Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Caramel Cupcake

Caramel Cake is a favorite treat in the South. I've never had a Southern Caramel Cake, but I did have a different version of a Caramel cake in the Philippines during our recent trip that my daughter and I both really liked. So I made a note to myself to try to make something similar.

One of my co-workers and I got to talking about Southern Caramel Cake and she lead me to this recipe from Add A Pinch. She said that her Southern mom made hers with shortening, the way this recipe did. I was a little worried about using Trans Fat from the shortening because of all the health concerns with trans fat. But any tried and true recipe that mom makes is great recipe in my book.

I decided to make this recipe into cupcakes because they're better to share rather than having to cut into a whole cake to give away. The cake is a standard yellow cake that was pretty easy. The caramel is more like a topping rather than a frosting. Like I said, I've never had a real Southern Caramel Cake before, but I imagine that this came out quite good. However, as most people would know about about me, I like my frosting to be creamy. The caramel turned out pretty firm in this recipe. Firm the way a caramel candy would. There's nothing wrong with that, but I prefer my cakes to be creamy. So I think I may incorporate this recipe with another one to accomplish that.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups self-rising flour
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line muffin pans with muffin cups, or grease and flour 3 9-inch round pans.

2) In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream for about 8 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, thoroughly mixing after each addition.

3) Alternately add flour and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour. Add vanilla and beat well. Scoop into muffin cups about 3/4 full, or divide among the 9-inch round pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes and remove cakes from pans and place on cooling racks to cool completely before frosting.

Caramel Icing 
4 cups sugar
2 cup buttermilk
1 cup shortening
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 tsp. baking soda

1) Place all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until ingredients have melted together. Stir constantly to prevent from burning at the bottom.

2) Continue to cook until you reach the soft-ball stage (place a drop of the caramel in a cup of cold water, the caramel should turn into a "soft ball.")

3) Remove from heat and place the caramel in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using a whisk attachment, whip caramel until it holds when the mixer is stopped. Spread warm icing on cakes. Allow icing to cool before serving.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Maniladas with Cheese Sauce and Salsa Verde

Maniladas, a cross between a Manicotta and an Enchilada. A fusion of Mexican and Italian. This is an ingenious creation of Sunny Anderson on the Food Network. I just remembered my mouth watering when I watched her make this dish. It sort of reminds me of the Salsa Verde Sour Cream Enchiladas I make so often. But what a great idea to make it into a pasta dish.

The original recipe, I felt, was pretty fattening. It required the use of 2 cups of heavy cream. But I substituted it with low fat milk to make the cheese sauce. I also used a short cut by purchasing a store-bought salsa verde instead of making it from scratch. With all the substitutions, this dish came out so good that hubby absolutely enjoyed it. This is another great pot luck dish that I'm sure would be another hit like the Salsa Verde Enchiladas.

1 (8 oz) package Manicotti shells
2 Tbsp. oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 rotisserie chicken (or 3 cooked chicken breasts), shredded
4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup prepared salsa verde (or green enchilada sauce)

1) Preheat oven to 400 deg F. Boil manicotti shells for 8 minutes. Drain shells and place on a platter in a single layer.

2) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in shredded chicken, tomatoes, chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in sour cream until incorporated.

3) Stuff manicotti shells with chicken filling and arrange in a 9 x 12 baking dish. Spread 1/4 cup of salsa verde over the manicotti shells. Set aside.

Cheese sauce
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream or milk, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cheese (any cheese you prefer)

1) In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Whisk in heavy cream or milk and continue cooking until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add shredded cheese and stir until well incorporated.

2) Reduce temperature of oven to 350 deg F. Pour cheese sauce over prepared manicotti shells and bake for 30 minutes or until cheese sauce becomes bubbly. Serve hot, garnished with more salsa verde and chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Empanada is a pastry stuffed with a meat filling. Sometimes its stuffed with strictly vegetarian items. Sometimes, people tend to be creative and stuff sweet fillings in them. Empanadas are another one of those treats that have different versions from different cultures. And in each culture, are even more versions depending on the region. There are a variety of versions of Empanadas in the Philippines. I learned 3 different versions of Empanadas from 3 different aunts who happen to be sisters. Unfortunately, there are certain techniques that I hadn't mastered from those versions. Therefore, I haven't attempted to make them on my own. I like to make them with my aunts. Mostly because its quality time spent with them. But I do miss those homemade Empanadas. Store bought empanadas just doesn't have that flavor that I look for.

Sometime last week, this recipe for Empanadas came up from my reader from What's Cookin' Chicago? So I gave this one a try and its seems to be fail-proof. It was pretty easy and quite tasty. I might, however, try to bake these next time. The recipe calls for frying them, which is the traditional Filipino way of making them. But I don't eat as much fried foods as I used to. The dough in this recipe was really flaky and yummy. I'm hoping it'll be the same when I bake them next time.

2 Tbsp. oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lb. ground meat (turkey, pork, chicken, or beef)
1 medium russet potato, diced
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 hard boiled eggs

1) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until softened.

2) Add ground meat. Cook until browned and no longer pink, making sure to break up large pieces.

3) Add potato and water. Continue to cook until potato has softened. Add peas and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and drain excess liquid. Cool while making the crust.

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp. ice water
egg wash (1 egg yolk, whisked with 1 tsp. water)
oil for deep frying

1) In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt and sugar. Cut butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or two knives. Make a well in the center and add ice water into the center. Mix with a fork until stiff.

2) Turn dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until flour is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

3) Divide dough into 20 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball on the palm of your hand. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a flat circle. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough. Top with a wedge of hard boiled egg. Brush edge of dough with egg wash. Fold dough over filling and crimp edges to seal. Deep fry until golden brown. Serve hot.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Homemade Shamrock Shake

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!! And also, Happy Birthday to our nephew, Vin.

To commemorate this special day, I decided to finally try to make this beloved shake that originated from a beloved fast food restaurant, McDonald's. I remember when I first had my taste of Shamrock Shake a few years ago. It was the end of our work day and one of my co-workers said she was getting ready to get some Shamrock Shake. I asked "What's a Shamrock Shake?" And she looked at me with a disgusted expression and said, "You've never had a Shamrock Shake???" She proceeded to let me know that its a green shake only sold at McDonald's during the month of March in honor of St. Patrick's Day. So on MY way home, I had to stop by McDonald's myself to see what all the hype was about. It was this creamy, minty, yummy goodness. And I was so glad they only sold it for a limited time, because if not, I'd be making pit stops to McDonald's everyday.

Ever since then, I had always kept my eye out for that wonderful green shake every March. And then they began selling them in fewer restaurants. And suddenly they disappeared altogether. I hate being toyed with. Since they practically didn't sell the shake anymore, my taste buds didn't miss it anymore either. Its been a while since I've had a Shamrock Shake. They recently started selling them again in all McDonald's. But I don't have the same enthusiasm for it as I used to. But this recipe was featured in Yahoo News from Shine, and I figured maybe I should try to make it at home. It was a quick and easy and delicious.

3 cups vanilla ice cream
1 3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. mint extract
3-6 drops green food coloring
whipped cream, optional

1) Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour in a glasses and top with whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Short Ribs with Pasta

I was watching Everyday Italian on the Cooking Channel over the weekend and Giada was making this dish and it looked so good. I remembered that I had some short ribs in the freezer waiting to be used up. So why not. I looked up the recipe from the Food Network (Cooking Channel's sister station) and I got to cooking.

I've decided to use the crock pot to make this dish because short ribs is best when slow cooked in the crock pot. The meat is always fall-off-the-bone tender. I've also decided to take the advice from some of the reviews on the website and allowed the stew to cool so the oil can separate to skim off the fat easily. Because short ribs is a very fatty cut of meat. And I hate greasy pasta. I topped the dish off with some bittersweet chocolate shavings, as the recipe suggests, because everyone knows how I love sweet and savory. This dish came out really well. It kind of reminds me of the Skyline Chili I made. The flavors were somewhat similar with the addition of chocolate in the chili. I'll be making this again and try it with boneless rib meat to eliminate the cooling and skimming off the fat.

1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon
2 1/2 lbs. short ribs
black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, quartered
1 carrot, quartered
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups beef broth
3/4 cup red wine
1 lb. fresh or dried long pasta (fettuccine, linguine, etc.)
shaved bittersweet chocolate

1) In a large skillet, cook chopped bacon or pancetta over medium heat until golden and crisp.

2) Meanwhile, season short ribs with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Once bacon has cooked, remove with a slotted spoon. Add short ribs to the pan and brown on all sides. Place short ribs and bacon pieces in crock pot. Add thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. Set aside.

3) Meanwhile, combine onion, carrot, parsley and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely minced. Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste and pulse until combined. Pour mixture into crock pot. Add broth and red wine. Cook on high for 6 hours. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or overnight.

4) Once the fat has separated and solidified, skim off fat. Remove beef pieces from the broth, discarding the bones. Shred beef. Pour broth and shredded beef in a stock pot and re-heat over medium heat until it begins to boil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 3/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

5) Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Place drained pasta over the sauce and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time if needed to moisten pasta. Transfer to serving bowls and top with  chocolate shavings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Panna Cotta with Orange Caramel Sauce

During an Anniversary date hubby and I had a few years ago, the restaurant had a special Prix Fix menu that we ordered from. One of the desserts was Panna Cotta that hubby decided to try out and absolutely enjoyed. After that dinner date, the closest we got to another Panna Cotta was a frozen one from Trader Joe's. Still good, but it wasn't as good as a freshly made one. And it wasn't as good as the one from the restaurant.

Sometime last week, I was watching Dave Lieberman on the Cooking Channel and he was making this recipe for Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce. It looked so easy that I had to give it a try. And it really was so easy. And delicious. Kind of reminds of an Orange Creamsicle from the orange in the caramel sauce. You can certainly also serve this with some pureed fruit or fresh fruit on top, which is the way hubby had it at the restaurant.

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 cup half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot water
2 (1/4 oz package) unflavored gelatin

1) Combine sugar and 1 cup half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking until combined. Add remaining half-and-half, cream, and vanilla extract. Cook for 3 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together hot water and gelatin. Whisk until gelatin dissolves. Whisk gelatin mixture into half-and-half mixture until thoroughly combined. Remove from heat and pour into ramekins, cupcake tins, or small tart tins. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight until set. Serve with warm orange caramel sauce.

Orange Caramel Sauce
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 small navel orange, zested and juiced
1 whole star anise (optional)

1) Melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add orange juice (and star anise if using) and simmer until smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in orange zest and remove from heat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chex Lemon Buddies

I recently discovered that my daughter loves Chex Mix. So at the store today, we decided to make some from scratch and bought Chex cereal. On the back of one of the cereal boxes were great recipes for different kinds of Chex snacks. One that caught my eye was the Chex Lemon Buddies, because I had some lemons, fresh my parents' tree. This snack reminds me of Monkey Munch that I used to make often. But this dish has a refreshing flavor from the lemon. Its a really great snack and my daughter really liked it.

9 cups Chex cereal
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
4 tsp. grated lemon pee
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar

1) Pour cereal in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

2) In a medium microwave-safe bowl, microwave the white chocolate chips, butter lemon peel and lemon juice on high for 1 minutes. Stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds or longer until mixture can be stirred smoothly. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour in a 2-gallon resealable plastic bag.

3) Add powdered sugar. Seal bag and gently shake until well coated. Spread over waxed paper or foil to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cheeseburger Macaroni

I've been craving for some comfort food lately and for some reason, I was craving some kind of a Cheeseburger Macaroni dish. One that I used to eat out of a box (via Hamburger Helper) when I was a kid. I had previously made a similar Hamburger Helper dish, Creamy Taco Mac which we absolutely love. However that dish had a little kick to it with the use of cumin and other spices. I wanted something simple and creamy.

I decided to see if there was a Cheeseburger Macaroni recipe out there and sure enough, I found
this recipe from food.com that looked really easy. So easy that the original recipe only required 7 ingredients and the use of Velveeta cheese. I've modified the recipe using the cheese sauce from my Macaroni and Cheese recipe because I'm not a huge fan of processed cheese. I've had my fair share of Cheese Whiz when I was a kid, but nowadays I always try to make everything from scratch. Besides, anything processed can't be too healthy for you. However, if you're pressed for time and need something quick to make, Velveeta cheese is the way to go. Whichever way you make it, it'll definitely turn out delicious. This dish really hit the spot.

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 3/4 cups milk
2 1/2 tsp. sat
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or any shredded cheese)
1 lb. ground turkey or lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
4 cups water
3/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. mustard
3/4 cup canned petit diced tomatoes
12 ounces elbow macaroni

1) (Note: This step can be skipped is using 1 lb. Velveeta Cheese) In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and continue to cook about for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and continue to cook until mixture starts to boil. Remove from heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in cheese until smooth. Set aside.

2) In a large skillet, brown ground turkey or beef over medium heat. Add onion and continue to cook until onion begins to soften.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk together water, ketchup, and mustard. Pour over meat. Stir in tomatoes and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.

4) Add macaroni and turn heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until macaroni is cooked through and almost all the liquid is absorbed.

5) Stir in prepared cheese sauce (or 1 lb. Velveeta cheese cut into cubes) until smooth and evenly distributed. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I've been keeping an eye out for some great recipes to use my Fleur de Sel after making Salted Caramel Ice Cream last week. Which, by the way, is practically gone. I just love that salty and sweet mixture. I'm a huge fan of chocolate covered pretzels. I've also been known to eat my Rocky Road Ice Cream with Sour Cream and Onion chips. Yeah. I love mixing sweet with savory. And since discovering Fleur de Sel, I've been sprinkling some over anything I eat that is chocolatey.

Sometime last week, this recipe popped up on my reader from Brown Eyed Baker. Michelle totally read my mind (and my taste buds) when she made this. A mixture of chocolate chip cookie, with gooey caramel, and a hint of salt. So yummy. I managed to make 2 batches so I we can have more to give away. Because this is a treat that must be shared. Hubby even asked if we had enough to give away at his work.

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. (about 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 ounces caramel squares, unwrappd
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
Fleur de Sel for sprinkling

1) Preheat oven to 325 deg F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan. Set aside.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3) In a bowl of an electric mixer, mix together melted butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract and continue mixing until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

4) In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine caramels and heavy cream. Microwave on high in 20 second increments, stirring often, until caramel is melted. This may take up to 2 minutes.

5) Press half of the cookie dough onto prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Pour hot caramel over cookie dough, leaving some empty spaces around the edges. Sprinkle the caramel with sea salt. Drop the remaining cookie dough in spoonfuls over the caramel and gently spread the dough with a spatula until caramel is covered. Sprinkle with more sea salt.

6) Bake for 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the pan. Cool to room temperature on a cooling rack, then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to let the caramel set. Cut into squares and serve. Store at room temperature in a air-tight container.