19 February 2009

Molten Lava Cakes: Take 2

You may remember that after the failed lava cakes from Valentine's Day, I was determined to do better with the three unbaked cakes I had leftover. For the recipe, check the link.

I baked five minutes, checked them, then three minutes, checked them, then two minutes, checked them, and finally two more minutes. So let's see...that's 12 minutes total. Funny how those last three minutes made all the difference. This round of lava cakes were...molten! Hooray!

18 February 2009


After the success of my experiment freezing my Banana Carrot Muffins, I decided to bake several different kinds of muffins for easy weekday breakfasts.

A coworker of mine has a family farm in Pennsylvania, and every time she visits, her mom loads her up with fruits and veggies to freeze. Last week, Joyce gave me two gallon size Ziploc bags of shredded zucchini and two vacuum-sealed bags of blueberries. I decided to work with both of these for my weekend baked good blitz. I will post on the Zucchini Bread I made later - today, we're all about muffins!

Muffin #1 - Blueberry Crumble

I found an awesome blueberry muffin recipe on AllRecipes.com. Stuffed with fresh blueberries and topped with a sweet crumb topping, these muffins really live up to their moniker - they're "to die for!"

One thing I love about AllRecipes is the way you can adjust the quantity of the recipe to what you need. I increased the given yield of 8 to 16, then made some alterations. Below is the exact recipe I used.

Blueberry Crumble Muffins

adapted from AllRecipes


3 c. all-purpose flour

1-1/2 c. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder

2/3 c. canola oil

2 eggs

2/3 c. milk

3-1/2 c. frozen blueberries, thawed


1 c. white sugar

1/2 c. butter, cubed

1 tbsp. cinnamon

2/3 c. flour

Preheat oven to 400. Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Mix all topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Combine with a fork and set aside.

Mix dry muffin ingredients together. Combine oil, eggs, and milk in large measuring cup. Add to the flour mixture and stir gently to combine.

Fold in the blueberries.

Fill muffin cups, top with crumb mixture. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Makes 18 large muffins.

As you can see in the photo above, if you double the muffin recipe, it's definitely not necessary to double the crumble recipe too. I had more than half of the topping left over after I had generously piled it on all the muffins.

I added WAY more blueberries than the recipe called for. I wanted to use everything that was in the vacuum-sealed bag, because I was not in the mood to come up with another blueberry recipe.

I was nervous about the bright purple batter, but amazingly enough, once the muffins were baked, the purple color had miraculously disappeared. I'm not sure how that's even possible, but you can see the pictures for yourself.

These muffins are fantastic. The sweet crumb topping is counteracted by the tartness of the blueberries, the muffin is light and delicious. I will definitely make these again.


Muffin #2 – Banana Walnut

About two weeks ago, I rescued two brown bananas from their fated meeting with the garbage disposal and froze them so that I could repurpose them as banana nut muffins – one of Andrew’s favorites, and mine too.

My mom has a great banana bread recipe, but it's extremely dense, so I didn't think it would work well for muffins, which I expect to be fluffy and light. I went a-Googling and found Tyler Florence's recipe for Banana Nut Muffins.

Banana Walnut Muffins

adapted from Tyler Florence's recipe

2 c. all-purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 overripe bananas

1 c. brown sugar

3/4 c. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2/3 c. walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 and grease your muffin tins. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the bananas and sugar together for three minutes (I went up to 6 on the KA Mixer)

Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat another minute. Fold in the dry ingredients gently - only stir until they are just incorporated. Fold in the nuts.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes.

Makes 12 medium-sized muffins.

We really enjoyed these muffins as well. I subbed walnuts for the pecans Tyler's recipe called for and didn't add the additional two mashed bananas for texture. The muffins have plenty of banana flavor, and I much prefer walnuts paired with bananas anyway. I'll save this recipe for the next time I want to make banana muffins instead of banana bread.


Muffin #3 - Corn

I have yet to attempt "homemade" corn muffins. I used a Jiffy mix to make the corn muffins. After mixing the ingredients according to the instructions, I always let the muffin mix sit for 15 minutes or so before baking them. This seems to allow the batter to rise a bit, and my muffins are always a bit fluffier when I let the batter rest.


I've posted on the best way to freeze muffins in the past, but here are my instructions again.

Cool muffins completely. Wrap each muffin tightly in plastic wrap. Put all muffins into a gallon Ziploc bag or an airtight container. When you're ready to eat a muffin, take it out of the freezer a couple hours prior to desired consumption.

Do NOT thaw muffins in the microwave - it's okay to reheat them, but don't attempt to thaw them this way. Baked goods frozen and thawed using this method are always even yummier than they were when they went into the freezer.

17 February 2009

A Little Bit Selfish...

Today is my birthday!

We are going out for Italian tonight to a great spot down in Chagrin Falls - Joey's Restaurant. Perhaps a review is in store?

16 February 2009

Happy Birthday Andrew!

Today is my husband's birthday! How lucky am I to be married to this guy?

Molten Lava Cakes

Fudgy chocolate cake. Gooey chocolate "lava" filling. The most cliched day for romance in the whole year. Doesn't this all sound like fun? On Valentine's Day, I wanted our special dessert to be Molten Lava Cakes. File this one under "misadventures" kids, it didn't come out perfectly.

My friend Kris passed on the recipe, and although she told me she baked her cakes in larger dishes than the ramekins I was planning on using, that knowledge flew right out of my head as I set the timer for 15 minutes. The cake was delicious, but molten it was not. Luckily, I have three more unbaked cakes in my fridge, so I am going to try this again later in the week.

Molten Lava Cakes

1 package Baker's unsweetened chocolate
10 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. flour
3 whole eggs
3 yolks

Preheat oven to 425.

Melt chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl for three minutes.

Whisk until chocolate is melted.

Separating the eggs:

Add all other ingredients.

Pour into greased custard cups.

Bake 15 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges and serve after one minute.

If I had this to do again, I would have baked just ten minutes due to the size of my ramekins. I used a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate confetti off a chocolate bar. It made a pretty plate decoration.

I doubled the recipe so I could bring Andrew's family a Valentine's Day dessert.

My ramekins have lovely plastic lids, so I transported the unbaked cakes in a tall bag.

These cakes make a sweet treat anytime. They're easy to prepare yet sinfully decadent - a chocolate lover's dream!

15 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Our Valentine's Day dinner went off without a hitch. I was really pleased with all the recipes I chose, and though I'm not usually one for making a big fuss over the table settings, I thought it looked beautiful.

I used red napkins as our placemats and set the table with our wedding china and silver. We enjoyed pink champagne in our toasting flutes and a nice Cabernet with dinner in the red wine glasses. The centerpiece is the cake topper from our wedding cake, and even the candlesticks were a shower gift from my mom. The candles I had were too slender for the holders, so I wrapped rubber bands around the bottoms to keep them in place.

I wanted to spread the meal out so we weren't stuffed, so in the afternoon, we nibbled at a cheddar cheese fondue - the original recipe is from one of our favorite restaurants - The Melting Pot. One of Andrew's only requests on our wedding registry was an electric fondue pot, and this was a great occasion to use it. The recipe I used was very vague in terms of amounts, other than their recommendation of 4 ounces of liquid. I found this made a very small amount of fondue, so my recipe is based on double the liquid.

Cheddar Cheese Fondue

8 ounces beer - I usedBass Ale
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 tsp. mustard powder
6 shakes Worchestershire sauce
10 grinds of pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Pour the beer into the fondue pot and set pot to 5-1/2. Add the seasonings and the garlic and allow to bubble for a few moments.

Stir in the cheese in batches, whisking with your fondue fork (or a whisk!) to incorporate the cheese.

We served our cheddar fondue with green apples only - I didn't want to get too full for our dinner! The Melting Pot serves theirs with green and red apples, white and brown bread, carrots, and cauliflower.

Fondue is such an easy thing to make, and it serves well as an appetizer or even a small meal unto itself. If you didn't have a fondue pot, I'd imagine you could make this recipe using a double boiler.

Later in the evening, we moved on to our appetizer. I wanted to do seafood, and I was hoping for a tuna sashimi, but at the last minute I opted for sea scallops instead. I was happy with my choice, and thought the scallops were a good compliment to the meal that followed. The recipe was simple yet elegant, and most importantly, it was delicious.

Sea Scallops in Garlic Butter
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
6 large sea scallops, cleaned and patted dry
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced garlic

After rinsing the scallops and drying them on a paper towel, I transferred them to my cutting board. As I was done chopping vegetables on it, I dried it and placed my tablespoon of flour on the board. I gently rolled each scallop in the flour while the olive oil and butter heated in the pan.

Add scallops to pan and cook about two minutes on each side. I added the garlic after all the scallops were in the pan.

This easy dish was so delicious. The garlic was soft and buttery, the scallops were perfectly cooked, and I think Andrew and I would have been happy to each eat a giant plateful of the scallops and call it a night.

Kalyn recommended garnishing with fresh parsley - I used dried tarragon instead. It provided a nice aromatic without adding any intense flavor to the dish. I would recommend this recipe to anyone who has never worked with scallops before - it's a simple recipe that will definitely impress any seafood lover.

The main event involved two new recipes - I know people always say not to try out new recipes on a special occasion, but I figured since it was just Andrew and I, there would be plenty of time, no pressure, and I'd be able to focus on following the recipe. I made the Broccoli Gratin that afternoon and took it out of the fridge when I served the scallops so it could come up to room temperature in time to serve with dinner.

Beef Medallions in Red Wine Sauce

Cook's Recipes has a fantastic recipe for beef medallions. After a simple Google search, I found exactly what I was looking for. I'm not going to recreate the recipe here, becauseI followed it exactly. Feel free to check out the website for the full recipe.

I had my butcher cut the filet mignon that was on sale into a beautiful loin shape. After I told him what I was looking for, he happily went into the back, retrieved a huge piece of filet, and trimmed all the fat for me. See how pretty:

Despite the expense of the meat, I still used my bootleg meat tenderizer - my Chicago Cutlery knife sharpener wrapped in plastic. In the background, you can see the meat after I cut it crosswise into 1" thick medallions.

Here's a photo of the medallions post-pounding:

While I was working with the meat, I let the butter and onions do their thing, then added the flour to create a lovely roux.

I can't believe I didn't get a picture after I added the red wine and beef broth. The sauce was much too thin for my liking, so I whisked in some more flour. I felt like a dunce when I first added the flour, because rather than whisking the flour into a spoonful of broth in a little dish, I just dumped it in.

Amazingly enough, it worked out fine - all the flour dissolved with some vigorous whisking, the sauce thickened, and everything was perfect. I will definitely make this recipe again - albeit most likely with a cheaper cut of meat!

Broccoli Gratin

adapted from A Taste of France

Our yummy side dish was basically a grown up version of broccoli covered in cheese.

2 medium heads broccoli, cut into florets
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 c. milk
4 tbsp. heavy cream
nutmeg, salt, pepper
3/4 c. mozzarella cheese

To start, blanch the broccoli by steaming until al dente, then plunge into ice water.

While the broccoli steams and cools, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute, forming a roux. Pour in the milk "all in one go" as the recipe instructs and whisk continuously over medium high heat.

Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, cream, and half the cheese.

Add the broccoli to the saucepan and stir to coat. Transfer to an oven safe baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

One of my biggest concerns when I'm preparing a special meal is making sure that food is ready at the right time. In order to ensure my timing is perfect, I usually set myself to a loose schedule. I think about my tasks ahead of time - which pans I'll need, what the oven temperature needs to be for which dish, whether certain things can sit if necessary.

By prepping the Broccoli Gratin earlier in the day, my stovetop and my time were free to make the scallops. At the same time the scallops were sauteeing, I browned my beef. I let the scallops rest for about three minutes in their pan - this gave me time to prepare the red wine sauce for the Beef Medallions. While we ate the scallops, the sauce simmered away and the broccoli baked in the oven. By the time we had cleared the plates, our dinner was ready. For dessert, I served Molten Lava Cakes. I will update with the recipe and photos as soon as I can.

I hope your Valentine's Day was sweet!

12 February 2009

RealSimple - Valentine's Day Tips & Tricks

If you're still looking for some sweet Valentine's Day ideas, check out RealSimple magazine's V-Day page. It's a great resource for dessert recipes, cocktails, and menu ideas.

I'm planning a top-secret menu, including delectable dessert. I'm pretty sure Andrew doesn't check my blog, so here's the menu as of today:

Cheese Fondue
Sauteed Scallops in Garlic Butter

Beef Medallions
Broccoli & Cauliflower Gratin

Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes

I'll post recipes and photos later! Enjoy your holiday preparations :)

09 February 2009


Since I had the sauce left over from our Italian Feast the other night, I decided to make a lasagne. But Amy, you're thinking, I thought you didn't like sauce on pasta. You're right, dear reader, I don't. This lasagne will be cut up and frozen in individual portions so Andrew can reheat them in the toaster oven for dinner if I'm not home. I like making lasagne, I just don't like to eat it.

This recipe is pretty simple - I didn't get it from anywhere, it's just a mish-mash of recipes I've read, my mom's method, and what sounds good to me. Of course, you can tweak it based on what you like best.


1.5 lb. ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, minced
26-30 oz. tomato sauce (a large jar, if you're using jarred sauce)
1 lb. shredded mozzarella
10 oz. ricotta cheese
3 handfuls grated pecorino romano
2 eggs
2 splashes milk (maybe 1/4 cup)
1 lb. lasagne noodles
salt & pepper
dried basil, Italian seasonings, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder

In a large skillet, brown ground beef until mostly cooked through. Add onions and stir to combine. Cook beef and onions until beef is fully cooked. Drain in a fine strainer so you don't lose the little pieces of onion. Return beef and onions to skillet, add tomato sauce.

At this point, I also added garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried parsley, and Italian seasonings. Simmer until the pasta is done cooking, then turn the heat off under the sauce.

In the meantime, fill a tea kettle with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Lay lasagne noodles out in a 13" x 9" pan - I laid three noodles lengthwise, two on a diagonal, two going the other diagonal, and then started over. I wanted to be sure they wouldn't stick together too much.

When water is boiling, pour over the noodles in the pan and let stand for 8-10 minutes, until noodles are tender but still extremely al dente.

I think this is much simpler than trying to boil lasagne noodles in a stock pot. I am too nervous to attempt not cooking the noodles at all, so this is a happy medium for me.

While the noodles soak, prepare your cheese filling. Combine half of the mozzarella, the ricotta, and a handful of pecorino romano. Add two eggs, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.

Mix ingredients until cheeses are fully incorporated.

At this point, you may want to add another 5 oz. of ricotta. Andrew doesn't care for ricotta as much, so I opted to add two glugs of milk instead - this successfully thinned the mixture to the consistency I desired.

Now you're ready to begin building your lasagne. I set up an assembly line, because that seemed easiest to me. The pan on the left in the picture contains the soaked and drained lasagne noodles. The skillet has the ground meat/sauce mixture, and the bowl in the foreground is the cheese mixture. The 13" x 9" between the meat pan and the cheese bowl is my lasagne pan.

Spoon a small amount of the sauce (without beef in it) into the bottom of a 13" x 9" pan. This will prevent your noodles from sticking. Layer noodles across the bottom of the pan, making sure to overlap so that your fillings don't all smush together. I used five noodles horizontally and two noodles vertically for each layer, and used every single noodle in the box with none left over.

Onto your noodle layer, spoon a third of the meat mixture onto the pasta and spread it as evenly as possible.

Onto the meat mixture, spoon one half of the cheese mixture. Spread as evenly as possible.

At this point, you have done one layer of pasta, one of meat, and one of cheese. The layers should continue as follows: pasta, meat, cheese, pasta, meat.

Now, you're short a layer of cheese, right? Fear not, this is the cheesiest part of the recipe! Add the other half of the mozzarella to the top of the lasagne. Sprinkle the other two handfuls of pecorino romano over the top. I sprinkled mine with Italian seasoning as well.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. If you place the rack in the center of the oven, you should be able to bake covered with foil for the first 40 minutes, then remove the foil for the last 5 minutes to allow the cheese to brown and bubble.

Though there are many steps, this recipe is so easy to put together. I had all my ingredients available and all pans ready to go when I got home from work tonight. It took me less than an hour to put together the lasagne, and I made our dinner at the same time. Enjoy this delicious lasagne any night of the week, or freeze in individual portions for baking in the toaster oven anytime.