Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Autumn is Here! Caramel Apple Cake

  Here's the recipe that practically defines what a perfect autumn cake should taste like--in my opinion.  The name says it all.  Caramel. Apple. Cake.  Honestly friends, this cake is one of  the very best cakes I've ever had! For a minute, just imagine with me what a homemade spice cake with freshly sweetened Jonathan apples and a smooth, ridiculously rich caramel frosting that pools at the bottom of the cake that is topped with toasted southern pecans would taste like! 

     The cake recipe is one that came from Heath's Nana and is a delicious no-fail cake that's made with the season's best apple, Jonathan.  It's usually made as a sheet cake with a cream cheese frosting, but I have been wanting to make my own version.  I just loved the idea of an apple cake with caramel frosting.  Apples and caramel have been the perfect fall pairing for as long as hayrides and festivals have been around.  So, I just though why not put them together in a cake that's so sinfully good it would satisfy any one's sweet tooth!

   Caramel Apple Cake would be perfect for an autumn birthday or even a new tradition at the Thanksgiving dessert table!  Try it, and I have no doubt you will agree it will be a recipe to share! 

Caramel Apple Cake
3 c. apples, chopped fine
1 1/2 c. sugar (Sprinkle over apples, set 15 minutes.)
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter (1 stick), melted
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. toasted pecans

Mix all ingredients together by hand.  Pour into 2 8 in. plans that have been greased and floured.  Bake at 350 degrees for 26-30 minutes.  Allow the cakes to cool and frost with homemade caramel frosting.  Decorate with toasted pecans.

Caramel Frosting
 1/2 c. butter, (1 stick)
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/3 c. heavy cream, or more as necessary
1 16 oz. box confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in brown sugar and cream.  Bring to a boil and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer until everything is creamed together well.  If the frosting is to thick, just add a bit of cream.  This frosting is very thick and rich, and once spread on the cake will actually smooth itself out for an beautiful finish.  Ice the cake once the frosting is cooled about 15-20 minutes, and re stir it before putting on the cake.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creamy Potato and Corn Chowder

   As you may be finding out, I love to cook food that speaks of the season.  When the weather starts to cool off after a very long, hot summer I am practically grabbing at the opportunity to begin my fall meals.  I have been craving potato soup recently, but I wanted to make it with a twist.  This recipe was inspired by my love of potato soup, and the fact that I had some beautiful freshly frozen garden corn that I bought at a local farmer's market store.  So, I decided to do a take on creamy potato soup and rich corn chowder!  It was delicious! 

   The way I start most of my soups is with the aromatic of onion.  I usually saute with olive oil and in this case a little butter for richness and help the "roux" like base to come together. You can add whatever you else you like, like garlic or celery if you want. I will probably add some minced garlic the next time. Cooking is all about satifying your own taste, just make sure you practice before serving your guests the final recipe!  This recipe is written out rather casually because I didn't really measure any ingredients.  Like I said, use your Cook's intuition to help you out! This beautiful Creamy Potato and Corn Soup is delicious as summer takes a bow out to introduce my favorite season, Autumn!  (Better yet, enjoy eating this with a blanket and a movie!)

Creamy Potato and Corn Chowder

Chop about 4 medium sized potatoes into chunks. (I used red potatoes because that's what the farmer's market had, but you could use russets as well.) Dice about half of a sweet onion and 3 carrots into about the same size.  Pour some olive oil and a couple pats of butter into a dutch oven set on medium.  Once the butter melts, drop the carrots in and let begin to get soft, then add the onion. Salt and pepper a bit.  I like for these veggies to get very soft before the next step.  Then you will take enough flour to stir into the butter and oil to make almost a paste.  Stir this for a minute to get the bitter flour taste out.  The flour is a thickener for the soup.
 Once this is done, add about 2 cans of reduced sodium chicken broth and stir to break up the roux while scraping the yummy bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the potatoes and frozen corn and bring to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, I turn down the heat a bit until the potatoes get tender.  They will soak up some of the yummy chicken broth flavors.
Once the potatoes are tender, add milk (I only keep skim milk, but 2% would make it even creamier) and if you want add a bit of cream for an even silky texture.  I didn't feel like mine needed any (not to mention we are trying to cut back on fat a little bit)! Then I add a good portion of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and dried thyme.  Fresh thyme would be amazing if you have some!  This goes so well with the potato and corn flavors.  Simmer together for a few minutes and ladle into bowls.  I served this with chedder garlic biscuits, and it was a match made in heaven.  Even just buttered bread would be dreamy!

Grocery List:
Red or Russet Potatoes
Frozen or Fresh Corn
Garlic (Optional)
Olice Oil
Chicken Broth or Stock
Cream (optional)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peanut Brittle Topped Peanut Butter & Caramelized Banana Cream Pie

   Ok, so I'm on a bit of a dessert kick this summer!  I probably have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I know (other than my husband), and I find baking so much fun and easy to share with you.  I mean, you can't have enough dessert recipes, right??  Here's a recipe that I was inspired to make after watching a yummy episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown on the Food Network.  The challenge was banana cream pie, and both Bobby and the competitor's looked A-mazing!!  I have never even thought about making a banana cream pie -- and honestly it's never been a favorite of mine -- until I saw these recipes.  I decided to combine them and make my own divine version of Peanut Brittle Topped Peanut Butter & Caramelized Banana Cream Pie!

I have to start off by saying that this pie is quite a process to make.  It's a pie that you may not always have all of the ingredients on hand (like cream cheese, a box of vanilla wafers, and heavy whipping cream...oh, and make sure you have 6 eggs) so you will need to plan ahead when making this.  Also, there are several steps, that include several hours of refrigeration, so you may want to make the filling the night before or first thing in the morning in order to actually slice and eat the pie the same day.  Trust me, all of this preparation is well worth the wait!

The beauty of this delicious pie is in the layers.  The first being the homemade vanilla wafer crust, then some the layers of fresh banana slices that are overlapping right on top of the crust.  The next layer is "the" layer of caramelized banana custard that you have slaved over the stove top to prepare.  This dreamy, creamy layer is what truly makes this pie the banana goodness that it is.  The next layer of the peanut butter whipped cream/icing that makes this banana cream pie unique and rich tasting. The peanut butter tastes SO good with the banana flavor in the pie. (This is something I love so much I may add it to other pies or cakes!) The final layer, my personal contribution to the pie, is crushed peanut brittle all over the top to add a crunch that pairs perfectly with all of the creaminess!  Try this pie for a special occasion and you'll be glad I shared it with you!

Peanut Brittle Topped Peanut Butter & Caramelized Banana Cream Pie

*The Crust
3/4 of one box of Vanilla Wafers, crushed
1 stick of butter, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar

Combine together in a bowl until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture looks like wet sand.  Pour in a large pie plate, and push down and around with the bottom of a flat glass or measuring cup. Or, you can  do what I did and press down with a slightly smaller pie plate to quickly and evenly spread the mixture in the pie plate and up the sides!  Then bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

*The Caramelized Banana Filling
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 ounces cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup cold heavy cream
Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is melted and the mixture is caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add the bananas and cook until bananas start to break down, and caramelize on both sides. Add 2 cups of the milk, bring to simmer and scrape the bottom and sides of pan and carefully transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth; bring to a simmer.

In a bowl whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together until combined. Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk this mixture into the banana mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 4 minutes.Whisk together the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar and yolks in a small bowl until smooth. Ladle some of the thickened mixture into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Pour the yolk mixture into the pot and cook until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes, WHISKING THE ENTIRE TIME. Once the mixture has thickened let it come to a boil for exactly 1 minute, whisking a few times. Remove from the heat,wisk in the vanilla and strain through a coarse mesh strainer into a bowl.

Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours. Once pudding is set, whip the custard in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment on high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the heavy cream and whip until light and fluffy, about 20 seconds longer.

Transfer the filling into your cooled pie shell. Place plastic on top and let chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 

*Peanut Butter Whipped Icing
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. creamy peanut butter (do not use freshly ground)
2/3 c. chilled heavy whipping cream
Peanut Brittle, coarsely chopped

In a large mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese, and powdered sugar until creamed.  Add the vanilla extract and whip in.  Next, add the peanut butter and mix together well.
In a separate medium mixing bowl, beat the heavy whipping cream on high, until firm peaks form.  Once you have made the whipped cream, gradually add it to the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture, folding it in.  Be careful to not stir this together too roughly, because you want to maintain the integrity of the whipped cream in the topping.
You will spread this evenly over the top of the filling in the pie pan.  Top with as much crushed peanut brittle as you like!