Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Carrot Cake

I love carrot cake. I could eat it almost every day. That's exactly why I don't make it very often. So, carrot cake has become a "special occasion" cake in our house. Thankfully, my brother-in-law and my neighbor both love it so I have extra birthdays to use as an excuse to make it.

Surprisingly, it took me many years to find a carrot cake recipe that I really liked. Many recipes are too dry or are too much like a spice cake. I wanted a sweet, spicy cake that highlighted the carrot flavor. And let's not forget the most important part of carrot cake...the cream cheese frosting. The frosting on this cake is pretty standard but it pairs with the cake like peas and carrots (thank you Forrest Gump).

I had been using a carrot cake recipe that my mom had given me for quite some time and it was pretty good. I most often made it as cupcakes but I also made it as a sheet cake to bring in to parties at work. It was one of these occasions that a coworker and I were talking about recipes and she gave me this one. She said that this was a family recipe and was requested over and over again. She was not wrong. I get constant requests for this cake. It is moist and flavorful. It has just the right amount of spice and a delicate carrot taste that is brought out by the walnuts.

It is an easy recipe. I've made this one as cupcakes, sheet cakes, and a layer cake. It is very versatile and a crowd pleaser.

Carrot Cake
From Susannah Dunbar

3 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
3 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Canola Oil
4 Large Eggs
3 teaspoons Vanilla
1 8 oz Can Crushed Pineapple, drained
2 1/2 Cups Grated Carrots
1 Cup Walnuts, chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1 Stick Butter, softened
16 oz Powdered Sugar (1 box)
2 teaspoons Vanilla
1 Cup Walnuts, chopped
Walnuts for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Liberally grease your baking pans (3-9 inch round cake pans, 1 sheet cake pan, 1 9x13 pan, 2 8x8 square pans, or 36 muffin cups) with cooking spray.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the cake ingredients and mix well.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool on a wire rack.
  7. Once the cake is cooled, mix all of the frosting ingredients together.
  8. Whip the frosting until fluffy.
  9. Stack the cake layers with frosting in between each layer.
  10. Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
  11. Sprinkle walnuts over the top and sides of the cake to garnish.

Yields: 16 Servings (from 3-9 inch pans)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Bread

Italian people celebrate most life events with food. There are all sorts of "special" dishes that are only made once a year during one holiday or another. Most of those holidays are religious events too, so a lot of the special foods take on some type of religious significance.

Easter is no exception. We always had lots of rich and colorful dishes on the table for Easter dinner. We had lamb, when I was younger there would be a whole lamb (head too) but it soon turned into just a leg of lamb. We would also have pizza rustica, pastiera, and the all important Easter bread.

There was never any other name for it other than "Easter Bread", which I found a little odd. We were told that the bread was braided to look like Jesus' crown of thorns. The three eggs represented the Holy Trinity and the new life that Easter brought us. I've also heard non-religious people describe it as a "bird's nest" bread. However you want to describe it, it is colorful and fun for the holiday. It also tastes really yummy!

We would serve this bread warm, slathered in butter with a drizzle of honey on top. I remember sitting at my Grandma's dining room table the morning after Easter, drinking hot tea and eating bread with butter and honey. Making this bread always brings back fond memories from my childhood.

Easter Bread
From Grandma Caponni

4 - 4 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Whole Milk, room temperature
1/2 Cup Water, warm
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 teaspoons Salt
7 Large Eggs

  1. In a microwave safe dish, melt the butter.
  2. Add the milk, water, sugar, and salt.
  3. Add the yeast and let sit for 3 minutes.
  4. Add 2 cups of flour.
  5. Beat in 3 eggs.
  6. Gradually add in the rest of the flour, until the dough is elastic.
  7. Knead the dough for about 8 minutes, until it is smooth.
  8. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
  9. Punch down the dough and knead out the air bubbles.
  10. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts.
  11. Cover and let the dough rest for 3 minutes.
  12. Roll each piece of dough into a log about 15 inches long.
  13. Braid the three logs together and shape the braid into a circle, pinching the ends together to seal.
  14. Grease a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  15. Place the braided dough onto the cookie sheet.
  16. Put 3 raw eggs into the folds of the braid.
  17. Cover with wax paper and let rest for 45 minutes.
  18. Preheat oven to 400F.
  19. Beat an egg with a teaspoon of water.
  20. Brush the egg-wash over the dough.
  21. With a small brush, paint food coloring on the eggs.
  22. Sprinkle the top of the dough with multicolored nonpareils.
  23. Bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the bread make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
Yields: 1 Round Loaf (Approx. 16 servings)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Butterscotch Carmelitas

I made these for one of our Friday night martini nights. It is one of the many "non-chocolate" recipes that I'm trying out for Vince, since he gave up chocolate for Lent this year. The original recipe used chocolate chips, which I think would be awesome but I substituted butterscotch chips instead. The result was really good.

What is a Carmelita, you might ask? I really didn't know either but the picture sure did look good. I wasn't able to find any info on where these treat got their name from or where the recipe originated. It is basically a layer bar with caramel. Yum! This particular bar has caramel, pecans, chocolate (or other flavor) chips, and an oat crumble crust/topping. The slightly salty crust along with the creamy butterscotch went really well with the gooey caramel center. Everyone went back for seconds on this one.

They were really easy to make. I was able to whip them up with Max running around the kitchen with me. I would, however, caution that they are in no way, shape, or form WW friendly. These babies pack 9 points per square! These are definitely a once in a while treat that you need to save up some points to have. But they are oh so worth it.

Butterscotch Carmelitas
Adapted from Just Baked

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Margarine, softened
1 1/2 Cups Brown Sugar
2 Cups Quick Cooking Oats
1 14 oz Bag Kraft Caramel Candies
1/2 Cup Evaporated Milk
1 Cup Butterscotch Chips
1 Cup Chopped Pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the margarine and brown sugar until creamy.
  4. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Mix until well incorporated.
  6. Fold in the oats. The mixture will be very crumbly.
  7. Put half of the mixture (about 3 cups) into the prepared baking dish.
  8. Gently press and spread the mixture over the bottom of the dish.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes to set.
  10. In a small saucepan, heat the caramels and milk.
  11. Stirring constantly, heat until the caramels are melted.
  12. Remove from heat and let cool slighly.
  13. Sprinkle the butterscotch chips over the still warm crust.
  14. Use a spatula to spread the chips.
  15. Top the butterscotch with the chopped pecans.
  16. Carefully pour the caramel mixture over the nuts.
  17. Put the rest of the oatmeal topping over the caramel and gently press it down.
  18. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  19. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for 2 hours, until the caramel is set.
  20. Once the caramel is set, cut into squares.
Yields: 24 squares

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs

I'm not a big red meat eater. Vince would eat it at every meal if I had enough of it in the house. Thankfully, I do the shopping and the cooking so we only have red meat a couple of times a month. I will admit that I get a little bored with my familiar poultry recipes so I'm always on the lookout for something new to try. I love meatballs, of just about any kind. They are easy to make, freeze well, and can be eaten tons of different ways. I've tried several different meatball recipes using ground turkey and just haven't hit upon one that we really like yet. Ground turkey is pretty bland. You really have to season it well to make a great dish with it. I'll keep trying but I haven't found the right combination yet.

This recipe was really good. It is well seasoned and the sauce is fantastic. Vince is not a big fan of teriyaki, so he probably won't request this one again (although he'll eat it if I made it). I really did like it and it was easy to throw together. It would make a great appetizer for a party or holiday dinner.

Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs
Adapted from A Seasoned Greeting

1 lb Ground Turkey
2 teaspoons Minced Garlic
2 teaspoons Ground Ginger
2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley
1/8 teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Large Egg
1/4 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

1/3 Cup Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
1 Tablespoon All Purpose Flour
1/8 teaspoon Ground Ginger
2 teaspoons Minced Garlic

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, mix all of the meatball ingredients together.
  4. Form into golf ball sized meatballs.
  5. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned and cooked throughl
  7. While the meatballs are cooking, make the sauce.
  8. In a small saucepan, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients.
  9. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  10. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  11. Brush the cooked meatballs generously with the sauce and then return them to the oven for 5 minutes.
  12. Serve the meatballs with the remaining sauce either spooned over top or in a small dish for dipping.

Yields: 24 meatballs (4 per serving)