Monday, March 26, 2012

Reese's Carrot Cake & Cream Cheese SnapDragon Frosting

Growing up, the idea of carrot cake seemed weird to me. Why would you put vegetables in a dessert!? Likewise the idea of zucchini bread, etc.

Then I HAD a good carrot cake, with a delicious cream-cheese frosting (really, what ISN'T good with cream cheese?).

Scott cooked for a Men's Retreat put on by our church last weekend, and part of his menu was our quickly-becoming-infamous Cumin Roasted Carrots. Apparently there were some miscalculations in the quantities and he came home with two 3lb bags of baby carrots and 5 1lb bags of whole large carrots.

I roasted all of the baby carrots over a couple of days, and decided to use a couple of bags of the large carrots in a carrot cake. I am not much of a baker, I can make some decent cookies and can whip up anything from a mix without screwing it up, but baking requires a lot more attention to detail than regular cooking.

I googled Carrot Cake recipes and read through a few, deciding that while I didn't have everything for any one of the recipes, I had various bits of several of them, and might be able to put something together.

I based it primarily on this recipe, although I consulted this one and this one as well. Buttermilk is not something we stock in our fridge, so I used a combination of sour cream and milk for that ingredient. I also didn't have any canola oil, so I substituted applesauce. I don't have anything against raisins in general, but I don't like them in my baked goods, so I got crazy and substituted white chocolate chips (thanks Jess!) for those.

True to my adventurous (in cooking) nature, I had to put a little hot sauce in somewhere. I chose not to put it into the cake, but I snuck a teeny tiny bit into the frosting.

Reese's Carrot Cake with SnapDragon Cream-Cheese Frosting
  • 3 cups self-rising flour (I use Gold Medal brand)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 6 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups Splenda
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbs vanilla
  • 2/3 cup or about 7oz mandarin oranges, drained & whizzed in mini food-processor just until broken down
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2lbs carrots, washed, peeled & grated in food processor
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped fine
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
  • Canola oil spray

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves, whisk together gently and set aside.

In a very large mixing bowl, combine eggs, Splenda, brown sugar, sour cream, milk, vanilla, oranges and applesauce. Whisk together just until combined and the big chunks of sour cream are broken up small.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture two cups at a time, stirring in between until all combined.

Add carrots, nuts and white chocolate chips, stirring to combine well.

Spoon batter into three round cake tins that have been sprayed with canola oil, bake on the middle rack of oven for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick poked in the center of each cake comes out clean. If your oven does not cook evenly, you may have to let one cake cook longer than another.

Remove cakes from oven and set on a cooling rack in their tins to cool for at least 30 minutes, then invert tins and continue to cool cakes upside-down on racks. You may need to run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake a little.

Once cakes are COMPLETELY cooled, you can frost them. (This was always the hardest part for me growing up, I never wanted to wait! If you try to frost before the cake has cooled, your frosting starts to melt and it is a lot harder! Granted, that is less true with cream cheese frosting, but still true!)

Cream Cheese SnapDragon Frosting

  • 24oz (3 pkgs) cream cheese, softened 
  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 2 tsp Homeward Bound SnapDragon Hot Sauce*
  • 3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar to taste

(Note: I left the cream cheese and butter in a bowl out on the counter overnight to soften - I covered it with plastic wrap and it was the PERFECT consistency the next morning)
Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. 

Add extracts and hot sauce and beat just until incorporated. 

Beat in sugar, one cup at a time, until frosting has the flavor and consistency you want. You may not need to add all of the sugar.

*(The hot sauce in the frosting is something you only notice a little bit after you've eaten it. It just warms up the back and sides of your tongue enough to make you say "hey, what's in that?")

I don't own a cake plate, and the only lazy susan I have is two-tiered and holds our vitamins in a corner of the kitchen countertop.

I cleared the stuff off the top of the lazy susan, covered a large sturdy plastic lid (to a large mixing bowl) with tin foil and placed it on the top tier of the lazy susan. It was a perfect size.

I REALLY recommend using a lazy susan to frost your cake - being able to turn it with one hand and apply frosting with the other is made MUCH easier.

This is the first cake that I have made from scratch EVER, and I'm amazed at how it came out. The consistency is dense and a little chewy, which "traditional" carrot cake is supposed to be. I'm very happy with all of the flavors in the cake AND the frosting. I am obviously not too talented at the decorating part, I know it's a little lopsided and the frosting is uneven, I also didn't have any food coloring to create carrot shapes on top, so I wrote "I AM CARROT CAKE" on top instead. (Jess said when she saw it she heard "HEAR ME ROAR" after...

Extra thanks to Jess for loaning me her cake pans and suggesting the white chocolate chips!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hot Tip #6

Probably not news to most, but hot sauce is GREAT on eggs! 

Scrambled, baked, fried, and even in deviled eggs!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Comfort Food: Spaghetti Squash!

There are few comfort foods I love more than a good boxed pasta dinner.  Since we are trying to eat at least moderately healthfully, I've been making a lot of spaghetti squash lately (you may have noticed!)

Tonight's rendition reminds me of a Hamburger Helper kind of thing, but it's vegetarian and there's WAY less carbs.  In true Hamburger Helper/Boxed Dinner style, it's not pretty, but it's good! I prettied up the plate with some roasted carrots, roasted broccoli, and tahini-yogurt dip.

Boxed Dinner Spaghetti Squash

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut Spaghetti Squash in half lengthwise, spray cut-side with olive oil, and place cut-side down on a cooking sheet (I use parchment). Bake for about 35-40 minutes depending on size of squash.  After 20 minutes of cooking, pierce each half a few times with a fork. Squash is done when it is fork tender - turn cut-side up and let cool until you can handle it with your hand or at least a hot-pad.

Spray a large frying pan with olive oil (or use a tablespoon of olive oil if you don't have a sprayer) and heat on medium. Once heated, add mushrooms and balsamic vinegar.

If the burger crumbles are thawed, add them to the pan when the mushrooms are almost done, cook long enough to brown the crumbles a little, turn off heat.

In a food processor, mini food processor, or blender, combine fresh herbs, garlic, and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Whiz/Blend to make a paste, add to mushroom/burger crumbles in pan and stir to combine.

Use a fork to scrape squash out of it's shell into the pan, stir to combine. If squash is cooled significantly, you can turn the heat back up to med/low. 

Add marinara and hot sauce, salt to taste and heat through if not hot.  (I added a little dried parsley and seasoning salt because the marinara I used was a generic store brand and pretty bland.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Easy Egg Bake!

I know not everyone likes or eats eggs, but for those that DO, this is an easy dish to throw together for breakfast or brunch!

We started with this recipe and went from there. You can substitute the cheese/vegetable/hot sauce choices to customize the overall flavor and feel of the dish. Today we used what we had on hand (provolone and mushrooms), but great combos would be:

Mexican blend cheese, tomatoes, green onions, SparkPlug or PattyCake
Feta cheese, tomatoes, finely diced basil and mint, SnapDragon

Scott & Reese's Egg Bake
  • Corn chips (enough to cover the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish) - use pita chips if using feta cheese
  • 1 (8-ounce) can mild diced green chiles
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of choice
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup sliced or diced fresh vegetable of choice 
  • 1/2 tbs Homeward Bound Hot Sauce of choice
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray pan with olive oil or Canola cooking spray.

Pour chips into baking dish and crush to make a sort of crust in the bottom of the dish.

Pour green chilis over the chips, then layer the cheese over the chilis and the veggies over the cheese.

Lightly whisk eggs, add a pinch of kosher salt, a few twists of black pepper, and Homeward Bound Hot Sauce of choice. Stir to combine and pour over veggies, etc. in baking dish.

Bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes. Edges will brown and veggies will float to the top, cheese will bubble. If you use tomatoes or mushrooms, they will juice a little - just make sure your eggs are cooked through before serving.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hot Tip #5

When roasting vegetables, add a little Homeward Bound Hot Sauce into the olive oil mixture! Add more or less based on how much ZING you want!

We put a little Drunk Uncle in our carrots...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

People We Love... Not Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese

We have lots of foodie friends, some I've never met in person!

My friend Jill is a Copy Editor, Mom, and guest-writer for The Orange County Register.  A mutual friend introduced us through our blogs several years ago (like maybe FIVE years?!) and while we've never met, we have grown to have a mutual appreciation of each other's lives and interests (cooking, crafting, and cats!).

Jill frequently comes up with brilliant recipes that are often easy to transpose into a vegetarian version (if they aren't vegetarian already) and are always delicious!

Here's her latest - a pureed soup that looks like tomato soup, but isn't! It looks and sounds absolutely amazing and we will be trying it, soon!

Go check her out!

Photo by Jill L. Reed

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cucumber Salad - Tzatziki Style

I love middle eastern food.

During the spring and summer we eat it more often and I often make a cucumber salad that borders on being a Tzatziki. It is best when made ahead and allowed to sit in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight. I like it chunky and very garlicky, Scott likes it a little more smooth and dip-like, with less garlic. I will sometimes whiz half of it in the blender or food processor and add it back in.

Reese's Cucumber Salad - Tzatziki Style

  • 2 cucumbers, rinsed, peeled and cut into 1/4" chunks
  • 1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt (Greek style is best)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • kosher salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
Combine all in a mixing bowl and refrigerate for a few hours. Great by itself as a salad with bigger chunks of cucumber, great as a condiment on pita sandwiches when made as a dip.

Roasted Broccoli with Flax Seed

I had some broccoli crowns in the fridge and didn't want to waste them (I get bored with steamed broccoli, didn't want to do "with cheese") so I was going to make Alton Brown's Roasted Broccoli recipe. Then I discovered I'm out of bread crumbs/panko.

So I made it up as I went along.

Reese's Roasted Broccoli with Flax Seed and Garlic

  • 2 large broccoli crowns, cut into manageable "trees" (between 1"-3")
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tbs ground flax seed
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (if you want to go Vegan, substitute Nutritional Yeast for the Parmesan and cut out the salt)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine everything but the broccoli in a mixing bowl, combine well. Add broccoli and smear olive oil mixture over broccoli while tossing (I used a big spatula) to coat.

Roast for 8-10 minutes.

Hot Tip #4

(courtesy Brian Edwards)

For a killer shot, mix 1 part Dr Pepper with 1 part SnapDragon. Throw it back and love it. Add additional liquids (leaded or otherwise) as you wish.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hot Tip #3

I cannot eat a piece of pizza anymore without putting hot sauce on it!

The best are SnapDragon and Drunk Uncle!

Pour a quarter size of sauce onto your plate and dip a few bites... TASTY!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hot Tip #2

If a recipe calls for Crushed Red Pepper, or Red Pepper Flakes, substitute SparkPlug in your recipe! A whole new depth of flavor!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms and Stuff

After a successful first attempt at Spaghetti Squash, I followed it up a few days ago with this recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms.

Tonight I'm kind of doing a combo of the two but adding some asparagus and roasting some garlic with the squash as an experiment.

A lot of recipes I see for spaghetti squash include parmesan cheese, since we try to be low-cal/low-fat we either omit it or just grate a little over the top at the end.

Reese's Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms and Stuff

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • olive oil (in a sprayer)
  • 1 tbs olive oil (or more depending on your pan)
  • 6oz mushrooms cleaned and sliced
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed* and sliced into 1" pieces
  • 1/2 jar marinara sauce of choice (I used Newman's Own Sockarooni)
  • 2 Field Roast Italian Sausages, sliced on the diagonal into 1" slices

  • Homeward Bound SparkPlug Hot Sauce
  • Parmesan cheese (optional) for garnish

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out all of the seeds and discard them. Spray cut side with olive oil and place four cloves of garlic in each hollow, flip to place cut-side down in a baking dish or cookie sheet (I put parchment down to save on cleanup) so that garlic is underneath the squash while it cooks.

Bake for about 30 minutes, squash is done when fork-tender. Flip squash cut-side up and let cool. (Transfer roasted garlic to your pan during the asparagus section.)

While squash is roasting, collect and prepare the remainder of the ingredients. 

With about 10 minutes left on the timer for the squash: In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil and add mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a twist of pepper. As mushrooms start to get juicy, add asparagus and cover (add roasted garlic now), allow to cook for about 10 minutes (on about medium/low - my burner was at about 3.5), stirring periodically. (Depending on your pan, you may need to add a little olive oil - I gave the asparagus a light spray.)

Once the mushrooms and asparagus are mostly cooked (but not quite all the way), lower heat. 

Scrape the squash into the pan with the mushrooms, asparagus and garlic and stir to combine. Add spaghetti sauce and raise heat a bit to heat through if necessary (my squash and pan were both still hot enough to counteract the temp of the sauce coming out of the jar).

If you like things a little spicy, add about a tablespoon of Homeward Bound SparkPlug (I would stir it into the sauce before adding the sauce to the veggies).

*I was told by my Mother once that asparagus will snap naturally in the place where it becomes less fibrous, so by snapping each piece individually you won't end up with pieces of asparagus that are too hard to chew.  It may seem like you are wasting more this way, but you don't eat the non-chewable parts anyway so this way you are throwing them away at the beginning instead of the end when they are left on your plate!

Hot Tip #1

Starting today - we will periodically be giving "Hot Tips" on ways to use your Homeward Bound Hot Sauce!

Tip #1: French Fry Sauce
1 tbs mayo (or vegenaise if vegan)
1 tsp mustard
1 tbs Homeward Bound GunSmoke BBQ Sauce
1 tsp Homeward Bound PattyCake

Mix well, dip fries and enjoy! Mmmmmm.... TASTY.