Archive for April, 2011

Mother’s Day Mini-Cheesecakes 3 Ways

Cheesecake. For birthdays, holidays, my kids always request cheesecake. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love making them, but to do ‘em right you have to follow a few tricks–including baking it for over an hour. A traditional cheesecake can take a better part of a day to make. Yikes! I just don’t have that amount of time.

Solution? Minis. (I know, I know, I’m really into baking things in miniature). I can now, make a dozen awe-inspiring cheesecakes in the same amount of time it takes for brownies. And the recipe is simple enough that my kids can make these.

What I like about my little discovery is that you’re not stuck with just one flavor–mix raspberry jam into one, miniature chocolate chips (there I go again) into another. Extra pecans? Throw ‘em in a couple.

Get the idea? What’s in your cupboard you’ve been wanting to get rid of use creatively in a recipe? Here are three ideas, I’m sure you’ll come up with more. Better yet, pass your ideas along to you Mother’s Day baking crew.

Light:

Follow the basic recipe below, substituting fat-free or Neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 less fat than regular) and low fat graham crackers for the crust. (Sorry no picture here–I went for a happy-calorie medium, with Neufchatel cream cheese and regular crumbs for the crust:)

I put a layer of caramel sauce on before adding the chocolate ganache

Turtle:

Instead of graham cracker crumbs, use crushed pecan sandies. Stir pecans into the batter. Before serving the cheesecakes, top with caramel sauce, and chocolate ganache.

Chocolate Lovers:

For the crust, try chocolate graham crackers (I used chocolate animal crackers, mmmm). And make this addition: melt 1/2 cup high quality chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons heavy cream in a glass measuring cup by heating it half power for 90 seconds in the microwave, then stir. Let the mixture cool then add it with the cream cheese batter (you might also want to add 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder; I went with my black onyx powder). Serve with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa powder.

Is your crew not the cooking type? Check out these Mother’s Day gifts that moms over at Motherboard received. I love the story of the little boy that bought his mom the best present ever (or so he thought)–a racing car magazine.

Now for that mini-cheesecake recipe…

Basic Recipe

Ingredients

Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (chocolate or regular)

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

¾ cup white sugar

2 eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs.
  3. Add the melted butter into the crumb mixture. Mix to combine.
  4. Lightly grease 8, 6-ounce ramekins (or you can use muffin papers).
  5. Divide the crust into the 8-10  containers and firmly press the crust into the bottom and a little bit up the sides.
  6. Bake the crust for 10 minutes.
  7. For the filling, mix the cheese on high until creamy. Add the sugar and then the eggs, making sure to combine.
  8. Mix for 5 minutes straight to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.
  9. Scoop the batter into the containers, making sure that they aren’t overly full.
  10. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the batter barely giggles.
  11. Cool and then refrigerate over night.

Your turn–what are some of your favorite Mother’s Day memories? Or do you have a special request for the big day (besides mini-cheesecakes)?

Hungry yet?

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Bakery Bran Muffins

As promised, these muffins are moist, rich and full of good-for-you ingredients.

A few things: first, yes, you can substitute soured milk (milk + fresh lemon juice) for the buttermilk, but I  wouldn’t. Real buttermilk makes a big difference. Next, golden raisins rock. Forget the drier, regular variety and go for something chewier. Finally, this comes from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (the same folks as Cooks Illustrated). I’ve tweaked the recipe–in my book, you can’t have bran muffins without honey and whole wheat.

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + baking

Servings: 18 muffins


Ingredients

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 cup unprocessed wheat bran

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons honey

1 egg

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 Tablespoon ground flax (optional)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Soak the bran in the buttermilk for 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Coat your muffin tin pan with baking spray.
  4. Combine the applesauce, raisins, sugar, egg, butter, honey and molasses together in a large bowl.
  5. In another bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and ground flax.
  6. Add the soaked bran to the wet mixture and then fold in the dry ingredients. Stir in walnuts.
  7. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.
  8. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes or until golden brown.
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Culinary confession: I don’t like muffin papers

Muffin papers annoy me. Bad.

Follow me here–what happens when you use muffin papers? It’s nearly impossible to get every last crumb. Some of it always ends up trapped in the folds of the paper, especially when you try to eat it when it’s still hot (which I do. Constantly). Add to that, the outside of the muffin doesn’t get that golden, crisped texture when you use the moisture-trapping papers.

So yes, muffin papers are terribly convenient, but I try to avoid them in favor of perfectly browned, paperless muffins.

Check back in tomorrow for my favorite bran muffin recipe. (Promise–it’s not dry and even kids will ask for seconds.)

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In the kitchen with mom

My favorite picture of me with my mom

Twice a year. That’s how often my mom would make her almond twists. Christmas and Easter. Using her refrigerated roll recipe, she’d douse the dough with a bit of melted butter and then almond paste, twist, then bake. Sometimes, she’d drizzle them with a powdered sugar icing spiked with maple syrup or just a dab of almond extract. But I was always content just eating them plain.

Around the Christmas holiday I asked my mom for the recipe. “Oh, it’s simple, Kris,” she explained. And then she went through the steps. I made the twists following her directions. They didn’t taste right at all. They were okay. My husband said they were good. But they weren’t mom’s.

You’ll notice I’m not linking to any recipe–or including any. There are just some recipes that only mom can

That's me with the Easter bunny. And yes, I was scared.

make. And some foods that taste best tucked in with faded memories. So many of my childhood memories revolve around being with my mom in the kitchen. I’ve gotta say it: My mom is a fabulous cook. No internet, no blogs, no Food Network, just a few well-worn cookbooks led to crisp lemon chicken baked in a clay pot. Mounds of chocolate cookies that she would make in big batches so she could freeze some for a rainy day. Strawberry-spinach salad. Golden challah bread. Honey butter. Almond twists.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, who I don’t get to see often enough. And motherhood. I enjoyed reading through other moms’ thoughts on the real joys of motherhood pulled from comments on Motherboard. My favorite has to be finding purpose in my life.


Your turn: What are some of your favorite baking memories with your mom? Or maybe you want to share your thoughts on the real joys of motherhood?

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Ideas for Easter morning breakfast

Sweet. Savory. Or both? I’ve been flipping through cookbooks and clicking through some of my favorite blogs to figure out what I want to do for Easter morning breakfast.

Here are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about from MKES and some of my favorite blogs.

Savory

Mini-quiches. I let my kids decide what they want to put inside. Best part? They can be made ahead.

Baked apple french toast. There’s a light version of this one! From Words to Eat By

Yeasted waffles from MKES

Sweet

Baked donuts from Martha and Me

New York style coffee cake from Fake Ginger

Banana sour cream muffins from Cafe Johnsonia

Nutella cinnamon rolls from MKES

Yeah, notice my sweet list is a little longer than my savory:) I’ve also been toying with an idea my husband keeps talking about–breakfast pizza. Follow me–pizza crust, fresh salsa instead of red sauce, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs, cheese on top? (Maybe even a few roasted potatoes)

I still haven’t decided, anyone else making something tasty for Easter?

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Why aren’t you using…cumin

Cumin. It’s the 2nd most popular spice in the world after black pepper. And yet you’d have to dig to find it at the grocery store.

In the same family as parsley, dill and caraway seeds (with similar shape and look), cumin has a strong earthy flavor and smell. It adds that layer of old world essence to Mexican and Indian dishes.

When I seasoned our molcajete, I used cumin seeds to smooth out the rough surface of the Mexican mortar and pistol. While you can freshly ground your own cumin seeds, I’ll readily admit I usually don’t have time to do it. I order mine from Savory Spice, but you may have another spice shop in your neighborhood where you can pick up this must-have ingredient.

Try adding it to chili, barbecue sauces, soups, meat rubs, and anywhere else you might reach for chili powder.

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Easter fun with your entrees

I know that ham is the traditional Easter dish, but the trouble around my house is I’m the only one who likes it. And honestly, I’m not a huge chunk ‘o ham kinda meal person. Slice it, dice it, and put it in an omelet or on a sandwich, in pasta, I’m good, but on its own…eh. Anyone else looking to add a little zing to their Easter meal (or hey, even the week leading up the the holiday)?

Here’s a little inspiration. Color. Easter color–not in dessert, but in your entrees. You’re curious now, right? Keep reading. Warning: vanity shots of steamed purple cauliflower ahead.

Bunny salad time!

Salad

What to call this–fresh Easter-Mex? I’m not sure. But I tweaked our taco salad into a bunny one. For salad, I do the expected shredded romaine lettuce. Then, I like to add pinto beans (right from the can, or homecooked, if you have ‘em). And a mixture of green chiles, corn and tomatoes. My younger kids go without dressing, I like to make one using my favorite salsa and either a shot of sour cream or Caesar dressing. Then the real draw is the crispy taco strips. Using my wok, I fry thin (about 1/4″ strips of corn tortillas). And as long as the oil is warm, I use a cookie cutter to make bunnies to top the salad. I threw some leftover grilled chicken and shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese into the salad too. I had clean plates all around on this meal (and a request for more bunnies next time).

Stir-fries

Now for that purple cauliflower. I spied it at the grocery store and I couldn’t resist. I added it in

The light from the window hit just right when I was cutting.

along with other veggies into our stir-fry this week. My kids will polish off bowls of broccoli, but so far none of them have taken to cauliflower. Well, I got them to munch a bit more for the sake of eating something purple. My middle daughter ate all of hers and asked for more, but my younger and older daughters scooted it to the side of their plates after trying a couple, with a half-hearted, “Yeah, I like it, I’m just getting full” bluff. Ah well. Little do they know I have orange cauliflower at the ready for a coming meal…

Colorful chicken Philly

Sandwiches, fajitas & more

Yellow. Green. Red. Orange. I’m talking peppers here, not Easter egg colors. I like to buy them fresh when I find them on sale and then slice them in my Cuisinart and save them in individual meal portions in the freezer. We made chicken Philly-cheese steak sandwiches and threw in a medley of colorful peppers. Again, we have some pepper and non-pepper fans around here. I have hope that eventually all my kids will be begging for peppers but right now my two youngest pick out their peppers and give them to my oldest, who happily accepts them. But even if you’re not into sandwiches, add an extra helping to fajitas, pasta salad, scrambled eggs.

But there’s so much more you can do to add a little color to you meals–or even to your house whether you’re celebrating Easter or just looking to add a bit of Spring inside. Flipping through some ideas on Simple Spring Makeovers on Motherboard, I liked the idea of adding carrots to your flower vase along with blossoms. (I think I’d have to add in some yellow and purple ones too!)

Your turn: Are you planning on making anything special for the Easter holiday this year? Or have you been decorating with Spring colors to spruce up your home?

One more shot: Steamed purple cauliflower

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Bistro green beans

Poor green beans are often overlooked–or worse, stuffed into casseroles where their flavor disappears altogether. Maybe green beans ho-hum status comes because unlike other produce, you can usually find fresh green beans year round. And if they’re not readily available there, you can find them canned or in the freezer section.

So how do you bring out green beans’ flavor without coating them in sauce? First, don’t overcook them. No one likes mushy green beans.

To keep green beans crisp I like to blanch them. Never blanched? It’s easy. Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a medium-sized pan add a handful of salt. Wash a pound or so of green beans and snap off the ends. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes or just until barely tender. Immediately drain them and plunge them into ice-cold water for the same amount of time. Drain.

One advantage of blanched beans is that they can sit while you’re preparing the rest of your meal and then one more quick trip in a sauté pan and they’re heated and ready to go along with the rest of your meal.

Now you’re ready to give them a little extra flavor kick. I like some sourness and spice to add some zing to green beans. I sauté them with a bit of olive oil that’s been heating with a pinch of red pepper flakes and toss them briefly in the oil. To finish them I squeeze about a ½ tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. (If you don’t have fresh lemon, a flavored vinegar like red wine or Trader Joe’s orange champagne works well too.)

That’s it. Flavorful, bright green beans that will have your family asking for seconds!

Recipe

Servings: 4-6

Prep time: 20 minutes or less

Ingredients

1 lb. fresh or frozen whole green beans (for frozen, I like haricot vert)

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or 1 teaspoon flavored vinegar)

¼ cup slivered almonds

sea salt to taste

pinch of red pepper flakes (or cayenne powder; optional)

Directions

  1. Wash the green beans and trim the ends.
  2. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring to a boil (add in a dash of salt).
  3. Submerge the green beans into the boiling water for about 3 minutes.
  4. Drain and immediately place in ice-cold water for 3 minutes. Drain.
  5. In a sauté pan bring the olive oil to medium high heat. Toss in the green beans and almonds.
  6. Saute for 1-2 minutes or just until heated through.
  7. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice. Toss. Serve.
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Why bad gardening is good for your kids

My basil grower

It’s no secret that I’m a lousy gardener. I really want to be able to grow more veggies. Hey, I’d even settle for a decent herb garden (yes, I’ve heard over and over again–they’re sooo easy). But it seems the only thing I can turn out from seeds are little tiny stalks that die within a week, same goes for plants that I buy and try to keep going. What am I doing wrong?

Well my kids have noticed my lack of skills. And commented.

This year I’ve been a bit determined not to grow a garden. My kids have

Decorating the pot--an important part of planting

decided otherwise. They’ve convinced me yet again to try growing herbs–but this time the only help I’m supposed to give is opening the blinds in the morning–and taking pictures. That’s it. My two youngest daughters have already informed me that they’ll be the ones watering the plants and looking after them (if only this worked with the laundry too!).

While I truly wish that I could grow something, anything really, my inabilities might just turn out a couple of real gardeners. After all, my kids know they can’t rely on my help if they want to see some green. Well the

Looking good so far...

coming weeks will tell if our indoor planted seeds continue to grow. I’m hoping that the seeds do turn into full-grown plants we can put outside or even replant in a larger pot. I have noticed that my youngest is a bit too generous with watering, but hey, what do I know?

I was happy to see while flipping through Motherboard‘s Easy Ways to Go Green, wouldn’t you know #9 is planting a garden with your kids. If all goes well I might even try their suggestion of growing from cucumber seeds or I’ve always wanted to grow my own chile peppers (I heart serranos!).


Your turn–have your lack of skills ever worked out in your favor? Or do you have any gardening tips to share with this wannabe green queen?

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Whole wheat banana bread

Bananas are a wonder food. They’re packed with potassium, fiber. They help build stronger bones. They’re better than Tums for achy stomaches… I could go on, but you get the idea. I really like bananas, which is why banana bread is an infrequent treat at our house. I eat them before they ever get ripe.

But occasionally I do buy a large bunch so that I’ll have a few leftover for bread. Now I’m a bit picky with my banana bread—I don’t like it overly moist, which makes the crust gooey by day two. I like hearty slices that can stand up to a little slathering of butter. This recipe is a tweak from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. It uses yogurt to give the bread just the right smooth consistency. And it’s moist enough that I can substitute half of the regular flour for whole wheat without it becoming too dry. I also toss in some ground flax for an added nutrition boost (and then usually some chocolate chips because you can’t go wrong with bananas and chocolate…I mean, because you want added anti-oxidants).

And instead of a large loaf pan, I bake mine in two smaller pans. My favorite part of the bread is the crust anyway and smaller loaves equal more crusts–and more heels for everyone to argue over.

Ready to break out some bananas?

Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes

Servings: 2 mini loaves

Ingredients

2 cups flour (I use 1 cup whole wheat, 1 cup all-purpose)

¾ sugar (I use ¼ cup brown, ½ cup white)

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 ripe bananas

6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

¼ plain yogurt

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon ground flax seed (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat each pan with baking spray.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl mash the bananas with a spoon and then use the blender to puree them. Add the melted butter, eggs and yogurt and blend again.
  5. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Add in the walnuts.
  6. Gently mix until just moistened.
  7. Add the batter into the two pans.
  8. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.
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