Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese

After last summer's cheesemaking successes (homemade ricotta and homemade mozzarella), I knew that I wanted to attempt more varieties.  Next on my official cheesemaking list was mascarpone.  Mascarpone is an Italian soft cheese; the American equivalent is cream cheese.  The process for this cheese is different from the other two, but just as easy.  I got the idea of making tiramisu in my head, even though I've never had tiramisu.  Finally, after all my Bible study responsibilites were over for the summer, I set about making mascarpone cheese with the larger goal of making tiramisu. (More on the tiramisu in a future post!).

Making this cheese is so easy, and I am looking forward to making it more often this summer to be used in different recipes!

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese
The recipe is standard, but I got this one from Baking Obsession

*You will need a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer and some cheesecloth

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tbl. fresh lemon juice

Using a double boiler, heat 1-2 inches of water in a small saucepan.  Place a heatproof glass bowl in the pan, but not touching the water.  Pour the cream into the bowl and heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until temperature of cream in 190 degrees.  (I'll be honest and tell you that my temperature got stuck at 160 degrees.  I then had to transfer the cream to another saucepan and finish heating it over direct heat.  If this happens to you, watch those remaining 30 degrees carefully!  It will heat fast over direct heat).

Add the lemon juice and continue stirring over the heat, until the cream curdles.  Unlike ricotta or mozzarella, large curds will not appear.  The cream will just thicken and will coat the wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and let cool in pan for 20 minutes.  Line a sieve with 4 layers of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl.  Pour the cream mixture over the cheesecloth.  Let it cool completely, then cover the entire sieve and bowl with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator.  Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the firm cheese from the sieve and place in a bowl.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  I discarded the whey, but you could use it in place of the liquid in any baking recipe.  When ready to use the cheese, stir it with a spoon to make it creamy.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting

I recently did a very impromtu kitchen redo in my kitchen.  This room wasn't scheduled to be remodeled for at least a couple more years, but when I get something in my head to do, I want it done yesterday.  So, basically, my kitchen has been shut down for the past couple of weeks, save for a few satisfying dinners here and there.  My husband finally finished the backsplash behind my built-in stove top yesterday, and ironically, that completion coincided with a sudden craving for banana cupcakes.  Hmmm....

A quick internet search landed me at Martha Stewart's site, so 3 Cheers to a beautifully remodeled kitchen!  Hip, hip, hooray! Consider these cupcakes celebratory!  Yum!

(Oh, what's that?  Oh, you want to see BEFORE & AFTER pictures of my kitchen??  Of course!)

Before.  Dark green paint under the chair rail, and a cute border. 

AFTER.   I repainted a buffet cabinet black, painted the walls (Pittsburgh Paints, "Palm Oasis," available exclusively at Menards), hung some new white shelves that are now home to simple white dishes, painted my french doors black, did a board and batten over the green paint, and did a simple faux backsplash behind my stovetop in oil rubbed bronze.  

And now, for the cupcakes!!!  Enjoy!  Thanks for celebrating with me!

Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting
Source:  Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas), plus 1 whole banana, for garnish (optional)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Make a well in center of flour mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate flour mixture (do not overmix). Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Spread tops with Honey Cinnamon Frosting.  Just before serving, peel and slice banana into rounds, and place one on each cupcake, if desired.

Honey Cinnamon Frosting
1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat confectioners' sugar, unsalted butter, honey, and ground cinnamon until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Blog Design AND a Cookbook Giveaway!

Dearest Blog Readers,

What do you think about the new look?!

You have been so nice to stick around with me through all the blog re-designs this past year.  I think I lost count of how many there have been since about the 6th one....*sigh*  You see, I get a whim in my head, either a color or a cupcake, a polka dot or a stripe, and I sit and sit and sit until I've browsed though 50 pages of a Google search, only to still turn up empty.  *Another sigh*  I tend to blog-stalk like nobody's business (that's what happens when your brain is on overdrive all day long and your husband works second shift, leaving you with alone time in the evening after the kiddos go to bed.  Doggone it if you're too tired to do anything productive after 8 pm!), so I've seen a million blog designs which have helped me know what I like and don't like on a cooking blog.  All my previous makeovers have been in an effort to appease my visual appetite without spending a dime on a blog design.

What I really love about this one (and my hope is that you love it too!) is that it is clean and fresh looking, allowing the pictures and recipes to really take center-stage.  My goal was to create a very open feel to it, making it easy to navigate through all the elements in the sidebars.  I've been dreaming of a whisk and a spoon image for awhile now...

All that, dear blog reader, to say is that I plan on keeping this one for a while.  You'll be happy to know that I now feel emotionally ready to write millions of blog posts a day (well, not really, but one could hope, right?!....) :)

I would {love} for each of you to become a FOLLOWER or SUBSCRIBE through an RSS feed (don't you just like that cute little coffee mug?).  One click on each link on the right will let you do both!  Of course, don't forget to LIKE The Culinary Enthusiast on FACEBOOK to get blog post updates and keep connected kitchen-to-kitchen, so to speak.

Looking foward to many more culinary adventures, good eats, and yummy treats with you!  Love ya!


Since I missed my blogoversary back in March, let's get together for a little cookbook giveaway, shall we?

Full-Flavored, FAST (30 minutes or less!) recipes by America's Test Kitchen.  My favorites are:  Grilled Chicken with Panzanella Salad, Salmon with Asparagus and Chive Butter, and Chipotle Grilled Pork Tacos.

Here's How to Play, any combination of the following 4 ways:
  • Become a Follower, and leave a comment saying that are are one of us now.
  • Subscribe to this blog through an RSS feed, and leave a comment about that.
  • LIKE on Facebook, and leave some comment love about that.
  • Tell what your favorite The Culinary Enthusiast recipe is, and leave some comment love about that.
You can do one, two, three, or all four....just make sure you leave a separate comment for each one.  Comments close on Tuesday night, May 31, at midnight.  Winner will be chosen at random and will be announced on Thursday, June 2.  GOOD LUCK!

This giveaway is now closed!

{If you're not the winner, but want to have this wonderful cookbook anyway, you can order from my Amazon Kitchen Store).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Creamy Triple White Mac-n-Cheese

What is it with kids and mac-n-cheese?  For mine, unless it comes in a cardboard box and has a yellow power that supposedly passes as cheese, they aren't too interested.  Variety, apparently, is not the spice of their lives.  However, for those of us with more sophisticated palates, a bite of the boxed version only serves to remind us of our childhoods and forces us to remember why we really prefer the good stuff.

This mac-n-cheese is case in point.  Actually, I made it up on a whim, and after the first bite, declared to El Hub that I like it even better than its cheddar counterpart!  Score!  Havarti cheese might be a bit unknown to some; I happened upon it at Aldi, of all places!  I would suggest looking for it in the cheese section of your grocery near the deli.  It is wonderfully creamy when melted, which makes it perfect for grown-up mac-n-cheese!

Creamy Triple White Mac-n-Cheese
A Karla Original

8 oz. (1 lb. or 1/2 a box of pasta) small dried pasta, cooked according to package directions in salted water
salt for pasta water
2 tbl. unsalted butter
2 tbl. flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
8 oz. package of jack cheese, shredded (I used my food processor to shred the block of cheese)
8 oz. package of creamy havarti cheese, cut into small-ish chunks
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
3 tbl. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 sleeve of butter crackers (like Ritz), crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Once boiling, add a generous amount of salt (this is the only chance to flavor the pasta, and salt brings out the flavor in pasta) and add the dried pasta.  Cook according to package directions until al dente.  Drain in colander.

Meanwhile, to make the cheese sauce, heat butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the flour to make the roux; heat until it starts to bubble.  Add the white pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika.  Slowly add the chicken broth, and whisk constantly to combine.  Add the milk and whisk until smooth and thickened.  Off the heat and add the three kinds of cheese, stirring to melt.

Pour cheese sauce over cooked pasta; toss gently to incorporate and cover the pasta.  Transfer to a 3-quart glass casserole dish.  Combine 3 tbl. of melted butter with crushed crackers.  Evenly distribute over the tope of the mac-n-cheese.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes until heated through.  Remove lid and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until cracker topping is slightly browned and crispy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cinnamon Banana Bread

I think that is is always good to have a yummy and easy quick bread recipe in one's repertoire.  This is one such recipe.  You likely already have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry.  I love the twist of the oats and the cinnamon chips on traditional banana bread.  Yum!

Cinnamon Banana Bread
Source:  Beantown Baker

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
1/2 cup cinnamon chips
1 Tbsp canola
2 eggs, beaten
3 large ripe bananas
cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or fork. Add oil and eggs and mix thoroughly.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.

Pour batter into pan and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake until top of loaf is firm to touch, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack for another 10 minutes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mexican Rice--Restaurant Style

Mexican food is a favorite around our house and I am always up for new inspiration and recipes.  Side dishes are consistently the one area that I lack inspiration and recipes, so when I saw this Mexican rice recipe, I was all in.  Even better, it is baked, which, in my kitchen at least, yields more consistent results than stovetop cooking.  Results?  Love, love, love!  So easy, and perfect alongside tacos, enchiladas, and taquitos.  Welcome to the standard collection, little recipe!

Mexian Rice, Restaurant Style
Adapted from Macaroni and Cheesecake

1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 can chopped green chilies
1/2 of a medium onion, quartered
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced (approx. 4 teaspoons)
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or water, for gluten-free)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, add tomatoes, green chilies, & onion quarters and puree until smooth.

Place rice in a large mesh strainer and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear (about 1 minute). Shake strainer to rid rice of excess water.

In a heavy oven safe straight sided saute pan or Dutch Oven, heat oil over medium high heat, cover and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the rice and toast, stirring very frequently until the rice is light golden in color, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add in pureed tomato/onion mixture, chicken broth, tomato paste & salt. Bring to a boil.

Once boiling, cover pan with a tight fitting lid and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring halfway through baking, until rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Remove from oven and stir thoroughly. Add in cilantro and stir to incorporate.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Healthy Peanut Butter Granola

In my search for an excellent homemade granola (which ended with this recipe), I have turned my sugar-loving little daughter into a granola fanatic.  I love that she loves this!  Other than natural honey, there isn't an ounce of added sugar to this granola!!  Every day for breakfast, she is anxious about eating her "white eats" (that is vanilla yogurt) complete with a hearty topping of granola!  When it came time for me to replenish my container of granola, I decided to try a peanut butter version, using natural peanut butter.  Yum!  For me personally, I have been known to make a nice dish of healthy yogurt topped with fresh fruit and granola my meal.  It's just that good.

Healthy Peanut Butter Granola
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Cookbook

2/3 cup chopped peanuts
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (don't use instant or quick-cooking, as it will make your granola "sandy."  Eww.)
2 tbl. canola oil
2 tbl. ground flaxseeds
2 tbl. ground wheat germ
1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup unsweetened banana chips

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the peanuts, stirring often, until fragrant.  Add the oats and oil and continue to toast until they start to turn golden, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the flaxseeds and wheat germ.  Off heat, and stir in the peanut butter and honey until well-coated.  Spread the granola evenly across the prepared baking sheet.  Bake, stirring a couple times, 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir in the raisins and banana chips.  Let granola cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Loosen the dried granola with a spoon or spatuala, breaking into small clusters.  Store in an airtight container.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Crock Pot Shredded Beef for Tacos

I'm not sure dinner gets much simpler than a main dish of yummy tacos.  It is easy prep, all major food groups are represented, and a simple side of Mexican rice rounds out the meal quite nicely.  When I saw this recipe for shredded beef taco meat, I knew that I would just have to try it.  I like ground beef taco meat perfectly fine, but it was nice to toss a roast in the crock pot and let it do its thing all day long.  We were in the middle of the boys' bedroom redo during the week of Spring Break, so this was quick and easy to pull together to feed the kids and my hard-working dad.

Crock Pot Shredded Beef for Tacos
Adapted from Elly Says Opa

1 (2 lb.) boneless beef roast
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp. parsley
2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. oregano

Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch Oven (I used my KitchenAid enamel covered cast iron Dutch Oven--LOVE that thing!) over medium high heat, and add the oil.  Sprinkle the beef roast generously with salt and pepper.  Once the oil is hot, add the roast to the pan and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.  Place in the crockpot.

To the pan, add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes before stirring in garlic and tomato paste.  After another minute, stir in the beef broth and spices.  Scrape up any browned bits, and then pour the seasoned broth and onions over the top of the roast.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours until meat is easily shredded with a fork.  Remove to a separate plate, shred, and pour a bit of the juices over the meat to moisten it.

Serve as you usually would serve tacos!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cheesecake Bars

Seriously, who doesn't love a good, creamy, rich cheesecake?  I, for one, loooooove cheesecake!  Plain, vanilla, with a hint of fresh lemon, is my absolute favorite variety.  It is definitely a luxurious indulgence, but I rarely feel guilty for eating it.  Ok, maybe I feel slightly guilty.... but that is usually for not being generous in wanting to share!!  These bars make a wonderful substitute for the real deal....only uses half the amount of cream cheese and makes a smaller dessert, so you won't feel guilty over having to responsibly deal with an entire leftover cheesecake!  You're welcome!  :)

Cheesecake Bars
Source:  The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

7 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
6 tbl. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tbl. light brown sugar
2 tbl. flour
1/8 tsp. salt

2 (8-oz.) pkgs. cream cheese (I usually use 1/3 Less Fat or Neufatchel), softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking dish with a foil sling and lightly spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

For the crust--process the graham cracker pieces in a food processor to fine, even crumbs (or use a rolling pin over a sealed bag).  Sprinkle the butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt over the crumbs and pulse to incorporate.  Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer with the bottom of a measuring cup.  Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

For the filling--beat the cream cheese until smooth in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, 1 to 3 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl and beaters regularly to make sure the filling achieves a smooth silky texture.  Gradually beat the sugar until incorporated, about 1 minute, scraping down as necessary.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds.  Beat in the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla until incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down sides of bowl and beaters and beat for another 30 seconds.

Pour the filling over the crust.  Bake the bars until the edges are set but the center still jiggles slightly, 35-40 minutes.  Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

Let the bars cool completely in the set, set on a wire rack, about 2 hours, then cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 5 hours, but preferrably 24 hours.  Remove the bars from the pan using the foil sling; cut into squares and serve.  Garnish with a sliced strawberry or your preference of fresh fruit.