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 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

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

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 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!