Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake.

Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cakeThis cake has a story.

I believe I first spotted this glorious blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake on Pinterest (sigh, where else?) in 2011, which lead me this fantastic recipe posted on Alexandra’s Kitchen. The heady rush of anticipation I felt when pondering zesty lemon and gorgeously plump blueberries pretty much forced me to rush to the store to get ingredients. Plus, it was a breakfast cake. Ergo, healthy. (Am I right? Please tell me I’m not alone in this rationalization.)

Anyhow, I had to have it. Couldn’t wait!

So when I took the cake out of the oven, I was beyond excited. I was animated. I was ecstatic. Indeed, I was even dreaming of the day I’d open my own bakery and people would line up for the blueberry cake and I’d have to fend off hoards of fans – including Daniel Craig and Clive Owen, dressed in impeccable Tom Ford suits – because they were so devoted to the glory of this cake. The sugary crust looked divine. The heavenly combination of lemon zest and blueberry smelled like summer in cake form. Best of all, it was made from scratch and it was a work of art and I did it all on my own and it was going to be the best thing EVER. And then I took a bite.

I gagged. And just like that, my hopes shriveled like a pathetic, forgotten week-old balloon. All I could taste was salt…so much that it actually stung my tongue. It was absolutely revolting. Not even the underlying hint of lemon and the unbelievable moist texture could save it. It went directly in the bin. (Not even the hubby could stomach it, which is really saying something, considering he will eat all the expired contents of our fridge without flinching.)

Turns out, when this novice baker was reading the recipe, she saw teaspoon…and then proceeded to add a tablespoon of salt. Seriously. I rocked it like amateur hour.

This incident scarred me so deeply that I avoided this recipe for almost two years, even though I kept it in my recipe binder and it taunted me on a near-daily basis, serving as a handy reminder of my colossal failure. Damn thing made me laugh bitterly every time I flipped past it.

And here we are, January 2013. Last night, I was putting away my printout for crockpot bolognese sauce (via Skinnytaste – it’s AH-MAZING!) and the cake recipe caught my eye…and something clicked. I happened to have some buttermilk. I also had some lemons. Et voila, I just bought two pints of blueberries on sale during lunch.

It was meant to be.

I assembled the cake as if it were the most natural thing the world, which I’ve noticed happens now that I cook almost every day. I’m no longer stressed. I put my faith in my growing skill (and that of a good recipe) and just have fun. The more time I spend in the kitchen, the more comfortable I am – it’s so obvious that it’s almost not worth saying. But it’s true. It’s even become my zen downtime, like a meditation of sorts. I start chopping, measuring, sautéing, stirring, whatever…and I just enjoy the task. I don’t think about work. I don’t give a second thought to any other stressor in my life. I simply focus on creating something tasty.

I would be lying if I told you I didn’t pay extra attention to the salt, however. While I may be turning into buddha on a mountaintop, I’m certainly not stupid. Nor could I bear making the same mistake twice.

The cake really is extraordinary. The recipe is indeed a keeper; I’m glad I held on to it these past few years. I had to bake it a good 10-15 minutes longer than instructed, but other than that – perfection. And the buttermilk (I used a lowfat one from Trader Joe’s) really makes a difference. You can always make your own buttermilk, if needed, using lemon juice or vinegar.

Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake.

So I guess this story is less about a cake than it is about me and how I’ve grown as a home cook. I am fascinated by how we keep learning, growing, adapting – regardless of how old we are. It’s one of those things that I remind myself on those days when I feel a little down. Look how far I’ve come. Look how much I’ve learned. And not just about cooking. Buddha on a mountaintop indeed!

Cinnamon swirl bundt coffee cake.

coffeecakeforkI like the smell of cinnamon rolls more than I like the taste. I think it’s something to do with the sickly-sweet frosting, which I’ve never really liked. Sure, I like sugar, but I like to taste more than that, if you know what I mean.

This weekend I really wanted something cinnamon-y for breakfast, but immediately ruled out cinnamon rolls because of the whole yeast thing. Didn’t have it on hand, plus I’m totally lazy (that has not changed during my hiatus from blog-land). I scoured the interwebs for a cinnamon breakfast recipe…and finally, I found one. And with a few tweaks, it turned out lovely.

Without further ado, I present to you a super-easy, super-delicious recipe for a cinnamon swirl bundt coffee cake that will make your house smell of two of the world’s most wonderful foods – cinnamon and yellow cake. And it pairs beautifully with a french press coffee, which is all we drink in my house.

What’s not to like? The cake tastes like cake – not like sugar – and it has a nice cinnamon zing, a moist texture and a perfect crumb.

Image

The best part? Every single ingredient is probably already in your pantry and fridge. Now that makes this lazy girl happy! I threw this together in my Kitchen-Aid mixer at 9 p.m. on Saturday, glazed it once it cooled…and headed off to bed, the house smelling like a piece of cinnamon cake heaven.

The original recipe is on Allrecipes, which is one of my favorite sites because I can take a quick look through reviews and see what other people changed or found challenging about the recipe. The trick, as is with most recipe sites, is not to read too many reviews, because that’s overload and lends itself to some major confusion. And I don’t need a dozen back-seat bakers in my mind, thanks.

The changes I made were small but important – first, I doubled the contents for the cinnamon swirl. I’m not so sure I would’ve loved this cake had I not done that. I can’t imagine that the cinnamon flavor would’ve been as prominent otherwise. I was worried that 2 tablespoons of cinnamon would be overpowering, but it was spot-on. I used brown sugar instead of white for the swirl mixture, too.

I also ignored the recipe’s instruction to mix the sugar and eggs together first. I went with the tried-and-true method of creaming the butter and sugar together first, instead. I also didn’t bake at 400 for 8 minutes before switching to 350, as original recipe says; I just did 350 for the entire duration. Otherwise, the outside of the cake might’ve been overdone, I think. And I took the recipe for the glaze from the comments. I thought the end result was nice, but I’m not a big powdered sugar glaze person; I would love your thoughts for a better topping/glaze. Please let me know in the comments section below!

Also, I should note that this cake batter is thick, so don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong if it doesn’t pour easily from the bowl into the pan. You may need to help it along.

INGREDIENTS

FOR CAKE BATTER

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

FOR CINNAMON SWIRL

  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

FOR GLAZE

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour one 10 inch bundt pan.
  2. Cream 1 1/2 cups white sugar with butter. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Alternating between flour mixture and sour cream (starting with and ending with flour), add to batter mixture in small amounts until fully incorporated. (I switched back and forth about three times.)
  3. Mix brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon in separate bowl.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Cover with remaining cake batter. (I did two cinnamon swirls because I thought it would look better; so I poured in a third of batter, covered with half of my swirl mixture. Then poured another third, then covered with remaining swirl mixture. And poured final third on top.)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40-45 minutes or until done.
  6. Once cool, mix glaze ingredients (powered sugar, vanilla and milk) and pour over cake. (I just mixed everything together in a liquid measuring cup and poured very slowly, but I think it would have looked nicer if I had tried using the Ziploc-method; pouring the glaze into a Ziploc, then cutting off the tip and drizzling with the improvised piping bag. It certainly would’ve given me more control.)

So there you have it. Here’s the final product, before I sliced into it. I love that you can see the cinnamon swirl – and some of the nuts – from the outside.

Tell me….

What kind of glaze would work better? I’m not so sure I’m a fan of this powdered sugar recipe. Do you know of a winner that would be perfect for this cake? What about streusel? I like the idea, but not sure if my heart can handle more butter than what’s already in the cake.

Yes, I’m back.

So, this is awkward.

Hi there. I’m back. I know it’s been a while – over a year, in fact – since I’ve blogged here. Why did I leave…and why did I decide to return? Don’t worry, I’ll keep this brief.

Let’s start with the former. I’m a writer. Professionally, I spend every day churning out copy, searching for the perfect word or the most efficient method of explaining a complex topic. Sometimes, this inspires me to write more, but more often that not, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is typing out a blog post. And then there’s this, the big reason I faltered: there’s always that doubt that creeps in, starting in the back on my mind and slowly working its way into every fiber my being. I’m no expert. I’m not a professional cook, an experienced chef, or anyone qualified to dole out advice about cooking.

So I just stopped. I didn’t stop cooking or baking or fumbling my way through countless recipes in the many months since I’ve last blogged. I just felt I had nothing worthwhile to say. And I suppose this speaks volumes about me and how I view myself – topics far too heavy to explore here – but it was enough to keep me from exploring this blog as a creative outlet.

I’m back, well, because I realized – and quite suddenly, too – that it doesn’t matter if I’m an expert or not. It doesn’t matter if I spend my days in a stuffy office cubicle or sweltering away in a cramped kitchen. I do have something to say.

I’ve never enjoyed anything more than writing. This has been my truth since I was kid, chasing around relatives at my first communion – neon pink pen in hand – asking for quotes for my first big story. Nothing else feels as good to me as when I create something. So I suppose it comes as no surprise that I’m drawn to the kitchen for the very same reason. Anticipation, delight, pure joy – with an equal measure of trepidation – are what fill me when I tie on that apron, a recipe in hand, fully prepared to create something delicious.

Who am I to deny these simple pleasures, just because I’m not an expert? Why not come back here and share what I’ve learned over the past year, which has been quite a lot, and ask you to join me on my next culinary adventures? When I started this blog, it was not as some masquerade, pretending to be some gold-star chef. It was to share my foibles and screw-ups. To laugh about our experiences in the kitchen. To even pass on a stellar recipe or two. To learn from you.

So that’s why I’m back. My confidence returned, in part because of some fantastic advice from a fellow writer (and friend) and because I happened across an essay by the wonderful Tara Mohr that literally left me slack-jawed and stunned because it was so damn true.

This part, in particular, gets to the core of the issue:

Speak on the things that move your heart. Speak about the things that cause you outrage. Speak about the things you’ve experienced and what you’ve come to believe as a result of those experiences. Speak about your vision for how some part of our world could be different.

Ah. The spot-on accuracy of that excerpt just slays me. Read it all here. Maybe it will spark something in you, too.

I’m not looking to change the world. Just me.

Coronation chicken salad (for Yanks)

My husband is English. Most of the time, I forget this rather simple fact. I don’t hear his accent anymore – it’s only when I talk to him on the phone that I’m reminded he’s not from ’round here.

And when it comes to food, he likes pretty much everything (except popcorn and red licorice). But there’s one thing he absolutely loves – curry.

So when he lamented that he missed this concoction called Coronation Chicken Salad, which features curry and is apparently is a mainstay of British sandwich cuisine (yeah, I just made up that term!), I sprang into action. I did what any Yankee wife would do – I emailed his mum and asked for her recipe.

Depending on what we have in our kitchen, I normally make a version that consists of these ingredients: cooked chopped chicken, onion, golden raisins, mayo, mango chutney, curry powder, salt and pepper.

Now that we’re trying to eat healthier (yay for us), I decided yesterday to modify the recipe to make it low-fat and incorporate more veg.

I used a Weight Watchers recipe as a starting point, and then modified it a bit. The results? Absolutely amazing. We were blown away! I let the chicken salad chill in the fridge for a few hours, and I think that made a BIG difference in allowing the flavors to really meld (and shine)!

Coronation Chicken Salad Sandwich

Without further ado, here are the details:

Low-fat Coronation Chicken Salad (Yankee version ;))

Servings: 4-6, depending on how hungry you are! 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (skinless, boneless)
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 medium uncooked carrot, coarsely grated
  • 1/2 rib uncooked celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced (I found this to be a lot of onion, so you may want to decrease depending on your tastes!)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small carton fat-free Greek yogurt (I used Fage brand)
  • 1 heaping spoonful of mango chutney (chopped, if necessary)
  • 1 tsp curry powder (I used hot curry ’cause we like spice!)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Combine chicken, raisins, carrot, celery, cilantro and lemon juice in bowl.

Combine onion, yogurt, curry powder, chutney, salt and pepper in small bowl. Make sure to mix well – don’t want any super-concentrated curry bits! Pour over chicken mixture; toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Serve on a fresh roll, sandwich bread or wrap….or on top of lettuce!

Note: I think apple would be a nice addition. Next time, I think I’ll try adding some. Halved grapes are used in the WW recipe, so I’m sure they’d be fantastic, too. I had golden raisins on-hand ’cause the hubby prefers those in his coronation chicken.🙂

Hearty, low-cal vegetable barley soup

Oh, barley. So good, yet so underutilized in our household.

A friend first pointed out the merits of barley to me a few weeks ago, wisely selling me with the following words, “it’s like healthy risotto.” And on that day, I made a purchase that will be forever marked as a milestone in my cooking history. A bag of Bob’s Red Mill pearl barley. Oh, the wonder!

Since that day, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate this protein-rich, high-fiber goodness into my life.

This vegetable barley soup, found on allrecipes (sigh, where else?), was one of them.

Veg barley soup

If you don’t like curry, you won’t like this soup as-is. That said, I’m sure you are creative enough to omit the curry and replace it with something you do like, right?

So this soup is 3 Weight Watchers points/serving. And is full of so much vegetable goodness that your body will thank you for it. (Really, it will.)

It’s so hearty, it’s almost stew-like. The barley is awesome! And look at all the veg – this is when I just starting simmering it, before the barley cooked.

Vegetable barley soup simmering

I did not make a single revision to the allrecipes version, so I won’t bother copying and pasting it. Just check out Beaker’s Vegetable Barley Soup on allrecipes. You won’t be sorry.

Easy chicken noodle soup

Everyone loves chicken noodle soup.

Comforting, delicious and low-calorie, it is a must-have throughout the fall and winter months. And I’ve been living off of it for weeks because it is the best low-point (sigh, yes, I’m on Weight Watchers) lunch a girl could want.

But, as everyone knows, chicken noodle can be a salt-bomb. Since I value my heart and arteries, I wanted to cut the sodium found in my typical deli-bought lunch. Also, I’m lazy. So here’s a recipe I found on allrecipes and modified a little.

Something I learned: Apparently, the secret to awesome, non-soggy noodles is cooking them separately, as-needed. So if you are making this for your family (and plan on eating six servings in one go) you’ll want to make all 3 cups of noodles while the rest of the soup is simmering. Otherwise, just make the noodles when you need them. (Update: I added all the noodles when I originally made the soup, and three days later, they are still good in the leftovers. They’re not as firm as on day one, but…still taste good to me. Soo…I have no idea WHAT to believe. :))

For you Weight Watchers point-counters out there, you’ll be glad to know that this soup made with 3 cups of noodles (in my modified version below) is 4 points/serving. If you only do 1.5 cups of noodles (as original recipe says), it’s 3 points. Double the noodles for 1 point? Yes, please (no-brainer, right?).

Chicken Noodle Soup

 

Quick and Easy Chicken Noodle Soup (4 POINTS/SERVING)
(modified from this allrecipes recipe

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 4 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth (try to get 2 cans low-sodium – that will balance out the saltiness)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 pound chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 3 cups egg noodles
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 pinches of dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 dashes of poultry seasoning (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Cook onion, garlic, carrots and celery in butter until just tender, 5 minutes.
  2. While the veggies are cooking, chop up chicken into bite-size chunks.
  3. Pour in chicken and vegetable broths and stir in chicken, basil, oregano, thyme, poultry seasoning (optional), salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook egg noodles using directions on the package (I cooked mine al-dente so they wouldn’t get mushy).
  5. Once drained, add noodles to chicken and veggie mix and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  6. Ready to eat! (Please let your soup cool for a little bit – don’t burn your tongue like I did. Ha!)

Do you have a favorite go-to chicken noodle soup recipe? Share it with me!

first roast chicken dinner – coming up!

I’ve been MIA for a while (to my three readers, I apologize!) because I’ve been dieting and exercising like a madwoman, trying to get fit. I know I should be able to cook lots of healthy dinners – and I do, from time to time. But I haven’t had a ton of time to document any of my recent cooking endeavors.

Today I decided to do something that has always scared me. I am roasting a chicken. Now, I know that this is one of the most basic dinners…and something that most people have done a thousand times. Not me! I celebrated my 34th (gulp) birthday yesterday and had a so-so meal out. What I really wanted was a roasted chicken, but made without any extra fats.

Which led me to Thomas Keller’s recipe on epicurious…which led to the chicken that is currently roasting in my oven (and smells divine, I might add).

Can I just say that handling a whole chicken (something I’ve never done before, sadly enough) made me have a whole new level of respect for my food. Does that make sense? I also had a moment when I felt extremely guilty about the chicken in my hands. I handled it tenderly and tried to treat it with as much respect as I could. I feel silly sharing this, but there we are.

I’m 34 years old and I’m roasting my first chicken. Big steps. Ha!

I’ll report back with results. Fingers crossed for a delicious, healthy dinner. I’m down 8 pounds and counting – gotta’ keep up the good work!