Friday, December 30, 2011

Grandma's Apple Pie and Las Vegas

My dad, mom, me, and my sister Kimberly
Sorry that it's been awhile since my last post, but over the holidays, I traveled to Las Vegas to visit my family.  While there, I had the opportunity to spend quality time at my parent's house and was also able to explore and visit some amazing sites.  The best thing about my family living right outside the city is that they know their way around, and are therefore able to show us things we might not otherwise see.  So, if you're ever traveling to Las Vegas, here are a few of the places, off the main strip, that I would recommend you visit.
Death Valley National Park

China Date Ranch

Red Rock Canyon

Caves that were once inhabited by Charles Manson and his "family"
Now, back to the main reason that I originally started this post, which was apple pie.  Yummy!!!  For me, it's not Christmas in my household, unless there's an apple pie for dessert, and not that I'm bias or anything.....but my grandma's apple pie is the best!  The pie was always, and still is, a running joke between the two of us.  You see, every year that she'd bring the pie over on Christmas, it'd be burnt.  I never cared though, and when I moved out of state and started making the pie on my own, she'd call me just to ask if I had burnt it, like she did.  I guess you could say I still give her a hard time about it, but it's all in good fun!  Don't worry though, the cooking times that I'm providing for you will not burn the pie, unless you like it a little more crispy, like my grandma.

Grandma’s Apple Pie
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2 pie crusts (I use Pillsbury)
6-8 granny smith apples, depending on size and desired amount
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 oz. butter, cut

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  While the oven is preheating, cut the apples into small chunks (removing the skin), then place the chunks into a medium size bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Pour the mixture over the apples and then stir together.  It’s important to make sure that all the apples are well coated.  Therefore, this may take a minute or two.

Push one of the pie crusts into the bottom of a pie pan and pour the apple mixture on top, spreading out as needed. 

Cut the butter into 6 skinny square slices and place them randomly around the top of the apples, with at least 1 directly in the middle.

Take the second pie crust and roll it out on a flat surface.  Cut 4-5 vent holes towards the middle of the dough.  Now, take the dough and place it over the apples.  Press down on the edges in order to seal the 2 crusts together.

Brush a little milk over the top of the crust and sprinkle lightly with sugar. 

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 degrees.  Bake the pie for another 30-40 minutes and then remove it from the oven and let cool on wire rack.  Now slice, and enjoy!

Tip for making apple pie: I recently discovered why there has always been a gap between the top of my crust and where the apples start.  Apparently, apples lose water while they cook, which is what causes them to shrink.  A way to help avoid this, and to make an apple pie that does not separate from it’s crust, is to boil the apples in hot water for about 8 minutes.  Once they’ve boiled, drain them, and then lay them out to dry on some paper towel.  You may need extra paper towel to pat dry the tops.  I couldn’t believe how well this trick worked.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baked Brie en Croute with Brown Sugar and Bourbon Pecan

Up until a few weeks ago, Brie was something that I'd seen pictures of online and in magazines, but never sampled.  It's not because I didn't want to try it either, but rather the opportunity never presented itself.  However, did you happen to notice that I said, "up until a few weeks ago."  Recently, while I was over at a friend's house for dinner, she presented brie as an appetizer.  Being a big fan, let me rephrase, a HUGE fan of cheese, I knew that I needed to try it.  One bite and I was completely hooked!

I wish that I had a better photo of this recipe to present to you, but I was running late for the party that I was taking it to.  Therefore, you will just have to believe me when I tell you that it's delicious!

Baked Brie en Croute with Brown Sugar and Bourbon Pecans
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½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. bourbon
½ package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 round brie (13.2 ounce)
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat.  Using a sharp knife; cut the brie in half horizontally, in order to form two thinner discs. 

In a small bowl, stir together the light brown sugar, chopped pecans, and bourbon, until well combined.

Place the puff pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin; gently roll out the fold lines.  Place half of the brie directly in the middle of the puff pastry sheet and top with part of the brown sugar mixture.  Top that with the other half of the brie and then add on what is left of the brown sugar mixture.  Wrap the pastry around the brie, making sure to pinch tightly at the top, in order to form a seal.  Place the brie onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the surface of the pastry with the egg wash.

Bake until the puff pastry has turned a nice golden color and appears crisp.  This will take about 35-45 minutes.  Allow the brie to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a serving platter. 

This appetizer goes great with crackers or apples!

Source: Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs in a Garlic Bread Bowl

I'm very excited to share today's post with you!!!  It's an idea that I've been wanting to try, ever since I happened to stumble upon it online.  This isn't going to be like one of my traditional posts though, it's really just going to be more of a helpful guide, and hopefully an inspiration, for a fantastic meal!  In my eyes, it takes the concept of spaghetti and meatballs to a whole new and delicious level!  The best part about it, other than tasting AMAZING, is it's super easy to make!

Start off by lightly spraying ramekins (1 cup size, 3 1/2" diameter) with cooking spray.  Next, place in a little sliced mozzarella and mild/sharp cheddar cheese.

Add in a few meatballs and sauce.

Top the meatballs with thin spaghetti that's been cooked and coated in sauce.

Garnish the top of the spaghetti with another piece of mozzarella cheese.

For the garlic bread bowl, I used my own homemade pizza dough recipe, but you can always buy pre-made dough from the store.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out and cut into circles.

Make sure that the circles are large enough to hang over the sides of the ramekins.  In order to accomplish this, you may need to roll them out a little more, after they've been cut.

For the bread bowl to mimic garlic bread, I made a glaze that consisted of melted butter, roasted garlic, a little garlic salt, parsley, and thyme (add in as much of each ingredient as you would like).  Once all the ingredients were combined, I brushed a generous amount of the mixture onto the tops of the dough that were covering each ramekin.

I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and then placed each ramekin onto a pizza stone and baked for 15 minutes.  The top of the dough will begin to turn a nice golden brown.

When that occurs, remove the pizza stone from the oven and add on a second coat of the garlic butter mixture.  Continue to cook for 5 more minutes.  You'll know they're completely done cooking because the crust will look crispy and golden.  Remove the ramekins from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes.

Once the ramekins have cooled slightly, invert them on a plate.  The easiest way to remove the ramekin is to give it a slight twist and then pull up.  (I'm sorry that I did not get a picture of this step, but I was just too excited to start eating.)  The garlic bread will serve as a bowl and catch the spaghetti and meatballs!

Garnish with a little Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and fresh parsley!  Enjoy!

The next time I make this, I plan to add more spaghetti sauce and maybe a little green pepper.

Source: Nibble Me This

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cinnamon-Sugar Streusel, French Toast Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream

Every so often a cupcake comes along that I absolutely need to try and this was definitely one of them!  I can't believe that I've never thought to make a cupcake like this before, especially seeing how much I love breakfast food!  And being honest for a moment, as unhealthy as it can be, French toast is pretty much one of my favorite breakfast foods.  Therefore, when I discovered this recipe online, I practically had to wipe the drool off my computer.  I immediately hit the "add to favorites" button, so that I wouldn't lose the recipe, and started thinking of a reason that I'd need to make them, which didn't take long.

Once I had the cupcakes frosted, I rolled the edges ever so gently in a bowl of cinnamon and sugar and then sprinkled with a little extra powdered sugar.  They turned out absolutely perfect and tasted just like a heavenly piece of French toast!


Cinnamon-Sugar Streusel, French Toast Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream
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Makes 24 cupcakes
For the Streusel:
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

For the Cupcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

To make the Streusel:
Whisk together the brown sugar, sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, and salt, in a medium size bowl.  Cut in the cold butter, or use your hand to help squeeze the butter into the mixture.  You should have some pebble size or larger pieces.  Cover and freeze while you prepare the cupcake mixture.

To make Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners, and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt; lightly whisk until just blended.  With the mixer set to a medium speed, add in the butter, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and then beat until smooth; this will take about 30 seconds.  If needed, scrap down the side of the bowl and stir together any remaining flour.

Place a little of the batter onto the bottoms of each cupcake liner and top with a little of the streusel.  Cover with more batter and then top the cupcakes with more streusel.  Yummy!

Bake for 18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Completely cool on a wire rack and then store in an airtight container, until ready to be frosted, or frost right away.

Maple Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp. heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, on a high speed, until light and fluffy.  Slowly, beat in the powdered sugar until well combined, while scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Stir in the vanilla, salt, and maple syrup.  Add in the heavy cream and whisk together on a high speed, for around 4 minutes.

Source: Bakingdom

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mini Crab Cakes

Jeff and I were invited over to a friend's house for a wine tasting party last night and everyone was asked to bring a bottle of wine and an appetizer to share.  I've been dying to try these mini crab cakes, ever since I'd found the recipe, so I knew right away that it's what I'd make.  I also felt that they'd go perfectly with the occasion!

When the buzzer went off and it was time to remove the mini crab cakes from the oven, they looked absolutely mouthwatering.  I couldn't wait to try one, although I did.  Another great thing about this recipe (in addition to them looking, in my opinion, elegant), is that they were very quick and easy to make.  This worked out perfectly for me because I was pretty short on time, due to a 5K I had run that afternoon.  The crab filling can actually be made a day ahead of time and stored in a covered bowl, in the refrigerator.  This was definitely a step I full took advantage of, and am glad I did. 

These little crab cakes were absolutely delicious and will most likely become a holiday appetizer in the very near future.

Mini Crab Cakes
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Makes 24
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg
¼ cup sour cream
½ tsp. lemon zest
3 Tbsp. minced fresh chives, divided
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
8 oz. fresh lump crabmeat, patted dry and coarsely chopped
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
Additional fresh chives, for garnish

In a small/medium bowl combine the cream cheese, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, and the egg.  Beat together with an electric mixer until well blended.  Add in the sour cream, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of chives, salt, and cayenne pepper, then beat again until the mixture looks smooth.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the crab meat.  (This mixture can be made up to a day in advance and kept in the fridge.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 24-well mini muffin pan with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, add the Panko breadcrumbs, ½ a cup of Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons of minced chives; stir around.  Slowly add in the melted butter and toss with a fork until everything is well coated and moistened.  Place a little bit of the Panko mixture into the bottom of each well of the muffin pan and press down to form a crust.  (I find that the bottom of a shot glass is the perfect size to help accomplish this step.)  Next, place some of the crab mixture on top of each of the crusts.  Lastly, sprinkle a little more of the Panko mixture on top of each crab cake.

Bake until the cakes turn a nice golden color and are set.  This should take around 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Gently run a knife around the edges of each cake and remove them from the pan.  (These can be baked around 2 hours before serving.  Reheat at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes, and then serve.)   

Feel free to garnish with fresh chives!

Source: Annie's Eats

Monday, December 5, 2011

Double Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

A few weeks ago, while I was roaming around Target, I happened to notice that they had holiday flavored m&m's on their shelves.  More specifically, cinnamon.  I love cinnamon, so I knew I needed to think of something I could make that would incorporate them.  Cookies, of course, were the first thing that came to mind, but what kind???  That was the question I've now spent a few weeks pondering.  (I know...I know....I can't believe that the m&m's have been sitting in my cabinet, untouched, for almost 3 weeks now!)

However, tonight I was having a serious craving to open up the bag of m&m's.  I didn't want to just waste them though, by eating them plain, so I decided to bake up a batch of cinnamon sugar cookies and include them in the batter.  What a great idea!  They definitely hit the spot!   

Double Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
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3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ cup white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup cinnamon m&m’s

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and then set aside.  Next, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, set on a medium speed, blend together the 2 types of sugar until well combined.  Add in the softened butter, and mix until a grainy paste is formed.  This will take about 2-4 minutes.  Scrap down the side of the bowl as needed.  Then add in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Beat at a medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add in the flour mixture and mix at a low speed until just combined.  Be sure not to over mix.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the cinnamon m&m’s.  Cover and place the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Once chilled, shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar topping.

Place prepared cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat.  (If you desire you can always top cookies with more m&m’s)  Make sure the cookies are about 2 inches apart, and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve with a glass of milk and enjoy!

Source: Adapted from At Home in Alaska

Sunday, November 27, 2011

White Cheese Chicken Enchiladas

Qdoba, Monterrey, Salsaritas, Zapaptas, Azteca, Taco Bell, Taco Boy, you name it, I'll eat it.  Why you might ask???  Because I absolutely love Mexican food!!  To me, it's always such a tough choice having to order at a Mexican restaurant, because everything on the menu sounds and looks so incredibly appetizing.  After much self-debating though, I usually end up settling on a combination plate, where you can get up to three different, individual items.  Usually I get a taco, a beef burrito, and an of course an enchilada, all of which are equally delicious!  I've also had the opportunity to make each of these items at home numerous times, and always enjoy them.  However, the other day, when I was bored, and just perusing the Internet, I happened to find a recipe for a white cheese enchilada that looked positively tempting!  Inspired by the idea, I went out and purchased some ingredients and began cooking.  The results were better than I had hoped for.  I believe that this recipe will become a regular meal in our home!

I would also highly recommend pouring some of the extra sauce on top of tortilla chips! 

White Cheese Chicken Enchiladas
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Makes about 8-10
1 lb. – 1 ½ lbs. chicken
2 tsp. canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
dash of salt
2/3 cup water
2 cups extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
½ cup pepper jack cheese, shredded
8-10 soft tortillas, (I like to use the Low Carb, La Banderita soft taco, wheat)
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. + ½ tsp. flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13” baking dish; set aside.

Add the canola oil to a large skillet, over medium heat.  Butterfly the pieces of chicken and add to the skillet.  Cook the chicken on each side, until no longer pink, and almost cooked completely through.  Remove the pan from the heat, and shred the chicken (I like to use two forks for this).  Using a piece of paper towel, wipe out the skillet and add back in the chicken and the onion.  Return the skillet to medium heat and cook for a few more minutes, making sure the chicken is completely cooked through and the onions have softened.  Add in the chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, dash of salt, garlic and water.  Stir around with the chicken until all the seasonings have been dissolved and the chicken is well coated.  Let simmer together for about 5 minutes, stirring as needed.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

Stack the tortillas on a plate and microwave for 35-45 seconds or until easily pliable.  One by one, place the tortillas on a flat work surface and spoon about 1/3 cup of the chicken down the middle, then sprinkle on some of the cheese.  Tightly roll the tortilla up and lay seam-side down in the prepared 9x13” baking dish.

Lightly spray the rolled up tortillas with cooking spray and place in the oven, uncovered, for about 7-9 minutes, or until they are slightly brown and appear crispy.  (Feel free to skip this step if you don’t like them crunchy.)  Remove from the oven, set aside, and reduce the heat to 400 degrees.

In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add in the flour and stir until well combined, about 1 minute.  Pour in the chicken broth and whisk together until smooth.  Continue to periodically whisk until the sauce becomes thick and bubbly, but DO NOT boil.  Now whisk in the sour cream and the jalapenos until the sauce is smooth and thick, about 1 minute.  Immediately remove the pan from the heat and evenly pour the sauce over the top of the enchiladas.  Top with the remaining cheese and bake for 18-20 minutes, then broil for 2, this will cause the cheese to become that perfect crispy brown. (Skip the broil step, if you don’t like crispy cheese.)

Inspired by, and heavily adapted from: Joyful Mom and Pink Parsley

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Brown (Butter) Sugar Frosting

A few years ago I was over at a friend's house and happened to try a delicious, soft, pumpkin cookie.  At the time, I had never sampled a cookie like them before, and seriously enjoyed both the flavor and how incredibly soft and moist they were.  I knew right away that I'd have to try making them myself sometime, so when I was trying to think of what to add to my Spiced Pumpkin Rum Cheesecake Trifle, it was no surprise that these cookies came to mind.  In the end, they worked out perfectly in the trifle, and also made for a fantastic 2nd dessert!!

Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Brown (Butter) Sugar Frosting
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Makes about 6 dozen
For the cookie:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp. ginger
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (14 ounces)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:
4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
10 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup, plus 1 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For Cookies:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg; set aside.

Place the butter and brown sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed until light in color and fluffy.  This will take about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.  Add in the eggs and beat until well blended.  Reduce the mixers speed to low and add in the pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla.  Mix until evenly distributed, this will take about 2 minutes.  Add in all of the flour mixture at once and continue to mix on a low speed until just combined.

Place some of the cookie batter into a pastry bag fitted with Wilton tip #12, and pipe 1 ½ inch rounds onto silicone, or parchment paper lined baking sheets.  Make sure to space cookies about 1 inch apart.  Bake the cookies, for 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until the tops of the cookies spring back when gently touched.  Cool the baking sheets on wire rack for about 2 minutes and then transfer the cookies to the wire rack to let cool completely.

For Frosting:
Place the confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter (you are making brown butter).  Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until golden brown; about 3 minutes *Word of CAUTION – Do not leave butter unattended or stop swirling, it WILL explode.  Learn from my mistakes.*  Immediately add the butter to the bowl of sugar, scraping brown bits from the pan.  Add evaporated milk and vanilla, whisking together until smooth.  Spread a little frosting onto each cookie.  If the frosting begins to thicken too much, gradually add a little more evaporated milk and stir.

Source: Martha Stewart

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jarlsberg Mac and Cheese with Cracker Topping

If you're looking for a traditional macaroni and cheese recipe, this is not it.  For one thing, it's not as creamy in texture (but still delicious) and for another, it doesn't call for the use of elbow macaroni.  This recipe is however, completely addicting and if you want to substitute the Jarlsberg cheese for your personal favorite, you could. 

I have to thank my local Harris Teeter (grocery store) for the inspiration behind this meal.  Almost every time that I go shopping there, "the cheese lady", as I like to call her, has a tasty display of Jarlsberg cheese ready to be sampled.  And of course, I have to sample it!  If you've never had the opportunity to try Jarlsberg cheese, I highly recommend it.  It might not be the healthiest of cheeses, but it's definitely become one of my favorites, and one that I buy on those special occasions.

Jarlsberg Mac and Cheese with Cracker Topping
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Serves 6-8
1 lb. Cellentani noodles
6 Tbsp. butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
2-3 cups Jarlsberg cheese (I think the more the better)
dash of nutmeg
¼ cup crushed butter flavor crackers
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bring a pot full of water, with a dash of salt, to a boil, and add in the noodles.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, but make sure to remove the noodles from the water about 1 to 2 minutes shy of being al dente.

While the noodles are cooking, place 4 tablespoons of butter in a large bowl.  Next, place the milk and cream in a small sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil.  Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and cover to keep warm.  (You could also choose to warm the milk and cream in the microwave)  Shred the Jarlsberg cheese and set aside.

Once the noodles are ready, place them in the bowl with the butter and toss around until well coated.  Add in the warm cream and the cheese and stir until the cheese begins to melt.  Sprinkle the cheesy noodles with salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Pour the mixture into a greased (I use PAM) 9x13 inch baking dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and then add in the cracker crumbs and the parmesan cheese.  Stir around until well combined and then sprinkle the mixture over the noodles.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top is a nice golden brown color.  This will take about 20 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!!!

Adapted from: Ezra Pound Cake

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spiced Pumpkin Rum Cheesecake Trifle with Pumpkin Cookie Pieces

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I hope that you're all enjoying your holiday as much as I am!  I feel that I have so much to be thankful for this year including all my wonderful family and friends.  I wish that we could spend this Holiday together, but sometimes it just does not work out.

Even though I may not be hosting a big gathering this year (it's actually just Jeff and I) my kitchen is definitely busy and there are lots of different and wonderful smells coming from it.  Thanksgiving has always been Jeff's favorite holiday, so I decided awhile ago that I'd make a little turkey for the two of us, and some side dishes to go along with it, including a small, but tasty dessert.  And let's be honest....what better recipe is there to start a holiday post with other than dessert?

Happy Turkey Day!!!

Spiced Pumpkin Rum Cheesecake Trifle with Pumpkin Cookie Pieces
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Serves 4
½ cup pumpkin
1 Tbsp. rum
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¾ tsp. light brown sugar
1 package sugar-free, cheesecake Jello pudding
Pumpkin cookies, broken into pieces
1 container cool whip

For pumpkin pudding mixture:
In a small bowl combine the pumpkin, rum, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.  Stir or whisk together until well blended.

In a medium bowl, prepare the cheesecake Jello pudding according to package directions.  Once the pudding has thickened, this will occur after about 2 minutes of whisking, add in the spiced pumpkin mixture and continue to whisk together until completely incorporated.

To assemble:
Distribute some of the pumpkin cookie pieces evenly across the bottom of the bowls.  Layer the cookie pieces with a little of the pumpkin pudding mixture and top with cool whip.  Repeat the process as needed.

Garnish with a few extra pumpkin cookie pieces and place in the refrigerator.  Let the trifle sit for about an hour before serving.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buffalo Style Chex Mix

With the holidays just around the corner, I'm always on the lookout for great little appetizers that I don't have to worry about, and can remain on the counter.  This recipe is one of those!  Chex mix always seems to be a favorite snack food around my house, especially when we're playing cards, or watching a movie, so this year I decided I would try making my own batch!  If you don't like it too spicy, you can always cut back on the amount of hot sauce or cayenne pepper.

Buffalo Style Chex Mix
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4 cups Rice Chex® cereal
4 cups Wheat Chex® cereal
2 cups white cheddar Cheez-It
2 cups pretzel sticks (or twists)
2 cups whole almonds
6 tablespoons butter, melted
4-6 tablespoons hot sauce (I use Frank’s)
1 (1 oz.) packet ranch dressing mix
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (more if desired)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

In a large bowl combine the rice chex, wheat chex, white cheddar cheez-it, pretzels, and almonds.  Stir all together and set aside. 

In a roasting pan, stir together the melted butter, hot sauce, and ranch dressing mix until well blended.  Slowly add in the cereal mixture and gently stir together until evenly coated.  Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, and stir around again.  Bake the mixture for 1 hour, stopping every 15 minutes to stir around.

Remove the pan from the oven and spread the Chex mix out on a paper towel to cool.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Keep stored in an airtight container.  Enjoy!

Source: Slightly adapted from Let's Dish

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bacon and Parmesan Pumpkin Risotto

I was so excited when I happened to discover this recipe for pumpkin risotto!  Lately I've been really getting into fall baking (if you haven't already been able to tell by my posts) and this recipe looked absolutely delectable.  It also seemed much easier to make then any other risotto recipe I've tried, and delicious too!!!

The creamy texture, in addition to the amount of spices, are what add to the enticing flavor of this dish.  Garnish with a little bacon and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you'll wonder how you've gone so long without ever trying this recipe before. 

Bacon and Parmesan Pumpkin Risotto
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2 Tbsp. butter
½ cup chopped onion
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup long-grain rice or Arborio rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth, divided
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 cup canned pumpkin
¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
½ cup heavy cream
2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.

Next, add in the onion and cook until tender.  After that, add in the garlic and rice, sautéing for about 1 minute.  Slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, and add in the salt, black pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir the mixture around until the ingredients are combined.  Cover the pan, and let simmer for around 10 minutes.  Add in the remaining ½ cup of chicken broth and pumpkin, cover and let simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese.  Stir all together and cover the pot while you prepare the bacon.

In a small nonstick skillet, sauté the chopped bacon on medium-high heat until desired crispiness is reached.

Spoon out the risotto onto a plate, or small bowl, garnishing with a little parmesan cheese and bacon!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wedding Week/Weekend

What takes about 8-10 bags of confectioner's sugar, 36 sticks of butter, 2 large bags of granulated sugar, 2 containers of cocoa powder, a gallon or so of milk, around 4-5 bags of all-purpose flour (in addition to cake flour), 40 eggs, and TONS of vanilla extract, plus other ingredients?  This......

It all started a couple of months ago when my two friends, Beth and Mark, asked if I'd be interested in making their wedding cake.  I was definitely honored by the fact that they thought of me and immediately said yes! I knew that I could not pass up this opportunity, because I've been wanting to make a wedding cake for awhile now. 

So of course, the planning started........

When I first got out my "cake notebook" and sat down with Beth to create ideas, she informed me that she wanted to have mostly cupcakes, 200 to be precise.  In addition to the cupcakes Beth also wanted a two tier wedding cake.  One layer so that they'd have something to cut into at the reception, and the other layer for their anniversary.  *The final numbers may have changed slightly from our first meeting.  Beth ended up asking for 250 cupcakes*

In addition to the wedding cake/cupcakes, Beth also wanted to have me construct a surprise grooms cake for her husband-to-be, and my friend Mark!  He is a BIG Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so Beth thought that it would be a fun theme to apply to a cake!

The best part about this cake......Beth left the design totally up to me!

Finally, after all of the planning, the week of the wedding was here!  I knew I had LOTS to do, especially on top of teaching during the day, so I had to set up a day-by-day plan for myself.  Some of the tasks I knew I could accomplish ahead of time, like drying out the flowers to go on top of the cupcakes, coloring the fondant (not too far ahead of time though), and sifting the powdered sugar.  The rest of the items would have to be done periodically throughout the week, but if I paced it just right, I knew I wouldn't become overwhelmed. 

The first item on my to do list was to bake the groom's cake and cupcakes.  Beth needed to have these ready for the rehearsal dinner that was to be on Friday night.  I also knew that if I made this cake first, then while I was going through the process of decorating it, I could be baking cupcakes for the wedding at the same time.  My plan ended up working out perfectly.

Steelers Cupcakes

Steelers Groom Cake

Once the groom's cake was complete, I directed my full attention to getting the rest of the cupcakes made, along with the wedding cake.  At this point in time, I had already baked over 100 chocolate cupcakes, and around 75 red velvet cupcakes.  All I had left to do was frost and decorate them, and then bake the yellow cupcakes and the wedding cake. 

I was very, VERY glad that Friday was Veteran's Day and that I didn't have to teach.  Having the whole day to work on this project was such a huge stress reliever!  I ending up starting the day off by baking the wedding cakes, and continued by baking the remaining 100 cupcakes. 

It always amazes me that something can start off looking like this....

And end up looking like this......

With the wedding cake now finished, all I had left to do was frost and decorate the cupcakes.  I decided that I would frost the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes Friday night, but because the red velvet cupcakes needed a cream cheese frosting, I planned to get up early and frost those Saturday morning.  It's a good thing that I decided to do that too, because decorating the 200, or so, chocolate and yellow cupcakes took me well into the night.

Saturday morning I immediately set to work again on mixing up a couple batches of frosting, but this time they were for the red velvet cupcakes.  After the frosting was made and applied, I decorated the tops with little gumpaste flowers!

When I was finished, I packed up the remainder of the boxes with delicious cupcakes........

put them in the Jeep, and set off to deliver them to Charlotte Country Club.  When my husband and I arrived at the club, they showed me where I could display the cake, and even brought out some beautiful decorative silver platters.

 It may have taken a few tries.....

but I finally figured out how I wanted them displayed.

Later on that day, the florist came to add flowers around the cake and they also placed out a little bride a groom.

Even though I was very pleased with how my cake turned out, the best part of the day was getting to witness the marriage of two good friends!  Congratulations Mark and Beth!!