Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuna Salad with White Beans

This is one of my favorite recipes and one that I use ALL the time. When I'm at school, I usually cook for one, which can be tricky. Most recipes make more than one serving and most dishes aren't good for more than a few days. This means I'm stuck eating the same thing for several meals in a row and end up throwing away half of the things I cook because they've gone bad by the time I get around to eating them.

Enter tuna salad with white beans. This dish is delicious, versatile and can last for up to a week in the fridge. Perfect.

This salad makes a great light lunch

The best thing about this dish is how easy it is to fine tune. The recipe is just a rough guide. Personally, I like to add a little extra vinegar and parsley. It's also great with some cherry tomatoes thrown in. 

Bon appetit!

Tuna Salad with White Beans
Serves 4-6

2 6 oz. cans of chunk tuna in water
1 14 oz. can Cannellini beans
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, chopped
3 tbsp curly parsley, chopped
1 big glug olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice from half a lemon
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain tuna and white beans in a strainer and wash with cold water. Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix thoroughly. Serve plain, on bread or crackers or on top of a salad.

This dish keeps really well. It can be stored in the fridge for several days after it's made. Just cover with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container.

Source: Shutterbean

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cake Pops

I made cake pops! I seriously thought this day would never come.

Back in the day, Bakerella was one of the first food blogs I started following and cake pops are her signature. I always oohed and aahed over her adorable creations, but I was never brave enough to attempt them myself. This year she published a cake pops cookbook and in October my mom and I went to a signing at our local William Sonoma. Seeing her at the signing and looking through her cookbook motivated me to start working on this blog, which was something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Thanks Bakerella!

Armed with my new cookbook and some tips from Bakerella, I was ready to give cake pops a try. I decided to go with red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting for my pops, but any combo of box cake and icing will work (things get a little trickier when you make our own cake and/or frosting, I would recommend buying the cake pops cookbook before giving this a try).

Make things easier for yourself: Set out all your ingredients beforehand

The great thing about cake pops is they are incredibly flexible. So don't stress if you can't find the exact candy used in the recipe. Work with whatever you can get your hands on. And feel free to decorate the pops differently. Who knows, your cake pops may turn out better than Bakerella's (and even if they don't, people will still think they are super cute).

Rainbow chip sprinkles from Michael's make great ornaments for the Christmas tree pops

I have a few tips, but first a word of warning: cake pops are not for the faint of heart! They take a lot of time, effort and patience. It's important to set several hours aside to make them and also be aware that the finished product might not look that great. There are about a million things that can go wrong when making cake pops, so prepare for some frustration and be ready to improvise.

That being said, here are some of the glitches I encountered and tips to avoid said glitches.

Problem: There were cracks in my candy coating after it dried.
Solution: I left the cake balls in the freezer for too long, so the cake started expanding after it was covered with coating. Do not leave the cake balls in the freezer for longer than 15 minutes, transfer them to the fridge after 15 minutes have passed. You can leave them there for as long as you need. If the damage is already done and there are cracks in your candy coating, use a toothpick to fill in the cracks with extra coating.

Problem: Some of the candy decorations fell off my pops.
Solution: I worked too slowly. Candy coating dries quickly, so it's important to keep up the pace. This is where advance preparation comes in. If you have all of your candy out and ready to go, you should be able to work at a decent speed. This is particularly important when putting on the reindeer antlers. If you let the candy coating dry, you will have to push the pretzels through the coating which will cause it to crack.

Problem: My candy coating burnt.
Solution: I heated the coating for too long. Follow directions carefully when heating your candy coating. It's better to do things super slowly than to burn the coating and have to start from scratch.

Problem: My cake ball fell into the candy coating while I was dipping it.
Solution: I either stuck the lollipop stick too far or not far enough into the cake ball. Try to stick the lollipop stick about half way into the cake ball, no more, no less.

Problem: My candy coating kept dripping after I stuck it into the styrofoam.
Solution: Practice. Unfortunately, I don't have a better answer for this one. I was still perfecting my technique when I finished the last of my pops.

For more extensive cake pop troubleshooting, buy Bakerella's cookbook. It's amazing!

The finished product!

That's all folks. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!
Bon appetit!

Christmas Cake Pops
1 box cake mix (I used red velvet)
16 oz. can icing (I used cream cheese)
48 lollipop sticks
Large styrofoam block about 3-5 inches thick

1 lb. bag dark chocolate candy melts
24 red or brown M&M's
48 round white sprinkles
ABC pretzels from World Market (the Es, Fs and Ys work really well)
Edible ink pen, black

Christmas Trees
1 lb. green candy melts
Rainbow chip sprinkles
Jumbo star sprinkles

Bake cake in a 9x13 in. pan according to instructions on box. Cool completely on a wire rack. Once cake has cooled divided into 8 rectangular pieces. Crumble cake by rubbing two pieces together over a large bowl. Once all the cake is crumbled, run a fork through the bowl to break up any large pieces.

Mix thoroughly with 3/4 can of frosting. Use the back of a large spoon to combine the cake and frosting. To make the reindeer, mold the mixture into 24 balls and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Freeze for 15 minutes and then transfer to the fridge until ready to use. Use the remainder of the mixture to make the Christmas trees. Mold into 24 cone shapes, instead of balls and freeze. Transfer to the fridge after 15 minutes.

To make the reindeer, melt the chocolate candy coating in a large, deep microwave-safe bowl according to package instructions. Remove several cake balls from the fridge at a time. Dip a lollipop stick into the candy coating and push about half way through a ball. Dunk the cake ball into the candy coating, making sure the entire thing is covered, and pull out in one swift motion. To remove the excess coating, hold the cake pop horizontally in the left hand, using the right hand to lightly tap the left wrist.

Tap the left wrist quickly to remove the excess coating before it dries

Immediately stick the cake pop into the styrofoam block and quickly press on two pretzels for the antlers (Bakerella uses E, F and Y-shaped ABC pretzels from World Market, but if you can't find those, just get regular pretzels and break them to make it work, that's what I did). Hold in place until the candy coating sets and the pretzels stand on their own. Let stand until completely dry.

Apply a small amount of candy coating to an M&M for the reindeer's nose. Hold on the front of the cake pop until the coating sets. Draw small black dots on two white sprinkles for the eyes. Apply a small amount of candy coating using a toothpick and hold each sprinkle on the pop until dry. Use the edible marker to draw a mouth on the reindeer. Smile and repeat.

Oh hey, Rudolph!

To make the Christmas trees, melt the green candy coating in a large, deep microwave-safe bowl according to package instructions. Remove several cake cones from the fridge at a time. Dip a lollipop stick into the candy coating and push about half way through the cone. Dunk the cake cone into the candy coating, making sure the whole thing is covered, and pull out in one swift motion. To remove the excess coating, hold the cake pop horizontally in the left hand, using the right hand to lightly tap the left wrist. Drag a toothpick through the wet coating to create the branches. Place a star on the top and hold until the candy coating sets. Allow to dry completely.

Use small amounts of candy coating and a toothpick to attach the rainbow chips sprinkles to the branches. Allow to dry completely in the styrofoam block.

Santa loves Cake Pops!

Source: Bakerella

Friday, December 17, 2010

Key Lime Pie

I know what you're thinking, this post seems a little out of season, right? Well, it is. But, over Thanksgiving I visited my grandmother in Florida and she has a great key lime tree in her backyard. Most of the key limes end up going to waste, so before leaving we went crazy and picked enough to fill a large trash bag. It was time to make my first ever key lime pie.

A little background: key limes are smaller than your average lime and have thinner rinds and a stronger aroma. They are known for their tart and bitter flavor, which is what gives key lime pie its distinctive tang. Traditional key lime pies are made with condensed milk and topped with meringue and cannot be refrigerated, but some newer variations use fresh milk or cream and are served cold. I prefer my key lime pie chilled, so I looked for a recipe with a whipped cream topping instead of meringue (because meringue is made with egg whites, it cannot be refrigerated).

Key limes are yellow when ripe, but are typically picked when green

Martha Stewart has a great cookbook dedicated to pies and tarts that contains two key lime pie recipes, one of which is made with cream and must be refrigerated. This recipe is pretty minimal and doesn't require a lot of time, which I appreciate. The down side is her recipes aren't always accessible to beginners, so I tried to make my instructions more detailed.

A couple of tips: first, make sure not to get any egg whites in the filling. They will form solid white chunks when you heat the mixture. If this happens, try to pick out as many chunks as possible, you don't want those in your pie. Secondly, give the pie plenty of time to chill. The recipe suggests 24 hours, but I found the pie tasted better after the second and third day than after the first, so don't be afraid to let it sit in the fridge for a while.

A key lime from my grandmother's tree

Once again, a big thank you to my fabulous photographer sister, Shelby.
Bon appetit!

Key Lime Pie
Serves 6-8 
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp granulated sugar
Dash of salt

1/3 cup fresh key lime juice
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp freshly-grated key lime rind
2 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375° F. To make the crumbs, put graham crackers into a food processor and process until fine (or you can do it by hand). Add the rest of the ingredients for the crust and mix well. Press mixture into a buttered 8-inch pie plate and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and lime juice. Cook the mixture over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon (i.e. a spoon dipped in the mixture and removed should be covered in a thin film and running a finger through the film should leave a clear path).

The white chunks are egg whites that got mixed in with the yolks. Try to avoid this.

Remove from the heat and stir in the grated rind. Pause to enjoy the yummy lime smell. Chill until the mixture thickens, but do not let it become stiff. I left mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes, but I think it could have stayed in longer. Use your discretion.

Whip 1 1/2 cups of cream in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks (When you lift the head of the mixer out of the bowl, the cream should form a small curved peak that will fall over on itself. If the peak stands straight and does not fall over on itself, it is called a stiff peak). Fold into lime filling. Spoon mixture into the prepared crust and chill, covered, for 24 hours (or more). To serve, whip the remaining cream until it forms stiff peaks and decorate. I used a pastry bag, but a plastic bag works just as well. Just clip off the corner of a plastic bag and you're good to go!

Source: Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts