Lemon Love Cake

This is a recipe I never, um, ever, thought I might make. It uses two things that I just cannot abide by. Cake mix and pudding mix. Ugh. Dear lord the chemical smell just about sent me over the edge.

That said, I had seen Valerie Bertinelli make this kind of cake some many times, in so many iterations, that I just had to give it a go out of pure curiosity sake. So why not a lemon cake for Easter.

D&D_2787Easter to me is lemons or carrot cake and a few bits of chocolate, oh, and wait, some tiny jelly bird eggs – yes, I stock up for the whole year. You just don’t want to get into the details of what happens when you eat WAY too many jelly bird eggs.

Unsalted butter, for greasing
All-purpose flour, for dusting
One 16.5-ounce package lemon cake mix
1 lemon, zested and juiced
>One 32-ounce container part-skim ricotta
Two 8-ounce containers mascarpone
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
One 3.4-ounce package lemon instant pudding mix

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with baking spray.

Prepare the cake mix according to package directions, then add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and set aside.

Beat the ricotta, lemon zest and 4 ounces of the mascarpone with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until just combined. Gently spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the cake batter.

Bake until the cake layer has risen to the top (the ricotta and cake layers switch places) and a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the remaining 12 ounces mascarpone with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add the milk, beating until smooth. Add the pudding mix and beat until smooth. Let stand until thickened, about 5 minutes. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake.

Notes: I was a glutton for punishment and did all this by hand. It worked out, but I really need a nice hand mixer for when I don’t want to get the stand mixer into a mess.

Also, this recipe made me purchase things, I, um, never buy. 1) Cake Mix, 2) Jello Pudding Mix. But the idea seemed so good I could not quite help myself.

Source: Valerie Bertinelli

While I have to say this smelled a little chemically being mixed up – it certainly didn’t taste like that.

There were only 4 of us for Easter and this cake is huge, um, and dense. So I sent the vast majority of it to the Boy’s work. I understand that one of the bartenders hid it from pretty much everyone else. I think the best thing about this cake is it makes it own “cheesecake” layer on the bottom – hence – dense, but yummy. Might need to make one of these for the next pot luck at work – might be a new favorite.

I do love to take baked goods to the restaurants that we frequent. I also do make a special effort to get treats back to the kitchen. So many people forget about the back of the house.

Lemon Sour Cream Pie

Another new gamble for Pi Day. Also a nice way to try a pie that might just be perfect little tartlets for Easter which is fast approaching.

D&D_2697I totally cheated and used Pillsbury’s roll-out pie crust since I was taking on a baking project during the week. And you know, if you use a regular 9″ glass pie plate – not a deep dish pie plate, the dough works out nicely from blind baking for this kind of pie.

9 inch pie shell, docked, pre-baked, and cooled
1 Tbs lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (depending on size about 4)
3 1/2 Tbs cornstarch
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
8 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
Whipped cream for garnish

Pre-bake parchment lined crust filled with pie weights and place on baking sheet. Let cool while making the filling.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, cornstarch, sugar, egg yolks, and milk. Cook over medium low heat until thick making sure to whisk frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Allow the custard to cool completely. Once cool, whisk in sour cream.

Pour into baked pie shell and refrigerate at least two hours, or better overnight. Serve with whipped cream. But I like it better without.

Keep refrigerated.

Bitching: I need some kind of pie holder, so the top doesn’t get mushed. Put it needs to be a thin holder so you can stack two pies in holders on one shelf in the refrigerator.

This was a super simple, totally do-able on a weeknight kind of pie. It wasn’t too sweet either which made it big plus for me. I like my lemon desserts to be tart – not overly sweet. The custard was smooth and creamy.

Very nice. We certainly be doing this again, perhaps in aforementioned tartlets.

Pull-Apart Cheesy Garlic Bread

This is the third version I’ve made since this past fall, but only the first version I’ve been relatively happy with. There might be still more work to be done, but I will keep at it like the trooper that I am. D&D_1643

Things I’ve learned:
-You need a sturdy bread. A round is okay, but I like a Chicago Italian loaf the best so far. A white bread (version #2, I used White Mountain Bread round) and it was just too soft. You can’t really pull-apart the bread. Sort of defeats the purpose.
-Roast the head of garlic. Great flavor and compliments the minced garlic. Yes.
-Melt the butter in a pot and add all flavorings. Keep on low to infuse the butter with lots of flavor.
-Use sliced cheese in the lower part of the cross-hatched of bread. Use grated cheese above.
-Add lemon zest and lemon juice.
-Fresh herbs – your choice but I like chives, parsley, and finely minced rosemary.
-Red pepper flakes are a must, even if it’s just a tiny pinch.
-Make the cross-hatch pattern large – it’s easier to stuff than a tight cross-hatch pattern.

Loaf of Chicago Italian Bread
Head of garlic
1 Tbs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 Tbs minced parsley
1 tsp finely minced rosemary
I Tbs Dijon mustard
1/3 pound provolone, sliced kind of thick
1/3 pound colby, grated on large holes of box grater
minced chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut top 1/2 inch of head of garlic to expose cloves. Place on piece of foil, pour olive oil on garlic, wrap tightly in foil and bake about 40 minutes, until garlic head is soft. Remove and set aside. Leave oven on.

Melt butter over medium low heat in saucepan, add in minced garlic, salt, red pepper, black pepper, zest and juice from lemon. Add in parsley, rosemary, and Dijon mustard. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Place bread on foil and make a large cross-hatch pattern, slicing most of the way, but not all the way through. Brush tops and sides with butter. Slide provolone in crevices, then squish roasted garlic in with the provolone, and then stuff the colby as well. Spread remaining butter with herbs into crevices and on top.

Bake until cheese melts, 18 – 20 minutes. Top with chives and serve.

15 January 2018

Roasted Stuffed Acorn Squash

I have never cooked an acorn squash – or any winter squash for that matter. Therefore this was a completely new experience for me. It did not hurt that I make rice just about every week and make mushrooms pretty much every week too. Rice, mushrooms, shallots, lemon – just my kind of go to lunch.

I would rather take lunch to work than to go out for it (or breakfast). I think I make pretty good food and I make what I like and that works for me. Why go out and buy something if you are happy with the things you make. And for me, I like to mix things up a bit. Sometimes it is toasted bread with mushrooms and some cheese,  or rice with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. I always have cheese and butter at work – and always always a fresh lemon. I also have a salt and pepper grinders – makes a difference.

I guess that is where my lunch hacks come from. Take something you have and turn it into something new with just what you have, appliance wise, at the office. In my case – toaster, toaster oven, and a microwave. Looking forward to the new office where will have a warming oven. Hoping it gets hot enough to make cookies (350 degrees). That will just smell great.

D&D_24931 acorn squash, cut in half stem to root and scoop out seeds/strings
1/2 cup grain, jasmine rice, cooked, finished w/lemon juice/zest
1 cup vegetables, cooked (crimini mushrooms, shallots, garlic, lemon juice/zest)
1/2 cup extra sharp white cheddar
Additional filling ingredients as desired, dried fruits, nuts, etc.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (convection).

Place the squash halves cut-side-down in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover the dish loosely with foil and place the dish in the middle of the oven.

Roast the squash until easily pierced by a paring knife, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size of your squash.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the filling. Mix filling ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper and any other spice you would like. Or add some dried fruits (I’m thinking cranberry here) or nuts.

Flip the cooked squash halves so they form bowls. Rub the inside with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between the halves — mound the filling on top.

Cover the pan with the foil and bake the halves for another 15 to 20 minutes until both are hot and bubbly. Top with extra cheese and serve immediately.

15 minutes at 375 convection, turn 15 more – done.

This was pretty cool. Will be trying more winter squashes. Such a new thing for me. I kind of like the speckled look of the acorn squash. Looks like stars.

Source: thekitchen.com

Lemon Snowballs

These kind of tasted like lemon coolers to me. Do you remember them? I have a vague recollection that they were a cheap-ish store (Winn Dixie) brand, but I liked them because they were, 1) lemon, 2) tart, 3) powdery.

You cannot make this recipe with out the lemon juice powder. Well, I would not anyway. I bought it a couple of months ago because I figured I could make it work into all the kinds of lemon things that I love – and there are a lot of them. And it does – it add lots of lemon flavor without any liquid. Don’t get me wrong, I like lemon extract, but there is sometimes something a little chemically that I do not care for. I prefer fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest and now lemon powder is add to the bullpen.D&D_2396

Cookies
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour

Coating
2 cups confectioners’  sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice powder (King Arthur Flour)
lemon sugar (also, King Arthur Flour)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and salt until soft and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zesst. Add the flour, mixing until well combined, but do not overmix.

Form the dough into 1″ balls using a small cookie scoop #40. Place the balls on an parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes. They should be very light brown on the bottom, and feel set on top. Remove the cookies from the oven. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes before disturbing; Caution: fragile when warm.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar with the lemon powder and place in a shallow bowl. Roll the warm cookies in the sugar/lemon coating. Let the cookies cool completely, then re-roll cookies in the sugar mixture and top with a little lemon sugar.

When completely cool, store cookies in airtight containers for 1 week. Mine did not last that long.

Source: King Arthur Flour, obviously.

Asparagus Mushroom Pasta w/Pecorino

I just keep modifying this recipe with the hopes of perfection, but to be honest since it includes two of my favorite vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms, along with some melty cheese and some salty cheese, it starts out pretty far ahead of the game.

D&D_1340_iPhoneThis is also great left over for lunch, but you must heat it very slowly in the microwave and stir very often or heat up the oven feature on the toasted oven and put it in there to reheat. Otherwise, the sauce breaks – it still tastes good, but it is not the same.

olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*

8 ozs penne pasta
1 pound asparagus,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving
Lemons

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil and then add garlic and cook over low heat while garlic softens and flavors the oil/butter. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté on medium until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Turn the heat to low. then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and then add a handful of freshly grated Pecorino cheese and stir again.D&D_2242

Serve with extra Pecorino and more lemon wedges for serving.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination.

When I know I am making this dish, or one similar, I usually cook the asparagus/pasta one day, typically when I’m cooking pasta for something else too. Then the bag of pasta/asparagus is ready when I’m ready for pasta. I drop in in a colander and run very hot water over it for a minute or two and let drain completely. D&D_1318

Modified several times based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

Roast Beef Sandwiches with Horseradish-Cream & Romaine

Another recipe I have not made in ages, but have made a lot (see below) and my notes made me realize that the Boy enjoyed it. I wanted a little something different for Thanksgiving appetizer this year – beside my very traditional (though lovely) sweet potato biscuits with ham, horseradish, and cranberry. Side: just fixed an atrocious sentence – this is why you re-read to edit. D&D_2309

1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
3/4 pound thinly sliced rare-ish roast beast
Romaine lettuce
1/2 cup sour cream
Horseradish to taste
Zest and juice of one lemon – very important
Kosher salt / Freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment. Toast bread on one side for three minutes and the other side for four. Remove from oven and cut each slice of bread in half. The bread should still be soft-ish but have a bit of crunch to it as well.

So the horseradish cream is a play-it-by-ear kind of thing. You could use Duke’s mayonnaise instead of sour cream, but I prefer sour cream – little smoother. Mix in how ever much horseradish you like and taste as you go. The lemon zest and juice are a requirement – it makes the biggest difference. Then season well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. This is really the part that makes the sandwich work.

Then, just assemble. 1/2 slice of bread, horseradish cream, roast beef, crunchy romaine leaves, and the other 1/2 slice of bread. That’s it – kind of dead simple when you get right down to it. This is something that really needs to be made just an hour or so before you are going to eat it. The bread needs that slight crunch. Can’t have the horseradish cream making the bread soft and the romaine needs to be super crunchy – which is why you rinse it in super cold water – oh, and I always remove the stem – hate those things. Ugh.

24 December 2004
24 December 2006
24 December 2008 – The Boy’s request and he made them
25 April 2009 – The Boy’s 16th birthday
10 May 2009 – Mom’s Day at W&J’s
23 November 2017 – Thanksgiving

*Needs a better name

Sweet Potato Pecan Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting 

So what do you do when you have extra roasted sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving? Make anything that sounds good then feed the rest of the sweet potatoes to the dog. At least that is what we do at our house. Who knew dogs liked sweet potatoes? The things you learn. This is half the original recipe and makes 12 cupcakes.

D&D_23201 cup roughly chopped pecans – oops, forgot
1 cup sugar
8 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt

Frosting:
8 ozs cream cheese, softened
8 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
juice of half a large lemon

2 tsp lemon juice powder
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans/walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 8 – 10 minutes until fragrant.

Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt, Grate nutmeg over the top of the mixture and whisk together.

Beat together sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated.

Whisk together sweet potatoes, orange juice, and vanilla. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with sweet potato mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until just blended; fold in pecans (again – oops).

Line cups of muffin pans with foil liners and spray with vegetable spray. Spoon batter into cups filling 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 28 – 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove immediately from pans and cool for 1 hour until completely cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon juice powder  – taste and adjust. Once smooth, sift in powdered sugar (sifting keeps the frosting smooth). Frost cupcakes and top with chopped pecans if desired.

22 November 2017 – Thanksgiving

D&D_2316

Need cupcake carrier – this is just sad. 

New recipe

Okay without nuts, but would be better with – pecans or walnuts

Good without frosting too, we’ll just call it breakfast, yep. Not sure, but I think it is the orange juice that makes it. Will certainly be making these again. Think they will go over well at the office.

Sometimes (Often Times) I have this in my bag …

Actually (and I hate to use that word – really hate it*), this is not terribly exciting, but it makes my day at the office (how sad is that?). It is a lemon – I know, So. Very. Exciting. sigh.

I have this habit of bringing together odd bits of food from home for my breakfast / lunch to cobble together and occasionally make a great lunch hack. I just prefer it to buying lunch out. Snob that I am, I like my cooking better than most others. Probably because I make the things I like – like right now, I am on a pan-roasted mushroom trip. Not sure why, but it works for me.

I tend to eat crackers for breakfast just to choke down the stupid mess of meds for the equally stupid lupus that has become a very crappie part of my life recently – hello, medical field – not impressed so far. Okay – enough of that.

Back to it – It is amazing what a fresh lemon can do – just the juice, since I do not have a zester at the office. Although I probably should think about getting one. Fresh lemon (or lime) zest is just lovely. What about grapefruit zest – now there is an idea. Also need a pepper grinder too, if I really want to make the lunch hack thing special (and we all want it to be special, don’t we?)

We have the “Real Lemon” juice in a bottle in the office fridge, but it is just so lame compared to fresh lemon – even if the lemon is kind of a lame, old-ish lemon from the back of my fridge at the house – that juice makes all the difference. The difference is really very telling – not a joke. cropped-dd_1784

So I have some left over rice, maybe with some artichoke hearts in it, and then I add my favorite garlicy pan-roasted mushrooms on top and heat it up. What makes it perfect? Fresh lemon juice. You see where this is going, right?

Just put a lemon in your bag. It will be fine. And it is kind of cool. Kind of like a fez.~

* Inspector Morse always hated that word too and I love my Morse (John Thaw). That’s a post for a whole other time. Or as Dr River Song would say, “That’s a whole other birthday.” Yes, a cool Dr. Who reference~. My total geek is showing.

When you get right down to it  – it is the author of the Morse stories, Colin Dexter that, I think,  hated “actually.” Understandable. But I do have to quibble with his use of “sludgy” green eyes – seems to be a recurring theme that I resent because my green eyes are said to be lovely. I was going to say hot, but only blue eyes and brown eyes are hot and to be honest, no one knows what to do with hazel eyes. Genetic randomness right there.

The Boy has lovely blue eyes that can turn grey depending on what he is wearing or even what kind of mood he is in. I did not know that could happen. But how does a child with two green-eyed parents end up with a blue-eyed child. Apparently blue eyes can stay hidden from previous generations, so I expect that is it. Way to much science for me. Hello, Gregor Mendel and principals of inheritance. See, I did learn some science in Jr. High School. Who knew?

““

Well, we just went for a wander, didn’t we? Or, I guess it was me that let this tiny brain of mine wander a bit.

Back to lemons, in your bag, to make you desk meal (lunch hack) a real treat vs. a total bore. Your call.

 

Chicken Salad Sandwich

I love a really good chicken salad sandwich. But to me this is just a simple chicken salad on white bread with a little mayo and if I’m feeling really special, some iceberg lettuce.

This is another no-recipe recipe.

Poach chicken breasts. I do this in just water because then I can give the poaching liquid to the dog. But, if you want, you can add bay leaves or garlic cloves, and even peppercorns to the water. Poach low and slow just make sure the chicken is covered by at least an inch of water. Not sure how long, but until it falls apart when you pick it up with a fork – this also makes sure the interior is not still pink.

Remove chicken from water and let cool to room temperature. (Give a dog chicken water and he will love you, pretty much, forever).

D&D_2113

Yep – it’s a mess, but a very good mess.

Shred or chop chicken to whatever size you prefer. I am a medium dice/shred person.

Now here is where things get subjective. Things needed: Duke’s mayonnaise, celery, shallots, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Here is where I get a little weird exacting. I like, for two good sized chicken breasts (and, no, I don’t weigh them but I should), 3 celery stalks including the leaves. The thing is – you must peel the celery. This is just not optional. Get out that serrated vegetable peeler and go to town. It gets rid of those pesky strings that no one ever wants to eat. Then split the ribs into three pieces lengthwise and the mince well. I did say exacting, right?

Now for the shallots – two medium or one large, minced. I get my shallots at Bailey’s Farmers’ Market – they sell them by weight, unlike the grocery store that sells them by some little bag. At Bailey’s, I also get to pick the ones I want – yes, this is the way to do things.

Once all the chopping is done, mix celery and shallots into chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Add Duke’s mayonnaise to taste – remember, as my mom always said, you can always more, but you can’t take it away. Taste as you go and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Add lemon juice if you would like. Yes you do want to do that.

For the sandwich you need really fresh soft white bread*. Spread one side with more Duke’s and pile on the chicken salad. Then add the super crunchy iceberg lettuce that you cored, washed and have chilling in the fridge. Another option – toast the white bread first. Yes, do.

This, I know, is simple food, but sometimes that is what is best and even more often, that is just what you need.

Now you could do this with a rotisserie chicken, not that I ever have, but I guess in a pinch it would do. If you are really jonesing for some chicken salad. Who am I to judge?

* or Italian bread or a good whole wheat.