Greetings Gorgers, it has been a while!  The past two months has been filled with all the joys that house hunting, packing, moving, unpacking and settling in have to offer.  But now that the pots and pans are in place, the spice cupboard is filled, and the oven is in working order, it is high time to get back to baking!

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner (and Guinness specials aplenty in liquor stores everywhere), it seemed like a great time to appreciate all the ways you can enjoy stout.  Now, the Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes are a certainly show stopper, but they are also a ton of work: Three separate recipes for the components! Coring tools! An insane amount of butter!  Ack!

May I introduce to you the Quatro Choco Guinness Brownies?

Quatro Choco Guinness Brownie ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (choco uno!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and sectioned
  • 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (choco dos!)
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (choco tres!)
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/4 cup (10 oz) Guinness Stout, room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (choco quatro!)

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt until evenly combines.  Set aside.

Melt butter, bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate chips together in a double boiler under low heat, stirring constantly until completely melted and remove from heat.

If you are like me and do not have a double boiler, you can melt these together in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together on high speed until light and fluffy.

Add melted chocolate mixture to egg and sugar mixture, beating until combined.

Beat in the flour mixture.

Whisk in the Guinness and vanilla.  The batter will seem kind of thin, don’t worry.

Fold in the semi-sweet chips.

Pour into a greased (or foil-lined) 9×13″ pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center removes clean.

The hardest part: let the brownies cool uncovered at room temperature.

These are some decadent mo-fos.  The richness of four types of chocolate paired with the creamy moistness delivered by the stout make these brownies a danger to well-articulated sentences.  Please enjoy responsibly, with a solid glass of milk.

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baked macaroni and cheese

December 8, 2011

Whoa.  You guys, Thanksgiving left a LOT behind!  Now I am tired of turkey and sick of sweet potatoes, but still crave a warm, home-cooked meal.  Especially one that doesn’t come with half a dozen sides or take six hours to cook.

This is my favorite anything ever.  In university, I would request this as my first meal back home on every visit.  I can’t even recall how many times I’ve asked my mom to remind me of the recipe, because it’s so simple it almost seems like its too good to be true.  But its not!  It’s the truthiest in its gooditude!! (sorry, I’m getting excited here)

This recipe is so simple and concise, you could practically send it in a text message!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Cook 1 cup of pasta.  Drain pasta and mix with 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (undrained) with half a diced green pepper and 6 oz cubed cheddar cheese.  Put in a casserole dish and cook in a 350° oven for 40 minutes.*

*Now, there are a couple things to note.  As with most family recipes, there is plenty of room for specialization and modification.  Like the cheese.  No one in history has ever complained about too much cheese in their mac and cheese.  Cube that whole 8 oz block of cheese if you’re looking for a good time.  Want to feed a few family members and still have lunch tomorrow?  Throw in an additional half or full cup of pasta. Don’t like green pepper?  Try bacon! But the green sure does look nice.  And a couple grinds of black pepper on top really takes it home.

Grand apologies for the delay in action!  However, this dessert is nothing less than perfection and the rave review are pouring in!

“That food is good.” says Boyfriend.

“Really really good!” says Dad.

“Oh Leighann, the torte is fabulous!” says Mom.

While in the oven, the apple juices and the cinnamon work together with the vanilla to bake deliciously into the cream cheese creating a beautiful middle layer between the fruit and nuts on top and the amazing crust.

And the crust!!  This is better than any cheesecake crust I have come across ever!  Instead of bumbling crumbs loosely held together, you get to enjoy the this wonderful fruit and almond covered cheesecake on top of a cookie!  Lightly sweet and chewy, the crust is reminiscent of a sugar cookie or a soft shortbread and still holds everything in place.

The only downside of this dish (and I’m using “downside” incredibly loosely) was that the slices of apple were a little large and caused a bit of smooshing while plating each slice.  Next time I would try cutting the apples into chunks instead because I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Verdict: Sweet, creamy,  and lightly spiced with a cookie crust – this is a great dessert for the holiday season and all cold-weather months!

This is the time of year when we feel the necessity for all things to be nostalgic, familiar and steeped in tradition, but with the beginning of this holiday season,  I couldn’t help thinking of a friend who once told me that her favorite family Thanksgiving tradition was to never have the same meal twice.  Of course it can be risky to attempt a new recipe under the spotlight of the Big Thanksgiving Dinner, but the bigger the risk the bigger the rewards, right?

I found this recipe in a fashion magazine.  The instructions were weird, but the accompanying photograph looked divine.  So, I’m giving it a shot.  A shot in the dark.

Bavarian Cranberry Apple Torte

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups apples (4-6 medium apples)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 450°.

Peel, core and slice apples.  For me, four apples were more than enough to make four cups sliced.

In a medium bowl, cream butter, 2/3 cup sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.

Blend in flour.

Form a ball and press dough onto bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of a 9″ springform pan.

Cover crust in the raspberry jam and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

In another medium bowl, combine cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar.

Add eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla and mix well.

Pour over jam-covered crust.

In yet another bowl, toss your peeled, cored and sliced apples with the cranberries, cinnamon, and remaining sugar.  A spatula works well to ensure all apples and cranberries are equally coated in cinnamon sugar, but eat a few of these to be certain.

Spoon the delicious cinnamon sugar fruit over the cream cheese and sprinkle the top with almonds.

Bake torte at 450° for 10 minutes.  (Smart move: place the springform pan inside of a larger pan or on a cookie sheet.  The sugar makes the apples quite juicy, and unless you want to learn what your smoke detector sounds like, dirtying an additional pan is well worth it to catch these drippings.)

With the torte still in the oven, lower heat to 400° and bake for an additional 40 minutes.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to firm up filling.

I’m keeping mine in the fridge overnight – Do Not Open Until Thanksgiving!!  Stay tuned for part two tomorrow where I’ll see if the results of this new recipe was worth the risk!

beginner’s banana bread

November 17, 2011

It’s a sad day when good fruit goes bad.  Except for bananas.  When they turn all brown on the outside and smushy on the inside they transform into super bananas!  Pop a few into a freezer bag and they make the perfect basis for your next breakfast smoothie.  Or prepare this totally easy recipe for a warm treat great for any breakfast or snack time.

Banana Bread Ingredients

  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ripe bananas, smashed (2-3 medium bananas)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°.

Oh oh oooh, oh oh ooh, oh oh oooh, The White Stuff.  Whisk it together (sugar, baking powder baking soda, salt and 1 cup of flour) in a large bowl.

*Glorp*  Smashed frozen ripe bananas isn’t exactly the most attractive  substance on the planet, but think about what deliciousness this ooze turns intos!   Add smashed bananas, butter and milk.  Beat with a mixer on low speed until blended, then on high speed for a couple minutes longer.

Add eggs and remaining flour, beat until blended.

Get a little nuts!  Then fold them into the batter.

Whoa.  It’s getting majestic in here.  Pour batter into greased loaf pan (8x4x2).

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a centrally stabbed toothpick removes clean.

Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from loaf plan and cool thoroughly.  Wrap and store overnight before slicing.  Use this time to think about all the delicious ways you can eat your homemade banana bread.

With melty Nutella!

Or creamy cream cheese, sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon!

And if there was any left I would have attempted more options.  Like french toast.  Or – holy wow – can you imagine BANANA bread pudding!  Wowzers, time to start collecting hyper-ripe bananas for the next loaf.

Halloween candy used to confuse me as a kid.  “How can it be called ‘Fun Size’ when its smaller? With a name like that, shouldn’t it be HUGE?”  As an adult, I’ve learned that bigger isn’t always better, and some times a small taste can be a big treat.

I had originally made a full-size pumpkin pie cheesecake from a Cheesecake Factory cookbook for Thanksgiving a few years ago, but after a massive feast, no one wanted a full slice of anything, let alone cheesecake.  This is an awesome recipe and a fun twist on the traditional pumpkin pie, so I want to make sure everyone gets a taste!  After trying out some Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes from the Martha Stewart Cupcake book this summer, I think I have successfully reimagined the delectable Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake in a very Fun Size.

Yum yum yum! Let’s get sharing!

Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Cupcake Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3-8oz packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 15 oz canned pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 275°.

Combine graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and 1 tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl.  Stir well enough to coast all crumbs with butter, but not so much as to turn it into a paste.  Keep it crumbly, yo, it is a crust after all.  A fork works well.

Press the crumbs into the bottom of the lined muffin cups so the bottoms are covered, this is generally a couple fork-fulls, but less than a tablespoon.

Bake for 10 minutes, until the crumbs become crusty (in a good way.)

While the crust is baking, mix the cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.

Add pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.

Fill ‘er up!

Bake for 22 minutes, rotating the tins at halftime.

Counter cool for 15 minutes, then refrigerate for several hours.  Like at least four.  But it make more sense to just come back to this tomorrow and allow everything to set overnight.

Remove the liner, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with nutmeg for a teeny creamy sweet and spicy delight!  You’ll probably need a fork, and a trip back for seconds.

This recipe made 24 perfect little cupcakes, so one cupcake is less than half the size of an average cheesecake slice. This Fun Size version of the cheesecake allows more plate space to ensure that everyone has room for dessert!

cinnamon pecan pie

November 2, 2011

Happy November!  It seems like so many retailers are under the belief that this month is a pesky interlude between those big money makers, Halloween and Christmas.  Not this girl!  I couldn’t possibly fathom forgetting the joy that is the Thanksgiving feast!  As the month rolls on, I will be sharing more recipes as I try to narrow down the favorites for the big day.  Yay!  It’s an entire month of Thanksgiving practice!

Two things about me: I love pie and I LOVE cinnamon.  I usually celebrate these amours in the joyous union of apple pie, but I found this recipe on a bottle of corn syrup I bought to make stage blood last Halloween and had been waiting for the right time to utilize it for an entire year.  My dad’s birthday was finally the perfect opportunity to try this recipe, and I made the pie at my parents house so they would win all the tasty leftovers.

the goods

Cinnamon Pecan Pie Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 pie crust for a 9″ pie

temperature

Preheat the oven to 350°.

beat eggs

In a medium bowl, beat eggs slightly with a fork.

more ingredients

Add brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, cinnamon and vanilla and stir until blended.  No need for an electric mixer, a wooden spoon will do just fine.

pecan party

Stir in pecans.

flour pie crust

You’ll want to flour both sides of the store-bought pie crust so that it doesn’t become soggy with the pie goo and fail to live up to its pie crust duties.

pour

Pour filling into pie crust.

almost there

Yummmm.  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until you can stab the pie halfway between the edge and the center and the blade comes out clean.

toasty

Allow to cool before serving.  It won’t be easy, but you have to eat dinner before you can have dessert.

dollop on top

With a dollop on creamy whipped cream on top, this pie is a sweet treat to ring in the autumn season!  Don’t forget to check back for more tasty recipes this month as I narrow down the winners for a decadent Thanksgiving dinner (and dessert)!

lemon tea cookies

October 6, 2011

Perfect for any time of year, these lemon tea cookies are an easy-to-make cake-like treat that will rival any of those chemically softened cookies you find at the store.

recipe

Revisiting the glorious Red and White Cookbook, this recipe calls for simple ingredients that I already had on hand – no special trips for silly one-time-only ingredients taking up valuable cupboard space!

ingredients

Lemon Tea Cookie Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
oven
Preheat oven to 350°.

lemon milkIn a small bowl, stir in only 2 teaspoons (not all!) of lemon juice into the milk and let stand for 5 minutes.  It’s going to look pretty gross.

butter towerIn a larger bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed.

beat beat beat

Add about half the flour, 3/4 cup of sugar (not all of the sugar!), the egg, baking powder, baking soda, lemon peel, and lemon milk mixture.  Beat until thoroughly combined, then bet in the remaining flour.

raw dough

Drop the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

tick tick tick tick

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack.

lemon sugar

Remember that lemon juice and sugar that were left behind?  We’re going to make a wonderful glaze thing that is sweet and tart and soaks deliciously into the cakey goodness that are these cookies.

stirrrr

Stir together until the sugar is dissolved.

soak it up

Brush the glaze onto the cookies.  There is no such thing as too much, these cookies are sponges and are waiting to soak it up.  (I’m using a foam brush to avoid any stray hairs.)

tea party

Enjoy with hot or iced tea to host the smartest tea party in town, fit for a lady and a cookie monster!

bacon and egg cupcakes

July 22, 2011

Although not technically a cupcake in the traditional sense, these bacon wrapped eggs from Recipe Cards are a cute and impressive addition to any brunch spread – not to mention a total breeze to make using minimal ingredients and taking less than 20 minutes to whip together!

So many wonderful recipes are written to make enormous batches, leaving a lot of lonely leftovers.  These fantastic little “cupcakes” are made individually so you only have to make exactly how many you want right now; for your family, your breakfast-for-dinner party, or just you.

Bacon and Egg Cupcakes Ingredients

  • eggs (one per cupcake)
  • bacon (approximately 1 1/2 strips per cupcake)
  • cheese (shredded or crumbled – use your favorite, mine is cheddar jack)
  • chopped herbs (thyme, chives, rosemary, dill – anything you like, I like basil)
  • salt and pepper (pinches each, per cupcake)
Preheat oven to 400°.

Cook bacon until browned, but not crispy.

In a greased muffin tin, line a muffin cup with a full strip of bacon.  In this “cupcake” the bacon acts as the liner – holding the delicious goods all together with no need to peel off and discard, just eat it right up!

Tear about half a strip of bacon into little bits and fill the bottom of the muffin tin.

Crack an egg into each tasty bacon cup.

Season with salt and pepper.  While you’re at it, take a moment to appreciate the song styling of Salt-N-Pepa.

Fill each cup with cheese and sprinkle with herbs.

Cook for 10-15 minutes (mine were good around the 12 minute mark).

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a minute or two.  Two of these self-contained breakfast vessels make for one sturdy serving.

Serve with sliced tomato, fresh fruit, home fries, Bloody Marys and you’ve got another delightful reason to get out of bed on a Sunday!

And if this wasn’t easy enough to follow, check out this beautiful video from Recipe Cards:

pastitsio

May 28, 2011

If you grew up with boxed pasta dinners like I did, this meal is like a Hamburger Helper who cleaned up it’s act, got a haircut, put on a tuxedo, and smells gooood.  This takes Dick Whitman and turns him into Don Draper.

Pastitsio is a nutty, creamy, meaty, hearty pasta dish with Mediterranean roots consisting of tubular pasta, seasoned meat, and a béchamel sauce (a flour-based white sauce).  It’s been well over a dozen years since I last enjoyed this meal, so I was thrilled when I stumbled upon it while recently perusing the classic Red and White Cookbook.  Instead of working from the recipe as it goes in the book, my mom filled my hands with a copy of her preferred method – as well as a pound of hamburger.

(This is probably as good a place as any to come out and state for the record that I’ve had a fear of cooking meat.  It’s a little silly – I know! – but there’s something terrifyingly intimidating about those raw wads of meat, especially knowing that if you don’t cook it right the results can be gross and dangerous!!  I have made due living with this fear, because somebody else ALWAYS wants to barbecue or otherwise cook the meat for the entree at a dinner party.  But it’s time to grow up.  And my mom made me do it, by handing me a pound of hamburger and challenging me to make something of it.)

So this one is kind of complicated, but it’s totally worth it for these absurdist Chicago spring nights with sudden temperature drops to just-above freezing.

Pastitsio Ingredients

(Its a bunch, so I’ma break it down by the steps for you.  You’ll have to pay attention when shopping this one out because there is milk, cheese, eggs, and salt used in a couple places.)

Pasta

  • 1-1/2 cup tubular pasta (elbow macaroni works swell, I just wanted to say tubular because I haven’t heard the word in use since cartoon characters of the early 90s)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese  (shredded also works just fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk

Meat

  • 3/4 pound ground beef (for a healthier alternative, use ground turkey instead! Thanks to Jess for the great suggestion!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (again, shredded is also great)

Ready?  Cook the pasta.  Strain.  Put pasta into a medium bowl.

Stir in its buddies, namely the beaten egg, parmesan cheese, and milk.  Stir it up and set to the side.

Scary time for the meat which actually isn’t that scary at all!  Browning beef is about as complicated as scrambling eggs.  (If only someone had told me!)  Anyways, in a skillet, cook the ground beef and onion until the beef is brown and the onions are tender.  Drain excess fat.

In a medium bowl (or the skillet), combine the cooked meat and onions with the tomato sauce, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground pepper.  Stir it up.  Set to the side.

In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Blend in flour and salt. Stir in the milk, stirring until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.  Add beaten egg and parmesan and keep it moving in the pan.  You want the results to be creamy, not stucky.

Keep mixing it up (but don’t expect auto-focus to keep up with you!)

Time to start assembling!  It’s recommended that this meal be made in an 8x8x2″ dish because that will allow for nice, even, thick layers.  I had a rounded 9×12″ dish which can accommodate the volume, but isn’t ideal because the layers get spread out and aren’t as even or thick.  Anyways.  Dish out half of the macaronis into the dish.  (Here is probably 2/3 of the macaroni.)

Spoon all the tasty meat sauce on top of the macaroni layer.

Cover the meat with the second half of the macaronis.

Smooth it over with your béchamel sauce.  Top of with a sprinkle of cinnamon (nutmeg for a bolder touch).

Cook uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Serve it up and share with five other people (or eat it by yourself for dinner six nights in a row, I won’t judge).  You can see here where it’d be better to have that narrow deep casserole dish.  A thick cream layer makes this meal hella tasty, although by no means was this spread out version anything close to terrible.

And there you have it ladies and gents, overcoming silly fears with a hearty meal!

Once a staple of fundraising bake sales and post-game soccer treats, these delightful cubes of gooey goodness have gone by the wayside.  Ever since the individually packaged interpretations of these came on the market in their bright blue wrappers, my aversion to these factory versions has kept me away from enjoying the simple pleasure of making a batch of these myself.  Now no longer the case!

I was alerted to this fabulously easy-to-make recipe from Poppytalk by my awesome friend Alda (of the printmaking duo Beside Herself), of Rice Krispie treats for grown ups.  By browning the butter, a rich almost-nutty flavour is introduced to a favorite childhood memory.

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 5 oz mini marshmallows (half a bag of minis – I had the fluffy full sized marshmallows and used about 20 which had to be torn into bits – a smidge sticky, yes, but it works)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies

In a large pot, melt the butter while stirring frequently over medium heat.  Be sure to pay attention, as there is no fun in burnt butter Rice Krispie treats.  Remove from heat once the butter is browned and stir in the marshmallows until you’ve got a smooth goop.  Stir in salt.  Add cereal and stir until all is evenly coated.  Squish into a greased 8×8 pan with a flexible spatula.  Once cool, you’ll have nine yummy squares to share!

Between my dad, me, and a pair of three-year-old twins, this initial batch of treats disappeared at record speed.  Dad said plainly that these were the best Rice Krispie treats he has ever had (only slightly garbled by stating this fact with his mouth full with one). Since the recipe is easy enough to make, I whipped up a second batch, this time using Cinnamon Cherrios.  Two words for this adaptation: Do It.  With my attention compromised by bouncing toddlers matched with my eagerness to get these Cinnamon Cheerio treats into my face ASAP, I added too many marshmallows and didn’t wait long enough for them to completely melt into the butter.  This resulted in the appearance that Spiderman may have had a hand in helping make these.

In this instance, the subtle flavour brought by the brown butter was masked by the cinnamon, however this still yielded superbly tasty results.  Yum yum yum yum!

So, you’ve got a craving for a chocolate cupcake, but can’t afford the calories or fancy ingredients?  I hear that.  Well lookee here!  A magnificently moist brownie muffin recipe that consists of only two ingredients and 180 calories each?!  Would I lie to you?

(I will follow the logic that the addition of frosting makes a muffin into a cupcake – ex. morning glory to carrot cake – and therefore also makes these a-okay to eat for breakfast 100% guilt-free.  Feel free to call these tasty morsels anything you damn well please.)

Stupid-Simple Guilt-Free Brownie Muffins

  • 1-15 oz can of pumpkin (be sure  you grab a can of “pumpkin” and not “pumpkin-pie filling”)
  • 1 box of devil’s food cake mix

That’s it!  Really!  Now here’s the hard part, you’ve gotta combine the two.  Yeah.  But think of the fat you’ll be burning off with all that mixing, and before you know it you’ll have super hot First Lady arms too.  Scoop into a lined muffin tin and cook for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  (Or – since there isn’t any raw egg like with a normal cake mix – you can safely just eat the batter with a spoon, I won’t judge.)  Yields 12 muffins (if they make it to the oven).

A couple more things:

  • You might be thinking, “Pumpkin and Chocolate?!?” but it’s totally not going to be weird, promise.  And since you aren’t using any eggs, butter, or dairy it seems like its a solid “Maybe Vegan” contender (although, I really should have checked out the box mix for any funny business before taking out the recycling…)  Regardless, it’s still a pretty fantastic way to get your vegetables.
  • The batter is super thick.  It will come out of the oven exactly the way you put it in, so sculpture is highly recommended.  Muffins with mohawks, hells yes!
  • Since the pumpkin saves you all kinds of calories, feel free to spend them on mix-ins!  Cinnamon, chocolate chips, orange zest, a super decadent frosting, etc!  But whatever you do, don’t add anything to make the batter thinner, it’ll just ruin everything.

I like to think of these as extra credit.  You could enjoy one as maintaining a healthy lifestyle like eating just one after a morning jog with your herbal tea, but let’s get real, this is a spectacular way to essentially eat a fist full of brownie for breakfast and feel no shame.

So I urge you, do this totally easy project for extra credit and you can slack off later.

tuna crasserole

May 1, 2011

Some times you just have to fake it.

The tuna casserole my mom makes has been a favorite of mine for as long as I’ve been able to eat solid foods.  It was one of the first things I craved when I went away to university, the warm gooey mess that tastes just like home.

But when do I ever have cream of celery soup or bread crumbs on hand?   Or the 45 minutes it takes for the casserole to bake?  My dad turned me on to what he calls College Casserole, consisting of a can of tuna and a bowl of Kraft Easy Mac, but I always felt there was room for improvement.

Tuna Crasserole

  • 1 box Kraft Dinner, or comparable boxed mac and cheese (shells give a more homemade look)
  • 2-5 oz cans tuna
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • shredded cheese (a couple handfuls works for me)
  • ground black pepper, as you like

Fully prepare the mac as the box instructs.  Toss in a handful of shredded cheese and stir until melted in.  Cook the peas as the bag instructs.  Add the tuna, peas, pepper, and another handful of cheese.

Combine.  Serve.  Enjoy.

It won’t be as savory as Mom’s, but in 15 minutes you’ll have a pretty tasty knock-off.


pita pizza

April 27, 2011

You know what’s great?  Late night pub grub.  You know what’s even better?  Not having to go to a bar to eat like it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce, the Pita Pizza.  Next to my best friends – The Sandwich and Bowl of Cereal – Pita Pizza is the most enjoyable single-serving meal you can find (…ingredients for in my fridge at all times).

For double duty purposes, pasta sauce becomes pizza sauce!  Sprinkle all the cheese available in your fridge, and whatever herbs you can get your hands on.  You can even use real things, like meats and veggies for toppings!  (I find this is a fantastic way to make use of starting-to-wilt spinach, just sauté with butter or bacon fat and now you don’t have piss off Popeye by throwing that great spinach in the garbage!)  Cook in a 350 oven for 10 minutes and biggity-bam! you’ve got yourself a meal that you don’t have to share!

For foodie’s sake, here’s the breakdown of the goods I used:

  • whole wheat pita
  • Trader Joe’s Vodka Sauce (that’d be the pasta sauce, and it’s delish fore it comes with big ol’ wads of tomato in it – but really, any sauce you like will do) with several splashings of Frank’s Red Hot sauce (because I really do put that shit on everything)
  • shredded cheddar jack, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses
  • and a couple pinches of basil leaves (for tastiness, but really to get that stop-light look)

NOM!

After a gray week in Chicago that got off on the wrong foot Monday morning with an inch of snow on the ground, I needed anything bright and would remind me that summer was on her way.  A combination of sweet and sour has always been a favorite of mine, so a couple years ago – in the perpetual pre-spring the midwest is able to produce – I came to the conclusion that I wanted to somehow eat a strawberry lemonade and found a way to do just that.  I adapted one easy cake recipe from several and came up with a deliciously tart and toothsome treat!

Strawberry Cake 

  • 1 (18 1/4 oz) box white cake mix
  • 1 (3 oz) box strawberry flavored instant gelatin (weird, I know, but if you don’t use it, you’ll just have hot pudding and no cake – SCIENCE!)
  • 1 (10 oz) package frozen strawberries in juice, thawed and pureed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • fresh strawberries (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk together the dry ingredients.  Beat in wet ingredients until smooth.  Pour batter into two lightly greased 9″ pans (for a two-layer round cake) or into about two lined muffin tins (for cupcakes).  For layer cake, bake for 30 minutes; for cupcakes, bake for 17-25 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, cool completely on wire racks.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 tsp grated fresh lemon rind
  • 6 tbsp butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • juice of one whole lemon
  • 3 tbsp water
  • dash of salt
  • 3 drops yellow food coloring (add more for a neon effect, but apparently people don’t know something tastes like a lemon if it isn’t a screaming yellow shade)
  • Lemon Note: I roll the lemon on the counter for a minute so it becomes juicier, and cut it in half.  I grate the rind of each half lemon and use it all because it’s kind of hard to measure all the tiny lemon bits.  It’s much easier to grate the rind while the juice is still in the lemon.  When squeezing, mind the seeds before you beat the frosting!

Combine lemon rind to butter, cream well.  Add sugar gradually (one cup at a time is good), blending well after each addition.  Add lemon juice and water, blend well with remaining sugar to a spreadable consistency.  Add salt and blend until smooth.

Here’s the final result as a cake from a couple years ago!  I included fresh strawberry slices with the lemon frosting between the cake layers.  This was a welcomed alternative to the yellow-cake-and-plain-buttercream lamb cake at Easter that year.

And here we are as a cupcake!  I shared these with my family again this Easter to rave reviews from my twin almost-three-year-old niece and nephew.  Mikaela was thrilled by the bright pink cake and Ayden stuck a fingertip into the frosting and instantly declared “Yummy!” and requested cupcakes all afternoon.

bread pudding

March 20, 2011

I have never made bread pudding before and I can’t recall ever being served bread pudding either.  It’s not the most enticing name, bringing to mind a marriage of croutons and Snack Packs – not exactly a winning combination.  However, when I called my father to tell him I would be crashing my parents’ belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner, the sound of delight in his voice was evident as I let him know a bread pudding would be joining me.

(By the by, when did a straight-forward corned beef and cabbage dinner become so delicious?!  In my childhood, this meal was synonymous with a sour soggy plate of stewed bland colors that my younger brother and I could bear only with the help of French’s mustard racing stripes and plugging our noses to ingest the rest.  My taste buds must be maturing now as I was absolutely enchanted in this year’s meal: the salty vinegar flavours of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes contrasted wonderfully with the lightly sweet and creamy qualities of buttered soda bread and a Guinness.  I even went back for seconds!)

This recipe comes from what I’ve affectionately known my entire life as the Red and White cookbook.  The book has been a staple of my mother’s collection and I have inherited her mother’s copy of the same cookbook.  It is fabulously informative, divided by tabs into twenty separate sections, with color photos, and simple instructions with suggestions for variations on the recipes.  Best of all – it’s a binder!  A cookbook that lies flat when opened!!

This is a superbly simple recipe that I was able to bang out to completion in under one hour, including cooking time.  And if you were like me, having never enjoyed bread pudding before I’ll let you in on the secret: it’s custardy french toast for dessert!

This recipe yields 6 servings and has an accompanying Whiskey Sauce topping.

Bread Pudding Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups (about 4 slices) dry bread cubes
  • 1/3 cup raisins or other dried fruit

Dry bread.  There is a few way you can do this, either leaving the bread out overnight or toasting the slices.  I have a tiny toaster so I baked the slices for 15 minutes in a 300 degree oven.  Cut (for more fun, rip and tear) bread into cubes.  Place cubes in a baking pan.  (I have a 9″ round pan, but an 8″ round or 8×8 would also work.  Use what you have in your cupboards, most of the time it will be fine unless the dish is inappropriately large or small for the recipe.)

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Sprinkle raisins or dried fruit over bread.  The dried berry mix I had on hand has cranberries, cherries, strawberries, and blueberries in it.

Pour egg mixture over all, making sure each bread cube gets sufficiently soggy.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted into a bread cube near the center comes out clean.

Whiskey Sauce Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey

Melt butter in a medium saucepan.

Stir in sugar, beaten egg yolk, and water.  Over medium-low heat, stir constantly for 5-6 minutes or until sugar dissolves and mixture boils.  (Serious stress on the constant stirring.  Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard-boiled egg yolk on your hands and that would be gross.)

Remove from heat and stir in whiskey.

Spoon sauce over warm bread pudding and enjoy the messy deliciousness!

I will certainly be revisiting this recipe in the future.  It is easy to make using basic ingredients, producing an uncomplicated dessert that is welcome to adaptations.  I plan to try this out again in the summertime with dried cherries and opting for amaretto or Southern Comfort instead of whiskey in the sauce.

irish car bomb cupcakes

March 13, 2011

A sweet treat pairs nicely with a mixed drink, which is why I enjoy baking with alcohol (there’s also a “one for the recipe and one for me” drinking/cooking game which is quite fun to play).  The amount of alcohol used is negligible and most of it gets baked out, but it lends itself for this perfect seasonal after hours delight.

This week is St. Patrick’s Day.  As my days of drinking an entire bottle of Bailey’s for the holiday are long gone and my desire to Crock-Pot a batch of corned beef and cabbage is nill, I’ve landed upon this fantastic cupcake recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Wonderfully, now you can align the flavors of an Irish Car Bomb with a delicate chocolate cupcake – minus the chugging, and subsequent bodily rejection of a pint of stout with dropshots of whiskey and Irish Cream.

Let’s get started!

This recipe yields 18-24 cupcakes (depending on how you fill the cups).  Preheat the oven to 350.  Line your muffin tin.  Gather your soldiers.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcake Ingredients

  • 1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.

Add Guinness and bring to a simmer.

Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Lower heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  Whisk until they’re all good friends.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sour cream.

With an electric mixer, beat together until smooth.

Add the Guinness mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine.

Add flour mixture and beat briefly until just combined.  Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Divide the batter into cups, about 2/3 to 3/4 full.  Bake for about 17 minutes in a 35o degree oven, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, rotating once front to back if your oven cooks unevenly.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.  (Which is a great time to get started on the next step!)

Whiskey Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons whiskey (optional)

Break up the chocolate into a heatproof bowl.

Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate.

Let it sit for a minute so it can steam up your lens.

Stir until smooth.  Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined smoothly.

Using an apple corer, remove the centers of the cooled cupcakes.  You don’t want to pop through the bottom, so aim for coring about 2/3 of the way.

Fill the cupcakes.  You could get this goop all up in a piping bag and be fancy about it, but I find two teaspoons are much easier to work with.  (Plus you don’t have that awkward licking-out-the-bag to deal with when you’re cleaning up.)

Look at you, cupcake!

Bailey’s Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 3-4 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3-4 tablespoons Bailey’s (or milk or heavy cream, if opting for a non-alcoholic version)

Place butter in a medium bowl.

With an electric mixer, whip the butter for several minutes until it is very light and fluffy.

Add the powdered sugar in very small amounts.  (I like to shake it into the bowl in tablespoon amounts.)  The longer you draw out the sugar/mixer process, the lighter and fluffier your frosting will be.  When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, add the Bailey’s (or milk) and whip it in until combined.  If the frosting looks too thin, just add powdered sugar.

Frost the cupcakes to your liking and enjoy until the last bite!