Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blogiversary Giveaway

It's my blogiversary! One year ago today, I started my little food blog with two Tuesdays with Dorie posts. I read my very first post last night, and it seemed so long ago! My food photography skills have come a long way, but they still leave quite a bit to be desired. I've made lots of foods I normally would have never tried, and I've had some failures. But overall, it's been a lot of fun. There were some days when I wanted to just chuck the whole thing, but there were always a few people who have encouraged me to keep it up. So, to thank you all, my dear readers, I decided that I'd have my very first giveaway!
Here's the "Sweet Life Prize Pack": two cookbooks (Brittles, Barks, & Bonbons: Delicious Recipes for Quick and Easy Candy and Cookies: 200 Inspirational Cookie Recipes), a Harry & David Moose Munch chocolate bar, and a package of Late July Vanilla Bean and Green Tea cookies. I found the cookbooks the other day while I was browsing the cookbook section, and I wanted them for myself. But the last thing I need is another cookbook, so I decided that I wanted to give them away! There are so many yummy recipes in these books.
Like Mocha-Hazelnut Truffles, from the Brittles, Barks, & Bonbons book. Oooh...I want a couple of these right now!
Or how about some "Melt-in-the-Middles" or "Really Large Coconut Macaroons"? I don't even like to bake cookies, but some of these look like they'd be worth the trouble!
So there you have it. A nice little prize pack to celebrate my blogiversary. And really, you don't have to do much to get it. Just leave me a comment! I'd love to know if you have a favorite recipe that you've tried after seeing it on my site. Or how about some suggestions of things I can make in the coming year? I'm making a list, and I plan to share it with you in the next few days, but I'd love to hear what you've got in mind. The giveaway will close at 10pm Eastern time on Saturday (March 3rd), so leave your comment, and the winner will be drawn randomly! I'll post the winner's name on Monday, March 5th. Thanks for stopping by, and come back soon!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TWD: Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake

I'm a little out of order this evening...the real TWD pick was the Coconut Tea Cake, but I thought it was a little more "Eastery" than the Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake, so I switched weeks. You'll see the Coconut Tea Cake next Tuesday. Sorry for any confusion!
Anyway, this was delicious! I loved the flavors...walnut, chocolate, and mocha. It was a breeze to put together, and this is the most luck I've ever had with marbling. I didn't quite get the gingko leaf design that Dorie talks about, but at least there are two distinct colors!
This is one of those cakes that doesn't really look all that impressive sitting on the counter, but you can't help but take a slice every time you walk by. That's why it went to the bank with David. I'd rather the bank employees cut slivers all day long than me! This cake will definitely be made again. This is a perfect example of why I love bundt cakes!
This tasty little cake was picked by a fellow Erin...the one over at When In Doubt, Leave It at 350. She doesn't have the recipe up, since it was originally picked for next week, but she'll have it up on April 6th. Thanks, Erin, for a wonderful choice!
Now, an announcement. Please stop back by late tomorrow afternoon/evening. There's something exciting going on at The Sweet Life! See you then!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Turkey Pasta Arrabiata

It's official. I don't like ground turkey. I have tried several times, several ways, and I just don't like it. First, the texture is gross. When I was crumbling this stuff into the pan, I nearly gagged. It was good-quality turkey, so I can't say I got a bad product...I just think turkey wasn't meant to be ground up. I didn't care for the taste, either. I liked the overall flavor of this dish, but whenever I got a bite of the turkey, I thought it wasn't great.
I would definitely try this dish again, but not with ground turkey (or ground chicken, as the recipe suggests). I'll just stick with my lean ground beef. And I think my red-meat loving husband would appreciate it, too. He's a real sport and will eat pretty much anything I put in front of him, but I know he appreciates red meat any way he can get it. If you like ground turkey or chicken (and lots of people do), by all means give this a try. It's a good, quick recipe. And if you're like me and think that turkeys weren't meant to be ground, try it with ground beef. Be warned, the recipe below makes enough to serve about 8. I halved it and had plenty for my husband and I for dinner and for lunch the next day.
Turkey (or Chicken) Pasta Arrabiata
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
12 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 lbs. lean ground turkey (or chicken), no skin
28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice (I used Italian)
4 Tbs. tomato paste
1/2 c. fresh parsley
1 lb uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup pasta cooking water

Start heating pasta water. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute 2-3 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes and saute just until the garlic begins to turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
Add the ground turkey breast to the pan and stir, breaking into small pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and any additional salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta. Drain well, but reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Add parsley and hot, cooked pasta to the pass and toss with the sauce to combine. Add a bit of the pasta water if the sauce seems too dry.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TWD: Dulce de Leche Duos

I was so excited when I saw these on the March TWD list. Dulce de Leche? Yum! Dulce de Leche in the cookie batter, then sandwiched between two cookies? Be still my caramel-loving heart!
Have you had dulce de leche? I hadn't heard of it or tried it until I got started food blogging. I found a recipe online to make my own (back about a year ago) from sweetened condensed milk. I thought it was pretty good stuff...we had it drizzled over cheesecake. I had planned on making my own again for this recipe, but time got away from me. So I bought a bottle of the premade stuff at Wal-Mart, and it was so much better! It was much darker than mine and had a lot more flavor. I guess my homemade version would have been better if I had cooked it longer, but I was a dulce de leche newbie and didn't know any better. I'll have to experiement and tweak my recipe to see how close I can get to the brand I bought at Wal-Mart.
Anyway, these cookies were really good, but honestly, it was a little too much dulce de leche at once. I think I would prefer either the cookie (which was so moist and delicious) or the dulce de leche, but not together. It was over the top, even for me. But if you like caramel, you should definitely try these. Dulce de leche isn't the same thing as caramel (which is made from sugar)...dulce de leche is made from sweetened milk, but there's a similar flavor. If you're interested in trying these very unique cookies, please go visit Beansy Loves Cake! Jodi has the recipe posted, and you should check out her impressive cake creations! Happy baking!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, it was my birthday last week. And, as Chet so gently put it, the last time I'll ever see a "2" as the first number in my birthday ever again. Yikes. Where does the time go? Anyway, aside from lots of love and good wishes from family and friends, I got some pretty sweet baking birthday gifts. Wanna see?
A BeaterBlade! Yay! More on this guy later, but it caused quite a stir as I was opening gifts. Chet and my uncle both said, "Tell me how it works! I want one!" Neither of them knew that such a thing existed, and I wouldn't have either, if it weren't for the wonderful world of food blogging! I did try it out (the same day I got it), and it works great!
A mandolin! A while back, I told David I wanted a mandolin, and I had to explain that it's not the musical instrument kind of mandolin I was after. I haven't used it, but it looks extremely sharp. I wish I had some potatoes in the bin...I might have to make a stop to Kroger after work one night this week. It came in a black carrying case that made Larry comment that I'd look like a ninja carrying it. Now I'll be hunting for recipes that require thinly sliced veggies.
And this little cutie...
is from my sister! It's my Kitchen Fraggle! Several months ago, I stopped by Allison and Larry's house to admire her craft room, and I saw a "Fraggle" that she had made. It wasn't really a Fraggle, but it looked so much like it. I was mesmerized by the cuteness. And ever since I've gone to their house, I go admire the Fraggle. So I was so excited when I opened my gift to find this adorable little baker! Can you believe she made this?! She's so talented. If you want to see more of her work, visit her blog, Sew Delightful. She hasn't updated her blog in awhile, so maybe this'll light a little fire under her! She makes precious dolls, purses, aprons, and even clothes! I keep telling her she needs an Etsy store.
And I don't have a picture, but Earl and Shirley gave me subscriptions to Southern Living and Cooking Light. I can't wait till they start showing up in my mailbox!
So there you have it...all of my new kitchen gadgets. I'm sure you'll see more of them soon! Come back tomorrow to see the Dulce de Leche Duos that I mixed with the BeaterBlade.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Minestrone Soup

On Sunday afternoon, when I planned my dinner menu for the week, I knew that I had a wild week ahead of me. I knew that I'd be working late a couple of evenings during the week, andI had an evening meeting at church. I needed simple meals, and I wanted at least one thing I could make ahead of time and reheat as needed. I remembered a recipe for minestrone soup that Chet made recently, and thought it would work well. I knew it would make a lot of soup, so I'd have plenty for lunches as well.
This was perfect for a hectic week. The soup came together effortlessly one evening while I was making another dinner. It's pretty hearty, but light at the same time, if that makes sense. It would be the perfect soup to take to someone who's had surgery or isn't able to get out of the house. And it's cheap, too! I don't know exactly how to give credit for this recipe; I got it from Chet, who got it from someone else. If you think it's your recipe, let me know and I'll be sure to give you credit. If you're looking for a simple, easy dinner that's healthy and inexpensive, this is it! Enjoy!
Minestrone Soup
Chet Lawrence
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. diced tomatoes, undrained (I used Italian-style)
15 oz. can Great Northern beans, drained
3/4 cup small pasta (I used whole-grain elbows)
1 box frozen, chopped spinach (thawed and drained)
15 oz. can green beans, drained
15 oz. can dark red kidney beans
2 chicken bouillion cubes
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add tomatoes (with all juices). Fill empty tomato can three times with water and add to pot. Drain and rinse all beans and add to pot. Add spinach. Add bouillion and black pepper to taste. Cook until beans are tender. Add pasta and spinach. Cook until pasta is tender. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Birthday and Shower Cakes

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that Chet and Larry both had birthdays during February. Chet wanted a jam cake for his birthday, so I made my first jam cake ever. Larry, however, chose the Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake (from Baking: From My Home to Yours) for his birthday treat. It was gooood...
For Larry's birthday, I made this cake as Dorie specifies in her recipe...using two 9-inch round pans. I love layer cakes. The recipe is so very simple, but I think my cakes got a little bit too dry. I did leave them in the oven a little longer than the recipe said, but that's because my toothpick kept coming out gooey, and the middles weren't "springy," they were soupy!
The chocolate malt buttercream is what made the cake though. In my opinion, the cake is really just a vehicle for the frosting. This was the one frosting recipe which made a little too much frosting. I wasn't stretching to be able to fill and frost the cake. Which was wonderful because I got to eat the remainder of the icing with a spoon. Oh, yes I did.

See how dense the cake was? A tad dry, but yummy nonetheless. We decided that the frosting tastes a lot like brownie batter. Yum! I couldn't really detect the malt flavor, but it was the best chocolate frosting I've ever made!
I also made this cake for a wedding shower for David's cousin's fiancee, Mary Beth. For the shower, I made the cake in a 9x13-inch pan, and again...the cake was dry! I thought it was too dry, but I got several compliments on the cake. The icing was still delicious, though! The cake is good too, but I just need to be confident enough to take the cake out sooner, without being concerned that it's still gooey in the middle. We all remember the brownie fiasco, right?
If you need a good chocolate cake recipe, give this one a try. You can find the recipe here. You can find the delicious chocolate malt buttercream recipe there, too. It's a little labor intensive, but totally worth it!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TWD: Thumbprints for Us Big Guys

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting with any regularity lately. First, we packed up everything we owned. Then, we moved. Then, we didn't have Internet. We finally got the Internet and got settled in, and then my life fell apart. It's been a rough couple of weeks, but things are looking up. I can't promise that I'll be posting every day anytime soon, but I'll try to do better.
I've at least been trying to keep up with Tuesdays with Dorie. While I didn't make the Toasted Coconut Tart last week, I was able to get the Thumbprints for Us Big Guys made just in the nick of time. They were tasty, and I was so thankful that they were a relatively simple fix. The dough came together really easily, and for cookies, they didn't require too much of my attention. For the you know what you get when to put your macadamia nuts in the food processor? You don't get finely ground macadamia nuts. You get macadamia butter. That was my first error. Then, I didn't have enough of the macadamia butter for the recipe. So I got out the nut chopper and chopped up some almonds. Still not enough. So I threw in some walnuts, too. So this dough is "triple nutty", and it was some of the best dough I've ever eaten.
I made the cookies last night and filled them tonight. Of course, David and I ate several of the plain ones last night, and when we compared them to the ones that were filled with blackberry jam tonight, we decided that we really preferred the powdered sugar dusted plain ones better! The jam was just too sweet. But that didn't stop us from eating way too many of them!
Mike, the Ugly Food Dude, picked this week's recipe. Until tonight, I'd never visited his blog, but I'm pretty sure I'll visit regularly now. He's hilarious! It seems that he has some kind of a mini-disaster whenever he bakes. I usually do too, but I just don't talk about it! :) If you'd like to make a batch of Thumbprints for Us Big Guys, visit Mike's blog for the recipe.
Happy baking!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Old-Fashioned Jam Cake

Sorry for not having Dorie's Toasted Coconut Tart, which was chosen by Cinemon Girl. I had too many birthdays this week. Chet and my brother-in-law Larry have back to back birthdays on February 24th adn 25th. It's become a part of my gift to a loved one to let them choose a "birthday treat" from my favorite baking bible, Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. So far, almost everyone has chosen a cake. My mom chose Devil's Food White-Out Cake, Earl (my father-in-law) chose Banana Cream Pie, Allison (my sister) chose a Double-Apple Bundt Cake, and my wonderful husband chose the Perfect Party Cake. (And now I realize that maybe Shirley didn't get a birthday treat. Oops! Shirley, you can pick a treat anytime, just because!) Since Chet's birthday came first, he got first choice. But he didn't want to look at my book. He said, "Jam Cake. I have the recipe." I didn't say it at the time, but I'll admit it now. I was disappointed. "Jam cake? Really? Only old ladies like jam cake." But I promised the birthday boy any treat he wanted, so I planned to deliver.
I'm glad that I obliged. It was ugly, but it was good. It had been a rough day, so I ran into some problems with the icing (I'd never made a cooked icing, so I kept whipping it, waiting for it to get fluffy. Before I figured out that it wasn't going to get fluffy, it almost got too cool to frost with, but it tasted like caramel fudge. Yum.) The flavor of the cake was wonderful. The flavor of the spices reminded me of fall, and the blackberry jam made the cake so moist. I think it had been a logn time since Chet had eaten a jam cake, because he said, "This is just the way I remember it!" I was so glad that I was able to give him a practically perfect (tasting) cake for his birthday.
As you can see, I didn't do a fantastic job on the icing, and the layers aren't exactly the same size, but it was delicious! It's rich though...the icing is like fudge, so you can't eat a lot of it...although we tried!
Want to see the recipe Chet gave me? This is exactly what he gave me:
Jam Cake
Charlene McPherson
1 cup butter
5 eggs
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans
1 cup jam
Mix Flour Grease and Wax paper Line Cake Pans
And for the icing:
1 box brown sugar
1 cup cream
Cook to soft ball stage add 1/2 stick butter and 1 tsp. vanilla. Beat until creamy and spread.
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