Coconut Layer Cake

Every now and again I get the urge to bake, but most of the time I need a reason to do so. The last thing I need is a huge cake laying around with only Jon and I there to eat it. Well this past weekend my parents and grandmother were visitng, so I thought it would be the perfect reason to bake. My grandmother and mom are huge fans of coconut, so when I found a recipe for a coconut layer cake in the FoodNetwork Magazine, I knew I had to try it out, and boy was it well worth it. I would definitely only attempt this cake on a weekend, when you have some time to dedicate, but all of the effort will be well worth it! The cake is moist, with the perfect amount of sweetness and coconut flavor. This could be a go-to dessert all throughout the spring and summer!

Start out by mixing the dry ingredients (flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium bowl.

Coconut Layer Cake

 

In a separate bowl, whisk together cream of coconut and milk. Beat butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until like and fluffy.

Coconut Layer CakeBeat in eggs, vanilla and coconut extract.

Coconut Layer Cake

 

Mix in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with flour until well combined.

Divide batter into two 9 inch pans and spread evenly. bake the cakes in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 15 minutes in the pans. Invert onto the rack to cool completely.

Coconut Layer Cake

 

Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract.

Coconut Layer Cake

Assemble to cake by putting one layer on a cake stand and 1 heaping cup of frosting and 1 cup of toasted coconut, spread on cake. Top with the other cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the cake. Top with toasted coconut.

Coconut Layer Cake

Coconut Layer Cake

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cream of coconut
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp coconut extract

For the frosting:

  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp coconut extract

Directions

  1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. coat two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and dust with flour set aside. Whisk the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the cream of coconut and milk in a small bowl. Beat the butter and granulated sugar n a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add the vanilla and coconut extract and beat until combined. Reduce the mixer seed to low; beat in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with flour, until combined.
  2. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 15 minutes in the pans, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.
  3. Make the frosting: Spread the shredded coconut on a baking sheet and bake, stirring halfway through, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl with a mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract until combined. Increase the mixer speed to high and bet until light and fluffy, about 2 more minutes.
  4. Assemble the cake: Put 1 cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Combine 1 heaping cup frosting with 1 cup of the toasted coconut; spread on the cake. top with the other cake layer. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake (this is the crumb coat; it doesn’t have to be perfect). Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Spread the remaining frosting all over the cake; top with the remaining 1 cup toasted coconut.

Coconut Layer Cake

Grandma’s Famous Calzones

Growing up, anytime our family got together for a holiday or celebration my grandmother would make these calzones as an appetizer. They were everyone’s favorite, and if you didn’t take 2 pieces when they first came around, there wouldn’t be any left for you if you wanted second helpings. They were always a treat when she made these, but sometimes she couldn’t get the correct dough, or didn’t have enough time to let the dough rise. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I found a way to get the same great taste of her calzones, but cheat with the dough. By using Pillsbury pizza dough, I’m able to make these calzones within 30 minutes, and don’t have to worry about planning hours ahead to make this simple appetizer. Serve these at your next event as an appetizer or even cut into large pieces and take into work with you as a sandwich!

These calzones are so tasty, but really don’t require too many ingredients. Pillsbury pizza dough, parsley, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, garlic powder, and sesame seeds are all you really need.

calzone

Arrange the dough to cover a baking sheet completely (I use a sheet that is 10x15inches – I wouldn’t go much bigger than that). Top the dough with a single layer of pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, parsley, and garlic powder.

Calzone

Roll the dough (on the long side) as if you were rolling a jelly roll. Tuck the dough on each side of the roll, to ensure that nothing falls out when baking. Brush egg wash over the entire roll, liberally top with sesame seeds, and cut slivers into the top (every couple of inches).

calzone

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes (or until dough is golden brown). Let cool and slice into 1 inch pieces.

calzone

Grandma’s Famous Calzones

Ingredients

  • 1 Pillsbury Pizza Dough
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Approx. 50 small slices of pepperoni
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 TBSP garlic powder
  • 1 egg
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Arrange the dough to cover a baking sheet completely (I use a sheet that is 10x15inches – I wouldn’t go much bigger than that). Top the dough with a single layer of the pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, parsley, and garlic powder.
  3. Roll the dough (on the long side) as if you were rolling a jelly roll. Tuck the dough on each side of the roll, to ensure that nothing falls out when baking. Brush egg wash over the entire roll, liberally top with sesame seeds, and cut slivers into the top (every couple of inches).
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes (or until dough is golden brown). Let cool and slice into 1 inch pieces.

calzone

White Bean Dip with Pita Chips

I love appetizers dips. Salsa, crab dip, spinach & artichoke, hummus, you name it. That’s why I was extremely excited when I came across this recipe for a white bean dip (& homemade pita chips). Not only is it extremely easy to make, but it’s the type of appetizer you won’t feel too full off of if you indulge. I’ve always been a fan of Stacy’s Pita Chips, but I have to say, after making my own homemade chips, I probably won’t be buying the store brand as much anymore. Hope you enjoy this easy (and yummy!) white bean dip.

White bean dip

Ingredients

  • One (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Lemon juice (from half a lemon)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 4 TBSP
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 6 pitas
  • Oregano
  • Salt& Pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the beans, garlic, lemon juice,  and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Slowly add in the 1/3 cup olive oil while the processor is on low. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the bean puree to a small bowl.
  3. Cut each pita in half and then into 8 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Pour the remaining oil over the pitas. Toss and spread out the wedges evenly. Sprinkle with the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color.
  4. Serve the pita toasts warm or at room temperature alongside the bean puree.

white bean dip

Callie’s Buttermilk Biscuits

I was at Crate & Barrel this weekend and randomly spotted this cookbook:

callies-cookbook

It caught my attention because my brother-in-law works (and makes biscuits) at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits in Charleston, SC – so I figured this had to be the same Callie. Without even flipping through it, I bought the book, and boy am I glad I did. This book has some incredible Southern recipes. Carrie (the author) became famous off of her mother’s (Callie) homemade biscuits, but there is so much more in this cookbook than that. I’m excited to experiment with some recipes in this book that I’ve never tried (or even heard of!). But before getting ahead of myself, I figured I should master the basics: Callie’s Buttermilk Biscuits.

Carrie explains in her book that anyone can make biscuits from scratch. Having never done it before, I was a little skeptical, but after trying them one time I’d say I feel confident enough to make these again and again. This recipe is taken directly from the book because, let’s face it, she can do a much better job of explaining the biscuit making process than I can. I hope you give it a try – you’re going to love how they come out!

Callie's Buttermilk Biscuits

Callie’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients

Makes about 10 (2-inch) biscuits

  • 2 cups self-rising flour (White Lily preferred), plus more for dusting
  • 5 tablespoons butter: 4 tablespoons cut in small cubes, at room temperature, and 1 tablespoon melted
  • ¼ cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup whole buttermilk (may substitute low-fat buttermilk)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Make sure the oven rack is in the middle position.
2. Measure the flour into a large bowl. Incorporate the cubed butter, then the cream cheese into the flour, using your fingers to “cut in” the butter and cheese until the mixture resembles cottage cheese. It will be chunky with some loose flour.
3. Make a well in the center. Pour in the buttermilk and, using your hands or a small rubber spatula, mix the flour into the buttermilk. The dough will be wet and messy.
4. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough. Run a rubber spatula around the inside of the bowl, creating a separation between the dough and the bowl. Sprinkle a bit more flour in this crease.
5. Flour a work surface or flexible baking mat very well. With force, dump the dough from the bowl onto the surface. Flour the top of the dough and the rolling pin. Roll out the dough to ½-inch thickness into an oval shape. (No kneading is necessary—the less you mess with the dough, the better.)
6. Flour a 2-inch round metal biscuit cutter or biscuit glass. Start from the edge of the rolled-out dough and cut straight through the dough with the cutter, trying to maximize the number of biscuits cut from this first roll out. Roll out the excess dough after the biscuits are cut and cut more biscuits. As long as the dough stays wet inside, you can use as much flour on the outside as you need to handle the dough. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet with sides lined with parchment paper, or in a cast-iron skillet, or a baking pan with the biscuit sides touching. (It does not matter what size pan or skillet you use as long as the pan has a lip or sides and the biscuits are touching. If you are using a cast iron skillet, no parchment paper is necessary.) Brush the tops with the melted butter.
7. Place the pan in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 450°F. Bake 16 to18 minutes, until light brown on top (or as dark as you prefer), rotating the pan once while baking.

Note: You can freeze any leftover biscuits. To reheat, do not defrost. Wrap the biscuits in foil. Bake in a 400°F oven 25 to 30 minutes. Open the top of the foil for the last 3 to 5 minutes to brown a little on top.

Callie's Buttermilk Biscuits

Spaghetti with Littlenecks

One of my favorite seafood dishes is spaghetti with littlenecks. It’s a simple “sauce” but packed with flavor. Although we don’t have many seafood markets here is Northern Virginia, we are lucky enough to have 4 Asian grocery stores within a 2 mile radius of our house. These grocery stores have an incredible selection of ethnic foods and have amazing seafood departments.

I was lucky enough to find littlenecks at the La Lotte Market near our house. Littlenecks are the smallest type of clam (typically 2″ in diameter) and you can normally get about 7-10 per pound. These are my favorite kind because the small size makes them easy to work with – especially in a pasta dish.

Spaghetti with littlenecks

Spaghetti with Littlenecks

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  •  1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 5  garlic cloves,  finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds littlenecks (about 25-30)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta, stirring constantly in the beginning to prevent it from sticking together. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.
  2. While the pasta is boiling, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the littlenecks, parsley, wine and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes or until most littlenecks have opened (discard any littlenecks that did not open). Whisk in butter to thicken sauce slightly.
  3. Drain the pasta and place into the littlenecks pan and mix thoroughly. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.
  4. Pour pasta into large serving bowl. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese* and serve immediately.

*I have to note that most Italians are probably cringing at the fact that I put cheese on my seafood pasta – even though it’s not “traditional” to do so, I still love the way it tastes!

Fresh Roasted Vegetables

These are the best roasted vegetables you’ll ever make and the easiest roasted vegetables you’ll ever make. I’d have to say we cook these about once a week because they are so easy and go with almost every meal. Of course they’re best in the summer, when the vegetables can be bought from our local farmer’s market, but I wouldn’t discourage you from making these year round.

The ingredients are as simple as it gets: vegetables, olive oil, and Tony Chachere Cajun Season. Gather your favorite vegetables and cut into even sized pieces. My favorite veggie combination for this is zucchini, summer squash, onion, and cherry tomatoes, but you can really use whatever you’d like.

Roasted Vegetables

Place the vegetables onto a cookie sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and liberally season with Tony Chachere Cajun Seasoning. This seasoning has the perfect amount of spice but doesn’t overpower the vegetables.

Roasted Vegetables

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping with a spatula about half way through. Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

Roasted Vegetables

Fresh Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 summer squash
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small container of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBSP Tony Chachere Cajun Seasoning
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cut vegetables into bite sized pieces, keeping a consistent size between them all. Place onto a cooking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with the cajun seasoning.
  3. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, flipping the vegetables half way through.

Roasted Vegetables

Minestrone Soup

There is nothing better than a warm bowl of soup on a cold day. Even though it’s now officially spring, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. This morning it was 30 degrees outside when I left for work and it made me crave nothing more than a comforting bowl of minestrone soup when I got home.

This recipe is one of my favorite soup recipes because it is quick and simple to make. No need to worry if you don’t have all day to let a pot of soup simmer, this will be ready to enjoy in about 45 minutes. Serve with a sandwich or a crusty loaf of bread and you have the perfect one-pot lunch or dinner. The ingredients are simple: carrot, celery, onion, garlic, ground beef, diced tomatoes, cannellini beans, tomato paste and beef broth.

Minestrone Soup

Dice the carrot, celery, and onion. Place in a large dutch oven and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. add the ground beef and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes.

DSC01708 (2)

Stir in the tomato paste and mix to combine. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and bay leaf. Simmer on low until the soup has reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces lean (8 percent fat) ground beef
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Directions

  1. In a large Dutch oven, add and heat the oil over medium hear. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat to high and add the ground beef and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the beef is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and mix to combine. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

St. Joseph’s Day Zeppoles

March 19th is St. Joseph’s day. In the Catholic-Italian community where I grew up, St. Jospeh’s day meant going to your favorite Italian bakery and eating zeppoles (a type of cream puff pastry). Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have many places to buy a pastries from for St. Joseph’s day. However, here in Virginia, there is no bakery in driving distance to find a zeppole (trust me, I checked). That’s why, last year I finally decided to make them on my own.

Little did I know that there was an extreme difference between a “Rhode Island zeppole” and the type of zeppole most people think of. Most people know zeppoles as being like a fried donut, similar to Giada’s recipe here. A Rhode Island zeppole, on the other hand, is a puff pastry with a cream filling topped with a cherry. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many recipes out there for our specific type of zeppole, but I found one that gets pretty close to the pastries I grew up eating on St. Joseph’s Day.

I’m not going to lie, this recipe takes a little bit of work and can be frustrating if you don’t get the dough completely correct. But the final product is absolutely delicious and well worth it! Although, when all is said and done, I will probably stick to making it once a year on March 19th.

Zeppole

St. Joseph’s Day Zeppoles

Ingredients

Pastry shells:
1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Filling:
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 ounce cornstarch
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whipping cream, whipped
Powdered sugar for garnish
Dark cherries for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan, boil the water with the butter, salt and sugar. Add the flour all at once and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides without sticking. Remove from the fire and beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Let cool.
  3. Line a sheet pan with baking paper. With a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, pipe the dough into puffs on the sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for approximately 15 minutes more or until golden brown. Remove and let cool.
  4. Make the filling: Beat the yolks with the sugar until very light. Add the flour and cornstarch to the yolk mixture. In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil slowly, and add the yolk mixture while beating until smooth. Over low heat, cook until thickened, stirring all the time. Remove from heat and add the rum, orange zest and vanilla. Let cool completely and fold in the whipped cream.
  5. Fill the pastries: Split the pastries and hollow them out; fill and put the tops back on. Dust with powdered sugar. Top with cherries. 4 servings.
Zeppole

Skillet Mac and Cheese

Mac n cheese has got to be one of our favorite side dishes with BBQ. Normally, I use a crock-pot mac n cheese recipe that my mother-in-law gave me. It’s perfect because it cooks long and slow – just about the same amount of time it takes Jon to smoke or grill ribs. However, the other night we wanted to make this dish but didn’t have all of the time needed for the crock pot recipe. That’s where this skillet recipe, inspired by a recipe from Southern Living, came into play. This dish is flavorful and is the perfect base if you want to add any additional items (like bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, green onions, etc…..)

Skillet Mac and Cheese

Skillet Mac and Cheese

Skillet Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1 qt. milk
  • 6 TBSP butter, cut into pieces
  • 6 TBSP all purpose flour
  • 1 lb pasta (I used penne)
  • 1 (8 oz) package shredded extra sharp cheddar
  • 1 (8 oz) package shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat broiler with oven rack 8-9 inches from heat.
  2. Bring 1/4 cup salt and 4 qt water to a boil in a large pot over high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave milk in a microwave safe 1-qt glass measuring cup covered with plastic wrap at HIGH 3 minutes. While milk is heating, melt butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; add flour, and cook whisking constantly. 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in hot milk. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a low boil, whisking often.
  4. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, continue to cook sauce, whisking often. 6 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in cheeses, hot sauce, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cover.
  6. Stir together panko and olive oil.
  7. Drain pasta and fold into cheese sauce. Sprinkle with panko mixture.
  8. Broil 1 to 2 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve immediately.
Skillet Mac and Cheese

Gram’s Mississippi Mud Pie

When I first met Jon’s grandma she told me how much he loves her Mississippi Mud Pie. So when it came to his birthday this last year I thought it would be great to surprise him with a Mississippi Mud Pie dessert. Little did I know, there are approximately a million different recipes out there. I randomly selected a recipe I thought looked the best (having never made it before) but the consensus was that it was not like grandma’s.

Luckily, Gram was kind enough to mail us the recipe to her mud pie a few months later. Thank goodness, because her recipe is amazing. It’s a perfect dessert for a large group (or just a dessert-loving husband). Hope you enjoy this classic recipe from Jon’s Gram!

Mississippi Mud Pie

Gram’s Mississippi Mud Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, divided
  • 1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 cartons cool whip, thawed and divided
  • 2 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 2 packages instant chocolate pudding mix
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place flour in a small bowl, cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in 1/2 cup walnuts. Press onto bottom of ungreased 13x9in baking dish. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely.
  3. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Fold in one carton of whipped topping. Spread mixture over crust.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk milk an pudding mix for 2 minutes. Gently spread over cream cheese layer. Top with remaining cool whip. Sprinkle the res of the walnuts over the cool whip. Refrigerate 1-2 hours before serving.
Mississippi Mud Pie