Monday, October 25, 2010

Beef, Shiitake & Snow Pea Stir-Fry with Coconut Rice

***This recipe from the Bon Appetit magazine test kitchens is packed with delicious flavors.  And the best part?  It's actually a quick and easy meal that's perfect for busy weeknights.  That might come as a surprise, but trust me...It comes together in a flash!

I was so happy when I came across this recipe...I was in search of a yummy dinner that was decidedly different.  It seemed like the perfect thing to liven up my usual dinner go-to meals.  Sirloin steak, fresh ginger, snow peas, green onions and cilantro are the stars of this dish.  They work together to create a scrumptious meal that is satisfying and fresh-tasting at the same time.

I paired the stir-fry with one of my favorites - Coconut Rice.  I've included a simple recipe for it by Sandra Lee below.  It was the perfect companion to the stir-fry.  I think you'll really enjoy this recipe!

Bon appetit!***

Beef, Shiitake, and Snow Pea Stir-Fry
4 servings
PREP: 30 minutes TOTAL: 30 minutes
Source:  Bon Appetit magazine; October 2010 Ingredients:
1 1-pound top sirloin steak, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, thickly sliced
8 ounces snow peas
1 bunch green onions, sliced, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, divided
5 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and mushrooms; stir-fry until mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes. Add beef to skillet; stir-fry until beef browns but is still pink in center, about 1 minute. Add snow peas, half of green onions, and half of cilantro; stir-fry 1 minute. Stir in hoisin, chili-garlic sauce, and five-spice powder; sauté until peas are crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining green onions and cilantro.

Coconut Rice
Source:  Sandra Lee


2 cups jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Rinse and drain rice in cold water. Place in a saucepan with water, coconut milk, and salt. Place the pot over high heat and, bring the liquid to a boil. Stir and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pot tightly with the lid. Continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand 10 minutes, covered. Fluff with fork and serve.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Start Your Engines for this Racing Cake!!

***Last weekend, we got to help Brad's cousin, Justin, celebrate his 33rd birthday.  Justin's parents surprised him with 6 laps at the Talladega Superspeedway...It was such an exciting day!  His top speed was over 168 mph...can you imagine going that fast?!?

Of course, Brad and I were the photographers for the day.  We had a blast capturing every moment...Check out our fusion slideshow below!  It combines photography, video and audio from the day!

Justin Races to 33! from Celeste Ward on Vimeo.

I was thrilled to make this racecar-themed cake.  I started coming up with different decorating ideas for it a few weeks in advance.  I was really proud of the final result...It came out even better than I imagined!

I originally planned to use black and white fondant squares to form a race flag design all around the outer edges of the cake, and to stick two actual little racing flags into the top of the cake.  Well, I couldn't find the flags anywhere, but I did find these "spiral yo-yos" at the party supply store.  They worked out perfectly...I simply used that for the outside of the cake.  I had to trim about an inch off of the bottom, so that it would fit perfectly.

I used THIS MARSHMALLOW FONDANT recipe, and colored it with red food coloring.  For the race track, I made the outline of the road with candy buttons.  Then, I spread a thin layer of chocolate icing to form the actual road.  That way, the black candy sprinkles had something to stick to and stayed in place.  I topped everything off with 3 little Hot Wheels race cars.

Isn't it cute??  I had so much fun making this cake.  For the cake itself, I made a Coconut-Chocolate Cake that was to-die-for.  The coconut extract was the perfect match for the coffee-infused chocolate cake....YUM!  This is definitely one of my favorite cake recipes.  It's not complicated to make, always turns out perfectly moist, and the flavors are incredible (It doesn't hurt that coconut and chocolate is probably my favorite flavor combo).  It impresses every time!

Bon Appetit!***

Coconut-Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I prefer Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a different bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and coconut extract; Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in hot coffee...the batter will be very thin!

Pour batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely and add icing.
Coconut-Chocolate Icing

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp coconut extract

Melt the butter. Stir in cocoa. Add powdered sugar alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency.

Makes about 2 cups.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake - Southern Living

***For years, my Mom has always made one of the most amazing Italian Cream Cakes...It is spectacular!  It's filled with pecans and flaked coconut, and the cake itself is moist and delicious...with cream cheese icing to finish it all off.  It's always been one of my favorites.  So, you can imagine my delight when my sister-in-law, Christine, surprised me with this Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake for my birthday.  This recipe from Southern Living takes everything you love about traditional Italian Cream Cake and kicks it up about 100 notches!  In fact, Southern Living describes it as one of their "most showstopping cakes ever"...take a look HERE!

The Fresh Orange Curd is the star of the show.  It is spread in between each of the cake layers and adds the most amazing flavor...It's sweet, but not too sweet.  The orange juice and orange rind adds the perfect hint of freshness, which will make it hard to resist a second piece.  The contrast of the fresh tartness of the oranges with the sweetness of the cake is a combination that is sheer perfection here.

And then you have the Pecan-Cream Cheese Icing and Glazed Pecan Halves...Oh.My.Goodness...This cake is heaven!  I've already put in a request for this cake again next year!  It would make a showstopping cake at your Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations this year.  I can personally guarantee that your guests will fall in love with it!

Bon Appetit!***

Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake
Source:  Southern Living; December 2002


1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
Fresh Orange Curd (recipe below)
3 cups Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted (optional)
Glazed Pecan Halves (optional)

Beat butter and shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add vanilla; beat until blended.

Combine flour and soda; add to sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in 1 cup flaked coconut.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread 3/4 cup chilled Fresh Orange Curd between layers; spread remaining Fresh Orange Curd on top of cake. (The Fresh Orange Curd layer on top of cake will be very thick.) If desired, loosely cover cake, and chill 8 hours. (Chilling the cake with the curd between the layers helps keep the layers in place and makes it much easier to spread the frosting.) Spread 3 cups Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting on sides of cake, reserving remaining frosting for another use. Sprinkle 1/2 cup toasted coconut over top of cake, if desired. Arrange Glazed Pecan Halves around top edge of cake, if desired. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Arrange Boxwood Garland around bottom edge of cake before serving, if desired.

Note: Cake may be frosted with Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting immediately after adding the Fresh Orange Curd, but the cake layers will not be as steady.

Fresh Orange Curd
Yield: Makes about 3 cups

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups fresh orange juice (about 4 pounds navel oranges)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucepan; gradually whisk in fresh orange juice. Whisk in lightly beaten eggs. Bring to a boil (5 to 6 minutes) over medium heat, whisking constantly.

Cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture reaches a pudding-like thickness. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and grated orange rind. Cover, placing plastic wrap directly on curd, and chill 8 hours.

Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: Makes about 4 cups

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended. Beat at high speed until smooth; stir in pecans.

Glazed Pecan Halves
Yield: Makes 2 cups
2 cups pecan halves
1/3 cup light corn syrup
Vegetable cooking spray

Combine pecan halves and corn syrup, stirring to coat pecans. Line a 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil; coat with cooking spray. Arrange pecan halves in an even layer in pan.

Bake at 350° for 12 minutes; stir using a rubber spatula. Bake 8 more minutes. Remove from oven, and stir; arrange in an even layer on wax paper, and let cool completely.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me :-)

Don't you just love birthday parties??  I feel so blessed to have recently celebrated another birthday with my wonderful, wonderful family and friends.  After four days of birthday festivities and 3 amazing cakes, I sure did feel special! 

Wednesday:  The day before my birthday, two of my best friends took me out to a yummy dinner at Red Robin.  These girls are precious to me...we've been friends for forever, it seems.

Here's a pic of us from last year (Mary Katherine, Me and Ashley)

Thursday:  On the morning of my birthday (October 7th), my wonderful husband woke me up by singing "Happy Birthday" and surprised me with a cute-as-a-button little birthday cake that he made.  This put the biggest smile on my face...I knew then that it was going to be an awesome day!  After all, it's quite impossible to have a bad day when you eat cake for breakfast, right?!?  That night, we had dinner at my new favorite French bistro - Chez Fon Fon.  I can honestly say that it was one of the best meals I've had in a restaurant in a while!  The atmosphere transported me right back to the street cafes of Paris, and the food was divine.  Everything was prepared flawlessly and tasted exceptional.

Friday:  The next day, I was in Montgomery for a business meeting, and my family met me there for a birthday lunch.  I was so happy to have the chance to see my Mom, Dad, Suzanne, Maranne, Blake and my Grandad.  My sweet sisters baked me this pretty cake.  I was so proud of Maranne - She whipped up some homemade marshmallow fondant (with the help of her boyfriend...thanks Blake!) for the first time.  This was her very first fondant covered cake, so I was so happy and excited to see it.  It was decorated with little rhinestones and a fondant flower.  Her inspiration was a Frenchie lace pattern. 

Putting the candles on can be a tedious task...

Maranne, Me, and Suzanne...Sisters are the best! 
I don't know what I'd do without these girls.  :-)

 Saturday: On Saturday night, Brad and I celebrated with his family.  His sister, Christine, baked me a scrumptious "Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake" from Southern Living.  It's described on their website as a "showstopping cake"...and YES...I agree!  It was delicious!  Don't worry...the recipe for this cake will be my next blog post!

So, with family and friends like mine, turning another year older isn't so bad after all!  Thank you to everyone who helped make my big day so incredible.  I feel so loved.  :-)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread - Southern Living

***There seriously aren't very many things that smell better than Banana Nut Bread baking in the oven.   Don't you agree?  This recipe for Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread from Southern Living magazine was one of the very first recipes that I added to this blog...back in November 2007!  In fact, I came across it when I worked for the magazine as a Marketing Intern.  Back then, I didn't have a photo for every recipe, and the blog post was simply the recipe and nothing else.  Because this is my go-to recipe for Banana Nut Bread (and because it is so amazing!), I thought that it deserved a little more attention. 

This is quite honestly some of the best Banana Nut Bread that I've ever had.  An entire 8oz. package of cream cheese is added right to the batter, along with 4 mashed bananas.  The cream cheese adds so much to this recipe, with an incredibly moist texture being the main component.  Plus, the roasted pecans are the perfect addition.  Roasting the nuts brings out their natural oils and adds SO much flavor...Don't skip this step!  To roast them, simply place the pecans on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted.  I usually add a sprinkling of pecans over the top of the batter before baking.  Another trick is to leave a few small chunks of banana...I don't mash them up completely. 

Another great thing about this recipe?  It makes TWO loaves, so you can put one in the freezer for later or give it away to someone very lucky!

Bon Appetit!***

Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread
***Makes 2 loaves***

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 medium bananas)
1 cup roughly chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanillla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8x4 inch loafpans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil last 15 minutes to prevent browning, if necessary. (I found that after one hour, my banana bread wasn't completely cooked through.  I ended up baking it for an extra 10-15 minutes.) Cool bread in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing.

Source: Southern Living magazine

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chicken Fajitas & Homemade Flour Tortillas

***Do you ever run into kitchen dilemmas or realize that you don't have that one special ingredient that would make your dish just perfect?  Well, that happened recently when I decided to make Chicken Fajitas.  I had all of the necessary ingredients...except for one very, very important element - the flour tortillas!

Oh no...what is a girl to do?!?

The answer?  Well, make your own of course!

Tortillas are one of those things that I have always just picked up at the grocery store.  It's never even dawned on me to make my own.  I was determined to make fajitas that night, so I started to browse through cookbooks and food blogs to see what I could find.  I came across THIS recipe and decided to give it a whirl. 

The recipe was fairly simple.  It requires ingredients that you've probably already got in your pantry.  They were delicious, especially when filled with the chicken fajita mixture.

You'll enjoy this simple and yummy dinner!

Bon Appetit!***

Chicken Fajitas
Source:  Amazing Taste Seasonings
Servings:  4Ingredients:
1 Packet Amazing Taste Fajita Seasoning
1 lb. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast OR Boneless Beef Sirloin, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp. Oil
1/3 Cup water or lemon/lime juice
1 Medium onion, cut into thin strips
1 Medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 Small tomato, cut into thin wedges
8 Flour tortillas (RECIPE BELOW)

Heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add meat or chicken and cook until browned, stirring frequently. Add water, seasoning, onion, bell pepper, and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes and continue cooking for additional 2-3 minutes until meat or chicken is cooked thoroughly. Spoon into warm tortillas.

Texas Flour Tortillas
Source: Homesick Texan food blog;  (Adapted from The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison)

Two cups of all-purpose flour (can make them whole wheat by substituting one cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk

- Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oil.
- Slowly add the warm milk.
- Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed.
- Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.
- Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.
- After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. (It’s very important to let the dough rest, otherwise it will be like elastic and won’t roll out to a proper thickness and shape.)
- After dough has rested, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin and about eight inches in diameter. (If you roll out pie crusts you’ll have no problem with this.) Don’t over work the dough, or it’ll be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.
- In a dry iron skillet or comal heated on high, cook the tortilla about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done.
- Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat.
- Can be reheated in a dry iron skillet, over your gas-burner flame or in the oven wrapped in foil.
- While you probably won’t have any leftovers, you can store in the fridge tightly wrapped in foil or plastic for a day or so.
- Makes eight tortillas.