Tuesday, April 19, 2016

This Is The Best Carrot Cake I Have Ever Eaten

I have baked all my life, and while I usually do not create the recipes, I am pretty good at following them. That is the difference with cooking and baking. Cooking can be totally inspired. A bit of this, a little of that. Creativity is encouraged. Baking is such a science. Tweaking the ingredients can lead to disaster.

That was a major source of frustration when I moved to Taos, New Mexico. We are at 7000 feet, and the altitude change from sea level has caused my baking successes turn to failures. Cakes and cookies do not bake evenly, collapse, and taste different. I have not been able to find the appropriate adjustments to make my favorite recipes work.  So I cannot explain the joy I felt when I discovered the Mountain Mama Cooks blog. The author has perfected the art of high altitude baking. Now, if you live at or near sea level, this may not mean much to you...but to me? Desserts are back!

I was scrolling through the site and stumbled upon this recipe for carrot cake. It looked so good that I made it that very day. Not only was it delicious, but it was also the best carrot cake I have ever eaten. (and I have eaten a LOT of carrot cake in my life. I made the cake again for a potluck dinner, and it was a hit. Many people came up to me and exclaimed: "This is the best carrot cake I have ever eaten!" The cake was so successful that I made it again for another potluck (I am invited to many potlucks!) and received the same reaction. So I have been making carrot cakes, (and cupcakes from the same recipe) for every function where I am asked to bring dessert, and I have received rave reviews every time.

This is carrot week at Food Network. I could not think of a more perfect recipe to share. And it is a bundt cake which is so much easier than a layer cake. How cool is that? I made very slight tweaks to the original. I replaced the called-for vegetable oil with olive oil because I like it better and ensured alum-free baking powder was used. Otherwise, totally the delicious original recipe. Thank you, Mountain Mama!

The Best Carrot Cake I Have Ever Eaten
from Mountain Mama Cooks
(cake serves 12 or makes 20 cupcakes)

Note, the Mountain Mama blog suggested adding nuts to only half the cake top. That way you satisfy the nut lovers and the nut haters. Feel free to add nuts to the top of the entire cake if desired.

2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon alum-free baking powder
scant 1 teaspoon baking soda*
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
4 cups shredded carrots
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 batch Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-cup bundt cake pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together on medium speed the eggs and sugar until pale yellow, light and fluffy. (about 3 minutes). Add the olive oil, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Beat until well mixed. Add the flour mixture in 3 parts until just incorporated. Stir in the creme fraiche, carrots and coconut.

Spoon batter evenly into prepared bundt pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes until cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of cake comes out cleanly with no raw batter. Remove from oven and let cool on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cake plate and let cool completely.  When completely cooled, frost with the cream cheese frosting and top with nuts if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 tablespoons best quality unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Add the softened butter and cream cheese to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat at medium-high speed until combined and light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Beat for another minute or until incorporated.

This recipe has been creating for baking at altitudes around 7000 feet. The Mountain Mama site suggests increasing the sugar to 1 1/2 cups and increasing he baking soda to 1/2 teaspoon if baking at sea level.

*Scant means lacking a small part of the whole; not quite up to full measure. In other words, 1 scant teaspoon means not quite a whole teaspoon but a little less (from Whats Cooking America)


I have started sharing my newest blog "California Girl in Taos."  Please visit and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Asparagus, Onion & Pesto Pizza

Asparagus season. That signals spring to me. I can eat it almost every day. Raw, steamed, blanched, sauteed, stirfried...all delicious. But my favorite way to prepare is to roast. Roasting brings out a sweet, smoky flavor that is intoxicating. Perfect as is, even better when paired with cheese. So, pizza? Yes, pizza.

The beauty of pizza (aside from the taste) is the versatility. This recipe is a great example. Today's version includes red onion and two kinds of cheese, but you could add roasted garlic, red pepper, greens, spring onions, sundried tomatoes packed in oil; whatever you like. You could create a party menu by putting out all of these options, the dough, and pesto and letting your guests create their own masterpieces.

Now, about the chili oil. To me, this is an essential ingredient. The smoky/hot oil adds the perfect bit of heat which complements the asparagus and cheese. Set out a bottle next to the pizza. I bet it will get lots of use.  Happy spring.

Pizza, Onion & Pesto Pizza
(makes1 pizza)

8 oz. asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons best quality balsamic vinegar
purchased pizza dough for 1 pizza (or homemade if you have the time)
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup basil pesto (purchased or homemade)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
sea salt
black pepper
Calabrian chili oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and peel if stringy. (You probably will only need to peel very thick stalks. Thin stalks are usually fine as is). Place asparagus in single layer on prepared sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, roll the asparagus in oil until coated on all sides. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over asparagus. Generously season with salt and pepper.

Roast in the oven for 15-30 minutes or until the asparagus are beginning to brown and caramelize. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the stalks. Remove from oven and set aside. Do not turn off oven.

Prepare raw dough according to package directions. Turn a baking sheet upside down and sprinkle bottom of the pan with flour. Place pizza dough circle on top of floured baking sheet  Spread pesto evenly on raw dough leaving a 1-inch border of dough uncovered. Top pesto with mozzarella cheese. Arrange roasted asparagus and onion over cheese. Slide dough off pan directly onto rack in oven (place the pan on the rack below pizza to catch drips) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over pizza. Add back to oven and bake an additional 5-7 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese bubbling.

Remove from oven, cut into slices, and serve drizzling the chili oil over pizza if desired (Highly recommended)

Other Asparagus Recipes You May Enjoy:

It is Asparagus week at Food Network's Sensational Sides roundup. Do you have a favorite asparagus recipe to share? Please list (or link) in the comments below. And be sure to check out the other delicious sounding recipes from my blogger friends and Food Network. 

Creative Culinary: Bacon Wrapped Asparagus with Garlic and Parsley
Homemade Delish: 
Asparagus Crostini
25 Ways to Use Asparagus
Feed Me Phoebe: 
Spring Quinoa Mujadara with Asparagus
In Jennie's Kitchen: 
Asparagus & Arugula Panzanella
Healthy Eats: 
5 Fresher Ways to Prepare Asparagus
Napa Farmhouse 1885: 
Asparagus, Onion & Pesto Pizza
Red or Green: 
Roasted Asparagus with Spicy Thousand Island Dressing
The Mom 100: 
Millet Greens Salad
Taste with the Eyes: 
Modern Asparagus Spring Rolls - Red Chili, Black Sesame, Almond
FN Dish: 
6 Ways to Bundle Up Asparagus This Spring


I have started sharing my newest blog "California Girl in Taos."  Please visit and let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Green Salad With Emerald Green Vinaigrette

I love this vinaigrette. The fresh and clean taste is perfect on all kinds of green salad. It also is wonderful drizzled over roast beef or chicken, stirred into hot pasta and topped with cheese, spooned over deviled eggs, or used as a dip for fresh vegetables.

The recipe calls for Italian parsley, green onion, garlic, good olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings blended in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Looks like pesto, but no cheese, nuts or basil are included. The deep green color is gorgeous and, more importantly, the vinaigrette is delicious. I suggest you make a batch tonight. You will be enjoying salad all week!

Emerald Green Vinaigrette
(makes approximately 3 cups)

2 bunches Italian Parsley, tough ends removed
6 green onions, white and green parts, cut into thirds
6 cloves garlic peeled
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (I used a spicy garlic version)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I use Amy's brand, organic & vegan, but you can use the regular kind)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Combine first eight ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth paste forms. With machine running, slowly add olive oil until emulsified. Stop machine, add a large pinch each salt and pepper and process until mixed. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.

Drizzle over salad greens. My favorite for this vinaigrette is a mixture of crisp romaine lettuce, sliced red onion, spicy sping radish, and sweet red bell pepper. When summer tomatoes are in season, throw in a handful.

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It is Salad Greens week at Food Network's Sensational Sides roundup. Do you have a favorite salad recipe to share? Please list (or link) in the comments below. And be sure to check out the other delicious sounding recipes from my blogger friends and Food Network.

Devour: 6 Protein-Heavy Salads to Make Your Desk Lunch Less Sad
Homemade Delish: 
Napa Cabbage, Mango and Bacon Salad
Dishin & Dishes: 
Buddha Power Bowl
Creative Culinary: 
Iceberg Wedge Salad with Bacon, Croutons and Buttermilk Herb Dressing
Napa Farmhouse 1885: 
Green Salad With Emerald Green Vinaigrette
Red or Green: 
Southwest Salad With Ranch Salsa Dressing
Healthy Eats: 
Balance Spring Meals with These Leafy Green Side Salads
The Ultimate Green Salad
Taste with the Eyes: 
Blackened Barramundi Salad, Blackberry Vinaigrette
The Mom 100: 
Pea Shoot Salad with Shrimp, Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette
FN Dish: 
How to Eat Salad for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (and Not Be Mad About It)


I have started sharing my newest blog "California Girl in Taos."  Please visit and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pasta With Spring Peas & Pancetta

Spring peas. Just the name reminds me that spring weather is almost here. (almost, because in Northern New Mexico the current weather is chilly, windy and without bud break on the fruit trees.) And fresh peas are so easy to prepare. They can be cooked in just a few minutes, and are delicious paired with spring onions, or spring garlic, or fresh mint, or greens, fava beans, asparagus...just about any other spring vegetable is magical in dishes featuring peas. But, really, does it get any better than peas and bacon?

I fried Italian pancetta until crispy and then sauteed spring onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Added freshly shelled spring peas and tossed everything together with hot pasta. Smothered the dish with mounds of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and dinner was served.

Peas are an amazingly healthy vegetable. The website World's Healthiest Foods discusses this in detail, but I think my favorite benefit of peas is the eco-friendly  aspect:

  • Green peas stand out as an environmentally friendly food. Agricultural research has shown that pea crops can provide the soil with important benefits. First, peas belong to a category of crops called "nitrogen fixing" crops. With the help of bacteria in the soil, peas and other pulse crops are able to take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into more complex and usable forms. This process increases nitrogen available in the soil without the need for added fertilizer. Peas also have a relatively shallow root system which can help prevent erosion of the soil, and once the peas have been picked, the plant remainders tend to break down relatively easily for soil replenishment. Finally, rotation of peas with other crops has been shown to lower the risk of pest problems. These environmentally friendly aspects of pea production add to their desirability as a regular part of our diet.
Just remember this the next time you are considering purchasing fresh peas...even better, maybe grow some in your garden.

Pasta With Spring Peas & Pancetta
(serves 6)

1 lb wide flat pasta (like Pappardelle) 
4 oz pancetta, diced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy..1 do!)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 lb fresh spring peas
grey sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil…when rapidly boiling, salt water well and add pasta. Cook following package directions (10-12 minutes) until just al dente (firm to the bite). Do not overcook. Using a ladle, remove one ladleful of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

 Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté the pancetta until crispy. Remove from the skillet and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add the 2 tbsp olive oil and onion to the skillet and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic just begins to brown. Stir in the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and reserved pasta water to the skillet, stir well and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, drizzling pasta with extra virgin olive oil if desired. Top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

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It is Spring Peas week at Food Network's Sensational Sides roundup. Do you have a favorite peas recipe to share? Please list (or link) in the comments below. And be sure to check out the other delicious sounding recipes from my blogger friends and Food Network. 

Taste with the Eyes: Succulent Fresh Fish and Spring Produce
Crowd-Peasing Recipes Using 3 Varieties of Spring Peas
Creative Culinary: 
Spaghetti with Pea and Pine Nut Pesto
Napa Farmhouse 1885: 
Pasta with Spring Peas & Pancetta
Red or Green: 
Sugar Snap Peas & Peppers
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: 
Peas and Cottage Cheese Curry
The Mom 100: 
Sauteed Vegetable Frittata
FN Dish: 
5 Ways Peas Are Better with the Italian Treatment


I have started sharing my newest blog "California Girl in Taos."  Please visit and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sauteed Broccolini With Garlic And Chile On Toast

I always like to add one dish with a bit of spiciness to a holiday menu. Take Easter for example. Roast lamb, or ham or turkey with a potato dish, salad, vegetable. Delicious and perfectly fine but just a bit bland. Now add a dish with garlic or chile and it perks everything up.

This broccolini on toast recipe is the perfect example. Crisp-tender vegetable sauteed in olive oil with loads of garlic and a heaping spoonful of one of my favorite condiments Calabrian Chile Paste. I love the Silanfunghi brand of chile paste and used to buy it by the case at NapaStyle, Michael Chiarello's store, and catalog. They are "rebranding" and not taking orders at this time, so I have found other brands on Amazon. I am pretty addicted to this sauce and always have a number of jars in my pantry. Pile the broccolini on toast, top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and you have the perfect side dish. Or, if you are like me, place a couple of portions on your plate, pair with a glass of wine, and dinner is served!

Sauteed Broccolini With Garlic and Chile On Toast
(serve 6)

1 1/2 lbs broccolini, trimmed
extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Calabrian Chile Paste (I like the Silafunghi brand)
sea salt
black pepper
6 pieces Italian or French bread, toasted or grilled
grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Fill a large skillet 1/2 with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the broccolini, cover pan and boil until crisp-tender. (approximately 4 minutes). Remove broccolini and set aside. Drain water and dry skillet.

Heat skillet until hot. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and the broccolini and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the chile paste and stir to combine. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary. Stir in a pinch of black pepper.

Drizzle olive oil over grilled bread. Top toast with broccolini and grated cheese. Serve hot

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It is Easter Sides week at Food Network's Sensational Sides roundup. Do you have a favorite Easter side dish recipe to share? Please list (or link) in the comments below. And be sure to check out the other delicious sounding recipes from my blogger friends and Food Network. 

The Lemon Bowl: Roasted Asparagus and Tangerines with Toasted Almonds
Have a Hoppin’ Easter with These Remixed Brunch and Dinner Dishes
Creative Culinary: 
Deviled Eggs with Lemon Zest, Capers and Chives
The Mom 100: 
Spring Greens Salad with Kohlrabi and Golden Beets
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: 
Vanilla Pudding with Fruit Jam Topping
Napa Farmhouse 1885: 
Sauteed Broccolini With Garlic And Chile On Toast
Red or Green: 
Pasta With Kale, Garlic & Calabrian Chile
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: 
Fennel & Cherry Tomato Salad with Toasted Pistachios
Healthy Eats: 
5 Spring Sides for a Healthier Easter Feast
Taste with the Eyes: 
Butter Lettuce Cups with Fried Goat Cheese, Green Apple, Meyer Lemon Cream
The Wimpy Vegetarian: 
Creamy Feta and Asparagus Casserole with Orzo
FN Dish: 
5 Side Dishes That Are More Important Than the Easter Ham


I have started sharing my newest blog "California Girl in Taos."  Please visit and let me know what you think.