Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pesto Risotto Cakes

Pesto Risotto Cakes

Sometimes the best things come out of something that was originally only so so. Case in point, recently I was flipping through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (my new favorite cookbook since I've gone cheap and rarely buy meat), when I came across the section on rice salads. Listed was a pesto rice salad made with arborio rice. Interesting. On a whim I had purchased some pre-made pesto from Central Market. And because I always have arborio rice in the house (I love risotto!), I decided to make the rice salad for dinner.

Outside of a risotto, I can't remember using arborio rice for anything else. I was a little unsure if the rice would cook properly being boiled but it turned out fine. A little blah at this point but that's what the pesto was for! The recipe called for 1/4 cup of pesto but I thought it needed a little bit more. I also added a tablespoon of grated parmesan because...well because I just love cheese.

Pesto Rice Salad

I was a little disappointed with the rice salad. It seemed a little plain even with the pesto and extra cheese. Perhaps arborio rice isn't the best choice for a rice salad. It didn't have a chance to get really creamy like you expect a risotto to be. It was also a little mushy in a not good way. Good for a risotto but not so much for a rice salad. Maybe brown rice or even regular old white would be better for this salad. The fresh mozzarella I served on the side was really the star of that meal.

I packed the leftovers away with the thought of dealing with it later. The next night I was searching for something to make for dinner when I saw the slightly green rice sitting in the fridge. The only thing I could think of to save it was to turn it into risotto cakes. I had attempted them once before and was pleased with them for the most part.

I had about a 1/4 cup of panko bread crumbs leftover from another dish so I added about a teaspoon of grated parmesan and a pinch of dried basil to them for the outside coating. Before I shaped the cakes however, I was struck by another thought. I need to add more cheese! I had a half of ball of fresh mozzarella left from another meal (same as the panko). I cubed up about half of that and stuck the cubes in the middle of the balls of rice. I flattened them slightly when I put them in the panko.

I cooked them in a bit of olive oil until golden brown on each side (about 4 minutes per side). To finish them up, I put them in a 350° for about 10 minutes until crispy all over.

After the disappointment of the rice salad, I was almost afraid to be hopeful that these would turn out. I just new they would be either too greasy from the oil or still just plain. I was wrong. Oh boy was I wrong! They were crispy on the outside and creamy and gooey on the inside. The mozzarella had melted perfectly. Absolutely delicious!

See? Sometimes the most delicious things really do come out of something pretty blah. Give leftovers another chance!

Pesto Risotto Cakes

Pesto Risotto Cakes

3 cups of cooked arborio rice
1/4-1/3 cup pesto (store bought is fine)
1 T grated parmesan
1/4 of a ball fresh Mozzarella, cubed (I'm not sure on the exact measurement, I winged it)
1/4-1/2 cup panko bread crumbs mixed with a 1 tsp of grated parmesan and pinch of dried basil

Mix all ingredients together except for the mozzarella and panko. Chill for at least 2 to 3 hours or overnight if possible. When ready to cook, take about a 1/4 cup of rice and make a ball. Indent the ball and place a cube of mozzarella then press the rest of the rice around the cube. Coat the ball in the panko, pressing slightly to flatten (not too much or the cheese will  melt out when frying!). Fry in olive until golden brown on each side about 3-4 minutes on each side. Place in a 350° for about 10 minutes until crispy all over.

 You can skip the oven if you want, they are just fine as is.  I just like them a little crispier all around and the oven also helped dry out the extra oil from the frying.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes


After my cocoa-nana bread disaster of last week, I was not looking forward to another chocolate recipe this week. But at least this one looked a lot better and tastier. Kristin of I’m Right About Everything picked Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes, pages 188 and 189.

I didn't have any milk chocolate so I used semi-sweet and upped the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup. I also left out the swirl and went straight chocolate cake (with buttermilk). When it came time to put the batter in the mini bundt pans, I wasn't sure it was going to be enough. There didn't seem to be a lot of batter. But I trusted Dorie and tried to put an even amount in six of the bundt pans. And of course, it was just the right amount. Thankfully the cakes rose up just enough to fill the pans.

Chocolate Mini Bundt Cake

These cakes were delicious. Chocolatey without being overwhelming and perfectly tender. It definitely made up for last week. I dusted mine with powdered sugar instead of using the glaze since many of the bakers had issues with it. I think my cakes were the better for it because it would have been too much chocolate if I had used it. If this was the summer time, I would have put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top because this was a perfect ice cream cake. Actually... I probably would have put some on if I had some ice cream even though it was below freezing when I made them. I'm weird like that.

To see more Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes, check out the TWD blogroll. You can get this weeks recipe at Kristin of I’m Right About Everything or in Baking on pages 188 and 189.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Recipes to Rival: Eggplant Parmesan

Recipes to rival meat logo

For January, our Recipes to Rival recipe was Eggplant Parmesan. I have to admit, I wasn't terribly excited about this challenge. Eggplant has never been one of my favorite vegetables. I remember as a kid I would actively avoid eating it when it was served. At the time, I had not actually tried it. It just looked weird and there was no way I was going to eat it. Period. Don't even think about it. Serve me some zucchini instead.

All these years later and I've still managed to avoid eating it. As an adult I am able to make the choices on what I eat and eggplant has not been on my list of things to eat. So as you can probably tell...I really thought about if I wanted to make eggplant parmesan. Should I let go of my childhood dislike of the vegetable? Or should I buck up and be an adult and try it? Well...I decided to try it obviously.

I picked up a nice size eggplant at Central Market. At least I think it was a nice size. I have no experience picking out eggplant after all. While I was there, I also got a beautiful ball of fresh mozzarella. I could eat that stuff all day. Seriously. All day.

This was a fairly easy dish to make. Once the sauce is made and the eggplant salted, all you have to do is bread and fry the eggplant. I had one issue in frying the eggplant. I thought my pan was hot enough but when all the oil was quickly sucked up by the eggplant. Ummm...oops! There wasn't much I could do with it at that point because I had only bought one. I finished frying it as much as I could and then stacked the eggplant with the fresh mozzarella and the sauce. Into the oven it went until it was bubbly!

Eggplant Parmesan

And when I pulled it out of the oven, one of the eggplant stacks was gracefully sliding down puddles of mozzarella and sauce while the other was leaning like the Tower at Pisa. Uhhh...I don't think that was supposed to happen. I was able to make the leaning stack straighten up and the other was just beyond repair.

Eggplant Parmesan

Despite my oops moments and prior eggplant dislike, the eggplant parmesan wasn't that bad. The mozzarella and the sauce were the highlight for me. The eggplant was a little greasy because of the oil soak up and the skin was a little tough. The flesh was nice especially with the breading. Would I make it again? Probably not. I'm still not a huge fan of eggplant. But it wasn nice to try something new and especially something I didn't think I'd like.

To see more eggplant parmesan, check out the Recipes to Rival blogroll.

Eggplant Parmesan: Parmigiana di Melanzane
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali

•2 pounds (about 2 medium-sized) eggplant
•4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
•1 cup fresh bread crumbs, seasoned with 1/4 chopped fresh basil leaves and 1/4 cup pecorino
•2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
•1 pound ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
•1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash and towel dry the eggplant. Slice the eggplant horizontally about 1/4-inch thick. Place the slices in a large colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside to rest about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse the eggplant and dry on towels.

In a sauté pan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil until just smoking. Press the drained eggplant pieces into the seasoned bread crumb mixture and sauté until light golden brown on both sides. Repeat with all of the pieces. On a cookie sheet lay out the 4 largest pieces of eggplant. Place 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce over each piece and place a thin slice of mozzarella on top of each. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and top each with the next smallest piece of eggplant, then sauce then mozzarella. Repeat the layering process until all the ingredients have been used, finishing again with the Parmigiano. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top of each little stack is golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Basic Tomato Sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve.

This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.


Fresh bread crumbs are required for the coating to stick without an egg wash.
The oil must be HOT HOT HOT or the eggplant will not cook fast enough and will be a greasy soggy mess.
The Mozzarella must be very thinly sliced or the eggplant tower will slide (it will still taste great)


Friday, January 29, 2010

HBinFive: Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, Apple Strudel Bread, and Hamburger Buns


I am really enjoying participating in the Healthy Bread in Five baking group. I love bread and being able to make my own and still have it be healthy is a great thing. The differences in store bought and homemade are even more noticeable than when I was just using my bread machine. The crust is soft and slightly a good way! And my apartment smells amazing while the bread is baking! That is a big, big plus!

On our schedule this time was the soft whole wheat sandwich bread on Pgs 92-93, Hamburger or Hotdog Buns on Pgs 94-95, and Apple Strudel Bread on Pgs 277-278. After the success I had with the master recipe, I was eager to try the soft whole wheat bread. As before, this was pretty easy and quick to prepare. Unlike last time though, I did make the dough ahead of time and allowed it to rest in the fridge for 24 hours before baking.

Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

The first thing I made was the regular sandwich loaf. As I said last time, I love a good sandwich and am always looking for a good sandwich bread. The whole wheat master recipe made a really good sandwich but this soft whole wheat was even better. It wasn't so intensely whole wheat. It stood up better to my favorite quick work lunch sandwich...the PB&J wonderfully. Plus this bread was sweeter than the master recipe. But it wasn't too sweet. Perfect for the PB&J.

Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

The next one I made was the Apple Strudel bread. I love apple strudel so it was a no brainer that this was getting made! For the filling I used some wonderful Jonagold apples and dried cranberries in place of the raisins.

Apple Strudel Bread

I think I rolled it a little to big because there was about a 2 inch border around the filling. After I rolled it up, I just tucked the extra under the rest and it was just fine.

Apple Strudel Bread

Apple Strudel Bread

I used turbinado sugar as the topping. I am in love with this sugar! It has been going in just about everything.

The smell of the sandwich loaf baking was amazing but this was just out of this world. Even Charlie was making trips into the kitchen to get a good whiff every now and then!

Apple Strudel Bread

When I pulled it out of the oven, I noticed a slight crack on the edge where the filling had spilled out a little. It wasn't too bad but I let the bread cool slightly in the pan before I took it out. When I came back to check the bread later after I had taken it out to cool the rest of the way, it had sunk in the middle a bit. I was worried then that I had taken it out of the oven too soon. However, when I cut into it I was happy to find that it had cooked all the way through.

Apple Strudel Bread

oh my goodness. Delicious doesn't even being to describe this. The filling was tender and juicy. The bread was soft and perfectly cooked. I love that this was made with whole wheat. You could taste it but it didn't take away from the dessert feel of the bread.  It just made you feel not so bad when you cut a big slice!  And it also puts it into acceptable breakfast food (at least in my head!).

Soft Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

Next up was the hamburger buns.  I almost didn't get these made but I had just enough dough leftover from the sandwich loaf and the apple strudel bread to make 4 buns.  The rest time after shaping was shorter than the loaf and apple strudel bread so I was able to make these in time for dinner (though I didn't let them cool as long as I probably should!).

Soft Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

They looked more like big rolls than hamburger buns but when you think about it, a bun is essentially just a big roll anyway.  My only issue with the buns was that my sesame seeds fell off when I sliced the buns.  That was probably more my fault than anything.  I used melted butter instead of the egg wash.

Soft Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

I used some of my homemade barbecue sauce I made with my Memaw recently and mixed it with some shredded chicken to make a barbecue chicken sandwich.  The sweet tanginess of the sauce paired wonderfully with the slight sweetness of the bun.  The buns made excellent 'sauce soppers'.  They sucked up the delicious sauce but didn't get soggy.

I definitely will be making all the breads again.  The sandwich loaf was just perfect for my sandwich eating and the apple strudel bread was just amazing.  And the hamburger buns were light years above store bought.  I keep saying it but I may not buy ready made again!

Check out the blogroll here to see a member list for HBinFive and for more delicious bread.  If you would like more information on HBinFive, visit our founder Michelle at Big Black Dog.  You can purchase the book here.  And you should definitely buy it!  I've loved every recipe that I've made so far.  But don't just take my word for it.  Try some for yourself!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Nanaimo Bars

Daring Bakers Logo- Vanilla Fairy

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

It's Daring Baker time again! This time we made Nanaimo Bars. We also had an additional challenge of making our own graham crackers for the graham cracker crumbs needed for the bars. Having always bought graham crackers from the store, I was eager to give the homemade version a try. Especially after seeing Alton Brown make some last week on his cracker episode. Nanaimo bars are not something I had heard of until recently. Being a Canadian favorite, they aren't something that you see very often in the States unless you live closer to the Canadian border. With the Olympics coming up in Vancouver, Canadian foods have been making a big appearance everywhere. Nanaimo bars really peaked my interest because I had no idea what they were.

The graham crackers were fairly simple to make. I made them the night before I made the nanaimo bars. You can get them done in one evening but you could also stretch it out into an afternoon if you needed too. If we weren't going to make them with the gluten free flours, we were allowed to use wheat flour.


Oh my goodness. I loved these. If I had known earlier how good and how simple these were to make, I would have been making them by hand. They were sweet and tasted like...well...graham crackers. Only better than you would find in any box at the store. They were crunchy yet slightly chewy. Delicous plain or with a little of the icing like middle layer of the nanaimo bars.

Graham Crackers

The nanaimo bars were simple but time consuming. You have to make each layer and allow it to chill before adding the next. My only trouble came when it was time for the chocolate top layer. My first try was not thin enough. I think I let it cool too much and it nearly was solid like a candy bar. I was able to spread it slightly but it almost messed up the white middle layer. On my next try I added a touch more butter to make the chocolate stay liquid while it cooled. This time it spread perfectly.

Nanaimo Bars

After a long chill in the fridge, the bars were ready to cut and plate. Or at least I thought I was going to plate them. I had made a half batch and used a small rectangular pyrex dish to make them. These little buggers did not want to come out in one piece. The top layer kept snapping off when I tried to pry them out. I had to go through one row nearly of messy looking ones before I was able to get some nice ones out. I'm sure it would have been the same with the full batch in an 8x8 though.

Nanaimo Bars

I was only able to eat one tiny square because boy these things are super rich. And way too sweet. And too chocolatey. I'm sure they would be great for a large group of people but for just me...not so much. The middle layer was my favorite because it was so icing like. I spread a little of that on the graham crackers and liked that more than the bars. It was nice to try a favorite of Canada but I'll stick to something a little lighter next time.

Thanks to our host, Lauren of Celiac Teen for the great challenge! For more nanaimo bars and graham crackers, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll.

Nanaimo Bars and Graham Crackers

Preparation time:
• Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 minutes total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 minutes inactive prep.
• Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.

Equipment required:
• Food Processor
• Bowls
• Parchment paper or silpats
• Cookie sheets
• Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
• 8 by 8 inch square pan
• Hand mixer or stand mixer (You may use a wooden spoon, but this makes it much easier!)
• Saucepan

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.

7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars


For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Additional Information:

These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Mine lasted about that long.

If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.

For the Nanaimo Bars, if making with wheat, replace the gluten-free graham wafer crumbs with equal parts wheat graham wafer crumbs!

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