Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas!

Happy Holidays!!!
I feel like celebrating with...

Gingerbread Cake!!!

Gingerbread cake? Why yes! That's what I said! Gaahhh! I love the holidays! Just the lights and music and general cheeriness that occurs. Well, OK so that cheeriness kinda depends on the person and what they feel the holidays represent. There are some Grumpy-Guses out there. But I love the holidays. Sure they're a little stressful and spending money I don't have is a bit of a downer, but I love the feeling of giving someone a gift and watching their face light up. I especially love when I can give them something homemade and delicious, like this cake! Best part is, this cake is relatively easy as far as cakes go. It's not layered, there's no icing involved, it's just straight forward CAKE! I suppose you could frost it if you want. Mmmmm that would be delicious.

So for the holidays I always do a TON of baking. Everyone gets their own cookie tin of their favorite cookies, or a combo tin of a few different kinds...OK more like 5 or 6. This year I decided to include this cake in a couple of my combo tins. So I figured I would share the recipe with you as well! I spent a good part of the last 2 or 3 Sundays baking so I could get everything shipped out to people, since my family no longer lives in the same place. Holy hell shipping is expensive. Had to factor that into my Christmas shopping fund. Not the easiest thing to do.

Anywho, here's what you need for this marvelous dessert: either a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, a 13 x 9 rectangle baking dish, and of course the ingredients...and an oven, but I'm sure you already got that part figured out. As far as ingredients...here we go!

1 cup of butter (2 sticks) softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup molasses
3/4 cup hot water
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus another 1/4 or so)
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Whipped cream and additional nutmeg

Seems simple enough, right? Let's get started!!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, you want to cream the butter and sugar together until it's light and fluffy. More like the bottom part here, not the top where there's still butter clumps. :)

Next up, add in the eggs and beat that on a low speed for about 2 minutes.

Now is when I start to get my water hot. I sometimes just let water boil then let it cool down for about 5 minutes. That works out quite nicely actually.

Gradually add in the molasses. This sticky stuff always gets everywhere with me, stuck to the side of the bowl or on the top part where the attachment of the mixer connects, so try your best to just get it in the path of where the whisk goes.

You're also going to add in the hot water now. Let it mix together for about 30 seconds. It should look like this...

Yes? Excellent! Moving on...

Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Mix it together so the spices and baking soda/salt are evenly dispersed in the flour.

Gradually add the dry mix into the creamed molasses mixture. Once it's all in there beat on a low speed for about a minute...maybe 2. Feel free to add a touch more flour in here if it seem too liquidy.

Here's your batter! Now wasn't that easy? Didn't take too much time at all did it? OK So now grab that 13x9 baking dish and flour and grease it. By that I mean spread either some softened butter or shortening all over the pan in a thin layer, the shake some flour over it to coat it. This will help the cake from sticking to the pan. I even do this on my non-stick baking stuff just to make life a little easier on myself.

This is what your pan should look like once it's greased and floured. Now you're going to pour the batter into the pan and smooth it around so it is evenly spread, not really thick on one side and thin on the other. Also to make sure the edges are even with the middle.

Now I don't know if you can tell from this picture or not. But I have baking strips around the outside of my pan. Why you ask? Well you soak them in water and wrap them around your pan and it helps the cake cook really evenly so that it doesn't dome. Dome? I mean the edges cook too fast and don't rise as much as the center does. So I wrap these around the pan once they've been soaked in water and it cools down the edges so it has more time to cook like the center of the cake. Cool, right?

Pop that into the oven for about 45 minutes. Here's what I do, I put it in for 25 minutes. Then I turn the pan around and pop it in for another 10-15 depending on how the oven is. Sometimes I even go up to another 20 minutes. Basically you want a toothpick or cake tester to come out cleanly when inserted into the center of the cake.

Mmmmm baking cake...while you're waiting time to do those dishes!! Yep, yep, yep! And enjoy the delicious gingerbread smell that's filling the room!!

TADA!!! (You can see my cake strips better in this picture.) Your cake is done! Let it cool down for about 5-10 minutes before you dive in there and start eating it. I love eating it warm with a bit of whipped cream and nutmeg sprinkled on it.

So there you go! Simple, easy, delicious cake that is perfect for the holidays! With Christmas right around the corner this one is a definite hit! This cake keeps for about a week if you cut it up into pieces and wrap them in plastic wrap. Or if you just keep a piece of plastic wrap around the cut edges and cover the rest with foil, mine kept for a little over a week. Just ate the last piece today even and it was still delicious and moist. I hate dried out cake...

Just to leave you with a couple more pictures!

Enjoy this one!
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!
'Til Next Time!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

One of My All-Time Favs: Chicken Alfredo

Creamy Chicken Alfredo...with Grilled Chicken

So, I love Alfredo sauce and I especially love Fettuccine Alfredo. Add some grilled chicken to it and, like much of my food when I think about it a lot, I feel my mouth start to salivate. There's just something about all that creamy, cheesy goodness that I can't get enough of! Although I try to limit myself on the Alfredo because of the calories and high fat content. Not that I honestly ever pay much attention to it, but knowing just by the ingredients that this one is chalk full of fatty yummy stuff. 

This was an interesting day, I decided I wanted to do my chicken in my Alfredo a little differently. So I have a Le Creuset Cast Iron Grill pan that my mum got me for Christmas last year. I wanted to grill the chicken rather than just cut it up and cook it in a bit of oil and spices like I normally do. So I got out my grill pan and got to work. It turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself!

OK so here's what you'll need to acquire in order to make this wonderful dish. A grill pan is ideal if you don't want to use your BBQ or some way to grill the chicken. And I use my deep dish saute pan to make the Alfredo sauce...and of course a stock pot of some sort to cook the pasta.

For the chicken part...

About a pound of chicken, 2 or 3 boneless skinless breasts works well
garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, and season salt...and a touch of paprika

Take the chicken breasts and butterfly them like so...you want to cut down the chicken breast, but you obviously don't want to completely cut it in half. So leave about half an inch of the breast uncut. I cut down the center, then the center of the two halves. Basically I cut it into fourths.

Take a couple pieces of plastic wrap, put one under the chicken and one over. Next, you're going to take a meat tenderizer/pounder and flatten the chicken. Use the smooth side of the tenderizer as you don't want to puncture the chicken. You want it to be an even thickness so that the chicken cooks evenly.

Now you're going to season the chicken with some garlic powder, onion powder, dried rosemary or fresh, season salt and a touch of paprika. With whatever you're using, grill pan, grill, or just a skillet, put it on a medium-high heat and cook the chicken. I liked using my grill pan so I could get the score marks on the chicken and make it look all fancy. You're going to cook the chicken about 6 minutes on one side then flip the breasts over and cook for about another 7 or 8 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear.

Looking sorta like that? Yes? No? Maybe? Does it look edible at least? I hope it does. Man I need to make this one again. So once the chicken is done let it cool down for a few minutes so you can cut it into bite sized pieces. I cut it into strips then cut the strips into thirds. I like big chunks of chicken in my Alfredo so cut the chicken however you want to.

Now set the chicken aside for a little bit. And get a pot of water going so it can boil. use about 8-10 oz of fettuccine noodles to make this amazingness, it'll serve about 4 or 5 pretty comfortably. And now you can get started on the Alfredo sauce! Yay!! Here's what you'll need:

6 tablespoons of butter, cubed/sliced
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, the fresher the better
1/2 cup plus another few tablespoons Romano cheese (or Mozzarella)
2 egg yolks lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
some black pepper to taste
a pinch or two of ground nutmeg

Over a medium heat, you're going to melt the butter.

Add in the heavy cream and the cheeses. Stir so the cheese melts into the cream and also to get the butter to mix into the cream and cheeses.

Next, take those egg yolks...don't mind my dog she loves eggs and anytime I take eggs out of the fridge she's right there hoping to get one. Anyways, add those into the sauce and stir it all up.

Finally, add in the salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Stir is all up add some more pepper or nutmeg if you choose. Taste it a bit, more cheese? Sure why not! Yeah I add more cheese in all the time. It's like an addiction, cheese is delicious.

OK so cook and stir this awesome sauce over the medium-low heat until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. You do NOT want this sauce to reach a boil, no, no, no, no, NO. Don't do it. Keep it at a low heat and stir it until it reaches 160F that's it!!!

How are your noodles coming along? Just cook them according to the packaged directions. Then drain them and you'll be good. If you managed to get the timing just right to where the sauce is ready right as the noodles are, I congratulate you. It's a difficult thing. I suck at my timing sometimes. But I'm getting better, yay!

What's next? Yep you guessed it! Once the sauce is at the 160 temp and the noodles are done and drained. Toss them into the sauce. Stir it all up and get the noodles nice and coated. Once that's done add in the chicken! Remember that tasty chicken from before? Yeah, grab that and toss it in the pan too!

Also, you're going to stir the chicken in and get it nice and coated in delicious, delicious Alfredo sauce. Now here's the hard part. Cover the dish/pan that you're using and let it sit on a low heat for about 10 or 15 minutes. Why you ask? Well, the chicken has been sitting out on the counter for a bit and you want it to be warm in the pasta right? Yeah well that's why we cover it and let it heat throughout for a few minutes. It's going to be a long 10/15 minutes but it's completely worth it. Do a few dishes or something to make the time go by faster!

There you go! I top mine with a little more grated Parmesan cheese and a touch more black pepper. I love pepper, so I probably over do it on my food sometimes, but when I'm eating it I don't care at all! Like I said, this serves about 4 or 5 comfortably. I made this for myself, my brother, and our roommate and I still had plenty of leftovers to take for lunch the next day.

Well that's it!
Hope you enjoy!!
'Til Next Time!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'Tis the Season for Soup...Baked Potato Soup that is

My MOST favorite soup ever invented...

Soup #1

Seriously, you have no idea. I am about ready to drool just thinking about this soup. Which, according to the pre-schoolers I work with would be a sign that I'm an old grandma. I don't know why, but recently they've decided that when I hit the age of 41 (I'm 24 now) I'll be old and fall apart and most importantly I will not have control over my saliva. Unfortunate right? I thought so too.

Now I absolutely love Baked Potato soup in all it's marvelous forms. I probably have about 5 or 6 different recipes for this soup. This one is my favorite so far. I haven't played around with the other ones as much and this one just hits the spot whenever I'm craving it so I don't often venture away from this recipe. I've made it so much and changed it each time that I don't even think it is anywhere close to what the original recipe was. Therefore I feel pretty confident saying this is a creation of mine. Now whoever was the genius who decided, "Hey I like baked potatoes and I like soup, I'm going to put them together" deserves a prize in my opinion.

I think soups are fairly easy to make. In theory it's just throw stuff in a pot and let it mix together, right? Well, that's sort of the case. There's a bit more finesse with some soups than others. This one is pretty straight forward. Don't worry, I'll still go through all the steps! So let's just get right to this!

Here's what you need! ...a big pot to start...and then the ingredients

2 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3-1/2 cups of milk (I use 1% but whatever milk you have will work just fine too)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt (Kosher salt if possible)
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried minced white onion
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
Some hot sauce
About a cup of Cheddar Cheese (maybe more if you like cheese a lot like I do!)
1/2 cup sour cream
3 or 4 green onions thinly sliced/chopped
Bacon bits
More cheddar cheese

So, by 1 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon of the spices...I'm lying. I usually start out with about that much. I like my soup to have a lot of flavor. So we'll start off with the smaller amounts and work our way up to whatever flavor level you would like. And OK I know it looks like a lot, but trust me the spices are what make it so deliciously tantalizingly amazing.

First things first, gotta bake those potatoes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. I usually put some aluminum foil on my baking sheet so I don't have to bother cleaning it later. Ahhh laziness.

Puncture the potatoes several times with a fork so they don't explode in the oven. I hate when they explode. It's a mess and then you've wasted two perfectly good potatoes.

Pop them in the oven for about an hour. Here's what you do. Put them in for an hour, then check them. If they're like my potatoes they won't be done yet. So you'll put them in for another 15-20 minutes after the fact. So when they're done pull them out of the oven, turn off your oven, and let them cool completely. So I like my potato chunks in my soup to be soft, like melt in you mouth soft. So sometimes I let the potatoes cool a bit, probably 20 minutes or so. Then re-check them to see if they're as soft as I want them to be. If they're not I pop them in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high and then they're definitely fully baked and soft enough to go into my soup. NOW you let them cool COMPLETELY.

**Side note: you can also just cook the potatoes in the microwave and skip the oven all together if you don't have the hour or so to cook them in the oven. No worries it'll be a great soup anyways!**

Once they're cooled completely, peel them and chop them up into bite-sized chunks. This is always a messy job for me because I totally don't let them cool completely. I'm just too impatient and often end up burning my fingers a bit in the process.

Now it's time to start on the good stuff!

In a large pot, saucepan, saute pan, whatever you want to cook your soup in...anyways in a large pot you're going to melt the butter on a MEDIUM HEAT. Melt it, don't burn it or let it boil away. Then you're going to stir in the flour like so...

Keep stirring the butter and flour until it's smooth and has formed the roux, the base for the soup. The roux is key to any soup or sauce really. Get that roux going and then add in some other stuff. So next is to add the first round of spices. So add in some white and black pepper, garlic and onion powder, dried minced onion, and a bit of chili powder. HOLD OFF ON THE DILL FOR NOW.

Again make sure your roux is nice and smooth and now contains some of the spices for the soup. Next up is to add in the milk. So pour it in, all while still stirring the soup. You want the milk to mix in with the roux as your adding it in, not just after. Don't know why, but it helps.

Once the milk is all poured in, add in the heavy cream and stir it all up. Now is the time to taste, see if you want more spices. Taste, taste, taste is important with this soup. I think it's why mine changes slightly every time I make it. Add in some hot sauce here if you want. And let it start to simmer together.

Looks delicious already doesn't it? So the next step is to bring the soup to a boil. It takes a few minutes so keep tasting and adjusting the spices as you please. This is where I added in my dill weed. I did this the last time I made the soup, just looking at my spices I was like, "hey I like dill, let's put some of that in there!" And it worked!

BOOM! Dill weed added! Continue to bring the soup to a boil. Once it is at a boil, cook and stir it for a couple of minutes until it thickens up to your liking. If you notice it's getting too thick add in a bit more milk or heavy cream that usually helps mine thin out a bit.

Here it is, thickened up and ready for the next step. Can you guess what it is? Well it's possibly more spices since you're tasting this delicious creation right now and going, "hmmm I like this" or "hmmm I think it needs a touch more garlic or onion or chili powder...maybe some more pepper or dill?" After that it's time for...

CHEESE!!!! Oh delicious, delicious cheese! Sprinkle about a cup, I honestly don't know I don't measure anything for this soup completely. It's all based on taste and instinct. A cup sounds about right though. More or less depending on how you feel. Remember it's your soup, make it how you want. Stir the cheese in so it melts together with the soup, taste again, then move onto the next step.

Remove the soup from the heat. Just move the pot/pan/dish whatever you're using over to the other side of the oven and put the burner you were using from medium heat to low heat. Whisk in the sour cream. Yes, whisk. I use a whisk for this soup from start to finish. It just works really well for getting it all mixed and melted together. Once the sour cream is in you can return your pot to the element/burner you were using, which is now on a low heat setting.

Add in the green onions. Oh my god I love green onions. I try to find a way to get them into so many dishes that I make. I don't know why, but I find them so freaken delicious! So green onions are in...

Time for the bacon!!! As much as I love green onions, I probably love bacon more. It's bacon. You cannot go wrong with bacon. So add as much or as little into the soup as you want. Maybe add some more cheese in now too? Sure why the hell not!? More cheese, more bacon, more spices? Taste, taste, taste!!

Finally, the time has come to add in those glorious potatoes...and more bacon/cheese :) Gently, very gently stir in the potatoes. OK you might not want to use a whisk for the potatoes. Use a spoon. Say goodbye and thank you to the whisk as you place it in the sink to be washed and say hello to the spoon. Once the potatoes are all mixed in, cover the pot/pan/dish up and keep it on the stove on a low setting for about 10 minutes. Why? So the potatoes can heat and the spices and flavors can develop even more in the soup. I know, 10 minutes is a long time to wait for this soup. Especially when you're smelling it first hand. Totally worth it though.

Garnish it with some more bacon and cheese and devour it!!

Store the extra...if any in the fridge and reheat when you want more. Add a bit of milk in when you reheat it because it thickens up in the fridge.  Also, this recipe can easily be doubled to serve a large group of people.

One last picture of the soup...and my dog staring at the floor in hopes of me dropping it.

Hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!
'Til Next Time!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Bars

Chocolate Raspberry Bars...or Chocolate Strawberry Bars

First of all let me say, Happy Thanksgiving! I had a relaxing day of sleeping in until 11:30 this morning. The first day I had off in almost 3 weeks. Not waking up before 7am was the best feeling ever today. Add turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy to that and I was in heaven. Oh and wine, you can add wine into that mix too. Now, being Canadian having Thanksgiving in November still seems a little odd to me. But with great food on the table and family surrounding me, I really can't think of any other way I'd like to spend my day.

So why am I writing this on Thanksgiving night and not doing something else? Because I have work tomorrow morning and I wanted to just relax tonight...and watch Shrek Forever After. Shrek cracks me up, watching the latest one for the first time right now. Fiona is kicking Shrek's ass in the backwards world he put himself in. Yeah, anyways onto these bars.

The best part about these bars is how well the raspberry jam and chocolate go together. And what's even better is that I discovered you can switch out the raspberry jam with strawberry and they are just as fantastic! The layers of these bars are great and add so much flavor that comes together when you bite into these. I've made these several times and they satisfy that craving I have for something sweet and chocolatey. There are a few different steps to these so let's get started. Here's what you need!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners/powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, still cold and cubed or sliced in some way

About 1 cup seedless raspberry jam OR strawberry jam OR whatever jam you want really
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup vanilla or white chocolate chips, melted

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening

Alright so you do these bars in phases. There's quite a bit of time between the layers and stuff. But preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and we'll get started on the crust.

In a bowl combine the flour and confectioners sugar. Then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. I use a pastry cutter to get the butter into the flour/sugar combo. So this should look like so...

Nice and crumbly. Now you're going to press this crust into an 8 x 8 square baking pan.

Alright, now you're going to pop this in the oven for about 15 minutes. You want it to be nicely browned, but obviously not burnt. You need it be firm so it won't crumble and fall apart later when you try to cut the bars. 

So your crust should look like this. Next up is the jam! Yay jam! You need to spread it on the crust while it's warm so it'll spread easier. Soooooo this is the funny part. My recipe originally called for only 1/2 a cup of jam. That was clearly not enough jam to cover the crust, so I don't know what that recipe was thinking. I easily double the amount...and then some.

So use however much jam you choose. Jam is tasty so in my head I figured the more the better. I wanted enough jam that I would be able to taste it in the bar, what's the point of putting it in if you're not going to taste it?

Next up! Take the chocolate chips and put them in a microwave safe bowl. Melt them at 50% power. I start at 2 minutes then stir, then another minute or so. Do not burn the white chips. It smells bad and you just wasted some chocolate chips.

Melted like this? Yes? No? If not, try again! :) Now you're going to....

Take the softened cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of milk and beat it until it's smooth. Then add in the melted chips and continue beating the mixture until it's smooth. It shouldn't take too long.

This is not completely smooth. This is not what I when I say smooth So keep beating the mixture until it IS smooth.


Now spread this carefully over the jam! As you can see I use a small spatula to do this. You need to do this with a light and gentle hand otherwise you'll mix the jam and the cream cheese layers together. I'm sure it would taste just fine, but I always like the look of having the separate layers. So just go slowly and do it carefully.

So here we are. 3/4 of the way done. Sort of...

Let this cool completely, remember the crust was still warm when you put the jam layer on. Once it's cooled you can pop this in the fridge for about an hour, until it is set.

So you got some free time for about an hour. So go have some fun or do some laundry, cleaning, drinking, watching TV. Run to the grocery store, that's what I usually do, because when I start making these I usually want to make dinner or something too. I don't know why, just happens. Like a cooking bug or something!

For the glaze it's really simple too. Take the microwave safe bowl you used before and put the semi-sweet chocolate chips and the 2 tablespoons of shortening in it. Again melt it at 50% for about 2 minutes, then maybe another minute. Stir it around until it's completely smooth.

Perfection! Alright, so your going to pour this over the cream cheese layer of the bars. What I do is I pour it over and then pick up the pan and move it around so the glaze is evenly spread over the whole pan.

Like this!! Ooooooo very nice right? You're going to pop this back in the fridge for another 10 minutes. Just enough for it to set a bit so you can score it then cut the bars.

Maybe not the most even bars, but I did my best. :)
Once you cut them in the bars. Leave them in the pan, the glaze isn't completely set yet so you need to return this to the fridge for sadly another hour or so. I know, this one has a lot of waiting around. I just want to eat these already!! Gaaaaah!! Don't worry, distract yourself with something else then when that hour mark hits...you can FINALLY enjoy these!!

That's it! You're done! Enjoy and try not to be like me and eat all of them. oops...hey sometimes it happens.

Just to leave you with a couple more pictures of your future deliciousness...

Happy Thanksgiving!!
'Til Next Time!!