Friday, February 25, 2011

Potatoes and Eggs

My daughter's preschool has 6 chickens and the eggs are often available for sale.  If you have never had truly fresh eggs before you need to give them a try, there is definitely a difference.  The difference can be seen as soon as the eggs are cracked, the color of fresh eggs is much more vibrant and I think it can actually change slightly based on the diet of the chickens.  The flavor is also much more eggy and rich, again I think the flavor of these eggs change slightly because of the their diet.  Since these chickens are preschool pets they have a very unique diet.  In addition to their regular feed the chickens often get scraps from the children's snacks, which means they eat a lot of fruit and strawberry tops.  These chickens are also very spoiled by the teachers and often receive special snacks, like pasta and cheese and baked salmon, I don't know much about chickens, but I don't think this is part of their normal diet.  
We don't get the eggs very often, but when I do buy some I like to do an egg meal.  Recently I did hash with poached eggs.  This is a flash back to my childhood meal.  My Dad is a good cook, but this is one of his favorite meals and he would often make it as our Friday night dinner.  As a kid I hated it, I wanted pizza night like most of my friends were having, but as in so many other things I now really appreciate this meal.  It is simple, filling, and uses the leftovers and odd bits you have at the end of the week.  After years of complaining and driving my parents crazy I am now loving this simple dish and torturing my kids with it when they would probably rather be eating pizza.  Everything really does come full circle.  

Potato Hash
4 Large Potatoes, peeled and diced (if you have potatoes leftover use those, just cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 lb Sausage, slice or diced - any kind will work, I like Aidells sausage all the flavors are wonderful (again         you can also use leftover meats)
1 Onion finely diced
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1/4 c. Chicken broth
1 Bunch Spinach chopped (optional)
Hot Sauce

Cook potatoes until just tender.  In frying pan cook sausage until brown.  If needed add 1-2 Tbs of olive oil, heat.  Sautee onions until soft and translucent.  Add pepper, cook until soft.  Add cooked potatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, add chicken broth and spinach.  Cook for 5 minutes until heated through and spinach has wilted.  Season with hot sauce as desired.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Coffee Heath Bar Crunch Cake

I was very excited to make the February cake slice cake.  I love toffee, I love coffee, so combing the two can be nothing but wonderful.  The cake was moist and had a nice soft crumb, and the struesel topping provided a crunchy contrast.  I had picked up a bag of Heath Bar baking chips, which were convenient, but if I made it again I would use chopped Heath bar.  I like struesel toppings with a bit of irregularity, it is always a nice treat to bite into a larger piece of the crunchy topping.   The bag of chips where not chocolate coated, and I still haven't decided if this was good or bad.  I sprinkled some chocolate chips on top, but I'm not sure it needed it.  I can't believe I'm actually going to say this, but I think the chocolate interfered with the other flavors - what is this world coming to I can't believe I am actually saying something would be better without chocolate!  This recipe will move to my keep and make again folder.  I'm not sure what I will do when I make this cake again, go with the pre-chopped bag or chop myself, which is more important the surprise of the larger chunks or keeping the chocolate out - oh the dilemmas.
Check out the results of the other Cake Slice bakers!

Coffee Heath Bar Crunch Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

For the Cake
1½ cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
For the Streusel
1 cup/4 Heath bars (1.4ounces each), chopped *(see below)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp butter, softened

Method – Streusel
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9inch round springform pan.
Combine the Heath bars, brown sugar, flour and butter in a medium mixing bowl. Work the
mixture with your fingers until it resembles large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Method – Cake
Combine the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer
on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as
necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture and then half the milk, scraping
down the bowl after each addition. Repeat, alternating the flour and milk, ending with the flour.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer with a spatula. Scatter
the streusel onto the batter, distributing it evenly over the cake.
Bake the cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, 55 to 60
minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Release the sides of the
pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom to onto a wire rack. Cool
completely, cut into wedges and serve.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to
3 days.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pecan Crusted Chicken

There is a Creole/Cajun restaurant in my old neighborhood that my husband and I love.  We would there it at least once a week, before we had kids, for dinner and were there at least two more times each week just for drinks and apps.  The place is in an awful location, yet it has received numerous awards.  If you have gone there you will probably become a regular.  The food is wonderful yet affordable.  Everything is delicious - Jack Daniels shrimp, crawfish Etouffee, and my favorite the pecan crusted chicken with a creole mustard.  The chicken is the dish I order 90% of time, it is so yummy and the serving size is large enough that I always have leftovers to enjoy the next day, and this is a dish that is just as good, if not better the next day.  Since we moved we haven't been getting there as often as we would like and I often have a craving for the chicken.  To help I have been working on making my own version for those times when I need a fix and just can't get there.  It is coming close, the sauce still needs some work, but the chicken is almost spot on.  I will share the chicken recipe with you now, but am going to work on the sauce some more and will share that at a later date.  Even without the sauce the chicken is great, so go ahead and give it a try!

Pecan Crusted Chicken
4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c. Roughly chopped pecans
4 Tbs. Butter
1 Shallot, minced
1 c. Panko
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. Cayenne pepper
3 Eggs
3 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. Ground black pepper
1 tsp. Seasoned Salt
1 c. All-purpose flour

Preheat oven 350
Using a fork poke chicken 9-10 times, sprinkle with Kosher salt.  Place on wire rack set over baking sheet, refrigerate while preparing coating.
In a food processor, chop nuts until they resemble a coarse meal.  Over medium heat, melt butter, swirling pan constantly until butter is golden brown.  Add shallot and a pinch of kosher salt.  Cook shallots until light brown, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat, add Panko and nuts.  Stirring frequently cook until golden brown about 10-12 minutes.  Transfer mixture to shallow dish or coating plate.  Add lemon zest, thyme and cayenne, stir to combine.   In second shallow dish beat eggs, mustard and black pepper.  In third shallow dish mix together flour and seasoned salt.
Remove chicken from refrigerator, pat dry with a paper towel.  Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken in flour, then egg mixture,  allow extra to drip off.  Coat each side of chicken in panko nut mixture, pressing gently so crumbs adhere.  Transfer coated chicken to wire rack, set in baking sheet.  Repeat until all chicken is coated.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until thickest part of the chicken reads 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

LEGO Birthday

We celebrated my son's 6th birthday last week and this year everything was LEGO.  I used the LEGO silicone ice cube molds to make chocolate guys and bricks.  My son was thrilled to be able to design his own guys while the girls loved just painting with the chocolate.  We made a lot of guys and bricks during our surprise vacation so we had enough to decorate cupcakes for school, decorate the cake and include a small bag of chocolates in the goody bags for the party.  Everything was super easy to make.
The cupcakes for school were a basic yellow cupcake with buttercream frosting, but the brick on top made them a big hit with the kids.  For the cake I made a 10" square cake and then topped it with a building base made out of fondant and chocolate bricks and guys.   To make the base I used a pastry tip to cut out the circles and with a little water glued them down.  This was the most time consuming part of the entire cake, but it was very easy and #2 assisted me (child labor is great) in cutting the circles so the base came together much quicker than I thought it would  My son was thrilled with the cake, he loved the fact that he helped to make it and was very proud to show off the guys he designed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Last week we had a few unexpected snow days, which was three more than I wanted as it resulted in a 7 day school vacation - they were already scheduled to have two days off this week.  At times it has felt more like a 7 month vacation, but we are working our way through this unexpected holiday.  When I first heard Wednesday was going to be a snow day I quickly began searching the Internet for ideas, after a little bit of searching I learned  January 26th is Australia Day, so we decided to join in the celebration.  After spending some time reading about the history and geography of the country we colored the flag and hung them up.  Then it was on to the important business of making some authentic Australian cuisine.  My knowledge of Australian food is limited to the Vegemite sandwich - thanks to "Men at Work", sorry if that song is now stuck in your head, I have been singing it for a week now.  We ruled that out pretty quickly and decided to give Lamingtons a try instead and I am so glad we did - yummm!
The kids really enjoyed making these treats, they especially liked pouring on the chocolate and even though they don't like coconut they had fun rolling the cakes in it.
We did a very simple version, but after looking around the Internet it appears as if there are a lot of options, I think I would like to try them again with the addition of a jam filling.  If Lamingtons are a favorite in your family I would love to give your recipe a try, or if you have another authentic Australian dish please share, or if you have a favorite family recipe that is authentic to another country, share that - just share I would love some new ideas!

2 c. All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs
1/2 c. Butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1/2 c. Milk
2 c. Confectioners Sugar 
1/3 c. Cocoa Powder
3 Tbs. Butter
1/2 c. Milk

Preheat oven 350, prepare 8 inch square pan
For the cake:
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer combine butter and sugar, mix until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla, mix until combined. Using a spatula alternately fold in the flour and milk, in three additions starting and ending with the flour.  Do not over mix, with each addition fold until just combined.  Spread the batter in prepared pan, bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests clean.  Cool cake in pan for about 5 minutes then invert onto wire rack and cool.  Cut into desired size pieces and place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.  

Place the confectioners sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Stir the mixture until smooth and thick.  Do not continue to cook to long as the mixture will get too thin.  Place chilled cake on wire rack over a try.  Quickly coat the cakes on all sides in the chocolate they gently roll in coconut.