Monday, August 29, 2011

Pippy's Strawberry Cake

Today is my daughter’s 2nd birthday! And what birthday confection goes best with her vast array of girlie gifts: a brand new baby doll, a Hello Kitty necklace, Snap n Style Dolls and a stack of girlie books? A very PINK strawberry cake, of course! This absolutely delicious recipe from Paula Deen is loaded with pureed strawberries that give the cake & frosting a delightfully pink hue- no food coloring needed whatsoever!

Paula’s recipe calls for frozen strawberries in syrup. I have used frozen strawberries before and the cake turned out great! However, I could not find frozen strawberries in syrup at the grocery store this time. So, instead I substituted the frozen for one whole carton of fresh strawberries (green tops cut off) and 1/2 c. sugar. I pureed the strawberries & sugar in the blender until smooth. It yielded approx. 2 cups of strawberry puree. I used 1 cup in the cake and 1/2 cup in the frosting. Below is Paula’s recipe exactly. But, please feel free to try it my way with the fresh strawberries- both ways make a delicious cake!

Strawberry Cake:
1 18oz box of white cake
3 oz box of strawberry gelatin
1 10 oz. pkg frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed & pureed
4 eggs
1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil
1/4 c. water

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 10 oz pkg frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed & pureed
1/2 tsp strawberry extract (find this with the vanilla extract in the baking section of your grocery store)
7 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F

Lightly grease two round 9-inch cake pans.

In a large mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine cake mix and gelatin. Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil and water. Use a whisk or a hand mixer to beat ingredients until smooth. Pour evenly into prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

For frosting: In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add 1/4 c. strawberry puree (FYI, I used 1/2 c. puree), reserving remaining puree for another use (how ‘bout a smoothie?!). Beat in strawberry extract. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Spread strawberry cream cheese frosting in between layers and on the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gina's Taco Casserole

This recipe comes from one of my very best friends, Gina. She tells me this taco casserole is one of her family's favorite meals! I adapted it slightly from her original. The thing I like about this meal is I can make it in the morning and then pop it in the fridge until I'm ready to cook it for dinner. If you do this, make sure you bring the casserole to room temperature before baking (30 minutes sitting on the counter should do it). My husband is SUPER picky when it comes to casseroles and usually doesn't like them very much...BUT! he gave this dish his stamp of approval and went back for seconds! Score!

1 Tbl olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 lb. lean ground beef (or if you prefer, ground turkey or cooked shredded chicken)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 1.25oz pkg. taco seasoning (I used McCormick)
Approx. 1/3 to 1/2 bag of tortilla chips
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (use pinto beans if you prefer)
1 15 oz can of white corn, drained
1 4 oz can diced green chilies
1 15 oz can of sliced black olives
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add meat and brown until almost cooked, breaking meat into crumbles with a wooden spoon. Add taco seasoning, tomato sauce and water to pan. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Lightly spray a 9X13 inch baking pan. Use your hand to crush approx. 1/3 to 1/2 a bag of tortilla chips. Add the crushed chips to the bottom of the pan to form a "crust".

Add the black beans, corn & chilies to the meat mixture and stir well to incorporate. GENTLY spoon mixture over the chips, trying not to disturb the "crust". Evenly sprinkle the sliced olives over the meat mixture. Evenly sprinkle cheese on top of the whole dish. Cover loosely with foil.

Bake in 350F oven until heated through, 25 minutes. Turn up the oven to 400F and take off the foil. Cook for another 5-7 minutes until cheese is bubbly. After removing from oven, let casserole stand for 5 minutes on the counter before serving. For an optional dollop of calories, add a spoonful of sour cream and/or salsa and/or guacamole to each serving.

Serve with extra chips (use the chips as a spoon to scoop up the casserole- tastes like nachos!). A simple side salad pairs well with this casserole, too! Ole!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Strawberry Spinach Salad

This is a light, refreshing salad that requires hardly any prep. Doesn't get any better than that! It's a great warm weather salad so make sure to try it before summer's over. This recipe serves two people.

1 medium bag of spinach
3 Tbl pine nuts
6 strawberries, cut into sixths
3 Tbl. Feta cheese, crumbled
Briannas' Home Style Blush Wine Vinaigrette Dressing

In a large salad bowl add spinach and pine nuts. Dress with vinaigrette and toss.

Divide spinach & pine nuts evenly between two bowls. Top with feta cheese crumbles and cut strawberries. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Caramel Cake

Another DELICIOUS confection brought to my attention by my dear friend, Melissa, over at Harper Street Treats! This recipe comes from Epicurious (which is a fab site, FYI, for all things yummy)! The cake itself is a snap to make...the glaze requires a bit more work (must use a candy thermometer)- but, all in all, it wasn't too hard and I got rave reviews from all cake testers (including my husband and he is a hard judge). Enjoy!

For cake:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: a candy thermometer

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment (I skipped the parchment and just really greased the heck out of the pan- worked fine!)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.

Cooks' note:
Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Almond Joy Bars

These almond coconut bars get much praise by anyone who eats them! They are simple to make and absolutely scrumptious! The crust calls for 2 cups of chocolate cookie crumbs. I use one 7.5oz box of Annie's Chocolate Bunny Grahams ground in the food processor into crumbs. You can also use chocolate graham crackers.

2 cups of chocolate cookie crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
1/4 c. sugar

2 cups of sweetened flaked coconut
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup of chopped almonds (I have used also slivered and sliced- they are all good)

2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F

In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs, melted butter and sugar. Press mixture into a well greased 11X7" baking pan to form the crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely!

While crust is baking, combine coconut, sweetened condensed milk & almonds. Evenly and gently spread filling onto cooled crust. If the crust isn't cool, it can pull up and mix into the filling as you are spreading it. Bake for 17 minutes.

Take bars out of the oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Turn the oven off and put bars back in for an additional 2 minutes. Take bars out and immediately spread chocolate over the filling. Let the bars cool for about 30 minutes on the counter.

Take a butter knife and run it around all the edges of the bars loosening any pieces of coconut that are sticking to the pan. Transfer bars into the refrigerator and cool until the chocolate is set (about 30 minutes to an hour). Take the bars out of the refrigerator and cut them directly in the pan and serve. OR run a butter knife around the sides of the pan again and turn the whole pan upside down on a clean cutting board. Give the pan a few good thumps and the bars should fall out whole. Then using a large knife cut the bars evenly into 2 inch squares.

Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!