday was a disaster! I used a bottle from last year and slathered the stuff on thinking I would be good to go. Not the case! I ended up cooked anywhere that the sun had not previously been exposed to. So at this point I am sporting a 28 year old Coppertone baby tan line!

Now for the food.

We are fortunate enough to have some fabulous neighbors at the beach who have been mowing the lawn for us since we are not able to get down there regularly. So I was thinking what better way to say "thank you" than to bake something. I was trying to decide what to bake and went back and forth between chocolate chip cookies, muffins, or an apple pie. My decision was made when our Friday "snack" at school had a bunch of extra apples. I took those home with me and carted them "down the ocean" to bake.

This pie was not anything special, I took the short cut with the crust and just used a store bought one, but it was made with lots of thanks in mind. It turned out beautiful and our neighbor Mike said it was great.

Basic Apple Pie
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
8-10 apples (depending on the size you may need more or less, you want enough that the fruit is about 3-4 inches above the edge of the pie pan)
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 tbs. cinnamon
4 tbs. butter
2 store bought pie crust (I will include a recipe for a easy pat-in-pan pie crust soon)

Peel, core and slice all of the apples.

Place the bottom crust in the 8 or 9 inch pie pan. Let the edges of the crust hang over the edges, do not trim them off. Place sliced apples in the crust.

Sprinkle the sugar over the apples evenly.

Do the same with the cinnamon. Then slice the butter and place pats of butter over the cinnamon evenly around the pie.

Now place the second crust over the pie. Use your fingers to roll the bottom crust and top crust together toward the edge of the pie plate so that you are creating a seal between the top and bottom crust. You can then use your thumb and forefingers to create a pinched edge around the pie.

The last step is to cut vents into the top of the crust. Use a sharp knife to cut 4-5 lines in the top crust. This will let the steam out while the apples are cooking and allow the crust to settle with the apples as they cook.

Besides peeling all of the apples by hand, this is a pretty quick and easy way to make a fabulous pie. It is also good to add a few Crasins, raisins or even chopped dried apricots to the sliced apples to give the pie a unique flavor.

Thanks to my lil sis for taking the pics this time. Much easier to have a photographer than balance dirty hands and a camera!