Monday, January 30, 2012

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

 I know, many of you will think that pumpkin is so Fall like, but my husbands birthday was last week and he really wanted a pumpkin cake. I've had this cake bookmarked for quite a while, so decided to try it now. I wanted to make a special cake for my sweetie, who's getting older and wiser, and who does not always share my chocoholic tendencies. This cake did not disappoint. In fact we both thought it was one of, if not the best cake we've ever tasted! Being a pumpkin cake, it is dense and moist and the browned butter in the cake, AND in the Cream Cheese Frosting, makes this a "To Die For", dessert! The frosting also has brown sugar in it and it's delicious.We couldn't quit groaning as we shoveled it in. You've got this cinnamony, gingery, spice flavored cake with the browned butter, cream cheese combination that's just amazing. In short, this is a keeper. Can't wait to try making cupcakes.
 I changed the recipe some. I increased the cinnamon in the cake batter, and decreased the ginger. I decreased the brown sugar just a bit, but now I don't think I needed to. I thought the cake might be too sweet because I planned on increasing the frosting, but it was just fine. I knew that the amount of frosting wouldn't be enough, so I increased that. I also did not do the nut topping like the recipe. I just used some roasted pecans that I tossed with butter, sugar and a little salt and then decorated the cake rim. The next time I make this cake, I'm going to add some chopped pecans between the cake layer, like the recipe suggests. While this cake and the frosting use brown butter, this is not a hard cake to make. It does require a bit more time, so it would be best to make it early in the day, or make the cake layers the day before and then wrap them in plastic wrap. Then assemble the next day. Either way, this Browned Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake is worth the trouble.  Delicious, decadent, addictive and so much more; it's a cake to dream about. I hope you'll give it a try.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

For the cake:
3/4 cup, (12 tablespoons),  unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar - originally calls for  2/3 cup
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 can of pumpkin puree, or homemade puree

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Move the oven rack to center of the oven.
2. Grease and flour 2 round cake pans that are 9x2 inches. Use parchment if desired. My cake did fine without it.
3. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Every minute or so, stir or roll the butter around. The butter will foam and begin to turn a nutty shade with bits of brown . This will take about 4 minutes. Pour into a bowl and cool.
4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk, sugar, pumpkin and mix well.
5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients together in intervals. Mix in the brown butter. Do not over mix this batter. You will not need and electric mixer for this cake.
6. Divide the batter evenly into the 2 cake pans and smooth the top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until done. Toothpick inserted into cake should come out clean. Cool the cake in pans for 10 minutes. Run knife around the cake and invert onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 cups powdered sugar

1. In a heavy pan, brown the butter just as you did for the cake. Pour into a small bowl, and set it in the freezer for 12-15 minutes. Don't let it get hard on the top. Butter needs to be cool to add to the frosting, but don't let it get too hard. Or, you could pour the butter through a small mesh sieve to catch the small browned bits. You won't pour the brown bits into the frosting. Take a spoon and spoon out the cooled butter, taking care to not scrape up the browned bits.
2. In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese well; mix in the brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the cooled brown butter, and the powdered sugar in with the cream cheese. Beat until creamy. If the frosting is too stiff, add about a tablespoon of cream, or milk.

Assemble and frost the cake:
Place one cake on your cake plate. Add about 1 cup frosting, or your desired amount, and spread evenly to the edge of cake. Place remaining cake on top of frosting. Frost sides and top of cake. Decorate with pecans.

For Pecans: Mix 1 cup pecans, tablespoon melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Toast in a skillet for a few minutes, or in the oven. Cool nuts completely on a paper towel lined plate. The original recipe calls for more nuts, and uses them between the layers of the cake, and then piling the rest on top of cake. It also calls for candied ginger, which I did not use.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Skillet Tamale Pie

 If you've followed my blog for awhile, you know that I love skillet meals or other one pot meals. If I can throw everything into a skillet and have a meal, I am so very happy. And if said meal is delicious and my husband likes it, I'm ecstatic! And if this wonderful recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, "The Best Chicken Recipes", that I found last week while shopping at TJ Max for $8.00!!!, then I'm almost ready to do cartwheels. Almost. Good food and good bargains cause me to get excited.
This recipe calls for ground chicken, and I didn't have any, nor did I have ground turkey. But I had a pound of chicken breasts in the fridge, so I figured I'd make it work. I diced the chicken into small pieces. And the recipe said you could use a cornbread mix for the topping. I did as I was lazy in a hurry. I made some minor changes. I used Monterrey Jack cheese, instead of cheddar. I used a bit less garlic, and I added about 3/4 cup of frozen corn that was hanging out in the fridge. I'm adding this to my favorites list as it's easy to prepare, tastes great and it's a perfect week night meal.This is a mild tasting meal so if you like your Mexican style meals spicier, you'll need to add some more heat. We thought it was just spicy enough for the two of us. And the fresh cilantro is really a flavor booster, so try not to leave it out (unless you hate cilantro, that is). I hope you'll give this Skillet Tamale Pie a try. I think you'll love it.
Skillet Tamale Pie
slightly adapted from "The Best Chicken Recipes" form Cook's Illustrated
The recipe calls for ground chicken, but you can substitute ground turkey or lean ground beef.
Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed - recipe calls for 3
1 pound ground chicken- I used breasts that I sliced thin and then diced
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, drained
3/4 cup frozen corn -my addition
4 ounces, 1 cup, shredded Monterrey Jack cheese - recipe calls for cheddar
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 (6.5 ounce - 8.5 ounce) package of cornbread mix, made according to package directions - I used Betty Crocker. If you would rather use a homemade topping, I'll include the recipe below. 

1. Place your oven rack in the middle position in your oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Heat the oil in a 12 inch oven proof skillet over medium heat. Add onion, chili powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic; cook 30 seconds.
3. Stir in the chicken and cook until half done at least and then add black beans and tomatoes to the pan. Stir until the meat is no longer pink.. Stir in the corn.
4. Mix corn bread batter to package directions.
5. To the skillet add the cheese and cilantro and mix until cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Dollop the cornbread batter over the the filling and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cornbread is baked through, about 10-15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Cornbread Topping
3/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 tea. salt
3/4 cup buttermilk3 tablespoons melted butter.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
In another bowl, mix the buttermilk and egg together. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the melted butter. Spoon over the top of the Tamale Pie and bake as directed above. I have not tried this cornbread topping yet, but this is the topping that was included with Cooks recipe.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mushroom and Brown Rice Casserole

When I first saw this Mushroom and Brown Rice Casserole I knew I had to make it. My husband and I love rice so I try to use brown rice whenever I can because it's healthy and I love the nutty taste too. This casserole is full of mushrooms and onions and a couple of ingredients that may surprise you. Cottage cheese, sour cream; are you surprised? Anyway, this is delicious. I only made a half of recipe for just my husband and I. It was enough for dinner and leftovers the next day. This is now my favorite brown rice recipe. If you are a rice lover, you should give this casserole a try.

Mushroom and Brown Rice Casserole
slightly adapted from Annie's Eats - I made half of the recipe, and it made 3 - 4 side servings. Double the recipe if you need more.

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces of mushrooms - I used Baby Bellas
1/2  of a red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1 egg
1/2 cup cottage cheese - regular,or low fat
1/4 cup sour cream - I used low fat
1/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan cheese
parsley for garnish - optional

Give the mushroom a rough dice and then saute in oil in a skillet over medium heat. when they have released their liquid, add the onions to skillet. When softened, add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. In a bowl, combine the egg, sour cream, cottage cheese and salt. Stir in about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese. Mix in the rice and the mushroom mixture and pour into a greased 1 quart casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 15-20 minutes more. Remove dish from oven. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Garnish with parsley and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One - Minute Tomato Salsa

I can make a meal out of only chips and salsa, lots of salsa. And it is one of my favorite things when we go to our favorite Mexican Restaurant. They have the Best chips and salsa ever.
I found this recipe for One Minute Salsa in a Cook's Country Magazine last year and I've made it numerous times since then. I personally really like it, but it isn't quite as good as the restaurants. And of course it is not going to be as yummy as a fresh salsa made with garden grown tomatoes, no way. But this salsa is still one that I crave. After all, I can have a tasty salsa in just about one minute. All you need is canned, diced tomatoes, and some other ingredients that really freshen this salsa up. Fresh cilantro and lime juice really give it a flavor boost. Ingredients are pulsed quickly in a food processor and viola - salsa and chips are yours. Hope you'll give it a try.

One - Minute Tomato Salsa
adapted from Cook's Country
This recipe makes a mild salsa.

1/2 of a small red onion, quartered
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves- Cook's used twice as much
1/4 cup jarred, pickled jalapeno slices, drained
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 garlic clove, peeled- Cook's used 2
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1. In a food processor add the onion, cilantro, jalapenos, garlic and salt. Process until coarsely chopped.
2. Add tomatoes to processor and pulse until combined, about 2 or 3 quick pulses. If desired, drain salsa in a fine mesh stainer to remove some of the juices. Transfer salsa to a serving bowl. Stir in the fresh lime juice. Serve with chips and enjoy!

NOTE: I've found that different brands of tomatoes vary and that will make a difference on whether or not you will need to drain them for salsa. Also, use good quality canned tomatoes. I've used Hunts and Red Gold brands with success. Also, fire roasted tomatoes are nice in this.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pumpkin Bread

 Moist, fragrant pumpkin bread is one of my favorite quick breads. It's right up there with Banana Bread for me. This is my Mother's recipe that she made for many years. I  cut my teeth on this delicious bread when I was a kid, so this recipe has been around for awhile. I made this during Christmas and for got to post it. So here's my recipe. I hope you'll give it a try.
Pumpkin Bread
from my Mother
This recipe makes 2 large loaves.

Grease and flour 2- 9x5 inch loaf pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Dry ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
Sift all these ingredients together in a large bowl.

Wet ingredients:
1 cup vegetable oil- I use canola
2/3 cup water
4 eggs, beaten
1 can of pumpkin puree
1 cup chopped nuts - I used pecans this time
Mix wet ingredients together; stir into the dry ingredients, and then fold in nuts.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 loaf pans. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool bread in the pans for 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the pumpkin bread and invert the loaves onto cooling racks. When completely cool, wrap in foil. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bacon and Brown Sugar Wrapped Smokies

Do you need an appetizer idea for the football games this weekend? I made these over New Years and had trouble getting a picture because family members were getting impatient to get some. Sausages, bacon and brown sugar- what's not to love. While they aren't going to be the healthiest appetizer, they definitely will be devoured as they are very addictive. We couldn't stay out of them! Here's the recipe.

Bacon and Brown Sugar Wrapped Lil Smokies

1 package Lil Smokies sausages, beef or pork - I used Hillshire Farms Beef sausages
bacon slices, cut into thirds
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut your bacon slices into 3 equal portions. Wrap each sausage with a piece of bacon and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining sausage and bacon. Scatter the brown sugar over the sausages. I made sure there was a little heap of brown sugar on each one. Place into the oven and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the whole pan of sausages is bubbly. Remove pan from oven. Place a toothpick in each sausage and place appetizers on a serving tray. These will delicious either hot or room temperature. Enjoy!
NOTE: Most recipes I've seen for these say to put toothpicks in the sausages before baking, but they get very messy, so I tried waiting until after they were baked and the sausages did just fine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Cook a Tender, Oven Braised, Beef Pot Roast

My first cooked meal of the New Year was a very tender and delicious beef Pot Roast, braised in the oven. A cold front that blew in left me wanting something warming and comforting for dinner. And I had a chuck roast in the freezer that was calling my name, and bringing back memories of my Mother. My mom made the most tender, melt in your mouth roasts I've ever tasted, so I think of her every time I make pot roast. Sometimes I make mashed potatoes with pot roast, but most of the time I bake potatoes with the roast as my Mother did. You can just break up the potatoes on your plate and cover with gravy. This is comfort food at it's best.
I always add onions to the pot and I brown them slightly the first thing. Then I brown the roast on all sides, even the ends for just a few minutes. Add carrots and potatoes to the pot and you have a true one pot meal to look forward too. I even make the gravy in the same pot. I'm lazy when it comes to clean up.
If you cook chuck roast long enough, it will be very tender and delicious. Many folks tend to take it out of the oven too soon, resulting in a tough piece of meat. You really need about 1 hour of cooking per pound of chuck roast. Use the fork test to see if it's tender. Stick a fork in the meat and pull. If done, it should begin to pull apart very easily, like you are going to shred it.This is right where you want it. Here's my method.
Classic Oven Braised Pot Roast
my Mothers

1 chuck roast- mine was only 2 1/2 pounds
1 onion, sliced
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into about 1 inch slices
5 or 6 potatoes,(I used Yukon Golds) peeled and cut in half or fourths, depending on the size
1 dried bay leaf
beef broth, water or chicken broth

In a dutch oven over medium high heat, in about 1 tablespoon of oil, cook the sliced onion for just a couple of minutes, until it softens and begins to turn golden. Remove the onion to a bowl. Season the roast liberally with salt and pepper, and garlic powder if desired. Add more oil to the dutch oven if needed. Add the chuck roast to the pan and brown it on all sides. Place half the onions on top of the roast and half scattered around the roast in the pan.  Add enough liquid to come up most of the way next to the roast. I used 1 can low-sodium beef broth and 1/2 cups water in my pan. You could need more or less, depending on the size of your pan and how full it is. Toss the bay leaf in the liquid and cover pot with lid. Place dutch oven in a preheated 300 degree oven and cook for about 60 minutes per pound of beef. My 2 1/2 pound roast took about 2 3/4 hours to become tender and delicious. Add the potatoes to the pan about halfway through cooking. Cover the pan and continue baking until roast is tender. When done, you can serve the pan juices as is, spooned over the meat and potatoes, or you can do as I do and thicken the juices some for a really tasty gravy.
To Make a Quick Gravy: After you remove the roast and veggies from the pan, skim any fat from the juices,or use a fat separator to make the job easier. Then make a slurry of about 1/4 cup flour and some water. Mix until there are no lumps. While meat juices are simmering, whisk in flour and water mixture a little at a time, only using enough flour mixture to thicken the gravy as much as you want it. Simmer gravy a couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour gravy over potatoes and meat. Enjoy!