Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake

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A few weeks ago, I had my husband buy some cornmeal at the store only to find out later that I already had a mason jar full of it. So I’ve been thinking of some ways I can use it up beyond making plain old cornbread. Don’t get me wrong, sweet cornbread is great, but you can only eat so much of it.

I was initially thinking about making cornmeal pancakes. I love the flavor of corn and I haven’t made cornmeal pancakes in awhile. However, I then remembered that I had seen cornmeal cake before – not cornbread, but actual sweet cakes made with cornmeal. I did some Googling and came across one that looked especially good and contained cranberries, which I also have in abundance. I also have some pithy, dry cara cara oranges that are no good for eating, so I could use those without wasting much. I couldn’t wait for the cake to cool, so we dug into the hot cake right after I removed it from the pan. It’s sweet, citrusy, and would be really great for Christmas dinner or breakfast the next day, especially with some coffee.

Perhaps cornmeal pancakes will be next…

Cranberry Cornmeal Cake
From Food Network’s Website
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1/2 cup yellow fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup orange zest (from 2 large oranges)
3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs

Directions
Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and orange zest. Measure 3 tablespoons of the flour mixture into a small bowl. Add the chopped cranberries and toss until coated. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the egg yolks and whole eggs, 1 at a time. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a spatula, gently fold in the cranberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake until the cake is golden brown, and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Swing Set Cardigan and other things

I love crocheting. I love taking yarn and turning it into something useful, especially when that something useful is also beautiful. I’m a big girl, so I never get to crochet anything for myself – it takes too much yarn – but that’s why I love crocheting baby and kids’ clothing. Unfortunately, I don’t know many people who actually have babies or kids – at least not people who would truly appreciate such gifts…and let me tell you, nothing is more frustrating or hurtful than spending hours, days, weeks, on something and having someone toss it aside as if you bought it at Walmart… Or worse, returning it – Which has happened. Seriously.

I was so happy when I heard one of our family friends is having a girl. It’s not that I don’t like creating things for boys, it’s just that it seems like the vast majority of patterns put there are for girls. And let’s face it, girls’ stuff is usually cuter. So lately, I’ve been diving into making a bunch of stuff for this new baby. I made a cute diaper bag, two burp cloths, and a changing pad out of an adorable pink, green, and white butterfly-themed fabric. I had a hell of a time finding all the fabrics for my projects, and even then, couldn’t find the damask pattern I really wanted. But I think everything turned out super cute.

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I also made a gorgeous granny blanket out of Bernat Waverly Baby yarn in lavender, honeydew, and peek-a-blue. I figured I’d used enough pink already, so I wanted to use colors that were a little less… Girly and submissive (I.e. Less pink). But, I then returned to the pink and made a cotton crocheted bib with green trim, but I’m still lacking a button for that one.

You can find the info for the granny blanket and scalloped trim on my Ravelry page here, or for just the granny blanket here.

Finally, I made a gorgeous “Swing Set Cardigan” from the book Little Crochet: Modern Designs for Babies and Toddlers, by Linda Permann (I’m also in her Craftsy class, which is awesome). The book is full of cute clothing and toys for babies and little kids. Unfortunately, the one little boy I’ve been wanting to make a sweater for is a little too old for these patterns, but I’ll find something eventually. I used NitPicks’ CotLin yarn in celery, which is a lovely soft green color (if you couldn’t tell yet, green is one of my favorite colors). I still need to add three mother of pearl buttons, but it’s otherwise finished. And what’s great is that I made the 18-30 month size, so this will be perfect for a future gift.

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My next project is going to finally be something for myself – not a sweater, as much as I’d like, but a Hobbit Hood. I have some leftover light brown yarn from making my husband’s beardy, so I’m going to use it to make this hood. I just wish it had an optional cape attached to it, but perhaps I can make another one at some point and try to improvise.

Speaking of capes… The book I linked above has the most adorable hooded cape in it. I plan on making that sometime in the future when the baby girl is around 3 or 4. I don’t see much of a point in making it for infants who can’t even walk yet as the cape would just drag on the floor. Plus, how cute would it be to send her off to kindergarten in a red hooded cape?

Double Chocolate Almond Frangipane Muffins

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A few weeks ago, I had the full intention of making one of my favorite desserts – a pear frangipane tart from Smitten Kitchen. I made double the amount of frangipane because I love the creamy almond filling and I figured if I had some left over, I could do something else with it.

Well, a bad sinus infection and overall not sleeping well left me with all the frangipane filling because the tart never got made. I had been wondering the whole time if I could use frangipane filling in things like muffins much the way people use cream cheese filling. I had looked for a recipe like this online and found nothing, so I’d have to improvise.

So today, I finally got around to trying it. I started with a slightly revised version of KAF’s chocolate breakfast muffin, which tastes like a cupcake, but isn’t quite so delicate. I just added a little almond extract to the batter. I then used a teaspoon sized scoop to plop a scoop of my frangipane filling on top of each muffin. Baked for 25 minutes and voila… Moist, very rich and chocolatey muffins with delicate almond filling.

Chocolate Almond Frangipane Muffins
Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Chocolate Breakfast Muffins
and Smitten Kitchen’s Pear and Almond Tart

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups (7 1/4 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups (9 3/8 ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon espresso powder or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 ounces) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons almond extract or emulsion
2 teaspoons vinegar
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) vegetable oil
1/2 batch of almond filling (see below)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard muffin pan with paper cups or spray each cup with nonstick spray

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder or instant coffee, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips. Set aside.

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, almond extract, vinegar, and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring to blend until dry ingredients are moistened.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling nearly to the top. Place a rounded teaspoon-sized amount of filling on top of each cup of batter.

Bake the muffins for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean (test two or three muffins to make sure). Remove the muffins from the oven, and after 5 minutes remove them from the pan and allow to cool for 15 minutes before eating. Yield: 12 muffins.

Almond Filling

2/3 cup almond flour or ground almonds (NOT almond butter)
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Combine almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter and extract. Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

*Leftover filling can be kept for a few weeks. I’d imagine you could use this for many things – even using it for a filling in morning buns or sweet rolls. Encase a tablespoon of filling in bread dough, let rise, and bake as you would buns. Or use in place of cinnamon roll filling. Maybe even on toast – spread a layer of filling on thick challah or brioche and bake for a few minutes until toasted slightly.

Strawberry yogurt topping

I’ve made homemade yogurt several times over the years, but never did so consistently. Lately, I’ve been eating a lot more yogurt in general, always store-bought, so I decided to start making yogurt at home instead – at $1.39 a serving, it adds up when you eat one or two servings a day. I figured I could easily make up the cost in a month or two given that I buy my dairy from Costco. I did use a commercial starter as I’ve found that simply using yogurt from the store can yield runny yogurt and iffy results. I heated my milk to 185 and kept it there for ten minutes. I also replaced a half cup of the milk with whipping cream as I like a creamier yogurt that’s like a dessert. You can just use whole milk, but anything with less fat will be runnier. You can also add some dried milk powder to help thicken it.

The one thing that was lacking was a sweet fruit topping. Every fruit-flavored yogurt recipe I’ve found uses jam, but I find it too sweet and the texture isn’t ideal. I wanted something more like what you find in fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts. Usually, a mixture of sugar, fruit, clear-jel (modified food starch), and maybe a few other things I’d rather not include in a homemade recipe.

You can use cornstarch in this recipe (amount given below), but it can become watery over time, so I prefer clear-jel. I used frozen strawberries here, but you could use fresh or practically any other berry – blueberries, blackberries, etc. if they are particularly juicy, you may want to use an extra half teaspoon of clear-jel or cornstarch.

Strawberry yogurt topping

2 cups strawberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar (I like mine on the sweeter side, use less if you don’t)
2 1/2 teaspoons clear-jel (or 1 3/4 teaspoons cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water)
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, optional

Chop berries if fresh. Place berries in saucepan and turn heat to low. Cook until berries begin to break down and release their juices. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine sugar and clear-jel. (If using cornstarch instead, add sugar to berries and mix cornstarch with the water, set aside). Once berries have broken down, mash with a potato masher and add clear-jel and sugar mixture (if using cornstarch, add the slurry). Cook for a few minutes until thickened. Cool slightly and taste. If berries aren’t tart enough, add the lemon juice. Adjust sweetness by adding more sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, while still quite warm. Refrigerate until cold, then serve on top of your favorite yogurt.

For my current batch of yogurt, I used the sweet yogurt culture from New England Cheesemaking and it’s pretty good. Not too tart, somewhat creamy. But even after heating my milk, adding a bit of heavy cream, and fermenting 10 hours, it’s not as thick as I would like. I may strain it slightly to make a thicker product more like Greek yogurt. I use the leftover whey the same way I would use buttermilk and it makes great pancakes, cakes, etc.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga

I’ve been searching for a really good Mexican shredded a chicken recipe for a long time now – you know that deliciously tender and moist shredded chicken you find in Mexican restaurants. I had yet to find one when I was faced with a huge chicken breast and two chicken thighs we had taken out for dinner, but were still frozen solid. I’ve been cooking various Mexican dishes for a long time (and eating them even longer), so I knew what flavors went into most basic recipes. I decided to take a chance and just combine a few things I thought would work. Let’s just say it turned out to be the juiciest, most flavorful shredded chicken I’ve ever had. I will definitely make this again and again. It’s great in burritos, tacos, on top of rice, or anything else you’d use shredded chicken for.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga

(See note below) Frozen or thawed boneless, skinless chicken (whatever combination of pieces you want. I recommend breasts and thighs for a mixture of flavor, fat, and texture). Use anywhere from 1-3lbs of chicken, depending on desired yield. Broth is strained and can be reserved for other things like soup.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1-2 tablespoons chili powder, to taste

1 15oz. Can tomato sauce

1 4oz. Can chopped green chilies

3 chicken bouillon cubes or 3 teaspoons chicken base

Sauté onion, pepper, and garlic in olive oil until softened and translucent. Place chicken pieces on top of onion and pepper. In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients, crumbling bouillon cubes into mixture. Pour over chicken and cover. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. Shred chicken in slow cooker. Use a slotted spoon to remove shredded chicken from broth. Broth may be saved for another use or poured over burritos for a wet burrito (which was scrumptious).

NOTE: This recipe makes quite a bit of broth, so you have some flexibility in the amount of chicken you use. I used about a pound and a half of frozen chicken, but could have used up to three pounds. You may want to add a little extra cumin and chili powder if you use more chicken.