Green Pea Birthday Cake (for Cats)

Jelly recently celebrated his 9th birthday.

This past year was full of grand accomplishments. Some of his most notable ones…

He’s been a busy feline.

I had a hard baking act to follow after last year’s Birthday Cake For Cats post. It is actually the #1 most popular post on my blog to date. I have received so many comments from readers who are spoiling their own cats with birthday cakes, it makes me so happy!

Shawna recently commented that I should use green pea flour in recipes for cats because it is healthier for them than wheat flour. I had never heard of it before, but sure enough, Bob’s Red Mill sells it.

I decided to yield her good advice for this year’s cake.

Chicken and Green Pea Birthday Cake (for Cats)

Prep time: 5 minutes | Bake time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6-12 servings (invite your feline and canine pals!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup green pea flour
  • 1/2 cup cooked chunk chicken (plus 6 small pieces for cake centers)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 tbs shredded cheese

Instructions:

  • Place 1/2 cup cooked chicken chunks in a food processor and pulse for a minute until fine crumbs are formed.
  • Mix together chicken and green pea flour in a medium bowl.
  • Stir in beaten egg and water until mixture is smooth.
  • Spoon cake batter into a miniature cupcake pan or two-bite brownie pan.
  • Push a small piece of chicken into the center of each cake. Spread the batter on top to cover it.
  • Sprinkle with shredded cheese.
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 350F, until firm.
  • Allow to cool completely.
  • You can slice the cake in half to help the cat sink its teeth in. Garnish with a spread of wet food and a piece of shrimp for birthday flair.

We surprised Jelly with his cake while he was soaking up the sun on his cat tree.

He was instantly intrigued.

He hopped down on to the ground to make eating easier, and we watched as he gobbled up the cake and chicken bits like a ravenous lion.

The little piece of chicken hidden on the inside of the cake was a big incentive for him to tear into it.

Judging by the way he licked up all the cake crumbs, I think he liked this recipe a lot.

After he ate half the cake, I took the rest away and so he could digest for awhile. He wound up napping and coming back for the second half an hour later.

Happy kitty, happy life. Happy Birthday, Jelly!
 

The One With All The Hot Sauce

This is what it looks like when everyone in a room is standing around eating ice cream and hot sauce.

The Heaven and Hell Takedown occurred back in August, but five months later seems like a good time to talk about it, right?

We competed in the hot sauce division of a two-faced food battle: best ice cream recipes and hottest hot sauce recipes. I picked hot sauce because it seemed easier to prepare for a crowd than ice cream.

Just to remind you, back in 2010, I was a contestant in the Bacon Takedown. It was an epic undertaking, but we didn’t even place. I vowed to compete in takedowns until I claimed a title. Luckily, Matt Timms (the brains and brawn behind the Takedown operation) organizes takedowns year round in cities across the country.

He returned to Boston on the Heaven and Hell tour last summer, and I was ready for it!

We came up with a honey mustard hot sauce recipe. I really love the flavors, it would be delicious on hot dogs or sandwiches. We called it “Honey, I Nuked the Mustard Sauce” and served it with pretzels.

Check out our stellar set up.

I was sandwiched between caterers, pastry chefs, and restaurant owners serving their best hot sauces. Across the room, just as many people were serving amazing ice cream confections. Here’s a run down of all the competitors.

Well, we won over Matt Timm’s father with our recipe, but unfortunately he wasn’t one of the judges. I think one reason why we didn’t score high is because I put pretzels in the containers to pass out with sauce on them, and they got soggy. It was also a really thick and not actually a face-scorcher like some of the winners. The flavors were there but professionals, we are not. Try, try again!

I learned a lot in the process of developing the recipe. I burnt away all of my taste buds. I was introduced to pequin peppers, chocolate habaneros, and Chinese mustard seeds along the way. We tested lots of different recipes and cooking methods before settling on this one.

Gloves are very important when seeding and chopping hot peppers, especially if you want to touch your eyes again anytime soon. I suffered from mild burns on numerous occasions before I learned to handle the peppers more carefully.

We used fresh jalapeno and habanero peppers.

I seeded the habaneros and chopped the jalapenos whole.

The fresh peppers simmered with a little bit of water until they were soft.

After that, they went into the food processor and through a fine mesh strainer to create a smooth hot pepper paste.

I also rehydrated some dried New Mexico chili peppers and some tiny dried pequin peppers. These had different kinds of heat notes than the green peppers and were generally more mild.

I chopped up and simmered these peppers on the stove until they were soft, and put them through the food processor too.

The other part of this recipe is mustard. J & I both love honey mustard, so we were thinking it would be great to have a condiment that tasted like honey mustard, but packed a significant heat like Tabasco sauce.

We got three types of mustard seeds to grind: yellow, black, and brown. Each of the seeds has varying heat levels.

I never actually made mustard before this, so I didn’t know how easy it was! All you have to do is soak the mustard seeds, then grind them up in the food processors until smooth.

We combined the homemade mustard and hot pepper pastes with honey, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. After a batch or two, we worked out the heat and seasoning levels and wound up with a really tasty sauce. And finally, we were ready to compete!

It’s too bad we didn’t take home a prize for our efforts, but it was still a fun experience. I can eat spicy foods that are 10x hotter than I used to be able to tolerate, thanks to this endeavor.

I remain optimistic that we will eventually be recognized for our culinary excellence. Now that I’m in San Francisco, I am looking forward to competing with a new circuit of takedowners – and winning, eventually. There is a meatball takedown coming up in Brooklyn and I really hope that one carries over to the West coast so I can try my hand at it!

 

Farro Salad

Working in an office has its perks.

Not many, but there are a few – for example, internet connectivity, air conditioning, and proximity to office supplies. But the real bonus is working next to an awesome lunch spot. They make Fridays so much sweeter.

I have raved about Viga Italian Eatery on this blog before, I mentioned their roast beef sandwiches and wraps. And now, they’ve done it again.

I picked up a side salad to go along with a half sandwich one day, and the side salad stole the show! The farro salad I had was so good, I made sure to remember the ingredients. A week later, I recreated the salad at home – almost as good as their original recipe – and now I’m sharing it with you.

I guess I should explain what farro is, in case you’ve never heard of it. Farro is a grain that cooks up quickly like pasta. It has a chewy texture that lends itself to a variety of uses. Served warm or cold, savory or sweet, morning or night, farro is a versatile pantry staple. I saw it once on Daily Garnish, and bought a bag out of curiosity.

Back to this delicious salad. I love it because it is a mix between pasta and veggie salad, filling without being too heavy.

Farro Salad

Serves one | Prep ahead time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup cooked farro
  • bed of romaine lettuce
  • 1/4 cup sliced green beans
  • 2 tbs diced red pepper*
  • 1 tbs diced red onion
  • handful crumbled feta cheese
  • Italian dressing

*Instead of red bell pepper, Viga used peppadew. Who in the world has peppadew on hand?

Directions:

Prepare farro per packaging, drain, and allow to cool completely in fridge (about 2 hours). Clean and chop vegetables. Layer romaine, veggies, cheese, and farro. Top with Italian dressing. Serve immediately.

I should mention that the salad you see pictured in this post was actually way too big.

I put more than 1/3 cup of farro when I made this the first time, so I only made it 60% through the meal before I was completely stuffed. I made another batch of farro, and I have been sprinkling 1/4 cup on top of all my salads. It’s a quick way to bulk up a salad and feel full, faster.

Feel Full Faster with Farro – that’s not a bad tag line, is it?

 

Missed Meals III

When I started blogging in 2010, I quickly formed habits related to food and photography. Whenever I make a plate of food, I take a picture before eating it. I almost always have a camera with me when I go out to eat.

The result: I wind up with a lot of pictures of food. In my laziness lately, I have been saving up a bunch of meals to recap in a Missed Meals post. So, here we go.

This was my first attempt at making sliders at home. Sliders were on the menu because WF was out of regular buns. I decided not to slather ketchup all over these plates before taking a picture.

This is just a sandwich, served with potato salad.

There is more potato salad on this plate. I also made ham, asparagus, and sweet carrots for Easter dinner.

Jelly only tried to jump up on the table and steal the ham twice.

We had a friend over, which was good because I made a lot of food. We managed to eat a lot of it, but there were some leftovers.

I used my Easter leftovers to make a veggie, ham, egg, and cheese pie.

Yes, all of those things are in here: veggies(red pepper, asparagus, eggplant), leftover Easter ham, cheese, egg, and pie dough. It was one of those meals that sort of falls together, I didn’t really plan it.

And since I didn’t really know what I made, I wasn’t sure how to eat it. There was pie dough at the bottom of the  dish, but the filling was loose. I wouldn’t suggest using tortilla chips like I did, but serving this with something firm to scoop up the filling is recommended.

For a couple weeks, I did not eat real food. I was working a lot so we ordered take out usually. When I finally had a minute to relax and cook something, I made a special turkey dinner for our friend’s birthday.

Similar to the turkey roulade I made on Thanksgiving, this was a turkey breast stuffed with sausage and cherry stuffing (Martha’s recipe.)

It was exquisite! I definitely recommend this stuffing recipe! My favorite part, to be honest, was eating all the leftover dried cherries. Yum!

See more meals, here are the rest of my Missed Meals recaps:

Round I

Round II

 

 

Birthday Cake for Cats

Let’s talk birthday cake for cats.

Food is the focal point of all matters for Jelly, just like his momma. I knew nothing would make this birthday boy happier than getting to eat all the human foods he usually steals off our plates.

I googled ‘birthday cake for cats’ and searched around for a friendly feline cake recipe. What I found was much more than that, I found the sweetest thing I have ever seen. Those cats are so stinkin’ lucky! I actually teared up when I read the post because I am a crazy cat lady I was so happy to finally have my own cat to spoil!

Jelly waited patiently while I baked for him.

You can refer to the original inspiration and recipe for full instructions, here is a quick how-to.

Birthday Cake for Cats

Yield: 2 small cakes | Prep time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 egg

1/2 can of tuna

2 tbs flour

2 tbs shredded or grated cheese

defrosted shrimp, to garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Break up tuna in a medium bowl. Lightly beat egg in a separate bowl, then combine with tuna. Add in flour and cheese. Stir to combine. Scoop batter into cupcake tin or silicone cups.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Above: before

Below: after

These “cakes” are actually more like muffins. They were pretty dry, so I trimmed the top off a little so that Jelly could tear it up more easily.

I think the shrimp garnish is most essential. It was the first thing he went after.

The presentation on a plate was really just for the blog. I barely got photos of his reaction once I put it down on the table. He kept grabbing it and running off to the corner – as he usually does when he is snatching things from the kitchen. It was funny that the one time he could sit on the table and enjoy it, he wouldn’t.

How will I top this next year?

Update: Check out the birthday cake I made for Jelly’s next birthday – new post from April 2013!

 

Matzo Lasagna

I meant to post this recipe before Passover. Clearly, I didn’t.

As soon as the boxes of Yehuda Matzos show up on the shelves in March, I stock up. Matzo makes a great pantry stable, I think it goes with everything: peanut butter, jam, hummus, and salsa. Have you ever heard of baking matzo in lasagna? I picked up Rachael Ray’s magazine (forgive me) in the doctor’s office, and I really liked one of her recipe ideas (I can’t believe it either.)

Normally, her flavor combinations don’t appeal to me. But this idea just makes sense. Using matzo is quicker than making lasagna noodles, and it still tastes and feels like baked, gooey lasagna. It’s quite clever, really. After making it for myself, I’m convinced this is the easiest way to make lasagna and I would question using traditional noodles in the future.

So giving credit where credit is due, here is Rachel Ray’s recipe for matzo lasagna.

And here is mine.

Matzo Lasagna

Serves 6 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

6-7 matzos

~2 cups marinara sauce

3/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese

1 egg

salt and pepper

2 cups loosely packed baby spinach

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400˚F. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, beaten egg, salt, and pepper. Assemble the lasagna in a medium glass baking dish (mine was about 8″x9″.)

Spread 4 or 5 tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Top that with a layer of matzo, breaking the matzo into pieces as necessary. I used about 2 pieces of matzo per layer, and there were 3 layers total.

Top the matzo with more sauce and half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Use a spatula or knife to spread the ricotta evenly across the matzo.

Spread the baby spinach across the cheese layer. Top with a few tablespoons of sauce.

Place another layer of matzo.

Repeat layers of sauce, ricotta mixture, and more sauce.

Apply a last layer of matzo.

Spread sauce across, then sprinkle generously with parmesan.

Place lasagna in oven. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until cheese on top is golden, and bubbles are coming up from the bottom of the dish.

Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

 

Now, for a play-by-play:

Assembling all the ingredients is often the hardest part about making a lasagna.

Once the ingredients are together, they form layers in the baking dish, very straightforward.

I topped the baking dish to the brim. Next time I’ll use a larger dish, but this one was the perfect dimensions for a piece of matzo, so I had to try it.

Here is the cheesy beauty after it came out of the oven.

Obviously, any vegetables, animal, or mineral could be substituted for the baby spinach I put in here. It’s my favorite veggie for lasagna, but I can think of a dozen other ingredients that would be good, too.

Served with a medley of vegetables for a simple, home-style meal.

And here’s what my kitchen actually looked like when I was making this thing:

It doesn’t have to be pretty to tasty good! My stomach is growling just thinking about it. Go out and grab a box of Yehuda before it leaves the shelves (which it might have already, I am so delinquent with posting these days!)

 

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Bar

This post is going to be really cheesy.

One of my college girlfriends was visiting from the West coast, so I had a few people over for dinner last weekend. I planned a grilled cheese sandwich bar where everyone could construct their own sammies and I grilled them all on the griddle.

It turned out to be a fairly easy meal to prepare without much cleanup, even for a group, and everyone thought it was a fun idea. Plus, who doesn’t love grilled cheese sandwiches?

I can think of sandwich combination for any palate. Meat-lovers can add bacon. Vegetarians can load up with greens, tomatoes, apples, or onions. Gluten-free bread is also an option. Swap vegan ‘cheeze’ or soy bacon, and you have yourself a bona fide crowd-pleaser.

Here are my ideas for creating a grilled cheese sandwich bar to feed a crowd.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Bar

Pull together a spread of sandwich fixings for your guests.

Bread Choices:

– multi-grain

– rye

– sourdough

– whole wheat

– gluten-free

Cheese Choices:

– cheddar

– brie

– goat cheese

– mozzarella

– fontina

Filling Choices:

– tuna salad

– tomatoes

– caramelized onions

– roasted peppers

– spinach

– sliced apples

– sliced pears

– bacon

– prosciutto

– pulled pork

– salami

– ham

Are those enough options for you? I tried to cover every base. Justin said he feels certain that any meat would go good in a grilled cheese sandwich. I agree.

How to make grilled cheese sandwiches for a crowd:

– Butter one side of each slice of bread (make 1 or 2 sandwiches per person, depending on the size of the bread)

– Lay out sliced cheese and fillings for sandwich assembly

– Preheat griddle

– Have guests assemble their sandwich with the buttered sides of the bread on the outside

– Place sandwiches on the griddle

– Lay a large piece of parchment paper over the sandwiches

– Use a cookie sheet on top of the parchment paper to press down evenly on all the sandwiches

– Grill for a few minutes before flipping

– Repeat parchment paper layer and press with the cookie sheet

I did a bad job taking pictures that night, so I can’t show you all the ingredients laid out, or how the griddle worked. I didn’t get any pictures of my friend’s sandwiches, either. I guess we were too busy eating!

After everyone had their Round #1 sandwich, I made a bunch of random sammies with all the leftover fillings. I cooked those up, and then sliced them into bite-size pieces and put them out on a plate for everyone. Even after that, I still had two sandwiches left over the next day, so those are what you see pictured in this post. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that grilled cheese sandwich night was a success!

P.S. I know my blogging has slowed to almost a complete halt. I miss you. I don’t miss work.

 

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Crescent Cookies

I baked for the sake of baking over the weekend. I had no one to feed nor an occasion to celebrate, I just wanted to make something in the kitchen. The result was quite delightful.

I made a shortbread type cookie flavored with almond extract. Dipped in chocolate and topped with powdered sugar, these cookies turned out to be very special. They looked like something that would come out of a Pepperidge Farm container. There doesn’t have to be a reason to bake these cookies, but if you want to make a cookie to impress a crowd, consider these.

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Crescent Cookies (lightly adapted from Simply Recipes)

Yield: about 30 cookies | Prep time: 40 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup ground sunflower seeds
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • splash of milk
  • powdered sugar, for decoration

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Sift together flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Stir in ground sunflower seeds, and set aside. Cream together butter and sugar at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat until light and fluffy. Add in extracts, beat until smooth. At a low speed, stir flour mixture in by the half-cup. Turn up speed to medium-low once all the flour has been added, and beat until the mixture is crumbly and starts to come together (will not form a solid ball of dough.)

Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a cylinder. Use plastic wrap to help the rolling process, if needed. Slice each roll into 1/4″ pieces. Form each piece into a crescent shape by pressing the dough together firmly into a ‘C’ shape. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the baking sheets around in the oven halfway through the cook time. Bake until lightly browned on the bottom. Cool completely.

Melt chocolate chips in a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Add a splash of milk to loosen the chocolate. Remove the chocolate from heat and place near cookie tray. Dip the bottom of each cookie into the chocolate, then flip the cookie over to put it back down. Repeat with all cookies. Allow the chocolate to set up in the fridge (1-2 hours) before dusting the cookies with powdered sugar.

Certainly, the most challenging part of this recipe is forming the crescents from the cookie dough. After three or four, I got the hang of it and it didn’t take me long to make batches of 9 or 10 crescent cookies to bake off at a time.

I like a recipe that stretches to 2 or 3 dozen cookies – the more, the merrier in my kitchen.

Here are the cookies after they got dipped in chocolate:

I saw some recipes where the cookies were dunked halfway in chocolate – but I like my style more. Dipping the bottom of the cookie in chocolate covers the browned bottom edge so every cookie looks perfect.

And if you’re wondering, almond extract does not seem to trigger my nut allergies. Usually almond crescent cookies have 1 cup of ground almonds inside in addition to almond extract. I substituted ground sunflower seeds for the almonds, and bumped up the quantity of almond extract. So far, so good.

 

Missed Meals II

I’m back for another round of Missed Meals – a post where I highlight meals that missed being mentioned on the blog until now.

I have said in the past that dinner inspiration is not my strength, so most weeknight meals are rarely memorable. If a plate of food happens to look good, I will throw down a place mat and take a photo (yes, I only use place mats for photo backgrounds, not for actual dining purposes.)

The plate above wasn’t very attractive, but it was significant because I tried my hand at making orange chicken à la Chinese takeout. I used this recipe for the chicken more or less, I didn’t have rice wine so I substituted more orange juice. It didn’t quite taste like food from a restaurant, but it was a start.

The next meal is more inventive: my take on pasta primavera.

Pasta Primavera

Serves 4 | Prep time: 40 minutes

  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 container cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 lemon (1/2 juice, the other 1/2 sliced for garnish)
  • handful Parmesan cheese
  • ~1lb cooked pasta

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Cook chicken slices for 5-6 minutes, turning as needed, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet and put aside. Add a drizzle more oil into the skillet, then add carrots, artichoke, and bell pepper. Cook vegetables for 10 minutes until carrots are softened.Season with salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper. Add in garlic and cooked chicken pieces. Stir in cream of mushroom soup and lemon juice. Coat everything in the skillet completely. Cook for an additional 10 minutes at medium-low heat. Serve over pasta with a garnish of lemon and sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

This dinner was good. I owe 90% of this dish’s success to the deliciousness that was provided by the cream of mushroom soup. I used Trader Joe’s portabello mushroom soup – it was very thick and creamy. All it needed was a touch of acid to brighten the flavors.

Less exciting meal plan: pizza.

I am proud of this pizza pie because I made the sauce and dough from scratch. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to make both from scratch at once – and they were both really good!

But, it was just a regular pizza – whole wheat crust, tons of cheese, bell peppers, onions, and broccoli.

And last but not least, a meal that’s been hiding in my computer for a month: our Valentine’s dinner!

Since we went out for a luxurious hotel stay the weekend before Valentine’s – we didn’t go out to eat on the actual holiday. I tried my best to make a fancy steak dinner to impress him. Well, Justin ate the steak, I had a Cornish hen.

I didn’t know what the heck to do with the bird. Justin grabbed it at Whole Foods when we were feeling adventurous. But I wasn’t feeling very bold when it came time to dress the bird for cooking. I squealed like a little girl as I washed it in the sink. Then, I covered the bird in olive oil and butter, and coated it with a ton of poultry seasoning.

For good measure, I stuck a bunch of lemon slices up the bird’s butt.

Here she is all cooked up. I think it looks pretty gross in these pictures, but the flavors were okay. Next time we go for Cornish hens, I’ll use a recipe.

Oh, and we had steamed asparagus and mashed sweet potatoes to round out the meal.

Other than what you’ve seen in this post, I’ve had a lot of salads, pasta + meatballs, hummus + pita + carrot sticks, and a few orders of takeout on busy work nights. Nothing too original happening in this kitchen!

 

Scones, Brownies, and Whoopie Pies

I am feeling the love just a week before Valentine’s day via baked goods. In years past, I could be found eating bon-bon after bon-bon for the month of February – but with a nut allergy now, I have to steer clear of my beloved Whitman’s sampler.

Instead of chocolates, I might go for a slice of rich chocolate cake or chocolate covered strawberries on Valentine’s day.

Scones could be romantic, if they are made fresh in the morning for breakfast in bed. I made carrot cake scones three times to get them right for the high bidder of Amanda’s online bake sale. (Recipe here.)

The final batch of scones was mailed this morning to California, to a home just a few minutes away from where I stayed last month in San Diego.

I fell in love all over again with my best ever brownies. (Recipe here.) I made a test batch before baking the real thing for Elizabeth of On Tap For Today. She won these brownies and got to choose her own mix-in for the recipe. Nut butter swirl was her choice, is there anything better?

The test batch came out just as good as I remembered. I absolutely love the consistently of these brownies: soft, cakey, and deeply chocolate.

The only problem with shipping brownies is that they are prone to sticking to plastic wrap and fingers. I will try wrapping each brownies in parchment paper. Elizabeth can pull a Joey Tribiani and suck the brownie residue off the parchment when she gets home from a night of fine dining.

I also shared these lovely pink cream whoopie pies at work last week. I wanted to test a recipe for whoopie pie cakes because I haven’t had luck with them in the past.

The recipe for whoopie pies with mint filling that I used to make the cakes came from bon appetit. I chose it because it called for butter or shortening, whereas most recipes I found use shortening in the cake and the filling.

Much to my delight, the cakes were soft but sturdy. I piped a ton of buttercream frosting in between two chocolate cakes and sprinkled them red and pink sugar.

What kind of sweet goods do you think best express your love?

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