Greek Pasta Salad

greekpastasalad2

We only have two more days of being high school seniors! Saturday (graduation) we’ll be considered college freshmen instead. It still hasn’t really sunk in that I won’t be going to my high school anymore- we’ve been over there a bunch of times over the past two weeks for graduation practices and such, not to mention that we’ve been there for classes, activities, and fun events hundreds of times over the past four years. It’s going to be weird next week when all of a sudden we don’t have to go to school anymore.

One of the best things about graduation is that it means summer is here! I can’t wait for warm weather, making homemade ice cream, and going to the pool. Another great thing about summer is the amazing produce. Cooking is so much more fun when you have fresh, delicious ingredients to use.

If you’re looking for a recipe to kick off the summer, look no further than this refreshing pasta salad. It is a good way to show off fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from your garden (or, in our case, the grocery store!). It was a very nicely composed dish- it had just the right ratio of pasta to dressing to vegetables. It’s also excellent with some sliced grilled chicken on top. We will definitely be making this over and over again because it packs in a lot of vegetables and is truly delicious! I’m convinced lately that I love anything and everything with Greek flavors.

Greek Pasta Salad

Recipe from Joy the Baker

Serves a lot- probably at least 8-10

Ingredients:

For the dressing:

1/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced shallots

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

Salt and pepper

For the pasta salad:

5 cups cooked orzo pasta

2 cups seeded and chopped English cucumbers

2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1 heaping cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup thinly sliced purple onion (by the way, if you don’t like the pungent taste of fresh onion, rinse your slices to make them milder)

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (optional; we omitted it)

Salt and pepper

Directions:

For the dressing:

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, mustard, honey, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk the dressing until emulsified. You can use an immersion blender or food processor as well.

For the salad:

In a large bowl toss together the orzo pasta, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, onion, and fresh basil (if using). Stir in the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

 

 

Cherry Chip Cake

Cherry Cake

Even though maraschino cherries definitely have a strange color, I (Leah) really enjoy them on ice cream sundaes and in Shirley Temples. Since I love these cherries so much, I was immediately drawn to this cake recipe when I saw it months ago.

Cherry Cake 2

Celine and I hadn’t made it until now, though, because some people really hate maraschino cherries and we typically stick to more traditional cake flavors. Finally, for Mother’s Day, our mom chose this cake. It was a really fun cake to make- the batter turned a nice shade of pink and the old-fashioned meringue frosting was a nice change of pace. We almost had a casualty while making the frosting though- our instant read thermometer fell in the bowl as we were beating it. It got knocked open, but luckily only a tiny bit of the frosting got inside and we were able to salvage it. Thank goodness, because we’ve gone through way too many instant read thermometers!

Anyway, this cake was a complete success. It has just enough cherry flavor, and the tiny amount of almond extract works really well. We also liked how there was a different filling and frosting. The meringue frosting was less sugary than the buttercream, so it prevented the cake from being too sweet and heavy (an issue I often have with cakes). It is simple to decorate since the meringue frosting is easy to swirl; even if your cake decorating skills aren’t so great, you should have good luck with this cake!

Cherry Chip Cake

Recipe from Sweetapolita

Serves 12-14 (makes a 3-layer, 8-inch cake)

Ingredients:

For the cake:
3 1/3 cups (370 g) sifted cake flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups whole milk (at room temperature)
6 egg whites (at room temperature)
3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice (from the jar of cherries)
1/4 teaspoon  almond extract
2 1/4 cups (450 g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries
For the whipped cherry filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (softened)
2 cups (250 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice (from the jar of cherries)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
A handful of finely chopped maraschino cherries (probably about 1/3-1/2 cup, but you can add as few or many as you like)
For the old-fashioned frosting:
3 egg whites
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease, line with parchment and flour three round 8-inch pans. Place the pans on baking sheets (this will help prevent a firm bottom crust on the cake).

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk together the milk, egg whites, cherry juice, and almond extract in a large glass measuring cup.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until very pale and creamy, about 5 minutes.

With the mixer still on medium speed, alternate additions of the flour mixture (3 additions) and milk mixture (2 additions), beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating after each addition until incorporated. Continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the finely chopped cherries.

Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Bake them until a skewer comes out with only a few crumbs attached to it, about 30 minutes. They will be light golden brown.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and let them cool for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges by running a knife around the sides. Carefully turn out the cakes onto the cooling racks and peel off the parchment paper. Turn the cakes so they cool right-side up. Let cool completely.

For the whipped cherry filling:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for 5 minutes on medium speed; the butter will become creamy and pale.

Add the remaining ingredients (except the cherries) and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for another 6 minutes. The filling will be light and fluffy. Stir in the chopped cherries.

For the old-fashioned frosting:

Place all ingredients except the vanilla into a large heatproof bowl that fits snugly atop a medium saucepan of simmering water on the stove (about an inch of water; the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Beat the ingredients with a hand mixer until thick and glossy, about 5-7 minutes. It is not necessary, but if you like, check to make sure that the frosting has reached 160°F before removing it from the stove.

Remove the bowl from the saucepan and place it on the counter. Wipe the bottom of the bowl dry with a cloth. Continue to beat the frosting until it is cool and add the vanilla extract.

To assemble:

Work somewhat quickly, as the old-fashioned frosting begins to set. Level the cakes with a sharp knife if necessary. Place one of the cake layers on a cake stand and top with half of the cherry filling. Spread it to the edges. Repeat with the second layer. Place the final layer face-down on top. Cover the cake with the old-fashioned frosting, smoothing it into a swirly pattern. Serve the cake and enjoy!

Blueberry Muffins

blueberrymuffins

Our mom has always enjoyed making muffins, particularly blueberry ones. Too often, though, blueberry muffins are dry in some spots and then overly moist and soggy wherever blueberries are. Thankfully, these are perfect. The base is made with canola oil, sour cream, and buttermilk, which all prevent it from being dry. The streusel on top adds the perfect buttery crunch (there’s turbinado sugar in it!). We used small frozen wild blueberries, which I prefer in muffins because they don’t detract from the overall texture. We added lemon zest and vanilla to ours. These were a big hit, especially with our youngest brother, who, picky as he is, ate three of these!

We’ve been enjoying having a couple weeks off for job-shadowing for our senior capstone project. It’s hard to believe we’ll be graduating in only a few weeks and then heading off to college in the fall! For any wondering readers who may want to know, Leah and I are going to the same college. Luckily, we have chosen different majors, won’t be rooming together, and aren’t attending a small school. We didn’t originally plan on going to the same place, but that’s how it worked out!

Blueberry Muffins

Recipe from Cooking Classy

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

For the streusel topping:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter, diced into small cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado/raw sugar

For the muffin base:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

7 tablespoons canola oil (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons or 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon)

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup sour cream

2 large egg eggs

Zest of 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen- keep in mind that frozen berries will dye the batter purple!)

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Add 1/3 cup flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and diced butter to a food processor bowl. Pulse for a few seconds until the mixture forms small crumbles and is somewhat fluffy. Pour into a small bowl and whisk in raw sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together canola oil, sugar, buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla.

Gently fold in flour mixture until just combined (batter may be slightly lumpy). Gently fold in blueberries. Divide between 12 paper-lined or greased muffin cups in a muffin tin. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Serve as desired. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Gooey Butter Cake

gooeybuttercake

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day with their moms/grandmoms! We had a very nice day and made a special cake that we will be blogging about later this week.

I meant to blog about this last week as a Mother’s Day brunch treat, but things got very busy with AP tests and a bunch of other things that it didn’t happen. No matter- it’s never too late to post about a cake as fabulous as this one! Some readers may remember that we made a cinnamon gooey butter cake last year. It was fantastic, but this one is even better. The base is a sweet yeasted base that is a cross between the texture of cake and a cinnamon roll sort of dough. The topping is buttery (of course!) and filled with vanilla flavor. The edges of the cake caramelize and are my favorite part, but you can’t beat the gooey topping either. This cake is fabulous!

Gooey Butter Cake

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 9×13 in. cake

Ingredients

For the cake base:
3 tablespoons milk, at room temperature (we used skim)
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the topping:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar, for dusting over the cake

Directions

For the cake base:

In a small bowl, combine milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. The mixture should foam slightly.

Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Beat for several more minutes until the dough is completely smooth.

Press dough into a 9-by 13-inch baking dish (we sprayed ours with cooking spray) at least 2 inches deep. Cover dish with plastic wrap, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

For the topping:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl in between each addition.

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use an offset spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes. The center will still be liquidy when done (don’t overbake), but the top will have turned golden brown. Allow the cake to cool in the pan before sprinkling with powdered sugar for serving. Cut into slices and serve. Enjoy!

 

Spinach Feta Dip with Lemon and Oregano

spinachfetadip

Both of us really love spinach dip- both the cold kind that involves ranch dressing packets and sour cream and the hot cream cheese-and-Parmesan one. As delicious as they are, though, they’ve been done a million times and they’re very decadent. We love making variations on classic recipes, and this recipe was no exception.

It incorporates some Greek flavors into the classic spinach dip: feta and oregano, as well as some lemon. The combination of flavors creates a light, refreshing dip that I know we will be making again soon! We served ours with homemade whole wheat pita bread, but it would be great with pita chips, fresh vegetables, etc. It’s very easy to make (probably 10-15 minutes of work), so why not try it out sometime this week?

spinachfetadip2

Spinach Feta Dip with Lemon and Oregano

Serves 6 as an appetizer

Recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook

Ingredients:

8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (squeezing it between a couple layers of paper towels works well)

4 ounces of crumbled feta (1 cup)

1/2 cup sour cream (we may try Greek yogurt as a sub next time; light sour cream is fine)

1/2 cup mayonnaise (low-fat is fine)

1/2 cup fresh parsley

3 scallions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Process all the ingredients in a food processor until well combined (about 1 minute). Transfer to a bowl and top with extra crumbled feta if desired. Enjoy!