Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Starlight Mint Cake

I am ridiculously excited to start my holiday baking this year. Every time I get online, my baking list gets longer and longer. Nothing screams Christmas as much as peppermint so I'm starting this year off with Kraft's Starlight Mint Cake. I'm not a huge fan of peppermint, but Eric's madly in love with it. However, satisfying his sweet tooth is not why I decided to make this. To decorate the cake you get to melt starlight mints. That was just too cool to pass up. As always, I've changed a few things from Kraft's recipe. 

I made two one layered cakes because I was giving one to a friend (Hi Christian!). The recipe, however, is for a two layer cake.

1 white cake mix
the ingredients called for to make the cake mix (vegetable oil, water, eggs)
1 cup water
1 3-ounce package cherry-flavored gelatin
15  starlight mints, divided
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sour cream
2-3 drops red food coloring
2 cups cool whip, thawed
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Prepare cake mix according to package direction and divide batter between two 9-inch round cake pans. Bake according to directions then allow to cool for fifteen to twenty minutes. In the meantime, boil one cup water, remove from heat, add gelatin, and stir until all the gelatin is dissolved. Once the cakes have cooled, stick the cake with a large fork at 1/2 an inch intervals. Pour the gelatin mix over both cakes. Refrigerate the cakes for at least three hours. 

These have about 1.5 inch diameter.
While waiting for the cakes to set, make your starlight decorations. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with wax paper then spray them with cooking spray. Unwrap six mints and place them on the baking sheet, about four inches apart. Bake them for about 5 to 7 minutes or until they have of diameter of about 1 1/2 inches. You can make them even bigger as I did by accident: 

Larger melted mints in the center.

But the mints will bubble at the edges, distorting the design. Allow the melted candies to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. After a number of broken mints, I found it's easier to peel the wax paper away from the candy than to use a metal spatula to peel the candy from the wax paper. Repeat with the rest of the mints. 

To make the cake filling, melt the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. To avoid burning the chocolate, only put it in the microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sour cream and food coloring. Kraft added crushed mints to the filling. I left these out because I don't like crunchy things in my cake. To remove cakes from pans, dip the bottom of the pan in hot water for 10 to 20 seconds. Place one cake on a plate and spread the white chocolate mixture on top of it. Stack second layer on top.

In a bowl, fold the peppermint extract into the cool whip then frost the cake with the cool whip. Decorate the cake with the melted mints.

One for Eric, one for Christian.


2011 Christmas Baking List: 
Starlight Mint Cake
Chocolate Truffles
Sea Salt Caramels
Rocky Road Chocolate Log
Candied Citrus Peels
Easy Rum Balls
Homemade Marshmallows
Christmas Kiss Cookies
Tea Cookies

Other Holiday Cooking Ideas:
Snowflake Tortillas
Gingerbread House Decoration Ideas
Christmas Peep S'mores 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuna Burgers

It took me a long time to come around to tuna or any type of fish whether it was canned, frozen or fresh. As a kid and even an adult, I refused to touch any of it. Then I met Eric and his family and they reintroduced me to seafood. Now I absolutely love it. I especially like canned tuna because it's yummy, cheap, and easy. But I could only make so many tuna salad sandwiches. If you're tired of tuna salad too, try these tuna burgers. Cook some up, slap it on a hamburger bun, add condiments, and enjoy!

2 5-ounce cans of tuna, drained
3/4 cup stuffing
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup mayo
1 egg
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 tablespoon minced banana peppers, optional
2-4 tablespoons water
dash of salt
dash of pepper

Mix the tuna, stuffing, cheese, mayo, egg, onion, banana peppers, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the water one tablespoon at a time until the mixture sticks together. Scoop approximately 1/3 cup of the mixture up and form into a patties. Makes about six patties.

Spray a skillet with cooking spray. Cook patties over medium-high heat, three to four minutes on each side or until the patty is fully cooked. Make a sandwich by adding bread, lettuce, tomato, dijon mustard, ketchup, or even tartar sauce.

In my book tuna and banana peppers go together like peanut butter and jelly. I almost never make any tuna dish without banana peppers, but I realize banana peppers aren't for everyone. You can replace them with relish or omit them completely. If you like all things spicy, chop up a serrano pepper to toss into the mix or sprinkle in some Cajun seasoning. These burgers are also good with minced garlic or garlic powder.

No stuffing on hand? Use bread crumbs. No bread crumbs? Pop some sandwich bread in the toaster then tear it into small pieces (I do this frequently).



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Red Onion Mayo and Sandwich Ideas

A month or so ago, I was looking for non-dessert apple recipes for our surplus of apples, and I came across Paula Deen's Grilled Apple, Bacon, and Cheddar Sandwich with Roasted Red Onion Mayo (which I highly recommend!). But Paula's red onion mayo recipe didn't work for me. She roasted the onion in the oven--mine kept burning. She also pulsated the onions and mayo together in a food processor--I didn't want to dirty my food processor and have another dish to clean. So I came up with my own version. I make sandwiches just because I'm craving the red onion mayo.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
small pinch of sea salt
small pinch of granulated sugar
1 medium red onion
1 cup mayonnaise 

Slice the onion lengthwise and make the strips as thick or thin as you’d like. Add the olive oil and butter to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer or ripple, add the onions to the pan. Stir to coat the onions then spread them out evenly in the pan. Reduce heat low and sprinkle with salt and sugar to aid the caramelizing process. Stir every five minutes to avoid burning the onions. You will notice the onions browning and shrinking the longer they cook. Once your onion reach the color, texture, and flavor that you want, remove them from the heat. Mine take between 20 and 30 minutes. 

Remove the onions from the skillet and allow them to cool. Once the onions are cooled, coarsely chop them and mix them with the mayo in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for at least an hour so the onions have time to infusion the mayo.

Sandwich Ideas:
Spread the red onion mayo on your typical lunch meat sandwich or your hamburger/turkey burger/veggie burger. I also use it to make chicken salad. Mix 1 cup chicken with 1/4 cup red onion mayo, a dash or two of black pepper, finely diced apples, and two pieces of crumbled bacon. Spread on a roll and add a slice of cheddar cheese. This mayo is also amazing on grilled cheese sandwiches.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Candy Clay

As a freelance writer, I write about about a wide variety topics from modern and alternative medicine to tenant and custody laws, from botany and zoology to wedding planning and children's crafts. And of course I also write about food and cooking. It was through a work assignment that I discovered candy clay. Once I finished writing my article, I couldn't wait to make some of my own to play with. I first used it to decorate Eric's 25th birthday cake.

Stawberry cake with cream cheese filling and chocolate frosting. 
Candy clay comes from Wilton Candy Melts, available at most grocery stores. They come in different flavors and colors. You can also change the color of white candy melts by kneading in coloring gel.

14 ounce bag of candy melts
1/3 cup light corn syrup

Microwave the candy melts in a microwave-safe bowl for one minute at 40% power or the defrost setting. Stir well. Continue to microwave the candy at 30 second intervals until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the corn syrup to the melts and stir until blended. Transfer the mixture onto waxed paper and let it dry at room temperature. Next, wrap it up and store at room temperature. Let the candy clay harden overnight.

The candy clay is going to be very hard when you go to use it. Knead a small section at a time until the clay is manageable. If your candy clay becomes too soft, set it aside to harden or put it into the refrigerate for a short time.

Store any unused candy clay in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for several weeks.

Candy Clay Ideas:
Candy Clay Rose
I made candy clay roses to decorate Eric's birthday cake. They are actually quite simple to make. 

Once your clay is pliable, make the base of your rose by taking a ball of candy clay with a ¾ inch diameter and shape it into a cone that stands 1½ inches tall. Create a second ball of candy clay with a 3/8 inch diameter and flatten it into a round petal with a thickness of ¼ inch. Make a total of four petals of this size. Wrap the first petal around the tip of the cone to form the bud of the rose. Wrap the next three petals around the cone. Carefully pinch the top edge of all four petals so they curve away from the cone. Make five balls that are slightly larger than the previous ones and turn them into five slightly larger petals. Using your finger, thin the edge of each petal and form them into a cupping shape. Attach the petals beneath your first row of petals. For a fuller rose, continue to make and attach additional petals.
Candy Clay Leaf
Add candy clay leaves to your candy clay roses. Create a 3/8 inch candy clay ball then mold it into a teardrop shape and flatten it to make a leaf shape. Now you have two options. Use a toothpick or the tip of a knife to draw leaf veins into the candy clay or use a real lemon, grape or rose leaf to imprint the leaf veins onto the clay. Make sure your real leaf is clean and dry.
Candy Clay Basket
 Eric just about thought he had died and gone to heaven when I told him that next year he'd get an edible Easter basket filled with treats.

You will need a 6 inch round pan, 12 3-inch lollipop sticks, waxed paper, two 14 ounces bags of candy melts and one batch of prepared candy clay. Melt your unprepared candy melts, dip the lollipop sticks into the candy, place them on waxed paper, and store them in the refrigerate until they set. Pour the remaining melted candy into your 6 inch pan so you have a depth of ¼ inch. Insert the lollipop sticks into the candy so they are evenly dispersed around the circumference. Place the pan in your refrigerate and allow the melted candy to harden. Remove from pan.

Next, roll out your prepared candy clay into five ropes, 24 inches in length and ½ inch in diameter. Weave your first rope in and out of the lollipop sticks, starting at the base of the basket. Connect the ends of the rope when they meet. Continue to weave the remaining ropes through the sticks, one on top of another. Leave ¼ inch of the stick exposed at the top of the basket. Create a rim for your basket by rolling out two more ropes and loosely twisting them together. Place the twisted rope on top of the basket, gently pressing it into the tops of the sticks. Use melted candy melts to secure the rim if it feels loose.

Once you’ve made your basket, fill it with all kinds of goodies.

Candy Clay Cut-Outs
I haven't done any candy clay cut-outs yet, though I'm thinking I might do some to decorate Christmas cookies this year.

Sprinkle your work surface with cornstarch (for white chocolate) or cocoa (for chocolate) to prevent sticking. Roll the clay out to about 1/8 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.

For even more candy clay ideas, visit Wilton's website.



Sunday, November 6, 2011

Baked Ziti

The Sopranos is one of the greatest TV shows ever made, in my opinion. And it's that mafia show that inspired this dish. In one of the episodes, Junior Soprano makes a comment about recognizing Carmela's baked ziti because of the layer of basil leaves in it. That little scene stuck with me for years. I knew when I got around to coming up with my own ziti recipe, it'd have a layer of basil leaves in it. And here it is, basil leaves and all.

Guess who couldn't wait for me to take a picture before he helped himself?

2 cups pasta
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup Prego Roasted Red Pepper tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves
3 slices sandwich bread, torn
1 tablespoon butter, melted
garlic powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss bread, butter, and garlic powder together in a bowl and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Thinly coat the bottom of an 8x8-inch casserole dish with a little bit of tomato sauce. In a bowl, mix ricotta, Parmesan, 1/3 cup mozzarella, and milk together. Pour half of the cooked pasta into the casserole dish. Spread the ricotta mixture over the pasta. Sprinkle with the basil leaves. Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the basil leaves and ricotta mixture. Add the rest of the pasta then the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella. Arrange torn bread on the top of the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy!