sprinkle cookies

if you grew up in or near a big city with access to “old school” bakeries like i did, maybe you share my obsession with the addictive sugary, buttery sprinkle cookies that all those bakeries seem to sell. i’ve never been able to find a recipe that comes close to the right texture, sweetness factor, and abundance of sprinkles that is forever etched in my memory, so i decided to try and write one. after doing some research, and calling some bakeries, shortening seemed to be the elusive ingredient for these little beauties. since i’m not a huge fan of the mouthfeel that shortening creates, i tried a combination of shortening and butter. i also have no idea how those bakeries get their sprinkles to stick to the cookies since theirs seem to be pressed from a cookie gun, so i sliced my dough and pressed each cookie in a plate of sprinkles. it worked great and was super easy. i hope these cookies bring back some memories for you like they did for me. there’s no school like the old school!

sprinkle cookies (makes 3 dozen)

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
rainbow sprinkles for decorating
in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy. add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. add the flour mixture and mix until no flour is visible, don’t over-mix. dump out the dough onto a piece of parchment or wax paper and form into a log. roll up the parchment and freeze the dough for 1 hour.
preheat oven to 325 degrees.
unwrap the dough and slice into round cookies about 1/8 of an inch thick. press each cookie into sprinkles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart. bake on the very top rack of your oven for 8-11 minutes until the bottoms are very lightly browned. cool on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling. store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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lemon layer cake

For Friend’s birthdays I almost always offer to make the cake. For my friend trish’s latest milestone I was more than pleased to have the baking task because I have been working on a yellow cake recipe forever and was eager to try out a variation…lemon! In my world, if it’s not chocolate, it better be lemon. I’m a bit of a junkie for the bright yellow fruit. by adding the juice and zest of one lemon to my yellow cake recipe, this moist cake was transformed into a lemon lover’s dream. i then upped the lemon love by spreading lemon curd between the layers. lemon frosting would have been a mistake here…way too much lemon, so i added a touch of yellow food coloring to my buttercream/cream cheese frosting just to drive home the lemon story.
you now have my yellow cake and signature frosting recipes which are wonderful on their own, but act as a blank canvas for countless variations! maybe now, you too will be the designated baker among your friends and learn to say “happy birthday” with a signature cake of your own.

best yellow cake ever! (lemon variation)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
variation: the zest and juice of 1 lemon and lemon curd for layers
(i make my own lemon curd but there are wonderful lemon curds available in stores so you can save yourself a step)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
butter and flour 2 -9″ or 3- 8”cake pans. In a bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. in another bowl whisk together oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until the sugar is dissolved, around 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whisk until well incorporated. add the lemon juice and zest and whisk until blended. add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. pour batter (batter is very thin so don’t worry) into prepared pans and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and continue to cool completely.
my buttercream/cream cheese frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1- 8oz package of cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
variation: yellow food coloring to make it a light pastel yellow

add all ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixture and mix on med-high until light and fluffy, around 5 mintues.

spread lemon curd between each cake layer and refrigerate until nice and firm. frost the cake with the buttercream/cream cheese frosting and refrigerate again until firmly set, around 1 hour. (i place 3 wooden skewers in the center of the cake to keep the layers from sliding while the frosting sets. i also sprinkle the top of the cake with decorating sugar for a little sparkle.)

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skinny creamed spinach

I have it bad! The sun is finally shining, the birds are singing, and my patio is screaming out for a BBQ. SPRING FEVER! My usual cravings for soup and roast chicken have moved aside for everything green. I’ve been experimenting with spinach dishes as of late, and I came up with a healthier version of a steakhouse classic, creamed spinach. culinary school is quickly becoming a faint memory but I took a cue from something I learned there and used it in this recipe…demi-glace! Demi-glace is a super concentrated reduction of stock and can be used in all sorts of sauces and sautes to pump up flavor and make things taste wonderfully rich. If you can’t get your hands on good demi-glace you can use liquid bullion much to the same effect. You will need a good amount of fresh spinach for this recipe but the good news is it’s quite affordable and great for you. Happy spring!

Skinny creamed spinach (makes 2 servings)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chicken demi-glace or liquid bullion (this will also act as the salt for this recipe)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh if you can)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
2 tablespoons lite mascarpone or cream cheese

in a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil until soft and translucent. add the garlic and demi-glace and saute for another minute. add the spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted and all the liquid has been reduced, about 5 minutes. add the nutmeg, pepper and mascarpone and cook until the mascarpone has melted and the spinach is nice and creamy. plate and enjoy!

this spinach dish makes an excellent side for steak, chicken or fish, but you can also use it as a topping for pizza or tossed in your favorite pasta! super quick and good for you, the possibilities are endless. eat your greens!

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arroz con pollo

The inspiration experiment really worked for me! My culinary artist has emerged as well as the sun here in our gloomy city! Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m going to pretend my new attitude has something to do with it. Here is that recipe I promised you…

Arroz con pollo (makes 2 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 pieces of dark meat chicken, legs and/or thighs with the skin on
Salt and pepper
1 small Spanish onion, diced
2 red peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons turmeric
Healthy Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup rice (short grain white rice, arborio, or carnaroli all work well)
2 cups chicken stock

Wash and dry all your chicken pieces and season them well with salt and pepper. In a large non-stick skillet heat the olive oil and brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate and in the same skillet over medium heat sauté the onions until softened, around five minutes. Add the peppers, garlic, salt & pepper (to taste) and turmeric and sauté for a few more minutes. Add the rice and make sure to get it all coated with the olive oil and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the saffron to the chicken stock and then pour the stock over the rice and vegetables. Add the chicken back to the skillet and bring everything up to a gentle bubble. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover your skillet with foil or a tight fitting lid. Simmer the rice and chicken for 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve!

You can have this dinner on the table in about 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight and you only have to wash one pan! I think it tastes even better the next day so I always save a little for lunch. This recipe is super easy to double or triple and fairly inexpensive so go ahead and throw that weeknight dinner party! I hope the sun has found you as well!

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kitchen inspiration

Inspiration is sometimes hard to come by in this gray and drizzly place. After staring at all the ingredients in my fridge and eating takeout twice this week (horror of horrors!) I decided to jump start my culinary creativity in a very structured way. I took a cue from my own kitchen design. When we first moved into this house, I created this wall of open shelving for all my oils, vinegars and spices to keep myself constantly inspired. I figured all I would have to do is stare at all my ingredients and, voila!, instant blast of creativity. And it works most of the time, but this dreary winter is taking it’s toll and I’m finding it ever harder to get dinner on the table.

I set aside an hour while little Oscar was deep into art projects to chop, dice, mince and slice every last vegetable in my refrigerator. I realize this sounds a tad extreme but it really worked! With most of the “heavy lifting” already done, dinners this week have been a breeze. One of my family’s favorites is arroz con pollo (spanish for chicken with rice) and with all my peppers, onions, garlic and herbs all chopped up for me, putting it all together was a snap! I’ll share that recipe with you later in the week.
Take a lesson from my attack of OCD this week and dice yourself up some inspiration. The culinary artist inside you is dying to get out!

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angel food for the devil in you

it’s official… i’m in a funk. it might just be a case of the winter blahs or the fact that me and the husband are in desperate need of a little vacation, but i’m blue.  i’m not much for wallowing in a bad mood for too long and delicious food usually brings me back to my happy, albeit synical self, so i better get cooking! i have a roast chicken all ready to go into the oven for dinner tonight and, after going through my recent food photos, i realized that i have yet to share my orange chocolate angel food cake with you all. angel food cake usually bores me to tears and doesn’t do much to satisfy my extra-large sweet tooth, but while i was on my month long health kick, i developed a recipe that i think you’ll like. chocolate and orange together is one of my favorite taste combos and it really does something to heighten this guilt-free dessert without adding a bunch of guilty ingredients. if you don’t have an angel food cake pan you can use a regular tube pan and hang it upside down on a wine bottle to cool the cake. angel food cakes need to cool, suspended upside down so they won’t fall like a souffle. let’s get happy and bake a cake!

chocolate orange angel food cake with orange glaze

1 1/2 cups egg whites, room temperature (about 10 eggs)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
the zest of one orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
6 oz dark chocolate, chopped fine

for the glaze:
juice from two oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
(whisk together and set aside)

preheat oven to 325 degrees.
in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar on high until soft peaks form. with the mixer still running, slowly add the sugar, and then the orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and salt and continue beating until stiff peaks form. off the mixer, sift the flour right over the stiff egg white mixture and gently fold in with a spatula. add the chopped chocolate and gently fold in. pour into an ungreased tube pan and bake for around 40 minutes.
turn the pan upside down on a rack and let the cake cool completely. run a knife along the sides of the pan and remove the cake. put on a plate and pour the glaze over the cooled cake. let the glaze dry a bit and then serve.

i’m starting to feel a little sunnier already. this light and airy cake is the perfect ending to any winter meal. the bits of chocolate and orange take boring old angel food in a much more exciting direction in my opinion. happy baking everyone!

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winter pear salad

I’m pretty sure we all think of summer as the season for awesome salads, but in the heart of winter, there are just as many “in-season” fruits and vegetables to toss together and chase those cold weather blues away. This “lettuceless” salad uses celery (very under-used in my opinion) for crunch and Asian pears at the height of their flavor. It’s so sweet and indulgent you might even be able to skip dessert!

Asian pear and celery with balsamic vinaigrette (serves 2)

1 Asian pear, sliced thin
1 celery rib, sliced thin on an angle
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Parmesan shavings, shaved with a vegetable peeler

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Toss together with the pear and celery and let sit at room temperature for about an hour. Plate the salad and shave the Parmesan on top.
This winter salad is wonderful paired with a creamy soup or pasta. The sweet vinegar bite cuts through the fatty richness of winter dishes and gives your salad spinner a little rest until the spring thaw.

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carbonara classico

Out for dinner with my sister last week, to get away from the husbands and the three year olds, our conversation, after talking about the husbands and three year olds of course, drifted to food and recipes. Big shocker there! But I did have a big shock when she confessed to me that she doesn’t know how to make a good spaghetti carbonara. I feel like I’ve failed her as a sister! Not only do I scribe this little food blog but I also make carbonara at least once a month! To make up for my selfish behavior, I’m giving up all my carbonara secrets to her and you too. Many missteps get taken when attempting this simple dish, one of which is cream. Most Americanized versions add a good swig of the mouth coating stuff but Italians that actually live in Italy wouldn’t dream of it. Seeing as they invented it and all, I’m sticking with my Italian ancestors and keeping it simple.

Spaghetti carbonara (serves 2)

2 servings dried spaghetti
3 pieces bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

Cook the pasta in well salted boiling water until it’s a little under al dente. (around 8 minutes) while the spaghetti is cooking, fry the chopped bacon in a large non- stick skillet until the fat renders out and it’s slightly crispy. Whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, parsley and pepper and set aside. Turn off the heat under the skillet and add the cooked pasta right from the boiling water to the bacon. Add the pressed garlic and turn to coat all the pasta. Add the egg mixture to the skillet and toss until the spaghetti is coated and creamy. (around 2 minutes) Transfer to bowls and serve!
You can make this classic treat in as much time as it takes to boil pasta! Since there are so few ingredients, make sure to use high quality products for this. I served this with a beautiful pear salad that worked perfectly. I suppose you want that recipe too?

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orzo in the style of risotto

when it comes to cooking, all of us have that dish that we shy away from making because of its reputation as difficult. but just like most of the catholic school girls i know, that reputation is usually more myth than fact. risotto is definitely one of those dishes that, until you actually attempt it, seems surrounded by the need to know fancy techniques and a huge failure rate. the truth is… if you can stand in one place for 20 minutes and you know how to stir, voila! you too can make delicious risotto. i posted a shrimp risotto recipe last year that is worth trying if you haven’t yet, but tonight i’m stealing the technique of risotto to make some creamy, dreamy orzo. it’s a wonderful side dish but also doubles as a more refined mac & cheese for the little ones. give it a try!

orzo in the style of risotto (makes 2 servings)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a small onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup of dry orzo
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, heated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon italian parsley, chopped fine

in a non-stick skillet or saucepan saute the onion, garlic, salt and pepper in the olive oil until soft, just a couple of minutes. add the dry orzo and saute until all the pasta is coated in the oil. start adding the hot stock, one 1/2 cup at a time. let all the stock absorb into the orzo before adding the next addition of stock. you will do this about 4 times until all the stock is gone and your orzo is al dente but creamy, around 20 minutes. off the heat, stir in the parmesan and parsley. serve immediately.

this is such a comforting dish and can be paired with just about any protein. my son loves it and now, techno-orange mac & cheese is not something i have to ween him off in the future. it also makes sitting down all together for dinner a lot easier.

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simple salmon

here in the great northwest, we eat a lot of salmon! so much so that it is really easy to grow tired of the tasty pink fish and yearn for a nice medium rare juicy ribeye slathered in bbq sauce! maybe that’s just my poor, denied little stomach doing the talking right now but i’m listening and i think i came up with a delicious and simple recipe to quiet it down. this salmon dish is easy enough, even for those of us who are not the most confident of fish cookers.

honey-soy glazed salmon (makes 2 servings)

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
splash of fresh lemon juice
2- 8oz salmon filets

in a bowl big enough to hold both filets, whisk together all the ingredients. place the filets, flesh side down in the marinade, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
preheat oven to 400 degrees.
on a small cookie sheet covered in foil, place the salmon, flesh side up. bake on the middle rack for about 10 minutes. while the fish is cooking, pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and reduce it to a syrupy glaze. brush the glaze on the salmon and continue to cook until the salmon is firm on the outside but pink inside. (about another 5 to 10 minutes). transfer the filets (the skin will stick to the foil so you can just leave it behind) to plates and serve with orzo. (recipe to follow)

this was super simple and tasty enough to get my mind off of steak and back on track. the orzo was a wonderful accompaniment so i will post the recipe for it as well. i’m proud to say that i haven’t strayed from my new year’s promise and i’m feeling pretty groovy. 2 more weeks to go! if i could only stop the pigs and wine bottles from dancing in my head…

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