Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bestest Ever Cranberry Cake with Caramel Topping

Bon Appetit!

Ok, sorry...just watching Julie and Julia for the third time this week (thank you Rebecca for lending it to me)!  I found it so admirable that Julie Powell (we are going to have to use some initials here to keep the Julie/a's straight - so she will now be JP) tackled such complex recipes during the work week.  Of course JP had a genius idea to cook her way through what most people use for a door stop and blog about it but I was mostly struck by her and her husband sacrificing a "normal" dinner time to eat at 9:30 or later as those complex French recipes came together each night.  Can you tell I like to eat?

I have to say I didn't know much about Julia Child (JC) except that I knew she was on TV as I was growing up and she had a distinct voice.  I remember there was speculation that the Childs were spies at some point and I thought I heard that they were but Wikipedia does not confirm my shadowy memory of this.  But I thought Meryl Streep was wonderful as JC and I want to take a lazy Saturday and watch some old episodes of The French Chef.  

And for those who were curious about why JC didn't embrace JP's blog as a way to bring cooking to a new generation I found on-line that JC felt that JP wasn't "serious" about cooking (her posts often don't feature the food as much as JP's day and have a "by the way" feel to the cooking) and that she swore too much on her blog.  Interesting, eh?  I thought so especially considering the "cannoli" comment of JC's in the movie!

Anyway I am a goal person so what I found most inspiring was watching how JC and JP achieved their cooking and life goals.   JC ended up with her ground-breaking cookbook which opened the door for her to become a teacher to all of America on TV and JP ended up becoming a writer like she set out to be.  So a goal I set for myself is to post on this blog at least once a week for 2010.  At that point we can decide if we want to continue, ok?

Bestest Ever Cranberry Cake with Caramel Topping

So for anyone keeping track this is my second cranberry cake BUT this one is way different since it does not come from a box (number one) and it has the caramel topping (number two) and surprisingly enough, no eggs (number three).  My friend Rebecca passed this gem on and in her words it is "incredibly delicious."  I first made this with rhubarb instead of cranberries and I didn't love it as much - bland bland bland. 

So if you are going to make this, and I hope you do because it is so easy and yummy, use the tartest cranberries you can find and don't be afraid of the richmess of the topping.  I personally followed Rebecca's advice exactly and made this when I knew I could share if with some friends so we could share in the naughtiness.


1 cup unbleached, white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
3 tbls melted butter

2 cups cranberries, cut in half

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8x8 pan.
2..  Mix all ingredients together, that's right mix them up.  No need to separately mix up the wet and dry.  Just save the cranberries for the next step which is...
3.  Fold in the cranberries.  Pretty easy right?  The batter should be creamy and smooth at this point and dotted with cranberries.
4.  Pour batter into pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  

Either immediately after pulling the cake out of the oven or while there is about 5 minutes left on the timer start the caramel topping.

Caramel Topping

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla

1.  Brown butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
2.  Add sugar, cream and vanilla and stir to combine. 
3.  Bring sauce to a boil and remove from heat.  Pour sauce directly over cake and allow it to soak in.

Serve while cake is warm.  This will make 12 -16 pieces depending on how you cut it.  Since this is so sweet I prefer to offer the small pieces and you know, you can always go back for more.

Fun fact:  The real-life JP had three cats and a snake instead of the lone cat shown in the movie.  Do you think the producers thought she would be more relatable by ditching the snake?  Also on her blog JP talks about hating Dean and DuLuca but the movie has her happily shopping there.  You just can't judge a person by the movie that was made about them.  :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lemon Blackberry Bread

Let me say that I am just starting to feel comfortable baking...and I haven't even scratched the surface.  This year I'm hoping to do my first cake from scratch and maybe whip up a meringue or two - stay tuned for that!

I don't know exactly what my turning point was but I know that once I had accumulated all the standard ingredients and equipment baking became so much easier.  I read through recipes and can mutter "got it, got it" under my breath as I look at what is required.  And it's easier on my budget to pick up oddball ingredients as needed versus trying to buy everything at once.

The other day I had what Oprah would call an "aha" moment over a baked good while out to lunch with my husband. We were at Market Street Diner in Sun Prairie, WI which is a cute diner with a bakery and I was lusting over some lemon blackberry bread with a crumbly top that they were selling for $5.79.  My husband was keeping our budget in mind and urged me to resist buying it.  After I was done pouting (mostly fake - you girls know what I mean) I suddenly realized that I could probably make something like that.  As soon as we got home that day I started looking for recipes. 

Now the reason the lemon blackberry bread is sharing the stage with some cornbread on the plate below is this was our offering to my friend's Super Bowl party where we brought appetizers themed to our team.  And my team is...the Vikings!  So my husband throught up doing the purple and gold breads, cute huh?  I put half  of the berries in the food processor to dye the bread that won't normally be so purple.

Lemon Blackberry Bread

This recipe came to me by way of Recipe Girl who credits Bob's Red Mill as her source.


1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached white flour
4 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice

1.  Combine ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.


3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 tbs unsalted butter, softened (or use 2 tbs butter and 2 tbs applesauce for a lower fat version)
1 egg

1 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

2 cups blackberries
1 tbs grated lemon zest

1.  Heat oven to 375.  Spray a 9x5 pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2.  In a medium bowl combine and mix sugar, milk, butter (or butter/applesauce combo) and egg until smooth.
3.  In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir into sugar mixture until just combined. 
4.  Add blackberries and lemon zest.  **Note - if you taste the batter at this point (and you should) it will taste like cookie dough, so yummy!
5.  Pour batter into pan and sprinkle with topping.  Bake approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

If you are anything like me and having baked goods in the house is too much of a temptation then check out this magazine for some exercises to do while the bread is baking.  As soon as I post this I'm finishing the latest batch of bread and getting on the floor for some sit-ups.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day French Toast

I believe in the power of traditions.  They can act as a cord that ties a family together.  One that is tight enough to pull people together from hundreds of miles but loose enough to make participation a choice.  My mom always made an effort sure our family celebrated special days and now that I'm married I have been searching for new traditions for 'my' family.

I've never been a breakfast person but lately I've been dreaming about making French Toast.  Growing up we went to church and then out to brunch each Sunday.  While others were ordering omelete's, hash browns and whole wheat toast (another family tradition) I would order a burger with a malt.  Maybe potato pancakes mostly because I am addicted to ketchup ("Ketchup Queen" is a nickname of mine and no, I don't want to make my own, I prefer Heinz).  While I still prefer the types of breakfast foods you top with salsa and sour cream, I am starting to appreciate the sweeter side of breakfast and homemade French Toast seemed like a sweet way to celebrate Valentine's Day.

After scanning my usual sites and cookbooks for recipes I fell onto another of Heidi's keepers from 101 Cookbooks.  Heidi sold me by the way she cuts her French Toast into heart shapes and I announced to my husband that we had a new tradition.  

I sent the word out to my mom and dad that we were going to have a special holiday brunch and like all good moms my mom knew just what I needed.  This year my Valentine's gift included a heart shaped cookie cutter.  I didn't get a picture of the final product but here is a work in progress snapshot.

Valentine's Day French Toast

Original recipe found at 101 Cookbooks here.

We had a crowd so I doubled the original recipe.  For a first timer the toughest part was making sure the FT in the pan didn't burn along with dunking and prepping the next batch of bread.  Thankfully my mom organized the rest of the meal (fruit, hash browns, sausage).  By next year I'll be swinging this feast on my own!

butter or oil for the pan

2 eggs

1 can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

18 slices cinnamon raisin or english muffin bread (cut into hearts or, more traditionally, triangles)

1.  Heat griddle or frying pan to medium hot and butter or oil generously.  Continue to butter pan in between each batch of FT.
2.  Beat egg with a whisk or a fork.
3.  Add milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
4.  Dip into egg and milk mixture.
5.  Brown on both sides on a well-greased griddle or frying pan.
6.  Serve with syrup or if feeling very festive, top with whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate shavings.

Serves 5-6.  Refrigerate leftovers and eat within a few days.

I hope you all had a lovely Valentine's Day and let's keep the love flowing all year!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spicy Green Beans

As previously discussed, winter in Wisconsin is not for quitters...and right around February I feel like quitting. The dogs have to be walked three times a day and those walks have been getting shorter and shorter lately. I have even resurrected the "let's build a fence" conversation from last winter to avoid going outside as much as possible.

But today, even as 9 inches of snow is predicted to fall in the next 12 hours, I have some hope for spring. The sun was shining when I got home from work at 5:00 and I swear I heard a duck quacking this morning. If I squint and look at the blue sky I can pretend it is already April, which truly isn't that far away.

In keeping with my spring theme I decided to salvage some week old green beans that have been languishing in the fridge with the recipe below. I'm so glad I did, the sauce and the flavor hid the fact that the beans should have been eaten sooner. And what a great trick to have up my sleeve for the next time that happens...

Spicy Green Beans

I found this recipe on 101 Cookbooks (here) and Heidi gives credit to being inspired by a recipe in Anna Getty's Anna Getty's Easy Green Organic, to be published by Chronicle Books, March 2010. Good recipes travel well.

Heidi recommends slicing the beans into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces and I would agree with her. The sauce is better able to coat the beans and it gives the dish some extra character.

I considered leaving out the golden raisins but I decided to practice what I preach and follow the recipe exactly the first time and I'm glad I did. They add a subtle sweetness that balances the spicy creaminess of the beans. From the original recipe I did cut the amount of butter called for in half and I used light sour cream to cut calories. 

1 pound green beans, sliced into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced

3 bay leaves

1/3 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/3 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the green beans in a pot of well-salted boiling water for a couple of minutes so they lose their raw edge. Drain and dunk in ice-cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and set aside.
2. In a small bowl pour2 cups of golden raisins with the leftover boiling water from the beans. Cover for five minutes, drain and set aside.
3. Heat your largest skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil, garlic, onion, and bay leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions and garlic start to brown just a bit.
4. Add the wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated.
5. Carefully remove the bay leaves. Stir in the paprika, cumin, coriander, curry powder, salt, crushed red pepper flakes until onion/garlic mixture is covered.
6. Add raisins and stir until raisins are heated through. Add the butter and green beans.  Stir until the butter has melted.
7. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, almonds and cilantro. Taste and add more salt and some pepper if you like.
8. Serve and enjoy.

Serves 4 to 6. Refrigerate any unused portion and eat within several days.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Something warm right before the snow...

One of my Christmas gifts the year I decided to be a vegetarian was a cookbook from my husband.  How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (check it out here) by Mark Bittman truly is a bible of cooking...and it's very thick...and really heavy...and I loved it as the supportive gesture it was but found it incredibly intimidating.  So after paging through a few times it kept my other unused cookbooks company for a while until I recently dusted it off and actually (gasp) cooked from it! 

One of the brilliant things about this cookbook is Bittman offers up each of his recipes with variations.  He allows you to get familiar with the basics before challenging you to mix it up.  What I love is once you know the basics you will probably be able to come up with variations on your own and then you will really feel like you are cooking.

You can find dried lentils at any grocery store but if you have a local Indian grocery I suggest looking there first.  You should find a better selection of lentils and usually spices, like the curry powder used here, are sold in bulk at a cheaper price per unit.

I made this recipe last week and we loved it so much I remade it tonight.  I like to serve it with broccoli topped with sriracha (you will find out there are actually few meals that I don't serve with a side of broccoli and sriracha).  Easy, quick, delicious - what more can you ask for on a Monday night?  Especially right before it snows again...stay warm.

Lentils and Potatoes with Curry
From How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

Although the recipe calls for brown lentils the first time I made this I used red lentils (masoor dal) and it had a wonderful flavor.  The second time I made this I used yellow lentils (toor dal) and it was definitely a more mild flavor and I didn't care for it as much as I couldn't taste the difference between the lentils and the potatoes which seemed weird to me.  Both times I served this over rice with a side of flat bread. 

1 cup dried brown lentils
3 1/2 cups water (Bittman also recommends using coconut milk or vegetable stock)
1 tbsp curry powder

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

salt and freshly ground black pepper

yogurt and minced fresh cilantro for garnish (if desired)

1.  Combine the lentils, liquid and curry powder in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2.  Turn heat to medium-low, cover pot partially and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils start to absorb the water a bit (about 15 minutes).
3.  Add the potatoes and cover the pan completely.  Cook, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes, then stir gently and check to make sure the lentils aren't too dry.  If so, add water.  Add salt as the lentils cook up and become tender.
4.  Cover and continue cooking until the lentils are soft and beginning to turn to mush and potatoes are tender at the center.  When its ready the mixture should be moist but not soupy.
5.  Top with plain yogurt and cilantro and serve plain or over rice.

Makes 4 servings.  Per Bittman this will easily freeze and one of the variations he recommends for this recipe is to add 2 tbls butter as the lentils are cooking for a creamier mixture.
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