Thursday, October 30, 2008

HAPPY HALLOWEEN and the WINNER IS . . . . . .

CONGRATULATIONS to Tea and Scones by The Tea Lady who is the winner of my Pay-It-Forward give-a-way! Tealady please email me so that I can get your email address in order to deliver your Williams-Sonoma Giftcard.

Sorry I could only have one winner this time, but honorable mentions go out to Julie Peanut Butter and Julie for leaving so many sweet comments, and to Amanda at Beckett Bakes It by Amanda for making a special effort to leave me a comment while vacationing in Jamaica this week!

I want to also say thank you to all the TWDr's that have been so encouraging to me with all their comments. You are all very special to me! Have a safe and happy Halloween!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD - CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

COME JOIN THE HALLOWEEN PARTY! Costumes, Food, Fun, and Prizes!
It was an eeery Saturday night, with a slight chill in the air, and spirits were restless. So the DH and I dressed up in our costumes and had the local witch fly us over to the annual Halloween Party at our dance club. Let's hope that big bad wolf doesn't decide he is hungry. Well, I know him personally and he's not big or bad really, but he is usually hungry.
Guess what is hiding in Little Red Riding Hood's basket?

If you guessed Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes, you guessed correctly. I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone? I wanted to bake these cupcakes for TWD this week, and I needed to take food in my basket to the party - so that worked out perfectly for me! The only problem was since Lil Red Riding Hood only had twelve cupcakes, she had to be selective as to who would get to sample those tasty morsels and not seem to others like she was hoarding them for herself.
Thanks to all the TWD comments you left regarding the cupcakes. I took what you said, adjusted things, and my cupcakes turned out pretty perfect tasting. I substituted semi-sweet chips for the bittersweet and I added a dollop of sour cream to the batter to help make them moist.

I baked them for only 18 minutes. I was disappointed that they did not rise up to the top of my muffin cups. I'm thinking maybe I mistakenly bought huge mama baking cups and should have filled them with more batter. After they cooled, I piped in a little marshmallow creme. I made the ganache to put on top, but it barely covered the tops of them. Did I read that recipe wrong? I thought I would be creative and decorate them them with candy corn, etc., but wouldn't you know the local grocery store had sold out of regular candy corn. They only had caramel candy corn. VERY frustrating. I mean for gosh sakes it is Halloween week. Who doesn' t have a plentiful supply of candy corn. The caramel corn did taste good. I tried to make spider webs on top with orange icing, that didn't work. I scraped that off and and settled for some crude circles which were really just blobs of orange icing. I know what you are thinking. How could I take these wonderful, elegant cupcakes and turn them into simple cupcakes with orange globs on top that look like they were decorated by someone's three year old? Well rather than lie to you all and tell you I had a little helper, I'll just confess - I'm not a good cake decorator. You probably figured that out already from the pictures. But the good news is the cupcakes were outstanding! Thanks to Clara of I Heart Food4Thought for choosing these as our challenge for the week. Click on her link for the recipe.

Who doesn't love cupcakes. There is just something intrinsically different about these tiny little cake wonders. I feel young when I eat a cupcake. Maybe it is their smallness, but does size really matter? It is like having your own little dessert that is not big enough that you have to share. Have you ever noticed how you can offer one to the biggest man hunk you know and suddenly he turns into a little boy again? They make people smile and I like that.

A little cupcake history. Cupcakes first arrived on the scene in the late 18th century. The name likely came from the amount of ingredients used to create a cupcake–a cup each of flour, butter and sugar. Or, it could come from the fact that they were baked in teacups or cup-shaped moulds.
Can you imagine a CUP of butter? I dunno, sounds like Dorie had a hand in that original recipe. No offense Dorie, I actually love the butter in your recipes, but my waistline is showing it.
I'm having a Pay-It-Forward Give-A-Way as a special Halloween treat. It will be a giftcard. Do not forget to leave me a comment between today and Thursday. I'll be using a random number generator to decide the winner and I will post the winner's name on Friday, Halloween. I'll get your email address then and send you the prize. Sorry - I can only have one winner!

Here are a few of my friends/goblins that survived gobbling up my slightly ghoulish cupcakes at the party! And on a serious note, stay off those brooms, run from ghosts and goblins, eat, drink, be merry, and have a SAFE and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!







Thursday, October 23, 2008

BAREFOOT BLOGGERS: VEGETABLE POT PIE


Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa is a master at taking a mixture of seemingly incongruous ingredients and blending them together into delectable dishes.

My rule has always been to only cook recipes that had less than seven ingredients. I am so glad I broke the rule and made this one! Deb of Kahakai Kitchen chose this for our October challenge. Thanks Deb!

For those of you watching your pennies, I found some cool saffron threads imported from Italy at the grocery store that were in this tiny container and were only about $3-4 - a huge savings over those big daddy bottles that rob your wallet of about $15.
I substituted a sweet potato for the butternut squash. I substituted white wine for the Pernaud, and I added about 1/4 lb. of pancetta just for taste. I also added some garlic. Okay I know what you are thinking. . . yes, my pie crust went a little overboard in places. Let's face it, I'm not a good pie crust crimper.

I halved the recipe since there are only two of us, but it still would have served four. So I just used one dish instead of the four Ina suggested.

Nothing good comes without consequences, however. While I was chopping the fennel bulb, the knife just flew right off the fennel and cut not only my finger, but sliced across my nail as well. I never saw it coming. Ouch. Before you send flowers, I still have my finger and the nail will grow back with time, so all is good.
Be sure to leave me a comment next Tuesday, Oct. 28 for my Pay-It-Forward give-a-way! I'll be giving a giftcard and I will announce the winner on Halloween!
Bottom line - we loved it. I will definitely make this again and I would make the same substitutions!

Vegetable Pot Pie (From Barefoot Contessa)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)

1 fennel bulb, top and core removed, thinly sliced crosswise

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups good chicken stock

1 tablespoon Pernod

Pinch saffron threads

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons heavy cream1

1/2 cups large-diced potatoes (1/2 pound)

1 1/2 cups asparagus tips

1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)

1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced butternut squash

1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions (1/2 pound)

1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

For the pastry:3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Pernod, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the asparagus, carrots, and squash to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, and parsley to the sauce and mix well.
For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Finally, feeling kind of silly today. Here are some cute ghost jokes.

Q: When does a ghost have breakfast? A: In the moaning.
Q: What do ghosts drink at breakfast? A: Coffee with scream and sugar.
Q: What is a ghost's favourite dessert ? A: Boo-Berry pie with I-scream !

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

This week Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp chose Pumpkin Muffins for us to bake. Thank you Kelly - excellent choice! I made the muffins for our Sunday morning "linger at the table, read the newspaper, guzzle coffee" kind of breakfast. I used Craisens, extra cinnamon and allspice (because I like a kick to my pumpkin), walnuts and sunflower seeds on top. Just loved it all. There is not much I can say about the muffins other than they were out of this world delicious. They are the type of food that warms your loved ones insides before heading out on a cool autumn day. Perfect for October!
A little pumpkin history:
Pumpkins originated in Central America.
In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
Colonists sliced off pumpkin tips; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.

I am dedicating my blog this week to my sweet mom who passed away this year. She would have been 88 years old had she lived just three more days. This will be my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without her.

She grew up on a farm, the eldest daughter of eight children. She learned early in life to be content with little and yet she was the most generous person I have known. She learned to be a mom long before she married dad. I have two older brothers, but I was the baby and only girl so she spent a lot of time teaching me to cook and sew while the boys went hunting or fishing with dad. She was a formidable Rook player, sewed like Betsy Ross, crocheted, cut hair, kept the cleanest house on the block, and could make a bed as crisp as any soldier's bunk. She made beautiful quilts and afghans. She was the "June Cleaver" of moms.

Cooking was such a huge part of her life and thankfully I inherited her love for it. My early memories in the kitchen include the jobs she assigned to me while she prepared the family dinner. She had a way of making me feel as though my little jobs were the biggest, most important jobs of the entire dinner preparation. I got a lot of stirring experience. At five, it was stirring the sugar in the tea, then being promoted to stirring the egg and buttermilk into the cornbread around seven. I stayed right by her side (or maybe under her feet?) as she made cakes from scratch in her stand mixer, always showing me the right way to scrape the sides of the bowl, being cautious of the beaters (we didn't want any fingers to go missing). She helped me bake my first cake when I was around eleven. It was a birthday cake for my grandfather. I'm sure it was probably a disaster, but she seemed so proud of me and that cake.

She made biscuits every morning and cherished her bacon and eggs. One of my best food memories was her old-fashioned chicken and dumplings. She cooked such huge quantities of food we often joked with her about when the army was expected to arrive. Our family seemed to be built on the wonderful meals we shared together and there was always dessert. I think everyone's favorite was her teacakes which were stacked high on our plate with drizzled chocolate sauce on top.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were her favorite times of the year because she was able to show off her culinary talents. Cornbread dressing was her specialty. I will try and re-create her recipe this year, but mine will lack her secret ingredient - the love she tucked inside. There were always pumpkin and mincemeat pies at Thanksgiving, and red velvet and fresh coconut cakes at Christmas. One week before she passed away, she insisted on having a family get together and wanted to cook the entire meal herself. It was quite an undertaking for someone her age who tired easily, not to mention she had pneumonia at the time (which we would find out the next day), but she managed to pull it off. The dessert for that evening was her famous chocolate pie which she referred to as her "water pie" because it contained no milk. This was one of the last photos taken of her.
I am a better person today because of mom. So thank you mom, we miss you, and here's to you!
1920-2008
Thanks for letting me share. Now, for a little FUN stuff . . . .

"Pay it Forward" GIVE-AWAY. In honor of my mom, next week I will be giving away a giftcard to one lucky TWD'r. I wanted to do this because of how down everyone is about the economy. All you have to do is leave me a comment next Tuesday (October 28) with a promise that in a month or so you will pay it forward by having your own give-away, something of your choice of course. I will be using a random number generator to decide the winner - sorry there will only be one winner! I wish I could do more! Be sure to leave me your email address so that I can contact you if you win. I will announce the winner on Halloween! Good luck!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lenox Almond Biscotti

This week Gretchen of Canela & Comino chose Lenox Almond Biscotti for our recipe challenge. Oh Gretchen, thank you thank you, thank you! Biscotti has always been one of my favorite foods (especially around the holidays). Who knew someone of so little culinary experience could actually bake biscotti in their own kitchen? And the greatest thing of all was this was actually one of the easiest things I have baked AND I had all the ingredients I needed right in that pantry of mine. Or so I thought . . .

My new shiny red KA mixer was gently purring like a kitten as it mixed my wonderful dough when I discovered - oops, completely out of almond flavoring. Since I was baking in old clothes and no makeup, hair tied back in a ponytail reminiscent of those kindergarten years, there was no way I was headed to the store for almond extract. Not to panic, though, I decided to just use vanilla and hope for the best. I did sprinkle some cinnamon on half of them right before putting into the oven to give them an extra kick in case the vanilla was not enough. Even though biscotti were traditionally almond flavored, I think the sky is the limit on what flavors and ingredients can be used. My next batch might just house some dried fruit. And yes, there will definitely be a next time for these delicious, coffee dipping cookies.


I did not stand my biscotti on end for the second bake like band marchers, but rather on their sides like sleeping soldiers -- it worked just great. But to be totally honest and objective, they are probably not the prettiest biscotti you have ever seen, nor is their shape perfect, nor do they have rounded top edges and squared off bottoms, but as my first attempt I have to say I am delighted with the finished product. The only problem was I'm quite sure I could have devoured the entire batch, having managed to eat at least eight of them today already. I must maintain control and keep that hand of mine out of the cookie jar! I admit it - I'm a food junkie. If something tastes really good to me, I eat it and eat it until I am sick of it. I do the same thing with cds. I play them over and over until I can no longer stand to hear them. Then I move on. Like Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." I can recite every single word of that song, and no, I'm not proud. I've moved on this week to Sara Barielles "I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you asked for it 'cause you need one" and I'm quite sure I will know all those words before I move on again. Do I need therapy???

And now, a little history lesson. I know that in Italy the term biscotti refers to any type of cookie. But here in the South, we use the term to describe the tasteful, long, dry, hard, twice-baked cookie that is dipped in something. In Italy, you might dip them in a glass of wine, but in the South, usually coffee is the choice. Though I might dip them in my wine the next time I have a glass. I love to dip bread in wine, so it makes good sense to me to dip my biscotti also. I know you were just all dying to hear that juicy tidbit.

I found this fun fact on the internet: Columbus was one of the first to use biscotti as a ration on board his sailing vessels. Because of their long storage ability, they were an ideal food for sailors, soldiers, and fisherman. This weekend started the dreaded remodeling of the kitchen. My entire house is a wreck. So. . . much of my challenge this week was trying to work in a cluttered area with hubster on his hands and knees re-tiling our floor. I had to literally step over him every time I went from the sink to the stove! For those of you who know what a perfectionist I am, you know I will probably go nuts from the disorder of the construction zone! I have furniture in places I never knew I could put furniture. I'm trying my best to adapt. My kitchen table is in the corner of my living room. We are sort of liking that. You know how excited you get when you go to a crowded restaurant and it just so happens the hostess sits you in a quiet corner and inside you are silently yelling YES, thank you! The hubster is now calling it our eat-in living room. This morning for breakfast he said, "Shall we dine outside on the patio or in the eat-in living room?" Yep, he keeps me laughing.

Check back in a week or two - I might be having a "give-away." I love surprises, don't you? :)








Friday, October 10, 2008

National Friend's Week

I am only as strong as the coffee I drink, the hairspray I use and the friends I have. To the cool men and women that have touched my life. Here's to you!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Butternut squash risotto

The butternut squash recipe challenge this week was chosen by Rachel of Rachel Likes to Cook.

Whoa - suffering puppies and sugar cane, this squash was a challenge to peel and cut up! Gave my arm and hand quite the workout. I think I can skip my yoga this week. Maybe this month. It looked pretty in the pan however.
The risotto took longer to cook than I had anticipated and seemed to cook out the liquid pretty quickly. Of course I always try to cheat at things (not in life, just in cooking) and I wondered why I could not put more than two ladles of chicken broth in there at once. Any thoughts on that? I followed the recipe and was a good girl, however. As you can see in the photo below, I managed to use almost all my wonderful chicken stock. I used chardonnay which was the driest wine in my cabinet. Being a Reisling fan, dry whites are never - shall we say - in over-abundance in my wine bar. Also, I did not have the saffron threads so I substituted a tiny bit of ginger which I thought worked just great. The butcher where I shop could not for the life of him figure out how much two ounces of pancetta would be. I hope his significant other balances the family checkbook. I finally went through the math with him step by step (ok 16 oz is a pound, half of that is 8 oz, half of that is 4 oz, etc.) and then when he still didn't seem to have it, I just said to give me 1/4 lb. That worked for him. I think he was still counting and scratching his head when I left him. I put all of it in there because I like the taste of the pancetta. The shallots were flavorful and the freshly grated parmesan was a nice finishing touch. The recipe made a huge bowl full and I am not sure what hubs and I will do with all of it. I may have to share some with a neighbor. It was delicious and a very nice dish to go with the fall weather that is coming our way! My photos do not do justice to this dish. I was thinking. . . yes I live dangerously. . . wouldn't black olives make it look really Halloweenish!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

Let me tell you about my baking disaster of the week. Our recipe challenge this week was Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake chosen by Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy. Chocolate, caramel and peanuts. What could be better than that? My BFF at work is having a birthday this week and so I thought I would make this for her. Have you ever noticed when you really really want something to be wonderful and perfect, well that is the very time you will mess it up! First, I made the cake batter and all was going great. Until I poured it into the springform pan and then realized that my pan was not an eight inch pan, but probably more like ten or twelve. I knew it would not work in that so I got out a regular eight inch cake pan and moved the batter into that pan. Okay - I wasn't thinking clearly apparently. Please don't boot me out of TWD! The cake baked in record time and came right out of the pan. It wasn't quite as thick as I had hoped for, but it is a brownie cake after all and not supposed to be a tall tower. Here it is before the topping!

Apparently, God did not intend for me to make caramel in this lifetime. Started making the caramel and that's when the real trouble began. I had several things going on in the kitchen at once. I had the caramel on the stove and it was cooking very nicely all by itself. It was taking a while to turn amber however. So I turned my back just for like two minutes to the sink to put a pan in to soak, and hubs yelled and said, whoa this stuff is turning brown! By the time I stepped the three feet back to the stove, there was a horrible burnt smell coming from my precious caramel. I was so disappointed. I left it in the pan while I finished cooking my dinner and then the caramel had hardened in my pan and I thought I would never be able to dig all that hard gunk out! A soak in the sink worked pretty well though.

If at first you don't succeed, start over! New pan and new ingredients. This time I watched the caramel boil in the pan for over ten minutes and it never turned amber. Since I was gun shy this time, I probably took it off the stove a bit soon. It tasted delicious right after making it, but a day later it looks like it turned back to sugar. Next time, I think I'll depend on dear old Kraft caramels to bail me out.

I did give it to my BFF, but the cake itself was just not good. Thank goodness I had card and gifts in hand as well. The cake was dry and the caramel too sugary. I wanted to love this cake so much, that I am going to try it again and again and again until I get it right! Happy Birthday to friend. You deserve so much better!

Hear ye, hear ye. Newsflash! Hubs and I have decided to re-do a bit of our kitchen in order to gain more countertop. So here's the drill. I need your help in choosing the granite for my countertops. I have bisque colored cabinets and taupe tiled backsplash and taupe floors. I have black accents. So I'm thinking black countertops for drama, right? Then I see this slab of a sort of chocolate color at the granite store with black flecks in it and I thought, hmmm. . . .maybe this would be better than the black. Let me know what you think. Here are my samples. The first is Ubatuba and the second is Tropic Taz.