The Daring Bakers Make Quick Bread!

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

Yes! I looove quick breads! Rarely a week goes by that we don't have some soft of muffin in our house, so I was super excited when I saw this month's challenge! Something nice and easy but completely delicious! I tend to make a lot more muffins than I do breads, though, so I wanted to do an actual bread this time. After this ridiculously warm winter we have had (no snow and 50 degrees?!), and the fact that I see spring flowers peeking up from the ground, I felt spring (and summer) needed to be welcomed whole-heartedly! The delicious combination of pineapple, mango, strawberry and coconut were exactly what I needed. 

This bread is amazing! It is so soft and moist, its more cake-like than any other quick bread I have had. And it tastes like Hawaii. Or what I imagine Hawaii would taste like... if you could eat a state... I wrote the directions out as I did them - the original recipe had stuffy instructions for a stand mixer and beating each ingredient in one at a time. For me, though, a quick bread is supposed to be quick! A bowl and a spoon, people! I just don't get it when recipes are over-complicated on purpose. My only recommendation is to please please set the timer when you are toasting your coconut! Otherwise you will be happily chopping away at your fruit and suddenly think: "Mmm! Something smells good! Kind of like coconut.....Holy Crap! THE COCONUT!" Luckily I saved it seconds before it was burnt, but as you can see in the pictures it is nice and toasty! 

Aloha Quick Bread (loosely adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups fruit - pineapple, strawberry, and mango, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350.
Spread 1 cup of the coconut on a baking sheet.
Bake until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally, for 6-10 minutes.
Grease 9x5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and eggs until frothy.
Add the sugar and whisk well.
Add in the sour cream and mix until incorporated.
Using a rubber spatula, mix in the flour, being careful not to overmix.
Fold in the fruit and the toasted coconut.
Pour into the greased loaf pan.
Sprinkle the top of the loaf with 1/2 cup of coconut (the untoasted stuff).
Bake for 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (cover with foil halfway through so the top of the bread does not burn).
Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
Remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool completely.

Raspberry Bars

For this month's edition of Secret Recipe Club I was assigned the blog "Adventures of an Epic Baker", which is a fun little blog packed with goodies. I had a really hard time choosing what to make. I actually started out making her cute little mini marshmallows, but when my bottle of red food coloring fell into the marshmallows and I accidentally put in waaaay more rose water than I should have, my epic baker adventures turned out to be an epic marshmallow slaughter. So much so that I didn't even attempt a repeat, haha. In a rather last minute decision I settled on these amazing little bars, and I could not be happier! 

Besides an inability to make marshmallows, I also apparently can't do math correctly, because I should have used a smaller pan when I halved this recipe. I definitely wish the "bar" part was thicker, but I think they still turned out really well. And I really like the substitution of orange zest and juice instead of the called for lemon. It makes it kind of "kicky" and fun. 

In hindsight (while editing these photos), these bars probably could have used one minute more in the oven, they look a little gooey still, but they don't taste gooey, and I am still really happy with them! They were originally touted as being "breakfast bars", and while we never actually ate them for breakfast, we did enjoy them as mid-morning snacks, after-lunch snacks, and before-bed snacks, and they were amazing no matter what time of day they were served!!

Raspberry Bars (The Adventures of an Epic Baker)

For Crust and Crumb:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cups unsalted butter, cut into 1" pieces

For filling:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP flour
1 pound raspberries, frozen or fresh
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preaheat oven to 350.
Line a 9x13 glass or light colored metal baking dish with a piece of parchment paper with a 2" overhand on both ends.
Butter the parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, brown sugar, oats, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon and pulse to combine.
Add in the butter and pulse in short bursts until it becomes crumbly.
Remove 1 1/2 cups and set aside.
Smoosh the remaining crumble evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Keep the crust in the pan and allow it to cool on a wire rack.
While the crust is cooling, make the filling.
In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, zest, cinnamon and flour.
Mix in the raspberries, lemon juice and butter.
Pour the raspberry filling evenly over the crust.
Sprinkle the reserved crumble over the top of the filling.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Pull the parchment out of the pan and cut into squares.
The bars can be stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Caramelized Brussel Sprouts

Don't leave!

I know, I know, Brussel sprouts have a total bad rap! But just trust me for a second, ok? Have I ever lead you astray?

When I told my husband I wanted to try brussel sprouts, he told me he would divorce me if I brought them home. So you know what I did? I bought them. And I hid them in the very back of the refrigerator and piled a bunch of stuff in front of them. And then I cooked them when he wasn't looking, but I shredded them so he couldn't tell what they were.

When we sat down to dinner last night he said, "What is this?"
"Have you tasted them?"
"Try them first."
"Wow! These are really good! What are they?"
"Brussel Sprouts!"
"No! What are they really?"
"Brussel Sprouts! With garlic, brown sugar, and pecans."
"You are so divorced."

Ha! Too bad he already admitted to liking them! And when I mentioned maybe having them again sometime, he said that would be ok! Imagine that! And honestly, I was really surprised myself at how good these actually were!

Have you tried brussel sprouts yet? What is your favorite way to eat them?

Caramelized Brussel Sprouts (Eat Live Run)
Yields: 4 servings

12-14 large brussel sprouts
1 TBSP olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sea salt
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/4 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts.

Slice each brussel sprout into thin strips (kind of like if you were slicing an onion, go from the end to the tip)
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the garlic for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
Add the brussel sprouts and continue sauteeing for 4-5 minutes, or until bright green and tender.
Add the sea salt and the brown sugar and toss together.
Finish by adding the nuts and allow to toast for a minute or two.

Pane al Cioccolato (or Italian Chocolate Bread)

I've decided I have been way too lazy with my photo taking. The majority of the time I am hastily taking two or three photos (on my phone) before we sit down to dinner, so I know those photos are really not at their best. But everything else? I have no reason for slacking off there. I have never claimed to be a "food stylist" and I will honestly probably never buy fancy dishes and props to use. But I can at least try to remember to use the basic photography principles sometimes, and take my camera off of automatic! So, one afternoon, when Ladybug was asleep, I brought out my camera, switched it into manual mode, and starting shooting pictures. I think I did pretty good, what do you think? (hint: say yes!)

My friend Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Linedrives was asked to be the host of Bread Baking Day #47, which is awesome for her, because, well, she is awesome. She decided since it is February that she wanted us to combine bread and chocolate this month. What can be better?! And then she had to be a darling and extend me a personal invitation to join in on the fun! Of course I had to say yes! Bread and chocolate and Lisa? Sign me up! 

While making this bread, I wasn't quite sure how it was going to turn out. I didn't read the recipe close enough before I started and was really disappointed when I read that it needed yeast in it. Sourdough and yeast together? But I went ahead and threw the yeast in, as it was only a tiny amount. Then I was kind of worried when my dough, like, didn't rise. At all. That usually isn't a good sign, but I preservered anyway.

I was really surprised when I cut into this loaf, it has a nice crumb, and it was really soft! By itself, the bread isn't overly chocolate tasting, it has just a tiny hint. And it isn't really sourdough tasting, either. But slathered with a nice layer of nutella, peanut butter, or cream cheese, this bread is heaven on a plate. Or a napkin. Or standing in the corner of the kitchen hoping the toddler doesn't see you because you don't feel like sharing.

I  am also submitting this to Yeastspotting

Pane Al Cioccolato (Apple Pie, Patis, and Pate)

Biga Naturale (or starter):
28 grams of 50% hydration starter
32 grams (1/4 cup) bread flour
18 grams water, at room temperature

Final Dough:
All of the biga naturale
393 grams (3 cups) bread flour
248 grams (1 1/8 cups) water
71 grams (4 TBSP) honey
1 TBSP vanilla extract
25 grams (4 TBSP) cocoa powder
1/4 tsp instant yeast
10 grams (1 TBSP) kosher salt
78 grams chocolate chips

Mix the ingredients for the biga naturale together in a bowl until everything is evenly distributed.
Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 hours.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, mix together all the ingredients for the final dough, except for the chocolate chips!
Knead by machine for 8-10 minutes.
Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead in the chocolate chips by hand, until well incorporated.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Shape into either a boule or batard (a round or an oval) and allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hours (covered).
Preheat your oven and baking vessel to 400 F.
Score your bread with a few slashes in whatever pattern you like.
Bake the bread for 20 minutes covered, rotate the loaf, and bake another 15-20 minutes uncovered.
When done, remove bread to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 1 hour.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls were nearly the death of me, for several reasons. First off, they take a whopping three days to make! Secondly, the dough is very moist, and very sticky. Saying "very" doesn't even really describe it. The first time I attempted these,  it was a complete and utter mess, more like a gooey cinnamony blob than cute rolls. After doing a little research and finding out a fantastic tip for success on how to make these (you have to read to the bottom to find out!) the second batch turned out much better! The third reason is due to the fact that as soon as I pulled these out of the oven and went to make the glaze I realized I only had 1/4 cup of powdered sugar. Seriously?! Ugh!

The last and final reason why these cinnamon rolls almost killed me was because even though there was barely any glaze on top, we had a really hard time staying away from these! Every time we walked through the kitchen, which is a lot since its in the middle of our apartment, we had to sneak a bite. Or two. The next morning I realized I had some cream cheese stashed in the fridge and slathered a little bit of that on. With or without frosting, these cinnamon rolls are worth the three days. They are worth the sticky mess. They are worth the crazy looks you get from your husband as you put mashed potatoes in the dough (For real! Mashed potatoes!). They are super soft and billowy, and turn out huge! They are almost exactly like a big bakery cinnamon roll, and whether you save them for a special breakfast, or just a Saturday morning, you need to try these!

Ok, here it is! The secret to these cinnamon rolls (and other things)! Since the dough is so sticky, it is  really important to use a well floured baking couche (or a heavy piece of linen or canvas - I have even used a well floured cheesecloth). Wash it, flour it, and never wash it again. If anything sticks to it, just scrape off anything that happens to cling to it. This is not a good example of one (its a cheesecloth) but it worked. Using something that is a bit thicker and heavier will work much better, though. You can see how much dough stuck to the cheesecloth, even though it was very well floured.

I promise that is red thread, and not a hair!
Using thread is an awesome way to cut cinnamon rolls, it is so much cleaner!

Then when you are done, shake it out, fold it up, and store it in a ziplock bag.  This will save you sooo much hassle and headache, I PROMISE! You can also use this method for making other things, including Povitica!

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls (Not So Humble Pie, Moutaindog @ The Fresh Loaf)
 Yields: 12 large rolls

150 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter
340 grams lukewarm water
340 grams flour

Let this mixture sit at room temperature for 12 hours (overnight).

Final Dough:
113 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs
42 grams (1 1/2 TBSP) honey
24 grams (2 TBSP) vanilla extract
130 grams mashed potato (no butter or milk is needed here, just potato)
195 grams buttermilk or whole milk
850 grams of the levain
700 grams flour
21 grams salt

170 grams (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
85 grams cream
600 grams dark brown sugar
6 grams (3 tsp) cinnamon
12 grams (1 TBSP) vanilla extract

In your stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter.
Add in the eggs, honey, vanilla and mashed potatoes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until well blended.

Swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook and add the milk and levain, mixing until well blended.
Gradually add the flour and salt to the bowl.
Continue mixing with the hook until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Allow the dough to rest in the bowl (covered) for 20 minutes.

After the rest, mix for another 2-3 minutes. The resulting dough will be very moist and sticky.
Turn the dough out into a large lightly oiled bowl.
Cover and allow to ferment in a cool location (about 55-65 F) until doubled (this will take 8-12 hours).
Every 4-6 hours, lift the dough to stretch it, and then fold it onto itself.

Towards the end of the fermentation period you can ready the filling.
In one bowl combine the melted butter, vanilla and cream.
In another bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon.
Set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured couche and dust it lightly with flour.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle (how large you roll it depends on how thick you want your rolls and how many spirals you want).
Brush the sheet of dough with the butter/cream mixture and then sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar.
Roll up the dough, using the couche to help it roll onto itself.
Using a piece of unflavored dental floss, or a clean thread, cut the log into 12 rolls, about 1.5" each.
Place the rolls into a greased baking pan or casserole dish.
Brush the tops of the rolls with a little melted butter and then cover with plastic wrap.
Let the rolls proof in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, bake the rolls straight from the fridge in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25-35 minutes (if your rolls are really thick it might take a little longer).
Once out of the oven brush the rolls with a little more melted butter to help keep them soft.

Cinnamon Roll Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
whole milk

Whisk together the ingredients, adding just enough milk to make a fluid glaze that flows thickly and smoothly off the end of the whisk.
Use the whisk to drizzle hee icing over the rolls and serve warm.

Garlic Roasted Carrots

I am so happy right now! We just heard from our landlord that someone really wants to live in our unit (we have one of the only three bedroom apartments that allows dogs in the whole city), so we get to move out a whole 2 months earlier than we were anticipating, without a penalty! Whooo!! Now don't get me wrong, we like our apartment. It is beautiful, and we have fantastic neighbors. But it happens to be fairly expensive, and when all is said and done, its an apartment. And we neeeeeed a yard so bad! Not only for the dogs, who really need to run, but also for us! We are yard people. We like to be outdoors. We like to grill out. We need to run and play in grass. We need to grow something. And not having the option to just be outside for a bit kills us. So now we get to start looking for a new place to live! Unfortunately, this town is not renter friendly to dog owners, but I have no doubt that while finding a new place will be challenging, I can find a good place for us to live. Maybe I just need to take some brownies with me wherever I go... haha

Have you tried roasting your broccoli yet, like I told you to back in November? If not, what the heck are you waiting for? If you have (or if you need a stepping stone to get you there), I have a new way to roast your veggies! Its so simple, I didn't know why I didn't think of it before. Carrots + Olive Oil + GARLIC! It's amazing! In fact, Joel and I happened to steal quite a few pieces from Ladybug at dinner this night, and she was not happy to share! :) 

Garlic Roasted Carrots (Food and Wine)
Yield: 4 servings

1 pound medium carrots, peeled
1/4 cup water
4 large garlic cloves
1 TBSP canola oil
1 TBSP unsalted butter
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees.
Throw all the ingredients into the baking dish and toss to combine.
Tent with foil and roast for 30 minutes, until tender.
Uncover and roast for another 30 minutes, until all the water has evaporated and the carrots are lightly brown in spots.
Transfer the carrots and the garlic to a plate and serve.

Cornbread Muffins with Sugar Plums

The dreaded night shift has started again. For the next four weeks, Joel will work from 7pm-8am. Then the poor guy has to come home to a house with a wide awake toddler and two wound up puppies and try to sleep. Poor guy. But that also means that for the next four weeks, I get the whole bed to myself! Muahahaha! Ok, that's entirely not true. Because the other half of the bed has already been claimed by two pups who repeatedly change positions, steal my blankets and have to touch as much of me as possible the entire night. So, really, I have less bed space than before.

Have you ever just listened to the night noises around you? I have discovered that night time is not as quiet as you think it should be. Especially when you live in an apartment building. On a busy street. That happens to be across from a post office. Did you know that post offices get mail at all hours of the night? Including 3am on a Sunday morning?! It's true! So, if you happen to be a delivery driver making deliveries in the middle of the night, I know you are tired, but do you think you could please please slam your doors just a tiny bit quieter? I would really thank you! I might even make you some muffins!

What do you get when you cross a slightly sweet cornbread with a fruit studded muffin? You get these amazing little gems! The slightly crumbly texture of these muffins is reminiscent of cornbread, but the pockets of sweet juicy plums make these muffins close to candy. Enjoy them straight from the oven, or warmed up and slathered with a bit of butter (and honey?) for a great morning (or afternoon) treat!

Cornbread Muffins with Sugar Plums (adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup - 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your plums are)
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tso salt
3/4 cup yogurt
1/2 cup milk
4 TBSP butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 cups plums, putted and quartered (about 3 plums)

*I substituted the cornmeal and pastry flour for masa (tamale mix) and it worked great!*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare your muffin tin as desired.

In a medium bow, combine the flours, 1/4 cup of the sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl, stir together the yogurt and milk.
In yet another bowl, beat the butter until pale and light, add in the remaining sugar and beat until well combined, light, and fluffy.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Reduce mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Add half of the milk and mix until just combined.
Repeat with the remaining flour and milk.
Finally, fold in the plums, mixing until just barely combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup nearly to full.
Bake for 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in comes out with just a few crumbs.

The Daring Cooks Make Quinoa Patties

For the last few months I have been trying to install at least one meatless meal a week, if not two. This is due to a few reasons, but mainly because meat is expensive! But my foray into "meatless" hasn't been all too spectacular. I've been sticking pretty close to what I know, and what is cheap - and that has meant a lot of pancakes, pasta, and grilled cheese sandwiches. So when I saw that this month's Daring Cooks Challenge was to do a patty of some kind, I knew I needed to step up to the plate and make a really great non-hamburger patty.

The Daring Cooks’ February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lis and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!

Joel was more than a little skeptical about this meal. It was a double-eyebrow-raising "HUH"?! When I told him what we were having, and I am pretty sure he thought I had gone off the deep-end. But we were both really pleased with how this meal turned out. It was easy and quick to prepare, and it was really good! Even Joel said that it was surprisingly good, haha. And even though I would definitely consider this a light meal, and was thoroughly expecting to be starving by 8 (and needing a bowl of ice cream as a snack) I was surprisingly well satisfied all night! This will definitely be making an appearance in our meal rotation again!

Quinoa Cakes with Poached (or fried) Eggs (Annie's Eats)
Yield: 6 patties

2 cups cooked quinoa, at room temperature
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup minced fresh chives, plus more for garnish
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, plus more if needed
Olive oil, for frying patties

For serving:
shaved parmesan
6 poached eggs (one for each patty) or you could serve them with fried eggs, however you like them.

In a medium bowl, combine the quinoa, eggs, salt, chives, shallots, Parmesan and garlic.
Stir to blend.
Mix in the breadcrumbs and stir gently until evenly incorporated.
Form the mixture into 6 even sized paties, about 3" to 4" in diameter.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and swirl to coat.
Add the patties to the pan so they are not touching.
Cook 4 minutes, or until the underside is lightly browned.
Carefully flip each patty over and cook for an additional 4 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Top each patty with a bit of parmesan cheese, a poached egg, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Sour Cream Pancakes

We got the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with our friends at their farm (well, property. Someday it will be a farm, right now its just land). It was some much needed R&R in the country, complete with hiking around, a picnic, a little off-roading for the boys, and a little running around and barking like crazy for the puppies. It was a wonderful day, and we really needed it! Even though having 55 degree weather and no snow in February is really weird, I'm really glad it happened! We needed this day!!

These pancakes were a real treat, too. They were different than your normal pancakes in that they had that nice tangy sour cream flavor (but not as tangy as sourdough pancakes), were barely sweet, and complimented the maple syrup perfectly! Plus, this is also a great pancake to make if you happen to only have enough milk in the house for a toddler sized sippy cup. I will definitely be making these again (you know me, I can't turn down a good pancake!)

Edna Mae's Sour Cream Pancakes (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Pioneer Woman)
Yield: about 10 5-inch panckes
7 TBSP flour
1 TBSp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream (you could also swap some with yogurt)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
butter and maple syrup

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat.
Stir the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together in the bottom of a medium-bow.
Dump the sour cream in and stir it all together very gently (its ok to leave it a bit clumpy).
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla and stir them into the sour cream mixture, once again being careful not to over-mix.
Melt about 1 TBSP of butter in your skillet and pour about 1/4 cup of batter in the center.
Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, or until bubbles begin to form, then carefully flip over and cook for a minute or two on the other side.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve in a stack, topped with butter and maple syrup!

Chocolate Beet Cake with Beety Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes, you just need cake. And the way things have been going around here lately, we needed chocolate cake in a bad sort of way. We've been fighting the battle that is getting our cars registered, licensed and inspected. Which means that every single week this last month one of our cars has been at the mechanics. And not for simple things, either, but the kinds of things where the manager of the shop comes out with a grave face and says "we have a problem". This game we are playing is getting kind of tiresome now, but since Joel happens to have a bright green "rejected" sticker on his window, I have a feeling we have another round to go.

Shredding roasted beets will turn your hands bright pink. So you should probably not wear your favorite white cardigan while making this. Just better go put on black. And don't let the baby help, either. And while you are at it, you might as well hide the fact that there are beets in this cake from your husband or you will never hear the end of it. After Joel got his smarty pants comment of "It tastes like cream cheese covered beets" out of the way, we were both pleasantly surprised by the cake. Not that I was afraid this was going to be a bad cake, I just wasn't sure what to expect never having had a beet before. You really couldn't tell, except to note a faint hint of "something different" in the cake, something that gave it a bit of dense complexity, moisture and a bit of sweetness, but not too much. I loved that the bright color of this frosting was made completely with beets, too! Not a drop of food coloring went in there, I promise!!

If, by the way, you are wondering what a "photo shoot" insists of at my house, please let me introduce you to my invaluable assistants - the food stylist, the quality assurance manager, and the lighting director. Can you guess which is which? :)

Chocolate Beet Cake (Joy the Baker)
2 medium beets, unpeeled but trimmed of the greens
1 tsp vegetable oil
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, soft, plus more for greasing the pans
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour, plus more for dusting the pans.
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degres.
Thoroughly wash the beets and trim their leaves.
Place clean beets in a piece of foil and drizzle with just a bit of vegetable oil.
Seal up the foil, place the foil packet on a baking sheet ad roast until knife tender, about 1 hour.
Remove the beets from the oven, open the foil packet, and allow the beets to cool completely.
Once cool, peel the beets with a pairing knife.
Using a box grated, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.
Measure 3/4 cup of the grated beets for the cake and 2 TBSP for the frosting.

Preheat the oven to 350.
Use butter to grease two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.
Trace a circle of parchment paper so it fits in the bottom of each pan. Cut the circle out and place it inside the cake pan.
Butter the parchment paper and add a dusting of flour to each pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars.
Beat on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, for 1 minute after each addition.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Beat in the beats and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture.
Beating on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk.
Once the milk is just incorporated, add the remaining dry ingredients.
Beat on medium speed until everything is just incorporated, trying not to over-mix the batter. If you are worried about this, you can remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand with a spatula.  The cake batter will  be on the thick side, not easily pourable.

Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans.
Bake for 23-25 minutes (for a 9 inch) or 30-32 for an 8 inch pan, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes.
Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake

Beet Cream Cheese Frosting (Joy the Baker)
2 sticks unsalted butter, soft
8 ounces cream cheese, soft
4-5 cups powdered sugar
2 TBSP finely grated beets, mashed with a fork
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp milk, depending on desired consistency
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for 30 seconds or until pliable and smooth.
Add the butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
Beat in the beets.
Add in the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice and salt.
Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky.
Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

The cake will last in the refrigerated, covered, for up to 4 days.

Rustic Sourdough Pasta, of all shapes

One of my favorite things since joining the food blogging community is not only the vast amount of new food that I have been exposed to, but also the great relationships that I have made! One such friendship is with Shelley of C Mom Cook. Even though we have never actually met in person I count her as one of my good friends, and we talk every few days. One such evening we were chatting and I mentioned a recipe I had found for homemade noodles made with a sourdough starter. Shelley (who loves her starter as much as I love mine) immediately thought it would be fun if we did the recipe together! Since neither of us could drive a few hours for some noodle making, we made the recipes in our own kitchens and are posting about it together!

The first attempt at sourdough pasta was slightly disastrous. I tried doing it by hand, but this dough is so dry, even after kneading it by hand for 30 minutes it was all crumbs. By this time my arms were exhausted. Even after a spin cycle in the stand mixer it was too dry, so I threw it out and started all over. I also decided that even though the original recipe called for the yolk only that I would just go ahead and throw the whole egg in.

The second batch worked great, so I highly highly recommend using your mixer!! I decided to make a ravioli for my first batch, and whipped up a simple filling of ricotta, garlic, and spinach. The dough was very easy to roll and cut, but I learned I need to work on my ravioli making skills. It's a little...rustic. Haha. The slight twang of sourdough is definitely present here but not overpowering and went really well with the filling and marinara- we liked it!

The second batch was just straight noodles, and as much as we liked the filled pasta I think the plain noodles were our favorite. They are simple and rustic, and being fresh they cook up super fast (just a few minutes in boiling water is all it takes). I really enjoyed the noodles with red sauce, but Joel said he liked the alfredo best. Ladybug gives both sauces a clean plate, so you will just have to make the decision for yourself! :)

Check out what Shelley made with her sourdough pasta at C Mom Cook! We will both be making these noodles a lot from now on, and we hope that you will give them a try, too! Let us know when you do!!

Rustic Sourdough Pasta (adapted from Mummy, I Can Cook)
Yields: 6 servings
1/2 cup sourdough starter
1.5 cups flour
2 eggs

Pour the starter into your mixing bowl.
Add the flour and egg, and mix until it forms a ball (this takes forever).
Allow the dough to sit on the counter for a few hours, up to overnight. It won't rise much, if at all.
Dump the ball out onto a floured counter.
Roll it out as thin as you can possibly make it.
Slice the noodles into whatever shape you like (and fill it, too, if yo want).
You can now either boil them immediately to eat, or allow them to dry out on the counter.

I have submitted this pasta to Yeastspotting a weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient.

Bacon Mac

Somehow, we got all screwed up. Flipping through the pages of a history book you will stumble across something that you might find odd. It used to be that the curvier a woman was, the more beautiful and desirable she was. If you take a walk through the art museum, you will see paintings after paintings of women with soft curves - and you would most likely want to call them "overweight" or "fat". But these women were painted because they were the epitome of what was beautiful. You couldn't see their ribs, and they sure as heck didn't have a six-pack.

Why was this? Because these women were well-to-do. They came from families that had money. They could afford to eat well, and they could afford to eat the expensive food - things with sugar and butter. While the poor people were typically skinny - they couldn't afford these lavish treats, and instead relied on what fresh meat and produce they could buy at markets.

Now, however, society has made a complete flip-flop. Now, the cheapest foods to be found come from a box or a drive-though window. Now, the rich and famous are the skinny ones. Their personal trainers and dietitians and personal chefs help, no doubt, but its the fact that they can actually afford to put fresh produce and meats on their table. The poor are now laden with diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol because the healthiest food for us, the organic, non-processed, "whole foods" are also the most expensive.

You now have to be rich to eat healthy. You can see it best at the grocery store. One red bell pepper costs $2.50. Just one. Or, you can walk a few aisles over to the frozen section and get a whole frozen meal for $2.50. And if you don't care about brands you can probably find one cheaper than that. I find that really, really sad. How are you supposed to eat healthy, fresh foods, if you can't afford to?

I'll get off my soap box now and talk about this pasta. :) This pasta is a delicious meal, especially if you are being conscious about what you are eating. Full of great ingredients, and deliciously creamy! Plus, there is bacon! How can you turn down a low-calorie cheesy pasta dish with bacon! (and yes, I know bacon is not healthy, but it tastes so good!)You can't! And the best thing is you won't break the bank fixing this meal, either!

Bacon Mac (Cooking Light)
Yield: 6 1-cup servings, at 11 Weight Watcher's Points Plus per serving.

1/4 tsp salt, divided
12 ounces penne pasta
4 tsp flour
1 1/2 cups skim milk
2 cups finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
cooking spray

Preheat broiler.
Bring a large pot of water to boil; add pasta and cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente, and drian.
Combine flour and 1/2 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium-heat.
Gradually add 1 cup of milk, while stirring constantly.
Bring to a boil and continue to stir.
Cook one minute.
Remove from heat; let it stand 4 minutes.
Stir in 1 1/2 cups of cheese, 1/4 tsp salt, onions, hot sauce, pepper, and bacon.
Add pasta and toss.
Spoon into a 2 quart broiler safe dish coated with cooking spray.
Top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.
Broil seven minutes.

Citrus Cranberry Cream Cheese Braid

 I have been wanting to make a breakfast braid for a very long time, but never actually got around to it. Breakfast braids are supposed to be served at breakfast, but most of the recipes out there require you to get up at the crack of dawn to get something in your belly before lunch time. I finally found a perfect recipe over at Willow Bird Baking where you can assemble the braid in the evening, and bake it in the morning. Combined with a flavor combination I was drooling over at Barbara Bakes, this braid was the utter perfect addition to our Christmas morning breakfast (Yeah, I know, its February, so what?). 

This is roll your eyes back and moan at the first bite good. I really should have made two, because after everyone's slice was gone, we all wanted a second. There might have been a little bit of fighting over crumbs left on the baking tray (but not too much, it was Christmas after all). I know you probably won't be able to find any fresh cranberries this time of year, but this recipe will easily lend itself to any flavors you want - swap out vanilla for almond extract if you want, use whatever fruit you want, be they fresh, frozen, or preserves. This would be an amazing breakfast for Valentine's Day! Or any Saturday!

Citrus Cranberry Cream Cheese Braid (adapted from recipes by Barbara Bakes and Willow Bird Baking)

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cranberry Preserves: (You can replace this with any preserves you want, or even use dried cranberries, too)
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
zest from 1/2 an orange

Citrus Sugar:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest

Lemon Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
5 tsp fresh lemon juice

Cranberry Preserves:
In a small saucepan, mix all the ingredients for the preserves together and allow to simmer over medium-high heat until the cranberries begin to burst. 
Remove from heat and allow to cool. It will thicken as it cools. 

Cream Cheese Filling:
Mix together the cream cheese until smooth.
Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla and beat until creamy and smooth.
Set aside while you make your braid.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt (this is really easy if you do it in a food processor.
Add the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture and mix just enough to distribute the fats (about 6 pulses if using a food processor).
Add the milk and vanilla and blend into a loose dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead very lightly for 4-5 strokes (if you overwork it, the pastry will become tough. Just gather it together, don't worry about making it smooth. It will still look a little rough, but that is right where you want it).

Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll the dough to an 8x12" rectangle.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper.
Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds.
Spread the preserves down the middle third of the dough and spread a thick line of cream cheese mixture on either side of the preserves (still inside the middle third).
Make slightly diagonal cuts at 1 inch intervals along both the outside thirds (see the photo). Do not cut into the center filled area.

Fold the strips, first one side and then the other (kind of like you are braiding) over the filling.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (if you want. You can just bake this now!)

Pull the braid out of the fridge and allow it to set on the counter to warm up while your oven heats up (if you refrigerated it overnight).
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the citrus sugar and sprinkle evenly over the braid.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned.
Remove the pan from the oven, and allow to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the lemon glaze and drizzle over the still warm (but not hot) braid.
Cut into strips and serve.

Mini Pizza Bites

Who is ready for the Superbowl?!?! Are you a diehard football fan, or a commercial-watcher? Being hard-core science nerds, this household is definitely not into sports. Like, at all. In fact, when we were crusing through the new Apple TV we got for Christmas (by the way, its hte COOLEST thing ever! See, I told you we were nerds) Joel was scrolling through the "internet" settings and was like "MBA? What is that?" Haha we had a good laugh out of that. So it should't come as a big surprise to you when I tell you that we don't really care about the Superbowl. But the commercials are pretty fun, and we will take any excuse to hang out with friends and eat food all night.

If you need a good appetizer, snack, or um, dinner (yeah, we totally ate these for dinner one night), I really really recommend these cute little things! They are completely addictive and amazing! The original recipe makes 24 bites, which honestly, is not enough. I've made these three times already and each time we make a double batch and barely had leftovers. So just go ahead and make a lot, because these will be a big hit, I promise!

Do you watch the Superbowl for the game or the commercials?

Mini Pizza Bites (Lick the Bowl Good) makes 50 mini muffins
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 TBSP Italian Seasoning
2 pinches of crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups cubed pepperoni
1 cup pizza sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Grease a mini muffin pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, seasoning, and pepper flakes.
Whisk in the milk and egg.
Stir in the cheeses and pepperoni and let stand for 10 minutes.
Stir the batter a bit and place a spoonful of batter in each muffin cup.
Bake until puffed and golden, 20-25 minutes.
Repeat with the remaining batter.
Microwave the sauce until warm and serve as dipping sauce.

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