Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pesto Pasta with Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Quick and easy pasta dishes are a staple when you are a young professional. A lot of times I get home and while I want a good dinner, just don't feel like cooking a lot. This dish is super simple to make, and is ready in under 15 minutes.

Start with frozen brussel sprouts (I use the ones in a butter sauce), and defrost in the microwave until you are able to cut through them. The beauty of this is that they also take much less time to cook in general. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the brussel sprouts open  and place on a cookie sheet. If you do not have a butter sauce already on them, brush them with melted butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder and roast in the oven 10-15 min until they start to brown a bit. These brussel sprouts are also yummy as a side dish to a meat.

For the pasta, toss angel hair with the pesto of your choice. When the roasted brussel sprouts are finished toss into the pasta mixture. Serve topped with fresh grated parmesan.

Pumpkin Pancakes

These pancakes remind me of eating pumpkin pie for breakfast. I never loved pumpkin when I was younger, but in recent years I have really come to love the flavor. Once I discovered that pumpkin was a healthy and moist (and delicious!) ingredient in baking, it was a free-for-all. I've made pumpkin cookies, donuts, muffins, bread, and now...pancakes. I love traditional pancakes and how easy they are to make. These were quick and easy, perfect for a Sunday morning. Here's what you need:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
a dash of salt
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
*1/8 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Make sure you have preheated and greased a griddle for the pancakes. Start the batter by mixing the dry ingredients together, then add in the wet ingredients. It is important not to overmix pancakes as they will get tough. Once you have your batter all set, drop by 1/3 cups onto griddle. I used the back of my measuring cup to flatten it out a bit. Because the pumpkin is a thick consistency, it takes much longer to cook through than a normal pancake. These will take a few minutes on each side on medium-low heat. 

Serve with real maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream. The whipped cream really gives that pumpkin pie taste and is great for dipping. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Candy Corn Cupcakes

Candy Corn Cupcakes
My sister loves all things candy corn. She eats bags and bags of Brach's best every year. Her birthday also happens to fall in October, so I had been planning months in advance to make her candy corn cupcakes. The idea sounded too cute not to try out at some point, and this was obviously the perfect opportunity. Due to some poor planning on my part, and a Saturday morning wake-up that left me not feeling too well, I was rushed when I made my first attempt at these guys. Generally I leave myself hours to perfect a new cupcakes, but it just wasn't meant to be with these. They were however a great learning experience.

They were a learning experience for two reasons: 1) I used a white cake recipe that I found online and then doctored to my tastes, but had never made before 2) I have never died cake with food coloring before, ever.

Too make the cupcakes you make a white cake batter and then divide it in two equal parts, food coloring is added to make one yellow, one orange. I dyed all of the batter yellow, took out half, and added a few drops of red coloring to the remainder. They are then frosted in white, giving the appearance of the layered sugar in candy corn. 

All in all, the cupcakes tasted pretty good. I used a basic white cake which you can find here, I made sure to use whole milk, which tends to help out in baking. I also substituted maple syrup for vanilla extract and added about a teaspoon of almond. I really love adding a touch of almond to a plain cake as it gives it a little flair. With these I think any flavoring would work to spice it up, and had I thought about it with more time to spare I probably would have tried a marshmallow flavoring and really made them taste like candy corn. In any case I ended up making an almond cake with my regular buttercream frosting (and plenty of it!)

The layers of color were a bit too subtle.
Things I would do differently: The cake was slightly dry for my taste, so I think that if I were to use it again I would add in a little sour cream to moisten it up even more. Also, like I said, I would play with other flavorings. I would also be more heavy handed on the food coloring. I was hesitant to go too dark as I wasn't sure what would happen when they baked, but as you can see, they were subtle in coloring. I used basic gel coloring that you can buy at a grocery store, but think I would have been better off with the more concentrated colors that come from baking supply shops. The picture makes it slightly harder to see than in real life as well. In this case, I was short on time and afraid to wreck my batter by adding too much red coloring. Overall I think that they were a super quick and fun cupcake that will be much improved the second time around.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Healthy Alfredo Sauce

Trying to eat healthy when you have an intense love for cheese is not always the easiest task. A couple of nights ago I wanted mac and cheese, but did not have any of the delicious box kind (I only buy organic, so it's practically healthy). I decided to make due with some makeshift ingredients that I had in the house. I had fresh broccoli and some shells, and decided to make them in a makeshift alfredo sauce. The end result was a serendipitously delicious meal. Here's what I used, in rough estimates as I threw things in without measuring:

Alfredo Sauce
Fresh parmesan is always a great topper!

1/3 cup reduced fat 4 cheese italian mix (shredded cheese)
2 tbsp. fat free cream cheese
1/4 cup skim milk
1 tsp. butter
dash of salt

Melt the ingredients together in a small sauce pan and cook over low heat until it thickens up a bit. 

As a side note: I boiled the shells while double boiler steaming the broccoli above it, which while not recommended, did work and conserve some space and time. 

Homemade Croutons

When it gets chilly, I love chili! And the perfect topping for a warm bowl of chili is garlic, parmesan croutons. While I am not a fan of store-bought croutons, when I make them myself not only are they healthier, but way tastier as well. 

Chili with plenty of croutons!
Never made croutons yourself? Try it out! They are super simple and a quick topper four soups and salads. My brother actually just eats them as a snack. I recommend starting with a few slices of bakery bread that is a couple of days past fresh. Croutons are also an excellent way to not waste those last few pieces that tend to get forgotten at the end of a loaf. Slice up the bread into squares somewhere between 1/2-1" and put them in a largish bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and toss the bread squares so that they have some oil on them. Sprinkle the bread with garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Lay the croutons on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 min. I recommend flipping the croutons a couple of times while cooking so that both sides get crunchy. 

Serve over your favorite dinner dish and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roasted Green Beans

One of my favorite, quick side dishes are roasted green beans. They make a nice side for anything from pasta to a grilled cheese. The best part about this chameleon side dish is that it is super easy to make.

Ready to go in the oven!
Here's how:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Wash and cut ends off of fresh green beans
3. Toss green beans in 1-2 tbsp. of olive oil
4. Sprinkled with salt and pepper (also experiment with things like garlic powder, adobo, or parmesan)
5. Spread the beans out on a cookie sheet and bake for ~15 min, turning them over half-way through cooking
6. Try not to scarf them all down too fast

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cake Golf Balls

Bucket O' Balls
Recently, while making dessert for my brother-in-laws birthday party, I decided to give cake balls a go. I wanted to make something golf themed as he is a big golfer and had seen some cake pops shaped like golf balls. I figured I could do something similar and just make the balls. I did some looking around on the internet, but did not want to order golf ball chocolate molds because I did not have enough time for them to ship. I ended up remembering that there is a local baking supply place and voila! they had the exact things I needed for my foray into cake balls. If you are looking for baking supplies online (or in the Albany area) check out The Confectionary House, it is really great and has TONS of selection. So once I had my golf ball chocolate mold and some white chocolate disks for melting, I was ready to go. 

If you have not been introduced to cake balls (Do you live under a rock? Just kidding, kinda.) they are made by combining cake and frosting and then are generally dipped/covered in a variety of chocolate and decorations. You bake a cake in a pan and then cut off the edges so that you don't have any of the crumbly part. From there you can have some fun and crumble the cake in a large bowl. You can either make or buy frosting (for the record I do not believe in canned frosting) and combine the two to create a soft dough. I recommend using almost equal parts cake and frosting so that they really stick together. Roll the dough into a ball of about one inch diameter and you are ready to dip in chocolate. Cake balls can be made with any combination of cake and frosting. I personally enjoy making them with cream cheese frosting because white chocolate can make the cake balls extremely sweet. Cream cheese frosting and a less sweet cake can help to balance that out. For the golf balls I used a cinnamon cake with cream cheese frosting.

How to make the golf balls:
1. Prep the cake balls as described above. Place on non-stick cookie sheet, or parchment paper. Make sure to refrigerate the cake balls well so that they are solid.
2. Melt small amounts of white chocolate at a time and fill each half golf ball about 1/2 full with melted chocolate. Place cake ball in the chocolate and press down until the chocolate fills the half-ball mold to the top. You may have to wipe off some excess around the edges.
3. Allow these to harden well in the fridge. 
4. Pop the cooled halves out and refill the molds 1/2 way. Complete the golf ball by dipping the hardened half into the melted chocolate. This takes a little practice to get the right amount of chocolate in the molds to fill appropriately. 
5. Allow the finished golf balls to cool. Use a sharp paring knife to trim any extra chocolate around the seam, in order to create a smooth appearance around the middle.
6. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve/display.
7. Enjoy!