Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chocolate Cranberry Cake

I know that Thanksgiving is a pie holiday, but frankly I just didn't have the patience to make a pie.  I wanted something quick, yummy, and with some element of Thanksgiving in it.  My Mom has been buying these chocolate covered goji berries recently and I really wanted to capture that lovely tart meets sweet element in a cake with cranberries instead of goji berries.  I was happy to see there were many options on the internet for cranberry chocolate cakes.  I decided to go with this recipe since it didn't call for milk and a certain someone in my life can't do the whole milk thing.  If you want to go ahead and make this cake 100% dairy free you can swap out coconut oil for the butter.
I made this cake for my Church Young Adult Group Thanksgiving potluck this weekend.  We feasted on exceptional food and enjoyed each others company.  I sure do love all the get together's that happen during the Holiday season. : )  This cake was a big hit and I was barely able to sneak away an extra piece for my Monday lunch dessert...sure glad I did though because the cake tastes even better today!

Chocolate Cranberry Cake with Chocolate Glaze

Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook New Classics
Makes 1 8-inch cake
1 1/2 cups flour (you can use all white, or half whole-wheat pastry and half white)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola, safflower, or vegetable oil
1 cup chilled brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 cup cranberries tossed with 2 tablespoons sugar
Chocolate Icing (recipe follows)
Preheat over to 375°F. Oil an 8-inch cake pan, then dust with cocoa powder - not flour. 
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Whisk together to break up any clumps in the cocoa.
In a second medium bowl, combine the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together until smooth. Stir in the cranberries.
Add the vinegar and stir – you’ll see light swirls of fizz form as the vinegar and baking soda react. Immediately, pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Take the cake out of the oven and cool 15 minutes then Remove from pan.  When cool, frost with the chocolate glaze.
6 ounce(s) quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 stick(s) (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon(s) light corn syrup
1 tablespoon(s) orange liqueur or dark rum


Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dairy Free Zuppa Toscana Soup

I rarely eat at Olive Garden, but when I do - I order Zuppa Toscana.

Isn't that such a fun name to say?  "Zuppa Toscana" this translates into "Tuscany Soup"

The cold weather is finally here.  It arrived last night.  I got home from work and all I wanted to do was make soup.  So I made the world's fastest chicken was fast.  Now I want to plan my weekly schedule around when I can make soup.  Soup is good, it is true, and it is beautiful.  I think I love the cold weather solely because I get to make and eat more soup.

I try not to eat dairy, and some of my people don't eat dairy either - so I made this dairy free by using coconut milk instead of heavy cream/milk.  If you love dairy and can eat it by all means use heavy cream/milk/ or half and half.

Zuppa Toscana

1 pound ground Italian Sausage
1 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 slices bacon chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 TBS minced garlic
64 ounces chicken broth
8 small red potatoes sliced in half, then sliced thin
1 cup canned coconut milk
1 Large bunch of Kale - cleaned, stems removed, and chopped

In large stock pot cook the Italian sausage and chili flakes until browned and no longer pink.  Remove from pan, drain, and set aside.  Cook the bacon in the same pan until crisp.  Drain off some of the fat - not all of it!  Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes of medium/high heat - stirring every once in a while.

Pour the broth over the bacon/onion bring to a boil.  Add the potatoes and boil until tender.  Reduce heat and add in the coconut milk and sausage.  Add the Kale and cook for a few minutes.  I like my kale crisp so I only cook it for a minute or 2.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Down House Coffee Bar and Restaurant, Houston, TX

photo from the Down House website
This weekend was one of the first "free" weekends we had in a long time!  It was so nice to not have any plans!  We had a totally chill weekend and it was great.  We ended the weekend by going to get dinner in the Heights at this wonderful place called Down House.  For some reason all I have been craving recently was a burger, so I looked up a list of Houston's best burger places and this place popped up.  The menu caught my eye and Andrew's - so we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant itself was chill, low lighting inside, great porch outside with lovely green plants all around.  Totally a hipster feel to the whole place...which usually means good food is sure to follow. : )  We were greeted promptly by a very friendly staff and opted for porch seating since the weather was perfect!

Andrew decided to be adventurous and tried a strange cocktail that was recommended by the waiter...can't remember the name, but it had gin, and mint in it.  I took one sip and decided it tasted like Lysol.  Yuck.  Then again, I am the last person you want giving you drink recommendations since I don't really drink alcohol...pretty sure people who like Gin would like it though.   I am recently on a Ginger Beer kick, and was so happy to see they made their own Ginger Beer!  It was so light and refreshing.

Their menu had some Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean fusions, but the underlying theme was home cooked - old school - deliciousness.  We were tempted by the other menu options like these:  

  • Little Gem Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Chevre, Spicy Walnuts, Mustard Vinaigrette 
  • Fried Risotto, Butternut Squash, Crispy Okra, Grapes, Arugula, Baba Ghanoush 
  • Shrimp and Grits, Poached Gulf Shrimp, Pho Broth, Bacon, Cilantro, Green Onions, Anson Mills Grits 

We decided to stick to the plan and ordered the Lonestar Burger with a side salad and the Kimchi Burger 
with fries.

We were not disappointed.  

The Challah bun was soft and slightly sweet - they try to get their ingredients local - and the bread was from 
Slow Dough Bread Company.

The sharp white cheddar cheese was from Dairymaids.  The Heirloom tomato was thick and hearty, and the 
lettuce in my salad was so tender and light - so fresh!  The meat was cooked perfectly and the lovely meat 
juices tasted so good soaked up into the bread.

  • The Kimchi Burger was different, but good!  The best part was the perfectly cooked sunny side up egg...the waiter suggested flipping it over and cracking the yolk over the kimchi.  Yum.  The fries were nice russet potatoes, very earthy and perfectly cooked.

    We were tempted to try their bread pudding and warm chocolate chip cookies, but we had crave cupcakes waiting in the car for us.

    Overall we both really liked the restaurant and want to go back and try their brunch out.  The prices were slightly higher than other burger places, but for the high quality of the ingredients - $15/burger was definitely worth it.  The service was great, and our waiter was very helpful and you could tell he wanted us to really enjoy our dining experience.

    My favorite part was they brought us our check in a book - yes, an actual book.  Now the book choice wasn't my favorite - some weird Darwin book, but you have to love the creative idea even if you don't like the book. : )

    Nice job Down House...If I had 5 stars to give you - you would have them.  You just gained 2 new happy customers : )

    photo from the Down House website

    If you are in the Heights stop by and enjoy a delicious meal!
    1801 YALE STREET  HOUSTON, TX 77008


Friday, November 1, 2013

Pumpkin Cupcakes topped with Heath Bar Crumbles

4th Pumpkin Post in a row!  I am on a roll.

If you are batty and do not like pumpkin than I think you might be in the wrong place.

I just heard on the radio that on Halloween the average kid consumes between 3,500-7,000 calories!  Holy moley - that is sick!  My daily calorie intake is usually less than 1,300 - so to me that is insanely ridiculous!  I definitely went overboard on my calories yesterday seeing as I made these delicious cupcakes and had to eat 2 of them!  So worth it!

I celebrated Halloween last weekend with a pirate themed mystery party.  It was super fun.  I looked like a pirate and sounded Irish/Scottish/ was epic.  People kept asking me if I was Johnny Depp or Jack no...I am his distant cousin Sharktooth Brandy.  Obviously.

Me and me handsome Sea Captain : )

My niece stuck with her plan B and dressed up like the Queen of hearts.  Her costume turned out better than I thought it would...always happy when that happens.  Amazing what you can do with some safety pins, and a glue gun!  Now all we have to do is work on her posing skills : )

Do you know what the day after Halloween is?  All Saint's Day!  This is a day set aside to honor all the Saints that have gone before us.  Growing up we didn't have a tv - so instead we read piles and piles of books.  2 of my favorite books were the "sixty saints for girls" and "sixty saints for boys" books.  They were fun and easy to read.  I think I read those books a million times!!!  I looked them up on Amazon and they are out of print and mucho expensive.  As kids Saints were always described to me as being heroes.  They would always do the impossible, and always stood up for their faith.  If only I could be as brave as they were!

Today most kids look up to role models like Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber, or any Disney show character.  Personally I don't think it is good to have role models like that.  How awesome it would be if we started giving our kids good role models to look up to that have strong Faith and love as their grounding characteristics?  It would be saweet!  Anyways, I need to go find these books again and give them to my niece to read.

Cupcakes.  Oh yeah, that is what you are looking for.  I have stalled long enough...I now present to you...PUMPKIN CUPCAKES!

Pumpkin Cupcakes
barely adapted from Ina Garten

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (8 ounces), not pie filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars, for serving (2 1.4-ounce bars)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 count muffin pan or put cupcake liners into pan.
Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Divide the batter among the prepared tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.
Spread the cupcakes with the Maple Frosting and sprinkle with the chopped Heath toffee bits.

Maple Frosting

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Maple Syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Make these cupcakes, sit down with a cup of tea, and read a story about one of the Saints.  
Pray that maybe you too could have the strength and courage to be a Saint!

Eat your heart out,