Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Favorite Grilling Marinade

This post is more of a technique than a specific recipe.  I have never measured the ingredients for this marinade and it still comes out delicious and perfect every single time.  The specific quantities are completely up to your taste and I can only tell you approximately the ratio of ingredients that I use in proportion to each other.  Our favorite foods to marinate in this recipe are beef sirloin strips or chicken tenders, but you could use it for anything you like.  It would be delicious on grilled veggies like zucchini or asparagus!  The soy and Worcestershire sauces give the marinade really great savory, salty flavor, while the honey or brown sugar adds a tiny hint of sweetness and creates delicious bits of caramelization.  The spices can be changed to suit your tastes, adding more or less of what ever you specifically like.  This particular night I served our steak strips with crash hot potatoes and some cherry tomatoes.  I have decided not to share the recipe for the potatoes because the recipe that I used was a huge flop for me.  However, I think if they were made properly, they would be a great compliment to the grilled meat, so if you are interested just google them and hopefully the recipe you try turns out better than mine.  Other side options that we often enjoy with this are rice pilaf, pasta salad, or a big green salad.  I hope you give this marinade a try during this grilling season and that you enjoy it as much as we do!

My Favorite Grilling Marinade

4 parts soy sauce
2 parts any flavorless oil
1 part honey or brown sugar
several dashes Worcestershire sauce
several small shakes of garlic and onion powder
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

This recipe is a very general guide as to how I measure for this marinade.  You can use this marinade for anything - beef, chicken, pork, veggies, just adjust the measurements up or down, in proportion, depending on how much you are marinating.  Place the food you are marinating in a large zip top baggie and add the marinade ingredients right in.  Seal the bag, smoosh everything around to combine, and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Beef can be marinated overnight but anything else should probably only be marinated for a maximum of four hours.  Be sure to marinate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.  Grill the marinated food to your liking!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Minecraft Cake {{Chocolate Cake & Swiss Meringue Buttercream}}

I made this Minecraft cake for my nephew's 11th birthday party.  He is a huge Minecraft fan and this cake was a hit!  His friends started calling me a sorcerer because they couldn't comprehend how I made such a cool cake, haha!  I knew absolutely nothing about this game, what it looks like, how it is played, what the goal of it is, etc until he requested this cake.  I remembered that I had seen a few tutorials on these types of cakes on pinterest and youtube, so I went back and found them so I could get up to speed on design ideas. There are a lot of really cool Minecraft cake ideas out there.  I followed along with a design that seemed the most do-able for me and then stuck a few recipe ideas together for the cake and frosting. I really love how it came out.  Not to mention, this cake recipe is to die for.  If you are a chocolate cake fan, this is an absolute must try recipe!  

The cake has a very rich, deep chocolaty flavor with a beautiful fine crumb texture.  It was also a very sturdy cake that held up well to being carved and stacked up in to a few layers.  I really can't recommend trying this cake recipe enough, even if you aren't making a Minecraft cake.  It would make a very delicious layer cake as well.  The swiss meringue buttercream was a wonderful compliment to the rich chocolate cake.  I have always been intimidated by making this style of frosting and had only tried it one other time before making this cake.  The first time I made this frosting, I didn't know about the trick to keep beating if it starts to look curdled so I thought I had a big flop on my hands.  However, after doing more research and reading about how amazing this frosting is, I decided to give it another whirl.  I am so happy that I did because this frosting is absolutely worth the time and effort.  It is unbelievably light, silky and just sweet enough.  Regular American style buttercream can tend to be cloyingly sweet but this buttercream is perfect.  K usually doesn't care for chocolate cake but he ate a slice just because this frosting is so delicious!  If you follow the instructions, make sure all of the ingredients get to the right temperature, and keep beating the frosting if it starts to curdle, this recipe will turn out great for you too!  I hope that my pictures, recipes, and instructions are helpful if you are making a Minecraft cake for the gamer in your life!

Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup canola (or other flavorless) oil
2 cups white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain or vanilla greek yogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp espresso powder (optional)
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper.  Don't skip the parchment paper because you will want to easily remove the cake from the pan when you are assembling the cake later.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, sugar, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract together.  Then add the water, espresso powder, and cocoa powder and whisk until nice and smooth. Note that the espresso powder will not make the cake taste like coffee, rather it will just increase the depth of flavor of the cocoa powder and make the cake taste more chocolaty.  You could also substitute brewed black coffee for the water and espresso powder. Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just barely combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool completely.  Note that if you want to bake this cake in two 8x8 or 9x9 cake pans, the baking time will need to be adjusted accordingly. I would recommend that you start checking the cake for doneness after 20 minutes.
Inspired by Averie Cooks

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Green and brown or black food coloring

Add the egg whites and sugar to the (very clean) bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Place the bowl over a pot with about 1 inch of simmering water (like a double boiler set up) and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (about 140°F if you have a candy thermometer.)  Place the bowl back on the base of your stand mixer and beat the egg whites on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until the mixture is glossy, thick, and the outside of the bowl has cooled to room temperature.  This will likely take at least 10 minutes.  Switch to the paddle attachment, turn the mixer on to low speed, and begin adding small cubes of the butter, one at a time, until each is incorporated.  I waited between 5 and 10 seconds between adding each cube of butter.  Don't worry if the mixture curdles or starts to look a little soupy, just keep mixing until it comes together into a smooth, silky consistency.  Stop and refrigerate the buttercream for about 15 minutes if it really starts looking soupy and then continue to beat.  Add the vanilla and salt and mix to incorporate. To color the buttercream, separate about 2/3 of the frosting into another bowl and add green food coloring.  I like to use the gel paste food coloring because it gives you a really strong color and hardly adds any liquid to the buttercream.  Color the remaining 1/3 with brown or black food coloring, depending on your preference.
Inspired by Sweetapolita

Rice Krispie Treats

3 tbsp butter
10 oz bag (about 40 large) marshmallows
6 cups rice puffed cereal

Spray a 8x8 square pan with nonstick baking spray.  Place the butter and marshmallows in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until the butter is melted and the marshmallows have puffed up. You can also do this in a saucepan on the stove, stirring continuously, but it takes a bit longer.  Stir the butter and marshmallows together and then stir in the rice cereal until it is all well coated.   Transfer the mixture to the square pan and press into an even layer.  You can spray nonstick spray on your spatula or hand to help make this transfer easier.  Let the rice krispies set for at least an hour.


2 large packages (6oz) blue jello
2 1/2 cups boiling water

In a heat proof container, combine the boiling water and jello packages, and stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.  Transfer the jello to a 8x8 square pan and let set up in the refrigerator until firm.  You could also do this in a loaf pan if you wanted your blue squares to be larger.

Cake Assembly

You will need some sort of large heavy duty board to build your cake on. I used a double layer of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil, but you can buy nice boards from your local craft supply store or online as well.  This cake can be any design that you want it to be, just cut the cake into whatever shape (just remember to keep everything in squares) and stack it up however you like.  From what I have been told about Minecraft, every level or world is unique and so the design is totally up to you. The cake portion is suppose to resemble earth, the rice krispies are sand, and the jello is water.  Make sure you use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the cake so that you get nice clean lines.  You can also cut the edges off the cake (which I did not do) if you want it to look really sharp.  I frosted all along the back of the cake with the brown frosting to hide the gaps and uneven areas in the cake and to also get some extra frosting on the cake. I then piped a small line at the bottom of the cake board just to clean it up.  I used a large star tip to do all of the grass along the top of the cake.  I would recommend putting a small amount of green frosting between your layers of cake as well.  If I made this cake again, I would mold the jello in a loaf pan instead so that the blue blocks were similar in size to the earth and sand blocks. I used about 90% of the cake and about 50% of the rice krispies.  I had a ton of extra jello though, and I knew the kids would love eating it, so I stuck on those extra pieces on the side, even though I don't think that design goes with traditional Minecraft.  We won't mention the bit about my OCD and the unsymmetrical style of this cake and random jello blocks were my poor attempt at a balancing act!  I bought the Minecraft characters (Steve and hostile mobs) online and gave them to the birthday boy as his birthday gift.  I would recommend getting some sort of decorative characters for the top of the cake, as I think they are a great finishing touch.  You could be really ambitious and make them from fondant, gum paste or modeling chocolate as well.  Everything for this cake can be made one to two days ahead of time, but I would suggest doing all of the assembly the day that you will be serving the cake.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Look at that beautiful, glossy, bubbly, red fruit! This strawberry rhubarb crisp is an absolutely delicious summer treat.   Strawberries and rhubarb are one of those perfect food combinations that go so well together.  The sweet, juicy berries are complimented so nicely by the tart rhubarb.  Strawberries kind of just melt when they are baked, while the rhubarb holds up really well and gives the berries body and texture. The crisp topping adds another whole layer of crunchy, yummy texture.  If you ask me, it doesn't get much better than soft, sweet fruit topped with buttery, delicious crisp!  And if you add a little scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, even better!

Whenever I make something with rhubarb, K tells me stories about how, as a child, he would find wild rhubarb growing and just help himself to a snack.  Must have been something about running around freely in the woods that made this seem like a good idea because, bleck, raw rhubarb is so bitter!  However, when it is cooked it is transformed into something much more enjoyable! I always wonder, especially with foods like this, how it was discovered that they could be eaten.  Whoever thought, let's take this tart, stalk-y plant and mix it with berries, should be taught about in history classes, because they were a food genius!

Our local strawberry season, a.k.a. my favorite time of year, is just beginning here in Mass.  The weather has been lovely lately and we have been having so much fun playing in the backyard or at the park. This summer is so much different than last summer, with little K fully mobile now.  He is having an absolutely blast discovering the world.  He loves to mow the lawn like daddy and just the other day he learned how to say "oof" (woof).  Every time he sees a dog he points and says oof, oof, oof! Strawberries are one of little K's favorite foods, just like mommy.  Hopefully we will have a chance to go strawberry picking this season! And hopefully you have beautiful, ripe strawberries where you are, so that you can enjoy this crisp too!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Mixture
2 cups rhubarb cut in 1/4" pieces
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well until all of the fruit is coated evenly. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 baking dish and spread it out evenly.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup (8 tbsp) cold butter

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and toss together. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and then using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your hands, work the butter throughout the flour/oat mixture until it forms a course crumb texture. Sprinkle the topping evenly all over the fruit mixture.  Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes until the crisp is golden brown on top and the fruit is bubbly.  Serve warm or cold.  


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chicken Couscous Skillet

What a fantastic and quick dinner this was!   If you have never tried Israeli, also called pearl, couscous before, I highly recommend giving this dish a try.  The couscous is tender and slightly chewy, with a similar texture to rice or other small pastas like orzo.  If you can find a variety made with only whole grains, it is a fun and healthy alternative to try out.  This entire meal only has about 15 minutes of cooking time so it is perfect for a busy weeknight.  It is also a great way to use up little bits and pieces of whatever vegetables you have in the fridge, or leftover chicken.  I used a rotisserie chicken this time, which is always a quick option as well.

As I often say on here, feel free to use whatever vegetables you like in place of what I used in the written recipe. If you don't like mushrooms or broccoli, leave them out. If you want to add zucchini or asparagus or spinach, give it a try! If you want to make the dish vegetarian, leave out the chicken and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken stock. Trying out new recipes should be fun and an experiment.  If it doesn't come out to your tastes, try again or find another recipe you think you might like.  Never be afraid to try something new or something that you have never cooked before.  Chances are that you will usually find yourself pleasantly surprised!

Chicken Couscous Skillet

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion or shallot diced
10 baby carrots, sliced
5 baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet with high sides, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrots, and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook 5-8 minutes until the onion is translucent and the veggies are starting to lightly brown.  Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the couscous, chicken broth, and broccoli.  Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook 8-10 minutes until the couscous is tender.  Stir in the shredded, cooked chicken pieces and heat just until the chicken is warmed.  Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper, if needed.


Inspired by Kevin&Amanda