Monday, April 25, 2011

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I first saw this cake on Paula Deen's show on the Food Network. It looked delicious and pineapple upside-down cake has always been one of my favorites. I just had to make it and I figured that Easter dinner would be the perfect occasion. 

The cake came out beautifully and definitely had a "wow" factor.  I really, really wanted to love it, but it just didn't happen.  It was by no means a bad cake, but I just wanted it to be so much more. I liked it and my dad, who has a much stronger sweet tooth, loved it.  For me, the sweetness bordered on cloying and I had to scrape the frosting off.  The topping was good, but again it was too sweet for me.  The cake itself was fine, but I found myself wishing that it had some actual flavor instead of just sugar and butter. Maybe I should have known, seeing that it was a Paula Deen recipe, and I am generally not a huge fan of hers. I solidly dispute the fact that all Southern cooking has to be either fried, hot or sugar and butter-laden.  My mom's side of the family is from Louisiana and when I was growing up, we ate many things that didn't fall into those categories. 

All gripes aside, here's my review:
  • Flavor/Texture: The cake part was a little too dense for my liking, and it was very rich. The pineapple topping was great, as usual.
  • Difficulty: Nothing too hard, aside from resigning myself to using 4 STICKS of butter!
  • Pros: I like the idea of a double-layer pineapple upside-down cake. Everyone loves the topping the best, so why not double it?
  • Cons: Butter, sugar, powdered sugar and more butter. Too rich and far too sweet for my personal tastes.
  • Misc: I cooled my cakes in the pans for one hour and then stacked them, rather than following the method in the recipe. I was trying to avoid moving the cakes too much.  I had no issues with the cakes cracking or settling. I added 5 tbsp of juice to the frosting because mine was far too stiff after only 2 tbsp. There would have been no way to spread it on the cake without thinning it out a bit. Next time, I would cut down on the brown sugar in the topping as well. 3/4 cup in each cake pan is an awful lot. I would scale it back to 1/2 cup per per pan.
  • Encore Performance: I won't make this cake as written again. I loved the look of it, but I actually prefer the flavor and texture of the recipe on the back of the boxed cake mix.  Can't win 'em all!
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Recipe by Paula Deen

Non-stick cooking spray
3 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 cup butter, softened, plus 1/2 cup butter, melted
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup whole buttermilk
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 20-ounce cans of pineapple rings, drained well (reserve some juice for frosting)
1 jar maraschino cherries
Pineapple buttercream frosting (recipe follows)
Chopped pecans, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and coat with flour.

In a large bowl, beat 1 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the 3 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the brown sugar evenly into each pan. Pour the melted butter equally over the brown sugar. Arrange the pineapple slices and cherries over the brown sugar. Reserve remaining pineapple slices and cherries for another use.

Pour equal amounts of batter over the fruit and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, carefully arrange 1 cake layer, pineapple side up, on a cake plate. Carefully stack the remaining cake layer, pineapple side up, over the first layer. Frost the sides of the cake with Pineapple Buttercream Frosting. Press chopped pecans into sides of cake, if desired.

Pineapple Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp reserved pineapple juice
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rainbow Cake!

I originally saw this cake on a blog that I follow, called Not Martha. The writer, Megan, is quite funny and I think we share the same outlook on food a lot of the time. On St. Patrick's Day, she posted a Leprechaun Trap Cake and I was so impressed that I decided right then and there to make it. Since St. Patrick's was done and gone, I decided to make it an Easter themed cake instead. I followed the instructions for the Leprechaun Cake and just ad-libbed my own decorations and frosting.

This cake nearly killed me. That sounds a tad dramatic, but I know the limits of my patience, and this almost got the better of me. I'm not daunted by a complex process; some of the cooking I've done is quite difficult. But this recipe reminded me of all the reasons that I shy away from baking: I dislike measuring, I like to see things happening instead of just waiting around, and I loathe not knowing whether or not something will turn out the way I want. With cooking, none of those issues phase me. Baking is a whole different story. I was on pins and needles the whole time the cake was baking. That being said, I was thrilled with the results when I cut into it. The rainbow itself looked good and the colors were great. Best of all, the kids at the party loved it and that was the main goal.

For the Easter decorations, I found some edible Easter grass at Meijer and a marshmallow bunny for the top. I went with a store-bought Rainbow Chip frosting for two reasons. One, it's my favorite and it fit with the "rainbow" theme of the cake.  Two, I was not in the mood to make frosting. Nothing fancy, but it worked. 

I literally jumped up and down and squealed in my kitchen when I cut out a slice of the cake. It's gorgeous, right?

The breakdown:
  • Flavor/Texture: Like the original blog, I went with a boxed cake mix and cooked it at a lower temp than recommended to prevent doming.  It was moist and fluffy.
  • Difficulty: I'm not gonna lie - getting a good rainbow was tough. I had a hard time trying to keep the rings relatively the same width, even with the help from the Not Martha blog. It was mainly successful, but it wasn't easy. An avid baker might have found this more enjoyable.
  • Pros: It looks awesome and I was very proud that my efforts paid off.
  • Cons: The method was time consuming, messy and dirtied quite a bit of equipment. I stained my hands up pretty good.
  • Misc: For the rainbow batter, I opted for professional gel "tasteless" food coloring to get the vibrant colors I wanted, without that nasty dye aftertaste. It worked quite well. I followed the 6-5-4-3-2-1 ratio in the original blog and worked under the fact that 1/4 cup is 2 fluid ounces. I did not trim the top of the cake to flatten it. My cake didn't really dome up much and I figured that cutting anything away might result in losing the last layer of the rainbow.
  • Encore Performance: Now that I am familiar with the method for creating the rainbow, I'm sure the recipe will be easier next time.  Even so, this recipe will only be pulled out for special requests.
If you attempt the rainbow cake, I would love to see your take on it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grilling Time

The first nice weather of the year always gets people eager to start grilling again. This year, I have resolved to do more grilling. I like it, but I'm not particularly great at it since I rarely do it. That is about to change though, starting with this recipe! 

This recipe was great, and it was gorgeous to boot. I love sweet potatoes and they look especially pretty here with the parsley and scallions.  Also, this hash was genius. When I tasted it, I wasn't a fan of the thyme and thought that next time I'd just leave it out. It was a little strong and the woodsy taste didn't seem to balance with the sweetness of the potato.  When I took a bite of the steak though, it all came together. The thyme really elevated the hash to a new level and helped it stand up to the red meat. 

The breakdown:
  • Flavor/Texture: Great balance of sweet, salty, and savory. All very bold flavors, but they work together and don't end up being overwhelming.
  • Difficulty: Easy recipe to follow, no fancy equipment required.
  • Pros: A different take on "steak and potatoes", with a wide appeal.
  • Cons: The timing was tricky since I kept having to go out to the grill while I was keeping an eye on the hash.  Next time, I will definitely make the hash first and then tend to the meat, rather than working them at the same time.
  • Misc: Blanching the potatoes for 3 minutes was not long enough if you really want them to soften and brown in the hash in 15 minutes.  Increase the blanching to 5 min, or brown them in the pan for an additional 5 minutes. I forgot to get bone-in steaks, and I used scallions instead of chives. I substituted thick-cut bacon instead of slab bacon. I like my steaks medium, so I cooked them for 5 minutes per side.
  • Encore Performance: I would definitely take this recipe out for another spin.
Grilled Strip Steaks with Sweet Potato Hash Browns
By Frank Stitt for Food & Wine

Makes 4 servings

4 sweet potatoes (1 3/4 lbs) peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces slab bacon, sliced 1/4 inch think and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pound sweet onions, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp minced chives
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
4 12-ounce bone-in strip steaks

Light grill. In a medium saucepan of lightly salted boiling water, blanch the sweet potatoes for 3 minutes; drain well.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, 4-5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the onions to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until browned, about 12 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 15 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook without stirring until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Stir in the bacon, parsley, thyme and chives; season with salt and pepper.

Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper and grill over high heat until nicely browned outside and medium-rare within, about 4 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes, then serve with the hash browns.

Make Ahead: The hash browns can be prepared up to two hours in advance.

Fire up that grill and dig in!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pizza, Pizza

When I was growing up, my mom made pizza every Friday night. I loved it, and my friends always wanted to come over too.  When my mom found her dough recipe and sent it to me, it seemed natural to make pizza for and with people I care about. So I invited several of my friends and their children over for a pizza party on Sunday afternoon.  It was a hit!  I made the dough ahead of time and got the toppings ready. The kids had fun stretching their own dough and making little personal pizzas, while the adults collaborated on our tasty creations. We had a blast and ate a LOT of pizza - I made four double batches of dough!

 Whether you make this recipe for a crowd, or a party of one, I promise you'll love it.  It's easy to make, and the variations are only limited by your creativity with the toppings. I was surprised and impressed with the variety of meats and veggies that some of the kids put on their little pies. It's fun to bring your kids in the kitchen, especially with something that they can really express themselves with. That's how my love of cooking started and I'm always thankful for it. 

The Famous Farkas Pizza
Makes one pizza

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp butter
1 pkg rapid rise yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg, slightly beaten

Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes or so, until the yeast starts to "bloom".

In a small saucepan, scald milk, sugar and butter. Let cool completely.

For the dough, it's easiest to use a mixer with a dough hook.  Add egg and yeast mixture to flour, then add the milk mixture a little bit at a time.  You may need to add a small amount of additional flour to get the dough to a kneading consistency. You don't want it to be too sticky.  Place the dough on a floured counter surface and sprinkle with a little more flour.  Knead dough for 5-10 minutes, adding flour as needed.  When the dough will accept no more flour, knead for 5 more minutes and then place the dough in a lightly greased large bowl.  Let rise for one hour in a warm place (placing a pan of hot water on the bottom oven rack and then placing the dough bowl on the top rack works great.  Don't turn the oven on - the heat and moisture from the water will make a perfect environment).

Heat oven to 350. Lightly oil pizza pan.  Punch down dough and shape to fit pan. Ladle on the sauce and add your favorite toppings.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

Jami's Favorite Sauce
*This stuff is to die for - great on pizza, or for dipping!

1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
3/4 cup wam water
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 Tbsp honey
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. 

Let the sauce sit for 30-45 minutes so the flavors can meld.  Spread over pizza dough and enjoy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mmm mmm, Brownies

Best brownies I have ever had.  That's right, EVER!

On the rare occasions when my sweet tooth kicks in, and on the even more rare occasions when it demands something chocolate-y, I usually turn to brownies.  They're quick, easy and they get the job done.  Usually, I eat one and then take the rest to work. But I may have a hard time parting with these tomorrow.  These brownies jumped out at me from the pages of Bon Appetit and they immediately came to mind tonight when I wanted something sweet.

The breakdown:
  • Flavor/Texture: Very dense and intensely chocolate brownies. Not too sweet or rich. I loved the crunch of the walnuts.
  • Difficulty: VERY easy to make. Browning the butter was pretty much the only effort put in, and that's not much.
  • Pros: Quick to make and all of the ingredients were in my pantry.  No special shopping trips.
  • Cons: I wanted to eat the entire pan.
  • Misc: Don't skip lining the pain with foil and spraying with cooking spray. The brownies are quite sticky and you may never get them out of the pan otherwise. I used a ceramic dish and had to bake an additional 5 minutes.
  • Encore Performance: I will definitely be marking these as a favorite and making them again. Think tomorrow is too soon?
Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter and Walnuts
Bon Appetit, February 2011

Nonstick oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (*NOT Dutch Process!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of over; preheat to 325. Line 8 x 8 baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray.  Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at the bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add to sugar, cocoa, 2 tbsp water, vanilla, and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously after each addition. When mixture looks think and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.  Using foil overhand, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. 

Pour yourself a glass of milk and get to it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Roast Chicken and Vegetables

I got a great deal on a family pack of chicken thighs the other day at Meijer. Being a family of one (unless I drop something on the floor, in which case it belongs to Stanley and his super hound nose), I had to search for some ways to use it all up.  I found this recipe on Epicurious and the reviews had me excited to make it. 

I loved the flavors in the dish, but it needed some tweaking. I was surprised, since the reviews were mostly raves.  My own review was mixed. I usually follow a recipe the first time I try something and then make any adjustments the next time around. But this time I couldn't help it.  I added onion and a few garlic cloves to the vegetable mix, which turned out well. I think it would also be great using rutabagas or parsnips as a stand-in for the potatoes.  For the chicken, I added a little bit of sage to the herb mix and also a tiny bit of onion powder. Overall, the dish was quite easy and very tasty. My big issue was with the oil. There was just way too much of it.  For future reference, you could either omit the oil entirely during the prep, or remove the skin from the chicken before roasting.  I think the meat would get dried out without the skin and it does lend some flavor to the veggies, so I'd be inclined to ditch the olive oil. The herb rub will stick to the chicken if it's moistened with water or cooking spray, and the pan drippings will be more than enough to toss the potatoes around in. I don't care for the chicken skin, so I just peeled it off before serving.

Here's the original recipe:

Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Carrots and Yukon Gold Potatoes
Bon Appetit, March 2009

Makes 6 servings
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 large chicken thighs with skin and bones (preferably organic; about 2 1/4 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • 2 pounds unpeeled medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears
  • 2 pounds medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat large rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Place chicken on baking sheet. Turn to coat with oil and set skin side up. Mix salt, thyme, 1½ teaspoons pepper, and nutmeg in small bowl. Sprinkle half of mixture over chicken. Roast until chicken starts to brown and some fat has rendered, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine potatoes, carrots, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining salt/thyme mixture in large bowl. Transfer thighs to medium bowl; set aside. Transfer potato-carrot mixture to same baking sheet; turn to coat with drippings. Roast until vegetables soften, 30 minutes. Place thighs on vegetables; pour accumulated juices from chicken over. Return sheet to oven. Roast until chicken is cooked and vegetables brown, 15 minutes longer.
Place chicken on platter; top with chives.