Archive for March, 2008

NFR: Spring Cleaning 1

Well it’s time to start the old spring cleaning.  This is my frist go at this in our home, so I had to make sure I did it right (and documented it so that I don’t get lazy in years to come)! 

I decided to start a little early and do a little each weekend.  This way I wouldn’t get too overwhelmed.  I began by hanging two pieces in our bedroom that had been sitting around for quite some time…

First was this candle-holder wall art I bought (gasp) last summer originally for the living room.  Doesn’t it look nice (and romantic) above our headboard?  Hubs insisted we get the batter operated tealights though (bummer).

Second was this photo frame of some of our wedding pictures that hubs surprised me with on Christmas.  We found a home for it. 

Now onto the serious business.  I started with the bathroom.  Our house is old and the previous owners gutted and redid everything EXCEPT this bathroom (and the basement).  I don’t get it.  Anyway, we can’t afford to totally redo it now, but we replastered the walls before we moved in and painted them.  It’s a big improvement, however I never feel I can get it totally sparkling clean.  Today was the day.  I turned on my iPod, put on my yellow rubber gloves, and got to work.  Well, after 2 hours (which is ghastly considering the size of this tiny bathroom), I’m pretty satisfied. 

Here’s what I did:
-scrubbed the tub, sink, floor
-wiped down the walls, door frames, window frame
-shined all fixtures
-dusted and cleaned the light fixture
-laundered the shower curtain, liner, rug and decorative towels (they’re still drying)
-weeded and cleaned out the medicine cabinet
-cleaned the over the toilet cabinet
-mopped the floor
-dusted and cleaned the mini blinds (even though we’re getting new window treatments)
-cleaned and disinfected the toilet


Now onto my regularly scheduled cleaning…oy.

DB Challenge #2 – Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake

I was so excited to see the challenge this month was a recipe from Dorie Greenspan.  Her cookbook, Baking from My Home to Yours has so many great recipes.  This was a double bonus for me because I could jazz it up with my newly honed Wilton decorating skills AND it would fulfill my aunt’s request for me to bring dessert to Easter dinner at her house.  I absolutely LOVED this cake.  The flavors (two favorites of mine, lemon and raspberry) were fresh and clean.  The cake had a great texture.  I loved the meringue butterceam and will definitely use it on more cakes.  I was a little disappointed that my cakes didn’t rise as much as I thought they would and I kind of missed the boat on the torting (my aunt said she liked the difference in the widths of the layers..) *I just realized as I was cutting and pasting the recipe from the DB site that this wasn’t my fault.  The measurements were incorrect on the original post, which is why my cake didnt’ rise and torting the layers was difficult… oh well, I guess I’ll just have to make it again… but all in all I think this was a sucessful cake.  Thanks to Movern for a “Perfect Party” challenge.  Be sure to check out the rest of the perfection on the Daring Baker’s Blogroll.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (Iused buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extractFor the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut (I omitted)

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

(ugly pic from hub’s crackberry)

I am a Wilton Graduate!

Here’s my final cake with the roses and leaves.  I didn’t finish it because hubs could not wait to have a bite.  He was really excited about that lemon curd.  I can’t wait to take course II!

Lemon Curd

I love lemon everything.  It’s one of my favorite flavors in baked goods and cooking.  I wanted to make some lemon curd to fill my final Wilton cake for Course I. 

Lemon Curd
Williams Sonoma

3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablesppoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into 6 equal pieces)

-In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until blended.
-Place over a pan of simmering water but not touching the water, and whisk vigorously until the foam disappears and the mixture is very thick, about 10 minutes.

-Whisk in the butter until melted.

-Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes more.
-Remove from the heat and whisk for 2 minutes.
-Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the curd; set aside to cool.

Lemon Pepper Crusted Salmon

I am always looking for new ways to prepare fish, especially salmon.  The lemon pepper seasoning makes a crispy crust on the fish.  I served it with some asparagus sauteed with shallots, lemon and a little butter and some basmati rice.

Lemon Pepper Crusted Salmon

2 6 oz. salmon filets
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons Lemon Pepper seasoning (I used Lawry’s)

-Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and preheat broiler.
-Add olive oil and salmon, skin side down and cook for about 3 minutes until browned.
-Season top of filets with 1 tsp. each of lemon pepper seasoning.
-Flip and cook for another 3 minutes – do not move the filets in the pan.
-While the salmon cooks, remove the skin.
-Add the lemon juice to the pan and swirl to coat and pick up brown bits.
-Put the pan under the broiler until salmon is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.

Pasta with Tomato, Spinach and Mozzarella

This meal has my favorite combination of flavors – fresh mozzarella, sweet grape tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar.  I make some variation of this meal at least once a week in the summer.  It’s light, fresh and delicious. 

Pasta with Tomato, Spinach, and Mozzarella

1 box pasta (any kind will do, I used Rotini this time)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 lb. bocconcini, halved (or as I usually call them, little mozzarella balls)
1 cup baby spinach leaves, rinsed
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
5 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
Parmesan cheese for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

-Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente, making sure to salt the water.
-Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Allow it to reduce by half (about 10 – 15 minutes) – the vinegar should become thick and syrup like.
-Add the spinach leaves to the bottom of a large bowl.
-When the pasta is cooked, spoon it over the spinach into the bowl, allowing the spinach to wilt (about 2 minutes).
-Add the mozzarella and stir to combine.
-Add the grape tomatoes and some freshly ground black pepper.
-Top with balsamic reduction.
-Add basil and stir to combine.
-Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

ABC, 123

I’m a little slow on the uptake and realized that I was tagged by Rach to complete this lovely little alphabetic survey.  So here we go!

A- Attached or Single? Attached!
B- Best Friend? I am lucky to have more than one BFF.
C- Cake or Pie? Cake for sure
D- Day of Choice? Saturday without a doubt
E- Essential Item? I would say cell phone.
F- Favorite Color? Green
G- Gummy Bears or Worms? Bears, especially the white ones
H- Hometown? Floral Park, NY
I- Favorite Indulgence? A great bag, pair of shoes or sunglasses, or jeans, or…
J- January or July? July!  It’s my birth month and anniversary month!  Plus in July, my fulltime job becomes beach bum.
K- Kids? They’re in my plan.
L- Life isn’t complete without? Hubs, Family, Friends and pizza
M- Marriage date? 07-06-07
N- Number of brothers and sisters? 1 younger brother, 1 older brother in law
O- Oranges or Apples? Apples without the skins bc I cannot digest.
P- Phobias and Fears? Alligators/crocodiles, having blood taken
R- Reason to smile? So many, my life is pretty good…I have a lot to be thankful for
S- Season of choice? Summer because I don’t have to work
T- Tag three people? I feel like almost everyone I know in the blog world has done this or been tagged… so no, I will not tag.
U- Unknown fact about me? In my senior year of high school I competed as a “Future Business Leader of America” and was named the number 1 typist in New York State.  I won a trip to Flordia to compete at the national level and came in 10th.   It was pretty sweet.
V- Vegetable? I never met a veggie I didn’t like.
W- Worst Habit? Procrastinating and being late (I guess they’re related)
X-ray or Ultrasound? I believe that ultrasounds cause autism in babies.  I feel like both of those do terrible things to your body.
Y- Your favorite food? Pizza, pasta, and salad.
Z- Zodiac Sign? Cancer.

Wilton I – Cupcakes (Class 3)

Today at my Wilton class, I learned how to make figures, shell borders and drop flowers.  The cupcakes I made for the class were dreadful…they were chocolate sponge and just were NOT good (Wilton recipe…blech).  The dark chocolate buttercream, however…yum.
I made…
this radical clown:

this happy little smiley face:

and these cute little flowers:

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Icing

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
4-5 tablespoons milk

-Cream shortening and butter.
-Add cocoa and vanilla.
-Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time on low to medium speed and mix until combined.
-Add milk and beat until fluffy.




Irish Soda Bread

I love Irish Soda Bread.  My aunt usually makes the loaves for the family and doles them out on St. Patrick’s Day.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and make some when I saw this recipe on Katie’s blog.  I had all of the ingredients and some buttermilk that was about to turn, so I went for it.  It definitely resembles a scone, like Katie said, but I liked it a lot.

Classic Irish Soda Bread
Cooks Illustrated

3 c. bleached all-purpose flour , plus more for work surface
1 c. cake flour
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (2 tablespoons softened + 1 tablespoon melted)
1 1/2 c. buttermilk

-Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
-Whisk flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in large bowl.
-Work softened butter into dry ingredients with fork or fingertips until texture resembles coarse crumbs.
-Add buttermilk and stir with a fork just until dough begins to come together.
-Turn out onto flour-coated work surface; knead until dough just becomes cohesive and bumpy, 12 to 14 turns. (Do not knead until dough is smooth, or bread will be tough.)
-Pat dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high; place on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet or in cast-iron pot, if using.
-Place the loaf on a cookie sheet and cut a cross shape into the top.
-Bake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into center of loaf comes out clean or internal temperature reaches 180 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes.
-Remove from oven and brush with melted butter; cool to room temperature, 30 to 40 minutes.


Skillet Chicken with Broccoli, Penne and Asiago

I love America’s Test Kitchen.  I literally take their recipes, equipment ratings, and taste tests as gospel.  The other night a caught an episode for quick skillet dinners.  I was thrilled because cleaning a million pots and pans is not my (or hubster’s) idea of fun.  This is one of the recipes featured on that show.

Skillet Chicken with Broccoli, Penne and Asiago
America’s Test KitchenIngredients
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 medium onion, minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces ziti (I used penne) – 2 1/2 cups
2 3/4 cups water
1 2/3 cups low sodium chicken broth
12 ounces broccoli florets (4 cups)
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce grated Asiago cheese (1/2 cup, plus extra for serving)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook for 1 minute without stirring. Stir the chicken and continue to cook until most, but not all, of the pink color has disappeared and the chicken is lightly browned around the edges, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a clean bowl and set aside.
2. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened, 2 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the ziti, 2 cups of the water, and the broth. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is very thick and syrupy and almost completely absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.
4. Add the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and the remaining 3/4 cup water. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the broccoli turns bright green and is almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Uncover and return the heat to high. Stir in the cream, Asiago, and reserved chicken with any accumulated juices and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked and heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing more grated Asiago at the table, if desired.

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