October 30, 2013

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

You pretty much can't go wrong with the combination of a pumpkin baked good and cream cheese frosting.  I make these every year at this time, as they're a perfect fall or Halloween treat, and I hope Chris' co-workers like them as much as we do!

The recipe comes from allrecipes.com and it's definitely a winner.  I follow the cupcake recipe exactly but have made a couple changes to the frosting.

I like to pipe the frosting (Wilton 21 tip) and decorate with candy corn and Wilton micro leaves.  Are you a fan of candy corn?  I like it in very small quantities, but unfortunately Target only had jumbo bags, so I used some extras as a plate decoration :)

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients (24 cupcakes or 96 mini)
    • 4 eggs
    • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 15 oz can pumpkin
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup corn starch
    • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
    • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
    • Add eggs to stand mixer bowl and beat slightly. Then, blend in the oil, sugar, and pumpkin. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Then, add to pumpkin mixture and beat until well blended. Portion cupcake batter into lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3 full (a large Oxo scoop works well).
    • Bake for 25 minutes or until center springs back when touched. Reduce to 23 minutes if using foil liners or 12 minutes for mini cupcakes. Place muffin pan on a wire rack to cool for about half an hour before frosting (mini cupcakes will cool more quickly).
    • Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread over cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.
    • I use a Wilton 21 tip to pipe the frosting and to decorate, I add candy corn or sprinkle Wilton's micro leaves.
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    October 27, 2013

    Weekend: Apple Galettes, Williams-Sonoma, Kale Chips

    While it's fun to travel, I also love relaxing weekends at home.  This weekend I spent time making mini apple galettes, reading books on the Bahamas (we're cruising there next weekend), shopping at IKEA, Trader Joe's, Kohl's and The Container Store, attending a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma, making kale chips and playing Family Feud on Wii.

    I recently started following Williams-Sonoma's blog, which is where I found the apple galette recipe and learned about the cooking class.  The recipe was a winner, the cooking class not so much.

    This was my first class at Williams-Sonoma and I had low expectations due their classes being free, but it was still worse than I imagined.  First, classes are held at the checkout area.  Imagine 25 people crowded around the counter, making it difficult for other customers to checkout.  Advance registration is required, but their attendance cap is too high given the size of cooking class space.

    Being crowded would have been fine if the content of the class was worthwhile, but it felt like an ad for KitchenAid. On a related note, the KitchenAid rep was in the store last week. I understand the purpose of the class is to sell Williams-Sonoma products but it would have been nice if items related to pies (the topic of the class) had been the focus.
    Williams-Sonoma's Photo - Technique Class: Classic Crusts
    This weekend was our first trip to Miami's brand-new Trader Joe's.  We went early this morning, arriving 2 minutes after they opened, in an attempt to beat the crowds.  However, the people of Miami seem to love Trader Joe's as much as the rest of the country because it was packed!

    I love that Chris is just as addicted to the store as I am.  He was running low on his favorite tomato & roasted red pepper soup, so it was his idea to visit just one week after the store opened.  We're now fully stocked on our Trader Joe's favorites and we picked up some new items which I'm anxious to try.

    I was intrigued when I saw America's Test Kitchen's recent video on how to microwave kale chips, so I picked up one bunch of lacinato kale while grocery shopping this weekend.  I highly recommend this method for making kale chips!  I ate the entire bunch of greens in 2.5 minute intervals while standing in front of my microwave.

    Each batch sounded like microwave popcorn which had me concerned, especially when I saw kale flying around the microwave, but eventually each batch settled down and I didn't see any flames as one video commenter mentioned, which would really be scary.

    So the moral of this post is, have full faith in Williams-Sonoma's recipes, but be wary of their cooking classes.  Before fall passes us by, I recommend getting yourself some apples and making these cute little galettes. 

    Apple Galettes
    Prep Time: 1.5 hours
    Cook Time: 35-40 minutes

    Ingredients (serves 6)
      Pie Dough
      • 2 cups all-purpose flour
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt
      • 1 tablespoon sugar
      • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
      • 1/2 cup ice water
      Apple Filling
      • 3 large (4 medium) apples such as Gala or Pink Lady, sliced 1/4-inch thick (peeled or unpeeled)
      • zest of 1 lemon
      • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
      • 1/4 cup sugar
      • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
      • In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse for a few seconds. Sprinkle water over the flour mixture and process just until the mixture starts to come together. Dump the dough into a large Ziploc bag and press into a flat disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day.
      • In a large bowl, toss together the apples, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon. Then line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
      • Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 5" round. Transfer the dough rounds to the lined baking sheet, spacing them evenly.
      • Divide the apples between the dough rounds, spring them into an even layer, leaving a 1-inch border of dough. Fold the edge of the dough up and over the apples, pinching the dough to prevent filling juice from escaping during baking. Refrigerate the galettes for 30 minutes.
      • Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake the galettes for 35-40 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack.
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      October 20, 2013

      Fruit & Spice Park and Miami Dolphins Game

      This weekend we checked out GrowFest at Redland Fruit & Spice Park and attended our first professional football game.  Both experiences were fun, but could have been so much better with cooler weather. 

      GrowFest kicked of the growing season here in South Florida and was held at a 37-acre park which according to Wikipedia contains more than 500 varieties of fruit, nut and spice trees.

      That includes 80 banana varieties, 125 varieties of mango, more than 40 varieties of grapes, 70 bamboo varieties plus guava, jackfruit, canistel, sapodilla, longan, lychee, mamey sapote, coffee beans and other exotic edibles.

      By far the strangest looking fruit we saw was growing on South African sausage trees.  The fruit hangs from rope-like stalks and grows 2-feet in length weighing 15 pounds! 

      It's widely planted as ornamental trees in tropical areas outside Africa, however I've been told the falling fruit can severely harm people or damage vehicles. Chris and I were also mindful of the coconuts which littered the ground and hung heavy in the trees. 

      Sausage tree fruit is inedible to humans but is often used as in ingredient in making beer, as it is said to speed up the fermentation process. Also, many animals such as monkeys, elephants and giraffes really enjoy munching on the fruit.
      GrowFest had many heirloom tomato and vegetable seedlings for sale, as well as fruit trees.  We have no plans to buy a house here, but it was still fun to imagine a yard full of avocado, banana, mango, papaya and star fruit trees.

      I was really tempted to buy some seedlings to grow on our balcony, but unfortunately two little plant munchers named Merlot and Chianti make that too difficult right now.  However, screened-in balconies are uncommon here, so I'm guessing they won't be roaming free at our next place and I'll be able to start a small container garden next year.  I miss basil most of all and the ability to easily make pesto.

      GrowFest also had food trucks and Chris got to try conch fritters, which are a Key West speciality he didn't get to try during our recent visit there.  He thought there was too much breading but otherwise he liked them.  I found myself wishing they were fried cheese curds which don't exist down here.

      Don't let hit sausage tree smile fool you, Chris was not impressed by the Fruit & Spice Park.  However, I reminded him a couple times that I had agreed to a football game in exchange.  We each thought each other was getting the better end of the deal.

      We were able to attend today's game thanks to Chris' company which has four season tickets.  Free parking and tickets is an ideal way to attend a game because it helped us not feel guilty about spending $36 on two frozen drinks. 

      Frozen drinks were essential due to crazy hot weather today (heat index of 99 degrees).  I can say that because even the locals were complaining about the heat. 

      We were excited to tailgate until we arrived and realized almost everyone had a canopy except us, which was essential in blocking the sun.  We looked like weirdos, but we ate our grilled black bean burgers in the car with the air cranked.  Chris made our favorite guacamole (Alton's recipe) to have with chips and that completed our short but tasty tailgating menu.

      October 10, 2013

      Caramel Apple Dip

      This past week I was reminded of a caramel apple dip my mom frequently made when I was a kid, and once something gets in my head I find it hard not to make it :)  Plus, this dip was the perfect opportunity to try out a new piece of pottery I bought at a craft fair in Middleton just before leaving Wisconsin.

      The pottery bowl came with two 8 oz plastic containers which rest on top of ice to keep the dip cool.  Alternatively, you can microwave water and use it for warm dips too.  There's one handle on the bowl which holds a little spreader, which is very convenient for dips.

      When slicing apples for this recipe, I like to dip them in pineapple juice to prevent them from turning brown.  Lemon juice works too, but I prefer pineapple juice and after a weekend of tropical drink making, we had pineapple juice on-hand :)

      I saw a cute idea on Taste of Home using cookie cutters on the apple slices, but despite my massive 100-plus cookie cutter collection, I didn't have any fall or Halloween shapes that were small enough for the apples I bought.

      One batch of this dip fit perfectly in the 8 oz container. The recipe comes from Kraft, with the only change being that my mom always added chopped peanuts (just before serving the dip).  

      Caramel Apple Dip

      Prep Time: 10 minutes
      Cook Time: N/A

      Ingredients (1 cup)
      • 8 oz cream cheese
      • 1/2 cup brown sugar
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla
      • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
      • 6 medium tart apples
      • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until creamy. Add brown sugar and vanilla, beating until well blended.
      • Transfer to a serving bowl, add chopped peanuts and serve with apple slices for dipping.
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      October 08, 2013

      Riki Tiki Cocktail

      This past weekend, I finally checked out a local farmer's market.  This led to tropical fruit purchases and riki tiki cocktails.  The October issue of Saveur had an article on Hawaiian cocktails, specifically Oahu happy hours, which contained this wonderful recipe. 

      The Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood (just north of Miami) is open year-round under what they call an "outdoor roof," which seems to be a common concept around here.  Apparently doors and windows are unnecessary when the average high is in the 70s and 80s year-round.

      I bought lots of produce, including a few things I had never seen before like prickly pears, longan and dragon fruit.  The vendors were awesome when we would ask what something was.  They would reach for knife, cut it open and hand us a piece to sample.

      Longan was by far the strangest fruit I bought.  It is native to Asia and the name translates to dragon eye, which makes sense because it resembles an eyeball not only in look but also in texture.  Tastes great, but it's hard to get past the creepy appearance and feel of it.

      Prickly pears got the best of Chris who handled them at the market and ended with up several thorns in his hand.  I got cocky in the kitchen and also ended up with thorns in my hand, which is when I finally put a glove on.

      Ok, back to the cocktail.  Saveur included a homemade sour mix recipe that was perfect for the lemons and limes I picked up at the market.  It was easy to make and lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge.

      Riki Tiki Cocktail

      Prep Time: 10 minutes
      Cook Time: N/A

      Ingredients (1 cocktail)
        • 1 oz fresh mango puree
        • 1 oz sour mix
        • 2 oz coconut rum
        • 2 oz pineapple juice
        Homemade Sour Mix
        • 1/2 cup superfine sugar (add 1/2 cup granulated sugar to a food processor)
        • 1/2 cup boiling water
        • 1 1/2 cups lime juice
        • 1/2 cup lemon juice
        • Cut up one mango and puree in blender. I got approximately 6 oz of mango puree from one large mango.
        • If using homemade sour mix, stir superfine sugar with boiling water in a one-quart heatproof jar until sugar dissolves; let cool. Stir in lemon and lime juice. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.
        • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all cocktail ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass.
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        October 04, 2013

        Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches with Chewy Ginger Cookies

        Flipping through October's issue of Martha Stewart Living, I came across delicious looking fall-inspired ice cream sandwiches.  Surprisingly, the recipe calls for 24 store-bought ginger cookies and 1 quart store-bought pumpkin ice cream. 

        I figured I could make at least one of the two from scratch and after finding some really tasty pumpkin ice cream at Whole Foods, I decided to make ginger cookies from a Taste of Home recipe.

        Both these cookies and the ice cream from Whole Foods are mildly spiced and the flavors work so well together.  Such a perfect fall treat!

        During the move, I decided it was time to change up my spice organization and I'm loving the new Libbey spice jars I bought.  I added clear spice labels to the top, since lack of cupboard space has forced my spices into a drawer.

        These ice cream sandwiches were easy to make.  Just place 12 cookies, flat sides up, on a pan that will fit in your freezer.  Then add some ice cream to the center of each cookie.  Place remaining cookies, flat side down, on top of ice cream and gently press down until ice cream spreads to edges of cookies.
        Freeze until ice cream is semifirm, about 2 hours.  Sandwiches can be frozen until firm, about 4 hours more, and then stored in a freezer bag for up to 2 weeks.  To serve, transfer to refrigerator until ice cream softens slightly, about 30 minutes.

        If you don't want to mess around with making ice cream sandwiches, I suggest two cookies and a scoop of pumpkin ice cream in a bowl. Super easy and just as tasty!

        Chewy Ginger Cookies

        Prep Time: 15 minutes
        Cook Time: 10 mins (per batch)

        Ingredients (24 cookies)
        • 3/4 cup butter, softened
        • 1 cup sugar
        • 1 egg
        • 1/4 cup molasses
        • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
        • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
        • 1 teaspoon baking soda
        • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
        • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
        • 1/4 teaspoon salt
        • additional sugar
        • Heat oven to 350 degrees.
        • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. In a medium bowl, combine flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix well.
        • Add about a 1/3 cup sugar to a small bowl. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls (I used a medium Oxo scoop), then roll in sugar. Places 2-inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.
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        October 01, 2013

        Channa Masala with Homemade Naan

        I love cooking Indian food at home, but shy away from it when dining out because it's often too spicy for me.  When Tasty Bite asked if I wanted to try some of their vegetarian items, I welcomed the chance to try new Indian dishes.

        Tasty Bite products just need to be reheated, yet they don't taste like leftovers.  I added a little fresh spinach to their channa masala and had plenty of time to make homemade naan to go with it.

        Have you heard of Tasty Bite?  I hadn't until I was contacted by them but now that I know what to look for, I realize it's sold at many places that I shop (Woodman's and Whole Foods, for example).  I'm happy it's easy to find because I plan to buy more to have on hand when I need a quick meal. 

        I think there's too much sodium to eat it frequently, but looking at the recognizable ingredient list it's certainly healthier than my other go-to quick meals that I'd rather not admit to eating :)

        This was my first attempt at homemade naan and I'm really happy with the recipe I tried from allrecipes.com.  It made way more than I was expecting so I have a lot of little dough balls currently in my freezer.  It would have been better to cook them all and then freeze the naan, but I quickly grew tired of the production line and ended up cooking just enough to eat :)

        This isn't a difficult recipe to make, but it is time consuming.  After mixing the dough together (love having a dough whisk for this step), let it rise for an hour.  Then roll golf size balls and let the dough rise for another half-hour.

        Next, roll each ball flat before putting it in a hot cast iron skillet.  I just got my first cast iron skillet from Amazon and I love it.  I chose a 12" Lodge skillet based on my love of the two Lodge dutch ovens I have (one for home, one for camping).

        This naan was fantastic on its own and is also a great accompaniment for Indian food.  Even Chris loved it, and he's picky as heck when it comes to putting carbs in his body.

        Disclaimer: Tasty Bite provided the Channa Masala at no cost to me.

        Prep Time: 20 mins (1.5 hour rise)
        Cook Time: 2-4 minutes per batch

        Ingredients (48 small naan)
        • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
        • 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 3 tablespoons milk
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • 2 teaspoons salt
        • 4 cups bread flour
        • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
        • 1/4 cup butter, melted
        • In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt and flour.
        • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
        • Punch dough down and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a golf ball), roll into balls and place on a tray. Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
        • Heat a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface, roll one ball of dough into a thin circle, dust off any excess flour and place on the hot skillet.
        • Cook until bubbles start to appear on the surface of the dough, and the underside is light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Flip the dough and gently press down with the back of a spatula. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, another two minutes. Transfer bread to a cooling rack, brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat with remaining rolled out dough.
        • Best enjoyed shortly after making. Dough balls will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
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