Sunday, November 11, 2012
A few of you have been wondering what brands of certain foods we buy, and what qualities we look for in our non fresh foods. There are three main factors that affect whether I purchase a particular food item…is it organic, is it non-GMO, and is it void of any chemical ingredients. I do not necessarily buy all organic, for cost and availability reasons, but I do try to buy things that are not genetically modified. That is extremely important to me. But the MOST important quality I look for in our food…Is it FOOD. Meaning, is it of the earth (food), or created in a lab (scary junk).
I am not perfect, and every one in a while we do eat something that is not so nutritious ( I am a sucker for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and ice cream from the Schwan man)…but I do make sure 95% of what we put in our body is providing energy and promoting health.
Here are a few of our favorites…
Now…in this house we consume A LOT of peanut butter. I have found that Once Again makes a great product. Plus, they are an employee company and named on a bunch of “Best Organic Company” lists.
Coming in a close second is Field Day Organic Smooth Peanut Butter. Field Day is kind of the generic brand at our local Co-op. We buy a ton of products from this company.
Beans, beans, the musical fruit…Haha! Got a little side-tracked;)
Anyway…I LOVE Eden Organic! They make superior quality products, and they are based in Michigan (whoop, whoop!). I am also fond of the fact they use BPA FREE cans.
Some more Field Day Organic…
Spectrum oils and mayo are the best I have tasted. Most of them are either organic, or non-GMO.
As for tuna, we like Natural Sea. It is low in mercury, and the fish are caught sustainably.
Lily and Gabe like to have a little treat in their lunches. Nature’s Path makes great granola bars. They are organic, low in sugar and high in fiber. And they taste de-licious. We also purchase Nature's Path cereals and granolas.
Lastly (and most importantly in this girl's book), baking ingredients. My favorite brands are King Arthur Flours, Bob’s Red Mill grains and mixes, and Florida Crystals sugars.
If you are having trouble finding these products, I have discovered that you can purchase most of these brands online…Amazon and Vita Cost are good sources. Also, Eden Organic ships their products by the caseload (and offer coupons!!).
These products are not inexpensive, but they are superior quality, and I will pay for quality.
I will be posting a continuation of this post this week, including our refrigerated products.
I hope this helps those of you who are struggling in the grocery store aisles.
Friday, November 2, 2012
THE BEST Cake Ever
Every time I make this cake, someone proclaims it to be the best cake they have ever eaten. And yes, I am totally going to brag about it…haha!
This creation was born from my loathe of all those fancied up box cake recipes that are floating around. Boxed cake is yucky! If you don’t believe me…Google it…or better yet, read the ingredients (then Google those)! And if the boxed cake mix wasn’t bad enough by itself, a lot of these recipes call for adding a box of instant pudding mix…which gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it!
My goal was to make an insanely moist, delicious cake, that mimicked my favorite candy bar…the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup…and use the most natural ingredients I could find. I accomplished this by finding a chocolate cake recipe that contained whole ingredients, and helped it along by using unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur is my FAVORITE), organic sugar, real 100% cocoa, NON GMO canola oil, cage-free organic eggs, aluminum free baking powder, and pure vanilla extract.
If I haven’t convinced you to stay away from the boxed mixes for fear of the nasty chemicals, just know that this cake tastes way better than any boxed mix on the market. That should be reason enough to give it a try. Oh…and any of you single ladies (or gentleman)…I have received marriage proposals after serving this cake…even though I am already HAPPILY married;)
Now that I have rambled on about how magnificent this cake is, and the fact I may be some sort of cake genius (not really)…
Here it is…
Peanut Butter Cup Cake!
Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.
I use 2-9 inch round cake pans. Mine are Nordic Ware…you can get the exact same pans at Amazon, or I purchased mine at WalMart (but that was a few years ago, so I am not sure if they still carry them).
This cake is super sticky, so I HIGHLY recommend using parchment paper to line your pans. If you don’t…the cake will come out of the pan in chunks!
I had a tiny helper holding the pan in place while I traced.
I layered two sheets of paper, and cut them both out at the same time, to make it faster. (Preparing the pans is my least favorite part).
Next…butter and flour the sides of your pans. I like to get a bit of the bottom, near the edges, as well. You will also need to butter your parchment paper (no need to flour these).
Note: Spraying the pan with cooking spray will NOT work! Again…STICKY cake!
Set your pans aside, and it is time to prepare the cake.
I found the original recipe on Allrecipes…you can find it here.
Super Moist Chocolate Cake
1 3/4 cup flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (the higher the fat content the yummier the cake)
1/2 cup canola oil
8 oz. strong brewed coffee
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
This is an easy, fuss-free recipe. You can’t screw it up!
Combine all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Crack eggs into a small bowl (preventing shells in your mix).
Brew the coffee. (This is where my Cuisinart one cup coffee maker comes in handy.)
I add the coffee to my cold buttermilk, so it cools down and doesn’t cook the eggs.
Create a well (a big hole) in the center of your dry ingredient mixture.
Add the coffee/buttermilk mixture, oil, eggs and vanilla into the center of the dry ingredients.
Mix with a hand or stand mixer on medium speed for two minutes, scraping the bowl down as you go.
I use my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer on “6”.
Pour an even amount of batter into each pan. I totally eyeball this…but you could measure it out cup by cup. Sorry, I have never done this, so I am not sure exactly how much batter this yields. If anyone finds out and wants to post it in the “comments”, I would be grateful :-)
Bake on the center oven rack, making sure there is at least 1-2 inches of space between each pan, for 28-30 minutes. I shake my pans, and if the middle doesn’t jiggle, they’re done.
Cool on wire baking racks for 10 minutes, then flip the cakes our of the pan (and onto the rack) to cool.
Once cool, I wrap each cake in plastic wrap (3 or four times), leaving the parchment on. I then place it in the freezer on a cake board (if you don’t have one, which I am sure most of you don’t…use cardboard or cookie sheets), so the cake doesn’t break. This cake tastes way better if you let it sit in the freezer for a few days. The flavors have a chance to meld, and the texture gets better. Trust me on this. Plus…it is easier to frost when the layers are frozen.
Remove your cake from the freezer when you are ready to make the frosting and assemble.
Here is the frosting recipe…
(You will also need a handful of miniature Peanut Butter Cups for decoration.)
Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (I LOVE Skippy Natural for this)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp. heavy cream
Beat cream cheese, butter, peanut butter and vanilla until well combined and fluffy.
Scrape down the sides of
Add powdered sugar one cup at a time until well mixed.
This is where everyone will vary…Add heavy cream a tablespoon at a time, until you reach a fluffy, spreadable consistency. I used 2 tablespoons.
Your frosting should look like this.
Unwrap one of your frozen cake, and remove the parchment paper. Set flat side down (bottom) on a plate of cake stand.
Spread about one cup of frosting evenly over the first layer, until it just reaches the edge.
I like my Wilton 13 inch cake spatula for this…but I started out using a bitter knife…so anything like that would work.
Next, unwrap the second cake, and place flat side (bottom) up, so that your cake will be even on the top.
Frost the entire cake with a thin, even layer of frosting. This is what is referred to as the “crumb coat”. You will see chocolate cake peeking through. This is OK! Once you have the crumb coat applied, place the cake back in the freezer for 15 minutes. This allows the frosting to set, and the crumbs to be locked and frozen into place.
Remove the cake from the freezer. Frost the entire cake again, until you can not see any of the dark chocolate peeking through. It is alright if it does a bit in the bottom and top, like mine, because it will be covered by decorative frosting and ganache.
Time to decorate!
I use a large star tip, or sometimes a round tip, to pipe my icing around the bottom of my cake. If you don’t want to invest in one (they are cheap…like under $2), you can cut the corner off of a plastic freezer or storage bag and pipe large dots of frosting that way.
Using a large cup to hold my pasty bag (or freezer/storage bag) works well. Scoop frosting into the bag, twist to seal, and you are ready to go!
Apply a little pressure to the bag, stop, then pull up. Repeat the entire way around the cake.
My star tip was a little pinched, so this looks a bit different than it should…but still great!
Next we need to make the ganache. This is what really sends this cake over the edge of sinfulness.
3/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream is fine)
1 cup good quality bittersweet (or semisweet) chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli…it is the best I have found)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to just a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate and vanilla. Let stand for thirty seconds.
Whisk mixture until chocolate is completely melted and glossy.
Quickly pour ganache over the top of the frosted cake. Using your spatula or knife, spread over the top, encouraging it to drip over the edges.
This is a thicker ganache than I usually use…but it is easier for beginners. If you want a smoother, more glassy ganache, use a full cup of cream to start. Just be careful…it can get away from you very quickly and ruin the appearance of the cake.
Use your icing bag to add embellishments to the top of the cake. I do three in the middle and six around the outside.
Add 1/2 of a miniature Peanut Butter Cup in the center of each embellishment, and crumble a few over the top of the cake.
you have a gorgeous cake worthy of any party or celebration (or just for the heck of it)!
I hope you love this as much as we do…
Now go…Show off!
Next week I will be sharing another of my amazing cake recipes with you...and showing you how to make your own fondant from from 2 simple ingredients!
And that is only the beginning...because from now until Christmas, I will be showing you how to make a new cake EVERY week!
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Have a WONDERFUL weekend!
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Sweet Potato Cake with Caramel Frosting and Sugared Pecans
I have been having some serious cake dreams lately. As you may already know…I LOVE me some cake. I also LOVE making them! So it was no real surprise that my daily power walks were being corrupted by visions of moist delicious cakes. Kind of ironic…but that is my thinking time.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I wanted to create a festive cake. And what is more festive than sweet potatoes…well maybe turkey, but I am not going there. I also remembered that I had a can of organic sweet potato purée in my pantry just begging to be used. Perfect.
Here is my latest creation…
(and before you go thinking that I totally copied the Epicurious concept…I actually had the complete cake idea in my head before I did any research. It just turns out that my idea wasn't that original…Just had to get that off my chest;)
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil (NON-GMO!!!)
2 cup puréed sweet potatoes (or 1-15oz can of sweet potato purée)
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder (aluminum free)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
You will also need 1-2 cups of Sugared Pecans…I used this recipe. And this recipe for Caramel Frosting.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Gather the ingredients.
Butter and flour a bundt pan, or 13x9 inch cake pan. Personally, I really LOVE my bundt pan…I think I discussed this in my German Apple Cake post. It makes the cake look extra classy, especially if it is for a special occasion, or you are entertaining. OK…I’ve said my bundt pan peace…you will never have to hear it again (yeah, right).
You should always use room temperature eggs when baking. Most of the time I use this little trick to quickly bring my eggs to room temp…Place the eggs in warm (not hot, or they will start cooking) water for a 5 or 10 minutes. This is a very useful tip if you are like me, and decide you are going to bake something on a whim, or just lack the attention span and patience to wait…HAHA!
This is the can of the sweet potatoes that gave me the inspiration for the recipe. I bet you could use the baby food sweet potatoes instead…but you would need A LOT of jars.
Combine the sugar, oil, sweet potatoes and vanilla in a large mixing bowl…or the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix at medium speed until well combined.
Add eggs one at a time…
scraping down the side of the bowl with each addition.
Tip: Cracking the eggs into a small dish before adding to the batter ensures that you will not be eating pieces of shell (or fishing them out of the batter), and that if an egg is rotten it will not ruin your ingredients.
Next stir together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg). I do this with a fork…or you could sift them. I only sift ingredients together when I am making a yellow or white cake. I know…professional pastry chef I am not.)
Add to the batter.
Mix on the lowest speed until combined and only a few lumps remain. Do not over mix.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 minutes…or 30 minutes, if you are boring and using a 13x9 inch pan;)
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for ten minutes.
Flip the slightly cooled cake out onto the same rack. (You will need oven mitts or potholders, as the cake will still be hot!)
Let the cake cool completely for about an hour.
This part is optional…I like to trim the bottom of the cake off, and even the cake up with a serrated knife. But I am a crazy, perfectionist freak when it comes to stuff like this…so it is really up to you. Plus, I really like to eat the scraps;)
Transfer to a cake plate, or whatever you will be using to serve your cake on.
Time to prepare the frosting.
It is a bit richer than the one I used for my German Apple Cake.
It poured onto the cake like a dream.
Immediately after I frosted, I covered the top of my cake with the sugared pecans.
Look at all of that gooey caramel frosting!
I hope you will consider taking this beauty to your Thanksgiving gatherings. This was a huge hit with my family. We had this sucker polished off in a day and a half.
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