Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

As we all know, Halloween is this Sunday and as a result, many schools are having parties and my daughter's preschool was no exception.  I had tons of ideas of what I wanted to make, but in the end, me being me, I decided on cupcakes.  I went back and forth, from red velvet, to cream filled, until I finally decided to go with some of my all time favorites and make the pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes from Love and Olive Oil.  I made these last year in October and brought them to my best friend's house and she fell in love with them, so much so that I made a cake version of them for her party.

I had one problem though this time, the frosting listed with the recipe just never turned to frosting.  I have made it before and it is delicious and has turned out well both times, but this time I just couldn't get it to work.  I don't know if it was because I tried to double the recipe, if I over-heated the egg whites or if I didn't have the mixer speed up enough or what but mine turned out looking like cold semi-solidified egg whites with tiny bits of butter floating in it...not pretty to say the least.  (Don't worry, I won't grace you with the picture of that one...)  Since I discovered this at 11 at night, I was forced to resort to canned frosting, sigh...but we will save that particular rant for another time.  


One of the main downfalls of canned frosting is that is it not a great consistency for decorating with a piping bag, particularly at room temperature.  I did my best and I tried, I really did...but after making 6 cupcakes that looked like my 4 year old had piped the runny frosting on, I gave up and just put the stupid acorns I made from hershey kisses and mini nilla wafers on top and called it a night.  Of course, come 8 am I was determined to fix them somehow and redeem myself by making gorgeous cupcakes in between the time I had to drop of Alyssa and bring the cupcakes for the party (about 30 minutes...)  Why, oh why was I torturing myself about cupcakes that 3-5 year olds were going to squish and slime in a matter of 30 seconds you ask?  I have no idea honestly, it is just who I am I guess...my food must be perfect or at least midly pretty even for mere preschoolers!  Anyway, I tried a different idea and since the frosting had been in the fridge all night and was a better consistency, they turned out much better, and I was only 10 minutes late to the party!  lol



Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
adapted from Love and Olive Oil
makes about 12 cupcakes

cupcakes:
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 1/8 tsp. each ground cloves, nutmeg and ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

frosting:
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cups room temperature butter (or margarine), cut into tablespoons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare muffin pans.

In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin, oil, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Sift in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Gently mix until just combined, don't over mix the batter as it may become too gummy. Once combined, fold in the chocolate chips.
Fill liners with 1/4 cup batter and bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Transfer to the clean bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and cooled, about 15 minutes. Raise speed to high; beat until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, until fully incorporated. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.





Thursday, October 28, 2010

Add a Little Spice to Your Spaghetti!

Let me start this post by saying that I LOVE pasta...pretty much all pasta.  I would eat pasta for every meal if I could, truly.  Sometimes however, plain old spaghetti is just not enough to do the trick.  I first saw this recipe for Cowboy Spaghetti on the Rachael Ray show a couple of years ago.  It looked pretty good so I decided to try it that night and it was an instant hit.  I love the fact that it is quick and easy and that it is pretty family friendly in that it is close enough to regular spaghetti that it will please pretty much anyone but it also adds a new kick.

Now for those of you up in good old North Bay, you will probably not be able to find the fire-roasted tomatoes the recipe calls for, don't worry I have used plain old diced tomatoes for years and just added a bit of extra hot sauce and it still came out super yummy.

Cowboy Spaghetti
from Rachael Ray's website


1 lb spaghetti
Salt & pepper 
3 slices smoky bacon, chopped (I used the thick cut stuff)
1 lb ground sirloin
1 medium onion, chopped 
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped 
2 tsp hot sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup beer 
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (14 ounces)
1 can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 scallions, chopped


Begin by boiling a large pot of water for the spaghetti noodles.  


For the sauce, add the chopped raw bacon to a deep skillet and brown for about 5 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon for later use.  Add the ground beef to the remaining bacon fat and brown for 5 minutes.  Add the onion and garlic as well as salt and pepper to taste, the hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  Mix everything up and then pour in the beer and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the yummy bits sticking to the bottom).  Cook another 5-6 minutes then stir in the fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Add the cooked noddles, mix to combine.  Dish into pasta bowls and top with cheddar, bacon pieces and scallions and serve!


Enjoy!  It is super duper yummy!!


*note:  If your family is anything like mine...you might have a few bacon fans and sometimes these fans tend to use quite a bit when it is available as a topping.  I just threw the bacon pieces in with the sauce and noodles before mixing.  You can do this as well, or just make extra bacon, your choice but it doesn't change the taste either way...

Monday, October 25, 2010

May the Grilled Cheese Be With You!


So as some of you may have noticed, I have been on an unanticipated hiatus for the last month and a half.  What can I say, life got busy for a bit and I got lazy.  Not to worry, I have still been taking pics and experimenting with tons of recipes so I have lots of meals saved up and ready to go, all I have to do is get off my butt and write them!

With that thought in mind, I figured it was only fitting that I chose these very special grilled cheese sandwiches to make my triumphant return from the dark side!  (Haha, I know, that was bad...stay with me!!)  I have been eying these Star Wars sandwich cutters from Williams-Sonoma for a long time and I finally gave in and bought them a few weeks ago.  And then they sat still in the bag unused, until this afternoon that is.  When we began debating what was for lunch it hit me, make grilled cheese Tie Fighters and Millennium Falcons!  So here they are people ...basic plain old grilled cheese sandwiches with whatever bread we had on hand and kraft singles, made spectacular by simply cutting them into Star Wars shapes!  Alyssa, my four year old, loved them so much she ate 3!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The gooiest brownies of all time

The other day I had a craving for something oober chocolatey and began my search by going to a few of my favorite food blogs and searching for brownie recipes.  There were tons of yummy looking ones, but the all time best came from the Big Red Kitchen.  I love this blog as there are so many yummy, quick recipes including her recipe for the following Knock You Naked brownies.

Knock You Naked Brownies

1 devil's food cake mix
2/3 cup condensed milk
3/4 cup melted butter
14 ounce bag of caramels
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup pecan pieces, or other type of nuts (optional)

Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the cake mix, 1/3 cup of condensed milk and melted butter in a large mixing bowl.  The mixture will be on the thick side, in fact mine seemed super thick so I added another 1/4 cup melted butter.  Spread half of this mixture in the baking pan and place in the oven for 7 minutes.











Next melt the caramels and other 1/3 cup condensed milk in a saucepan on the stove.  Stir pretty constantly so that it does not burn or melt only part way.  This will take a few minutes, so be patient, it will melt!  Once it does, pour it on top of the already baked portion of brownies.












Top that with the cup of chocolate chips, followed by the pecan or other nut pieces.  Top it all off by crumbling the rest of the brownie mixture over it and baking for another 13-15 minutes.



They are gooey brownies, so they will seem a little soft but you will know they are done when the top looks done.





These brownies are super rich, best eaten with a big glass of milk or water.  Also I thought they had a little too much caramel...maybe next time I will use an 8 ounce package of caramels instead.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Late Night Pasta





The other night, after getting off of work unexpectedly early, I received a text message from my hubby asking me to stop off at the store for some ice cream for my sister-in-law who just got her wisdom teeth removed.  Being the wonderfully nice sister-in-law that I am, I agreed (of course this has a lot to do with working right next to the dang grocery store).  I was also quite hungry myself and figured it would probably be better to grab something there than pick up something at a fast food place, so I aimlessly wondered for maybe 5 minutes before inspiration struck.  I wanted pasta!!  I always want pasta, but I figured I was going to be home an hour and a half early so I might as well cook something yummy.  However, I was bad...I did a big no no...please everyone forgive me...but I BOUGHT pesto!!!  

I can see it now...you are all frozen in horror as you reread that last sentence over and over.  I know, I know, bad Rheannon!!  Bad!!  But I was hungry and figured at $5 for a teeny bottle it better be good.  Surprise...it was not.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't too bad but mine is way better.  Anyway, I got home put some water on to boil and sautéed a shallot, chopped a tomato and some fresh parsley.  I cooked up some penne, my favorite, and added the pesto, shallots, tomatoes, some sliced black olives and sprinkled on some Parmesan and parsley.  It was still yummy but next time I will definitely make my own pesto!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Buffalo Chicken Chili, revealed!

Okay, so many of you know that I have a handful of recipes that I never ever share and this one is one of them.  I have negotiated with my husband a chance for someone to get the recipe though.  There are some conditions however, I will post pictures of the recipe as I made it the other night for dinner.  I will then ask whoever is interested in getting the recipe to list all of the ingredients they can identify in the comment section, whoever has the most correct ingredients will get an email containing my recipe.  I ask though that whoever gets it not go straight ahead and post it online, that would kind of ruin the fun...


Okay so here we go...









There they are everyone, post your guesses below and good luck!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yummy-ness on the grill!!



So I was standing at work yesterday, enjoying the fact that is was not too hot outside, when the desire to grill hit me.  From then on, all I could think of was running out the door, hitting the grocery store for some great veggies to grill and opening a beer as I waited for the grill to warm up...too bad I still had like 4 hours till I went home!  So instead, I spent my breaks and most of my lunch pouring through the recipes I had saved on my Epicurious and AllRecipes apps on my iPhone.  I finally found what I was looking for on my last break, a recipe for pecan-crusted pork tenderloin pinwheels with carolina mustard sauce.  The picture looked amazing and the recipe did not seem too time consuming or difficult, perfect for a shift that ended at 5pm.  As soon as I clocked out, I drove straight over to the grocery store, grabbed everything I needed and was home in record time.   


Now, I must admit that I did not exactly follow the recipe last night for two reasons.  One, I kind of didn't really read the recipe again after I got home, I just went on ahead and did it from memory and two I just didn't want to waste the time rolling the pieces of pork in pecans if they were all going to fall off anyway.  With that in mind, I will go ahead and write what I did down, but will include the link for whoever wants it to the actual recipe on epicurious.com.

1 pork tenderloin
6 thick cut bacon strips
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Carolina Mustard Sauce:
3/4 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce

To make the sauce, add all ingredients to a bowl and stir until well combined.  It is best done the night before, but tastes pretty good even if made right before grilling.

Take the pork tenderloin and cut it into 6 long 1/4 inch thick strips, about the same size as the bacon.  Take a piece of the pork tenderloin and place a slice of bacon on top.  Roll it up carefully, ensuring that the bacon does not slip out and tuck it into place using two toothpicks.  Roll the remaining 5 pieces of pork tenderloin and bacon in the same manner, being sure to secure each one with toothpicks.  Now rub the outside of each pinwheel with the salt and pepper and spread a small layer of the Carolina Mustard Sauce on as well, then take each pinwheel and slice it down right through the middle, in between the toothpicks.  Let them sit and marinade on a sheet pan while the grill warms up.  



This is a great time to go clean off the grill or get some yummy veggies ready too.  I chose some great summer veggies, including summer squash which I only just tried for the first time ever this year...man I did not know what I was missing!  I sliced it up with some zucchini, a red, green and yellow pepper and a shallot that I had sitting around and tossed them with a couple of tablespoons of EVOO and some lemon pepper.  



When the grill was hot (I just used a propane grill btw...) I tossed the pinwheels on there on their sides for a few minutes and then turned them over.  Now I must warn you, I don't know if it was the sauce or the bacon grease, but I did have a few minor flare ups...nothing major though.  I only coated one side with the carolina sauce too cause it contains quite a bit of mustard, and well, the hubby doesn't like mustard so there you go.  I regretted it though!  The sauce is AMAZING after it is grilled, very flavorful with a hint of sweet at the finish, so go crazy with it!  When they were done, after maybe 15 minutes or so, I threw the veggies on there in a grill basket I bought at Williams-Sonoma this year.  (One of my favorite stores I may add...)  They took only about 10 minutes too as I only cooked them till warm, I love when grilled veggies still have some crunch to them.  I made some plain white rice to go along side.  It was quite yummy.  The family ate it all up...no leftovers, much to our friend's dismay when he came over and saw pictures of these later.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome! Let's Eat!

Let me start out, on my first first blog entry ever, by saying that I do not claim by any means to be an expert or an all-knowing cook.  I don't always know what I am doing, and as my husband can most definitely confirm, not everything I make tastes very good or even a little good for that matter.  ( Yes honey, I remember the darn meatloaf, let it go already!!!)  What I can say is that I LOVE to cook and bake.  I am pretty much willing to try any recipe or new cooking techniques.  This blog is going to be a record of sorts of my culinary adventures, the good, the bad and the frustrating!




For our very first meal together, I chose an old favorite of mine, potato soup.  I think I chose it because it was simple and pretty to photograph, but mostly cause I want it to be Fall already!  I know it is on its way, you could feel it in the breeze here the other day and combine that with preseason football games and I decided to at least pretend that it was cool enough for soup!  I also wanted to make some more bread, as I am currently trying to bake my way through a wonderful bread book by Peter Reinhart called Artisan Breads Every Day. It is awesome, you should all check it out.  Anyway I made the rustic bread on page 52 to go with the potato soup, although it wasn't finished until well after dinner.  I didn't realize until it was too late that this was one of those bread recipes that needed to be worked with for a few hours before baking.  Lesson of the story people, make sure you read the whole recipe well ahead of time so you don't end up baking bread during dinner!  

Potato Soup
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes

2 medium potatoes
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup diced onions, whichever kind you prefer
2 Tbsp flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups potato flakes
1 Tbsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp basil
1/8 tsp thyme
1 cup half & half

toppings:
shredded cheddar cheese
bacon pieces
green onions

Serves 6-8

Bake the two medium potatoes in the oven or microwave, cut them open and set them aside to cool when finished.  At the same time, put the butter or margarine in a stock pot over medium heat, once melted add onions and cook until lightly browned.  Add flour and cook for a moment to make a roux, this well help the soup thicken up later.  Pour in the chicken broth and water, stirring well to make sure the onions don't clump together.  Add the potato flakes and spices.  Allow this to come to a boil then simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Now remove the skin of the baked potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Next, add the half & half and potato chunks to the soup and stir throughly to ensure it is all mixed in well.  Simmer for another 20 minutes. Dish out and serve!

A couple of notes, use the time during the final simmer to prepare your toppings.  You can either use pre-cooked chopped bacon or cook and cut up your own.  My family tends to prefer when I cook up my own, but I was feeling lazy the other day and they got pre-made bacon bits.  It tasted just as good...kind of...okay it is better when you cook your own but sometimes it is just not worth the extra dirty pan, you know!  Even when I am not the one washing it, lol!  The bread was finished a bit after dinner but I thought it was a delicious dessert!  Apparently some of the other members of my family did too cause one of the two loaves was gone by morning and the second one was finished off pretty quick the next day too!