Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Italian cream cake with 2 fillings - lemon curd and strawberry preserves, and lemon buttercream

Here's a pic after we cut it - don't mind the ketchup & relish in the background, we had sliders ;)

For my cooking club dinner last Friday, I needed to bring a wedding cake (or at least a mini one, to feed around 10 people).  A few days beforehand, I started doing some research into cake baking tips, cake and frosting flavors, and fillings.  I didn't want to make a chocolate cake, as I had made one for this club recently.  I thought it would be nice to incorporate lemon, to give it a light & fresh taste for summer.  I eventually decided to try lemon buttercream.  I found this recipe for Italian cream cake, which seemed like it would be like a fancier version of a yellow cake, and would go with any filling or frosting.  The recipe said it would be dense yet moist, and I thought the denseness would be good since I wanted to make a few layers but I did not want to get involved with the interior support system of wedding cakes - i.e. cake rounds, dowels, etc.  For filling, I couldn't decide between lemon curd and strawberry preserves, so I decided to use both, alternating the layers.  I have made lemon curd before, but decided to buy it for this cake, as the cake, buttercream and assembly would take plenty of time.  For the preserves, the flavor I used was strawberry vanilla, which was very good, and not quite as sweet as plain strawberry.

For the cake - for me, this yielded 1-8", 1-6", and 2-4" cakes.
  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 2C sugar, divided
  • 1/4lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2C solid vegetable shortening (trans-free), at room temperature
  • 1t salt
  • 1t vanilla extract
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1C low fat buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2C cake flour
Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter and flour cake pans, then line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/2C of the sugar until the mixture thickens to a meringuelike consistency. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the remaining sugar with the butter, vegetable shortening, and salt. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla extract and mix again.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, (stopping periodically to scrape down the sides) until the batter is thick and well blended.
Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk.
Add the flour to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing after each addition.
Use a large spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling 2/3 full, and bake until the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This took about 50-55 minutes for the 8", less for the others. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes; remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely.
This was adapted from a recipe on this blog, which says the original came from a Martha Stewart book.

For the lemon buttercream:
  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/2C fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2t salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2C plus 2T sugar
  • 3 1/2 sticks of butter – cool but not cold
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
1. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest and sugar in a double boiler and turn it on to medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture is thickened, light in color and hot.  The recipe said this would take 6 minutes, for me it took about 25, partially because I had trouble keeping the water at a constant simmer without it boiling.  It is important to not allow the water to come to a hard boil, or the eggs may scramble or curdle.
2. Pour the mixture into a standing mixer bowl fitted with the whisk and whip the mixture on high for about 5 minutes until it has cooled off and lightened in color to a pale yellow.
3. Once the mixture has cooled (feel the side of the bowl to make sure it’s cool) add the butter about 1/4 stick at a time, whipping until smooth, periodically stopping to scrape the sides. Then add the vanilla bean and vanilla extract and whip again.
4. If the frosting is too soft, stick it in fridge for 20 minutes or so. Then scrape it down and whip for 1 minute. For spreading the buttercream can be soft, but for decorating it needs to be more solid.
Recipe source: Eat The Love blog

To assemble the cake:
Slice the largest layer of cake (8") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on a platter or cake stand and place strips of parchment paper under the edges, so you can pull them out after decorating and the platter will be clean.  Spread with lemon curd (I used an English brand called Thursday Cottage from Whole Foods).  I used about 3-4oz maybe, I didn't measure it.  

Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.  

Slice the second layer of cake (6") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on top of the buttercream, and spread with strawberry preserves (I used strawberry vanilla from a Swiss brand called Hero).  

Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.   
Slice the third layer of cake (4") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on top of the buttercream, and spread with lemon curd (I had intended to use lemon curd for the top but when we cut into it I realized I used more strawberry).  Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.  

Spread the sides of all layers with lemon buttercream.
Decorate with blueberries and cut strawberries.

I had intended to decorate the sides with basketweave buttercream but I was running low on buttercream at this point, so I just piped the edges with dots/swirls of buttercream.  I read there is a Wilton decorating tip you can buy to do the sides of the cake for a smoother, more professional look, but this was after my trip to the store so I just used an offset spatula.
If the buttercream gets too soft while you are decorating, put the piping bag in the fridge for a few minutes.
If you are piling fruit on the top layer as I did, I found it is helpful to pipe a little buttercream on the berries before placing them, so they will not roll off.

I used the second 4" cake to make a mini cake for Corey, since he was afraid I wouldn't come home with any leftovers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Healthier Version of a Fast Food Classic

For breakfast this morning I wanted to make something easy, but different from the usual eggs or pancakes.  I decided to make a healthier version of an egg mcmuffin, which I have done before with a fried egg.  Since Corey prefers his eggs scrambled, I looked for something I could use to cook the egg in a round shape so the egg would fit on the English muffin without spilling out all over.
I found a 3.5" round cookie cutter, sprayed it and the pan with grapeseed oil spray, and let it heat in the pan over medium until it was hot.  I whisked 2 eggs with salt & pepper, poured into the cookie cutter, covered and let it cook for a few minutes until the egg was set up the sides.  Then I lifted the cookie cutter and flipped the egg.  I let it cook for another minute, topped with a slice of cheese and covered for another minute.
I used Canadian bacon which has much less fat than regular bacon, and toasted whole wheat English muffins.  Corey added ketchup to his.  We were both happy with the results.  Here's a pic-

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot Italian Chicken Sausage Burgers!

Yesterday I was craving something like a burger, but different.  I thought about making sausage and peppers, and then thought why not make it into a burger?  I know Rachel Ray has made turkey sausage burgers on her show before, adding seasonings to ground turkey.  We always love the hot Italian chicken sausage made in house at Whole Foods, so I thought why try to recreate the flavor when it's already perfect?  The end result was perfectly juicy and spicy, and a nice change from the usual.

Here is how I made it-
Olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 cubanelle pepper, sliced thin
1/3lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt & pepper
3 links hot Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
Grated parmigiano-reggiano, about 2T
Grated pecorino romano, about 2T
Chopped fresh parsley, about 2T
Sliced provolone
Bulkie rolls

Heat 1T olive oil in a large skillet.  Add onions, peppers, and mushrooms, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
Put the sausage in a bowl with both cheeses and the parsley, and stir together until combined.  Form into 2 patties.
Spray another large nonstick skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the patties and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through.  I cooked mine on the stovetop for about 12 minutes and they were nicely browned but not cooked through yet, so I put the pan in the oven for 3 minutes on 400.
Lay provolone slices on the burgers and cook, covered, just until melted.
Place each burger on a bun, and add some of the pepper mixture.
We had baked potato wedges with ours.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Success on Lightening Up a Classic - Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo

One of Corey's favorite dishes is chicken, broccoli and penne with alfredo sauce. For me, as it is usually prepared, it is far too fattening and beyond my reach anyway, since I am semi-lactose intolerant.  (By this I mean that I can eat some things like cheese in limited quantities, but never regular milk or cream sauce.)
Recently I started thinking about how to make alfredo without the heavy cream so we both could enjoy it.  I considered trying it with mascarpone which has less lactose, but with the amount the dish would require, it would still be pretty high in fat.  If it's going to be really good, I'd rather it also be reasonably healthy, since I know I'll want to make it again and again.
A few weeks ago I switched from buying soy milk for my coffee to lactose-free milk. As much as I tried to like it, and after trying several different flavors and varieties, soy milk just adds an unpleasant aftertaste that I grew tired of.  With lactose-free skim milk I can enjoy my coffee again, and cereal too!  Some people think this is strange, but I have never used half and half in coffee, only skim.  (Thanks to Diane Field for suggesting - several times - that I try lactose-free milk!)
Anyway, back to this dish.  I found a recipe for fettuccine alfredo on which calls for milk and light cream, and decided to try it with my lactose-free skim.  I couldn't find lactose-free light cream, so I bought lactose-free half and half.  I used whole wheat penne instead of fresh fettuccine, both to make it healthier and because of Corey's aversion to long pastas.  I also added chicken and broccoli, as well as garlic to both the broccoli and the sauce.
The result - excellent!  I am definitely glad I added the garlic.  Next time, I think I will save a little of the pasta water to add in at the end, which would help to make it even creamier.  I had planned to do this last night, but in my excitement to have perfectly al dente pasta, all of the water went down the drain.

Oil spray
3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
Broccoli, about 1lb
1 large garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
3/4lb whole wheat penne
1T unsalted butter
1C skim milk
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 1/2t cornstarch
1/4C light cream or half and half
1/2C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of nutmeg


Spray a large pan with oil spray (such as canola) and place over medium heat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook, turning, until golden brown on all sides and just cooked through.  Remove to a bowl.

Add broccoli, 1 minced garlic clove, 1T olive oil, and 1/4-1/3C water to a pan and place over medium heat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, about 5 minutes, until you can just pierce the broccoli with a fork.  Remove the cover, stir, and cook a little longer, about 2 minutes, until the water is evaporated.  Remove to a bowl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot.

In a small saucepan melt the butter, add the milk and the smashed garlic clove, and bring to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in cornstarch, and continue whisking occasionally until lightly thickened. Remove the garlic.

Put it all together:
Add chicken and broccoli to the pasta in the pot and stir to combine over low heat. Pour in the milk mixture and stir. Add light cream, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg and stir.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with more parmesan if desired.

Adapted from

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baked Eggplant with Tomato Mint Sauce & Feta, over Grilled Polenta

Yesterday I decided to try out a new eggplant recipe, in keeping with my resolution to try to observe Meatless Mondays.  It came out very good - similar to an appetizer available on many restaurant menus, but a little different with the mint & feta.
The original recipe called for goat cheese, which Corey absolutely hates.  I used feta instead, which isn't as creamy as goat cheese, but it still tasted delicious.   Usually this type of dish comes with parmesan, but I thought the feta was great, especially with the mint in the sauce.  Simmering the sauce for a little while before assembling the dish made it thicker and gave it a wonderfully rich oven-roasted taste.
I served it over grilled polenta.  Recently I bought a tube of polenta for the first time.  I've always made my own polenta before, but I thought it would come in handy at some point.  It was so easy, all you have to do is slice it and grill it.
Have a look-

When I want to make an eggplant dish, I always look for eggplants that are small and without any bruises.  If this is not possible, I usually just make something else altogether.  Larger eggplants can be bitter tasting, which can be remedied by salting, but to me the smaller ones always taste better.

Nonstick canola oil spray
2 1lb eggplants, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick crosswise rounds
1 1/2T olive oil
1/2C chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
3T chopped fresh mint
1/2t dried oregano
1/2C crumbled feta
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Polenta tube

1. Preheat oven to 500°F.
2. Spray 2 large baking sheets with oil spray.
3. Arrange eggplant rounds on prepared sheets, brush lightly with 1T oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Bake until tender and golden on both sides (about 10 minutes per side). Remove from oven.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
6. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1/2T oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
7. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
8. Add garlic and stir 1 minute.
9. Add tomatoes with their juices, mint and oregano and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
10. Season with salt and pepper if needed.  (I didn't add any salt to mine, the canned tomatoes already contained plenty of salt.)
11. Spoon half of tomato sauce into shallow 2-quart baking dish.
12. Arrange eggplant rounds atop sauce, overlapping so that all will fit in the dish.
13. Spoon remaining sauce over.
14. Sprinkle cheese over.
15. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant is baking, prepare the polenta.
1. Heat a nonstick grill pan over medium high heat.
2. Slice the polenta 1/2 inch thick, as many slices as you need.
3. Add the polenta slices to the hot pan, and cook until golden brown.
4. Flip the polenta and cook until golden brown on the other side.

Place a few slices of polenta on each plate, top with the eggplant and sauce, and sprinkle with basil.

Recipe adapted from

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quesadillas are delicious, when made without 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs

Is it even possible to make 16 different varieties of guacamole?  I guess it must be...

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I think Friday's dinner is the perfect opportunity to start up again.
Sometimes we go out for drinks with friends after we've already had our dinner at home.  However, on Friday we went out for drinks first, and then came home famished.  While not normally recommended, doing it this way can make things a little more interesting.
I was just about to start cooking dinner when Corey called to suggest going out with some of his friends from work.  We went to a small waterfront bar nearby that had somehow evaded us for the past year we've lived here.  It was a fun time, with VERY cheap drinks and a short elderly man named Mudslide Walter directing the karaoke.  Once we got home, I wasn't so in the mood for cooking anymore. Luckily I had planned a simple dinner anyway, and we were eating in less time than it would have taken to get a pizza delivered.
I should mention that I don't think Corey had been appreciating my cooking as much as usual the past few days.  On Monday, I was going to make a vegetarian dish, until I realized I didn't have the time required to roast the squash I was going to use in the dish.  So, I decided to use up some stuff I had on hand instead, and made breakfast for dinner.  I made an egg scramble with feta & baby spinach, with roasted potatoes and bacon.  For me it was very good and a nice change of pace, and I think Corey didn't mind it, although I was told that usually when he's had breakfast for dinner it has been french toast.
The next night, Tuesday, ended up being meatless Monday rescheduled, and I made butternut squash & corn enchiladas, and a rice dish with all sorts of things in it like avocado, cilantro, lime, etc etc.  This one Corey was not so happy with, but you know, you win some...   Good thing I liked it, because there were leftovers. Vegetarian main dishes are usually not well received around here unless there are eggplant, sauce and pasta involved.  Sometimes I make complicated dishes that require a lot of time and ingredients, and are appreciated more by some than others.
Which brings me to the 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs....
Corey loved these quesadillas so much.  He actually said, and I quote: "These are so good, and you didn't use 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs."  I think he was as surprised to hear it as I was.  I really only make guacamole one way, and I've definitely never cooked frogs before (although I have eaten them, and they do taste like chicken).  Anyway, I guess he just liked them because they were simple, and we're still laughing about it around here.  They were delicious, and also reasonably healthy, with spinach and mushrooms, and not a ton of cheese.
I had never actually made quesadillas before.  I had bought the tortillas the other day, and by accident bought the larger size, instead of the smaller ones used for fajitas, and so I decided to try quesadillas.
Sorry I have no photo, but as I said, we did have some drinks before, and we were starving.  But I will be making these again definitely.  Before Corey left for work this morning, he asked if we're having quesadillas for dinner haha.  (No, we're having roast chicken.)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
1T oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
1 large onion, chopped
8oz button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1t ground cumin
1t chili powder
1t dried oregano
2C baby spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2t salt
1/4t fresh ground black pepper
6 (10-inch) flour tortillas
Shredded monterey jack cheese, cheddar, or a mix
Low fat sour cream

First, cook the chicken:
1. Heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat.
2. Place the chicken in pan and cook until well browned on both sides and just cooked through.
3. Remove and cut into small 1/2 inch pieces or shred.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients for the filling:
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet (I used my anodized) over a medium heat.
2. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until the mushroom water is evaporated and they begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Add chicken, cumin, chili powder and oregano and stir until all spices are incorporated.
5. Add spinach, salt and pepper and cook until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.

Next, assemble the quesadillas and cook them:
1. Lay 1 tortilla on a flat work surface and sprinkle with about 1/4C shredded cheese.
2. Spoon some of the chicken and vegetable mixture on top of cheese, around 1/2C, then top with an additional 1/4C cheese and another flour tortilla.
4. Using the same large nonstick skillet, spray it with cooking spray and place over medium heat.
5. Carefully place 1 quesadilla in the pan and cook 3 minutes, until lightly browned.
6. Using a large spatula, gently flip quesadilla and cook an additional 3 minutes until lightly browned and cheese is melted.
7. Repeat with remaining 2 quesadillas.
8. Slice each quesadilla into quarters, and serve with salsa and sour cream.

I was originally going to make a side dish of sauteed black beans, bell peppers and red onion to go with this.  Since we got home late I nixed it and used the peppers and onion I had already cut up with this morning's eggs.

Recipe adapted from

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meatless Monday! Lentils with Sauteed Veggies over Quinoa

There has been a lot of press about how eating less meat is better for your health as well as the earth.  Meatless Mondays are promoted as a way to reduce how much meat you eat on a regular basis, and as such every Monday I receive many emails about vegetarian cooking.
I do like to cook vegetarian dishes, but have not gotten into doing it with much consistency.  However, yesterday I wanted to cook mostly with ingredients I had on hand.  I also wanted to go only to the local store (which will remain nameless), and which does not have such a good selection for meats.  So, Meatless Monday it was!  It also helped that Corey was going out after work.  Whenever I cook a main dish without meat, he usually says it would taste better with chicken haha.
My inspiration for my dinner came from a dish I saw on the blog Liberty London Girl.  I made quite a few changes and additions, and was very happy with the results.  With 5 ingredients from the list of the 30 healthiest foods (see my previous post Healthy Ideas - 30 Healthiest Foods), this dish is packed with vitamins and protein, and low in carbs.
Here's how it looked-

Green lentils
Olive Oil
Red onion - diced
Garlic - chopped
Mushrooms - sliced (I used baby bellas)
Chicken or veggie broth, or water if needed
Spinach (I used baby spinach)
Salt & Pepper
Lemon juice

1. Cook the lentils (I had some precooked in the freezer).
2. Rinse and cook the quinoa - I used about 3/4C, added to 1 1/2C boiling water and simmered for 15 minutes.
3. In a large saute pan, heat 1T olive oil on medium.  Add 1/2 of a red onion, diced.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and cook for another 10 minutes.

It needed a little moisture while cooking, so I'll admit I added a little chicken broth here, but I think it still counts as meatless.  Remove to a bowl.
4. Add the spinach to the same pan and cook, covered, until wilted.  Stir while cooking to help the process.
Add the lentils (I used maybe 1C) and cook until heated.

Return the mushroom mixture to the pan, stir to combine, and cook for a few minutes.  Season with pepper.  Add the feta (I used about 3oz, diced) and stir in so it will start to melt.
5. Spoon quinoa onto a plate and make a well in the center.  Spoon the veggies over the quinoa.
6. In a small bowl, whisk together a little olive oil and lemon juice (I used about 2T each).  Drizzle a little over the vegetables.
I'll admit I did have some toasted naan with this, which did up the carbs, as you can see it the 1st photo.
The whole meal was delicious!

Do you observe Meatless Mondays?
What is your favorite meatless main dish?