Sunday, March 31, 2013

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Happy Easter everyone!  Since the Easter Bunny eats carrots, I decided to make these carrot cake cupcakes to bring to my Mom's Easter dinner and boy are they delicious! 

For those of you who don't know, I work in the hospitality industry.  Right now I am the Director of Sales at a smaller hotel but my last position was with the Hyatt Regency Princeton.  Although I was in the sales department, anytime I could find an excuse to go hang out in the kitchen, I was there.  With just under 400 rooms and a good amount of meeting space, the kitchen was pretty large.  I loved watching them get ready for large events.  It was like a well oiled machine. When I left the hotel, our head chef gave me a chefs coat as a goodbye gift.  Sometimes I wear it when I'm cooking... It makes me feel special.  

This recipe comes from a friend who was a server at our restaurant in the Hyatt.  I am very grateful that he shared this with me because it is a keeper.  The cupcake is very moist and dense and cream cheese frosting is the perfect compliment.  

On a side note, I used this same recipe to make two 9 inch cakes a few months ago and it didn't turn out too hot.  I don't know what I did wrong but figured I'd warn you.  So just stick with the cupcakes.        

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.  I just love the smell of cinnamon.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of shredded carrots.  I use my food processor to do this as it does the job in record time.  Sirius and Gryffindor like carrots as well.  They were waiting patiently for a few to drop...

All of the wet ingredients in the mixer.  The crushed pineapple really makes these cupcakes extra delicious.

I used pecans but you could also use walnuts.  Save a little to garnish at the end.  

A tip I picked up from Barefoot Contessa a while ago... Use an ice cream scoop to portion out cupcakes and muffins.  You will get the same size every time for even cooking.  

When they come out of the oven, the tops are slightly flat.  Don't be alarmed.  They don't rise like normal cupcakes because they are so dense.  Let these cool completely (I even put mine in the fridge) because you don't want to top hot cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting or it will melt right off. 

You can see the flecks of vanilla bean in the frosting.  That is because I used my fancy-shmancy vanilla bean paste.   Once this is all whipped and the cupcakes are cooled, you are ready to frost!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 1/4 c. vegetable oil
3 c. shredded carrots
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 16oz can crushed pineapple
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/2 c. golden raisins (optional)

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.  

Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl and whisk together until blended.  Set aside.

Add oil, carrots, eggs, vanilla, pineapple,  together in another large bowl and mix until blended.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  This will be a heavy batter.  Do not over mix.  Once mixture is combined, slowly add in nuts and/or raisins.  

Grease and flour pans or line with cupcake tins. Bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  About 20-25 minutes.  

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 t. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until creamy.   Add the vanilla and vanilla bean seeds, then gradually add in the confectioners sugar 1/2 cup at a time.  Mix with a whisk attachment until fluffy.   Store in the refrigerator after use.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna with Cucumber Salad

Matt took me on our fist date in January of 2007.  We went to a restaurant called The Lighthouse right by Sanibel Island.  I ordered a glass of red wine.  He ordered pineapple juice and vanilla vodka... I kid you not. After he ordered his drink and certainly saw the look of shock on my face, he coyly turned to me and said, "What?  It's Paris Hilton's favorite drink!  And it's delicious!". I was smitten.  

This dish reminds me of our first date because I ordered seared ahi tuna, raw.  It was delightful.  It was so good that I INSISTED that Matt try a bite.  After a bit of persuasion, he tried a piece and told me he liked it.  Fast forward to after we had been dating a few months... I ordered raw ahi tuna at another restaurant and tried to make Matt taste it again.   His response... "Hell no!".  He told me that he absolutely hated it and when I made him eat it on our first date, he felt like he was on Fear Factor (like I was making him eat bull testicles or something like that).  

When I think back to that first date, it makes me smile because I now realize how difficult it was for him to take that bite.  But he did.  Because he wanted to impress me.  Now we are going on almost 5 years of marriage and to this day, he has never eaten another bite of raw tuna.  But I still love it so on to this fabulous recipe... 

Mix up the vinaigrette for the cucumber salad first and set aside. 

Fresh veggies for the salad.  Add the vinaigrette right before serving so the veggies don't get too soggy.  

There will be two sauces to serve with the tuna.  This is the sriracha remoulade.  

This is the reduced soy-honey glaze.  

Aren't the black and white sesame seeds pretty?

 The seeds stick beautifully to the raw tuna.  From here, you sear all sides in a pan with a little coconut oil and let rest for 5 minutes.  

Cucumber Salad

1/2 cucumber, sliced thin
1 carrot, grated
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 T. fresh cilantro, chopped

Soy Vinaigrette

1 T. low sodium soy sauce
2 T. rice wine vinegar 
1 T. honey
2 T. coconut or grape seed oil

Prepare vegetables.  Mix soy sauce, vinegar and honey together.  Slowly drizzle in oil and whisk until combined.  Pour over cucumber mixture about 5 minutes before serving.  

Soy-Honey Glaze

1/4 c. low sodium soy sauce
1 t. fish sauce
2 T honey

Heat in a small saucepan over medium high heat and reduce until it forms a thick glaze.  Set aside.  

Sriracha Remoulade

1/2 c. light mayo
1 t. sriracha 
1 t. low sodium soy sauce
1/2 t. fish sauce
1/4 t. sesame oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lime, juiced

Whisk all ingredients together.  Let sit a room temperature until ready to serve.  

Seared Tuna

1/2 lb. ahi tuna
3 T. white sesame seeds
3 T. black sesame seeds
1 T. coconut oil

Preheat coconut oil in a saute pan over medium high heat.  In a deep plate, mix both black and white sesame seeds together. Roll tuna in seeds and pat to set.  Place in pan and sear on all sides.  Be sure to check so the seeds do not burn.  Once all sides have been seared, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Slice tuna and serve with sriracha remoulade and soy-honey glaze drizzled over the top and cucumber salad on side.  Garnish with scallions or cilantro.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Asian Vegetable Soup with Soba Noodles

Back to my soup addiction.  You know when your veggie drawer gets so full and you don't  know if you are going to be able to eat all of them before they go bad?  My answer to that is make soup!  Take-out Asian is so bad for you but it is so easy to make... and you can control what you put in it.   And this was a perfect dinner for the "spring" weather we are having in Cleveland... 25 degrees and snowing! 

From the left; kale, cilantro, red pepper, carrots, shitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger and scallions.  I wait until last minute to throw the scallions and cilantro in the broth so they don't lose their color.  

Soba noodles go in after the veggies have cooked for a bit.  

Asian Vegetable Soup with Soba Noodles

4 c. chicken broth
3 c. water
1 T. low sodium soy sauce
1 t. sriracha sauce
1/2 t. sesame oil
1/2 t. rice wine vinegar
pinch of kosher salt
(Use your own discretion for the portions below)
shitake mushrooms
red bell pepper
soba noodles
1 egg, scrambled

In a soup pot, add broth, water, soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and salt.  Bring to a simmer and add mushrooms, pepper, carrots, ginger, garlic and kale.  Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes

Add soba noodles and cook for another 5-7 minutes until soft.  Bring soup to a rolling boil and slowly drizzle in scrambled egg to cook.  Finally, add scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Herb and Lemon Panko Crusted Salmon

This is one of my go-to meals for the weeknights.  It is so quick and easy and you can make just one portion,  if needed.  I usually have all of the ingredients for the crust in my pantry so a quick stop at the grocery store on my way home for work for some fresh salmon and I am all set.

When choosing your piece of salmon, try to purchase "wild" versus "farm-raised".  You can see a noticeable difference in the color of the wild, as it is a richer, deeper orange and is higher in nutrition.  Here are a few differences between the two:

  • The fat content of farmed salmon is excessively high--30-35% by weight.
  • Wild salmon have a 20% higher protein content and a 20% lower fat content than farm-raised   salmon.
  • Farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats than wild fish.
  • Farm raised salmon are grown in dense-packed pens near ocean shores, fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic PCB chemicals
Once you have your beautiful piece of wild salmon, the entire process from start to finish takes only about 30 minutes.  You can even switch up the crust by changing up the herbs or adding onions or shallots. 

Check out that beautiful piece of salmon.  This is such a simple dish.  

Here is the crust once all of the ingredients have been mixed up.  

Pat the crust on top of the salmon.  Be sure to drizzle a little olive oil under the salmon so it doesn't stick.  Throw in the oven and 20 minutes later... dinner's ready! 

Herb and Lemon Panko Crusted Salmon
preheat oven to 415 degrees
2 pieces of wild salmon
1 c. panko crumbs
1/3 c. fresh parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1 lemon, zested
1/2 T stone ground mustard
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1 egg yolk
2-3 T. olive oil

Combine panko, parsley, garlic, lemon zest, mustard, red pepper flakes, egg yolk and olive oil.  Mix until all ingredients are coated.  Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh cracked pepper.  

Line a sheet pan with foil and drizzle a little olive oil.  Place salmon, skin side down on pan.  Top with panko mixture and pack down so it forms a crust on the top of the fish.  Place in oven and cook for approximately 20 minutes.  

Olive Oil Cake with Vanilla Orange Whipped Mascarpone

My husband and I lived in New Jersey for a bit and one of our favorite things to do was to hop on the train and head into the city.  We would wander around the streets of NYC, visit museums and enjoy all of the wonderful restaurants!  

I have a dear friend who is an accountant turned chef.  She is now a food stylist but briefly worked in the kitchen at Maialino, a Danny Meyer restaurant in Gramercy. I am so happy that she introduced me to this little gem. If you ever find yourself in New York, this should definitely be  a stop on your list.  I am not kidding when I say that EVERYTHING I've ever had there is amazing.  

Matt and I actually celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary at Maialino, indulging in course after course.  For dessert, we had the olive oil cake with vanilla bean mascarpone.  The flavor was so different than other cakes.  You could really taste the olive oil and I loved it! 

Since we do not have a Maialino near us (sigh), I recently did some research online and was ecstatic to have found this recipe.  It is straight from a former Maialino employee!   This cake is so moist and dense and the whipped vanilla and orange mascarpone almost tastes like a creamsicle.   

Some of the key players in this recipe.  The orange zest and Grand Marnier really compliment the olive oil.  

This recipe made one 9-inch pan and still had some batter left over.   I poured the remaining batter into two mini spring form pans.  They made the prefect individual size cakes, perfect for two people (or one very hungry person) to share. 

Olive Oil Cake

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon  baking soda
1/2 teaspoon  baking powder
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon  vanilla
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Line the bottom of a 9 inch round baking pan with parchment paper.  Spray the sides with olive oil cooking spray.

In separate mixing bowl, sift flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together.  Set aside.  In standing mixer, beat eggs and sugar together with whisk attachment until combined.  Slowly add olive oil, milk, vanilla, orange zest and Grand Marnier.   Gradually add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  

Pour batter into lined pan and bake in oven until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  About 25-30 minutes. (I forgot to monitor the time but check on it after about 25 minutes.  When the center is no longer "jiggly", the cake is done).   Loosen the edges with a knife, take out of pan and cool.  Dust with powder sugar and top with vanilla, orange whipped mascarpone.  

Vanilla Orange Whipped Mascarpone

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon  vanilla bean paste (or vanilla)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest

Whip cream and powdered sugar together in a mixer with whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.  Add mascarpone, vanilla, orange juice and orange zest.  Whip on high until very light and fluffy.  Top cooled olive oil cake with scoop of whipped mascarpone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

White Pizza

Let me just preface this post by saying that this pizza is not healthy... not at all.  Well, maybe of you count the arugula... tossed in truffle oil.  So if you are looking for a whole wheat, cauliflower crust, you came to the wrong blog.

This is a relatively quick pizza to make.  It took me about 30 minutes to prepare and 20 to bake.  I saved some time by grabbing some dough from our local pizzeria.

Start by rolling out the dough and brushing it with the homemade "white sauce".  As you can see, I have my trusted Silpat underneath to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking,

Add the caramelized onions.

Then the ricotta cheese.

Oh and some fresh mozzarella!

Finally, some prosciutto and then its time to go in the oven.  

But we are not done yet...

Finish with the arugula tossed in truffled olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Slice and try not to finish the whole pie!

White Pizza

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
1 ball of pizza dough
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1/4 c. cream
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 sweet onion, caramelized
ricotta cheese
fresh mozzarella
truffle oil
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Roll out the pizza dough and place on a cookie sheet. Set aside. Mix olive oil, butter, cream and garlic in a glass measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute or until butter is melted.   Chop onion, put in saute pan with salt, pepper and thyme and cook over medium heat until caramelized.

Liberally brush dough with garlic mixture. Scatter onions over pizza.  Spoon out dollops of ricotta evenly over dough.  Slice some fresh mozzarella  and cover pizza.  Evenly distribute 4-6 slices of thinly cut prosciutto over the mozzarella.  Bake in oven for about 15-20 minutes until bubbly and brown.    

Remove pizza from oven and let cool.  While pizza is cooling, toss some arugula with some olive oil, truffle oil, salt and pepper.  Cover warm pizza with arugula and let wilt.  Finish with some freshly grated paremsan cheese.

I don't know about you but I just love the corner pieces...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spaghetti and Meatballs. Two Ways.

Who doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs?? It is one of those comforting meals that is even better the next day. There are a bunch of different ways to make the sauce and meatballs but I'm going to share my version. I have a few tricks up my sleeve and they add tons of flavor to this classic dish.  

Start the sauce about 2-3 hours before you want to eat because it will need time to stew.  First step is to brown some pork neck bones.  

Add some onions and garlic to caramelize.

Then add tomatoes and paste.

Next comes the spices and seasoning.  Stir it all in and let simmer over low heat for about 2 hours.  Between stirring every 20 minutes or so, I go back and forth with "lid-on" and "lid-off".  You want some of the liquid to evaporate but if you see if is getting to dry, then add a little water and throw the lid back on.  

While the sauce is cooking, start the meatballs.  These next few tips will ensure a moist meatball full of flavor!

 Soak some white bread in milk and set aside.  

Chop the garlic cloves up with some salt and your knife.  Drag your knife over the copped garlic repeatedly to create a paste.  

Run a sweet onion through the grater. The onion will be very fine and also produce some nice, flavorful juice.   Grated onion, garlic paste and the milk-soaked bread truly make the difference in these meatballs.    

Add the rest of the the ingredients, take your rings off and start mixing. The only way to do this is with your hands!  If you remember, let the meat sit out for an hour or two to bring it closer to room temperature.  It is so much easier to mix with your hands when the meat isn't ice cold.  

I love this tiny pan.  Brown up a small piece of the mixture to test the seasoning.  This gives you the chance to fix anything before you cook all of the meatballs.    

I cook mine in the oven at 415 degrees and then finish by broiling to brown them.  It's a lot easier then frying them and produces the same result.  If you ave a Silpat, use it for easy clean-up.  Foil will work as well.  

After 2 hours and while the meatballs are cooking, remove the pork bones and bay leaves.  At this point, you can leave the sauce chunky or blend it up a bit.  I was in a blending mood today.  

Finish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley and basil.  Turn on low and let sit.  

Meatballs are done!  They don't have to cook all the way through because you are going to throw them (along with all of the juices on the pan) into the sauce to finish cooking,  

Stir the meatballs and juices into the sauce and simmer until your pasta is ready.  Spoon sauce and meatballs over pasta and serve with fresh parmesan cheese and chopped basil. 

Homemade Marinara Sauce

4 pork neck bones 
1 sweet onion, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 t. oregano
1 t. basil
1 t. rosemary
1 t. thyme
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 T. salt
6 bay leaves
Fresh cracked pepper
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
2 T. chopped fresh basil

In large dutch oven or stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper the pork bones then add to the hot pot to sear.  Brown on both sides.  Add onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft.  Add whole, diced and crushed tomatoes as well as paste.  Stir everything to combine.  Add oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, salt and bay leaves.  Let sauce cook over low heat for about two hours, stirring every 20 minutes.  

When sauce has cooked down, remove the pork bones and bay leaves.  At this point you can blend for a smoother sauce or leave chunky if preferred.  Finish sauce with fresh grated cheese and chopped basil. Salt and pepper to taste.  

Homemade Meatballs

1 lb ground beef (80/20)
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs
4 slices of white bread soaked in; 
1/2 c. milk
4 garlic cloves, chopped and smashed into paste
1/2 large, sweet onion, grated
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 T. salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 415 degrees.  

In a small bow, pour milk over the white bread and set aside.  In large mixing bowl, add beef, pork, eggs, garlic paste, grated onion and juices, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.  Once bread has soaked up the milk, add to meat mixture along with any remaining milk.  Mix with your hands until everything is combined.  

Form meatballs and place on large cookie sheet lined with Silpat or foil.  Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes.  Turn off heat and finish by broiling on high until top of meatballs is browned.  Transfer meatballs and juices to pot of sauce and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, covered.  

Serve over pasta of choice and top with some fresh grated parm and chopped basil!  

Bite Size Spaghetti and Meatballs

In addition the full size serving, I also make these below as a dish to bring to or make for a dinner party.  Not too many people want to eat a big, messy plate of spaghetti and meatballs at a party so these bite size portions are perfect to casually snack on and get some homemade goodness in each bite!

Same as before, bake at 415 degrees then broil to brown.  These will take less time due to their smaller size.  

This is how I like to serve them.  The presentation in simple and guests can just spoon some sauce over the little meatball with pasta.  Don't you just love the little orecchiette?  It is looks like a little hat to top the mini-meatball!  

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