Monday, November 22, 2010

Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix: Don't fix what's not broken.

Ok, I have attempted to bake a chocolate cake from scratch 3x now. One of them turned out good. The other two not so. I bought a box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix just in case they didn't turn out. Since it was just sitting in the pantry, I decided to bake some cupcakes out of the box. Boy, were they good! I had them before, but haven't had them in a long time. They're rich, moist and very chocolaty. They're perfect! I don't care what anyone says about cake in a box because nothing beats this chocolate cake especially when you eat it a few moments later right from the oven. I hate store bought frosting though. It just has a very artificial flavor to it. I bought this new glaze from the store and didn't like it. So, I made up my mind. I'm not going to attempt to make a chocolate cake from scratch again because I like this one as it is. Why go through all that trouble and $$ just to make one when there's nothing wrong with this one?

Yum, yum. So moist and yummy:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Semi-Homemade Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite desserts especially during this time of the year. Some people don't like it, but I always liked it. The best pumpkin pie I've had is the one from Baker's Square. This one I baked recently is pretty good too; it's almost as good as Baker's Square. I think. That is if I could remember my taste buds correctly. I actually put a half cup of (white) sugar more than what the original recipe called for and it's pretty sweet, but I remember the pie from Baker's tasting pretty sweet as well. I would go with 3/4 cup next time. It's the cream cheese that makes it taste different than regular pumpkin pie. I like this recipe, however, after I put it in the fridge overnight and ate it the next day again, it didn't taste home made anymore. It tasted pretty commercial to me. I wondered if using fresh pumpkin puree and making my own pie crust would've made a difference. Oh well, too much work! I always thought eating pumpkin pie was healthier than having other desserts because I never bothered to look at the ingredients, but now I know!

Original recipe from Food Network:

For Pie:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 large eggs
1 (9-inch) frozen pie crust shell, removed from foil tin and placed in glass pie pan
For Brown Sugar Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, pumpkin puree, cream, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice. Using electric hand mixer, add the eggs, 1 at a time incorporating completely between each addition.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake on a sheet tray until the filling is mostly set and the crust has browned, about 50 to 60 minutes. The center will still look slightly loose. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

For Whipped Cream:

In a chilled bowl, beat the heavy cream with a hand mixer until beginning to thicken. Add the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the pie and serve immediately or hold in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours before serving. .

Ran out of whipped cream...

I was actually going to attempt this recipe from Food Network, but didn't feel like doing everything from scratch. It sounds so much better since it uses fresh pumpkin puree and a homemade pie crust. Can you tell I love the Food Network? I used to watch it while exercising and then wonder why I was so hungry after my workout was done. :p

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

I always wanted to make my own chicken broth from scratch, so I bought some ingredients to make some home made chicken noodle soup. This was quite good. It tasted wholesome and pure. It didn't taste like it had artificial chicken flavors and salt in it. Everything was natural. Once you do add in some salt and pepper at the end, then that's all you need. I was hoping the soup would last me all week, but it was gone in one day.

Original Recipe:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock, recipe follows
8 ounces dried wide egg noodles
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Place a soup pot over medium heat and coat with the oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Cook and stir for about 6 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Pour in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes until tender. Fold in the chicken, and continue to simmer for another couple of minutes to heat through; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

Chicken Stock:
1 whole free-range chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), rinsed, giblets discarded
2 carrots, cut in large chunks
3 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
2 large white onions, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved
1 turnip, halved
1/4 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stockpot over medium heat. Pour in only enough cold water to cover (about 3 quarts); too much will make the broth taste weak. Toss in the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and allow it to slowly come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, partially covered, until the chicken is done. As it cooks, skim any impurities that rise to the surface; add a little more water if necessary to keep the chicken covered while simmering.

Carefully remove the chicken to a cutting board. When its cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones; hand-shred the meat into a storage container.

Carefully strain the stock through a fine sieve into another pot to remove the vegetable solids. Use the stock immediately or if you plan on storing it, place the pot in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool down the stock. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze.

Yield: 2 quarts

Zucchini Bread

The only times I've had zucchini bread was when I was still working and some coworkers would bring some in. The idea of zucchini bread didn't sound pleasing, but when I ate it, I thought it was pretty good. For some reason, I had a craving for some this past weekend, so I looked up recipes. This is the first time I made it and it was good! I seem to find a good baking recipe after a disastrous one. I did read the reviews and used 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of white sugar. I forgot the applesauce so I ended up using 1 cup of oil after all. Okay, after eating all this food, I decided I'm going to go on a raw and organic vegetarian diet. Really.

Original Recipe:

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.

Shrimp Scampi with Linguine Revisited

I was watching a show featuring food in Italy and they were eating a simple dish such as this one, so then I craved for a similar dish. I loved the recipe from Tyler Florence, but decided to try a different recipe just for the heck of it. I tried Ina Garten's since she's one of my favorite FoodNetwork chefs. Using fresh shrimp sure makes a difference! (I had tried the frozen kind last time). I usually buy frozen because that's all they ever have at these supermarkets nearby. This dish is one of my favorite Italian dishes so far. I can't decide which recipe I like better now. I just remember loving the Tyler Florence recipe as it was immediately after I cooked it, so maybe I would prefer that one. This one is just as good though! 4/5 stars!

Original Recipe:

Vegetable oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
3/4 pound linguine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 pound large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 lemon, zest grated
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cupcakes from Scratch

I suck at baking. :( I know I've said that before. I attempted to bake these cupcakes from scratch and the frosting as well, but the cake did not taste so good. They were okay. I think they just had too much flour in it. Baking is not forgiving at all. Ever since I started this blog, I have learned that cooking (including baking) is as much or even more of a science than it is an art form. And the frosting? It tasted better than the cake, but let me tell ya...frosting is one of those foods that I can not eat after I have seen how it's made. Yesterday, I made the frosting and after whipping all that butter, I just couldn't eat it. I just think to myself how gross it is that I'm really just eating a stick of butter. I have the same problem with mayonnaise. I don't eat mayo because I know how it's made. Oil, eggs, etc. all mixed together. Yuck. Sometimes (like today) when I "forgot" how it's made, then I'll eat it. The frosting I made didn't taste so bad, but it's not the best. I love the cream cheese frosting that's put on the pumpkin bars by Taste of Scandinavia in Minnesota.

Hmmm, should I even bother posting the recipes? I'll post the recipe for the frosting. I would give it 2 1/2 stars out of 5. It wasn't too sweet, but it really wasn't that special and I could still taste the flour from it. Maybe it's just me, but it really wasn't the best frosting I've ever had as the PW claims.

Frosting recipe here. This is the frosting that's made with flour.

Shoot, I just realized that I made the cupcakes from an adjusted recipe from another blog. No wonder it tastes like it has so much flour. It does! Here is the original recipe from Ina Garten. Maybe I'll try the original recipe one of these days. It's much different than the adjusted one. Argh.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beef with Snow Peas

I don't know why, but I always thought snow peas were called sugar peas. At least that's what I grew up thinking. Along with cherry tomatoes, we used to grow and sell snow peas when I was younger. My parents would have about an acre or two of these. It was hard work! As a kid, my job was to just help plant the seeds, go with my mom to water the plants at night (because it would get so hot during the day in CA), and basically just sit and watch the "house" that my dad built for our farm. It was usually just my younger sister and I that went (out of all the kids in the family). Sometimes I was responsible for grilling the meats over the wood burning fire pit. That to me was some of the best food ever. As much as I disliked going to the farm back in the days, I also miss them now. It was a big part of my childhood and reminds me of how hard my parents worked. It reminds me a lot of my dad who's no longer with us. :( Our Hmong parents are truly great farmers. They know how to grow anything. When we stopped farming, I realized how much poorer we became because the extra income wasn't there to support us.

Anyway, there is really nothing special about the ingredients in this recipe, but I liked how it was cooked. I liked that it was cooked in an iron skillet and the meat was charred (like how I usually like meat). I also added garlic to mine. I love garlic. I just bought some cheap beef from Wal-Mart because I was already there and didn't feel like stopping at another store. Never buy fresh meat from Wal-Mart. They have some of the worst meat IMO. The dish was saltier than what I would've liked probably because I didn't have enough meat (only one pound instead of 1.5). Overall, I would give this recipe a 3/5 stars. Again nothing special, but I liked how it was cooked and how vibrant the sauce made the dish look once it's finished.

The recipe is from The Pioneer Woman. She has great photos and step by step directions, so I never even bother to repeat hers. I'll post the recipe anyway in case it should ever disappear somehow.

1 1/2 pound Flank Steak, Trimmed Of Fat And Sliced Very Thin Against The Grain
1/2 cups Low Sodium Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Sherry Or Cooking Sherry
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Ginger
8 ounces, weight Fresh Snow Peas, Ends Trimmed
5 whole Scallions, Cut Into Half-inch Pieces On The Diagonal
Salt As Needed (use Sparingly)
3 Tablespoons Peanut Or Olive Oil
Crushed Red Pepper, For Sprinkling

Preparation InstructionsIn a bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger. Add sliced meat to bowl and toss with hands. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet (iron is best) or wok over high heat. Add snow peas and stir for 45 seconds. Remove to a separate plate. Set aside.

Allow pan to get very hot again. With tongs, add half the meat mixture, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out meat as you add it to pan, but do not stir for a good minute. (You want the meat to get as brown as possible in as short amount a time as possible.) Turn meat to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate.

Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first. After turning it, add the first plateful of meat, the rest of the marinade, and the snow peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Check seasonings and add salt only if it needs it. Mixture will thicken as it sits.

Serve immediately over rice. Sprinkle crushed red pepper over the top to give it some spice.