Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oreo Birthday Cake for August Birthdays

I don't always make the hour and a half drive from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo to see my family as often as I should.  Our busy racing schedule and my mentoring work with Hospice keep me booked up on most weekends (not to mention the busy schedules of my family up there, too!).  There are always at least two guaranteed visits per year on Thanksgiving and my dad and stepsister's birthday.  Something about their shared August birthday (as well as a generally convenient break in the racing season) means that this birthday celebration must be in person each year.  This year's visit was particularly lovely, with perfect weather, lots of delicious food, and of course, a delicious cake!  I found this recipe on Annie's Eats, and since it was one of her earlier cake concoctions, it seemed easy enough for me to try out for my first big cake (most of Annie's more recent cakes are to die for and look like they belong in a gourmet restaurant, but are a little too advanced for me!).  Instead of using the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake that she recommends, I used the same recipe that we used for my mother-in-law's chocolate cake when we went to Michigan in July this year (that was a whole other adventure, baking with my very particular 5 year old niece and my very worried father-in-law).  The caked baked up beautifully, but I probably should have flattened it out a bit before stacking the cakes together.  I figured I would hide the gaps with the filling and frosting, but to my disappointment, it was way too warm in my apartment for the butter cream frosting to serve as a proper "shellac."  I jokingly refer to my "meltdown over the meltdown" now, but I was really freaking out at the time.  I didn't want my family to bring up a certain infamous disaster cake that a babysitter once helped me make (known as the "sandy earthquake cake" because we used granulated sugar in the frosting and the entire thing had split in baking).  Thankfully, I simply threw the entire cake and the bowl of frosting into the fridge for an hour before I even wanted to look at it again.  When I took it out, the frosting was much easier to work with and I was able to salvage a very pretty cake.  I think the guests of honor enjoyed it!  My niece was disappointed with my dad's calm demeanor and decided to show him how to properly pose with a cake.

Cookies & Cream Chocolate Cake
For "Feathery Fudge Cake" (from Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, circa 1963 or so):
2/3 Cup softened butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups ice water
Cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Blend in chocolate. Sift flour, soda and salt together.  Add to creamed mixture alternately with water, beating after each addition.  Bake in two parchment lined 9" cake pans in preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until done.

For Perfectly Chocolate Frosting (from Hershey's):
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Melt butter.  Stir in cocoa.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add more milk if needed.  Stir in vanilla.  Chill if needed

For Oreo filling (from Annie's Eats):
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
10 sandwich cookies, chopped
In bowl of electric mixer with whisk attachment, combine heavy cream, sugar and vanilla.  Beat on low until sugar is incorporated.  Increase to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.  Fold in chopped cookies.

To assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cardboard cake circle.  Pipe a ring of chocolate frosting around the top outside of the layer, creating an edge.  Fill the area inside the ring of frosting with about half the whipped Oreo topping.  Place the second layer on top.  Frost the sides of the cake with chocolate frosting.  Pipe a decorative border around the top layer with the remaining chocolate frosting.  Fill the area inside this boarder with the remaining whipped Oreo topping.  Garnish with additional Oreos or Oreo crumbs, if desired.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maturing a Childhood Favorite: Fishsticks

Like many of my fellow Americans, I grew up with my Macaroni and Cheese coming out of a blue box with flourescent orange cheese product that I could count on. Macaroni and cheese went together with fish sticks in my family about nine times out of ten, and to this day, I get nostalgic for the combination. Of course, my palate has matured a bit and I no longer feel all that great after preparing a meal of all that processed "wholesome goodness" that is advertised. I had heard good things about Alton Brown's stovetop macaroni and cheese, and knew I needed to try that, but it was really when I saw Elly make these Panko Crusted Fishsticks that I knew it was time to recreate the childhood meal. The macaroni and cheese was a bit of a bust, but I think I know what I did wrong, so I'll make it again and blog it when it is worthy. The fish sticks were fantastic. This is the first new recipe I've made in a while that we both knew, while eating, that it would become a part of our meal rotation for sure. They came together relatively quickly, were crunchy, yet still tasted very much like real fish. I loved the addition of the spices to the panko for added flavor. Kudos to Elly for coming up with such a great idea!

Panko Crusted Fish Sticks (from Elly Says Opa)

2 tilapia, cod, or other white fish fillets (about 3/4 lb.)

1 egg, beaten

1.25 cups panko

heaping 1/4 tsp. onion powder

heaping 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

heaping 1/4 tsp. paprika

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tbsp. canola oil

Preheat the oven to 450. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and spray lightly with cooking oil/spray. Cut the fish into strips. Beat the egg in one shallow bowl and use another shallow bowl or plate to mix together the panko, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, and canola oil. Dip the fish strips into the egg and the into the panko mixture, coating on all sides. Place each strip on the prepared baking rack and bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through, or until fish is flaky.

Pork Chops with Cherry Port Wine Sauce

I seem to be kicking the food rut I've been in the last few months, and have been making more new recipes lately, so here I am, back in the food blog world! This recipe was one that I've been eyeing for a while in my Cooking Light cookbook. I knew that I wanted to use pork chops instead of the pork medallions because my husband doesn't particularly care for the texture of pork tenderloin medallions (although he likes pork tenderloin when he can cut it up himself after it is cooked, go figure!). We usually have at least one small bottle of port wine hanging around because of our wine club membership (Kalyra has a membership where you get one white, one red and one dessert wine with each shipment), so I knew this would be a great option for us. I served this over mashed potatoes with a green salad. We were both fans, but I have an even better pork recipe in my archives just waiting to be posted, so stay tuned!

Pork "Medallions" with Port Wine Cherry Pan Sauce (from Cooking Light)

Please follow the link to the recipe. I followed the recipe exactly other than using pork chops instead of medallions and therefore cooking just a little longer to ensure doneness.