Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Carrot Cake

We were having my sister and her boyfriend over for dinner, and she had told me that he really liked carrot cake. I had been sitting on this Alton Brown recipe for a while and was excited to give it a shot. I had never had carrot cake before. I'm not an enormous fan of carrots, and, especially when I was younger, the thought of them in my dessert was entirely unpleasant.

Boy, was I wrong. This was awesome. I know cream cheese frosting makes pretty much anything tasty, but I really enjoyed the cake even by itself (I taste-tested a couple of parts I carved off to make the cake more even before frosting it). And, as expected, it made Jonathan extremely happy. He's always a fan of my cakes that include a vegetable element.

The only thing I changed from the original recipe is that I cut the cake in half to make it a layer cake. I feel like making a cake a layer cake makes it that much more special. And, of course, you get an extra little frosting bonus in the process.

Edited to add: I made this recipe into cupcakes. I baked them for about 25 minutes. Here is the yummy result that we enjoyed for Benjamin's 7th birthday.


Carrot Cake
A variation on this recipe by Alton Brown


Unsalted butter, for the pan
12 ounces, approximately 2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan
12 ounces grated carrots, medium grate, approximately 6 medium
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/3 cups
2 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup firmly packed
3 large eggs
6 ounces plain yogurt
6 ounces vegetable oil
Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round and 3-inch deep cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Put the carrots into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for 5 seconds. Add this mixture to the carrots and toss until they are well-coated with the flour.

In the bowl of the food processor combine the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and yogurt.

With the processor still running drizzle in the vegetable oil. Pour this mixture into the carrot mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F and bake for another 20 minutes or until the cake reaches 205 to 210°F in the center.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow cake to cool 15 minutes in the pan. After 15 minutes, turn the cake out onto a rack and allow cake to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, cut cake in half lengthwise. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on the bottom layer, cut side up, and then place top layer on, cut side down. Frost the cake with remaining frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 ounces powdered sugar, sifted, approximately 2 cups

In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter on medium just until blended. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. With the speed on low, add the powdered sugar in 4 batches and beat until smooth between each addition.

Place the frosting in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes before using.

Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Roast

This could have been really really good. But when I went to check the internal temperature, like I had been taught, I stuck my meat thermometer in the thickest part of the roast... Which, turned out, happened to be in a hunk of dark meat right at the top of the roast. So I kept cooking it to bring it to the proper temperature, very successfully drying the heck out of the light meat and making it extremely tough. Not even the pan juices helped to make the meat even slightly moist again.

This dish will be attempted again, with hopefully much more successful results. At least the pancetta was nice and crispy...

Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Roast
Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis


8 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) tied boneless pork loin roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine

Blend the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and oil in a small food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the garlic is minced.

Sprinkle the pork roast generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the pancetta slices on a work surface, overlapping slightly and forming a rectangle. Spread half of the garlic mixture over 1 side of the pork and between the 2 loins that meet in the center of the tied pork roast. Place the pork, garlic mixture side down, in the center of the pancetta rectangle. Spread the remaining garlic mixture over the remaining pork. Wrap the pancetta slices around the pork. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Pour 1/2 cup of broth and 1/2 cup of wine into the roasting pan. Add more broth and wine to the pan juices every 20 minutes. Roast the pork until a meat thermometer inserted into the center registers 145°F for medium-rare, about 1 hour. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Tent with aluminum foil and let stand for 10 minutes. Pour the pan drippings into a glass measuring cup and spoon off any fat that rises to the top.

Using a large sharp carving knife, cut the pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices and serve with the pan juices.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas

These are delicious. And really easy to make.

The only thing I changed from the original recipe is adding some time to let the mixture simmer enough to thicken it up before rolling it up in the tortillas. I read the reviews that other people hadn't done that and ended up with really liquidy enchiladas. By letting it simmer a bit, the mixture was thick enough to hold the enchiladas together a little more successfully.

Edited to add: This recipe can be made into a vegetarian dish very easily. I omitted the chicken and instead added a can of drained and rinsed black beans and an entire chopped green pepper rather than the original 1/3 cup. The filling could probably stand another can of black beans, but it was very good even with just the one can.

Chicken Enchiladas
A variation on this recipe from allrecipes.com


4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 onion, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
8 (10-inch) flour tortillas
1 (12-ounce) jar taco sauce
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC).

In a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook chicken until no longer pink and juices run clear. Drain excess fat. Cube the chicken and return it to the skillet. Add the onion, black beans, sour cream, Cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano and ground black pepper. Heat until cheese melts. Stir in salt, tomato sauce, water, chili powder, green pepper and garlic. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

Roll even amounts of the mixture in the tortillas. Arrange in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover with taco sauce and 3/4 cup Cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


A good friend of mine just got engaged and is having her engagement party this weekend, Valentine's Day weekend. So I thought this was a very appropriate time to try my hand at homemade marshmallows that I could conveniently cut into heart shapes and give as an engagement/Valentine's Day gift to her and her fiancé. They are quite tasty, and I'm looking forward to using the scraps in hot cocoa and maybe in some s'mores.

Edited to add: The s'mores were delicious. Here's a picture:

Courtesy of All You


1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons plain gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Red food coloring, optional

In a bowl, mix cornstarch and confectioners' sugar. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, then dust with some of the cornstarch mixture, reserving the rest. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into a bowl; sprinkle gelatin on top.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil. Continue cooking until mixture registers 260ºF on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and, with an electric mixer running on medium-high speed, pour into bowl with gelatin mixture.

Continue beating until mixture has quadrupled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla, then add food coloring, if desired, drop by drop, until marshmallow is desired shade of pink. Continue beating for 4 minutes longer, then transfer marshmallow to prepared baking pan. Working quickly, use a silicone spatula or long offset spatula to spread marshmallow before it sets. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Sift some of remaining cornstarch mixture over a baking sheet. Lift marshmallow from the pan in one single sheet, placing it face down on cornstarch-sugar mixture. Use a lightly greased heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut marshmallow, dusting edges of hearts as you go with more of remaining cornstarch-sugar mixture to prevent them from sticking. Marshmallows will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cream Cheese Lasagna

I just can't seem to get used to ricotta in lasagna. I like ricotta in baked goods, but it just doesn't work for me in lasagna. So I'm always on the look-out for lasagnas that use different cheeses. The cream cheese was okay, but I don't think I'll be making it again. It may have been better with the Swiss cheese, but I realized right as I was starting to make it that I hadn't gotten it, so I used some Asiago that I had in the fridge instead. I also only used sausage since we don't do a lot of beef around here. It tasted good, but eh.

Cream Cheese Lasagna
A variation on this recipe from Taste of Home

1 1/2 pounds bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (15 ounces each) tomato sauce
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
9 no-cook lasagna noodles
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Asiago cheese

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the beef, sausage, onion and garlic until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Spread 1 cup sauce in a greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish. Top with three noodles. Drop a third of the cream cheese by teaspoonfuls over the top. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2/3 cup each of Parmesan and Swiss; spoon a third of the remaining sauce over the top. Repeat layers of noodles, cheeses and sauce twice (dish will be full). Place dish on a baking sheet.

Cover and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pesto Minestrone Soup

Good stuff. Especially when you're sick and it's bitterly cold outside.

Pesto Minestrone Soup
Courtesy of crockpot365.blogspot.com

1 large onion, diced
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, sliced
1 yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 pound (any variety) potatoes, cut in 1-inch chunks (no need to peel)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans beans (undrained; your choice, I used cannellini)
1 (11-ounce) container prepared pesto (or a cup or so homemade)
4 cups chicken broth (can use vegetable)
1 cup frozen peas (to add later)
1 handful baby spinach (to add later)

Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Put the veggies into the bottom of your slow cooker and add the entire can of tomatoes and both cans of beans. Pour in the pesto and broth. No additional seasoning is needed. Cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the vegetables have fully cooked and softened and flavors have melded completely. stir well, and add frozen peas and a handful of spinach. Cook on high for another 10-15 minutes or until the peas are fully hot and the spinach has wilted.