Friday, September 30, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I am finally going to admit that I am enjoying this weather. There's a chill in the air, and isn't it nice to greet some of your sweaters that have been hanging in your closet all summer long? Or what about wrapping up in a blanket with a nice hot cup of tea and a pumpkin cupcake?
A lady at work was having a birthday and this was a perfect excuse to volunteer to make some cupcakes! Even better, I had 2 pie pumpkins wasting away on the kitchen table to use! I mentioned in a prior blog how much I like squash and my first encounter with fresh cooked pumpkin was when I was living in Traverse City. I loved their farmer's market and I picked up a couple small pumpkins to make pumpkin butter. The flavor was so good you will never want to use that canned crap again! The recipe I used for the cupcakes called for canned pumpkin, but if you have the time, seriously consider using makes a world of difference. These little pumpkin babies are so sugar sweet yummy. Everyone at work today was telling me how good these are and I'm not going to lie, I fell in love with a cupcake! Don't tell my boyfriend! The smell when you peel down the cupcake wrapper is so intoxicating! The first bite is to DIE FOR! This cake is so moist and delicious, dust off those Kitchen Aid Mixers ladies and get baking!
I adapted this recipe from one I found on the Smitten Kitchen Blog.
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes about 18 cupcakes
1 Stick unsalted Butter room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 eggs
1/2 c buttermilk mixed with 1 tsp vanilla
1 - 1/3 cup fresh pureed pumpkin
2 bars of cream cheese room temperature
1 stick butter room temp
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 c pure maple syrup
Beat butter and sugar till fluffy, sift flour baking soda, baking powder, and spices in a med bowl.
Add eggs 1 at time to the sugar mixture scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add a little of the flour mixture and then a little of the buttermilk till till all is combined. Beat in pumpkin until smooth. Fill each well of the lined muffin pan about 3/4 way full. Bake at 350 21-25 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.
Beat all ingredients till fluffy. Frost after cakes have cooled on wire rack. Store in fridge.
Roasting pumpkin: Chop the pumpkin in quarters or thirds scrape out strings and seeds and place cut side down on a sheet pan bake at 450 for 30-45 minutes or until its tender. Once its down the outer skin should easily peel away. Put in bowl of food processor and pulse till its pureed. Put into a fine seive and drain excess water about 30 minutes. You could do this step the day before and just let it chill in the fridge overnight. You could also do a big batch of this and freeze the extra for your Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart

There's so much to savor once the fall weather sets in. I love seeing all the pumpkins and hard squashes and gourds. I love seeing the leaves change. I love apple time. I am always so heartbroken to see summer leave but there's so much fun in fall, I start to forget about it. I love warm sweaters and sweatshirts. For a few years, I hosted my annual fondue parties. I would have 5-10 pots of fondues and had friends bring their own bottles of wine. Those were some of the funnest times of my life! My good friend E (who is getting married in just over a month) plotted with her sister Kelly who lives in Chicago. Kelly asked if she could bring a couple friends, I was like sure, the more the merrier! Kelly and her friends arrived just as I was finishing about 3 kinds of fondue at once. They kept saying they needed help with some bags. I sent my friend Lisa out to help. She came back and said they still needed my help. A little put off, I rushed out to the trunk to help get these bags that could not wait, and out popped E! She lived in California at the time so I never expected her!!! I was so shocked but so happy!! That prank is still one of the best ones anyone ever pulled off on me!!!
One of the dishes I made that night was my pear and blue cheese tart. It pairs really nicely with a reisling and the punch of the salty blue cheese with the sandy texture of the pear is just heaven.
For this tart I used 3 varieties of pear, Red, Bosc and Bartlett, but truthfully, the next time I make t, I will use Red pears only, because they are the sweetest and my favorite. I also used the honey I bought earlier this summer from Beetree Farms. The Beekeeper Jan told me buckwheat honey is much stronger flavored, but I love it, its so much better than the generic honey bears I used to buy. Buy the best, stinkiest blue cheese you can afford, like a nice Stilton or Maytag. I really think quality ingredients make all the difference.
One thing I noticed is that puff pastry sheets have shrunk, the squares were so tiny I use both and had ingredients leftover.
I got this recipe from Tyler Florence's EAT THIS BOOK but I made changes:
1 lb of blanched almonds. I used about a half pound and had a lot of paste leftover!
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 pears sliced longwise I used red, bartlett and bosc
about 2 oz blue cheese crumbled
3 tbsp honey
1 pkg puff pastry
Unfold thawed pastry onto 2 pans, cut a rectangle about 1 inch from edge of pastry and prick inside rectangle with a fork. In a food processor pulse almonds and sugar with 2 tbsp water till makes a rough paste, slice pears long wise removing seeds if desired. Drop crumbled chunks of blue cheese over the pears, and drizzle a generous amount of honey over tarts. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.
E and Me in New Hampshire at Kelly's Wedding!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Perfect Pesto

I had 2 bunches of basil leftover from pastapalooza and I wasn't about to see my money go down the drain. I got this awesome canning mag from Meijer's early this summer to which I owe the credit for my delicious canning adventures to and I've been drooling over the pesto recipes for a couple months. I never have good luck growing basil. I can do thyme, oregano, mint....all the ones that grow like weeds, but the perfection of basil escapes me. My cousin's little crop was beautiful....the bubbly green leaves were healthy and sprouting all over the sides of her planter. Alas, I buy mine.
My first pesto experience was when I was 16. I was head over heels in love with a boy who bagged groceries at our local market. He had the most beautiful brown eyes and we made out for hours in his blue ford tempo with Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots droning on in the background, occasionally looking out the fogged up windsheild at the stars. I thought for sure that he was going to be it. He invited me home to his family's house for dinner and his mother made a big pile of fettucini with pesto on the side. It looked delicious, the vibrant, green paste lay thick on the noodles. I was running my buns off with the Cross Country team so I was starving, not to mention, with all that making out, what teenager isn't starving? So I loaded my plate high and took a bite. I thought it tasted nasty. They had cloth napkins so there was no way to get rid of the evidence. They had a huge family and it would definitely be rude not to eat what I had taken. So I swallowed as much as I could bear and still left a considerable amount on my plate. I was so embarrassed!
As an adult, your tastes change. Things you didn't use to like take on new and different levels of flavor, depth, texture and while they may evoke memories from long ago, new memories begin to take over. I'm glad I love pesto now! Drizzled on garlic bread, goat cheese tarts, fresh tomatoes from my garden with fresh buffalo motzarella, bruschetta, pizzas.....I digress. So simple a baboon could make it. But my only qualm for this was when did pine nuts get so expensive? I paid around $10 for 3/4 cup at a particular market in BC. I feel like I got a good 2 cup container way back at Nino Salvaggios for much less. Courtney got a 10 oz pkg at Trader Joe for around 8 bucks so I felt ripped off. Whatever, you forget all about that after you taste it.
3 cups basil leaves
2/3 cup parmiggiano reggiano
2/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 cloves of garlic
Throw all the ingredients except the olive oil on the bowl of your food processor and drizzle olive oil down the chute and pulse till it resembles a green gunge. Will keep in the fridge for 2 days otherwise freeze it. Its cool if you you an ice cube tray, pesto ice cubes could really perk up a winter soup.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pastapalooza 2011

I am addicted to cooking. Its fun. I like the way elements come together and form something magical in your mouth. It all started when I was a little kid in Grandma's kitchen. My grandma always let me and my brother make pancakes before church on Sunday mornings. I imagine now her counters and floors must have been sticky from the syrup and she probably cleaned up after us with a smile on her face thinking of how much fun we had making shapes out of the batter. She taught me how to make pies, cookies and sticky buns. I've always failed miserably at yeast bread but she gave me an outlet for creativity and curiosity that is still with me to this day. Whenever I eat blueberry pie, I think of my first blueberry pie in a small pyrex dish with lumps of white sugar that never melted down.
So enough nostalgia, and fast forward about 15 or so years. My cousin Courtney and I are 4 years apart and we're more like sisters than cousins. She even tells her little girl I am Auntie, which I adore. We've shared a lot of fun times and we both share the "foodie passion" although she out does me in just about everything, I applaud her and her endeavors. This weekend, we decided to try out her dusty pasta rollers for the Kitchen aid mixer she got as a wedding gift about 7 years ago? I have been skimming the internet for a pasta machine for about 2 years now and I wanted to try it out before I make any decisions. It seemed like a huge undertaking and we were both a little leary. She had been wanting to make pasta too so we scheduled the weekend.
I canned 11 pints of pasta sauce and she stocked up on flour by buying a 25 lb bag! We stopped at her local gourmet food market for italian sausage, $3.50 can of tomatoes, semolina flour and other various goodies for our big day. The baby was up all night so Saturday morning got off to a bumpy start but once we get busy, there's no stopping us.....seemingly a family trait! I started with the basic pasta dough out of Molto Italiano, Mario Batali's cookbook and rolled out some lasagna noodles. It was so easy! Then I made the butternut squash ravioli. Then I made mushroom ravioli out of Williams Sonoma's Pasta cookbook. While I was busy doing that, Courtney made homeade ricotta cheese from Smitten Kitchen blog and made bolognese sauce in the crockpot. We then cut our remaining dough into fettucini noodles and Courtney assembled the lasagna.
Courtney's mom and my lovely Aunt Kathy came over. Our dear friend Lisa and even Grandma came out to enjoy! We sipped wine, noshed on garlic bread and dove headfirst into one of the best lasagnas I've ever had! But that wasn't all, Courtney made a chocolate ravioli with cocoa powder and then she stuffed it with raspberry marscapone cheese and topped it with her swiss merange and a side of vanilla bean gelato. Raspberries were the final garnish. Why didn't we think to put a mint sprig on it? Even so, it was very tasty after she crisped it in a frying pan with butter. With our stomachs bulging, we called it a night.
Sunday, we were back at it. Courtney made fresh ricotta gnocchi, while I went to work on the ravioli. I boiled the mushroom ravioli and whipped up the Williams sonoma's alfredo sauce. So rich and buttery that it melted on your tongue. Within seconds we had devoured it! Courtney looked into my eyes to see what I would say, which was "needs more salt", but she disagreed. She said it was really good, which coming from her, its a comment I will treasure.
Next, I made the butternut squash ravioli. I boiled it then tossed it in a hot pan with butter and sage leaves, topped with parmiggiano reggiano....the epitome of a sunny fall day.
We divided the spoils of our hard work and I packed up my mixer and cuisinart and said goodbye. I just can't wait for our next project, and I promise I will clean up my mess as I go next time and not take up all your counterspace! Other than that, we make an excellent team. I agree, I wish I lived closer. I think we will keep saying that for the rest of our lives!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Game Day Eats

Its fall in Michigan and you know what that means.....Football! Who wants to root for their favorite team on an empty stomach? I get to leave work early on Fridays and that gives me just enough time to start on a good meal before my honey gets home from work. I fired up the crockpot and got my oven blazing to create these favorites. Super easy and super good. Now bring on some gridiron action!
In my previous blog I mentioned how I have stockpiled all this food at home. I had tomatoes, beans, sauce and veggies right here at home, and a box of jiffy cornmeal muffin mix to boot. All I bought was the ground beef and italian pork sausage. I feel like I am on a roll cooking things from our well stocked pantry! But then, any cook knows you have to have I decided to make my mini game day quiches too. I derived this recipe from one a co worker had given me years ago, and again I had all the stuff right in my fridge so why not use it up?
Game day Chili (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
Makes 10 1 cup servings
1 lb ground beef
1 roll of bob evans italian pork sausage
1 large onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 cans of tomatoes I had one with green chilis and 1 can with onions undrained
1 can of chili beans undrained
1 can light kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 can tomato sauce
4 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp hot chili powder
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp pepper
Brown the meat and onions and garlic in a pan till meat is cooked through and onion is tender. Drain the fat off the meat and return to pan and sprinkle chili powders over meat and mix well. Add rest of ingredients to crockpot, stir till all is mixed cover and cook for 4 hours or until its hot and you just can't wait any longer! Dont forget the sour cream, cheese for garnish and jalepeno slices to garnish!
Mini Quiches
Makes 24 mini quiches
Preheat Oven to 350
1 Cup Flour
1/2 cup butter
3 oz Cream Cheese
2 eggs
1/2 C whipping cream
salt and pepper
ham cubes
sharp cheddar cheese
Frozen chopped spinach
Put flour, butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade. Pulse ingredients until they form a dough ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Take from fridge and pinch off portions to fit 24 mini muffin cups. Work the dough around till it makes a mini crust in each well of the mini muffin tin.
In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, cream and salt and pepper to taste. I always use sea or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside.
In each well put a pinch of shredded cheddar cheese, 2 ham cubes and about a teaspoon of chopped spinach, then about a tablespoon of the egg mixture.
Bake for 30-35 Minutes or until brown.
The original recipe that I had called for a 4 oz can of green chilis and monterrey jack cheese but you can make any combos you like, how about some bacon and swiss cheese or jalepenos and salsa!!! These game day bites score a touchdown in my book!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

White peach cobbler and farewell to summer days

My boyfriend and I had a very long day cheering on our favorite college football team today. By the time we made it home, we were starving. He is always telling me how I keep packing the fridge full of food and then it just gets thrown out. Well, I am not going to let that happen anymore. I've decided to boycott going to the grocery store for the next few weeks before we take our vacation to Hawaii. I've been stockpiling food for months as a result of my failed attempts at extreme couponing. All I ended up doing was spending a bunch of money buying things I don't really need.

My boyfriend goes to the farmer's market every week. This week he brought me home 6 white peaches, being the thoughtful guy that he is. Peaches ripen very fast and last week we threw out the ones we bought. I did have to cut out some of the bad spots, but you'd never know it after how delicious this cobbler turned out!! The white peaches flesh is slightly more tart and tangy than the red havens I canned earlier this summer, but they sure are luscious. I got this recipe out of the good old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Get some peaches of your own and whip this up now!

1 Cup Flour
2 Tbsp Sugar
1- 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 Cup butter
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Tbsp Cornstarch
1 egg
1/4 milk ( I used 1/4 Cup heavy cream because I wanted to use mine up.)
The recipe also calls for water to be added to the peaches but I didn't see that when I was making it and mine still turned out.

Stir together flour, 2 tbsp sugar, baking powder. Cut in butter set aside

In a saucepan, combine peaches and 2/3 c sugar and cornstarch and heat till bubbling.

Stir together egg and cream and add to flour mixture till moistened.

Dump peach mixture to baking dish and drop cobbler dough onto the peaches in globs. It will be sticky but try to make an even layer over the peaches. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Make sure your oven is preheated!!

Serve this up with vanilla ice cream!!
Its now September and we won't have many more beautiful days like this and when winter's chill is in the air, this cobbler will remind me of summer's last days!