Kitchen Tips: How to Avoid Burning Your Garlic

Gather around children, it’s time for this weeks installment of Kitchen Tips.

Garlic, while an excellent aromatic, burns very easily; and when it burns it becomes very bitter. While there may be dishes that call for a very bitter flavor, many don’t and you burn your garlic, you’re done. Game over. That bitter is not going away.

So when you’re cooking with something on a wok with very few ingredients to absorb the heat (like my Baby Bok Choy recipe), start with a cold wok and cold oil. This heat up process will infuse the oil with all that garlicky goodness without burning. If you’re cooking with other aromatics like onion, consider adding your garlic with the other vegetables or the protein.

Sante Fe Soup with Chicken, A Super Bowl Savior

If you’re like me when planning a party, then you’ll probably make too much food. You’ll also choose things that all need to go into the oven at once, are too time-consuming, and keep you in the kitchen while everyone else is waving their Terrible Towel at the tv.

Sante Fe Soup

I’ll be trying to avoid that problem on Sunday by including an enormous, hearty bowl of chili on the menu.

This “Santa Fe Soup” recipe was given to me by a co-worker at a previous job. I normally don’t go wild for chili, but the chili’s great look and smell won me over when he brought it in for lunch one day. Unfortunately he didn’t tell me where he got the original recipe, and when I googled it I came up with hundreds of variations. I did, however, make a few changes.

Chili and Beer

The recipe I was given called for 2 pounds of ground round, but I substituted beef for rotisserie chicken. I also substituted chunky stewed tomatoes and tomato paste for crushed tomatoes. The recipe called for two packages of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing dry mix and one package of taco seasoning mix for seasoning, but I decided just to recreate these mixes using the spices in my kitchen and season it myself. I also halved the recipe, and it still almost filled my spaghetti pot.

This chili is excellent – spicy but not too spicy, thick, and full of variety. I hope you’ll consider it either for your Super Bowl party or a cold winter night!

Close up Sante Fe Soup

Sante Fe Soup with Chicken
(recipe below is a half batch, which still makes enough for several dinners for two!)

1/2 cooked rotisserie chicken, cut into bite size pieces (you could also use 1 pound of chicken breast cooked using a method of your choice)
1 chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can white niblet corn, canned
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste, 6 oz.
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
15 saltines, crushed
1 tablespoon Nature’s seasoning
1 tablespoon parsley flakes

Combine all ingredients, beginning with beans and cooked chicken, in a large pot on medium low heat. Simmer approximately 20 minutes, but the longer the better. Top with tortilla chips, sour cream, or grated cheese to serve, or enjoy it “plain!”

As Heather mentioned yesterday, this Sunday is the Super Bowl. I’m not a fan of the whole watching sports thing; or watching in general for that matter. I figure, why watch when you can do? However I do enjoy hanging out with friends and I also enjoy making something extremely unhealthy without having to worry about eating it all.

All Ready to Nuke

Without a doubt, this sucker fits the ‘unhealthy’ label. Go ahead and throw terms like ‘natural’ and ‘diet’ out the window. My Uncle Rich made this for everyone when we were visiting for Thanksgiving a few years back. This dip is so simple and so delicious. You’ll find yourself coming back for more until you realize the dip bowl is empty (I know I did). Serve with any kind of chip you’d like. It’s more a vessel than anything.

Uncle Rich's Awesome Cheesy Chili Dip

Uncle Rich’s Awesome Cheesy Chili Dip

16 ounces Velveeta cheese
1 12 ounce can of beef chili; no beans
1 15 ounces jar salsa

Cut the cheese into small 1/2 inch cubes. Put half in a bowl and top with the salsa and chili. Add the rest of the cheese. Microwave for 3 minutes and stir. Microwave for another 3 or 4 minutes until all the cheese is melted and everything is hot and gooey. Enjoy.

Food Photography – Go Steelers!

Go Steelers!

That’s right, I’m getting pumped for Super Bowl XLIII! If you couldn’t tell, I’ll be rooting for the Steelers (and Heath Miller, who graduated from my alma mater, The University of Virginia)!

(Pictured: Eagle Brand’s Double Delicious Cookie Bars – recipe adapted to fit my 8×8 inch pan)

I bought more cauliflower this past week. It couldn’t be helped. I tried not too, but with my recent good experiences using cauliflower, its siren call was too compelling to resist. Alas, such is life.

Spreading The Sauce

I’d never made a pizza before; well, if you don’t count those english muffins you make as a kid (good times). I’ve also never had a pizza with cauliflower, so I really have no idea where the inspiration for this one came from. But come it did and here are the results. Not a bad first try if I do say so myself.

Before Baking

In hindsight, I’d recommend a thin crust for this pizza. I tried half with hazelnuts and half with pine nuts, but can’t recommend one over the other. I prefer the hazel nut, but it’s all about taste.

Garlic Goat Cheese Pizza with Asparagus and Garlic

Garlic Goat Cheese Pizza with Asparagus and Cauliflower

1 lb pizza dough (trader joes garlic herb)
1 roasted head of garlic
1 punch of asparagus; peeled and cut into thirds
1 head cauliflower; cut into florets; florets cut small (thirds, halves depending on size)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella; cut into thing slices
4 ouces goat cheese crumbles
1 handful of your choice of nuts (hazel nut or pine nut)
2 handfuls of fresh basil; roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 450.

Steam the cauliflower for 4 minutes then set aside. Steam the asparagus for 2 minutes then set aside. In a food processor, process the garlic, all the asparagus but the heads, 1 handful of basil, salt and one table spoon of oil until in a smooth paste. Depending on the size of you’re food processor you may need to push the sides down a few times.

Roll out your dough onto a pizza stone and spread your garlic asparagus paste onto your dough, leaving an inch on the outside bare. Spread your mozzarella slices onto your pizza spread about and bake for 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread about your asparagus heads and cauliflower. Sprinkle the goat cheese, your choice of nuts and the other handful of basil. Bake for an additional 10 minutes until the choose is melted and the crust is golden. Enjoy.

Operation Muffin Drop, Destination: Harrisonburg

On Saturday my husband and I made our first trek down to visit his sister at college. Lindsey is a freshman at James Madison University, and we had a great time visiting with her. So much had changed since I’d last been there, 6 or 7 years ago. Her dorm was bright, sunny and even moderately spacious!

Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins

We went to a cool little co-op type restaurant off campus for lunch called The Little Grill Collective; be sure to check it out if you’re in the area. We also explored a new library, some campus buildings, and the surrounding area.

Of course I was dying to bake her something she could share with friends, but Lindsey isn’t wild about sweets (she’s lucky, I have no concept of this). After debating the possibilities with Edwin, he helped me decide on MUFFINS!

Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins

My original idea was to make one batter, divide it between three bowls, and fold in any extra ingredients like blueberries, apples or cranberries. That would be the smart thing anyway, right? I wound up making three separate batters because I couldn’t figure out a way to combine the different recipes I wanted to try and I wanted variety.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

I made Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins, Whole Wheat Apple Muffins and Banana Nut Muffins. I halved all the recipes (making about 7 each), and the Banana Nut recipe is the only one that I adapted from the original. If you follow our DINNERCAKES Twitter updates, then you may have heard I was having a difficult time locating a trustworthy Banana Nut muffin recipe. You’d think this is a standard and popular muffin, so I can’t figure out why!

Banana Nut, Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins, Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

I used a recipe for plain Banana muffins from Martha Stewart, and I adapted it to add coarsely chopped walnuts to the batter and as a topping. I also added some cinnamon, nutmeg and sprinkled a bit of light brown sugar on top before adding the nuts.

Banana Nut, Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins, Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

I’m really happy I brought Lindsey muffins instead of cookies or brownies. Something about baking muffins, smelling them in the oven (stealing one fresh out of the oven) and giving them as a gift is pretty great. I may have liked the Whole Wheat Apple muffins the best, and next time I make the Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins I think I’ll add more sugar. Really, I think I’ll be revisiting and experimenting with muffins again soon!

Banana Nut

Banana Nut Muffins (makes 8 regular size)
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed (with some extra to sprinkle on top)
1/4 cup oil (I used Smart Balance oil)
1/2 large egg (I cracked an egg, beat it lightly, and divided half for this recipe and half for another kind of muffin I made)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup low fat sour cream
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel bananas and place in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. If you do not have a stand mixer, use a potato masher or large fork to mash.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients: brown sugar, flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk lightly.

In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients: mashed bananas, oil, egg, sour cream and vanilla. Whisk lightly.

Make a little space in the middle of your dry ingredients to pour in the wet ingredients. Stir very gently, combining only until moist. Gently fold in 3/4 of the nuts. Be careful not to over mix!

Drop spoonfuls of batter into a well-greased muffin/cupcake pan (I greased the cups and top with butter, lightly floured and then lightly sprayed over that. I had no problems with sticking; I think a little greasing the pan overkill is a good thing!). Fill the cups about 3/4 full. If you like big muffin tops, then fill the cups up to the top but make sure you grease the area around the cups as well. Important: If you have a large muffin pan and won’t be using all the cups, fill the unused cups halfway with water so that everything bakes evenly and doesn’t burn.

When done, sprinkle the tops with light brown sugar and the rest of your coarsely chopped walnuts.

Bake for about 16-18 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan. To safely remove them, insert a knife, toothpick, or cake tester carefully between the pan and the muffin to loosen the sides. Tilt the pan on its side and use the same tool to pop the muffins out individually into your hand.

Simple Yet Delicious – Adobo Black Bean Soup

On inauguration day, while over 1.8 million people flooded capital hill and surrounding area to witness history in the making, I was working far away in Reston. Yes, I missed all the glory and truth be told, even if I had the day off I would probably have just slept in; maybe baked a pie (fact: baking a pie is never a poor use of one’s free time), but definitely keeping myself as far away from DC as possible. There are a lot of great things about living inside the beltway, but every now and then there are events that strongly compel you to stay out of DC (the cherry blossom festival is another taxing escapade).

Sweating those aromatics

I’ve never been one for politics and while I am hopeful for the possibilities our new President brings, there was no friggin’ way I was putting up with THAT insanity. And it was cold. Good lord, do I hate the cold… It was still a noteworthy day for me though because I came across some delicious black bean soup at Whole Foods. Due to my lack of time management, I had not prepared a large pot of soup for the week and was forced to brave the elements in search of lunchtime nourishment. I was pleased to find this soup and had to recreate it!

Adobo Black Bean Soup

This soup…. is not the soup I had on Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong, this is good soup and I’m enjoying it quite a bit; but it is not the soup I had at Whole Foods. This soup is milder and less sweet; and still delicious. It’s got a bit of a spicy tweak to it, but not so much as to overpower the taste. Give it a shot. And if you’ve ever tried to make Whole Food’s version, let me know.

Adobo Black Bean Soup

Adobo Black Bean Soup
Inspired by Whole Foods

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion; chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
2 cloves of garlic; minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
4 tablespoons adobo sauce
2 cups dried black beans; cooked and drained
1 teaspoon cocoa
2 tablespoons sherry cooking wine
4 cups water
Salt to taste

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil on medium heat and sweat the onion, bell pepper and garlic until onion is soft and slightly translucent; approximately 3 minutes. Add the oregano, cumin, adobo seasoning, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Stir briefly and let cook for approximately one minute. Add everything else and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Kitchen Tips – Graham Cracker/Cookie Crusts

Kitchen tips is a brand new type of DINNERCAKES post where we’ll share some of the things we’ve learned and continue to learn along the way. Hopefully we’ll make all the mistakes so that you don’t have to!

Cookie Crumbs - NOT finely ground

When making a graham cracker or cookie crust for a pie or bar cookie, I’ve found it’s best to buy a box or bag of pre-ground crumbs whenever possible:

  • finely ground crumbs combine easily with the melted butter
  • the crumbs press into a pie plate smoothly
  • the crust holds together better in the plate
  • it’s easier to cut into for serving (because it’s less thick)

Even if you use a meat tenderizer or rolling pin it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get a truly fine consistency throughout, but you’ll put in twice the work. Sometimes I still make my own crumbs for fun and so that everything is from scratch, but then I quickly remember it’s not that fun at all (and that my idea of fun is clearly a little off)!

Note: The oreo cookie crumb photo shows crumbs that are NOT finely ground. I was lazy here, and my pie crust suffered for it!

Spicy Shrimp and Couscous

I’ve mentioned my dad’s strict dietary restrictions before, but it wasn’t until he began eating that way that I noticed how misleading healthy eating cookbooks, guides and restaurant menus can be.

garlic cloves

I’ve opened new “healthy dinners” cookbooks to find macaroni and cheese and beef stroganoff, or soups thickened with heavy cream and butter. If these are lightened up versions of the original, then I’m truly terrified of the original.


Restaurants like Panera want to showboat as healthy alternatives for lunch, but some of their salads rival fast food cheeseburgers. Most people know that a caesar salad packs in the fat with cheese and heavy dressing, but what about Panera’s Orchard Harvest salad? It sounds absolutely incredible, boasting “field greens, crisp romaine, dried cherries, fresh pears, Gorgonzola, toasted pecans & our cherry balsamic vinaigrette.” Lovely leafy greens combined with fruit and just a hint of nuts, right? The Orchard Harvest salad contains 540 calories and 33 grams of fat, including 8 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 grams of trans fats. Don’t worry, you can also get 48% of your daily value of sodium, or 1140 milligrams. Yikes!

leaf salad

I’ve been eager to share my Spicy Shrimp and Couscous recipe since the last time I made it earlier this week; it’s one of my favorites – quick, easy, spicy, healthy and full of flavor and zip. Buy a bag of frozen shrimp and just use it as needed (and if you’re like me, you can get your husband to remove any legs or tails still on the shrimp… Ghost Baker does NOT mess with shrimp parts!). Couscous smells wonderful when cooked, and did I mention that cooking it only takes five minutes?

cooking shrimp

If you’re like Chef Edwin and can’t handle spice, then try toning down some of the spice either by decreasing or removing the cayenne and chili powder. If you love spice like I do, then please don’t wait to add this healthy dish to your dinner rotation!

shrimp and couscous

Spicy Shrimp and Couscous
(serves two people)

12 frozen shrimp, thawed (by running under cold water)
1 tablespoon oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika and garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 box plain couscous
1 bag leaf salad of your choice

Begin to cook couscous according to package instructions. Mince garlic and set aside. Combine and stir cayenne, salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, and cumin together in a small dish. Fluff couscous when it’s done cooking and set aside, covered.

Heat wok on medium heat (you can use a skillet if you do not have a wok). When hot, add a little bit of oil to the wok. Add half of your garlic, stir for 30 seconds, then add peeled and thawed shrimp. Stir for 10 seconds and add remaining garlic along with spice mixture (it’s okay if you decide not to use all of the spice mixture). Cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are pink and curled.

To serve, add leaf salad of your choice to a plate along with couscous and cooked shrimp.

Edible Art – Rainbow Cake!

As Heather mentioned yesterday, we’re going to be adding some new kinds of content to the site. There are other aspects of the cooking/baking/food that we love and we want to share that with you. One of the new sections is food photography, where we share some awesome beauty in edible form.

First up, rainbow cake! This has got to be one of the coolest looking cakes I’ve ever made. More to come on this in the future but I wanted to give you all something to look forward to. 😉

Taste The Rainbow

As always, we welcome your feedback. Tell us what you think of the new features and let us know if there’s something you’d like to see.

UPDATE: We got a flurry of interest in this cake and decided to run a RAINBOW WEEK theme. You can check out it out by clicking here for tips on how to make your own cake as well as other ideas you can do with the rainbow theme. Enjoy!

We’ve had a couple readers who were following our twitter posts already try it out themselves. If you do the same, be sure to share it with us!
– Kelly took great shots during the various stages of the process.
– Stephanie rocked this as well.