Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lemon Cake w/Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon Cake
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 350º

In a medium bowl, lightly combine:
1/4 cup milk
6 egg yolks
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla

Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine:
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk
12 tablespoons butter, softened

Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add one third of the egg mixture. Mix 20 seconds. Repeat twice more.

Mix in:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Immediately pour batter into two lightly greased and floured 8" cake rounds. [It is also wise to line the bottom of each cake round with parchment paper.]

Bake 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cake cool in the pan ten minutes before transferring to wire rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Kelley Gondring

In a large electric mixing bowl, cream together on medium high speed:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons butter, softened

Mix in:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Mix in one half cup at a time:
2 cups confectioner's sugar
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each half cup addition.

Eat up!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cannoli Tarts

I think I've had good cannoli once or twice in my life. I order them in anticipation of a sweet delight and am almost always disappointed with the outcome. After a little reading, it seems like one of the problems is that cannoli are often pre-made, thus the diner ends up with a soggy shell. Another problem is the proportion of filling-to-shell is often way off, with there being far too much filling because cannoli are made too large. Cannoli are meant to be delicate little desserts; they are not meant to be super-sized like McDonald's fries.

Going with the miniature trend I encounter so often in baking, I thought, Why not make cannoli filling and pipe it into tart shells? Tart shells are a bit more sturdy than traditional cannoli shells, but this would allow them to be pre-made without the taste suffering. Plus, I hoped it would provide the perfect of shell-to-filling ratio.

I was quite pleased with the results and will definitely be making these little delights again!

Chocolate Chip Cannoli Tarts
Kelley Gondring

Makes 36 tarts

Preheat oven 350º

Tart Shell
In a medium bowl or food processor, combine:
4.5 ounces cream cheese
12 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups flour

Blend together until coarse meal forms. Chill 10 minutes. Remove the pastry dough from the fridge. Using your hands, make 36 individual balls. Press evenly into the bottom and sides of mini-muffin pans. Bake 25 minutes. While the shells are baking, prepare filling.

In a medium bowl, mix together until smooth:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup finely granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Grand Mariner

Do not assemble until the tart shells are completely cool. Spoon filling into a pastry bag. Pipe the filling into the shells. [You'll want to use a large circular tip, such as a #4.] Decorate the top of the tart with chocolate chips [you'll need about 150] and, if available, orange zest. Refrigerate until serving.

Eat up!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Corn Chowder

Roasted Red Pepper Corn Chowder
adapted from Epicurious

In a large frying pan, fry:
4 slices thick cut bacon
Once bacon is nicely browned, remove and place on plate with paper towel. Once bacon is cool, crumble and set aside. Do not remove bacon grease from the skillet (unless it's excessive, then remove part of it).

Add to frying pan:
1 white onion, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled and diced

Cook on medium heat 8-10 minutes.

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4" cubes
4 cups chicken broth
3 fresh thyme sprigs
cooked corn kernels from 4 ears of corn
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Bring to a simmer and let cook 15-20 so that the potatoes are cooked through.

Add crumbled bacon. Garnish with fresh thyme flowers.

Eat up!

Fried Green Tomato BLT w/Egg + Red Pepper Garlic Aioli

I can only hope to one day be as good a mom as my mom. My mom is neither overbearing nor nonexistent. As a kid, she was a working mom who still made it to my soccer games and helped me with many a school project. Almost three years ago, we planned my wedding together - sometimes with her taking the lead but quite often leaving it to me to get things done. On the big day, her contributions were evident all over the wedding but there was no doubt that the wedding itself was as it should be: a reflection of Jason and me.

Growing up she was always my friend, without ever forgetting that it was more important to be Mom first. As our relationship has progressed into my adulthood, she is still the magical combination of both Mom and friend. When there is good news to share, a question to ask, or a frustration to vent, Mom is at the top of the speed dial list.

In 9th grade, I wrote in to the Winston-Salem Journal to tell all of their subscribing world why my mom was the greatest. Hopefully, when I have a bratty high school son or daughter who seems dislike me more with each passing day, s/he will secretly appreciate me, too.

"My mom is the greatest because she listens to me. She lets me know that she is there for me and will try to help me with my problems. If I want to do something that she disagrees with, she will give me a chance to explain all the details, even if her mind is always made up. She does this because she knows it makes me feel better. She tells me about the mistakes she made as a teenager so I can learn from them.

Some people's mothers don't make them do things with their families. I normally don't want to go with my family, but when I do, I generally have a good time. Simple things like requiring us to eat dinner as a family keeps us close. My mom and I have arguments but, no matter what, I will always want her to be my mom."

Today after church, Jason and I had the pleasure of hosting Mother's Day lunch for our families. We served Fried Green Tomato BLTs, Roasted Red Pepper Corn Chowder, and Strawberry Shortcake. It was lovely.

Fried Green Tomato BLT w/Egg + Red Pepper Garlic Aioli
Kelley Gondring

Step One: Bake Bacon
Up until a few months ago, I always fried bacon, but then my friend, Kenneth, introduced me to baking bacon. And let me just say that for the following three reasons, I will never go back to the frying pan.
1. No irritating spitting of grease
2. No cooking in batches (unless maybe you are cooking for an army)
3. Needs less attention (so you're free to work on other things while it cooks)
To bake bacon, preheat your oven to 350. Lay six to eight slices bacon onto a cookie sheet so that there is little-to-no overlap. Check the bacon after twenty minutes and flip. Bake until browned to your liking on both sides. Cook time will be about 40 minutes but will depend upon thickness of the bacon you use].

14 slices cooked thick cut bacon

Step Two: Red Pepper Garlic Aioli
In a food processor, combine:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons goat cheese
3 cloves garlic
1/4 roasted red bell pepper, peeled and deseeded

Pulse 30-60 seconds until completely pureed. Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Step Three: Fry Green Tomatoes
Cut lengthwise into 1/4" slices:
3-4 green tomatoes

In one medium bowl, combine:
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

In a separate medium bowl, combine:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup whole milk

One slice at a time, place in piece of tomato into the milk mixture and coat entirely. Dredge tomato in the breadcrumb/cornmeal mixture, again covering each slice completely. Set aside on large plate. Repeat until all tomato slices are breaded.

In a large skillet, heat:
1/2 cup veggie oil

Once oil is hot, fry tomatoes in batches 4 minutes per side. Place tomatoes on large plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Cover to keep warm.

Step Four: Toast
Place on a large cookie sheet:
14 slices sourdough bread
Drizzle with olive oil. Place in preheated oven for 5 minutes [more if crunchier bread is desired].

Step Five: Clean lettuce
Wash and dry:
7 leaves of your favorite hearty lettuce

Step Six: Fry Eggs
Heat skillet on medium and add:
1-2 tablespoons oil
Once the oil is hot, fry in batches:
7 eggs
[I did them over-medium so that the whites were completely done but the yolks were still good and runny.]

Step Seven: Assemble Sandwich
toast #1
1 table spoon Red Pepper Garlic Aioli
1 leaf lettuce
2 Fried Green Tomatoes
2 slices bacon, broken in half
1 fried egg
toast #2

Happy Mother's Day!
Eat up!

The top tomato is fried with cornmeal and the bottom with breadcrumbs. I thought both were equally good, but the cornmeal was much more cooperative when it came to coating the tomato.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Crème Caramel [aka Flan]

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo would hardly be a complete without dessert. These little guys were the perfect end to a spicy dinner. Crème Caramel is more typically known as Flan, though I personally much prefer the former rather than the latter name. Crème Caramel sounds so sophisticated. It rolls of the tongue and delights the ear. Flan, on the other hand, sits heavy in the mouth and is too close to the word "phlegm" to really get my taste buds excited.

Crème Caramel a type of custard and is quite similar to Crème Brûlée. Crème Caramel, however, does not require the purchase of an extra gadget (a blow torch), keeping costs down.

Crème Caramel can be made in various sizes. Make any size you wish - the only difference is in cook time. The smaller the dish, the shorter the cook time. You'll know when they're done because the center of the custard will be firmly set (in other words, it is no longer liquid). Pictured is one made in the traditional 6" ramekin. For dessert last night, though, I made 3 dozen "mini" Crème Caramels in little tart tins. (Unfortunately the lighting at dinner wasn't conducive to photography, so they are not pictured.) Their presentation was adorable. I served four per plate, one in each corner of an invisible square, topped each mini caramel with a half a strawberry, and served with a generous spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

Finally, like many custards, Crème Caramel is cooked in a water bath, helping to prevent the custard from overcooking. If you've never cooked with a water bath, don't be intimidated. All it requires is getting a pan with a little depth, adding enough water so that the water is 1/2"-1" high, and placing your baking dish in the water.

Crème Caramel
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven 325º

In a small saucepan, combine:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Bring to a rolling boil. Do not stir, but instead use the handle to swirl the mixture until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, cover with a lid for two minutes. Remove lid. Continue to let the sugar cook until it turns golden brown. Immediately pour into baking dish(es). [If using 6" ramekins, spread evenly between 6. If using tart tins, spoon 1/2 teaspoon into each tart holder.] Move the pan/tin back and forth to spread caramel evenly over the bottom. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine:
5 large egss
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Warm (do not boil):
3 cups whole milk

One half cup at a time, whisk the milk into the egg mixture until all the milk is used and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the custard over top the caramel. The custard should reach the rim of the dish, as it will not rise.

Place your baking dish in a water bath in the oven. Bake 40-60 minutes for 6" ramekins or 30-40 minutes for tart tins.

Once done cooking, let cool on cooling rack and then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (if you're using smaller baking dishes, it may not take quite this long to cool).

To serve, use a knife to gently loosen the edges of the custard. Place a plate on top of the dish and flip. Remember that the caramel is going to pour out, so you'll want a dish with a little lip.

Garnish with strawberries.

Eat up!

Tomato Salsa

This salsa is ridiculous easy to make because 3 of the 7 main ingredients come from a can. Mid-summer when both corn and tomatoes are in season here in North Carolina, I make fresh salsa; however, I think that this is still pretty darn delicious with the added benefits of 1) taking far less time and 2) requiring much less clean up. Adding fresh peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and onion give this salsa the fresh taste that salsa from a can just can't do.

Tomato Salsa
Kelley Gondring

1 28 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can black beans
1 11 ounce can white corn
2 jalapeños, diced
1 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 small white onion, peeled and diced
salt + pepper to taste

Serve with corn tortillas.

Eat up!

Chicken Fajitas

Chicken Fajitas
Kelley Gondring

Serves 6.

In a small bowl, combine:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt + pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Once oil is hot, add:
3/4 red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
3/4 green bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
12-15 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced
1 package chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into bite sized slices

Cook one minute over medium heat. Add marinade. Cover and let cook 10-12 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Stir occasionally. Remove lid and cook 1-2 minutes more to allow some of the liquid evaporate.

While the fajitas are cooking, cut into thin slices:
1 avocado
Place on small plate.

Drizzle avocado with:
1 tablespoon lime juice

Sprinkle with:
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

16 corn tortillas, warmed

Serve with fresh guacamole, salsa, grated cheese, and sour cream. Garnish with the sliced avocado and lime wedges.

Eat up!

Fresh Guacamole

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find ripe avocados. Like pears, they tend to be hard as rocks upon purchase and it isn't until a few days later that they're ready for consumption. The first place I went yielded such a result, but stop number two was the jackpot! I picked out six perfect feeling specimens and crossed my fingers that when I cut into them there wouldn't be brown streaks running through them. But as luck would have it, they were quite literally perfect.

Tips for great guacamole:

First, never try to make do with rocklike avocados. It just isn't worth your bother.

Second, the easiest way to remove the seed from an avocado is to cut the avocado is half lengthwise, but slightly off center. When you pull it apart, the seed should stay on the half that is slightly smaller. Use a butcher knife to chop down on the center of the seed. The knife will stick in the seed. Gently and at an angle, use the knife to pull out the seed.

Third, adding lime juice to guacamole prevents the avocados from immediately turning brown.

Fresh Guacamole
Kelley Gondring

In a medium bowl, mash with a fork:
4 medium avocados

Mix in:
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
2 large jalapeños, deseeded and diced
2/3 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
salt + pepper to taste
[I used about 1 teaspoon of each]

Serve with corn tortillas.

Eat up!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Team Pearfection + Iron Chef

My Iron Chef experience would never have come to pass without the guilt and persistence of Adam. Fifteen minutes prior to the competition's start time, he went to the Event Coordinator to ask whether someone could switch from her planned activity to the Iron Chef Competition. Even after he came to tell me such a switch was permissible, I still balked, uncomfortable with prospect of going back to that Event Coordinator to facilitate a switch again.

But wait - I am getting ahead of myself. A little background here is necessary for you to understand the history accompanying my hesitation; the variables to be considered before my verdict was rendered.

When Jason told me he’d won a trip to California, my first question was “Do I get to go, too?” He confirmed that he did, indeed, get to bring a guest, but that it was still to be determined as to whether I would be his top choice.

Luckily for both of us, he quickly made up his mind that I could accompany him across the country to sit around at Terranea Resort, eat lavish food, and participate in two pre-planned activities. We could choose from things like golf (ehh), kayaking (yes, please), a Segway tour (probably not), whale watching + fishing (Jason's choice), or an Iron Chef competition. Iron Chef Competition!?!? Sign me up for THAT one please! To which Jason hemmed and hawed and tried to convince me that we would really much rather go whale watching and fishing. Particularly the fishing. Back and forth we went until he finally played the “It’s my trip” card, and I acquiesced. It really was his trip, after all, and I knew he had no interest in cooking for fun. So he signed us up for kayaking the first day and whale watching + fishing the second day. Iron Chef soon became a distant memory.

But when we arrived midday on Sunday, I learned that there was no requirement Jason and I participate in the SAME activity! Suddenly, playing chef for an afternoon became a viable possibility. Jason and I discussed this option and decided to wait in making a decision. We explored the coastline, and he patiently waited while I took photos.

Monday afternoon we went kayaking along the coast. It all started off well. We saw a huge school of dolphins and two Gray Whales (momma + calf). Unfortunately, there was a lot more talking about kayaking than actual kayaking, which meant that we sat in the water, ores not propelling us anywhere, and talked about the local ecology. It wasn't long before the ebb and flow of those crystalline waves began to send waves of nausea throughout my body. Pretty soon I was peeling off layers of clothing and shoving half my forearm into that cold Pacific water to ward off the expulsion of lunch! Our guides got us back on shore without any messes, but after that train wreck, I knew I wouldn't be getting back on a boat the next day.

Jason and I walk up to the sixth floor to find the Event Planner to see if switching was a possibility, and if so, to which activity. I inquired into the Iron Chef Competition, but she suggested a massage at the spa instead. Apparently, the activity description had people in pairs, so if Jason wasn't going to do it, I would have no pair!

Which brings me back to Tuesday afternoon, fifteen minutes prior to the cook-off's start time. At some point, Adam learned that I had been really stoked about the Iron Chef Competition and why I was not doing it. He and his wife, Jessica, were already in -- I could be on their team! However, the idea of going back and switching my activity again made me feel like a high-maintenance crazy person. Finally, Jason had had enough. He knew that's what I'd wanted to do all along, so he walked up with me, stood by while I did the unthinkable and changed plans again. The Event Coordinator was completely fine with it, as there was a waiting list for the spa (apparently, others had changed their minds, too!). When it was finally switched, I broke into a huge grin and nearly bounded to the meeting area.

And thank goodness I did! It was a one-of-a-kind experience and I had a wonderful time.


To make an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert that used pear

Team Name

Adam, Jessica, Darcie, Christopher, Rhonda, and Kelley
Avocado, Strawberry, and Pear Bruschetta

Salmon with Cilantro-Lime Rice

Pearfect Citrus Cobbler w/Vanilla Ice Cream

Appetizer #1
Appetizer #2

Avocado, Strawberry, and Pear Bruschetta
Salmon w/Cilantro-Lime Rice
Pearfect Citrus Cobbler w/Vanilla Icecream