Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dinner Crepes

In this house, we loooooove crepes. We typically have them for breakfast, sometimes for dessert, but I'd never heard of savory fillings until a few years ago. I hadn't really ever bothered to make them for dinner, though, because the only time I'd ever had a savory crepe had left me feeling gypped. Then my Taste of Home magazine came this month and there was a recipe called "Hubby's Favorite Crepes." It's got it all: chicken, mushrooms, sour cream...mmmmmmmmmmm... We had them last week, and really enjoyed them! I have my own crepe recipe, but it's ALL the way over in the kitchen and my apartment suddenly feels huge. This one is from Taste of Home as well.
1 1/2 c. milk (2%)
4 eggs
1 c. flour
1 1/2 t. sugar
1/8 t. salt
8 t. butter
1. In a small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add to milk mixture and mix well. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Melt 1 t. butter in 8-in. pan over medium heat. Pour 2 T. butter into center of skillet. Lift and tilt pan to coat bottom evenly. Cook until top appears dry; turn and cook 15-20 seconds longer. Remove to a wire rack. 
3. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter to skillet as needed. When cool, stack crepes with waxed paper or paper towels between. 
Note: I just use some cooking spray to spray the pan rather than melting butter, although I did start out doing it the other way. I just figure it saves on butter and it's fast. Just don't do too much or you'll get crispy edges--which, maybe, you like.
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
2 t. chicken bouillon granules
1/2 t. Italian seasoning
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 c. sour cream
3 T. sherry (cooking sherry is just a low-quality red wine; dark grape juice works fine)
2 c. cooked chicken, chopped
minced parsley
1. Cook mushrooms and onion in butter; stir in flour. Add milk, bouillon, Italian seasoning and pepper. Bring to a boil. Stir in sour cream and sherry/grape juice. Reserve 1 c. of sauce to use as a gravy.
2. Add chicken and parsley to remaining sauce. Spoon filling into 15 prepared crepes (I don't think I got that many). Roll and drizzle with remaining sauce.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chinese Pork, Broccoli and Peppers

Aaah, cooking.... I am finally back on track to be cooking more frequently, which means that there might actually be more posts to read more frequently! To get back in the swing of things, I decided to give a new Chinese food recipe a whirl. This particular recipe is adapted from another library find, "Dinners in a Dash or a Dish" by Jean Anderson. And can I say, this was the BEST homemade stir-fry I have ever made! I think the reason I liked it more than the other ones is that the majority of this sauce comes from soy sauce whereas the other stir-fry sauces I've made were based on chicken broth- which is yummy, but soy sauce has so much more flavor. We will be making this again! I also think that it would be delicious with snow peas thrown in with the broccoli and peppers, as well as some bean sprouts thrown in when you add the sauce. The recipe also stated that it would be good using beef and chicken as well, which means it can be even more budget friendly because you can use whatever is on sale or whatever you have hanging around in the fridge or freezer! I love those kinds of meals!

Chinese Pork, Broccoli and Peppers

1/4 c. soy sauce

3 Tbl. chicken broth (I used 3 Tbl. water + 1/2 tsp. chicken boullion)

1 Tbl. brown sugar

2 tsp. cornstarch

3 Tbl. oil (I used olive oil, but use whatever you have)

1 lb. well'trimmed boneless pork loin, cut into 1/2" strips

1 medium onion, quartered lengthwise and each quarter thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, finely minced (or use a garlic press)

1 Tbl finely minced fresh ginger (or 1/2 to 1 tsp powdered ginger)

1/8 to 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2" strips

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2" strips

1 to 1-1/2 c. broccoli florets

Combine soy sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and cornstarch in small bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in large, heavey skillet or wok over high heat. When hot, add pork and stir-fry until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Note: The pork will not be completely cooked through at this point since it will be cooked again when you add the sauce to the skillet. With slotted spoon, lift pork to large bowl and reserve.

Add onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and greed and red bell peppers to skillet and stir-fry over high heat until onion begins to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.

Return pork to skillet, add soy mixture, and cook and stir just until mixture bubbles, thickens slightly, and turns clear, 3 to 4 minutes. Note: Make sure the pork is cooked all the way through before serving. Serve hot over rice or noodles.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Buttercream Frosting and Cake Decorating Tip

As promised, here is the frosting recipe I used for the birthday cake from last week as well as how I typically decorate my cakes using frosting, not fondant (And don't worry, it's super easy!). I just used a simple buttercream frosting (I used the one from Wilton, and it follows my decorating tip) and then dyed it the colors I needed for decorating. When dying the frosting, I like to use the food coloring gels you can get in the cake decorating section of the craft store because it allows the color to be more bold while using less coloring. Then I frost the entire cake using whatever color I want to be the background of my "artwork". Then I make an imprint in the frosting base using a cookie cutter or other template, like this:

To create your own template, you can draw the design on a piece of paper, cut it out, and then use that as your template, or you can find a picture in Microsoft Word's clip art or on the internet, cut it out, and then trace onto the cake using a skewer or toothpick. I have found that images with clean lines work the best. Then you can either continue cutting your template to trace the inside designs, or if you are feeling artistic, you can free hand it. Then I just pipe the icing onto the top of the cake directly ontop of the lines you created in the frosting. That way, no one will no you traced! I like to start by outlining the area before I fill it in because I feel it gives it a cleaner edge. As for piping decorative borders, I just fake it. But I'm sure you could probably find a tutorial somewhere for that. Or check out a cake decorating book from the library and practice. Here are some pictures of a couple of more cakes I made using this method:

Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened (I used butter)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.) 2 tablespoons milk

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. Yields about 3 cups of icing. If you find your frosting is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar, if it is too thick, add 1 tsp of milk at a time until it is the right consistency.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.

For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Golden Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Filling

I feel like such a slacker with posting here on Budget Bites, but I've been spoiled as my mother-in-law has been doing most of the cooking the last month. I did finally get a chance to try a few new recipes out when I made a birthday cake for a good friend's son's birthday last week. So I'm going to share the cake and filling recipes today, and then I'll share the frosting recipe as well as my simple method for decorating birthday cakes using frosting (I've never tasted fondant and I've never used fondant, so I stick with frosting). But just to be clear, I have never taken a cake decorating class, and I don't claim to be an expert cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination. I just have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. So I hope I can give you a little bit of courage/motivation to try to make a special cake for your next special occasion instead of forking over the big bucks for a store-bought version.

Recipe #1- The cake

This recipe came from the King Arthur Flour website and is not a light and fluffy cake. It was closer to a pound cake, but it still wasn't that heavy. I think that it is the perfect texture to stand up to a wet filling such as a strawberry filling because it resists becoming soggy. I found the recipe to be really easy to combine as long as you follow the tips listed on the recipe. What tips? Well for starters, the butter and milk should be room temperature (I also allowed my eggs to reach room temperature) and the butter should be "very soft". All that "very soft" means is that if you touch the butter gently with your finger, you leave an imprint. The original recipe suggested that if you need help warming up the butter, you can place the stick of butter in warm, not hot, water for 10 minutes. I'd just suggest setting the butter out the night before you want to do your baking, and set the milk and eggs out 2-3 hours before you start baking. I did have to adjust my baking time for a little longer, but the way to guage that for yourself and your oven is to start with the lowest baking time and checking the center of the cake with a toothpick. If it's not done, bake for 5 minutes and then check again for doneness. Repeat as needed. Also, if you have questions about what the batter should look like, visit the King Arthur website as they have a picture for each step. This recipe yields about 6 cups of batter, which will allow for approximately 1-9"x13" cake, 2- 9" round cakes, 3- 8" round cakes, or 24 cupcakes.

Golden Vanilla Cake

2 cups sugar 3 1/4 cups flour 2 1/2 teaspoons bakig powder

1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup unsalted butter, soft (I used salted butter and decreased the salt to 3/4 tsp) 1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers. I like to also cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the bottom of my cake pans so that I don't have the bottom of my cake stuck to the inside of the pan when I remove the cake. Just trace the bottom of the pan onto a piece of parchment paper and cut out inside of the line. Place in bottom of pan and spray with cooking spray.

1- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

2- Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

3- Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

4- Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

5- With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

6- Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added.

7- After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.

8- Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice. For layers, divide the batter among the pans. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.For cupcakes, scoop by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins.

9- Bake for 40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 27 minutes for 9" layers (mine took 40 minutes); 24 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes (mine took about 30 minutes).

10- The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

11- Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool before removing it from the pan.

Recipe #2- The filling

The request I had for the cake was to just have a normal flavor, hence why I chose the vanilla cake since not everyone is into chocolate (heaven knows why! :) But I didn't want it to be boring, so I decided a flavored filling would be good instead of the buttercream that I would normally put between layers. And since it was my first time making a cake filling, I turned to Wilton, the cake experts. This filling closely resembles jam and is not too sweet. The only change I made to this recipe is that instead of adding the sliced strawberries to the filling at the end, I pureed them in the food processor so the filling would be more smooth and the strawberries more evenly distributed. And if you end up with extra filling, it freezes well, or you could use it for the filling in crepes or a topping on pancakes/waffles or heck, you could even use it as a jam if you wanted to! This recipe makes about 2 cups of filling and can be used to make raspberry or pineapple filling as well (use 16 oz. frozen raspberries in syrup or 16 oz. can crushed pineapple in syrup in place of the frozen strawberries).

Strawberry Filling

1 pkg (16 ounces) frozen sliced strawberries , packed in sugar and thawed 1/3 cup granulated sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Drain strawberries; reserving liquid. Add enough water to liquid to equal 1 1/4 cups. In large saucepan, combine strawberry liquid, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice; mix well. Heat and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Cool completely. Stir strawberries into the cooled mixture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

***IMPORTANT***: If using this filling between layers of cake, be sure to pipe a "wall" of frosting all the way around the edge of the "bottom" cake layer before spooning the filling onto the cake. I didn't do this the first time, and the filling got smeared with my frosting on the outside of the cake and the filling didn't look as neat and even as it did the second time around.
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