Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Buttercream

Awhile back my boyfriend's mom found a recipe in a Penzey's spices magazine she wanted to try. Knowing how much I like to be in the kitchen, she photocopied this recipe for a poppy seed cake and gave it to me. So, when my boyfriend and I decided to visit his parents this past weekend, I had to make this cake for them!

 I always get nervous baking for anyone. There is so much pressure I put on myself to make it perfect! But I didn't just have the cake to make right. I had an hour and a half drive that the cake had to outlast. First obstacle was the 90 degree weather with humidity on Friday. I made the cake Thursday night and then I was going to frost it Friday right before we left town. We didn't have our air conditioning on at the apartment so I was super nervous the frosting was just going to melt off. Luckily, it lasted. I packed ice to go over my new glass cake set (I found it at Target!) for the car ride. This seemed to work well. However, there was one more obstacle, being in a bumpy car. I actually had the cake at my feet (where the air conditioning could blow at it). My feet straddled it and they cramped up a few times to say the least...

Unfortunately, the cake still ended up bumping around and frosting seemed to be everywhere! Fortunately, my boyfriend's parents are forgiving and were still pleasantly surprised! Well, and I fixed it up quickly when no one was in the kitchen. 

Everyone enjoyed the cake! It was moist and light. The poppy seed flavor was perfect and of course the famous complement of lemon was not hidden nor too overpowering. This is a perfect spring or summer treat, especially in hot weather. I think it would be perfect for a brunch dessert but it would make a great ending to any meal of course. 

Poppy Seed Cake
adapted from Penzeys

1/2 c. whole poppy seeds
1 c. milk
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
4 egg whites

1. Soak the poppy seeds in the milk for at least 2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.
3. Cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix.
4. Add the poppy seeds/milk mixture.
5. Gradually add the dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder).
6. Beat in a separate bowl the egg whites and add to the other ingredients once frothy.
7. Pour batter into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans, trying to add the same amount to each. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes.
8. Let the pans cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring the cakes to wire racks to finish cooling.
9. Completely cool before frosting. Try the lemon buttercream recipe below or use a filling and frosting of your own!
10. Enjoy!

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1 c. butter, room temperature
3 3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 medium lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
*milk may be needed

1. Cream butter, vanilla extract and salt.
2. Add the lemon zest and juice (don't let the seeds fall in).
3. Gradually add the powdered sugar to create a consistency that allows peaks to form when a spatula or fork leaves the frosting. You may not need to add all the powdered sugar. If the frosting becomes too firm, add a small amount of milk (a tablespoon or two) to thin it out.
4. Frost on the poppy seed cake from above (or this frosting would taste great on lemon or vanilla cakes).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tomato Avocado Feta Salad

My excessive eating and fine wine drinking didn't stop when I got back from California. Why you ask? The sister-in-law came back a few days after us. She only got to stay for a few days before heading back to California and then to Texas. Then she finally gets to come home forever and ever or at least until she goes off to grad school. Probably somewhere cool like Harvard or Oxford. Smarty pants.

This salad was the perfect healthy cleansing meal I needed after over indulging for more consecutive days than I'm willing to admit. I exercised, a few times, in there. That counted for something. Anyways, my dad and my mom gave this rave reviews. They took part in the overindulging binge as well and thought it was only fair they had a bowl of this too.

I tested out two different dressings for this on my dad. One made with bacon fat and balsamic vinegar, a little BLT inspiration situation. Bacon grease and everything else associated with bacon, usually makes everything better. Surprisingly not the case here and not just because this was supposed to be a healthy meal.

The vinaigrette listed below, made for a much brighter salad. Made the tomatoes a little more sweet and paired with the avocado better. It was just all around better. The tomatoes became the star, which is the point. Save the bacon for your next BLT or don't. Sprinkling bacon pieces over the top of the salad was a nice option, giving it a bit more richness without having a greasy heavy bacon vinaigrette.

The best part of this salad has to be that you can make it as big or as little as you want. Make it fit your needs. Love avocado? Use two instead of one. Love feta? Use more of it. Crumble it instead of cube it, getting little bits in every bite. You get the idea. Its a awesome summer salad perfect for showing off summers tomatoes.


Serves 2-4

1 medium shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 large heirloom tomatoes, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
4 ounces feta cheese, cubed
2 slices bacon, cut 1/4-inch pieces, cooked crispy (optional)

  1. For vinaigrette: combine all the ingredients for the in a bowl, whisking until the mixture emulsifies.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, avocado and feta. Pour some vinaigrette over the salad, gently tossing. Serve, dressing with more vinaigrette to taste.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Peach Almond Galette

It has been a long while since I have wrote a post or cooked anything at all. Like the peach gallette, made it over a week ago. I have good reasons though. I wasn't cooking; instead, I was eating my way through San Francisco. Fair reason? I think so. Eating amazing food. Drinking delicious Californian wine. Yum! It was pretty amazing, which helps me forget what a giant cow I feel like, after overeating and drinking for a week.

Did I mention visiting my sister-in-law was the whole reason for going to California? She graduated from the Defensive Language Institute, in Monterey. Seeing her was probably the highlight of the trip, along with Tortas Frontera (the only place to get a good bite to eat in O'hare airport) making amazing margaritas, to go. That is right carry on margaritas. Never slept so well on a flight, ever.

I made this peach galette for my brother before going to Cali, so he didn't miss us too much. More like so he didn't feel so bad about not being able to go see his little lady graduate, after a year of intensive Farsi learning. It was a problem for me to take one for the team and go instead.

I really like this "pie" because it is rustic. There is no pie pan necessary. You of course could make this as a traditional pie, as the recipe is the same one I use for pie pans. This is much easier though, no perfect circles needed. This is perfect for your peach lover. It is mostly fruit, with  just a little sugar, making it all peachy perfect.

The almond mixture on the bottom of the pie just adds a nice flair to the pie, a little extra something. The same goes for the little bit of ground ginger. All barely noticeable, but without them the pie may not be nearly as tasty. I wouldn't know, never tried. You could always try using chopped/ground walnuts or crystallized ginger, neither of which I had on at the time.


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3-5 tablespoons ice water

4-5 peaches, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup blanched almonds, coarsely ground
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon butter, melted


  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt, pulsing several times to combine. Scatter the butter evenly over the flour, pulsing until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons of water, pulsing several times. If the mixture looks too dry, add more water by the tablespoon, until the dough is evenly moistened and just starts to come together. This can all be done using a fork/fingers, if you don't have a food processor. 
  2. Remove the dough from the food processor, onto a clean counter. Being careful not to overwork the dough, shape the dough into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the dough from the fridge. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch circle. Place the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. 
  4. In a small bowl, combine the almonds, sugar and ginger. Sprinkle 3/4 of the mixture into the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Arrange the peaches in a roughly concentric circle, overlapping them as needed. Sprinkle the remaining almond mixture over the peaches. 
  5. Fold the border of dough, at an angle, into the peaches, pinching the edges to make sure they are sealed. Brush the border with the melted butter.
  6. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the crust is well browned and its edges are slightly caramelized. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Open Faced Eggplant Sandwich

This is completely unrelated to this sandwich, but who else loves grapes as much as I do? When I ran to the store to buy some bread for this sandwich, I bought two bags of grapes. Only one of them made it home with me. I ate the rest as I drove. That is probably not natural, huh? I just love grapes so much, like candy.

In other life news I rode my first century bike ride, that is a 100 miles. It actually came out to be about 107 miles. I'm an overachiever, I know. The weekend actually came out to be 187 miles. Why you ask? The 2012 Wisconsin Bike MS was this weekend. That was totally unrelated to grapes or this sandwich, but I am just so proud to say I rode and raised more than ever for the event this year.

We finally turn to the sandwich, which most of you are more interested in than my above ramblings. All that you need to know about this sandwich is its super easy and delicious. Double the recipe to serve more people. Lose the bread if you don't have any on hand or bread isn't your thing. Who doesn't love bread though, really? It is surprisingly filling but still light. Its the perfect, quick, made to order open faced sammie. The leftover tomato relish is awesome on toast with some goat cheese after you run out of eggplant (or get sick of it after 3 days).


Serves 2
Tomato relish:
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped, 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup, scant, finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 small or 1 large eggplant
2 slices, 3/4 inch thick, sourdough or country bread, from a round loaf
Olive oil
4 ounces goat cheese

  1. Combine the tomato, parsely, olive oil, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper, set aside for later.
  2. Trim off the top and the bottom of each eggplant, then cut 2 (1-inch thick) slices lengthwise from the center, discarding the remainder (the rounded, skinned outside portions are discarded). Brush the cut sides with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat, cooking on each side for about 6-7 minutes or until nicely browned. 
  3. For the bread, lightly brush both sides with oil. Toast them in the same pan as the eggplant or under a hot broiler, until lightly golden. 
  4. To assemble the sandwich, spread goat cheese on each piece of bread and place the eggplant on top of that. Finish each off with half of the tomato relish.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Peanut butter Oat Bites

This summer I started nannying for a wonderful family. I'm normally there for a full day multiple days of the week. Being such a great family, they said I can help myself to any of their food for lunches or whenever I get hungry. And that is when I discovered these! I only tried one (because I still don't want to hoard their fridge and pantry) but it was delicious! I never asked for the recipe but I figured out what was in them pretty easily.

These little morsels of heaven are surprisingly pretty guilt-free. They make a great substitution for dessert or even an unhealthy granola bar. They are sweetened with honey, not sugar. Also, they have some protein from the peanut butter and nuts. Unlike cookies, they have no butter or shortening but the chocolate chips give that hint of goodness we all look for in a dessert.

These peanut butter oat bites are a cinch to make, taking about a total of 10 minutes to make. Another bonus, the oven never turns on! This crazy warm Wisconsin summer is keeping the air conditioner on so any recipe that allows the kitchen to stay cool is perfect!

4 heaping Tbsp peanut butter
1/4 c. honey
2 1/2 c. old fashion oats
1/2 c. chopped pecans *
1/2 c. chocolate chips *

*These are optional. Other add-ins could include raisins or other types of nuts

1. Place peanut butter and honey in a mixing bowl and blend together
2. Add oats, pecans and chocolate chips, mix until a consistent blend
3. Use hands to form balls of your desired size and place on a cookie sheet
4. Place cookie sheet in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
5. Store in an air tight container and place in the refrigerator
6. Enjoy chilled!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bubble and Sqeak

Who has been watching the Olympics like it is their job? I know I have! If you aren't watching, you are missing out. These delicious vegetable cakes made the perfect meal to kick off the Olympics. It is the closest thing to making you feel like your are there watching the games and not on your tele.

Moving right along to these delicious vegetable cakes. These are traditional English food, usually made up of leftovers. They get their name from the noise they make when you pan fry them. The sound anything makes really when it is fried, silly brits.

The mustard sauce is what really makes the cakes. I am not a huge fan of mustard either. Anyone notice the tendency I have to make things I claim to not like and then like? Clearly I have a magical touch or giving things a chance really does work.

These will make a perfect meal in the fall, when you have leftover roasted vegetables. The cabbage is a must, the other vegetables are your choice. In the summer just use any veggies you have on hand, roast, puree and go. You need about 2 cups of pureed veggies, including the cabbage. Have more mashed potatoes than veggie should help them hold their shape.

I had a little trouble getting them to hold their shape perfectly, but the flavor is wonderful. My tips are to handle them gently. Make sure you pan and oil are nice and hot. Once the cakes are in the pan, don't touch them. You want a lovely golden crust on them, it helps them hold together too. Finally, enjoy them, ideally while watching some Olympic action.


Bubble and squeak:
1 medium onion
1/2 head of a medium cabbage, quartered
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
Olive oil
2 1/2 cups mashed potatoes, from about 4 medium potatoes
4 ounces goat cheese

4-8 sausages, cooked according to their package (optional)

Mustard bourbon cream sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
1/2 cup bourbon, such as Jack Daniels
3 tablespoons whole grain dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


  1. Bubble and squeak: Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the onion, parsnip, carrot and cabbage on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing them with olive oil (just drizzle the cabbage, so the pieces all stay together). Season the vegetables with salt, pepper and thyme. Roast the vegetables for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. 
  2. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor, pulsing several times to achieve a coarse texture (not pureed, about 2 cups). Place the vegetables, mashed potatoes and goat cheese in a large bowl, stirring until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, in a heavy bottomed skillet. Form 1/3 cup patties and fry for 2-3 minutes, until browned on each side (be delicate when flipping them), flattening slightly only after you have browned the first side.
  4. Mustard cream sauce: Place the butter in a small skillet, over medium heat and saute the shallots and garlic for 3 minutes. Add the thyme and continue to saute for an additional minute. Deglaze the pan by adding the bourbon, simmering until almost all the liquid is gone. Add the mustard and cayenne pepper and stir. Pour the cream over the mustard mixture and simmer until the sauce is thickened and reduced by a third.
  5. To serve: Place 2-3 vegetable cakes and sausage onto a plate, topping it off with the mustard cream sauce.


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