Sunday, April 22, 2012

Avo Ana's Carrot Cake

I absolutely love when food can take you back to an awesome memory, time and place. Food not only has the incredible ability to bring people together it can also make the least creative person feel like an artist standing in their kitchen sprinkling spices and adding a dash of this and that. For me this cake, in its sheer simplicity and warmness speaks to the first quality. The smell of it coming out of the oven, and sneaking a taste of the icing takes me back to walking into Avo Ana's house on Sundays. The pyrex sitting on the table with its plastic wrap carefully covering it always brought a smile to my face. Every Sunday my family would alternate between my grandparents houses for brunch and without a doubt, no matter what the menu, this carrot cake was always a staple when dessert came out.

It's different than your typical carrot cake recipe in that it requires only carrot and no raisins or the like. Maybe it's because I've always been partial to this cake, but I haven't found a carrot cake I like more. Its simplicity allows the flavor of cinnamon and carrot coupled with the cream cheese icing to really stand out. While this one may be simple in its ingredients and method, it is far from basic or bland when it hits your fork. Its warm, dense texture is the epitome of comfort food and the icing is INCREDIBLE. This is a prized and valued recipe in my house, and a dessert that no one can resist taking one... two... or three pieces of! From our home to yours enjoy!!

Carrot Cake (Makes 1 9" x 13" Cake)

4 eggs
2 cups of white sugar
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
3 cups of grated carrot
1 cup of oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
Beat the eggs with sugar in a large bowl
Gradually add the flour and then the cinnamon
Add the shredded carrot and oil and mix until combined
Bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees F

I have made this cake using a variety of methods. Before my amazing Mom gave me this food processor (I was going through a rough time and this was an awesome gift that brought me into the kitchen again and got my spirits up!) I would use a hand grater and grate each carrot. I've also chopped the carrot into thin, fine pieces. By far the best option if you have it, is the food processor! If you don't have one, don't despair, a hand grater is a great alternative!

I halved the recipe in the above picture. Notes on baking this volume can be found at the end of the post

Cream Cheese Icing
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 cups of sifted icing sugar
1 tspn of salt

Combine all ingredients in a mixer and mix until the texture is fluffy and cohesive. It should not be thin or runny.
As a side note, salt & I are in a love hate relationship concerning this icing. It seems that whenever my Mom makes it, it works out perfectly, however it's always either too salty or not salty enough for me when I make it. Be especially careful if using non-dairy cream cheese to keep the icing pareve. The salt absorbs differently than with dairy cream cheese leaving a slightly grainy texture if too much is added or if it isn't mixed well. Start by adding a quarter teaspoon and gradually increase depending on your taste.

Good to Know...

This recipe is also great made as muffins with a tablespoon of icing on each. I often make in it my mini muffin pan and snack on them throughout the week. Adjust the baking time depending on the size and quantity of your batch. Store the icing in a tupperware in the fridge and ice cupcakes as needed.

The recipe is easily doubled or halved! It comes out just as great! I find that after halving it, it bakes best at 25 degrees lower (350) for approximately 30 minutes. I bake this cake in a pyrex dish, you may need to adjust the temperature or time depending on your dish.

The icing can be made either dairy or pareve. Non-Dairy cream cheese tends to be a little thinner than it's dairy counterpart, so I add a bit more confectioners sugar to the mix

Keep the cake covered and in the fridge when not serving

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chocolate Cream Filled Cupcakes

It's me again! With all the packing then unpacking, moving and cooking for the holidays I barely had time to sleep never mind blog. This week has been drastically different. All of the essentials for my apartment have been bought (or at least until I remember what I'm missing... again), groceries are done and everything is unpacked and in place. On top of that M has exams this week, so I've spent the week being super quiet in order not to disturb any studying and besides job hunting have been pouring over all of my favorite baking blogs and Pinterest! It's a tough life ;)

This year hasn't been the easiest. M's put a lot on the line with school to make sure he was there throughout my grandmother's entire illness, whether it meant rescheduling or missing exams and deadlines or taking time from studying to support my whole family. He's a pretty spectacular person. So I wanted to do something special for him with his last exam happening today! So after searching through my go to baking blog queens and Pinterest I discovered the perfect treat!...

M absolutely loves Hostess cupcakes. Whether it's at a convenience store, spotted while grocery shopping or a stop on one of our crazy adventures the distinctive cupcake with its twirls (or sprinkles or icing...) always seems to draw him in. For dinner I made a sloppy joe type sandwich on fresh Challah bread I had baked - a special request I was super happy to fulfill since it entailed very little work and time and left me with more than enough opportunity to work on these cupcakes.

My usual prerequisites for any recipe involve them being quick, no mess and no fuss. This was NOT even close to being any of those. It involved four steps, three bowls, a sauce pan, piping bag and so much more! For M it was worth the exception to my rule!

I looked up a bunch of cream filled recipes but either didn't have the ingredients required by all of them (or the patience...). So in the end I merged three recipes! You have to try this recipe, yes YOU! It makes you feel like you're some awesome baker, worthy of having a blog and showing off your baked goods (even if the twirls are a little... off). It was super hard to keep quiet while M was working on an online exam, when all I wanted to do was celebrate every mini cupcake!

Below I've included the entire recipe that I used; each of the steps, as well as links back to the original sources. It wouldn't be an Itsy Bitsy Balebusta recipe if it didn't include a hint of generations past, and somehow my grandmothers and mother's recipes always play into what I'm working on. It turned out that I didn't have all of the ingredients necessary for the ganache portion of the recipe so I opted to use Avo Lina's chocolate icing from her coconut cake (one of my first posts!). Once again, one of the epic ladies in my family to the rescue!

Good luck, be patient, have fun and as always enjoy!!

Chocolate Cream Filled Cupcakes (36 mini cupcakes)

As per the absolutely awesome Can't Stop Baking blog I used Hershey's recipe for "Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake"

I baked this recipe as mini cupcakes (originally I bought the cupcake pan and everything to make full sized cupcakes, but forgot to buy the liners. Yup. Luckily I had the mini cupcake liners at home and made a quick change). I filled each one 2/3 full (one tablespoon worth of batter) and baked them at 350 degrees F for 16 minutes.

For the Cream I used a variation of Can't Stop Baking's Filling

4 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 pinch of salt
3 tablespoons soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat for 5 minutes on high speed. I stopped every few minutes to check the consistency (and to cheat and have a little taste y'know to make sure it was working out well...). You can find another amazing recipe for filling at the blog What Megan's Making, where I got the inspiration to try this recipe out! I initially was going to make this filling but didn't have the necessary ingredients when it came time to get baking. I was super happy with what I opted for in the end, but would still love to try out Megan's filling at some point when I'm ready for another marathon recipe. Once it was the correct consistency and the cupcakes had, had twenty minutes to cool, I used a spatula and put the cream into a piping bag! Using a small star tip, I made a hole in the center of each cupcake and twisting the top of the bag with my right hand and applying pressure with my left hand, I piped cream into the cupcake counting to five slowly until it started to come out of the top and the cupcake had puffed out. It was a lot easier than I was expecting and not messy at all! It made me feel like a legit food blogger! Try it.

Finally for the chocolate ganache/icing I used my grandmother, Avo Lina's chocolate frosting recipe

1 cup of sugar
3-4 tbspns soy milk
3 tbspns cocoa
1-2 tsp butter
(I also added a handful of chocolate chips to add some texture and make it a bit more chocolate-y)

I placed all of the ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat for 3 minutes constantly stirring
Allow it to sit for a minute once you remove it from the stove to cool down. You don't want the hot frosting on the cupcakes, it will get runny and mess with your cream filling and create a huge mess in general. The extra time spent holding back will pay off in the end! Just be careful not to wait too long, the icing starts to harden and when you mix it there are weird clumps from the hardened layer mixed in so keep an eye on it. 
I started by dipping the cupcakes into the frosting but progressed to using a teaspoon measuring spoon to pour frosting overtop then using the back of the spoon to smooth it out.

*Update 06/21/12 I made these again yesterday, and tried out a different chocolate ganache. I used a variation of the wonderful Annie's Eats, ganache that she used on her Fauxstess Cupcakes:

1/2 cup nutriwhip (pareve dessert topping)
5 tbsp chocolate chips (you can add more or less, depending on how chocolate-y and creamy you'd like it! Since nutriwhip has an already sweet creamy taste, I put a little less chocolate than called for - apparently there's a first time for everything!)

Finally I took the remaining cream in the piping bag and slowly piped the twirls onto the cupcake. (Straight line, loop, line, loop, line). A few proved difficult but after the tenth I started to get the hang of it! 

These take quite a bit of work but the result is totally worth it. Really for M anything's worth it and after he had a couple and was still smiling and super impressed I felt like I had hit the jackpot!

Hope you enjoy making them and showing them off! And to M, I'm SO proud of you!! You're awesome!! Here's to many more successes, celebrations & cupcakes! :) 

Apple Cranberry Pie

In keeping with the "is it dessert or is it a side?" controversy from a few posts back, I have decided to add this recipe to the mix! The first time I saw it served during a dinner I was pretty confused. I couldn't figure out how exactly it fit in with a main course... until I tried it! Next to roasted chicken, salad and all the trimmings this is the perfect addition. It's incredibly simple to make - we're talking all of fifteen minutes prep and barely any mess, therefore totally awesome! Not to mention there are very few ingredients, which are more often than not already in your kitchen.

This is best served warm and don't worry if it's a little messy to cut and serve! The crumble on top helps to add some sort of structure to the dish but the mix of cranberry sauce and baked apples means tasty messiness!

I've only ever baked this in a pie dish but it would also work really well in individual ramekins for dessert.

Apple Cranberry Pie
1 cup of flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 cup of melted margarine or 1 cup of oil
2 granny smith apples
1 can of cranberry sauce (whole works better)

For the topping, combine flour, brown sugar and oats in a large bowl 
Use the melted margarine or enough oil to bind everything together, pouring it over the mixture and using either a rubber spatula or your hands to combine the ingredients until they are cohesive and a  wet/dark brown mixture.

For the filling, slice 2 granny smith apples and lay then in a circular fashion in the dish
Cover the apples with cranberry sauce, spreading the cranberry to cover all the apples and fill in the gaps

Top the apple and cranberry with the oat mixture 

Place in oven for 50 minutes at 350 degrees


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Honey Garlic Chicken

I'm back! The past few weeks have put being a Balebusta to the test (even more than an oven without any temperature controls ever had!). I prepared my first Passover, a feat in and of itself. Twelve full holiday meals, only three doubles on the menu (too good not to repeat right away, posts coming soon!) and individual desserts geared toward each meal. Yup, I did that! Oh and did I mention that I did that after packing up my entire apartment and moving five hours away from home in the span of two weeks? At first I felt crazy, tired and exhausted beyond belief, now I feel like I'm earning my Superhero Balebusta title every minute! Couldn't have done it without M, basically the most super awesome guy in the universe! We decided to do this crazy life changing adventure together and as he drove the U-Haul five hours across the highway, I had plenty of menu planning time (which meant my cookbooks and printed e-mails from an awesome friend scattered throughout the front seat while I furiously wrote out notes and grocery lists).

One of the main things I took into consideration while menu planning (while also taking into account Passover restrictions and guides) was the availability of food items and the time necessary to prepare each meal. Basically cooking for Passover entails not using any wheat, rye, oats, barely or spelt, as well as rice, legumes or beans. Since I started keeping kosher and celebrating Passover, I've only ever gone to other people's houses for meals, I've never really had to prepare anything on my own. I was slightly worried that we'd arrive and go grocery shopping three days before the holiday to find all the kosher for passover ingredients and substitutions wiped off of store shelves. Luckily enough, the stores were still stocked 72 hours before we were set to sit down for our first meal! After two days of unpacking and a return trip home to pick up the car, we headed out to the grocery store and faced the mobs.

I knew it would be incredibly expensive and unintelligent to rely on items specifically marked for Passover three days before the holiday when most people start shopping weeks ahead of time. I opted to go for a menu that was focused on items always readily available (vegetables, fruits, chicken, ground beef, fish). Seeing as how Passover is over now and recipes pertaining to it are great when you can't have any flour or legumes but a little lacking when you can, I thought I'd post a chicken recipe that came out great!

It has all the features that make it a winner in my book; the ingredients are all pretty typical items that can be found in your pantry and fridge, it doesn't take very long to prep at all and it involves using one measuring cup and measuring utensils so clean up is basically non-existent! It's a great option for a quick weekday dinner and it can definitely hold it's own for a holiday or dinner party as well! It's a variation on a recipe in my current favorite cookbook Netivot HaTorah's "Gatherings" You don't have to cook kosher to appreciate how incredible this cookbook is, from the peanut butter mousse cake, avocado chicken salad and so on, it's a staple in my kitchen!!

Honey Garlic Chicken (my own variation of "Gatherings" Netivot HaTorah, page 141 'Honey-Garlic Wings')

2 Chicken thighs
1 teaspoon of pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon of chicken soup base

1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce (for Passover I used a "Stir Fry" Sauce)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons of minced garlic

Place the chicken thighs in an oven safe dish
Pour the half cup of water into the dish
Sprinkle the chicken soup base in the dish around the chicken (I usually bake my chicken using this water/chicken soup base method. I find that it leaves the chicken very tender and moist)
In a small bowl combine the garlic powder and pepper
Sprinkle the garlic powder mix over the chicken and rub in
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F

*Here's a super helpful hint that I learned from Gatherings, "When preparing poultry that has sugar in the sauce, cook the chicken first and then add the sauce and continue cooking" (page 141).

In a small bowl combine the honey, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and minced garlic
Pour over the chicken once removed from the oven
Return dish to the oven and bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, turn it over and bake for an additional 15 minutes

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled and initially was meant to be used over chicken wings! The possibilities for the sauce alone are unending! Enjoy!!

P.S. I couldn't resist, here's a link to the cookbook if you want to take a look!