Cook Like a Champion bio picture
  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Ice cream always has been, and always will be, my favorite dessert. With endless varieties to choose from, you might think that some exotic flavor would be my favorite. However, no matter how many ice cream flavors I try, I always come back to vanilla. I read once that vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor in our country. In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first American recipe for ice cream, and it can be seen in his papers at the Library of Congress (or here). While ice cream is widely available now, I’d like to think Jefferson would approve of making it from scratch. After all, everyone can benefit from a fabulous vanilla ice cream recipe. If you’re still looking for the one, look no further.

This recipe is everything vanilla ice cream should be – rich, creamy and speckled with flecks of vanilla bean. This ice cream can serve as the base for so many delicious toppings (homemade caramel sauce, perhaps?) and also tastes wonderful as an accompaniment to almost any dessert. My favorite way to eat this, though, is simply with sliced, fresh strawberries on top. There’s something so insanely satisfying and refreshing about it, and I honestly can’t get enough. If I had to pick one ice cream to keep in my freezer year round, this would be it.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Combine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Once the mixture is warm, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into it and add the bean. Cover, remove from heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Pour the remaining cup of cream into a large bowl, preferably one with a pour spout, and set a mesh strainer on top. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm liquid over the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (or spatula). Pour the mixture through the strainer and stir into the cream until incorporated. Place in an ice bath until cool, then chill completely in the refrigerator. When ready to churn, remove the vanilla bean, rinsing and reserving it for another use, then freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.

Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

PS – I couldn’t help but share this snapshot my friend Jessica took of me and David together at BlogHer Food:

BlogHer Food 2011

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

In case you haven’t noticed, I really like tomatoes. I dread when summer ends and tomatoes are no longer in season. Luckily, there’s still some time left before that happens, and I plan on taking advantage of local, in-season tomatoes as long as I can. I have a few favorite recipes that use tomatoes, but I was beyond excited when I saw this one in July’s Bon Appétit. With cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs, it’s hard to go wrong.

This simple dinner looks incredibly stunning and tastes even better. The tomatoes, oregano and butter create a luscious pan sauce that is hard to resist. Eric and I enjoyed it so much that we even put some on top of the garlic rice pilaf we served with this. The chicken, even without the sauce, was incredibly flavorful, thanks to a technique we picked up from the insanely smart people at Cook’s Illustrated. Instead of just searing the chicken as the recipe called for, we coated it in a small amount of flour. Not only does the flour help create a wonderfully crisp crust, it also helps keep moisture inside, creating a chicken breast that’s nicely browned outside and perfectly juicy inside. I have reflected our changes below. If you’re looking for a way to dress up weeknight chicken, this is a great way to do so.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce
Serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes (11-12 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, oregano and paprika. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat oven to lowest possible temperature. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Measure the flour onto a plate. Working with one breast at a time, press both sides into the flour. Shake gently to remove excess flour and repeat with remaining breast.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the oregano butter with the 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet set over high heat. Reduce to medium-high when the butter stops foaming. Lay the chicken breasts in the skillet and sauté until browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip and continue cooking 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a small pan or oven-safe plate and keep warm while preparing sauce.

Increase heat to high and add tomatoes to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to char and burst, about 5 minutes. Add remaining butter. Crush tomatoes slightly to release their juices and continue stirring until butter has melted. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the skillet to loosen the browned bits. Remove chicken from oven and add any juices that may have accumulated. Slice chicken and top with tomato sauce. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit, July 2011, chicken method from The Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Hummingbird Cupcakes
Hummingbird cake is a true southern dessert. If you ask people in other parts of the country if they’ve ever had hummingbird cake, chances are they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. I have no idea where the cake originated from, but I know I’ve been enjoying it for most of my life. I guess I should add this to the list of cooking questions I need to ask my grandma. What I do know about hummingbird cake is this – it’s a delicious combination of banana, pineapple and coconut. With all these tropical flavors, it’s no wonder why this cake is so popular during spring and summer. As far as nuts in the cake go, I love them. I grew up eating this cake with pecans, but I used the suggested walnuts this time around. You can use whichever you prefer, or skip the nuts altogether. I happen to love the texture the nuts add, but I know there are those of you out there who think nuts have no place in desserts. Either way, you’re guaranteed a moist, flavorful cupcake. When topped with the dried pineapple flowers, these cupcakes are truly gorgeous and make a perfect centerpiece for a summer dessert table.

Hummingbird Cupcakes
Makes 24

For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe banana
2/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 large pineapples, peeled (for the flowers)

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, vanilla and sugar and beat until blended and smooth. On low speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Mix in the mashed banana, then the dry ingredients. Beat just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the pineapple, walnuts (if using) and coconut.

Fill each prepared liner about 3/4 full of batter. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until combined and smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually add the sugar until completely incorporated. Increase the speed and continue beating until the frosting is smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Note: Annie recommends increasing the frosting by 50% if you like higher frosted cupcakes. I have always liked cake more than frosting and actually prefer mine frosted lower. However, if you love frosting, your best bet is to make a little extra.

To make the pineapple flowers, preheat oven to 225º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. Using a melon baller or measuring spoon, remove the “eyes” from the pineapple. Slice as thinly as possible (we used an electric knife) and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 30 minutes, then flip and continue baking until the pineapple is completely dried, anywhere from 30 minutes up to an hour more. Place in cupcake pans to cool to form the flower shape. If you want to speed up the process, you can increase the heat to 300º, which will result in a deeper color. If you do this, make sure to frequently check the pineapple so that it doesn’t burn. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days.

As seen on Annie’s Eats, cake from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, frosting adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Fresh Tomato Sauce

In season tomatoes are something to truly be savored. Their season is fleeting and is usually gone before I know it, which is all the more reason to enjoy them when they’re at their peak. I’m usually fine making tomato sauce from canned tomatoes, but I can’t bring myself to do that during summer when so many varieties of fresh tomatoes are available from local farmers. This part of Virginia is known for Hanover tomatoes, and there are signs at the farmers market announcing their arrival as soon as they become available. Not being a native Virginian, I have no idea where the tomatoes originated. I can tell you, however, that they make darn fine tomato sauce.

The beauty of this tomato sauce lies in its simplicity. A few ingredients come together to create phenomenal flavor. The original recipe didn’t use garlic or onion, but apparently I’m incapable of making pasta sauce without it (for proof, see my Vodka Pasta post). In addition to the garlic, onion and tomatoes, the only other thing we use in this sauce is fresh basil. We’ve used this tomato sauce for lasagna, stuffed shells and spaghetti, and it makes all of them shine. You really can’t beat the flavor of fresh, in season (and local, to boot) tomatoes, and this sauce really lets that flavor through.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Makes about 1 quart

4 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored
Small yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Prepare an ice bath and place near the stove. Using a paring knife, cut a shallow x onto the bottom of each tomato. Carefully add the tomatoes to the boiling water and cook until the skins split, 15 to 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes and place immediately into the ice bath. When they have cooled completely, removed the skins and discard.

Quarter the tomatoes. Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and squeeze the seeds and juice into it. Once all the tomatoes have been squeezed, press on the seeds to extract as much tomato juice as possible. Chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about a minute more. Stir in tomatoes and their juices. Cook until sauce reaches a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed, then stir in the basil. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Note: I haven’t tried freezing this on its own, but I have successfully frozen it with stuffed shells. I think it would be fine to freeze, especially if you want to savor that fresh tomato flavor during winter. If I try it soon, I’ll edit this post with details.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Butterbeer Cupcakes

Butterbeer Cupcakes

I can’t believe that, as I write this, I’m preparing to see the final Harry Potter movie. By preparing, I mean trying not to totally freak out at all the things I know are going to be different than the book. Because as much as I love the movies, the books are better (but isn’t that always the case?). If we still lived in Orlando, you can bet that Eric and I would be breaking out our Universal passes and watching the movie at the park after spending the day at Wizarding World. Since we can’t do that, though, I wanted to celebrate the last movie the next best way – with food. :)

You may recall the Frozen Butterbeer I posted last year. These cupcakes are basically that in dessert form. The original recipe called for butter flavor, but I wanted the cupcakes to be as close to my frozen butterbeer as possible and used butterscotch schnapps instead. The flavor is subtle, but that’s because the cupcakes get a huge dose of butterscotch goodness from the filling and frosting. After baking, they’re filled with a luscious butterscotch ganache, topped with butterscotch frosting and drizzled with the remaining butterscotch ganache. The butterscotch ganache isn’t as thick as a typical ganache; it’s more like a glaze, so it’s perfect for filling and drizzling. The buttery cake helps to balance out the sweetness of the filling and frosting, and the flavor is so close to butterbeer that it’s ridiculous. So even if you’re just a muggle that likes butterscotch, you will love these. I found that I had quite a bit of the butterscotch ganache leftover, and I think I could’ve easily gotten away with using half of it. I have reflected that change, as well as the substitution of the schnapps, in the recipe below. Also, I recommend using a vanilla cream soda (like Virgil’s) for the best flavor.

If you’re looking for other Harry Potter related treats to make this week, check out my Sorting Hat Pita Bread (which doesn’t look a lot like the Sorting Hat but is still pretty cool) and Cauldron Cakes.

Butterbeer Cupcakes

Butterbeer Cupcakes
Makes 18

For the cupcakes:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon butterscotch schnapps
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cream soda

For the filling:
5 1/2 ounces butterscotch chips (half an 11 ounce package or a little less than a cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch filling
1 tablespoon butterscotch schnapps
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
Splash of cream soda (as needed)

To make the cupcakes, preheat oven to 350º and line cupcake pans with liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add both sugars and continue beating until well combined. On low speed, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine the schnapps and buttermilk. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the cream soda and buttermilk. Mix until just combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full, then bake for 15-17 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the filling by combining the butterscotch chips and heavy cream in a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally until combined. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and fill each cupcake just until the filling comes to the top.

To make the frosting, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the butterscotch filling, schnapps and salt and beat until well combined. On low speed, beat in the powdered sugar one cup at a time until desired consistency is reached. Add cream soda as needed to thin the frosting. Frost cupcakes and drizzle with remaining syrup.

Adapted from amyBites