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.

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!

heaven is a healthy spinach artichoke dip….

Spinach artichoke dip is one of my all-time favorite appetizers. It’s piping hot, creamy and cheesy – and often served with tortilla chips or some sort of bread product (carbs, yay!), so what’s not to like? In a nutshell, it is divine.

It is also so very unhealthy. As I was perusing recipes for this delicious dish, I was surprised to see that mayo is in most of them. Really? I hate mayo. Seriously hate it. So much I had to use italics.

And while I wanted to have spinach dip while enjoying the premiere episode of good, quality television (ahem, Bachelor Pad – don’t judge), I didn’t really need to get my arteries all clogged up while doing so.

So I stumbled across the infamous Cooking Light variation. It looked good – really good….but then I found an even better one. The perfect spinach artichoke dip recipe that didn’t leave me feeling fat and bloated just reading the ingredient list. This recipe from Serious Eats, which uses less cheese than the CL version, is as healthy as you can get for a cheesy dip. Plus, it’s full of fresh spinach, which was a big plus for me, since I had some in fridge and I needed to make it in a hurry.

People tell me that football season is starting soon (I don’t do sports, sorry), so this may be a terrific lower-fat option for game day! Plus, no mayo. Ick.

It tastes awesome. Heavenly. Fantastic. And it was quick enough to throw together once you tear up your spinach and take out any big stems. The whole crushing garlic thing with a knife was new to me, so that was super exciting. I actually watched this video to get an idea of what I should be doing.

Anyhow, I would’ve never known this was a healthier version, to be honest. My guests devoured it while we mocked our reality TV contestants – and then we all came back for seconds. I had thirds – again, don’t judge!

It makes a lot. Enough for a small get-together. The only thing is that the ingredients aren’t exactly cheap. I never knew how much canned artichoke hearts cost…yowza! I already had the spinach, garlic, spices, shredded cheeses and sour cream on-hand. The rest was still pretty pricey. Get it on sale and you’re golden!


Mixing the ingredients together.

Ready to go into the oven!


Dig in! Sooo good.

So, here’s the recipe (from Serious Eats):

INGREDIENTS

10-ounce bag fresh spinach (I used much less ’cause that’s all I had – was still good!)
6 ounces (3/4 block) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
6 ounces (3/4 block) fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 1/2 cups part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed (not minced) (first time I ever crushed garlic by hand!)
6 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese, divided

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Tear spinach into bite-size pieces, removing any thick stems. Rinse in a colander, leaving a little water on the leaves. In a large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven, sauté the spinach over medium heat until wilted. Drain in the colander, pushing a little of the extra water out.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheeses with a potato masher. Add sour cream and mash more. Add spinach, mozzarella, artichokes, pepper, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Stir everything until thoroughly combined.
Pour mixture into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan on top. Bake 30 minutes, or until parmesan is melted dip is all bubbly. (Mine took probably another 10-15 minutes longer!) Remove from oven and give it a minute or two to cool down.
Serve…and enjoy. I can’t wait to make this again!


a chicken pot pie that won’t kill you…

Fall is coming…..

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will get my little joke (switch winter with fall and you’ll be all Stark-like!). If not, the statement is still rings true. Fall is indeed coming!

And cooler weather means comfort food like chicken pot pie. One of my favorites…mmmm.  As I’ve mentioned, my favorite recipe is a Weight Watchers recipe, which is packed for of chicken and veggies and normally calls for four reduced-fat crescent rolls as the “pie crust.” And I’m not a big fan of those things. Sooo, I searched around for the perfect pie crust recipe (read: so easy that I couldn’t mess it up). I’ve never made pie crust from scratch, nor do I have a food processor, so I also wanted one that was super simple that I could make, literally, by hand. I found a recipe at Baking Bites.

It turned out wonderful. I will never buy those refrigerated pie crusts again!

My house still smelled like burning, though, because the pot pie juices dripped while cooking and burned on the oven floor. Yay, me! Lesson: put a cookie sheet or something under the pie dish.

OK, so here’s the scoop. The pot pie filling is healthy; we’re cool with that. The pie crust has a lot of butter in it. And you are only using one on top, so it all balances out to an OK meal, right?


Here’s my pot pie filling simmering away. Look at all the veggies and chicken goodness!


And here’s my pot pie complete the homemade pie crust…all ready for the oven! Please note I don’t know how to flute a pie crust. In fact, just saying “flute” makes me think of Ron Burgundy playing the jazz flute on a mountaintop (“that’s baby-making music right there, that’s what it is”).


And here it is, all cooked.


And a slice of goodness for you, my friends!

Now for the recipe. I made the pie crust first, then let it chill while I prepared the pot pie filling:

Homemade Pie Crust (recipe from Baking Bites)
INGREDIENTS

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces
4-6 tbsp cold water

DIRECTIONS
Stir together flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add in butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips, forming pieces no larger than a pea. Stir in 4 tbsp cold water with a fork, letting the dough come together. Add additional water until dough forms a rough ball (I didn’t need more than the recipe states, but it can vary). Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press down into a disc and chill until ready to use. When ready to use, roll out a little larger than the pie plate. Place over filling and seal edges (“flute” edges if you have those mad skills). Make sure to cut some slits on the top to allow steam to escape while cooking.

Healthy Chicken Pot Pie Filling (recipe from Weight Watchers)

INGREDIENTS
cooking spray
1 tsp butter
1 small onion(s), chopped
2 cup(s) mushroom(s), sliced   (I am sure I added more than this)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp table salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cup(s) frozen mixed vegetables   (I used the whole bag)
1 cup(s) canned chicken broth
3 cup(s) cooked chicken breast without skin
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk, divided

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a 10-inch round shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Coat a large pot with cooking spray. Add butter and melt over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms and cook, until tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Add vegetables, broth and chicken. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
  • In a small cup, combine flour and 1/4 cup of evaporated milk; stir into chicken mixture. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup of evaporated milk and cook until mixture is slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes more.
  • Spoon chicken mixture into prepared baking dish. Place pie crust on top. Bake until pie crust is golden brown – this took about 40 minutes for me. (If the pie crust edges get too brown, you can place some foil strips on top of them.)
With comfort food like this, I have to say I’m ready for fall. What about you?