Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lentil Quinoa Soup

It is almost the end of January and here in sunny southern California I am still waiting for winter.  I know I ordered winter but it has yet to be delivered.  I love winter and the wonderful soups it brings with it.  Yes, I know soup can be eaten in any season but winter just makes me crave soup.  

About a week ago it was another one of those nights with no dinner plan.  When I got home I decided it was going to be a soup night.  What kind of soup? I had no idea what kind of soup but soup it was going to be.  I opened the pantry and dug around until I found what I thought would be a good combination, some lentils, a little quinoa and some assorted veggies.  What did we end up with?  YUM!  It may not be the prettiest soup but the flavors come together perfectly.  Plus, with the lentils and quinoa in there together you have a perfect protein. This soup will become a regular in my home. 

Lentil Quinoa Squash Soup

3 Tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
3 Carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
10 cups water
2 Tablespoons concentrated chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ cup dry quinoa
½ acorn squash, pealed and cut into ½ inch pieces (can use a whole if you like more)
1 medium zuccini, cut into ½ inch pieces
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, do not brown onion. Add carrots, garlic and 2 large pinches of salt.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add water, concentrated chicken stock, lentils, coriander, cumin and paprika, stir to combine.  Cover pot with lid and cook about 40 minutes, stirring a few times, until the lentils are just tender.  Stir in the quinoa and acorn squash.  Cover and cook ten minutes.  Add zuccini and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook about 10 minutes more until quinoa is completely cooked.
Serves 8

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Years Eve Wedding and Polka Dot Cake

My friend Mary got married on New Years eve.  When she asked me to be her Matron on Honor, about 3 weeks before the wedding, I was happily said yes and asked her if she would like me to make the cake.  Knowing it was a small wedding helped me not panic at the thought.  I used to make wedding cakes on a regular basis when I was catering but in the last 10 years or so I have not done anything more than really large childrens birthday cakes and various other cakes for family and friends.  

I wanted to do something a little different for her and since she didn't insist on it being a white cake and trusted me to do whatever I wanted I knew I had to try something new.  Polka Dots!  Not on the outside of the cake but on the inside.  Polka dots made of cake.  How?  Well that is where the experimenting came in.  Did I do a trial run? Nope!  I flew by the seat of my pants and lucky (whew!) it turned out great.  The frosting was a no brainer, flour butter cream, smooth and creamy but not overly sweet.  Perfect!  I won't be posting any cake batter recipes tonight but at the end I will give you the frosting recipe.

You can use any cake recipe as long as it is a moist cake.  If you aren't sure how moist your recipe is try adding buttermilk for part of the water or milk or stir in about a half cup of sour cream.  These things can help keep a cake moist.  You can also use a cake mix if you like.

Prepare the cake batter of your choice for the cake balls.  You can prepare the ever popular cake pops which require you to bake a cake, crumble it and mix in frosting, then form balls but..... these balls with sink to the bottom of your batter.  I used my daughter's cake pop maker.  It can be found at Bed Bath and Beyond (when they are in stock), Amazon, order directly from the company's website and is probably available at other retailers.  Bed Bath and Beyond also has pans that you can use to bake some in the oven if you prefer.  I stuck with what I already had at home.  We really like this little machine.

I mixed a double batch of white cake batter and added a few drops of red food coloring to get the shade of pink I wanted.  In a little less than a hour I had over twelve dozen cake balls.

When you are done preparing the cake balls mix the cake batter you will use for most of the cake.  I used a twelve inch pan for the bottom two layers of the cake using almost a double batch of my batter for each layer.  I then used the left over batter from the bottom layers and added it to a single batch of batter for the two nine inch layers of the cake.  Grease and flour your pans.  Cut some of the cake balls in half.  Pour a thin layer of cake batter on the bottom of the pan and press some of the cake ball halves into the batter.  Using a little batter stick some of the halved balls to the sides of the pan.  

Pour more cake batter into the pans, don't quite fill it as if you were going to bake it.  Take the whole cake balls and gently push them into the batter evenly through out the pan.  

Cover the cake balls you pushed into the batter with a little bit more batter, just enough to be able to spread it around and cover the balls.  

Bake the cake adding 10 to 15 minutes to the usual bake time, checking to see if it is baked through using a tooth pick.  When a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and cook on a rack for 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan.  My twelve inch layers needed to cool for about 35 minutes before they would fall out of the pan.  If you are not sure if it is ready to turn out shake the cake pan from side to side and see if the cake will shift a little in the pan, if so it should be ready to turn out without sticking to the pan and tearing the cake.

Allow cake to cool and frost as desired.  I put a thin layer of Nutella between the layers of cake.  The cake was nice and moist and was a big hit.  

As for the polka dots on the inside.......see below :)

As I said I used my favorite flour butter cream frosting.  This frosting may seem like it is more work than you like but it really isn't and is worth every step.  

Flour Butter Cream Frosting

3/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup flour
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (almond works well too)

In a sauce pan mix together the milk, cream and flour.  Heat over medium heat, stirring continually, until the mixture thickens and is almost like a thinned pudding.  You should see the bottom of the pan when you stir it.  Remove from heat and strain the milk mixture through a mesh strainer, stirring and pushing it through, to remove any lumps that may have formed.  If you do not strain it your frosting will not be smooth and will have the occasional flour lump.  Cool mixture in the refrigerator until completely cool, stirring it occasionally.  This is very important.  If it is not completely cool it will melt your butter and your frosting will not set.  It should only take about 10 minutes to cool but I have been known to cool it in the freezer to hurry things along.

When the flour mixture is cool beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer.  Mix for about three minute until it is light and fluffy.  Add the flour mixture and continue beating for 8 to 12 minutes, using a whisk or wire beater attachment if you have it, until it is smooth and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and beat about 30 more minutes to combine.  Frost your cake as desired.

This recipe will frost 18 - 24 cupcake, a 8 inch two layer cake or a 9 by 13 cake (top and side).  You can easily double or triple the recipe depending on the capacity of your mixer.  For the wedding cake I used about 5 batches of the frosting.