Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

lemonpuddingcake2

How is it possible that March is starting tomorrow? There are only two months of high school left, which feels crazy. This school year has just blown away with a gust of college essays, piles of homework, and hours spent at activities. We have a long Easter break and have a senior capstone (job shadowing) project at the beginning of May, so there are only 30-something days of actual school left. It’s hard to believe!

Of course, even though Spring is just around the corner doesn’t mean that it is warm outside. We’re predicted to get more snow next week, and the high temperatures over the past week have been in the 30s. However, we can pretend that Spring is here with this sunny lemon dessert. This dessert feels fancy, but the ingredients are fairly simple (even though it takes a bit of time to make). Each cake is basically like a layer of lemon curd and a layer of moist, fluffy sponge cake. The fun part is that it is all one batter when it goes into the oven; the layers form as it bakes.

We highly recommend finding Meyer lemons to use in this cake; they have a sweeter, mellower flavor than regular lemons (although I am sure regular lemons would taste excellent too). Once you get your hands on some lemons, please make this cake! It is truly an amazing dessert. I bet serving it with some raspberries and whipped cream would be excellent

lemonpuddingcake1

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

Recipe from Annie’s Eats, originally from The Craft of Baking

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Softened butter to grease ramekins

¾ cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar, divided, plus more for coating the ramekins

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

Zest of 2 Meyer lemons

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

4 large eggs, separated

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Lightly grease the inside of six 8-ounce ramekins with the softened butter and coat with sugar. Line the inside of a baking dish or roasting pan with a kitchen towel.  Place the prepared ramekins on top of the towel inside the baking dish (you will be baking these with the towel lining the bottom of the pan).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ¾ cup of the sugar and salt.  Add the lemon zest and rub the zest into the flour mixture until evenly combined and fragrant.  In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice and egg yolks.  Whisk to blend.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the egg whites and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Beat until soft peaks form, being careful not to over mix.  Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the buttermilk and whisk until well incorporated.  Add 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to the bowl and fold in gently with a spatula. Repeat with the remaining whites in two more additions.

Once the batter is evenly combined and all the egg whites have been incorporated, divide evenly between the prepared ramekins.  Fill the baking dish or roasting pan with hot water so that it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Tent the pan with foil, transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 20-30 minutes more, just until the cakes are risen and are slightly browned on top.

Transfer the ramekins to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Once they are cool, slide a paring knife around the edges of each cake and invert onto serving plates.  Top with whipped cream if desired. Enjoy!

Note: we doubled our recipe and baked half of it in a larger 8×8-inch pan. It worked just as well as the small cakes (although it couldn’t be inverted). If you go this route rather than individual servings, it will take a bit longer to bake.

Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard (Crock Pot)

balsamicchicken1

Our mom has a notorious history in our household of having crock pot failures. It’s not her fault, but our crock pot cooks things quicker than most, resulting in overcooked food, and the many (many) crock pot cookbooks she has are mostly not too great.

However, she recently bought the America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, which is definitely a reputable book. We had this amazing chicken for dinner on Sunday, and it was the first thing that came out of a crock pot in our house that tasted really, really good! (We had a few decent things come out of the crock pot before, but none that could rival something cooked over a stove or in an oven). It’s super-flavorful and the chicken is tender and forgiving since it uses chicken thighs rather than chicken breasts, reducing the chances of dried-out chicken. We served ours over orzo pasta, which was great, but you could serve it over mashed potatoes or like a stew with a piece of bread on the side.

balsamicchicken2

Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard

Recipe from Slow Cooker Revolution

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
5 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
12 (6 oz.) bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed
6 oz. Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves sliced 1/2 inch thick
 
Directions
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onion, thyme, tomato paste, garlic, anchovy, and red pepper flakes and cook until onion is softened and starting to brown, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook for another minute.

 
Slowly whisk in vinegar, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps.  Cook until reduced a bit, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine, and bay leaves.  
 
Season chicken with salt and pepper and place slow cooker.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours, on low. Gently stir in Swiss chard, cover, and cook on high until tender, 20-30 minutes.  
 
Transfer chicken to platter and tent loosely with foil.  Let braising liquid settle 5 minutes, then skim fat from surface using large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with sauce spooned over each chicken piece. Enjoy!

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

banananutellacupcakes

When we make cupcakes for our family, we typically pipe frosting on a few of them for blog pictures and then just spread it on with an icing spatula for the rest. Of course, when we are bringing cupcakes to an event, we pipe the frosting on all of them! While piping frosting itself is fun, refilling the piping bag can be a messy and annoying job, so we avoid it if possible.

Luckily, these are the kind of cupcakes where a fancy piped swirl isn’t necessary. Regardless of how you spread your frosting, these cupcakes are fantastic. The base is a banana cupcake that is less dense than banana bread but still packed with banana flavor. It’s definitely the best banana cake we’ve made. The frosting is the perfect topping for this cake. It is more chocolatey than it looks (we beat ours for longer, so our frosting became lighter as more air was incorporated). The nutella flavor is not super strong, so if you want to increase the amount, you can. We loved it just as it was, though!

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

Recipe from Cooking Classy

Makes about 15 cupcakes

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

1 1/4 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium bananas)

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg+ 1 large egg white

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup salted butter, softened

1/4 cup Nutella (feel free to add more)

2 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 – 4 tsp heavy cream

Directions:

For the cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt until evenly combined. Mash the bananas with lemon juice until fairly smooth and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Blend in egg, then add the egg white and vanilla. Beat in the banana mixture.

With the mixer  on low speed, add in a third of the flour mixture and beat until combined. Add half of the buttermilk. Repeat, alternating between the flour and the buttermilk. Mix until just evenly combined. Divide the batter among 15 paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake in the  preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 18 – 22 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

For the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the butters on medium-high speed until very pale and fluffy, about 5 – 6 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl halfway through. Add the Nutella and cocoa powder and beat for two more minutes. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and blend on low speed until combined. Add the cream and whip on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes more minutes. Frost the cupcakes as desired and enjoy!

Greek Chicken Salad

greekchickensalad

I love chicken salad, as I’ve mentioned before.  It is a favorite quick and delicious lunch option in our house. We have made several variations on the classic, and this one is a particular favorite. No surprise there, since it’s inspired by Greek flavors. You make a tzatziki sauce to stir the chicken in, and add diced cucumbers, olives, red onion, and tomatoes. You can serve it in a pita if you’d like for a slightly more authentic meal, or just on a roll like we did. We had to skip the feta since we were out of it, but I do think it would be a really nice topping for serving! Regardless, this is a healthy and great-tasting chicken salad that we’ll be sure to make again.

Greek Chicken Salad

Recipe from Annie’s Eats

Serves 4

Ingredients

1½ cups cooked chicken, chopped into small pieces
½ cup cucumber, diced
¾ cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons sliced olives (Kalamata or black are preferred)
1 cup tzatziki sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pita, for serving, or any bread type you’d like
Crumbled feta cheese

Directions

Stir together the chicken, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, olives and tzatziki sauce in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until serving  Serve over pita bread or whatever bread you choose with a crumble of feta cheese. Enjoy!

Lighter Poppy Seed Dressing on a Strawberry, Parmesan, and Almond Salad

poppyseeddressing

Today is our eighth snow day of the school year! I find it funny that we originally had today off, but after our first few snow days the administration made today a school day again. Unfortunately for them, it snowed yesterday and last night, so today got re-cancelled. I personally really like snow, but I have to admit that this routine is getting a little old. Plus, senior year will be over in the blink of an eye! I’d like to be able to enjoy going to school while I can (do not fear- I’m not one of those people who adores going to school every day, but I do generally like my classes and I enjoy seeing friends rather than being snowed at home with only homework to do).

While baking is a nice thing to do on a snow day, I’ve been craving fresher foods reminiscent of spring and summer. A lightened-up poppy seed dressing on a strawberry salad with almonds and Parmesan? Perfect! This dressing takes under 10 minutes to prepare and is delicious. It doesn’t rely on mayonnaise or any of that kind of thing for creaminess. You slowly drizzle in oil to make an emulsion, which renders the dressing perfectly creamy. The dressing perfectly complements the strawberries, the Parmesan adds a kick of flavor, and the almonds add crunch. Maybe I’ll make this for a school lunch someday this week! I’m terrible about packing good lunches- at 6 in the morning I have no interest to get up to make anything, and the night before I’m usually up late doing homework. But this super-quick salad might change that. Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

poppyseeddressing2

Lighter Poppy Seed Dressing on a Strawberry, Parmesan, and Almond Salad

Recipe from Pink Parsley

Makes enough for 6 medium-sized salads

Ingredients

For the dressing:

2 teaspoons grated white onion (you can reduce this a bit if you don’t like raw onion)

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons white wine or white balsamic vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar since that’s all we had on hand besides balsamic)

1/3 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

For the salad: (I don’t have exact amounts listed because the salad:dressing ratio can vary by preference)

Lettuce

Slivered almonds

Sliced strawberries

Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Using a blender, small food processor, or immersion blender, process together the onion, mustard powder, salt, sugar, honey, and vinegar until completely smooth, about 15 seconds. Slowly stream in the oil with the blender running until the dressing is creamy.  Stir in the poppy seeds.
Top lettuce with almonds, strawberries, and grated Parmesan. Pour over desired amount of dressing and serve. Enjoy!

Orange Ricotta Chocolate Chip Muffins

orangericottamuffins1

We are finally done our yearbook layouts for the year! I’m sure that we have mentioned it at one point or another, but the two of us and our friend Danielle comprise the senior section of the yearbook. For the past five months, we’ve been at yearbook for a couple of hours a day after school and have been stalking down fellow seniors in the hallway for pictures, quotes, and random/occasionally intrusive questions. Even though it is hard work, I really do love being on the yearbook and cannot wait to see the finished product. We worked very hard on the senior section, so I hope that the rest of our class loves the senior portion of the yearbook as much as we do! It is bittersweet to be done- even though it will be nice to actually go home after school, I will actually miss the crazy deadline nights (everyone gets a little bit unhinged after 8:00 when the layouts have to be done by midnight) and the awesome people on yearbook.

Want to know what else is bittersweet? The chocolate chips in these muffins (I had to tie in my first paragraph somehow)! These muffins are truly amazing. They are soft and tender with a wonderful depth of flavor. We love the chocolate and orange combination, so these muffins quickly became favorites of ours. Their orange flavor is so present is because the sugar is rubbed with the orange zest to release the oils in the zest. We’ve done this same method in recipes with lemon zest as well, and the technique really works; do it in any recipe that you want to amp up the citrus flavor.

Even though ricotta is an unorthodox muffin ingredient, it really makes a delicious muffin, so don’t be deterred by it. Give these muffins a try sometime soon- they are truly wonderful!

P.S. If you think that our oranges don’t look very orange, you’re right. They are some different variety of orange that our mom found at Trader Joe’s that have a lovely coral-colored interior, but they’re not blood oranges. They taste like regular oranges though!

orangericottamuffins2

Orange Ricotta Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes about 12

Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

Zest of 1 orange

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 large egg

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips (regular or mini)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with liners.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, rub together the orange zest and the sugar until the sugar is fragrant and faintly orange. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar mixture for about two minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the ricotta and beat until combined. Add the egg, orange juice, and vanilla; beat until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed until nearly (but not quite) combined. Stir in the chocolate chips until they are evenly incorporated into the batter.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until lightly brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Almond Poppy Seed Pancakes with Almond Cream Sauce

almondpoppyseedpancake1

Hi everyone! Our electricity has been out since early Wednesday morning, which explains why we haven’t posted since Monday (no WiFi either). Our school has been cancelled for the past few days due to power outages as a result of ice, and on Monday we had a day off because of snow! I’m pretty sure Easter break will be virtually non-existent. Anyway, we are thankfully staying with family friends, who have generously welcomed all eight of us (not an easy task!) for the past two nights, and we also spent yesterday with out grandparents. Hopefully our power will be on soon, as well as the power of thousands of others who are stuck without heat on these below-freezing days.

Needless to say, we haven’t been able to do any cooking at home (although we did make waffles and cookies where we are staying). However, we made these pancakes on Sunday morning last weekend, and they were awesome! They are super fluffy and have a wonderful flavor from almond extract and poppy seeds. They are really taken over the top by an almond syrup, which is phenomenal. It is very easy and has a unique but delicious flavor. I definitely recommend making the syrup if you’re making the pancakes. A stack of these is just right on a cold winter day! Hopefully we’ll be back in our kitchen this weekend.

almondpoppyseedpancake2

Almond Poppy Seed Pancakes

Recipe from Cooking Classy

Makes 15 pancakes (or more if you make them smaller)

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

2/3 cup milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons applesauce

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For syrup:

1/4 cup salted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

Preheat a griddle to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate mixing bowl whisk together buttermilk, milk, sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, applesauce, almond extract and vanilla extract. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry mixture and stir just until combine. Batter should be slightly lumpy but no flour streaks should remain.

Pour about 1/4 – 1/3 cup batter on greased preheated griddle. Flip pancake when golden on bottom and then cook opposite side until golden. Keep warm while you make the syrup.

For the syrup, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in sugar, cream, and buttermilk. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to boil and sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup from heat and stir in baking soda and almond extract. Whisk for 10 seconds until syrup is foamy. Serve warm over pancakes.

Homemade Thin Mints

thinmints1

Leah and I were Brownies for about two weeks when we were little, and that has been the limit of our Girl Scouting experience. This does not mean we haven’t purchased an overpriced box or two of Girl Scout cookies now and then subsequently. I’ve spent far too much money on them and to be honest, the more I improve at cooking and baking, the less good pre-packaged stuff tastes (although I’m never one to say no when someone offers me a Girl Scout cookie! They are pretty yummy.).

The other day at yearbook, when a classic green box of Thin Mints was placed on the front table, I decided that enough was enough. Time to recreate a Girl Scout cookie at home. I researched some recipes, but none sounded quite reputable (some suggested stirring mint extract into chocolate, which can cause it to seize up. Not a risk I was willing to take!). I wanted a crisp cookie with lots of chocolate flavor and the perfect quantity of mint.

Instead, I turned to a couple of favorite food blogs and found a recipe for a homemade Oreo cookie. This recipe sounded perfect because if you think about it, the cookie inside the chocolate shell of a Thin Mint is very similar to that of an Oreo. We just added some peppermint extract to the cookie dough, and the cookies turned out perfectly. They had just the right amount of minty flavor and were both crispy and chocolatey. We dipped only half of the cookie sides in the chocolate, since we felt that having the whole cookie covered in dark chocolate was too much. We also didn’t add peppermint oil to the chocolate, since the cookies were minty enough. All in all, these cookies turned out perfectly! They were way better than the originals and cost far less.

thinmints2

Homemade Thin Mints

Cookie base adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 30-35 cookies (depends on the size you make your cookies)

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups sugar

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

Scant ½ teaspoon peppermint extract (you can adjust this to your preference)

8 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate (this will be enough to half-dip your cookies, but you may need to adjust the amount depending on the thickness of the chocolate layer, if you want to cover the cookies entirely, or if you just want to drizzle them)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine all the ingredients except for the egg, butter, and extract in the bowl of a stand mixer. Combine briefly until evenly mixed. Beat in butter, then egg and extract.

Place generous teaspoon-sized balls of dough on the baking sheet and press down a bit. Bake until set and crackled, about 9-10 minutes (don’t underbake, because you want these to be crispy, but be careful not to overbake- since these cookies are naturally dark, it is easy to not notice if they are burning a bit at the edges). Remove to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. If it’s too thick, stir in a bit of neutral vegetable oil. Dip the cookies as desired in the chocolate and place on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to set completely. Serve and enjoy! These will keep in a plastic container for at least a couple days.

Greek Pita Pizzas

greekpizza1

This pita pizza was supposed to be the subject of our very first blog post, but the picture was absolutely hideous. We never posted about it, and then we slowly forgot about it. Thankfully, we re-remembered it when we had a cucumber and some yogurt in the fridge this past week. I’m glad we did. It is so, so, so amazing. I can say with honesty that it falls in the top 5 pizzas I’ve had.

greekpizza2

It surely is anything but traditional. An olive-oil brushed pita is topped with hummus; mozzarella cheese; a mixture of tomatoes, olives, and red onion tossed with vinegar and oil; and finally feta cheese. After a short time in the oven, it’s topped with tzatziki. The result is a very flavorful and absolutely amazing pizza that I would happily eat for lunch or dinner weekly. Plus, it’s super healthy! Speaking of “super”- the Super Bowl this weekend is not something that’s really on my agenda, but I’ll probably make some appetizers for fun. Our local Trader Joe’s had a sign on the wall that read: National Appetizer Day! It sounded accurate to me.

Greek Pita Pizzas

Makes 4

Recipe from Pink Parsley

Ingredients

4 medium-sized pitas (about 8 inches)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup hummus

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/2 small red onion, cut in half and sliced thin

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped (we prefer black olives, so that’s what we used)

3/4 cup quartered grape tomatoes

1/2-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (we like to go a bit heavier to make the pizza have more of the cheesy stretch that classic pizza has)

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Tzatziki sauce, for serving

Directions

Heat oven to 475. Brush pitas with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes.

Combine the grape tomatoes, olives, red onions, oregano, salt and pepper, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Spread 2 tablespoons of hummus over each pita. Top with mozzarella, vegetable mixture, and then feta. Bake for 6-8 minutes until cheese is melted and pita is crisp. Top with tzatziki to taste. Enjoy!

Note: you can make this recipe completely from scratch by making your own pita and hummus, or you can use pre-made. It’s obviously a lot more time-consuming to make everything from scratch, and we’ve found that these pizzas are just as wonderful with a good-quality store bought pita and good-quality store bought hummus. Trader Joe’s has great hummus and pita, as does a local authentic Armenian shop near our house.