Maple Cake with Caramelized Pecans

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This recipe is adapted from Epicurious.. there’s smoky maple syrup in every part of the cake, from the frosting to the nuts on top. It starts with a dense and moist spice cake flavored with ginger and Chinese five spice. The cake is then smothered in a layer of maple frosting with creme fraiche that adds tanginess and whipped cream that keeps it light and airy. Finally, maple glazed pecans add crunch and nuttiness to the top and homemade caramel sauce brings the whole thing together.

Ingredients:

Maple-coated pecans:

  • 3/4 cup pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
  • Coarse kosher salt

Cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (1 1/2 to 2 ounces)
  • 1 cup maple sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 2/3 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

Frosting:

  • 1 1/3 cups chilled crème fraîche
  • 1 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar

 

Method:

For maple-coated pecans:
Place large piece of foil on work surface. Combine nuts and maple syrup in heavy medium skillet (do not use nonstick) over medium-high heat and bring to boil, tossing to coat. Cook until syrup is dark amber and almost cooked away and thickly coats nuts, tossing often, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Scrape nuts onto foil. Working quickly with 2 forks, separate nuts. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Cool until coating is crisp and hard, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Pecans can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For cake: 
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Combine first 4 ingredients in processor; add ginger. Blend until ginger is finely ground, about 1 minute. Using mixer, beat maple sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time (batter may look curdled). Stir 3/4 cup hot water and molasses in small bowl. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions alternately with molasses mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans (about 21/2 cups each). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks.

For frosting: 
Combine crème fraîche, cream, and both sugars in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until very thick and stiff.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake layers; turn out onto racks. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 1 1/3 cups frosting. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons caramel sauce. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining frosting smoothly over top and sides of cake. Drizzle top of cake with 3 tablespoons sauce. Cover with cake dome; chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before continuing.

Cut pecans into pieces or leave whole. Press pecans into frosting on sides of cake. Cut cake into wedges. Spoon sauce over.

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Thanksgiving 2014 + Pumpkin Fudge Bars

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These bars a mix between a blondie and fudge – they’re dense and chewy and full of pumpkin spice flavor. The tender pumpkin base is topped with a layer of browned butter frosting that adds a nutty, creamy sweetness. They’re the perfect fall dessert. Click here and here for the side dish recipes/recaps from the past 2 years. Happy Thanksgiving!

Bars

3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt

Glaze
1/4 cup unsalted butter, browned
1 heaping cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt, optional and to taste
about 1/4 cup cream or milk, or as necessary for consistency

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Bars –  In a large, microwave-safe bowl add the white chocolate, butter, and heat to melt, about 2 minutes on high power. Stop to check and stir after 1 minute, and then heat in 20-second bursts, stopping to stir after each burst, until mixture can be stirred smooth. White chocolate is very prone to scorching and seizing up, so watch it carefully and don’t overheat.
  3. Wait momentarily before adding the egg so you don’t scramble it. Add the egg, sugar, vanilla, and whisk until combined.
  4. Add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and whisk until combined.
  5. Add the flour, optional salt, and stir until just combined; don’t overmix.
  6. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula.
  7. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. In the last 10 minutes of baking, make the glaze.
  8. Glaze – Brown the butter. Cook butter over medium-high heat in a small saucepan until it’s amber to brown in color, about 5 minutes depending on pan size, but watch it closely so you don’t burn it. I swirl the pan in the last minute or so to make sure I can really see the color changes. Butter will go through stages of hissing, sputtering, and making noise until the water cooks off at which point the browning occurs. Butter will smell nutty and aromatic.
  9. Transfer butter, including brown bits at the bottom of the pan (they’re flavor powerhouses, keep them) from pan to large mixing bowl which stops any carryover cooking.
  10. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla bean paste, optional salt, and slowly add the milk, whisking until smooth or beat with a handheld electric mixer. As necessary, add additional cream (or confectioners’ sugar) to reach desired glaze consistency. Glaze should be of medium thickness and easily pourable.
  11. Evenly pour glaze over bars (they don’t have to be cooled first), smoothing it lightly with a spatula if necessary, but glaze will likely just slide into place.
  12. Allow bars to cool in pan uncovered for at least 2 to 3 hours, (or overnight and cover with a sheet of foil) before slicing and serving so glaze can set up. Bars will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.


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Candy Corn Oatmeal Cookies

 


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These cookies are a great way to use up leftover Halloween candy. You can mix in whatever candy you have on hand but these use classic candy corn. The cookies are soft and buttery and the bits of candy add a pop of sweetness and and chewyness. A tablespoon of cornstarch helps them hold their shape and oatmeal gives them great texture. Thery’re great for a fall day and freeze well to last throughout the holidays!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, soften
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups candy corn (1o to 11 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup quick cook oats

Method:

  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the first 4 ingredients (through vanilla) on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the next 4 ingredients, and mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute; don’t overmix.
  3. Add the candy corn and oats and mix until just incorporated.
  4. Using a small 1-inch scoop, form mounds. Place mounds on a large plate, flatten mounds slightly, cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 5 days, before baking. Do not bake with warm dough because cookies will spread and bake thinner and flatter.
  5. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat. Place mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 8-9 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just beginning to set. Do not overbake because cookies will firm up as they cool.


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Peppermint Blondies

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These blondies are moist and chewy and speckled with bits of peppermint and chunks of dark chocolate. You can substitute whatever mix-ins you like. They’re perfect for tailgates and graduation parties this time of year because they pack easily and freeze well too. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup peppermint bits
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large, microwave-safe bowl melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
  3. Wait momentarily before adding the egg so you don’t scramble it. Add the egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and whisk until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, corn starch, peppermint bits and salt and stir until just combined, don’t overmix.
  5. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula.
  6. Place the chocolate chunks on top.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Allow to cool and cut into bars.

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Tomato and Ham Frittata

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Frittatas are perfect meals for busy weeknights and a great way to use up leftover vegetables and meats. This frittata combines tomatoes ham and cheddar but you can use whatever meat, vegetables and cheese you may have on hand. Warm eggs bind the ingredients together and a dollop of greek yogurt adds a rich creaminess. The eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt all provide great protein and are low in fat and you can bump up the fiber, vitamins and minerals by adding a range of seasonal vegetables. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
  • 1/2 cup diced ham
  • 1/2 cup low fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup non-fat milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Whisk eggs, milk and yogurt until combined. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  3. Spray skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium hight heat.
  4. Pour in egg mixture and allow to cook over medium heat until just set (about 3 minutes).
  5. Transfer the entire skillet to the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until just cooked through.

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Baked Chicken Tenders

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These chicken tenders are crunchy and crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside – they’re a delicious guilt free version of the classic. The tenders are coated in panko breadcrumbs and baked, instead of fried, which greatly reduces they overall fat and calorie content found in regular chicken tenders. You can serve them with your favorite condiment and kids and adults alike will love this twist on a classic comfort food. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/4 lb. (about 8) chicken tenders

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet lined with foil. Coat with cooking spray.
  2. Place the whole wheat flour in a medium bowl. In a shallow container, whisk together the eggs and Dijon mustard. In a separate shallow container, combine the panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
  3. Working with one chicken tender at a time, dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess. Next, dip in the egg mixture until the chicken is coated. Last, roll the chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, completely coating the outside.
  4. Transfer the chicken tenders to the prepared wire rack.
  5. Lightly coat the chicken tenders with cooking spray. Bake until the chicken is just cooked through and the breadcrumbs are starting to brown, 5 to 6 minutes per side.

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Chicken Florentine Pasta

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The pasta is an easy weeknight meal that comes together quickly and provides a healthy balance of carbohydrates and protein. You can add any other vegetables you may have and vary it based on what is in season. It’s important to sear the chicken in a hot pan to create smoky caramelization before tossing it with the pasta and vegetables.  The white wine, garlic and chicken broth combine to create a light, aromatic sauce that glazes the entire dish and brings all of the flavors together.

Adapted from the Pioneer Woman

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Penne
  • 4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3/4 cup Dry White Wine
  • 3/4 cup Low-sodium Broth
  • 1 bag Baby Spinach
  • 2 cups Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lengthwise

Method:

  1. Cut chicken breasts into chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat olive oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add chicken chunks in a single layer and do not stir for a minute or two in order to allow the chicken to brown on the first side. Turn the chicken and brown on the other side. Cook until done, then remove chicken from the skillet.
  3. Turn heat to medium. Add garlic and quickly stir to avoid burning. After about 30 seconds, pour in wine and broth, stirring to deglaze the pan. Allow the liquid to bubble up, then continue cooking until it’s reduced by at least half (most of the surface of the liquid should be bubbling at this point.)
  4. Turn off the heat. Add spinach, tomatoes, chicken, and cooked pasta to the skillet. Toss to combine; the spinach will wilt as you toss.

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Thai Green Curry Dip

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Thai food is famous for blending the four fundamental tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. This dip draws on the quintessential flavors of Thai green curry paste, coconut milk and fish sauce for a comfortingly creamy, yet bright and fresh spread. The fragrant flavors of the chillies, lemon grass, galangal, garlic, cilantro and kafir lime of the curry paste are mellowed by sweet, creamy coconut milk. And a dash of salty umami from fish sauce rounds out the dip. It’s great with raw or cooked vegetables or rice crackers or even as a spread on sandwiches. Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid and vitamins A, C and B and I use the light version which is lower in fat. I also blend in artichoke hearts to help thicken the dip and boost the antioxidants and fiber. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons green curry paste
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup artichoke hearts (defrosted)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • juice of half of a lime
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons lukewarm water

Method:

  1. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium low heat.
  2. Add in the cornstarch slurry and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium low heat until the dip is thickened and coats the back of a spoon (3-4 minutes).
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a food processor and blending until smooth.
  4. Chill and serve.

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Healthier Peanut Butter Fudge

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Fudge is one of my favorite holiday desserts and is usually loaded with butter and sugar… To start the new year off right, this version is a healthier alternative that feels indulgent but is less processed and draws on more nutrient dense ingredients. Healthier fat comes in the form of homemade peanut butter (you could use any nut butter) and coconut oil and sweetness comes in the form of natural maple syrup and honey. You can pack this fudge for a protein boost on the go or store it in the refrigerator as a chilled sweet treat. It comes together in about 10 minutes and is very adaptable to other flavors – try adding cocoa powder for a chocolate fudge or sprinkling chopped pistachios and dried cherries over the top. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter)
  • 1 cup coconut oil (softened)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup carob chips
  • Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Method:

  1. Mix together all of the ingredients except the sea salt in a medium bowl until completely smooth.
  2. Line a baking pan with parchment paper, folding it into the corners. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt and carob chips.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until completely hardened. Cut into squares, and serve.

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Thanksgiving 2013 + Scalloped Potatoes

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People look forward to Thanksgiving dishes all year long. Juicy slices of turkey, tart cranberry sauce, and sweet, spiced pumpkin pie are hard to resist. It can be a challenge to stay healthy during the holidays so I love taking classic dishes and giving them a healthy makeover – reducing the fat and calories but maintaining the familiar flavors. These scalloped potatoes are creamy, cheesy and feel decadent but are much healthier than the traditional recipe. They use skim milk, low fat cheddar and a combination of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes to boost the vitamins C, E, B6 and beta-carotene. Try these and incorporate other spins on classic holiday side dishes like these green beans with caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash with garlic spinach over the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving!
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