Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting

Remember those cupcakes I made a couple of weeks ago? And how I wound up making WAY too many? Well, rather than give them all away, I stashed a dozen in the freezer just waiting for an excuse, I mean, opportunity to come along to enjoy them. And since most of the cupcakes were wasted in the undiscriminating palates of 6 yr. olds, I wanted to make sure these were topped off well and would be completely appreciated. And surprisingly, as much as I love baking and cooking, I had never made a frosting from scratch. Why? I don't know - must have something to do with the allure of those little-plastic-easy-to-use tubs.

I still had some buttermilk left over from making the cupcakes, and knew that it would make for a very rich and creamy frosting. My friends requested chocolate, so chocolate it would be.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK FROSTING
1/4 cup butter
3 1/2 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbls. buttermilk
2 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, cocoa and buttermilk in a saucepan. Bring just to the boiling point. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Slowly add 2 cups of powdered sugar while stirring well. Add remaining powdered sugar until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Lesson learned: Be sure to sift the powdered sugar or there will be little lumps in the icing, but it will still taste just as good.

And once again, one of my kids ate only the icing and one of my kids ate only the frosting. At least the adults enjoyed the cupcakes to the fullest.

P.S. - I frosted this cupcake myself. Isn't it cute?!

P.P.S. - Check out my story on honey marinades at Trib Local.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Great Seasonings from French Market Produce

The New Orleans French Market has been around for nearly 300 years. It is much more than a flea market. You can find local artists, jewelry, handbags, clothing, souvenirs, food and so much more on the couple of hundred of tables that line the pavilion. Although fewer vendors have been at the French Market since Katrina hit, on Saturday and Sunday they are almost back up to pre-storm levels.

All summer long I've been using these great seasonings I picked up at the French Market. Let me state upfront that I bought these seasonings just like everyone else - no freebies here. (But if some fabulous company (hint, hint) offered to send me some of their fabulous products to try and/or give away, I wouldn't turn them down :) ) I just want you to know that I found these on my own and decided to write a review on my own.

French Market Produce is not a new company, but I believe these seasonings are (along with their cute logo). I have three of the five varieties - Killer Tomato Seasoning, Sea Lime Tro, and Garlic King. The remaining two are Boogalee Fleur De Lis, and Red Beans and Ricely Yours. At $6.50 a pop, they are a little expensive, so I might pick up the other two on my next trip in November.

With all of the fabulous tomatoes I've been growing this summer, I knew I had to have the Killer Tomato Seasoning. It's the one I've used the most. It is a coarse grind of Sea Salt, Black Pepper, Vinegar Powder, Basil and Cayenne. It was so great sprinkled right on my fresh tomatoes. The vinegar powder gives it a little tang that I love!

What I love the most about the Sea Lime Tro and the Garlic King is that they are a very fine grind. When I sprinkle them on meat, they practically melt. They do have a tendency to make me sneeze, but it's a good sneeze. The Sea Lime Tro seasoning is a combo of Sea Salt, Lime Juice Powder, Chipotle Chili Powder, Pepper, Garlic, Citric Acid, Cilantro, and Lemon Oil (plus Silica Dioxide). The first thing I tried it on was grilled Mahi - it was fabulous. I've also had it on Tilapia and I'm sure it would compliment any fish. The Garlic King is a little more basic - just Garlic, Black Pepper, Onion, Crushed Chili & Parsley. I've used it on pork, burgers and chicken.

You can order these online or pick them up while you're in the French Market. They'll also sell you the creole tomatoes to put the seasoning on (in season, of course).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes

It's birthday time at our house, so I've been busy baking. We had both a family party and kindergarten girls party for my 6-year-old. Cake at the first party, cupcakes at the second and cookies (posted later) for the goodie bags. I wanted to make the Martha Stewart buttermilk cupcakes, but it was a huge recipe that made 36. I really only needed 12 and I was having trouble with the math!! I found this recipe at Baking Bites and ultimately decided to double it, just to make sure I had enough for the party. Kindergarteners love cupcakes!! But then I wound up making 36 cupcakes anyway. Ack!! Since I'm being really strong on my low-carb diet, I will be giving most of the rest away to my lucky neighbors. And I gave one to the mailman.


Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes (makes 12-24)
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour (I used cake flour)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
¼ cup butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ tsp almond extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F. Place liners in a 12 cup muffin tin. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until it looks creamy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla and almond extracts until mixture is smooth. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until almost combined. Add buttermilk and stir, again, until almost combined. Add the rest of the flour and stir until all ingredients are mixed in.

Divide batter evenly into muffin cups (2/3 full). Bake for 18-20 minutes at 350F, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for 10 minutes and then remove from the muffin pan. Cool completely before frosting.


The above picture is my finished cupcakes (goodie bags in the background). They may not be as beautiful as store-bought, but I think the kindergarteners will love them just the same. The more icing, the better! And the batter came out very light and fluffy (I did have just one bite without the icing). This recipe would also make a great cake.

UPDATE - What a realized today is that most kindergarteners will eat only the cupcake or the icing, but not both. Making from-scratch cupcakes for little kids probably isn't necessary!! But I'm sure everyone else will appreciate them. :)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pear and Cherry Cobbler

My friend Amy is the lucky recipient of pears that do not belong to her. Her neighbor has two pear trees and said he just really doesn't want to pick them any more. And I am lucky to have Amy as my friend. We left her house the other day with half a grocery bag of pears, and I just knew I would have to make a cobbler. Looking back now, I think I was more in the mood for a crumble, but this cobbler did just fine. And just about now you're saying, but Kristin, what about that low-carb diet? Yes, I did have a few bites, but I shared the majority with family and friends. A girl's gotta live, right?

PEAR AND CHERRY COBBLER
(picture is before cooking)

  • 2 cups sliced pears
  • 1/2 cup cherry pie filling
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup flour, 1 Tbls. flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
Mix pears with 1 cup sugar and 1 Tbls. flour and let stand. Put butter in 2-quart casserole and place in 325° oven until melted. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and remaining 1 cup of sugar. Mix well. Whisk together the milk and egg; slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet to make a batter. Pour the batter over the melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon pears over the batter. Put small spoonfuls of the cherry pie filling (trying to get more cherries than filling) over the pears. Do not stir. Bake at 325° for 50 to 60 minutes, or until light brown on top. Serve hot or cold with ice cream or whipped cream.

Of course, you can probably use just about any fresh fruit you like - peaches, cherries, apples, nectarines. And if I had given this dessert a little more forethought, I would have used fresh cherries and just put them in the sugar/flour mixture with the pears.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo with Spinach and Tomato

This whole thing was an accident. It started when I put my bag of fresh baby spinach in the freezer rather than the refrigerator. Whoops. Guess I can't make a salad with that anymore. In case you didn't know, fresh spinach, when frozen shrinks up and gets very watery. Not very pretty.

And then my daughter put a spaghetti squash in the grocery basket thinking it was a cantaloupe or melon of some sort. I've made spaghetti squash once or twice before and I knew it was a great thing for my low-carb diet. I was just trying to figure out what to do with it.

Then I was moving things around in my pantry to make room for this week's groceries and found a jar of alfredo sauce. One thing led to another and yada, yada, yada . . . dinner. Because I used the jarred alfredo sauce and the spinach was already wilted, this did not take long to throw together. Just a little advanced time needed for the spaghetti squash. (Be sure to slide past the recipe for two cool things!)

SPAGHETTI SQUASH ALFREDO
WITH SPINACH, TOMATOES, AND CHICKEN

1 Spaghetti Squash
1 jar alfredo sauce (I used Classico)
1 bag (6 oz) baby spinach (fresh or accidentally frozen)
4 plum tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1-2 cups chicken, chopped (I had leftover rotisserie chicken)

Cut squash in half and scrape out all seeds. Brush pulp with olive oil and cover in foil. Bake in 350 oven for about one hour. After cooking, use a fork to scrape out the pulp. Keep warm. In a saucepan over medium heat, pour in alfredo sauce. Add spinach and chicken and stir well. Heat 5-10 minutes. Add tomatoes, stir and immediately pour over spaghetti squash.

Lessons learned: If you're on a low-carb diet and want spaghetti squash to satisfy your craving for pasta, forget it. This meal was delicious, but next time I think I'll just pour the sauce over a piece of chicken.

OTHER NOTES:

My friend Mara over at What's For Dinner is having a yummy Alouette cheese prize giveaway. Be sure to check it out.

And I want to shout out a special thanks to Katie at Salt and Chocolate. I won a bottle of her homemade Bourbon Vanilla Extract. It smells SOOOO good. I can't wait to use it. Thanks!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blue Cheese Broccoli Slaw

Well, despite my last post, I am still working hard at my low-carb diet. I've hit a couple of minor bumps in the road, but am still down 20 pounds. Woooo hoooo!! But if I'm going to keep making dishes like this cole slaw, I'd better stay off the carbs. This is a pretty high fat dish, but it is SOOOOOO yummy. I was actually surprised at how good it came out. I served it with buffalo-seasoned chicken that I had in the crock pot all day.

I reviewed lots of blue cheese cole slaw recipes. Ina Garten's Blue Cheese Cole Slaw recipe has 13 ingredients and lots and lots of chopping. I'm sure it's good, but I don't have that kind of time. After looking at a few other recipes online, I came up with the following:

BLUE CHEESE BROCCOLI SLAW
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar (I used Stevia equivalent)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 bag broccoli slaw (10 oz. I think)
5 oz. crumbled blue cheese

In a bowl, mix together mayo, sour cream, sugar, salt and pepper. Add broccoli slaw mix. Stir well. Add blue cheese and mix well. Chill for an hour or so for best flavor if you have time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

Everyone has their own personal favorite - some with more sugar, some with more chocolate chips, some with nuts. And even if you're not eating your favorite, chances are the one you're eating is still pretty good. Of course I'm talking about chocolate chip cookies. Ever since I watched that Alton Brown episode with the Flat, Puffy and Chewy chocolate chip cookies, I've tried lots of recipes, but strangely enough, not one of Alton's. Finally this weekend I tried two - the chewy and the puffy - both living up to their name. I'm going to have to say my favorite was the Puffy. No wait, the Chewy. Ok, the Puffy. Final answer.

I made minor changes to both and loved them, so I know the original recipes (below) will be great.

THE CHEWY

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used 3 tsp vanilla)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used 1 cup white chocolate chips and 1 cup crushed oreo cookies)

Hardware:

  • Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheets
  • Mixer

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.


THE PUFFY

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter-flavored shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (I used AP Flour)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used 2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used chocolate chunks)

Hardware:

  • Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheets
  • Mixer

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in the mixer's work bowl, and cream until light and fluffy. In the meantime, sift together the cake flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

Add the eggs 1 at a time to the creamed mixture. Then add vanilla. Increase the speed until thoroughly incorporated.

With the mixer set to low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the shortening and combine well. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill the dough. Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 per sheet. Bake for 13 minutes or until golden brown and puffy, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool and store in an airtight-container.


The results: The chewy cookies stayed chewy until the next day. They spread a lot so they were pretty thin and my chocolate chips and oreos seemed to pool in the middle. Maybe because I didn't chill enough. The puffy cookies were beautiful. They were amazing right out of the oven and were lightly crunchy, yet tender the next day. I love the chocolate chunks in them. The hard part about the Puffy is that you need shortening and cake flour, neither of which I normally have in the house.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Two More Honey Marinades

I'm still working my way through the honey we received from a friend the other day.

Here are two more marinades I created:

HONEY LEMON ROSEMARY
1/4 cup honey
Juice of three lemons
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbls. chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper to taste

HONEY TERIYAKI
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 Tbls chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
8 chunks dried pineapple (Weird, I know, but we had a box of these lying around. I'm sure fresh pineapple would work just as well.)

The honey lemon marinade I used on bone-in chicken breasts. I put the honey teriyaki over pork tenderloin. I marinated it over night and then put the pork and the marinade in a crock pot for about 6 hours.

Tomato Herb Chicken

Tomato season has finally arrived in Chicago. Since we got so very little warm weather this summer, my tomatoes were taking forever to ripen. Slowly over the past few weeks, I've gotten quite the harvest of big yellow tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes and red roma tomatoes. Too bad I missed a bunch while we were on vacation.

Mostly I've been eating right off of the vine, raw with just a little salt and pepper, sometimes a little balsamic vinegar. But I just had so many cherry tomatoes, I just had to find some way to use them.

TOMATO HERB CHICKEN
3 cups Cherry Tomatoes, sliced in half
2-3 Tbls. chopped herbs (I used basil, oregano and chives)
3 Tbls. olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Spread tomatoes on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350. Pour tomatoes over cooked chicken breasts. Top with cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted (about 3-5 minutes).

This was so simple and so delicious. The tomatoes were so sweet. This would be great over pasta, too, but since I'm on this low-carb diet, that means no pasta for me. It would also be fabulous on fish.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Stevia is my new best friend

Even though I haven't mentioned it in a while, I'm still on my low-carb diet. I started off all gung-ho in January, then a trip to Mardi Gras in February threw me off track for several months. I picked it back up seriously in mid-June, after another trip to New Orleans. It is really hard to not eat carbs in New Orleans - I miss the food so much and just about everything is fried or on a piece of french bread, or both. And the New Orleans Original Daiquiris is probably the worst offender - a great big styrofoam cup full of sugar-y alcohol laden goodness. Luckily when I went back in August, I was determined to stay carb free and passed up all of my favorites (mostly). Sugar-free snoballs were my worst vice.

I've given up diet soda, too. The carbonation, the coloring, the caffeine, the artificial sweetener. I just figured it wasn't doing me any favors. I was drinking mostly water with a little bit of Crystal Light thrown in for some variety. But this week, I decided to start making Green Tea Iced Tea - and. Green Tea is all the rage - Lipton, Snapple, all the big guys are making green tea - either with unsweetened or sweetened with sugar or fake sugar. As a southern girl, you know I need my tea sweet.

Some time ago I read about Stevia - a natural herb sweetener that was not readily available in the US, but had been around for hundreds of years. You could buy it at specialty stores and it was marked as a "food additive" rather than a sweetener (something to do with the FDA and sugar lobby, so I've read). Only recently has the FDA approved it.

Trader Joe's carries stevia in several forms - packets, powder, pills and liquid. Each form has a different strength so be sure to read the package and find out how much you need - probably a lot less than regular sugar. Stevia has no calories and no carbs. The packets (which are a mixture of stevia and a neutral powder) were fine for a while when I was putting them in a cup of tea, but now that I've moved on to quarts of iced tea, I bought the full strength powder. It comes with a teeny tiny scoop. The green tea iced tea is so refreshing - I really wish I would have had it all summer. I know most people know how to make iced tea, but I had to fool with the recipe a bit to get it the strength I like (which is pretty strong and average sweet). Here it is:

GREEN TEA ICED TEA
Bring one quart of water almost to a boil. Turn off heat. Add 6 green tea bags and steep for five minutes. Add 7 (teeny tiny) scoops or 6 packets of stevia. Stir well and pour into two quart pitcher. Add one quart cold water and stir well.

I've got lots more to say about stevia, but I will save that for another day. :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Last summer I made this little piece of yard art, using an old window from my Chicago-bungalow style house and stencils of my daughters' handprints. The butterflies and smaller flowers are actually my daughters' fingerprints.
If you can't read the top it says "Bloom Where You Are Planted." I can't seem to find the origin of the saying, but it is often used in a religious context and I take it to mean, sort of, do the best with what you have. This little window has been moved around our home a lot - it was in the front yard, it was near our back gate, and somehow earlier this summer it ended up on our patio. So it was only fitting that some little random plant decided to start growing right in front of it.

But's it not just a random plant - it is a tomato plant. We noticed a sprout growing in the cracks between the bricks of our patio. Now I'm pretty sure I didn't plant a seed a there. We're not quite sure how it got there, but it really took to heart the saying on my little window . Here is the full photo of our tomato plant:
And not only has it gotten absolutely huge with almost no tender loving care, extra water, special support stakes or fertilizer, it has many, many tomatoes ready to turn color. I normally plant a variety of red and yellow tomatoes and I am hoping these are yellow grape tomatoes, but I really have no idea until they turn. And check out the actual base of this plant, just squeezed between the two bricks. I'm guessing there must be some strong roots heading straight down.



Makes me wonder how much more I can do with all I've been blessed with. If this plant can thrive in bricks for goodness sake, I can certainly prosper with the support of a loving family, a beautiful home and so many, many blessings. Here are a few lessons from my tomato plant.

1. Sometimes it doesn't matter where you are - even the rockiest road can be the beginning of an amazing transformation and growth.
2. Even without support, if you search deep enough, the nutrients are there for you to thrive and blossom.
3. A little bit of sunshine paired with a little rain can go a long way. You've got to face what comes along and go with what you've got.
4. Make the most of what you have and in the end your efforts will be rewarded.
5. Sometimes you just gotta do what the sign says - like it or not.

Enough philosophy from me. Back to recipes tomorrow. :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Honey Lime Chipotle Marinade

We received a little gift from a neighbor today for picking up his newspapers while he was out for a few days. He brought us two "bear" containers of fresh honey from his friend who is a local bee farmer. One container was a little more amber and the other a more golden - both were delicious. I've never really used honey in anything, but was determined to use it for dinner tonight. I had already thawed some boneless chicken breasts and decided to make a marinade. Here's what I came up with:

HONEY LIME CHIPOTLE MARINADE
3 T Honey
2 T Olive Oil
1 teas. ground Chipotle Pepper
1/2 teas. salt
Juice of 4 limes
Zest of 1 lime

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Place 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast in a zip top bag and add marinade. Place in refrigerator for at least one hour. Cook as preferred.

This marinade was absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, not too spicy. We could have even added a little more salt and chipotle. You could really taste each ingredient in the marinade. This would also be great on fish.

And while we're on the topic of honey, check out my friend Mara's blog and contest. She is giving away some free organic raw honey from Tropical Traditions. Stop by and tell her Kristin sent you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A TRU dining experience thanks to Foodbuzz.com

As a featured Foodbuzz publisher, every once in a while I get a little bonus. Usually I'm not available or my name doesn't get drawn out of the hat, but this time I hit the jackpot. Thanks to Foodbuzz and Visa Signature, I was one of 20 lucky bloggers to experience a lavish multi-course dinner at Tru in downtown Chicago. I photographed each course - but these photographs cannot begin to convey the aromas and essences of the entire experience. You'll just have to believe me when I say it was phenomenal. The pic to the left is just my water. :)





We were first served a Basil Collins - Rain vodka with basil infused sweet and sour mix and club soda. Oh so very yummy and refreshing. I drank most of it at this point. :)




A canape of Cauliflower Sphere with roe and lemon peel.




Beef Wellington
and Scallop Wonton




Two delightful, small pieces of bread - one brioche-like and the other a deep pumperknickel.






Nigella Sea Cured Salmon with lemon gelee and bachelor button flowers.








Peeky Toe Crab with Prosciutto,
pequillo, and cantaloupe-cava consomme





Frog Leg with roasted garlic, carrot and watercress







Olive-oil poached Scottish salmon with Granny Smith apple, coconut and thai long peppercorn.










Braised Beef Short Ribs with Unagi, Scallion pistou and miso emulsion. This was the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef I've ever tasted. And, yes, unagi is eel. Tastes like chicken. Just kidding.


Seedling Farms plum, sarsaparilla cream, milk chocolate, ginger-lime marinade.








Mignardises
(Petite Desserts)














I didn't even mention the wines - Alma de Blanco Godello Monterrei 2008 and Niepoort Twisted Douro 2006. And, on top of everything else, Executive Chef and Owner Rick Tramonto stopped by our dinner to say hello. Oh, plus we got a tour of the kitchen and a bonus dessert while we were there.








I promise to post more often now that summer is over!! I have a million tomatoes to be creative with!!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mai Tai Cupcakes

Before I get started, I apologize, I know it has been FOREVER since I've posted. I have so many ideas backlogged, but I just can't seem to get rolling. Where has the summer gone?

Last night I participated in Iron Cupcake Chicago, a cupcake competition that began in Milwaukee and has picked up in some locations around the country. Here in Chicago, it is sponsored by Irma at Beautiful Cakes. There were 9 entries, but no judges as I had thought. Everyone one who attended had two votes - one for taste and one for appearance. And while I didn't win either category, how can you go wrong with tasting 9 fabulous cupcakes. And so, if I did my math correctly, that means I ate about 4 whole cupcakes. Not a good thing on a low carb diet. I walked extra fast this morning and for an extra couple of blocks to try and make up for it.

Now, on to the cupcakes. Mine first :) The theme was "tropical." I created a Mai Tai inspired cupcake - rum cake with orange/almond filling, lime cream cheese frosting and garnished with a flower-shaped dried pineapple round, a cherry and a fancy paper umbrella.

MAI TAI CUPCAKE
3 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3 Tbls. Rum Extract (or real rum)
2 Tbls. Triple Sec

Cream butter and sugar. Add milk and extract. Combine flour and baking powder together. Add to liquid mixture one cup at a time. Pour into 24 cupcake molds. Bake at 350 for approx 18 - 20 minutes.

FILLING
3 Tbls. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
6 Tbls. granulated sugar
1 cup Half & Half
4 egg yolks
Zest from one large orange
1 Tbls Triple sec
1 Tbls Almond extract

Cook all ingredients except almond extract in a small pot over medium heat. Stir or whisk constantly until it turns creamy (kind of like pudding). Remove from heat, add almond extract, stir well and let cool. Use piping bag to pump filling into cooled cupcakes.

FROSTING
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
Juice from 2 limes
Zest from 2 limes
4 - 5 cups powdered sugar

Mix butter, cream cheese and juice. Add sugar one cup at a time until desired consistency is reached.

DRIED PINEAPPLE FLOWERS
Slice top and bottom off of a whole pineapple. Slice off all of the outside rind and cut out any remaining eyes. Slice remaining core and fruit into very thin disks. Place parchment paper on baking sheet. Place pineapple on parchment paper and bake at 225 for approximately 4 hours, flipping once.

Here is my full display:


Here are a few of the other entries:
Heather over at Flour Girl made these delicious Rice and Bean cupcakes with horchata:

The presentation winner was this chocolate mango cupcake:


And the taste winner was coconut with cocoa nibs. And I hope she doesn't read this, but she must have brought the most friends. I'm just sayin'.

A few other entries:


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Revelation About Me

Today I realized that I will buy almost anything labeled Buffalo flavored or peppercorn ranch. Sometimes, even Cajun, even though I know what that really means.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Deep Fried Saturday

We had been waiting. Waiting for a nice day. Waiting for the bitter cold of winter to fade away. Waiting, so we could . . . fry turkeys. Yes, that's what I said. Fry turkeys. My family has been frying turkeys for holidays since I was a kid - but that was in New Orleans, where it is easy to stand outside all day in the middle of December. However, here in Chicago, our (ok, my) outside winter time is limited.

We did fry one turkey this year for Thanksgiving, but peanut oil is so expensive to use for just one turkey. My dad always fried turkeys with friends, one after the other, so you could share the oil and only heat up one pot. So some friends and I decided to wait until the weather got nicer and spend the day frying turkeys. We cooked up four 10 lb. turkeys. Everyone took theirs home to cut up and eat and freeze. We shared ours with our guests, and boy, was it juicy and delicious. The skin was flavorful and crispy, if you like that sort of thing.

And while we had a big pot of boiling oil, we decided to throw a few other things in the fryer - oreos, salami, mango fritters, tortellini and bananas. Here are the photos and the info:

DEEP FRIED TURKEY
--12-24 hours before frying, inject turkey with marinade. You can find injectable marinade along with the other marinades in your supermarket. (We used Tony Chachere's Creole Butter). Sprinkle your favorite seasoning or more Creole Butter on the outside of the turkey.
--With oil at 350 degrees fry turkey for approx 3 min per pound, plus three or four more minutes.

DEEP FRIED OREOS AND BANANAS
--Freeze oreos and bananas for at least two hours.
--Mix up your favorite pancake batter.
--Dip oreos and bananas in batter, place in hot oil (350 degrees) for approx one minute on each side.
--Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


DEEP FRIED MANGO FRITTERS
1 1/4 cup chopped mango (or peaches)
1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 Tbls. vegetable oil

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add egg, milk and oil. Stir until blended. Fold in mangoes. Our fritters were large (about 1/2 cup of batter) and required about 10 minutes of cooking time in 350 degree oil. Smaller fritters will cook faster. Drain on a paper towel and top with powdered sugar.

DEEP FRIED SALAMI - CHIPS AND STEAKS
--No prep. Just drop in oil.



DEEP FRIED TORTELLINI
--We used fresh pasta, not dried. But I suppose if you bought dried, you could boil it and then fry it.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Barilla Piccolini Smiles Photo Contest

Have little ones who love pasta? Here's a great chance to show off! Barilla Piccolini pasta is sponsoring a photo contest and your child could win a $25,000 scholarship! Think of all the cute possibilities! Even if you don't win, your picture could be featured on the Barilla web site.

Click here for all the details and be sure to read the fine print - which includes a June 28 deadline and says no professional photographers.

---I'm just wrapping up two full full days at the National Restaurant Association show. Whew! I'm exhausted from all the walking and stuffed from all the sampling! I'm working on a couple of stories to post and a bunch of photos. Check in again soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tilapia Recipe Contest.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that, thanks to Foodbuzz, I'll be attending the National Restaurant Association show next week as a press correspondent. I can't wait to see everything. I've been getting all kinds of correspondence from public relations agencies about new gadgets and products, but this is one I thought I would pass on to you right now. I love tilapia and I might just enter myself. May the best foodie win!!

Calling all creative and cost-conscious cooks! Regal Springs Tilapia, the world’s largest producer of the mild-tasting, popular fish, is searching for the best family-friendly tilapia meal for no more than $15. Six finalists will receive cash prizes. The grand prize winner receives $5,000 and may appear on the company’s website and promotional materials. The contest begins May 15 and ends August 1, 2009.

Anyone in the 50 contiguous United States and District of Columbia who is over 18 and enjoys cooking fish can enter the contest. Recipes must be original and meals must include a tilapia entrée, salad and vegetable or fruit to feed a family of four for no more than $15. The judges may consist of professional chefs, restaurateurs and managers in the food service industry. Winners will be notified by email and announced on the website by Sept. 1. Judges will base their decisions on the following criteria: creativity, ingredients, thoroughness of instructions, and other such criteria as may be determined by Regal Springs Tilapia. For complete Contest requirements, Official Rules and to enter the Contest, log on to www.regalsprings.com or stop by booth no. 4264.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pork Stuffed With Sundried Tomatoes

Well, I'm doing pretty good on the low-carb thing again. Not much weight loss to announce except what I had to lose again after Mardi Gras and Easter. I'm trying to be more creative than just putting meat on the grill, although I love to do that. We've been eating turkey burgers, chicken breasts and pretty plain stuff, so I thought I'd try something fancy - fancy for me, anyways.


My husband gave me a couple of great Trader Joe's products for mother's day - he did a good thing by not buying chocolate! I decided to try out the Sun Dried Tomato Bruschetta. But what do you do with bruschetta besides put it on bread? That was the dilemma.

I decided to stuff a pork roast with it. So easy. My roast was about 1.5 lbs and I used about half of this 12 oz. jar. I also mixed the bruschetta with some fresh parmesan cheese before I stuffed it inside the pork. Carefully slice an opening through the middle of the roast and spoon in the bruschetta. Seal the open end with toothpics. I cooked mine over indirect heat (about 300 degrees) on the grill for just under two hours. In the oven, I would probably do 350 degrees for just over an hour - it will depend on the size and thickness of the roast.

The flavors of the sweet sundried tomatoes and salty olives really went well with the pork and marinated nicely into the meat. This bruschetta was not very oily and was packed very densly into the jar, so it went a long way. You could use a lot less if you wanted.

If you have any other low-carb ideas for the other half of the jar, let me know!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chicken Asparagus Roll Ups at the Wedding

The scene:
The ballroom was bathed in white satin and candlelight. “Over the top” would be an understatement. Did we really need so many glasses at each place setting? Real crystal at that. It was bad enough that I was overly anxious about who would be seated next to me, but now I needed to worry about using the wrong fork or eating someone else’s bread.

I found my place card – not just any place card, but a mini-sterling silver frame with my name engraved across the top and a photo of the bride and groom inside. As I awaited the arrival of the others at the “we-don’t-have-a-date table," I glanced at the menu. Baby lettuce salad with roasted peppers and goat cheese. Choice of filet mignon with a red wine blue cheese sauce or chicken rolled with provolone, parmesan and asparagus with a creamy butter sauce. Chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries. At least I won’t have food anxiety.

Slowly the ballroom filled with people who knew the bride probably a lot better than I did. But I’m guessing not one of them knew her well enough to say what I was about to say.


CHICKEN ROLLED WITH ASPARAGUS AND CHEESE
2 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
6 stalks of asparagus
Sliced provolone cheese (approx. 4 large slices)
Shredded or grated Parmesan (approx ¼ cup)
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder

CREAMY BUTTER SAUCE
3 Tbls. butter
1 Tbls. flour
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder

Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. (Or marinate chicken in your favorite Italian-style marinade). Sprinkle chicken with Parmesan cheese. Layer the provolone cheese on top of the Parmesan. Place three asparagus stalks at the bottom end of the chicken breasts and roll to the top. Secure with several toothpicks. Cook in 350 oven for approx 25 – 30 min.


For sauce, melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk well for about one minute, or until flour is dissolved in butter and starts to slightly bubble. Add seasonings. Add milk slowly and whisk to combine. Heat for 3 – 5 minutes over medium heat and whisk frequently.

Lessons learned – Use lots of toothpicks. It’s pretty hard to keep chicken rolled up when it is stuffed with stuff. And you don’t want all of that cheese getting out all over the place. And, you may notice in the photo that I grilled the chicken. I wasn’t about to let a mild Chicago Spring day pass me by without using the grill. The problem was that I didn’t use enough toothpicks, and the chicken decided to stick to the grill. You can see the missing grill marks in my photo. But the rest turned out perfectly – the asparagus on the inside was tender and just the tips were a little crunchy. The dish didn’t really need the creamy butter sauce, but it sure was good. Serve it on the side if you’d like.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conversation over Taco Salad

Scene:
“That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard,” Sherry said.

“I know, said Casey. “I can’t believe he was crazy enough to do that. I could never.”

“Oh, don’t give me that, you do lots of gutsy things. Remember that time in college when you staged that fake protest?”

With a slight smirk, Casey glared at Sherry and took another bite of her taco salad.

“And that time you papered the tree in the quad,”

“Yeah,” Casey laughed and quickly maintained her composure. “But that was college. We were all carefree and stupid."

“Speak for yourself,” Sherry scolded as she reached over and took an olive off of Sherry's plate. “I was never carefree.”




A HEALTHIER VERSION OF TACO SALAD
1 lb. ground turkey (I used 93/7 lean)
1 pack Taco Seasoning (or make some yourself)
Baby Spinach Leaves
Black Olives
Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/4 cup salsa (I used black bean and corn salsa)

Brown ground turkey and mix with taco seasoning as directed. Mix sour cream and salsa in a bowl and mix well. Place spinach leaves in bowl and top with taco meat, cheddar cheese and olives. Top with salsa and sour cream mixture.

--Aren't those little peppers in my salad adorable? They are sweet red peppers. I haven't seen them at the grocery store, but bought a big bag of yellow, orange and red ones at Costco. They are great to crunch on alone, or with a dip. I saved some of the seeds and I'm going to try and grow some this summer.



 
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