Saturday, May 31, 2014

Two-ingredient Salad Dressing

Is there any food debate more violently contested than the ketchup-on-a-hot-dog question?

I think there is. It's the mayo versus Miracle Whip question.

Most people I know use one and despise the other.

Let me admit right now that I always buy mayonnaise. I haven't had Miracle Whip in the house for ... decades. But it's not that I hate it. It just never bounces into my cart.

So, when the nice folks at Miracle Whip asked me if I wanted to play with their product, I thought, hey, why not? I'm always willing to try things.

I hadn't eaten Miracle Whip in years, so when it arrived, I gave it a taste, and hmmmm. Yeah, it's obviously not the same as mayonnaise, but sunflower butter isn't peanut butter either. It's different. Distinctly different.

So I figured I could do something fun with it.

My first thought was salad dressing. My second thought was how much I like tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. My third thought was my blender.

Yes, my thoughts wander like that. But in the end, it made sense.

I happened to have some cut up tomatoes left over from another recipe, and after a couple days in the refrigerator, they were no longer pretty. There was nothing wrong with them. They hadn't gone bad. But they just didn't look like freshly cut tomatoes any more.

They were perfect for the raging blades of the blender.

Two-Ingredient Salad Dressing

1 or 2 tomatoes
Miracle Whip, as needed
Salt, if desired*

Cut the tomatoes into chunks and toss into the blender. Add a generous spoon full of Miracle Whip.

Blend until as smooth as possible. There will be seeds and bits, but it shouldn't have chunks of tomato flesh.

Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Mash it through the strainer to get out as much of the good stuff. You should be left with seeds and skin in the strainer. Discard that.

Depending on how juicy your tomatoes were, your mixture might be watery or it might have some body to it. Add more Miracle Whip, as needed to make it as thick as a normal salad dressing, and whisk to combine. When it's thick enough, taste. Add salt, if you think it needs it.

Serve on salad or over your favorite vegetables. It's also pretty darned good on avocado.

*Okay, fine, it's a third ingredient. But salt is like water. It's sort of an ingredient, but it's sort of not.

Disclaimer: I received product from Miracle Whip as a sample. I was not required to post.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spoon Salad ... AKA Salad in a jar

What would you do with yogurt, tofu, and some Ball canning jars?


To celebrate Salad Month (May) I put decided to have some fun. Earlier, I had worked on an article about picnicking, but at the time I couldn't figure out a really sane way to pack and carry a interesting green salad. I mean, if it's a potluck, you haul the big bowl and salad tongs, but if it's a picnic for two, green salad usually ends up being green cole slaw.

After the article was done, I pondered the preponderance of cole slaws, pasta salads, and potato salads at picnics, and the lack of leafy green things. And then it hit me.

No, not a head of lettuce. The idea.

Green salads aren't always that easy to eat. You get these big floppy bits of lettuce that sometimes need a knife to wrangle. And putting the salad on a plate alongside the chicken and the chips is just ... not convenient.

In my picnic article, I suggested packing the cole slaw into individual-serving-sized containers. So what about doing that with the salad? And then making sure that all the pieces are small enough to be spoonable, forkable, or otherwise easily edible.

Packing was another problem. A dressed salad would likely wilt. Layering made sense, for two reasons. So that's what I did.

Salad in a Jar

For the dressing:
1/2 cup Stonyfield Organic Yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon chive
1 teaspoon dry dill
1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
Pinch of garlic powder
Celery salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For the topping:
1 package Nasoya Black Bean tofu
2 tablespoons soy sauce*
For the salad:
(per individual pint-sized salad)
1 radish, diced
1/2 small zucchini, diced,
Cherry or small plum tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 small cucumber, peeled or diced
Lettuce, cut in easily-edible pieces, to fill jar

To make the dressing:
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small jar with a lid and shake well until combined. You can also whisk this is a bowl - whatever works for you. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon, as desired. If you want more garlic flavor, add a pinch or two more, but I wanted the barest hint of flavor rather than a garlic-heavy dressing. Refrigerate until needed.

While this dressing is perfectly fine right after mixing, I liked it better after it had time to let the herbs infuse the dressing and for the flavors to mingle. Right after mixing, it was easier to pick out individual flavors, but the next day, the flavors had combined much more.

To make the tofu:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap the tofu brick (or whatever it's called) in paper towels and put it on a rimmed baking sheet or rimmed dish. Place a weight on top of it. I used a cutting board with a 4-pack of root beer on top, but I'm sure you can figure out something. Let this sit for at least 30 minutes. Make sure your weight is sitting straight. Mine started tilting, so I had to make some adjustments to get it even.

The tofu will exude liquid, so drain this off and change the paper towels a couple times during the pressing.

After the tofu has been suitably squished, cut it into cubes (about 1/2 inch is good) and toss it with the soy sauce in a bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes so all the soy is absorbed.

Put the tofu cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. They'll brown and form sort of a crust. Transfer to a storage container, let them cool, and refrigerate.

The tofu is tasty when it's warm, and you could use it that way on a salad at home. But for travel, it makes more sense to chill the tofu for the trip.

To assemble the salad:
Give the salad dressing a shake to make sure the herbs are well distributed, then pour your desired amount into a 1-pint canning jar. Add the radishes. Letting them sit in the dressing will help mute some of the radish "bite" but the texture of the radishes won't be affected.

Next, add the zucchini. They won't mind getting their feet wet in the dressing,

Next, add the tomatoes. The red color between the green layers will look appealing. And, since tomatoes are wet, you're likely to get some moisture dripping out of them. The zucchini and radishes won't mind.

Now comes the cucumbers. They're still a little wet, but not as much as the tomatoes. Still, we don't want them on top of the lettuce.

Finally, fill the jar with lettuce - as much or as little as you like. And, we're done.

Carry the tofu separately, to use as a topping on the salad.

To serve:
There are two options for salad plating. You can shake the heck out of the jar and eat directly from the jar to distribute the dressing, which would be fun at a sitting-on-the-ground sort of casual picnic. Add tofu cubes, as desired.

Or, you could up-end the jar onto a plate and the lettuce will form the bottom layer, with the well-marinated radishes on top. If you let the jar sit up-side down on a plate for just a few second before lifting it to release ingredients, the dressing will coat some of the lettuce and you'll end up with a well-dressed salad.
Then add the tofu cubes.

Shredded carrots, cheese cubes, sunflower seeds, or any other salad ingredients would be welcome in the jar. As far as layering order, keep the lettuce above anything wet or drippy, and use that same strategy for other ingredients. Which ones won't affect the ones below?

And, like the tofu, you can leave some out of the jar and add them separately, too.

What's in your salad?

*I had planned on using ponzu, which has citrus, but bottle that I thought was ponzu was actually shoyu, which doesn't have citrus. I thought about adding some lemon, but then nixed the idea and went with straight shoyu. Confused? Just use soy.

This post is sponsored by Stonyfield, Nasoya, and Ball who provided products for me to work with. The recipe and opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gadgets: Kuhn Rikon Krinkle Knife

Years ago, I bought a garnishing tool kit that included a small knife designed for making wavy cuts in vegetables. It was annoying to use and eventually it disappeared from my kitchen.

I didn't think about making wavy-cut vegetables again until I got a mandoline with that blade.

Which is fine if I'm making a large quantity of bread and butter pickles, or I'm making salad for a crowd. Otherwise, I just use a knife to make straight cuts.

Kuhn Rikon's Krinkle Knife ($14) might just change that. It has the same wavy blade as the garnishing gadget from long ago, but it's in a mezzaluna-style knife.

The rocking motion of the mezzaluna makes cutting easier, particularly with harder vegetables like carrots, than trying to push a knife straight down. This also makes the pattern slightly curved rather than straight.

For less-resistant vegetables like zucchini or cucumbers, you can easily make your cuts straight down, if you prefer.

The knife is thin, and it comes with a plastic guard for the blade so you can store it safely and easily in a drawer. But although it's thin, the handle is substantial enough to feel comfortable in use.

While a mandoline is probably the better choice for large quantities of vegetables, this standalone knife makes more sense for small jobs, like making a salad or crudites for two.

It can also handle tasks that the mandoline can't, like cutting really thick slices, or cutting vegetables in halves, quarters, or chunks, like potatoes for a potato salad. Or for cutting hard-boiled eggs for deviled eggs.

Making wavy cuts in vegetables isn't an essential task by any means, but with this knife it's no more difficult than making straight cuts. And it makes presentation more fun.

The knife is dishwasher safe, but I always suggest washing knives by hand.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cheese and Chive Loaf

What's your signature dish?

Mine is probably bread, although I'd have a hard time deciding what kind of bread I like the best.

Bread. Buns. Yeast-risen baked goods. I love them all, and they're usually what people ask me to bring, if an extra dish is needed for a dinner.

You'd think that we eat nothing but toast, breadcrumb sandwiches, breaded bread cutlets, and bread pudding.

Okay, I'll admit it. I do bake a lot of bread. But I make other things, too.

This time, though, I've got another bread recipe for you.

Cheese and Chive Loaf

1 cup water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup instant potato flakes
1/2 cup* grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup* grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dry chives
2 tablespoons olive oil
Egg wash: 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Sesame seeds, as needed

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all of the ingredients except the egg wash and sesame seeds. Knead until the dough is smooth (relatively - it will have lumps from the cheese and chives, but the dough itself should be smooth) and elastic.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

When the dough has risen, flour your work surface lightly and turn out the dough. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with baking spray.

Form the dough into a a log about 8 inches long and place it in the pan, seam-side down. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until the dough rises slightly above the rim of the pan, about 40 minutes.

When the dough has risen, remove the plastic wrap and brush the top of the loaf with the eggwash, sprinkle with sesame seeds, then slash as desired.

Bake at 350 degrees until the loaf is nicely browned, about 45 minutes. (timer)

Remove the loaf from the oven, and remove it from the pan. Let the loaf cool completely on a rack before slicing or storing.

*It's impossible to accurately measure grated cheese by volume, since it starts out fluffy, then it can be compressed. In recipes where it really matters, I measure by weight, then grate. In this case, I grated, then piled into a prep bowl to get a ballpark amount. That's good enough. If you like cheese, go ahead and add a little more. I won't tell.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Strawberry Marshmallow Ice Cream for Ice Cream Tuesday: Marshmallow Madness #mallowmadness

I love it when bloggers pull together group posts, just for the fun of it. So when Jenni from Pastry Chef Online mentioned marshmallow ice cream as a theme, I was interested. But perplexed.

I make a lot of ice cream. I've made marshmallows. But for some reason I couldn't think of a killer idea that was worth posting. So I procrastinated until time was almost up. Then I looked in the refrigerator, saw the leftover strawberries, and got to work.

Marshmallows have gelatin in them, so the resulting ice cream base is thick without the need for eggs. And the finished ice cream has an almost fluffy texture. Normally, this quantity of ingredients would fit easily in my ice cream maker. This time, I had to divide it into two batches. So keep that in mind.

I weighed the marshmallows, but you can probably eyeball it. I started with a 10-ounce bag of mini marshmallows and I had a slightly-rounded cup of marshmallows left over.

Strawberry Marshmallow Ice Cream

8 ounces (by weight) marshmallows
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons appropriately-flavored* vodka
1 1/2 cups strawberries

Combine the marshmallows, sugar, heavy cream, salt, and about 1 cup of the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook on medium, stirring as needed, until all of the marshmallows are melted. The mixture will be pretty thick.

Turn off the heat and add the milk. Stir to combine. Add the vodka

Meanwhile, blitz the strawberries in a blender. Strain the berries through a fine-mesh strainer into the waiting ice cream base. In theory, you could toss it in as-is, but I like to remove the seeds.

Let the mixture cool to room temperature. If you have an ice cream maker with its own compressor unit, you can start churning when the mixture is room temperature, if you're really anxious. Otherwise, chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it's cold, then churn according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer the mixture to a storage container and freeze until firm.

Remember those left over marshmallows? They'd make a fine garnish, wouldn't they? If you're being particularly cheffy, use a torch to toast them.

*I didn't want to use vanilla extract for this, but I did want another flavor in the background, so I went to vodka to add some subtle flavor. I used a whipped-cream flavored vodka, but berry or citrus or cake-flavored would also be lovely. Use what you like, it's your ice cream. If you want to use vanilla (which would be fine), I suggest about a tablespoon.

Check the rest of the amazing participating blogs for more recipes and look for us using the hashtags #icecreamtuesday a #marshmallowicecream and #mallowmadness.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Now I'm cooking carrots with sous vide - sooooo good!

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm kind of like a kid in a candy store with this Sous Vide machine from Anova Culinary. I've been experimenting with all sorts of things. I saw a post about how great carrots are when they're cooked sous vide, how they're so much more ... carrot-y.

So I figured I'd give it a try. I found a discussion of sous vide vegetables that said that vegetables became tender at 183 degrees, and the idea was that they'd be done in an hour.

Well, okay then. I sealed some carrots in a bag, put them in a pot with the water temperature set for 185 degrees (for extra cooking insurance) and at about 45 minutes, I noticed that my bag had puffed up with a lot of air. It was ballooning like crazy.

Hmm. And the carrots weren't even thinking about becoming tender. Nope, no way. I opened the bag and resealed and plopped them back into the water. And ... it got to the point where I REALLY needed them to be done so I gave up and microwaved them to finish.

I don't know what went wrong with those carrots, but an hour wasn't nearly enough time to get them tender. And they weren't huge, old gnarly giant mutant carrots. They weren't teeny ones, either. But they were normal not-huge carrots.

I tried again, this time raising the heat to 190 degrees and planning on cooking them a lot longer. Turns out, six hours got me what I wanted - the carrots were tender all the way through. They were still firm rather than mushy, but they weren't crisp or crunchy.

And ... the bag didn't fill with air this time. Or at least it didn't turn into a giant balloon. At one point it did seem puffy, but then it shrunk back down again. It never got to the point (or at least I didn't see it) when it got so air-filled that the bag was bobbing on the surface of the water. I don't know if it had to do with the temperature I cooked at this time, or if my previous batch of carrots was weird.

If you're a fan of the tender-crisp carrot that's cooked on the outside but still raw in the middle, of course you want to adjust your cooking time. But me, I like my carrots cooked all the way through, or all the way raw. That tender-crisp thing just doesn't do it for me.

Meanwhile, I had gotten some macadamia nut oil from a company called Emile Noel, and this seemed like a fine use for the product. Macadamia nut oil isn't generally used for cooking - it's more for drizzling on warm vegetables or for salads or for drizzling onto vegetables. But I figured that since the heat was relatively low, this could be a good use.

And I figured the flavor would be a good pairing, as well.

These carrots had the deep flavor that you get from roasting, but without shrinking or drying out. I really loved them this way.

Sous Vide Carrots with Macadamia Nut Oil

1 pound carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons macadamia nut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Put the all the ingredients into a vacuum-seal bag and seal according to manufacturer's instructions.

Cook, using sous vide at 190 degrees for 6 hours.

Serve warm, drizzled with extra macadamia nut oil, if desired.

These were perfect as is, but I could see cooking these in advance - for a party or holiday - and then warming them by roasting them briefly or heating them in a pan with a bit of butter. I left the carrots whole, but there's no reason you couldn't slice them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hi-Caf Gingermint Green Tea

Did you know that June is Iced Tea Month?

Yeah, me neither.

But with the huge celebrations of Ice Tea Month about to ensue, I guess now is a good time to talk about the sample of Hi-Caf Gingermint Tea that I got from my good friends at The Republic of Tea. I did a whole bunch of posts for them a while back, and recently they offered to send me some of their new Hi-Caf tea.

It sounded intriguing.

Most of my tea drinking happens in the afternoon or evening, and usually I'm not interested in caffeinated beverages at that time of day.

But, I'm one of those folks who is prone to migraines, and sometimes I wake up with one. Caffeine is supposed to be good for migraines, but along with the headache comes a wonky stomach, so my usual coffee isn't really a good idea.

That's why I was so interested in the Gingermint Green tea. Both ginger and mint are soothing to the tummy, so I figured this tea would be the perfect hot caffeinated beverage for those migraine mornings.

Funny thing is that I haven't needed it yet. But I've tried it and I like it. The ginger is present, but it isn't super-strong. Meanwhile, the mint is soothing.

When it gets really warm, I'm thinking it would make a pretty good iced tea, too.

Have you tried these yet? Do you like caffeinated teas?

Disclaimer: I was sent this product as a sample. I was not required to write about it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pork Fried Rice

What do you think of when someone mentions a one-pot meal? Is it soup? A stew? Chili?

Those are great one-pot meals when you've got time for them to simmer, but there are other one-pot meals that are perfect when you don't want to spend a lot if time in front of the stove.

Like fried rice.

It's also a great way to use up leftovers. This time, I used pork, but you could use chicken, beef, or a whole lot of vegetables - whatever you have on hand, and whatever sounds good to you.

If you make this, you really do want the rice to be cold and left over - if you cook rice and add it to this fresh, the rice will want to break up and turn to mush.

Pork Fried Rice
This is definitely a recipe where you want to have everything ready to go before you start cooking, because each addition comes pretty quickly after the one before. If you want to save yourself from washing one bowl, don't crack the eggs until the zucchini goes into the pan. You've got a little cooking time then, and you can use the bowl that you had the pork or zucchini in for those eggs.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup roast pork shoulder, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
1 small zucchini, cut in 1/4 inch dice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup frozen green peas
1 14-ounce can bean sprouts
2 cups cooked long-grain white rice, chilled
2 tablespoons teriyaki or soy sauce
4 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or wok or similar pan. Add the pork shoulder and 5-spice powder and cook until the pork is lightly browned - you're working with a cooked leftover roast, so you just want to warm it and brown it just a little.

Add the zucchini and cook until it's cooked through but still firm. You'll see it change color from an opaque white to slightly translucent. This doesn't take long, but this is the longest bit of cooking in the whole process. There's enough time to stop stirring and crack those eggs and give 'em a little fork-beating. Hanging the stirring spoon on the side of the pan makes sense - that's where the pot clip came in handy.

Add the eggs and stir until the eggs are cooked.

Add the green peas and bean sprouts and stir to combine.

Add the white rice and teriyaki sauce. Cook, stirring, until the rice has taken on the color of the sauce and it it warm. You should have individual grains of rice and not clumps.

Taste for seasoning and add more teriyaki, if desired.

Add the scallions, stir, and serve.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Got tomatoes? Make SALAD! #DressingItUp #PantryInsiders

When I went to the farmer's market last weekend, I was giddy to see heirloom tomatoes in pretty colors.

It's still way too early for tomatoes to be harvested from fields, so these were greenhouse-grown. But still, they were local and they were colorful ... and I've been tomato-deprived for quite some time.

So, it made sense to overload a salad with tomatoes. Okay, there are other vegetables in the salad, but I used 1 1/2 tomatoes (1/2 a tomato in three different colors for one salad. Just for me.

Yes, I do like salad.

Salad: It's What's for Lunch

For the garnish:
1 small cucumber, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
Pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon Pompeian red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons water

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon Pompeian red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
2 tablespoons Pompeian extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

For the salad:
1 small romaine heart
1/2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 1/2 heirloom tomatoes, cut in wedges
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and paprika, to taste

To make the garnish:
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. This will mellow the onion and allow the cucumber to take up the flavor of the wine vinegar.

You can make this the day before, if you like. If your onion is very sweet, you could get away with a shorter marinating time. If the onions are harsh, let them marinate longer, to mellow them.

To make the dressing:
Combine all the ingredients in a small jar or salad shaker and shake to combine. You can also whisk this together in a small bowl.

To make the salad:
Put the romaine on a plate and top with the zucchini slices and tomato wedges. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and paprika on top. Drizzle the salad dressing on, then add as much of the garnish as you like.

This post is sponsored by Pompeian as part of the #PantryInsiders program.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gadgets: Ball Sip & Straw Lids

Is there anything worse than reaching for that frosty glass of lemonade on a warm day, only to find a recently-airborne critter doing the backstroke in your drink?

Well, yeah, I can tell you what's worse. Taking a gulp, then realizing there was a swimmer in the pool.

A sports bottle or an insulated travel mug with a lid solves the problem when it's just you in the back yard, but when you're hosting a barbecue, maybe you'd like something a little more festive for the mojitos and margaritas.

And right now, canning jars are very trendy as drinkware.

The Ball Sip & Straw lids ($7/4) are one of the latest accessory items from the company that's filling your shelves with canning jars. The plastic Sip & Straw lids replace the flat canning jar lid, and you use your own jar rings to secure them. A round hole lets you sip from the container, or you can insert a straw in that hole.

After some initial confusion (yes, I'm easily baffled by simple things) I realized that the lids can be used with the bump upwards or the divot downwards. Using a straw, it didn't make any difference which way the lid faced, but there were sipping differences. With the divot downward, it was like sipping from a travel mug, where the bump-up sipping was more like using a sports bottle.

The four-packs of lids also includes four reusable straws, but pretty much any straw will fit - the holes are large enough to accommodate the wide "milkshake" straws as well as regular-sized straws. The included straws are a reasonable length for use with either pint or quart jars, depending on how thirsty you are.

While these aren't the most earthshaking devices on the planet, they take very little space to store, and if you've already got canning jars on hand, you instantly have plenty of matching and inexpensive drinkware. Besides keeping pests out of beverages, these make the drinks less messy if you tip them over. You'll get some spillage, but it's not as bad as dumping a whole glass of sticky spiked raspberry lemonade onto the picnic table.

Of course, glass jars are breakable, but canning jars are pretty sturdy, particularly if they're likely to fall on lawn rather than concrete.

There are two sizes of lids - to fit either regular or wide-mouth jars - so you could use that feature to differentiate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, if that's an issue at your party. Or just choose a lid size to match your canning jar collection.

Both the lids and the straws are dishwasher safe.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's salad month! Let's make some ranch dressing!

I didn't know that May is salad month, but I guess it makes sense. It's this time of year when salad greens start looking more appealing, and they're traveling shorter distances to our tables. Weather is getting warmer, and lighter foods are more appealing.

I always make my own salad dressing. Sometimes it's as simple as a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of vinegar - not even mixed. Other times, it's something more complicated. Often I don't measure at all, I just mix to taste.

I have to say that it's not often that I use a recipe to make a salad dressing. But I've got several of them bookmarked in Hugh Acheson's book, A New Turn in the South.

You might recall that I wrote several sponsored posts for Captain Morgan - one post for Thanksgiving that featured cranberries and raspberries, another for Christmas that featured hot butter rum and hot butter rum ice cream, and the last for the Super Bowl that featured chicken wing and a tropical drink.

I have to say that their program was a lot of fun, and when it was over, they sent along a little extra thank-you gift, which included Acheson's book. I was really pleased, since I love cookbooks so much.

The reason they sent Acheson's book instead of some other book was that he was the judge who chose the winners of the Captain's Table Challenges that went along with the sponsored posts. I didn't win anything, but that's okay - it was fun to participate, anyway.

So, I figured it was only right that I try one of his recipes. I decided to try his ranch dressing. It's supposed to go with fried green tomatoes and pickled shrimp, but I put it on a salad. Because it's salad month - and I like salad a whole lot.

I liked this dressing, but if I make it again, I'd cut way back on the garlic. Maybe my garlic powder is stronger than normal, but this was more like a garlic dressing than a ranch. I like garlic dressing, though, so that's fine.

After I tasted it, I added just a bit more salt. As far as the Tabasco, I don't know that it added anything, so if you don't happen to have any, don't fret too much about it. Or, if you want more of a kick, add a little more.

Ranch Dressing
Adapted from A New Turn in the South

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Combine it all. That's it. Isn't that simple?

The dressing is ready to use as soon as it's mixed, but I thought it was better the next day, after the flavors had some time to mingle.

I used my OXO salad shaker, which is handy for shaking, storing, and pouring.

Anti-disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post - I received the book as a thank-you with no requirement to post about it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dark Chocolate Little Layer Cakes

Usually when I bring dessert to my in-laws, the rule is - no chocolate. My father-in-law doesn't like it.

But my mother-in-law likes chocolate, so on Mother's Day, I thought it would be nice to bake a chocolate cake for her.

Skip right to the recipe: Dark Chocolate Mini Layer Cake

But still ... I didn't want to shortchange my father-in-law in the dessert department.

What to do? Hmmm.... well ....

I baked two cakes. Two very small layer cakes. Less than 5 inches in diameter.

I decided to use the small round paper bakeware that I wrote about here, and then I went looking for some recipes.

I wanted to find recipes that wouldn't make a ton of cake. I mean, there were just going to be four of us, so I didn't want two entire layer cakes worth of cake batter.

Since I wasn't sure if I'd find any recipes that made really small batches, my next plan was to look for recipes that would be easy to cut in half.

I started paging through Annie Bell's Baking Bible - I mean, seriously, it had to have some kind of cake recipes, right? And then I hit the jackpot - a chocolate cake recipe and a yellow cake recipe intended to make a batch of mini cupcakes.

Turns out that each batch was just about right to make three layers for my mini cakes. Heh. The completed cakes were about as tall as they were wide. And really cute.

The interesting thing about these recipes is that instead of mixing in the traditional way - or even the non-traditional way - these cakes were mixed in a food processor. I thought that was pretty interesting, and it was a lot easier to dump everything into the food processor and let it spin.

Or, that's what I was supposed to do with the yellow cake. The chocolate cake was supposed to have the cocoa mixed with hot water and then cooled, and there was a specific order for mixing everything in the food processor.

But, after making the yellow cake by tossing it all in the food processor, I did the same thing with the chocolate cake. Oopsie.

The good news was that it worked just fine. As a matter of fact, I liked the chocolate cake a little better than the yellow cake, even after I mixed it wrong.

For the frosting, I used a basic buttercream for the yellow cake.

After filling the layers with a plain buttercream, I used a green tinted buttercream for the base coat so that any green that peeked through would work as the greenery around flowers. Then I added pink, orange, and white flowers.

I used some of the buttercream for decoration on the chocolate cake, but first I use dark chocolate ganache for the filling and a whipped dark chocolate ganache for the crumb coat.

I piped some green-tinted frosting in lines to look like vines and plant stems, then I piped some ganache roses onto cake, but I didn't want an all-brown cake, so I followed up with pink, white and orange flowers, just like the ones on the yellow cake.

And then this happened:

I had cut off the domed tops from the six cake layers, and decided to use them to make another cake. I had a whole lot of ganache left over from what I used for the chocolate cake, so I slathered that between the layers and used it to pipe decorations on the cake.

I alternated the yellow and chocolate layers of cake for a more interesting look.

There might have been more ganache than cake, but I'm okay with that.

Dark Chocolate Mini Layer Cake
Adapted from Annie Bell's Baking Bible by Annie Bell

1/4 cocoa powder
1/2 cup water
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Have mini muffin cups or other baking cups standing by. This should make 18 mini cupcakes; I made three 4 1/2 -inch round cakes.

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until combined and smooth.

Pour into the baking cups/pans you've decided to use.

Bake at 350 degrees until the tops of the cakes bounce back when touched lightly on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. This should take as little as 17 minutes for the mini cupcakes; my larger cakes took about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool completely on a rack.

Frost and decorate as desired.

Note: the ingredients listed above are from the cookbook, but the instructions are the ones I followed rather than the instructions from the book which called for mixing the cocoa with hot water and letting it cool. Then the butter and sugar would have been creamed in the food processor, followed by the egg, dry ingredients, and cooled cocoa mixture.

This is not a sponsored post; this is my personal cookbook, not received from the publisher.