Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ghoulish Halloween Treats

A few years ago—2005, to be exact—a neighbor in New Hampshire asked me to make a couple of Halloween-themed treats for her daughter’s birthday party. I came up with these two recipes.

The Litter Box Cake looks gross, which is probably why the kids loved it! And don’t let the looks fool you. It tastes wonderful!

The Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting have a more appetizing appearance, and the kids devoured them, too.

Two treats to tame the most ghoulish of appetites.

Also, here’s a little added Halloween trivia:

Jack-o-Lantern History
The carving of jack-o-lanterns comes from a centuries-old Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. He was such an unsavory character that, when he died, God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and the Devil, whom he had tricked one too many times, wouldn’t let him into Hell. So, Stingy Jack was doomed to wander the Earth with only a burning coal in a carved-out turnip lantern to light his way. Jack of the Lantern soon became known as just Jack O’Lantern and people began to carve scary faces in turnips or potatoes to frighten away both Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. Immigrants to the United States made their scary lanterns from our native pumpkins, a tradition that continues today.

Litter Box Cake
To make it look real, use a new plastic cat litter box and pooper scooper for serving. Also, you can make both cakes for the recipe from scratch, but I used boxed cake mixes to save time.
1 chocolate cake mix
1 white cake mix
2 large packaged vanilla instant pudding mix, prepared according to directions
1 box vanilla wafers
green food coloring
12 small Tootsie rolls

Prepare cake mixes and bake according to directions. (I made them both in 9 x 13 inch pans.)

Grind up vanilla wafers in small batches in a food processor. Set aside all but 1/4 cup. To the 14 cup, add a few drops of green food coloring and mix until completely colored.

When the cakes are cooled to room temperature, crumble into a large bowl. Toss with half the vanilla wafer crumbs and the chilled pudding. Important: Mix in just enough of the pudding to moisten it. You don’t want it soggy. Combine gently.
Put the cake/pudding/cookie mixture into the litter box.

Put three unwrapped Tootsie Rolls in a microwave safe dish and heat until soft and pliable. Sahpe ends so they are no longer blunt, curing slightly. Repet with thee more Tootsie Rolls. Burry them into the mixture. Sprinkle the other half of the wafer crumbs over the top. Scatter the green cookie crumbs lightly on top of everything.

Microwave the remaining Tootsie Rolls, shape, and place on tope of the cake, rolling them slightly in the cookie crumbs.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 12 cupcakes

For cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree

For frosting:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tin with cupcake cups.

In a medium bowl or on waxed paper, sift together the flour baking powder and spices. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oil and sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla.

Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until well combined. Add the pumpkin and stir until just combined.

Divide the batter between the cupcake cups. (They will be fairly full.) Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes, and then remove them onto a rack to finish cooling.

To make the frosting, place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Use 10 drops of yellow food coloring and 2 drop of red to make the frosting orange. Frost cooled cupcakes.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Pioneer Woman

A woman returns to her roots after years of living in one of the United State’s major regions. She meets the man of her dreams, falls in love, and lives a life that is both unexpected and full of joy. Then she decides to blog about it.

It happened to Ree Drummond, too.

I discovered The Pioneer Woman about the time I made my move from almost two decades in New England back to the Midwest. I identified with her transition from a metropolitan life in Los Angeles to her family home in Oklahoma. Her love story of how she met her husband, a rancher she calls The Marlboro Man, and her new life among the cattle gave me hope that my new life would bring happiness, adventure, and, perhaps, love.

It did. (Does that make me The Prairie Woman?)

So I was excited when Ree’s turn came on Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each on Fridays. My sweetheart, Michael, and I enjoy a number of her recipes. Like her Marlboro Man, my love likes simple, straight-forward food that isn’t fussy or exotic. We are fans of her chicken fried steak, and her pot roast recipe is a Sunday staple.

For this week’s post, I decided to try one of her sweet recipes—Citrus Butter Cookies. I changed it a little. First, I was short on the zest—I ran out of fruit! My grater didn’t seem to get as much zest from each lemon, lime and orange as I expected. (A microplane is on my Christmas list.) That meant I didn’t sprinkle any zest on the top. And I didn’t use the egg white in the glaze frosting. I forgot. It happens. I was having one of “those days.”

The cookies taste wonderful—dense, moist, and buttery, with just a hint of citrus flavor. I think these will be this year’s Christmas cookie-of-choice, perhaps topped with red and green sugar crystals.

Another Pioneer Woman recipe to add to my list of favorites!

Citrus Butter Cookies
From Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman

2 cups (4 sticks) salted butter, softened
1-1/2 cup sugar
2 whole large eggs, separated
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons orange, lemon, and lime zest (approx 1 tablespoon each)
2 tablespoons orange, lemon, and/or lime juice (2 tablespoons total)

3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons orange, lemon, and lime zest
Juice of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Dash of salt
Extra zest, for decorating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar until combined. Add egg yolks and mix until combined (set whites aside for the icing.) Add the zest and the flour and mix until just combined, then add juice and mix until combined.

Scoop out heaping teaspoons of dough, then roll them into balls between your hands. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep on the cookie sheet for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan with a spatula and allow to cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, combine 1 egg white with the rest of the icing ingredients. Whisk thoroughly until combined, adding either more powdered sugar or more juice until it reaches a pourable but still thick consistency.

Drizzle the icing across the cookies in several lines, then do it again in the other direction. Sprinkle with extra zest before the icing sets.
Posted by Ree on October 9 2011
Here are my fellow food bloggers. Be sure to check them out!

Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mamaw’s Recipe Box #3: Apple Crisp

I hate being sick! Especially when the illness is caused by an annoying cold virus that hangs on and on and on…zapping all my energy and creating coughing spasms in the middle of the night. For more than a week now I have done only the minimum amount required to make it through the day. Thank goodness I have a sweet and loving fiancé who watches out for me and makes sure I rest even when I try to force myself not to. (Thank you, Michael. I love you!)

Yesterday I finally felt like heading into the kitchen to cook something more than a pot of tea or a heated-up can of soup. I was in the mood for something simple and comforting, so I turned to my grandmother’s recipe box once again.
This apple crisp recipe is one I remember both Mamaw and Mom making throughout my childhood. It does not contain some of the ingredients most people associate with a crisp, such as brown sugar and/or oatmeal in the topping. Instead it has just the basics—apples, butter, white sugar, cinnamon and flour. That’s it!

Mamaw’s directions included “bake slowly, uncovered, until apples are tender.” No oven temperature and no time limit! I looked up some other crisp recipes and settled on 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes.

The crisp is warm and bubbly. I like it with vanilla ice cream, but I remember my dad eating it with a splash of milk on top. Cream (both whipped and un-whipped) would be nice, too. (Note: If the apples you are using are very sweet, you might want to decrease the amount of sugar in the topping by 1/4 cup so the whole crisp isn’t too sweet.)

Apple Crisp

4 cups sliced apples
7 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup flour

Cut apples into 1/4-inch slices. Butter a baking dish, put in apples and pour over the water and cinnamon.

Work together the sugar, flour and butter until crumbly and spread over the apples.

Bake slowly, uncovered, until apples are tender. [350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes.] Serve while warm with whipped cream [or ice cream, milk, or un-whipped cream.]

Friday, October 14, 2011

How to Be a Foodie

I so wanted to create a recipe from this week’s selection from the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each on Fridays. Today’s spotlight is on Pim Techamuanvivit, author of The Foodie Handbook and her blog, Chez Pim.

Unfortunately article deadlines and a virus I caught from the preschoolers I teach in my non-writing life got in the way.

I did read Pim’s book. I almost didn’t. In the first chapter, How to Eat Like a Foodie, she comes across as a food snob by slamming fast food, and then making it sound like three-star restaurants are the only ones worth trying. (She gives tips on how to not be intimidated when you go into one.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a food snob about a lot of things, too. I think every foodie is in one way or another. We love exceptional food! I will only eat real maple syrup that actually came out of a sugar maple tree, and I will only drink coffee from bags, not cans—fair trade and organic, if possible. I believe that local food is better than stuff shipped from across the country, and organic produce and dairy are better than conventional.

But, on the flip side, I do enjoy fast food. I prefer buying it from a local restaurant, but I will eat a McDonald’s quarter pounder or a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich when the craving strikes. Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to remember when going to a fast food restaurant was a treat and adventure instead of an everyday event. A trip to McDonald’s was a special occasion, which made my little cheeseburger and bag of fries taste gourmet. And this was in the days before the Happy Meal hit the market. And while I enjoy three-star restauants, I think local diners and cafes are just as wonderful.

However, I’m glad I kept reading Pim’s book, because there is a lot in it with which I agree. Especially in her section where she lists 50 things every foodie should do or try once in their lifetime: Find your signature dish. Learn to make perfect pie crust (stay tuned for a future blog on that topic.) Eat a perfect peach. Try stinky cheese. Go native (food, that is!) Spend a week in New Orleans (a dream of mine.) Learn how to cook your mom’s or dad’s best dish. And on and on. The list was both inspiring and brought back some lovely memories.

So I changed my mind about Pim and her Foodie Handbook, and I’m looking forward to giving her recipes a try sometime. Read her book and decided for yourself. In the meantime, here is a list of my fellow food bloggers so you can check out their experiences with Pim’s recipes.

Nancy - Picadillo

Before I got sick, I did post a cookbook review and a terrific pumpkin muffin recipe on my food-travel blog, Midwest Life and Cuisine. You can check it out here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Because It's Sunday

Because it’s Sunday…

And because my sweetheart and I never eat bananas fast enough…

I made Banana Nut muffins.

Joy of Cooking Banana Nut Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper liners.
Whisk together thoroughly:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour or wheat bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Stir in:

2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Whisk together in a large bowl:

1 large egg
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the flour mixture and fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter shouldn't be smooth. Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in 1 or 2 of the muffins comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the pan. If not serving hot, let cool on a rack. Serve preferably the day they are baked.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clotilde Dusoulier's Honey Spice Loaf

In the beginning, there was Clotilde Dusoulier.

The beginning of food blogging, that is. And no, she was not the first, but she’s considered one of the best. Her blog, Chocolate & Zucchini, has been around since 2003, and since then she has authored a number of cookbooks, including one named after her blog.

I first heard about Clotilde a number of years ago, but I never got around to investigating her blog. What a mistake! Thank goodness she was this week's selection from the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each on Fridays. (See the list below.) I enjoyed getting to know this young Parisian who discovered her love of food while living in the San Francisco Bay area for two years after college. She returned to France and continued to pursue her food passion. And then she started to share it with all of us.

The recipe I chose for this week was Clotilde’s Pain D’Epice—Honey Spice Loaf. It is a cake common to the honey producing areas of France that is full of warm spices. It reminds me a lot of gingerbread, but with a delicate sweetness and very moist crumb from the honey. Some friends who tried the cake thought it would taste even better with some fruit included—apple or raisins. Clotilde suggests candied ginger or orange peel. I liked it just the way it is, but I do think raisins would be nice. (As you can see, it got a little too dark on top--I'm off to buy an oven thermometer this weekend!)

Since honey takes center stage in this recipe, it is important to use a good one. This is not the time for the one in the plastic bear-shaped squirt bottle. I used a local honey I purchased at last Saturday’s farmer’s market.

Clotilde recommends making the cake a day ahead to give the honey and spices “time to bloom.” She also says the taste varies depending on how thin or thick you slice the cake. Test it out to discover your favorite slice. She likes to eat it toasted alongside a pear, but she said many people eat it with butter. I enjoyed it all by itself as well as toasted with butter.

Pain D’Epice
(Honey Spice Loaf)

Serves 10
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to grease the pan
1 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup mild-flavored dark molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons French four-spice mix (or 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and ground ginger)
Optional: 1/4 cup finely diced candied ginger or 1/4 cup finely diced candied orange peel, or a mix of the two.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with oil, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Combine the milk, honey and molasses in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and heat the mixture without boiling, stirring with a spatula until dissolved. Set aside and let cool as you go on with the recipe.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a small bowl, combine the ginger and/or orange peel, if using, with 2 teaspoons of the flour mixture and set aside.

Form a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the milk mixture slowly and whisk in a circular motion, starting from the center, until all the flour has been incorporated—the batter will be thin. Fold in the ginger and/or orange peel, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the surface is brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer to a rack to cook for 20 minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the loaf, and unmold. Let cool completely, wrap in foil, and let rest at room temperature until the next day.

Here are my fellow food bloggers. Be sure to check them out!

Nancy - Picadillo