Monday, May 31, 2010

Dreamy Coconut-Chocolate Cake with Coconuty Cream Cheese Icing

***I have a question for you to ponder...Is it possible for a dessert to be so mind-numbingly delicious that it should be illegal?  That folks, was the question running through my mind yesterday when I made this cake.  Coconut and chocolate are my two favorite flavors in this entire world.  Chocolate, well, there shouldn't have to be much of an explanation for that one.  And coconut...there's just something wonderful about this flavor that transports me to the beach on a hot sunny day.  When added together, they are a match in culinary heaven!

We celebrated my wonderful Mom-in-law's birthday yesterday.  Each year, I look forward to what her "cake order" will be.  See, each year family members place their specific "cake order" with me for their birthday...It can be anything they want!  My Mom-in-law comes up with a fantastic cake challenge each year, and I was excited to hear what she had dreamed up.  You might remember THIS FABULOUS MOUNDS BAR CAKE from last year.  I think she may love chocolate and coconut just as much as I do!

This year, she challenged me with a chocolate cake that had a coconut-cream cheese icing.  Game on!  This is the concoction that I came up with.  I whipped up a perfectly moist chocolate cake and flavored the batter with coconut extract.  After one whiff of the batter as it was mixing, I knew that I had struck chocolatey gold!  The cream cheese icing was equally decadent, with shredded coconut mixed right into the icing, and topped off with toasted coconut to add depth of flavor and texture.  I even added a little toasted coconut in between the two layers for a little surprise.

This folks, may very well be my new favorite cake.  The flavors are P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for the upcoming summer months.  If a friend or loved one has a birhday coming up, surprise them with this cake!  Better yet, make this cake for them "just because."  You'll be their new favorite person!  ;-)


Dreamy Coconut-Chocolate Cake


Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I prefer Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 cup boiling water

Directions:
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a different bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and coconut extract; Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water...the batter will be very thin!

Pour batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely and add icing...along with the toasted coconut on the top of each layer.

After icing the first layer...

Almost ready!



Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
Source:  allrecipes.com

Ingredients:

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coconut flavoring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted (see note below)


Directions:
1.Beat the cream cheese and butter in a mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time, alternating with heavy cream. Beat in the salt, coconut flavoring, and vanilla extract. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and spreadable. Add additional confectioners' sugar if necessary to thicken the frosting, or more cream to thin. Stir in the coconut. If desired, spoon toasted coconut evenly over frosted cake.

***To properly toast the shredded coconut, simply spread the coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 5 - 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Keep a close eye on the coconut while it's in the oven, because it tends to brown quickly!  You may need to stir the coconut around on the baking sheet a few times, in order to avoid over-browning.  The pieces of coconut near the outer edges will probably brown the quickest.***

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Martha Stewart's Greek Salad


***If you haven't noticed, I love Greek flavors and cuisine.  Feta cheese...kalamata olives...cucumber...cherry tomatoes...Mmm, mmm good!  This salad has all of the above!  I can always count on Martha Stewart's cookbook, Great Food Fast when I need a flavorful, but quick & easy weeknight dinner.  This salad fit the bill perfectly.

It includes a recipe for Seasoned Flatbread, however, I did not have the ingredients for this side item the night that I whipped up this salad.  I served mine with a baguette and dipping sauce (grapeseed oil + seasonings).  It tasted fantastic together!

Good, quality ingredients are key to this salad.  Make sure to purchase high-quality feta cheese and olives.  You can also add additional ingredients if you like...Pepperoncini and shredded greek chicken come to mind!  Just keep it fairly simple.

Bon Appetit!***

INGREDIENTS

For the Flatbread:
2 pieces lavash (or large pita bread, split in half)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper

For the Salad:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head of romaine lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese (8 oz)
1/2 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place the lavash on top. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and garlic. Brush the mixture evenly over the lavash, sprinkle with oregano.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Break into large pieces.


In a large bowl, whisk the oil with the vinegar and garlic; season with salt and pepper.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss.

Serve salad with the seasoned flatbread.

Source:  Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scrumptious Cashew Chicken

***This Cashew Chicken was SOOO good!  There's just something that I adore about roasted cashews or peanuts in dishes like this.  Roasting really brings out the great flavor of the nuts, and when paired with the other ingredients you've got one dynamite meal!  Chicken, green onions, minced garlic, and hoisin sauce...YUM!

To roast the cashews, simply spread them on a baking sheet, and cook in a 350 degree oven until they are golden and fragrant...about 10 minutes.  Be sure to watch them closely, in order to avoid burning them!

This dinner is also really easy to make.  It all comes together in the same medium skillet, so clean-up isn't bad either....That's always a plus in my book!

Of course, this chicken is best served with a side of white rice....and maybe even a fortune cookie or two if you have some!  ;-)

Bon Appetit!***

Ingredients:

Serves 4
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 scallions, white and green parts separated, each cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3/4 cup raw cashews (4 ounces), toasted
White rice, for serving (optional)


Directions:
1.In a medium bowl, toss chicken with cornstarch until chicken is coated; season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.


2.In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Cook half the chicken, tossing often, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.


3.Add remaining oil and chicken to skillet along with the garlic and white parts of scallions. Cook, tossing often, until chicken is browned, about 3 minutes. Return first batch of chicken to pan. Add vinegar; cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds.


4.Add hoisin sauce and 1/4 cup water; cook, tossing, until chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in scallion greens and cashews. Serve immediately over white rice, if desired.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

DRUMROLL PLEASE...


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(That's my best attempt at a drumroll, by the way...haha)

I was absolutely thrilled when Earth Fare contacted me recently to give away a $50.00 gift card to their stores, in order to celebrate the opening of their new Huntsville, AL store.  It always makes me happy when I get a chance to offer my readers such a great prize!

You can check out the giveaway post HERE.

But, without further ado, I'm excited to announce the winner!  It was SO incredibly hard to pick a winning story out of the entries...There were so many wonderful entries, and you guys made it very difficult!

However, there was one story that I felt really stood out....

AND THE WINNER IS:  EatHealthyLiveWell!!!

Please e-mail me at UABblazer83@aol.com to claim your prize!

Check out her entry here:

"EatHealthyLiveWell said...
You know what's really weird? When your whole body shakes uncontrollably for no apparent reason. That's what's been going on with me since last June - my muscles jerk and convulse as if I'm having a seizure except I'm fully aware of my surroundings. Sometimes it only lasts for 15 minutes, but it's gone for as long as 3 hours nonstop. There's also heartburn, nausea, hot flashes, skipped menstrual cycles, and dizziness. After 8 doctors and numerous tests, I'm still a mystery. To try to help myself, I've completely overhauled my lifestyle by exercising and changing my eating habits. Rather than poptarts, Lean Cuisines, and Bird's Eye Voila meals, I now eat organic fruit smoothies, salads, natural sandwiches on Food for Life bread, and lots of dinners from scratch.


In September, the muscle spasms occurred 3-4 times a week. Now they occur about once a month. The other symptoms are less severe as well. So while the doctors haven't officially diagnosed me, I know I'm at least on the way to recovery. However, after so many doctor bills (and the salary of a teacher's aide), the $50 gift card would be a big help in buying the natural, organic foods that I know my body needs.


Thanks for offering the giveaway! EarthFare is my favorite grocery store to shop at :) I especially love their weekly boot patrol challenges since I'm still working on cleaning out my cupboards of unhealthy items."

Again, thank you SO MUCH to everyone who took the time to enter this giveaway!  Stay tuned for additional giveaways in the future!  :-)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shrimp, Tomato and Basil Pasta



If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I love a delicious, go-to pasta dish any day!  This recipe by Martha Stewart is perfect for this time of year...It's PACKED with fresh ingredients and delicious flavors.  Each bite just bursts with flavor! 

One of my favorite fresh herbs to cook with is basil.  And I'm so excited, because I'm growing my own little herb garden this year.  It's complete with basil, chives and parsley!  They all just recently started to sprout, but I can't wait to be able to cook with them.  They seem to be growing so fast!

Fresh basil is the star of this dish...it sets the tone for the entire meal.  The sauce is
quick and easy, and the entire meal comes together in a flash.  If you're looking for a fresh pasta dish for spring, this is the perfect place to start!


Shrimp, Tomato and Basil Pasta
Source:  Everyday Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
(Serves 4)
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails removed)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound linguine
1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces, plus extra leaves for garnish (optional)


Directions:
1.Season shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat 4 teaspoons oil over high. Add shrimp; cook until opaque throughout, turning occasionally, 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

2.Make sauce: To the same skillet, add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and garlic; cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add canned tomatoes and their juice, along with 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and are saucy, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat; stir in cherry tomatoes.

3.Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain; return pasta to pot. Add tomato sauce, shrimp, and basil; season with salt and pepper, and toss. Serve immediately, garnished with basil leaves, if desired.