Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Daring Bakers' Challenge - Hidden Veggies

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was fun, daring and just a little bit sneaky.

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers’ challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!

Believe it or not, there are countless ways to incorporate vegetables into sweet treats. I have made several before, from the obvious (like carrot cake and zucchini bread) to the slightly more obscure (like avocado pudding and black bean brownies).

The thought behind this challenge, though, was to go unexpected. And to try to incorporate a vegetable that you wouldn't expect into a true dessert - the sneakier the better!  And I had so many ideas. I actually wanted to make at least three different desserts incorporating three different vegetables.

But, as is becoming a theme in my posts lately, time totally ran away from me.

The good news is that I made the one dessert that I most wanted to, the one that I thought would be the most fun to make and to feed to my kids. And one that went with the holiday we celebrated earlier this month.

I told the kids that I was making them leprechaun cake.

What I didn't tell them was what was in it.

Yup - that's spinach. A big bowl of spinach. Which was pureed down (using a combination of my mini food processor, the immersion blender, and a lot of patience) into a cup of... green mush.

That spinach was then used to create a cake batter...

...that baked into this mostly innocuous looking cake.

And that's where my story to the ids came into play. I baked, cooled and frosted this cake while little miss was at school.  When I picked her up from school, I told her I baked a special leprechaun cake. That it was a "normal" cake, baked with magic and wishes. And that while I frosted the cake, I made special wishes for St. Patrick's Day luck and for the leprechauns to come visit us.

I then told her that we'd know if I did it right when we cut into it.

None of us could wait.

And the results were so worth it.

Vibrant green and super delicious. We could barely taste the spinach, too. And the little bit we could taste, little miss said she thought tasted like clover. You know, from the leprechauns.

And the cake was even better the next day. And with all the spinach goodness baked in, I had no problem letting the kids have it as an after school snack. Or, you know, sneaking fork-fulls here and there throughout the day.

So while I am disappointed in myself for not making the other two hidden-vegetable desserts I'd wanted to (which I will make and blog about - I promise!), I am super pleased with how this one came out, and with how fun it was to make, eat and share.

For additional inspiration and ideas as to how bake delicious sweet treats using a variety of vegetables, check out Ruth's challenge and also the amazing treats baked up by the other Daring Bakers.

Ruth, thank you so much for this delicious, fun and inspiring challenge. I can't wait to continue with some sneaky baking!

Spinach Cake
(from Mom! What's for dinner?)

3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1- 6oz or 8oz bag of (big leaf) spinach, you need 1 cup puree, 3/4 cup is fine too (use fresh, not frozen)
3/4 cup of olive oil (light or extra light works best)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9" x 13" pyrex pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Remove stems from spinach if too thick or long. Puree spinach in food processor or blender until pureed and looks like baby food. This takes a few minutes, so be patient.
Beat eggs and sugar together until light and creamy. Add oil, lemon juice and 1 cup pureed spinach. Mix well.
In a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, and salt (I use a whisk and blend in a bowl)  and blend into spinach mixture for 1 minute. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake at 350 for about 30 mins check with toothpick. Let cool in pan, when completely cool top with whipped cream.
If you like you can make it in 2- 9 inch pans and layer the cake, or make cupcakes.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sourdough Surprises #12 - Cake

Twelve months. Can you believe it? This is the twelfth month of Sourdough Surprises. I can't even believe it. I am amazed and impressed by all of the deliciousness that fellow sourdough enthusiasts around the world (around the world! how cool is that??) have shared with us over these months and can't wait to see the deliciousness that people post for this month's challenge.

Because this month we made cakes.

You'd be amazed how many amazing cake recipes there are out there incorporating sourdough. But for this challenge, I decided that I wanted to go chocolate.  I chose to go with King Arthur Flour's recipe, as they are usually completely dependable.

And this time was no different.  The recipe called for a thick starter to be mixed into a grainy batter, yet somehow, it all incorporates and becomes a smooth, delicious looking cake batter.

Even more impressive is how this batter baked up - whoa!

To put these layers together, I used a vegan chocolate ganache-style frosting.

And as frosting? Cool Whip. Because... why not?

The results were delicious. The cake was moist and rich and chocolate-y. The ganache filling was only okay - I don't think I'll be repeating it, but the cake? An absolute keeper.

And it tasted even better the second day.

What a way to celebrate the completion of a year of sourdoughing. I can't wait to see (and taste!) what year two brings!

So what sourdough cake did you make? Link up and share your results! 

And if you haven't tried your hand at sourdough yet, what are you waiting for? You'll be amazed at what you can do with it!

Sourdough Chocolate Cake
(slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa (not Dutch process)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
2 large eggs

Combine the "fed" starter, milk, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. It won't necessarily bubble, but it may have expanded a bit.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan or two 9" circular pans.
In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda, cocoa and cinnamon. The mixture will be grainy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
Gently combine the chocolate mixture with the starter-flour-milk mixture, stirring until smooth. This will be a gloppy process at first, but be patient and the batter will smooth out as you continue to beat gently.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
Bake the cake(s) for 30 to 40 minutes, until it springs back when lightly pressed in the center, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack to cool.
Fill and frost as desired.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Toasted Coconut Marshmallow Slice, an SRC bonus

I am so sorry that I have gone a bit MIA - I know I haven't been posting as much recently. We've had some nice weather days recently and I have been trying to take advantage of them, and with the kids' busy schedules, I haven't been trying as many new things, so less to blog about.

But when the call came out today that there was an orphan in this week's Secret Recipe Club reveal, I jumped at the chance to try something new.

The hostess sent me over to Lick The Spoon to see if I could find something I'd like to try. Umm... Yeah. I could find lots of things I wanted to try. Like, every. single. recipe. Louise is absolutely awesome. She lives in Australia, has two gorgeous kids (she's pretty gorgeous herself), and is amazing with food. Half of her recipes include strawberries (okay, I exaggerate, but only a little...) so I am totally in the mood for summer after looking through... it was so hard to choose.

I finally settled on this Toasted Coconut Marshmallow Slice because it looked like a ton of fun and my kids have been asking me for marshmallows pretty much daily.  It's a layered cookie bar treat and was super fun to make.  It involved three layers...

Toasted coconut for the top...

...a homemade marshmallow filling for the middle...

...all piled on a brown sugar shortbread crust.

Despite all of the components, this actually came together pretty quickly and easily. Little man was super excited to help with the finishing touches...

(Actually, he was most excited to lick the beater from that marshmallow layer. He was a mess. It was hysterical. Messy, but super funny.)

The results were a super delicious and decadent after school snack.

Little miss approved.

Louise, while I am sorry you were orphaned and had to wait to see a post of one of your recipes, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to "meet" you, and I can't wait to try more of your awesome recipes.

Toasted Coconut Marshmallow Slice
(from Lick The Spoon)

2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
185g butter (13 tablespoons), melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla essence (vanilla extract)
1/2 cup cold water
2 tsp. geletine powder
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 26x16cm slab pan and line with non stick baking paper.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Add melted butter and vanilla and mix until a stiff mixture forms. Spoon into the prepared pan and flatten firmly with a fork until evenly spread.
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden.
Set aside to cool completely.
Meanwhile, put 1/4 cup of the water into a microwavable jug and sprinkle gelatine over. Set aside for 5 minutes or until softened. Cook in microwave on high for 20-30 seconds until the gelatine has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Put caster sugar and remaining water in a clean bowl and beat on high for 5 minutes until the mixture turns white. Add the gelatine mixture and continue beating for a further 10 minutes or until a thick white marshmallow forms.
Spread the marshmallow onto the biscuit base, then sprinkle with toasted coconut.Stand for one hour or until marshmallow has set. Cut into squares using a large wet knife, dipped into hot water between cuts.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

March Daring Cooks' Challenge - Cheese

When this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge came out, I was super excited.

Sawsan from chef in disguise was our March 2013 Daring Cooks hostess! Sawsan challenges us to make our own homemade cheeses! She gave us a variety of choices to make, all of them easily accomplished and delicious!

Homemade cheese has been something that I have been wanting to try for a long time. I did make my own mascarpone cheese for the tiramisu challenge a few years ago, but that's as far as my cheesemaking experience went.

I was also amazingly nervous about this. I don't know why, but the challenge intimidated the heck out of me.

Until this week when I realized I was running out of time.

Sawsan provided us with a number of recipes, but didn't limit us to those she provided. And, as homemade mozzarella cheese has been on my "want to try" list for a while, I thought I'd start there.

While I was at it, though, I thought I'd also try one of Sawsan's recipe, so went for the most basic choice - labneh. Labneh is also called yogurt cheese and it's very simple - simply strain greek yogurt through a couple of layers of cheesecloth to remove most of the whey, and, well, there you have it!

So I set my yogurt into some cheesecloth and got started on the mozzarella.

Homemade mozzarella, according to the recipes I'd read online, are pretty simple - heat whole milk with some citric acid, mix in some dissolved rennet, let it rest, then heat and knead the resulting curds until it is shiny and smooth and, well, mozzarella cheese!



This was a total fail for me.

I begged Sawsan for help. Because she is awesome like that. Truly.

She explained that some brands of milk heat the milk higher than the regulated temperature during the pasteurization process, and that can interfere with the ability of the milk to be made into cheese. Which is probably the case with the milk I bought. She gave me a few suggestions as to ways I could turn my failed mozzarella (seriously, not a single curd...) into some other kind of cheese... adding yogurt... heating it and adding vinegar... I tried a little of everything. And it resulted in this weird semi-yogurty-maybe-kind-of-ricotta-y-pseudo cheese.

Weird.  Not disgusting, but weird.

So I will try mozzarella again, with different milk (maybe even fresh from the farm across the street!), and will report back - hopefully with a success story.

Once I cleaned up from the mozzarella mess, though, I was ready to check on the labneh.

The yogurt was draining beautifully, but I wanted my labneh a bit thicker, so I popped the bowl into the fridge overnight.

I then started searching for some ideas as to alternative uses for labneh (rather than just as a dip or a spread). In my reading, I saw that you can make sweet labneh, incorporating brown sugar. So I ran out and picked up another container of greek yogurt and started in on that.

Now, remember - I'd been too scared to start this challenge back when I should have, so you are going to have to wait to see what my plans are for the sweet labneh, but I gotta say - it's delicious on its own, so I really hope I don't eat it all before I get the chance to try the next steps!

As for the "plain" labneh, I left some as-is, as it makes a really delightful alternative to cream cheese, and I rolled some into labneh balls, which I drizzled with olive oil and dusted with Italian seasonings - yum!

So, while I am a little disappointed in my results this month, having only succeeded in making the simplest of cheeses, I am glad that I finally got over my initial fear, and I really look forward to trying again.

To see the amazing cheeses prepared by the highly more successful cooks this month, check them out here.

And to see the full challenge, as beautifully presented by Sawsan this month, you can check that out here.

Basic Labneh
(from challenge)

1 kg yogurt (Greek, regular or fat free) (I used one 32 ounce container of plain Greek style yogurt)
1 teaspoon salt

Place a piece of doubled cheesecloth or soft cotton fabric (preferably un-dyed and clean) in a colander and place the colander over a deep bowl, so that there is space between the bottom of the collander and the bottom of the bowl.
Stir the salt into the yogurt, then spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth-lined collander.
Leave to drain for 3-4 hours. (If the weather is hot allow it to drain in the fridge).
Check on the labneh's consistency and if you like it to be thicker cover it with the cheese cloth and place a weight on top of it then allow it to drain for more time.
If you are tight on time you can pull the corners of the cheese cloth up and tie them tightly and then suspend from a stationary object over a bowl (to collect the whey).
Let this hang overnight, when well drained it will be the consistency of cottage cheese.
Remove from the cloth and store covered in the refrigerator until needed.


Monday, March 11, 2013

White Bean, Bacon and Spinach Salad

I can't believe it, but it's time for another Secret Recipe Club reveal! This month I was assigned Cooking...On The Ranch. Lea Ann, the talented author of the blog, has so many good recipes on her blog, not to mention a love for Mexican food that makes me smile, that the decision was really tough. 

I honestly thought I was going to choose one of her awesome Mexican dishes, but then I saw this recipe for White Bean, Bacon and Spinach Salad. It looked so good and so fresh and so delicious, I just knew it was my recipe for the month.

The salad itself is pretty simple - a mix of spinach, peppers, onion, crumbled bacon and white beans.  I made a couple of small changes - the recipe calls for a diced red pepper, for which I substituted assorted colors of sweet peppers. And the onions called for in the recipe are green onions, but I decided to use red - I thought the color would look great with the other assortment of vegetables in the salad.

There was one more change I made to the recipe, too.  You see, the dressing for this salad is a maple-syrup based vinaigrette. So, when cooking the bacon to be crumbled on the salad, I first brushed it with about a tablespoon of maple syrup, just to up the maple-y goodness of the whole thing.

Once all of the components were prepared, all that was left to do was to combine everything...

...and then toss it with the dressing! In my case, I had a little helper with this part...

The results were delicious.  Aside from being really beautiful and colorful to look at, the flavors all came together perfectly.

While we had this salad as a side to our dinner, with the bacon and beans, it is hearty enough to be a meal all in itself - and a delicious one, at that!

Lea Ann, I can't wait to try more recipes from your beautiful blog - I particularly have my eye on your Tangy Pineapple Chicken! :)

White Bean, Bacon and Spinach Salad

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can Great Northern beans — drained
1/2 cup green onions — sliced (I used diced red onion)
1/2 cup red bell pepper — chopped (I used assorted sweet pepper - red, yellow and orange)
5 slices bacon — cooked and crumbled
14 oz spinach

Combine first maple syrup, cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper in a small microwave safe bowl, stirring with a whisk; microwave at high 1 minute or until hot. Place beans in a two-quart glass measure, microwave until hot, one minute.
Combine onions, bell pepper, bacon and spinach in a large bowl. Add syrup mixture and beans. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Teriyaki Salmon

As you may have noticed, I cook quite a bit. And quite a variety of foods.  But there is one type of food that I almost never prepare, and that is fish. I just don't have a lot of experience with it, and it's not a favorite of anyone in the house. Daddy and I consider it every once in a while, but usually wind up changing our minds, as I am not a fan of preparing multiple meals for a single mealtime.

But we recently decided to just go for it anyway. Salmon was on sale, little miss is a little older - why not?

Daddy wanted some kind of teriyaki style salmon, but other than that, we had nothing specific in mind.

A quick google search led me to, where I found this recipe that looked simple and delicious.

The first step was to prepare the sauce, a simple combination of sesame oil, lemon juiced, soy sauce, brown sugar and spices, cooked over low heat until it simmers and the sugar dissolves.

Now, the recipe calls for the fish to be marinated in the sauce, then cooked quickly under the broiler.

We didn't plan far enough in advance to marinate, and I had other dishes going, so didn't want to babysit the broiler.

So I improvised.

I spooned a little bit of the sauce onto the pan, set the salmon on top of the sauce, then spooned more of the sauce on top.

I then baked the fish in the oven, rather than broiling it.

And 20 minutes later, I was amazed to have perfectly cooked salmon!  I served it with brown rice and steamed baby bok choy

Little miss claimed not to like it, but still ate more than half of her piece.  Daddy and I liked it -the sauce was delicious and the salmon was a refreshing change of pace for us.

I can't promise that we'll be adding fish to our regular rotation, but I'm not quite as wary of it as a change-up every once and again. And that's a success to me!

Teriyai Salmon
(slightly adapted from

1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (I used fresh squeezed)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 6-ounce salmon filets

Combine sesame oil, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, mustard, ginger and garlic powder in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until the mixture comes to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking dish with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.
Spoon a bit of the sauce onto the cooking sheet, then place the salmon pieces over the sauce. Spoon more sauce over the salmon, coating them well.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until it flakes easily.
While the fish bakes, heat the remaining sauce to serve with the finished dish.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Sunflower Seed Butter

Like most kids, little miss loves peanut butter. She'd bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as her lunch to school every single day if it were up to her.

Unfortunately, little man is allergic to nuts, so peanut butter is out of the question. We've tried a few substitutes, including soy nut butter and one made out of brown peas, but the favorite is sunflower seed butter.

And you know me... I always want to try my hand at making my own homemade version of things, and sunflower seed butter was no exception.

I started by pan-roasting a generous cup of sunflower seeds to bring out their flavor and oils.

Then they went right into the mini food processor attachment of my immersion blender.

And then blend. And blend. And blend. This took a long time.  And then it got stuck at the fine-crumb stage.

I drizzled in some oil, a little bit at a time, and, for good measure, added an overflowing tablespoon of honey to the mix, too.

The result?

Unphotogenic (seriously, that color doesn't play well in pictures...), but delicious! Little man eats it on everything - bread, crackers, tortillas, or even just by the spoonful. I'll be honest - this is one that would probably be easier with a full sized (read: full powered) food processor, but it was well worth making myself and I know I'll be doing it again!

Sunflower Seed Butter
(I didn't follow a recipe, but there are tons out there)

1 cup (generously measured) raw sunflower seeds
2-3 tablespoons oil (whatever kind you'd like - flavorless or olive oil)
1-2 tablespoons honey (to taste, optional)

Gently toast the seeds in a pan over medium heat until they begin to look, well, toasted. You want to keep them moving so that they don't burn. Set them aside to cool a bit.
Transfer toasted and cooled seeds to the bowl of your food processor and start grinding. This will take quite a while, so be patient.
Once the seeds have reached the fine-flour stage, drizzle in oil, about a tablespoon at a time, and keep processing. This is also when you add the honey, if you are using it.
Keep processing, adjusting the oil as necessary, until you reach the desired spreadable consistency.


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