Wednesday, May 28, 2008

L'Opera Cake!

It's that time again...Daring Baker's time, that is! This month's challenge was a complicated French dessert called L'Opera Cake. I'd like to give a big "thank you!" to our 4 hosts at: Cream Puffs in Venice, La Mia Cucina, Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Whiskful. You can find the recipe in its entirety HERE.

I was a little intimidated when I saw the first photos of an Opera's such an elegant dessert, and I was unsure if I could pull it off. But, I'm always up for a challenge...especially when it's something I've never even heard of. The recipe looks long and daunting, but if you approach each section of the cake separately, it's really not that bad. I broke the process up over 2 days. I made the buttercream, joconde, and syrup on the first day...and then the glaze and mousse on the second day. Assembling the cake definitely took some patience and attention to detail, but I think it came out pretty least for my first one...hah.

The cake has alternating layers of joconde (sponge cake), buttercream, and sliced strawberries. It's topped off with a luscious layer of hazelnut mousse and finally the white chocolate glaze. Traditional Opera Cakes are made with coffee and darker chocolate. However, this challenge limited us to light flavors/colors. Honestly, I was a little bummed when I found this out, because we are such big coffee fans. Any chance that I get, I love to incorporate coffee and chocolate into desserts. However, the cake was still awesome. We were allowed to play around a little bit with the flavorings. My main flavors turned out to be white chocolate, hazelnut, and strawberry. I decided to add strawberry slices in between the layers of joconde, and I'm very glad that I did.

This is what I used:
Joconde: Hazelnut meal
Syrup: Vanilla Extract
Buttercream: Vanilla Extract, Melted White Chocolate and Strawberry Slices in between layers
Ganache/Mousse: White chocolate and Frangelico Hazelnut Liquer
Glaze: White Chocolate

Here's some interesting information about the origins of L'Opera Cake from
"There are many stories about the origins of this cake, known as both Clichy cake and Opéra cake. Many believe that Louis Clichy was its creator because he premiered the gâteau, with his name written across the top, at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. It became the signature cake of Clichy's shop on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. However, another pastry shop, Dalloyau, sold a very similar dessert, known as L'Opéra (in honor of the Paris Opera), and some claim that theirs was the original."

Without a doubt, I probably would have never made this dessert if it hadn't been for the Daring Bakers. I had a lot of fun with this challenge, and hopefully this won't be my last attempt at an Opera Cake! ;)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Citrus Fish with Bell Pepper Couscous

***Brad and I celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary a few days ago on May 20th. I can't believe it's been 2 years already...I guess time flies when you're having fun!

We decided to have a nice dinner here at home instead of fighting the crowds at a restaurant. Sometimes that's just better anyway, you know? I found this recipe in a recent issue of Rachael Ray's magazine. It looked and sounded wonderful, so I decided to give it a try. Let me just tell you...this dish is packed with flavor! The fish is marinated in a mixture of lemon, lime, orange zest, and several other things. In the words of Rachael...YUM-O!***

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley (a generous handful)
Juice of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons grated peel
Juice of 1 lime, plus 2 teaspoons grated peel
Segments of 1 orange, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons grated peel
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (eyeball it)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Four pieces mahi mahi, halibut or orange roughy (6-8-ounces each)... (I used orange roughy)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups couscous

In a shallow dish, combine 2 tablespoons EVOO, the parsley, lemon juice and peel, lime juice and peel, orange peel, hot sauce and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Add the fish and let marinate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat a grill or grill pan to medium. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon EVOO , 1 turn of the pan, over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and scallions, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the couscous, cover and keep warm.

Grill the fish until cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side.

Fluff the couscous, then mix in the chopped orange. Serve with the fish.

Source: Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine - May 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake - Paula Deen

***There are no words that describe how absolutely delicious this cake is! Paula Deen seriously got this one right...but then again, when has she ever made something that wasn't good?? Please do yourself a favor and make it as soon as you get the chance. This is probably one of my favorite...if not my very favorite...cakes that I've ever made. In fact, I already know what cake I want for my birthday this year...haha. Surely I can think of another reason to make this cake before October. =)

"Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake"
- Paula Deen

1 (18.25-ounce) box white cake mix
1 (3-ounce) box strawberry flavored instant gelatin
1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Garnish: sliced fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour 2 round 9-inch cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and gelatin. Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil, and water; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting in between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract (I used vanilla extract instead)
7 cups confectioner's sugar (You'll need to buy 3 boxes of confectioner's sugar to have enough.)

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1/4 cup strawberry puree, reserving remaining for another use. Beat in extract. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, beating until smooth.
***Note:For pinker frosting, add 2 to 3 drops of red food coloring to frosting.***
Source: Cooking with Paula Deen magazine - May/June 2008

Sauteed Spinach with Pecans & Feta

***If you like spinach, you will love this! It has tons of flavor and would even be a great addition to holiday dinners. I could definitely see this on my table around Thanksgiving or Christmas. It just has that something extra that makes it a special dish.***

3 (6oz) bags baby spinach (about 16 cups)
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus 2 tsp. for drizzling
3 large shallots, slice thin crosswise(about1 cup)
Table salt
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/3 cup chopped pecans (toasted)
1 1/2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/4c)

1. Place spinach and water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover bowl with large microwave-safe dinner plate (plate should completely cover bowl and not rest on spinach). Microwave on high power until spinach is wilted and decreased in volume by half, 3-4 minutes. Using potholders, remove bowl from the microwave and keep covered for 1 minute. Carefully remove plate and transfer spinach to a colander set in the sink. Using back of rubber spatula, gently press spinach against colander to release excess liquid. Transfer spinach to cutting board and rough chop. Return to colander and press a second time.

2. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil and shallots in 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until shallots are golden brown, 3-5 mins. Add spinach to skillet, using tongs to stir and coat with oil. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt and continue stirring with tongs until spinach is uniformly wilted and glossy green, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar and pecans; stir to combine. Drizzle with remaining 2 tsp. oil and sprinkle with feta. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

Source: Cook's Illustrated - May/June 2008

Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli

***We all have our favorite and delicious go-to meals...this one is definitely a new go-to meal for me. It's simply wonderful! The very best part of it is, it's healthy! I found it in the "Light Recipes" special edition by Cook's Illustrated. I also went one step further by using whole wheat pasta. M'mm, m'mm good!***

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Table salt & ground black pepper
4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 medium onion, minced
1 (8 ounce) jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, patted dry, and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
12 medium garlic cloves, minced
5 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced to paste (I left these out!)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs. broccoli, florets cut into 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved and lengthwise, and sliced into 1/4 inch thick (I used 1 bag frozen broccoli florets)
1 lb. rotini pasta (I used whole wheat pasta)
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
1 ounce Asiago or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (I used mozzarella cheese)

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot for broccoli and pasta.

2. Meanwhile, pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tsp. of EVOO in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook until browned on first side, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken over. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 1/2 cup water, and cover pan. Continue to cook until thickest part of chicken is no longer pink and registers about 160 degrees on instant read thermometer. Transfer chicken to plate, tent loosely with foil, and set aside. When cool enough to handle, slice chicken on bias into 1/2-inch thick pieces; cover and set aside.

3. Pour off any water left in skillet and add onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, 1 tsp. EVOO, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Return skillet to medium-low heat, cover, and cook until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and continue to cook, covered, until tomatoes have softened, about 2 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until mixture has thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes; cover and set aside off heat.

4. Stir 1 tbsp. salt and broccoli into boiling water and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender but still crisp in center, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to large paper towel lined plate; set aside to cool. Return water to boil, stir in pasta, and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, then drain pasta and return to pot.

5. Gently stir chicken, broccoli, basil, Asiago, sauce, and remaining 2 tsp. oil into pasta. Cover and let sit off heat until sauce and chicken are hot, about 1 minute. Add reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, divide among 6 individual bowls, serve.

Source: Cook's Illustrated - "Light Recipes" Spring 2008

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

***I got this recipe from Monica's food blog, "Buon Appetito: Meals by Monica." Thanks Monica!!! It is so delicious and yet, it's extremely easy. In fact, I had my wisdom teeth pulled last year, and I came home and made this for dinner that same night. I was even able to eat a little bit (very carefully and without the bun, of course!). This recipe is unique because it uses root beer. It adds a nice, sweet flavor to the BBQ.***

Pork Tenderloin (I used 1.5 lb)
1 Onion, sliced
Root Beer (enough to cover about half way)
Your favorite BBQ sauce

Cook the tenderloin, root beer, and onion on Low in the crock pot for about 6 hours.
Drain out the juices and rinse out crock pot.
Shred the pork.
Put the pork and onion back in the crockpot and pour your favorite sauce on it. Stir and cook on Low about another hour.

Carolina Crab Cakes - Biltmore Estate

***Recently, Brad and I were able to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. That was the second time that I've visited the estate, but it was the first time Brad has ever been. It was just as beautiful as I remember word - Incredible! I can't even imagine living in a house that size. It has everything from a bowling alley to a swimming! Is it any surprise that my favorite part of the whole tour was the kitchen???

Anyway, we were browsing through the gift shop and I spotted this cookbook. I was so excited. It's really got some wonderful recipes, and I'll certainly post them here as I work my way through the cookbook. These crab cakes were a great place to start...enjoy!***

2 pounds crab meat
2 eggs
1/4 cup Japanese-style bread crumbs
2 tbsp. minced chives
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 C mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp. whole grain mustard
1 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. mild olive oil or butter
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pick through the crab meat to remove any bits of shell. Combine with eggs, bread crumbs, and chives in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper; mix well with a wood spoon or gloved hands. Shape tightly into balls and flatten gently to form cakes, placing on a baking parchment-lined pan sprinkled with additional bread crumbs.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the crab cakes in batches of 4 or 5 and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the cakes and cook for one minute longer. Remove to a baking pan lined with parchment. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 6-8 crab cakes.

Source: Biltmore - Our Table to Yours Cookbook - The Biltmore Estate; Asheville, NC

Monday, May 12, 2008

Penne with Steak, Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

***This was one of those dinners that I did not want to end! It combined all of my favorites...sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, steak, and pasta! I had 1/2 of a left-over rib-eye steak from Longhorn Steakhouse that I was able to incorporate into this dish. I was glad that it didn't go to waste.

As you can probably tell by reading my blog, pasta is probably my favorite thing to cook. After being away from home last week, I was especially inspired to get in the kitchen this week. This pasta dish is one of those that I got a little creative recipe required!***

1 pkg. penne pasta (I only used 1/2 of the package)
10 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into thin strips
1 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 rib-eye steak, grilled or cooked to your liking
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 white boiler onions, chopped (these look like small, miniature could substitute with 1 regular-sized onion, instead)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup heavy cream
Italian seasoning, your choice (I used Alexander's 4 in 1 Gourmet Selections - "Tuscany Blend")
Parmigiana-reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken in an oven-safe dish. Drizzle with a little EVOO and season with your choice of Italian seasoning. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Season liberally with salt, and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Strain pasta, reserving the pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat EVOO in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 4 - 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 1 - 2 minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer. Next, add white wine, broth, sun-dried tomatoes, and heavy cream. Stir well.

Add pasta to cream sauce mixture. Add pasta water, a little at a time, to the sauce mixture if needed. The pasta water contains starches, which will help create a better sauce. Stir well.

Remove chicken from oven. Let cool for a few minutes and then chop into small pieces. Next, chop steak into similar, small pieces. Add chicken and steak to cream sauce mixture. Add parsley and a dash more of the Italian seasoning...stir well. Simmer for just a few minutes...just until heated through.

Place on platter or plate and top with freshly grated parmigiana-reggiano cheese.

Serve hot.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pan-Seared Grouper with Cherry Tomatoes & Asparagus

Okay, I have seriously been having withdrawals, that is. Brad and I were traveling for business last week, so I haven't really been able to cook or blog about anything. However, we did get to see 7 states in 4 days...a total of 23 hours about exhausting! We managed to have a ton of fun though. We made it from Alabama to Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and finally back home to Alabama. I'll add more about our trip later...hopefully. Now that we're back, my posting should get back to normal after a quick grocery run this week.

But now on to the topic at-hand...FOOD! Since we've been on the road so much, I was determined to cook tonight. I need to go grocery shopping, but I was able to throw together something pretty yummy. Brad mentioned that this dish had a Cajun feel to it, without being spicy...perfect! I am proud to say that this recipe is completely from my own noggin'. I didn't use a recipe. I was scared that it might not turn out good, but we were pleasantly surprised with the result.

I served this with cornbread and rice. I used the cornbread to soak up the extra tomato sauce on my plate, which was fabulous! I don't think this dish would be the same without the cornbread.
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
6 Grouper fillets
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. butter
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
3 oz. tomato paste
1 package cherry tomatoes, halved
2 - 3 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
About 15 stalks asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse grouper fillets with water and pat dry with a paper towel. Season with salt & pepper. Heat EVOO in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear grouper fillets until golden on each side (this should only take a few minutes). Remove from heat and place in an oven-safe dish. Finish baking in the oven until cooked through (15 - 20 minutes).

While grouper cooks in the oven, melt the butter in same skillet, scrapping bottom of pan. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes. Next, add garlic. Cook for an additional few minutes until garlic is fragrant. Reduce heat to low-medium. Add white wine, chicken broth, and tomato paste. Mix together until well blended. Add asparagus pieces and cherry tomatoes. Season with a little more salt & pepper. Continue to simmer while grouper is baking.

Remove grouper from oven. Place grouper fillets on top of mixture in skillet. Sprinkle fresh parsley on top and let simmer 1 - 2 minutes.