Thursday, May 29, 2008

strawberry patch cake

So today is not a baking day. Or a cooking day, for that matter. On these days, all I want to eat for dinner is a big bowl of cereal filled to the brim with vanilla soy milk. Anyway, let's think of better days when there was an excess of baking inspiration. :)

Let's talk about strawberries and cake. Or even better, strawberries in cake. Most of the cakes I come up with are a mix-and-match of recipes I find on cooking sites, like and The Food Network. The frozen strawberries in my freezer were the inspiration for this cake. Let's take a look at them...

Ohhh, pretty, huh? :) Berries actually freeze really well...and sometimes they even taste better frozen, like this. Anyway, this really was a deliciously moist cake. Some ideas for spicing it up? Maybe stir in thinly sliced strawberries in the frosting? Also, I had lots of almonds hanging around, but chopped walnuts would also taste great. To make this cake even fancier, slice the cake into four layers instead of two, and alternate strawberry jam and cream cheese frosting between the layers.

Strawberry Patch Cake
Adapted from "Jesse and Steve's Fresh Strawberry Cake"

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup mashed strawberries
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe courtesy of Cathy

4 oz. butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

about 3/4 cup almonds, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Cut a piece of wax paper to fit onto the bottom of the pan. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Dust bottom and sides of pan with flour. Tedious, I know, but this is a sure-fire way to know that your cake won't stick when you try to get it out!

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, and beat for 1 minute. Stir in vanilla and salt.

In a small bowl, stir together sour cream and baking soda until the soda has dissolved. Add sour cream mixture and flour to egg mixture. Beat well, and stir in mashed strawberries.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in cetner comes out clean. The top of the cake should spring back when lightly touched. After cake has cooled for 10 minutes, remove from pan.

While cake cools, prepare cream cheese frosting. In a small bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With mixer on low speed, add powdered sugar one cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Beat in vanilla extract.

When cake is completely cool, slice into two 4.5x6.5-inch layers. Place one layer on a serving dish, and spread half of the frosting over the cake. Top with second layer. Ice with remaining frosting, and top cake with sliced almonds.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm all choked up inside...

So a few weeks ago while Meijer-ing with Elizabeth, I bought an artichoke in attempts to bring out the creative cook in me. Two weeks later, I finally had the desire to take it to battle. Using Tyler Florence's recipe, though, was a great motivator. Basically, he's that means his food must be delicious! ;)

Preparing the artichoke was probably the most complicated part of the recipe. I seriously had no clue where to begin. However, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything came in handy, and it can teach you to prep an artichoke with ease. After a quick wash, the pointy parts of the leaves get chopped off (scissors work well for this part), and then the artichoke is sliced down the middle:

And who knew that an artichoke was this beautiful inside?! I must admit, I really was in awe of this! However, after Google-ing "artichoke half", I found that most artichokes are not this fuzzy or purple, which probably means that mine was overripe...which would be totally understandable since I waited so long to prepare it. Oh well. Good things come to those who wait, right? :)

I learned through more Google-ing, that this pretty part is the "choke" of the artichoke. Which mean that the "arti" must be the edible section.......probably not, but we can pretend. I used a sharp knife to dig this out, but a spoon might work well, too. Maybe even a grapefruit spoon, since it has serrated edges. Interesting fact of the day: if allowed to mature, the choke would have turned into a purple thistle. Probably the most delicious part of the artichoke, the "heart", is under the choke.

This recipe has you cook the artichoke in something like a well-seasoned bath involving parsley, garlic, bay leaves, lemons, olive oil, white wine, and chicken broth. Naturally, being a poor college student, I did not have about half of these ingredients, so I used 2 tsps. dried basil and 1 tsp. dried oregano for the parsley and bay leaves. Also, being 2 months away from turning 21 left me white wine-less, so I used an extra can of chicken broth instead. This concoction (with artichoke halves, of course) is simmered on your stove top for 30 minutes.

And there you have it, the humble artichoke. In all its thorny glory. This is a pretty simple recipe, and it definately could be jazzed up a bit, if you desire. The empty cavity is just screaming to be stuffed with something delicious. When my grandma makes these, she puts stuffing in there, as well as between the leaves, and it is crazzzzy good. There are a slew of great recipes on The Food Network website that involve stuffed artichokes, if you are ready to take your artichoke to the next level. Some of these recipes use crab, shrimp, or even ham as artichoke stuffing material...woweee yummy.

Tyler Florence's Steamed Whole Artichokes
Taken from Food 911, "Amazing Artichokes in Lakewood CO"

4 springs parsley
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 lemons, cut in half
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 quart chicken broth or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole artichokes

Put the parsley, garlic, bay leaves, lemons, wine, oil and broth in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Season the liquid with salt and pepper. In the meantime prepare the artichokes.

Wash artichokes under cold water. Using a heavy stainless steel knife, cut off the stems close to the base. Pull off the lower petals that are small and tough. Cut off the top inch of the artichoke and rub with half a lemon to preserve the green color. Alternatively, you may put the artichokes in acidulated water. If you wish, trim the thorny tips of the petals with kitchen shears.

Place the artichokes in the steaming liquid, bottom up. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. The artichokes are done when a knife is inserted into the base and there is no resistance.

To eat, pull off a leaf and scrape the meat off the tender end with your front teeth. Dip the ends of the leaves in lemon juice and melted butter, if desired. When you reach the center cone of purple prickly leaves, remove it. This is the choke that protects the heart. Now, scrape away the thistle fuzz covering the artichoke heart. The heart is the meatiest part of the artichoke. Steamed artichokes may be served hot or cold.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

have a heart. eat some friendship bread.

Behold...the Friendship Bread. A dad of my piano students gave my mom a bag of the never-dying starter. Which is how I ended up with this lovely loaf of cinnamon-y goodness. I really do love Friendship Bread, though I have to admit, it is slightly disturbing that this recipe could, in fact, be never ending. This is because the starter, which is basically a really wet version of yeast, is split into four separate bags. Three of these bags are given to friends (hence the name), who are then also trapped in this never ending cycle of mushing and baking. The last bag is yours to keep, and you use the starter to create your own loaf of cinnamon-y goodness. Here it is in all its glory...

I spiced it up a bit by putting sliced almonds on the top. Also, I was all out of white sugar (and didn't want to steal all of Leah's :), so the sugar used for the topping was replaced with brown sugar. I'm supposing that it came out decent since my lovely testers, Leah and Katie, both claimed it to be delicious.

Though how the starter is actually made still remains a mystery to me, here are the directions for successful Friendship Bread production, if a bag of starter is ever sent your way:

Amish Friendship Bread
Good things come to those who wait...a 10-day process to yummy deliciousness.

Helpful Tips & Hints
- Do not use any type of metal spoon or bowl for mixing.
- Do not refrigerate batter.
- If air gets in bag, let it out.
- It is normal for batter to rise, bubble, and ferment.

Day 1: Do nothing to batter.

Day 2: Mush the bag.
Day 3: Mush the bag.
Day 4: Mush the bag.
Day 5: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Mush the bag.
Day 6: Mush the bag.
Day 7: Mush the bag.
Day 8: Mush the bag.
Day 9: Mush the bag.
Day 10: Bake and separate!

On Day 10...
Pour the entire contents of the bag into a non-metal bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups white sugar, and 1 1/2 cups milk (soy milk works good too, by the way). Mix gently.

Measure out four separate batters of 1 cup each into four 1 gallon ziploc bags. Keep one starter for yourself, and give the other three to friends along with a copy of the recipe.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and grease 2 loaf pans, or spray with non-stick cooking spray. To your starter, add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 4-serving size box instant pudding (vanilla or butterscotch are delicious choices)

In separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Dust the bottoms and sides of the pans with half the sugar mixture.
If desired, add chopped walnuts or almonds to remaining sugar mixture. Pour batter evenly into the two pans, and sprinkle remaining sugar mixture over the top.

Bake 1 hour. Cool until bread loosens from the pan, about 10 minutes. Turn out into serving dish.

Some Ideas For Your Friendship Bread Surplus

- Friendship Bread is delicious both warm and cold. If you miss its warmness straight from the oven, heat some up in your toaster oven.
- Give it a French flair...make it into French toast!
- PB & BFB stands for Peanut Butter & Banana Friendship Bread. What else would be better between 2 slices of Friendship Bread than gooey peanut butter and sliced bananas? Not much. Stick it in the George (George Foreman grill) to make it ooey and gooey-er.
- And of course, Friendship Bread can magically transform into dessert! Warm it up, slab a hunk of vanilla (or cinnamon) ice cream on top, and then drizzle on some caramel and sprinkle on some sprinkles, if you're feeling bold.

p.s. Thanks, Leah, for the baking-blog inspiration. :)