Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween Pumpkin Cake

Happy Halloween Everyone! Trick or Treat?  Well, no tricks here, just a whole lot of treats.  I am so excited to show you how to make this fun and festive pumpkin shaped cake.  If you have been to my blog before, you know I'm still working on getting comfortable with the world of baking.  Now I'm also exploring the beauty of cake decorating.  Anyone can make this fun cake because I did it!  I used a box cake mixed, but I followed a tip baking guru Paula Deen gave on a cooking show.  I love her tips because it takes an ordinary box cake mix and turns it into super rich and moist cake.  Now if Paula Deen uses a box cake mix occasionally, I'm sure going to feel less baking challenged when I do too. : )   I hope you all have a very sweet and safe Halloween.   

Ingredients:
2 boxes of any flavor cake mix.  I used classic yellow.
(See notes fpr Paula Deens tips to enhance box cake mix)
2-3 tubs of frosting or your favorite white frosting
sprinkles (optional)
Yellow, Red and Green food coloring (see note)
1 ice cream cone

Notes on Box Cake Mix:  Paula Deen advised that you can turn a regular box cake mix to a richer cake mix by doing the following:   
1. Add an extra egg to to the box cake mix (for example if the box calls for 3 eggs, use 4)  
2. Add butter in place of the vegetable oil  that is called for on the cake box.
3.  Add milk in place of the water that is called for on the cake box.

Notes on Frosting:  You can get some help from the store and buy orange and green cake frosting.  That's actually what I did. 

Notes on the baking pan:  You will need a bundt cake pan for this cake so you can get the right shape.  You will either use two bundts pans to bake the cakes or have to bake one cake at a time using the same bundt pan.  That's what I did.


Directions:
Bake the two cakes per the box baking instructions until done.  Allow cakes to cool completely on two separate plates.

Then frost the dome part of one bundt well.  Next, take your cake plate (the plate that will hold your final pumpkin cake) and invert it over the frosted cake. Then flip the frosted cake over so the frosted side is now the bottom half of the pumpkin and the flat side of the bundt is facing up.

Now frost the flat side of the bundt cake well. This will become the center layer of frosting between the two bundt cakes.  Next, place the second bundt cake on top of the bottom cake by placing the flat sides together.  The dome of the 2nd bundt should be the top of the pumpkin now.

  Frost the top bundt cake as well. Use the back of a spoon and give it some texture up and down the cake to make the ridges of the pumpkin.






Next take a flat bottom ice cream cone and frost it will with the green frosting.  Place the frosted ice cream cone in the bundt cake hole so it looks like the stem of the pumpkin. 








Voila you have just created yourself a pumpkin shaped cake.  Now you can decorate with sprinkles and novelty plastic spiders to give it a real fun finish.  Slice and enjoy.  Serves a party.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

World on a Plate- International Spaghetti and Meatball Feast


The Foodbuzz 24x24 Food Event showcases 24 food blogger parties during a 24-hour period. I was thrilled to be featured this month!

 
World on a Plate:  International Spaghetti and Meatball Feast
 It doesn't matter what country you come from, where you were born or where you were raised, we all have certain foods that make us feel warm, cozy and happy inside.  These dishes not only nourish us physically, but spiritually as well.  Growing up in a Sri Lankan household I have a lot of Sri Lankan dishes that make me feel this way.  But when I came to the United States as a preschooler I fell in love with Spaghetti and Meatballs.  When I was younger I would eat it any way I could get it (even out of a can).  Now as an adult, my tastes have matured and my palate has grown.  But I still have a special place in my heart for a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.   These days I find the greatest pleasure in "inventing recipes" by taking a dish and giving it a twist.  So I have taken the American/Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs that I love so much and given it 5 international make-overs from India, China, Mexico, Russia, Greece.  At my party, my guest and I will compare these recipes and find out what international spaghetti and meatballs reigns supreme.

Here's some pictures of our party...




Here are the contenders and the recipes: 

GREECE:
SPANAKOPITA SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS





INDIA:
MASALA SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS



MEXICO:
FIESTA SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS


CHINA:
ASIAN SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS


My version of Traditional Italian-American Spaghetti and Meatballs

And the Winner was....... Drum Roll Please.........................

We had a 3 way tie with between the:

American/Italian Spaghetti Meatball

Indian Masala Spaghetti and Meatball

Asian Spaghetti and Meatball

Every pasta got a vote and they were all enjoyed.  At the end of the day that makes me a very happy cook.  This was such a special and fun night.   Thank you Foodbuzz for helping make this wonderful party happen!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baked Shells Casserole

The cold winds of winter are starting to loom in the horizon.  So, it's that time of the year where you want the hearty "stick to your ribs" food that warms you from the inside out.  This Baked Shells Casserole fits the bill and it will totally keep your family satisfied and asking for more.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped, divided
Salt and pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
1 Tbs dried basil  or a large handful fresh basil minced
1-2 tsp brown sugar
1lb of lean ground meat (beef, chicken or pork)
1lb box of medium size pasta shells
1 jar favorite pasta sauce (45oz bottle)
1 cup chicken broth or bullion and water equivalent  
1lb bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
3 cups fresh cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten or 1/3 cup egg substitute
8oz of shredded mozzarella cheese



Directions: 

To make the pasta shells layer:
First defrost your spinach and wring dry.  Then saute 1 medium onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Added spinach, grated nutmeg and season with a little salt. Once this step is done, set it aside and go onto the next step.



Boil the pasta shells until they 1 minute shy of al dente. The pasta will finish cooking with the other ingredients in the oven.





Now mix the Parmesan cheese and cottage cheese together in a large bowl. You will eventually use this bowl to toss the pasta and spinach so make sure you have plenty of room to move.





Then mix in the sauteed spinach with the ricotta cheese and parmesan mixture.  To help everything bind add 1/3 of a cup of egg substitute or 2 egg yolks beaten.






Now add the pasta shells and gently mix all the ingredients together.  Set aside to assemble in the casserole dish with your meat sauce.







To make the meat sauce:
Brown your lean ground meat (I used ground chicken) with medium onion and 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped in two tablespoons of olive oil.







Season meat with:
* Salt and pepper to taste
*  dried oregano
* crushed red pepper flakes
* dried basil
* brown sugar


 Add 1 jar favorite pasta sauce and one cup of chicken broth (I just measured the broth  in the pasta jar so I could rinse all the sauce out of the jar)






 Simmer the sauce on medium heat for 10 minutes.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and if everything is good, turn the stove off and start assembling the casserole.







Assembling the Casserole


 In a large oven safe baking dish spoon 2/3 of the pasta sauce.







 Next put all of the pasta/spinach/cheese combo in an even layer.








 Top the dish with the remaining 1/3 of pasta sauce







Sprinkle with 8oz of mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 degrees on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.



 


 Serves 6-8 people.  Enjoy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Dipped Apple Bites

Who doesn't love dipped apples in candy, caramel or chocolate?  My kids have been asking me to make them dipped apples since the beginning of Fall.  But I had a few hesitations to make them these fun Fall treats.  The problem is their little mouths have a hard time eating a whole apple that is dipped and most of the apple is left behind once the coating is eaten off.  I didn't want to hold back the fun so I decided to make it more child friendly by slicing the apples into wedges.  The dipped apple bites were a big hit because there was more coating to go around each slice of apple and they were so much easier to eat.  I tripled dipped these in peanut butter then chocolate and then crushed peanut.  They were fun to make and totally fun to eat.  Now this is a great way to have an apple a day and keep the doctor away. : )


Ingredients:
4-5 medium granny smith apples cored and sliced into wedges
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet chocolate)
1 cup peanut butter chips
4 Tbs of milk
1/2 cup of crushed roasted peanuts

toothpicks
parchment paper


Directions:
Cut your apples into wedges.  An apple corer/slicer is a handy here. Then poke toothpicks in each wedge.







In a bowl add 1 cup of peanut butter chips and 2 Tbs of milk.  Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds or more to melt.  Stir the mixture until fully melted and creamy.  Dip each apple in the peanut butter mixture.  Place on the parchment paper for 15-20 minutes until the peanut butter hardens around the apple.

In a bowl add 1 cup of chocolate and 2 Tbs of milk.  Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds or more to melt.  Stir the mixture until fully melted and creamy.  Dip each apple in the chocolate mixture then into a bowl of crushed peanuts. Place on the parchment paper for 15-20 minutes until the chocolate hardens around the apple.


Makes about 25-30 dipped apple bites.  Enjoy.  You can also use this method with candy apple sauce, caramel sauce etc..