Sunday, August 31, 2008

Black Bottom Cupcakes

This weekend holds yet another party - this time at my in-laws' - and I was looking for a dessert that wasn't too high-maintenance and suitable for a barbecue. I saw these cupcakes on Chelle's blog, Brown Eyed Baker. Chelle's directions say the recipe makes 12 regular size cupcakes; but I knew I wanted to make them into mini-cupcakes since I wanted a bite-size dessert that could serve a lot of people. Before I saw Chelle's inspiration posted on Smitten Kitchen, I decided to try out the minis and was able to estimate the correct baking time all by myself. (whoo!)

These cupcakes are great - a delicious blend of chocolate and cheesecake flavors - and not too hard to make either! And although I love my KA mixer, if there is a recipe that I don't have to lug it out of the cabinet for, I am thankful.

I was able to stretch the recipe into 24 mini-cupcakes AND 6 full size cupcakes. If you are making full-size, follow the recipe exactly and don't be afraid to fill up those tins. If you are going to make minis, fill the tins up just slightly below the tops and only use a teaspoon or so of the filling.

Black Bottom Cupcakes
David Lebovitz, The Great Book of Chocolate
Makes 12 full-size cupcakes

For the Filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the Cupcakes:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons naturally unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the Filling:
Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.

Make the Cupcakes:
Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring just until smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely, which is fine.

Minis pre-filling

Filling up the minis

Regular sized cupcakes before baking - make sure to fill up any unused wells with water before baking to prevent burning.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed. These moist treats will keep unrefrigerated for 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.

Beer and Cheddar Risotto

On one of our first dates, Chuck took me to a nice restaurant (where we ultimately got engaged) and I ordered risotto from the menu for the first time. And oh, my. Once I tasted it I could not believe I had gone almost 23 years without having it before! The texture of risotto is so creamy and delicious and, if made correctly, should just melt in your mouth.

People may shy away from risotto because of it's long and involved cooking time. Well, let me tell you, the result is well worth it. In my experience, every risotto follows the same basic premise: saute some onions and garlic in oil and butter, add the risotto and coat with the oil until it is opaque, then add liquid and wait for it to come to it's creamy, rich goodness. Then add any extra ingredients. You really don't need to stir continually, just watch it and when the liquid starts evaporating, give it another stir and go on preparing the rest of your meal.

I served this particular risotto with a grilled Porterhouse steak and sauteed zucchini and tomatoes. Enjoy!

Beer and Cheddar Risotto
from FayeD on What's Cooking board on The Nest
Makes 6 servings

1/2 small onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
2+ tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
12 oz. bottle of beer (preferably not light beer)
49.5 ounce can of chicken broth
5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pour chicken broth into medium saucepan. Keep warm over low heat.

Heat large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat just until butter is melted. Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Turn heat to medium-high and add garlic. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant.

Add rice and saute for 2 minutes, stirring constantly until opaque, adding more olive oil as necessary to coat the rice.

This dish was made last minute; so all I had were green onions. They were quite tasty!
Pour in beer, turn heat up to high until it starts to simmer.

Turn heat back to medium-low and add the chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until liquid dissolves. You may not need to use all of the chicken broth - risotto should be creamy and just slightly al dente. This should take 30 minutes or more.

Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses and cayenne pepper.

I think due to it's texture (or my paltry photography skills), risotto does not photograph very well. Don't let that stop you from making this!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Panzanella Salad

There are so many recipes for panzanella salad out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. After some research on the internet, on blogs, and based on what I had in my refrigerator; I settled on the following recipe. I got my main inspiration from Elly but changed it to suit our tastes.

This salad was very refreshing, next time I may add more bread, but because I was serving this with the pulled pork sandwiches I didn't want to overload on the carbs. Feel free to increase or decrease the amounts of ingredients, just make sure to adjust the amount of dressing.

Panzanella Salad
adapted from Elly Says Opa!
Makes about 4 servings

4 ounces French or other day-old bread
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 plum tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/2 large cucumber, cut into chunks
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
4-6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut in half
8 kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Place a steamer basket in a medium pot, fill to bottom of steamer with water. Place green beans in pot and bring water to a boil. Cook just until beans turn bright green, then plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Cut bread into 1" pieces. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bread, toss to coat with oil and cook until toasted, about 6-7 minutes. Remove the garlic, as it will be burned.

Place tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, red peppers, green beans, and olives in a large bowl. Add bread, toss with vinaigrette, and serve.

Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced (1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together until well-blended.

Pulled Pork

Everyone has their own way of preparing pulled pork. I have learned that in the slow cooker, less is more; meaning that the smaller number of ingredients that are used, the better the result. So this recipe for pulled pork is fairly simple, requires no advance prep time, and still comes out mighty tasty.

I prefer to buy pork tenderloin (on sale, hopefully) because I can't deal with fattier cuts of meat. Meanwhile, other people swear that other cuts (shoulder, butt, etc.) make the best pulled pork because the fat adds to the taste. I have made this numerous times with the tenderloin with great results; but please, choose whatever cut you want!

If you adjust the amounts on this, make sure that you read the instructions carefully on your slow cooker. Ideally, the cooker should be more than half full but no more than 2/3 of the way full to keep the meat tender and prevent it from drying out.

Pulled Pork
Makes about 6 servings

2 lb. pork tenderloin or cut of your choice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce

Place pork in slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Rub garlic on top of pork and place sliced onions over top. Pour barbecue sauce over to coat.

Cook on low for 7 hours. Shred with two forks and cook on low one more hour. Serve on your favorite roll!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rigatoni with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

There are so many ways to make pasta; so it must be a very tasty one to make its way into our regular rotation. This recipe from Giada De Laurentiis is one of those! It is from her book Everyday Pasta which has a lot of great recipes. The recipe below has my minor adaptations as well as measurements to make half of her original recipe. Giada is very generous with her portion sizes - her original recipe says that it serves 4-6 but I beg to differ!

But first a word about tomato paste. When I started cooking way back in 2006 (heehee) I bought the cans of tomato paste and ended up either wasting the rest of the can when the recipe called for a tablespoon or so; or would take time to freeze the leftovers in one tablespoon increments. Then I was pointed in this direction:

The tube of tomato paste can be a little more expensive than the cans; but in buying it you are assured of using each and every last drop. Just store in the refrigerator between uses.

The Marsala wine and simmering time to thicken the sauce really make this dish. I served it with arugula tossed with red wine vinaigrette.

Rigatoni with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 3-4 servings

8 ounces hot Italian sausage
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 Vidalia onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
8 ounces rigatoni pasta, uncooked
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. If the skillet gets too dry, add a few tablespoons of water from time to time. Remove the sausages from the pan.

Add the olive oil to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper, onion, salt, and black pepper and cook until golden, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir until incorporated, then add Marsala and diced tomatoes with juice. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all the brown bits. Bring to a simmer.

Slice the sausages into 8 pieces each, add to the pan. Simmer uncovered until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, toss to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Southwest Pasta Salad

Well, it's that time of year again. The last week of "real summer" for all of us teachers and other school personnel. So of course I need one last beach day, and my good friend Krista and I will be headed down the shore one day this week! We decided to make lunch ourselves and bring it, so Krista will be bringing gazpacho and I tried to come up with a nice, beach-friendly side for that.

I have made this pasta salad numerous times before, thanks to Cara over at Cara's Cravings. The original recipe is a family favorite of hers, and I have only made some minor tweaks. Despite the 8 ounces of pasta it calls for, this recipe make a LOT of food, so make it for a crowd. Although I usually make it for myself and just eat it for lunch several days thereafter!

Southwest Pasta Salad
adapted from Cara's Cravings
Makes 8-10 side dish servings

8 ounces farfalle pasta, uncooked
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (9 ounce) package frozen corn, thawed
1 cup salsa
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
1 avocado, peeled, chopped

1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 large garlic cloves, minced

In medium bowl, combine all dressing ingredients; mix well. Set aside.

Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain cooked pasta; rinse with cold water until cool.

In large bowl, combine beans, corn, salsa, tomatoes and cilantro.

Add cooked pasta, dressing, and shredded cheese to bean mixture; toss until well coated. Chill for at least 2 hours. Top with avocado immediately before serving.

Shoepeg Salsa

This stuff is GOOD. I saw it on The Sisters' Cafe, a blog where five sisters all post their favorite recipes on the blog. So that leads to a lot of different ideas!

I was a little nervous about the black-eyed peas since I had never eaten them before, but they just blended in with the corn and the French dressing really stands out. I only used half of a red onion since it is such a strong taste but everything else stayed exactly the same!

Shoepeg Salsa
The Sisters' Cafe
Makes a LOT

2 cans shoepeg corn (drained)
1 can blackeyed peas (drained and rinsed)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 purple or sweet onion, diced
1 cup of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup wishbone robust italian dressing
1/2 cup wishbone sweet and spicy french dressing

Combine all and enjoy!

I liked it with Tostitos Scoops:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Bars

So I needed yet another dessert for Sunday dinner at my parents' and these Blueberry Crumb Bars have been all over the food blogs that I visit regularly. I finally decided on them while on Annie's Eats because her pictures were so beautiful! I definitely missed the blueberry boat though because I could only find them for $3.49 a pint!

These bars were a big hit all around with their buttery layers enhancing the sweet blueberries. Especially with my sister, Meg, who commented all night about how delicious they were and even ate them for breakfast the next day!

Blueberry Crumb Bars
Annie's Eats by way of Smitten Kitchen

1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold butter
1 egg
¼ tsp. salt
zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
4 tsp. cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 9×13” pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, flour and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. The dough will be crumbly. Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust.

Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Orange-and-Thyme Grilled Shrimp

Yet another dinner party recipe! I didn't get many pictures of this one either - because I skewered the shrimp and they were grilled when our guests were here. It was a fairly simple marinade to put together - I would recommend all fresh ingredients for this so that the flavors really pop.

The original recipe called for some of the orange juice to be mixed with the mayonnaise for dipping sauce. I was a little hesitant about that but tried it anyway and got the results I thought I was going to get - the mayo curdled. So that has been left out! I also get nervous about letting the shrimp sit so long in the orange juice marinade so I only made it about 4 hours before grilling.

We have metal skewers that we always use for the grill, but if you are using wooden/bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them in water 30 minutes before grilling so they don't catch fire!

Orange-and-Thyme Grilled Shrimp
adapted from Everyday Food, July/August 2008 issue
Makes 4 servings

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest, plus 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for grates
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/3 cup light mayonnaise

In a shallow dish, combine shrimp, 1 teaspoon zest, juice, garlic, oil, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, remaining 1/2 teaspoon zest, and 1 teaspoon thyme; season dipping sauce with salt and pepper.

Heat grill to medium; lightly oil grates. Thread shrimp onto skewers and grill, turning once, until shrimp are opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve shrimp with dipping sauce.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zucchini Pie

Amy, over at Dinners for a Year and Beyond, is a personal chef and basically has my dream job. She is able to spend her days cooking for others and then comes home and cooks more amazing meals for her own family. I asked her about what it takes to become a personal chef and received some great advice back from her. Maybe one day!

Her blog is one that I often save recipes from, and this recipe for Zucchini Pie looked delicious so I couldn't wait to try it. It comes together fairly quickly and is a great blend of vegetables and cheeses. I apologize for the horrific picture of the fully baked pie, but my guests were waiting to eat and I only had a second to get a photo!

Zucchini Pie
Dinners for a Year and Beyond
Makes 8 servings

1 pie crust, unbaked
Dijon mustard
1/4 cup butter
4 cups sliced zucchini (about 3 medium zucchini)
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
2 cups shredded cheese, I used a combination of mild cheddar and mozzarella
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line a pie plate with the pie crust and brush with Dijon mustard. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large saute pan and add zucchini and onion. Saute for about 8 minutes. Add the parsley, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic salt. Toss to coat.

Cool slightly and then add cheese and eggs and mix. Pour into the prepared pie crust and bake for about 25 - 30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving


After...and in a hurry to eat!

Tri-Colore Orzo

It is a rare occasion that I don't use a Giada De Laurentiis recipe when serving dinner to a crowd. Her recipes are almost always a sure bet for a delicious dish.

I first heard of this recipe from a family friend who makes this pasta salad to rave reviews every time. It truly is delicious with so many different flavors and fresh ingredients. The peppery arugula is offset by the sweet cranberries and the crumbly feta. Again, a good quality olive oil is important because you are not heating it. You won't be sorry you tried this!

Tri-Colore Orzo
Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 6-8 servings

1 pound orzo pasta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
2 cups fresh arugula (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup crumbled ricotta salata cheese (or feta cheese)
1/2 cup dried cherries (I used dried cranberries)
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta and put the pasta on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle the pasta with 3 tablespoons olive oil, toss, spread out, and set aside to cool.

Once the orzo is cool, transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently to combine. Serve.

Simple Sangria

While in the bookstore the other day (in the cookbook section of course!) I was browsing through Williams-Sonoma Entertaining: Cocktail Parties and saw the recipe below for sangria.

A lot of recipes I have seen and tried for sangria involve making a simple syrup or soaking the fruit overnight; so the simplicity of this recipe made me want to try it immediately. I made it for the dinner party and neglected to get any pictures of it, sorry!

While my guests were drinking it there were commenting on how you could not taste any alcohol in it, that was how well the flavors blended together. If you are making this in advance, I would recommend not adding the ginger ale until right before serving so it doesn't go flat. Enjoy!

Simple Sangria

1 750mL bottle dry red wine (I like to use Chianti)
1 cup ginger ale
1 cup brandy
1 cup triple sec
3 cups orange juice
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced

Combine first 5 ingredients. Add fruit slices and ice, mix together. Chill until serving.

Lemon Artichoke Pesto

This appetizer is so fresh and light and easy to make; it is definitely one of my new go-to recipes! Neither the artichoke nor the lemon is overpowering, and you can choose the texture based on how many times you pulse the food processor. Make sure to use a good quality olive oil because you will really taste the fruitiness of it in the pesto.

I attended an appetizer class this past winter and took home a whole stack of recipes that I have used again and again. I have no idea where the original idea for this came from, so I apologize in advance for the lack of citation!

I like to serve this with untoasted baguette slices; but it would also be great with crostini or water crackers.

Lemon Artichoke Pesto
Makes about 2 cups

1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Quarter the artichoke hearts. Place in food processor and pulse a few times. Add remaining ingredients and pulse a few more times. You want the consistency to be small enough to use as a spread for dipping, but not pureed.

This can be made up to a day in advance.

Goat Cheese Truffles

I was looking for an easy and light appetizer to serve at our dinner party this past weekend. My Recipes is a great place to go and browse around if you are looking for ideas. The goat cheese truffles jumped out at me because who doesn't love goat cheese? It is a creamy, soft, delicious cheese that tastes good with just about everything (have I sold you on it yet?).

I served these with mixed marinated olives instead of the figs and apricots the recipe suggests. Toasting the pecans gives them more flavor and takes only a few minutes on the stove top.

Goat Cheese Truffles
Southern Living
Makes 6 appetizer servings

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 (4-oz.) container crumbled goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
Dried figs
Dried apricots

Beat first 5 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until well combined. Cover tightly, and chill at least 1 hour or until firm (can chill up to 3 days).

Roll cheese mixture into 3/4-inch-round balls. Roll each ball in pecans. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to serve. If chilled, let stand 30 minutes before serving. Serve with dried figs and apricots.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tipsy Chocolate-Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

Well, ladies and gentlemen (well, the male readers of this blog probably consist of my father), today I conquered one of my fears - to ADAPT a BAKING recipe. Baking is such a precise skill that requires a lot of patience (something I don't often have a lot of) and knowledge of ingredients (working on it). BUT, I decided that I wanted to make a chocolate-raspberry thumbprint cookie and I wanted to make it up myself.

This recipe here is one I have made several times and really enjoyed; so I decided to work off of that one. I did a little more research on how to turn the cookie chocolate and voila, I had a new recipe. You can really use any flavor jam or preserves you want, just match your alcohol flavor accordingly. Also, I never just use two baking sheets when I am baking. I always have the next one or two ready; so as I write 2 baking sheets, know that the cookies will fill at least three, so prepare them as you wish.

I was really very pleased with how these turned out. They taste like a chocolate butter cookie and the thick jam really plays off the flavor nicely. Hope you enjoy them!

Tipsy Chocolate-Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

from Colleen's kitchen
Makes about 40 cookies

1/2 cup raspberry jam or preserves
1 tablespoon raspberry or black-cherry flavored vodka
2 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange the racks in oven so that one is in the top third and one is in the bottom third.

In small bowl, mix together jam and vodka. Set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

In large bowl of electric mixer (if you don't have one just use a hand mixer), cream together butter and sugar until well-blended.

Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing on low until just combined.

Pinch off about 1 T. of dough and roll in your hands to form a ball. Place on cookie sheets. Use your thumb to create a well in the center of each ball. Fill indentation with about 1/2 t. of jam mixture.

Bake until the bottom edges are just about turning darker brown, about 15-20 minutes. If there are two cookie sheets in the oven, switch racks halfway through baking time.

Transfer to wire rack to cool. When storing cookies, make sure you put a piece of wax paper between each layer of cookies - that jam is sticky!