Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fruit Dips

When we have a group of people over, I almost always serve some sort of fruit dip. They make a good predinner snack because they are not too filling; they are make-ahead; they are not starchy as many appetizers are; they look great; and children will eat the fruit if not the dip. Here are some of my favorites.

Caramel Dip

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 T. peanut butter

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples (dip them briefly in regular Sprite to keep them from turning brown).

Marshmallow Dip

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 7-oz. jar Marshmallow Fluff, or marshmallow creme
zest of one orange

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples, grapes, melon, pineapple, clementines, bananas, strawberries, etc.

Strawberry Dip

1 8-oz. package of strawberry cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 7-oz. jar Marshmallow Fluff
1 8-oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
1/2 c. strawberry jam

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples, grapes, melon, pineapple, clementines, bananas, strawberries, etc.

Edible Arrangements

My sweet sister sent my mother and me gifts from Edible Arrangements http://www.ediblearrangements.com/ for Mother's Day. My mom's was a beautiful fruit bouquet, with flower-shaped melon and chocolate dipped bananas and strawberries. I received a lovely red box with gorgeous strawberries dipped in chocolate and white chocolate. Some were also rolled in coconut or almonds! They were absolutely delicious. I highly recommend this company!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake

Here is a very different cake than the last one I posted. I made it for my brother-in-law's birthday last year, and it's quickly become a favorite. Some of the teachers at my mom's school tried it, and it took on a life of its own. The recipe looks intimidating, but it's really not that difficult - just time-consuming and dirty-dish-making. And it's a true crowd-pleaser! I made one for the teachers last week, and it was gone within half an hour.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake (adapted from Chocolatier magazine via http://community.cookinglight.com/)

Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup boiling coffee (the recipe calls for boiling water, but I always sub coffee in chocolate cake)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Crunch filling

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 1/4 cup toasted rice cereal

Chocolate Mousse

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Guittard bittersweet chocolate chips)

1/3 cup whole milk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

Peanut Butter Mousse

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

Ganache Glaze

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (again, Guittard chocolate chips)

3/4 cup heavy cream


2/3 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Make chocolate cake:Position rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of a 9" springform pan and line the pan with parchment paper if you are going to try to take the cake off the bottom of the pan (I don't).

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.In another small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth; set aside.In bowl of electric mixer, using paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar at medium-high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary. Add flour mixture at low speed and mix until blended. Add cocoa mixture and mix at low speed until blended. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add sour cream and mix until blended.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake cake for 18-22 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Butter sides of springform pan.

Make crunch filling:Place chocolate and peanut butter in microwave-safe bowl, covered. Heat on 1/2 power for about two minutes, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Fold in rice cereal. Spread filling over top of cake in pan just up to edge of cake. Refrigerate cake while you make mousse.

Make chocolate mousse:Put chocolate in food processor until finely chopped if you are not using chips and place in medium bowl.In a small saucepan, combine milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and milk comes to a boil. Remove from heat. (I usually do this in the microwave). Pour over until chocolate is completely melted. Scrape down sides of bowl and add vanilla; stir until blended. Cool for 5 minutes, until tepid.In bowl of electric mixer, using whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining cream. Remove cake from refrigerator and scrape chocolate mousse over crunch filling, letting it fill gap between cake and sides of pan.

Make peanut butter mousse:In bowl of electric mixer, using whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.In another bowl of mixer, using paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and confectioner's sugar until creamy, about one minute. Add peanut butter and mix until blended, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Gently fold in whipped cream. Scrape peanut butter mousse on top of chocolate mousse layer, smoothing it into an even layer. Freeze cake for at least 3 hours, until firm.

Make Ganache:Place chocolate in medium bowl. In small saucepan, bring cream to gentle boil. Pour over chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds, to melt chocolate. Whisk until smooth.

Assemble cake:Run paring knife around side of pan to loosen cake and remove side of springform pan. Remove bottom of pan and peel off paper. Transfer cake to plate or cardboard cake round. Pour ganache glaze over top and sides of cake and spread using a small, offset metal spatula. Pat chopped peanuts onto sides of cake (or on top if you like). Refrigerate cake for at least one hour, until softened, before serving.To serve cake, use a hot knife to cut into 12 slices.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beach Cake

I made this cake for the last day of school party for Jack's preschool class. I think it would be a fun cake for lots of summer events. It's actually quite easy!

I used a sheet cake because it needed to feed 16 children and some siblings and parents. I found the recipe here: http://www.recipezaar.com/13554. It's really a delicous cake; sometime I'll try it with the frosting. In this case, I used buttercream frosting tinted blue and white for the water. The sand is graham cracker crumbs, and I used gummy candies and jelly beans to add more to the beach scene. Jack's Little People finished it off.
Beach Cake

1 cup butter, melted
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups white sugar
2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put butter, water and cocoa in a large pan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and add the rest of the batter ingredients.
Mix with electric mixer until smooth.
Pour into an 11 x 16 x 1.5-inch jelly roll pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.
Cool. Frost cake with a thin layer of blue icing. Over 2/3 of the cake, frost with a thicker layer of icing and use an off-set spatula to create waves. On the peaks of the waves, use a small dot of white icing for a whitecap. Decorate with gummy sharks and life preservers, as well as speckled jelly beans for rocks.
Buttercream Frosting (I use about 1 1/2 recipes for this cake)
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
2 T. milk
pinch salt
Beat the softened butter with 3 cups of sugar. Gradually add the last cup of sugar, using a bit more or a bit less depending on preference. Add the vanilla and salt. Beat in enough milk to bring the frosting to spreading consistency.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Spicy Orange Beef

This recipe is from a surprisingly good cookbook, Weight Watchers Take Out Tonight. The cookbook attempts to recreate take out/restaurant food on a calorie budget. This is one of our favorites: it's delicious, lovely on the plate, and healthy. You can be a little more generous with the vegetables.

I'm not sure if she'd find it too spicy, but if not, it's a great meal served with brown rice for my sister, the Extreme Weight Loss Champion of the World! You can read about Kristen's amazing journey at http://www.phatband.blogspot.com/

Spicy Orange Beef with Vegetables

3/4 pound beef top round, trimmed of fat, cut into thin strips cut against the grain
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce Sriracha is the brand to look for
4 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 pound green beans, halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, cut into matchstick-thin strips

Combine beef, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and orange rind in medium bowl. Toss well to coat and set aside.

Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, broth, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar and chili-garlic sauce in small bowl. Set aside.

Heat nonstick wok over medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 teaspoons oil. Add beef. Stir-fry until cooked, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Swirl 2 teaspoons oil and add ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add vegetables, cook 2-3 minutes, until crisp-tender.

Add broth mixture, cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens, about 1 minute.
Add beef and cook until hot, about 1 minute.

Serving: 1 cup Calories: 227

Monday, May 5, 2008

An Evening in Provence

My friend Catherine and I have a cooking/dining club that we started recently. The idea is that one month I will cook a meal from a specific region; the next month we'll go to a restaurant that is new to us; the following month she will cook; and then we'll go to another restaurant. In March, I made a meal from the Pacific Northwest that I will post about later. Last night Catherine, who is from Paris, created a wonderful Provençal menu that was absolutely delicious. She and her husband Brian made lovely menu cards with pictures from Provence and set the table with French linens and strewn fresh rosemary. I'll list the menu with my descriptions below. What a great night, and what wonderful food!

Amuses-Bouche & Entree
Clafoutis Provençal a luscious savory custard with goat cheese and chives
Tapendade sur Pain Grille finely diced kalamata olive spread with grilled bread and cucumbers
Cake Provençal baked in a loaf pan, the crumb was more like cake than bread, but savory with olives and ham

Plat Principal

Canard à l'Orange very flavorful roast duck served atop fresh linguine with a sauce made from orange curaçao-soaked raisins (flambéed), crème fraîche, and pan drippings
Ratatouille tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and smoky bacon


Profiteroles pastry puffs with both vanilla and pistachio ice cream, topped with dark chocolate sauce

Everything was outstanding! I loved the tapenade on the cucumbers, and the clafoutis was light and tangy. We all sighed with delight at the first bite of Canard à l'Orange.  Catherine made sure we knew profiteroles are not truly a Provençal dessert, but we all agreed we would substitute authenticity for such a wonderful taste!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Now, here's a muffin recipe for everybody. They use up those old bananas that have turned too black to eat, and they include the sacred marriage of peanut butter and chocolate. I use half whole-wheat flour for some added nutrition.

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (can use all white flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ripe large bananas -- mashed
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large bowl stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl combine mashed bananas, milk, peanut butter, oil, vanilla and egg. Add to flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans or muffin tins. Bake at 350 F for 50 to 55 minutes (check at 40 minutes!) for bread or at 20 minutes for muffins or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves or 18-24 muffins.