Google Amy's Cooking Adventures: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

Light Sesame Chicken

Let me spin you a little tale…

I’ve long wanted to make Sesame Chicken or beef or hamburger buns or really anything containing sesame seeds.  So I went on a quest to the grocery store, searching for sesame seeds.  But I didn’t know where to look for them.  And have you ever tried to find a store employee when you can’t find something?  Or when you have your children with you and it’s getting close to lunch time?  Yeah.

So I checked at every grocery store in town (twice).  I looked by the rice, by the seeds, by the nuts…I searched the store (but never asked for help – darn those elusive employees!)

Finally, probably a year later I stumbled upon the sesame seeds in the International foods section (near the rice, duh) in a little tiny jar.  Not a box, not a bag, a teeny tiny jar.  I really felt stupid, but I blame it on the packaging.

But now that I know what I’m looking for (finally) I can use sesame seeds to my hearts desire!

Light Sesame Chicken
Adapted from Alida’s Kitchen

1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup cornstarch
1 ½ lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2 inch chunks
2 tbsp white onion, diced
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 large crown broccoli, cut into florets and steamed
2 cups cooked brown rice

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tutorial: How to Make Marshmallow Fondant

When I decorate cakes for events, I usually use Marshmallow Fondant.  I use MM Fondant because it has the same smooth finish as traditional fondant but it tastes much better and is very inexpensive!

If you’ve never made or used fondant, it can be a little tricky, so I’m sharing a two-part tutorial on how to make MM fondant and then how to decorate with it.

Today I’ll share how to make the fondant and next week will be how to use it.  Enjoy!

Recipe Notes:
*You’ll notice I’ve put some brand names in the ingredient list.  Based on experience, I suggest dishing out the extra dollars for high quality ingredients.
*If your fondant has little lumps of powdered sugar, try letting the fondant rest overnight.  Most of the lumps should dissolve.  If the problem persists, try switching powdered sugar brands in the future or pre-sifting the sugar.

Marshmallow Fondant 

16 oz Jet Puffed Marshmallows
32 oz (2lbs) powdered sugar
2 tbsp water
Crisco Vegetable Shortening

Place the marshmallows and water in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave for 60 seconds and stir.

Microwave for another 30 seconds and stir.

Microwave for another 30 seconds and stir (see a theme here?)

Keep microwaving in 30 second increments until the marshmallows are completely smooth.  Don’t go any higher than 30 seconds (after the first time).  You don’t want burnt marshmallows!

Meanwhile, apply a thick coating of Crisco directly onto the countertop to prevent sticking.

Once the marshmallows are completely smooth, pour in about three quarters of the powdered sugar (about 6 cups, but really there’s no need to measure, just eyeball it.)

Stir a bit, then turn it out onto the greased counter.  

At this time, you’ll also want to put a thick layer of Crisco on your hands – don’t forget the backs & in between the fingers – this stuff is sticky!
  I also like to have an additional blob of Crisco on the counter nearby, so I can easily reapply as necessary.

Start kneading the powdered sugar into the melted marshmallows, just like kneading bread dough.  As you knead, slowly add in the last bit of powdered sugar.   The fondant will still be a bit tacky.  You’ll know you’ve reached the right consistency when you can stretch the fondant without if cracking or breaking but you no longer need to reapply copious amounts of Crisco to your hands. 

Be careful not to add too much sugar, you don’t want it to get dry!  Note: I rarely use the entire 32 oz of powdered sugar.  You will need more or less depending on how fresh the marshmallows are, how much water was added to the marshmallows, and the humidity in the air.

While you take time to clean off the counter, cover the fondant with a layer of Crisco, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then place in a zipper bag.  This is also how you’ll store any excess fondant.  I usually wrap my fondant for just a couple minutes while I clean up the counter.  I like to have a clean surface as I begin tinting and rolling the fondant.

I like to add my color in at this point while the fondant is still warm and pliable, but after my work surface is clean.  Be sure to use a gel food coloring, such as Wilton (check your local craft store gel food colors).  

Take a bit of food coloring out of the container with a clean toothpick (use a fresh toothpick each time).  Start with a little food coloring and gradually add more.  Remember: you can always go darker, you can’t go lighter.  If I am trying to make a specific color (especially if I need to mix a couple colors together), I start with a marble sized bit of fondant and practice.  This way, if I make the wrong color, I haven’t ruined a whole batch of fondant.

Add the food coloring to the fondant, fold it over, and start kneading again.  Add a light dusting of powdered sugar to the work surface to prevent sticking.  

If you want a fun marbled effect, only knead it a little bit and then roll it out.

Otherwise, knead until the color is uniformly distributed throughout the fondant. 

At this point, the fondant can be covered with a layer of Crisco and wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and placed in a zipper bag until ready to use.  Note that colors (especially reds and other dark colors) may deepen as the fondant rests.  The fondant can be rolled out and use right away or will save for weeks as long as it wrapped tightly and stored in a darkened place.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sweet Balsamic Pulled Pork

I love a good, versatile recipe and pulled pork is one of those recipes that can be transformed into just about anything.  Sweet Balsamic Pulled Pork is tender, flavorful, and delicious all on its own, but paired with other ingredients, it becomes a completely different meal.  

We ate this pulled pork as sandwiches (on homemade rolls), as wraps (spinach tortilla, glaze, avocado, ranch, & spinach), and as nachos (blue chips, kidney beans, cheese, and salsa).  The possibilities are endless and each is just as delicious as the last.

Sweet Balsamic Pulled Pork
Adapted slightly from Steph’s Bite by Bite

1 ½ - 2 lbs pork roast (or pork loin roast)
1 ½ tsp ground sage
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp black pepper
3 tsp garlic powder
½ cup water
1/3 cup Coca Cola (or equivalent)

½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Double Chocolate Brownie Pancakes

You know what I like?  A pancake that tastes decadent and dessert-like but is actually pretty healthy!  Instead of brownie mix, these pancakes get their rich, chocolaty color and flavor from cocoa powder and just a handful of dark chocolate chips.  And most of the sweetness comes from mashed bananas and honey.  And please don’t forget the whole wheat flour! 

With of the delicious natural sweetness, I topped my pancakes with a handful of berries instead of syrup (though the boys, as always, liked a drizzle of syrup on theirs).  Take a bite and imagine you’re eating brownies for breakfast…mmmmm…

Double Chocolate Brownie Pancakes
An Amy’s Cooking Adventures Original Recipe

1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 ½ cups lowfat milk
½ tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 tbsp honey
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
Mixed berries, fresh or thawed frozen
Maple syrup

Monday, April 23, 2012

Avocado Chicken Salad

I love avocados.  Avocados are most definitely my favorite fregetable (I just made that up because really, it is a fruit or a vegetable?  It’s the fruit of the plant, but we use it like a vegetable.  Baffling.)

Avocado, as it so happens, is the perfect vessel for an elegant chicken salad lunch.  Serve this at your next luncheon or anytime you just want to treat yourself!

Recipe Notes:
*I used leftover chicken from chicken & dumpling soup.  Experiment using leftover baked chicken or store bought rotisserie chicken.

Avocado Chicken Salad
An Amy’s Cooking Adventures Original Recipe

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
½ cup miracle whip
¼ cup sour cream
2 tbsp ranch dressing
2 tbsp white onion, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
Salt & pepper
2 whole avocados, sliced in half, pits removed

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fuzzy Navel Cake

My good friend recently contacted me to bake an elegant, Tiffany-style cake for her sister’s bridal shower.  Since the shower was adults only, we decided to have some fun and do a cake based off of a Fuzzy Navel Drink.

I am not a huge Fuzzy Navel fan, but I could not get enough of this cake!  The peach and orange flavors of the cake are mirrored in the butter cream, creating a marvelous combination of flavors.

Fuzzy Navel Cake
Adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor

1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 package vanilla instant pudding
¾ cup peach schnapps
½ cup canola oil
½ cup orange juice
4 large eggs
½ tsp orange extract

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grilled Asparagus

Have you tried grilled asparagus yet?  Grilled is my absolute favorite way to eat asparagus.  The grilling process cooks the asparagus very quickly (in the time that most meat needs to rest before consuming) and adds this amazing bit of char that is just perfect.  The asparagus is dressed very simply in a drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper, proving again that sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Grilled Asparagus
Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes

1 lb asparagus, ends removed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Crispy Oven Baked Fries

Like most children, my boys love fast food French Fries.  And let’s be honest here: I love French Fries, too.  What I don’t love is all of the oil.  I’ve tried to make baked fries before, but the often come out mushy and disappointing.  So after several trials and lot of potatoes later, here are the keys to nice Crispy Oven Baked Fries:

1.      Slice thin.  They don’t have to be matchsticks, but you don’t want wedges either.
2.    Soak in salted water for at least 1 hour.  This will release a lot of the starch.
3.    Pat the fries dry or the corn starch will turn to paste instead of adhering
4.    Bake on a cooling rack. This allows more air to get around the fries with an added bonus of no flipping!  Just be sure that there is space between the fries, too, or you’re right back to soggy.

Follow these steps and you’re on your way to the crispiest baked fries you’ve tasted!

Recipe Notes:
*My favorite potatoes are large red potatoes, but to get a long, elegant fry, use a russet potato.
*If you are in a rush, bake your frozen fries using the same method – result: no flipping and crispy fries!
*Add your favorite herbs and spices when you add the olive oil!
*You can peel the potatoes, if you’d like, but my family eats the fries with those nutritious skins, so I don’t.

Crispy Oven Baked Fries
An Amy’s Cooking Adventures Original Recipe

1 large baking potato
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt

Monday, April 16, 2012

Soft Pretzels

Today’s pretzel recipe is a Secret Recipe Club Recipe!  If you are unfamiliar, SRC is a monthly challenge in which participants secretly recreate a recipe from their assigned blog.

Secret Recipe Club

This month, I was assigned Karen’s blog, Karen Cooks.  Karen is a Midwesterner, like myself, so I felt a certain kinship with her, even though she is much more likely to cook with wild game than I am (if you know a hunter check out her blog!)

Karen is also a baker, so I was immediately drawn to all of her delicious baked goods!   So when it came time to choose a recipe, I chose her soft pretzels.  The reason for choosing this recipe was twofold.  First the pretzels looked amazing!  And second, pretzels were also on my 30x30 list!

Can I tell you how thrilled I am that I made these pretzels?  They were Ah-Mazing!

And though the pretzels were simply amazing on their own, I was also compelled to take it to the next level and stuff these pretzels.  Pizza Stuffed Pretzels = the best.  My family ate this whole batch of pretzels and skipped dinner.  They’re that good.

Soft Pretzels
Recipe from Karen Cooks

Soda Wash
½ cup warm water
2 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp sugar
2 tsp yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
½ tsp salt
2 ½ cups all purpose flour

Toppings (optional)
3 tbsp salted butter, melted
Kosher salt
Garlic powder
Italian herbs
Parmesan cheese, grated

Pizza sauce

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Modern Circle Cake

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a cake.  I’ve been making cakes, but I’ve been busy posting other delicious treats and the cakes have fallen by the way side.  So, until I’m all caught up, Saturdays are going to feature some beautiful cakes!

This first one was made back in October for a little girl’s 1st birthday!  My friend wanted something modern for her little diva.  Her party colors were pale pink, white, and a smidge of purple.  We decided on a modern polka dot cake that I dubbed the Modern Circle Cake.  It was perfect for this little diva’s birthday party!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tortellini & Spinach Sauté

The season of Lent ended last week with the celebration of Easter.  So also ended my Catholic obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays.  But can I tell you a secret?  I’ve come to enjoy Vegetarian Fridays, so I thought I’d keep it up for a while longer.

So today’s first non-Lent Vegetarian Friday is a delicious Tortellini and Spinach Sauté.  This is one of those beautiful recipes that on the table in less than 20 minutes.  The tortellini is tossed with mushrooms and spinach and dressed in a light sauce of olive oil and parmesan cheese.  Delicious!

Tortellini & Spinach Sauté
An Amy’s Cooking Adventures Original Recipe

9 oz whole wheat three cheese tortellini
1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4 oz baby spinach
Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ham & Bean Soup

Bean soup is one of my favorite comfort foods.  And if you remember to save the bone and drippings from a baked ham, it is also a very inexpensive and filling meal.  A ham bone and drippings add a beautiful punch of flavor that powdered mixes simple cannot replicate.  This recipe is simple but ooh so good!

Recipe Notes:
*In this recipe, I used a bag of beans labeled “16 Bean Soup Starter”.  These are sometimes also sold as “Calico Beans” or “13 Bean Soup Starter”.
*Many bag of beans come with a little packet of “ham flavoring”. NO. Just throw if out, this is what the ham bone & dripping is for.

Ham & Bean Soup
Recipe from my Mom

1 lb dried beans (see Recipe Note)
Ham Bone & Ham Drippings reserved from Baked Ham
1 small onion, diced

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches

How was your Easter?  Did you stuff yourself with Easter candy?  How about ham?

If you have a ton of that ham left, I am here to help you with a recipe that is so delicious, you will be looking for more ham!

The key to the Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich is the sauce that’s brushed over the top.  The sauce elevates the humble Hot Ham & Cheese to a whole new level that will leave your taste buds shouting for more!

Recipe Notes:
*Use mini rolls to make double the amount of appetizer sized sliders instead of sandwiches.
*I used leftover Raspberry Glazed Ham for these sandwiches, but you can use deli ham, if leftover ham is not available.
*I also highly recommend using homemade dinner rolls.  My grandma’s recipe is a great starting point if you’re not yet a baker.

Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches

2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp yellow mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tbsp dried minced onions
½ tbsp poppy seeds

2 tbsp Miracle Whip
2 tbsp Mayo with Olive Oil
8 dinner rolls, sliced
8 slices (5-6 oz) Baby Swiss cheese



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