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On June 26th the world welcomed a very special little guy: my nephew!  This is B’s and my first time being an uncle and aunt and, besides being super excited to shower him with love and affection, we wanted to make sure we help out B’s brother and our sister-in-law as much as possible.  As part of our efforts to do so, we decided to make them some food to have to share with guests and for them to eat as they get adjusted to life as new parents.  We ended up making a lot of food (fitting our trend of over-cooking for 2 people).  Here is the menu (I will link the posts I’ve adapted as I post them):

Freezer Meals:

Chicken Stir Fry

  • Recipe forthcoming

Zucchini Bread

  • This was my first time making zucchini bread so I followed the recipe fairly closely (also not 100% sure on the outcome).  I used walnuts but did not use cranberries/raisins.  Also, I probably used over 3 C of grated fresh zucchini.  I grated a zucchini in my food processor and just used whatever was produced.

Banana Nutella Swirl Muffins

  • Two changes: I used 5 bananas and I did not use chopped pecans.  My mother- and father-in-law referred to these as life changing.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

  • B made these and I’m not 100% clear on the recipe.  I think he just winged the recipe using a Asian inspired rub.

Twice Baked Bacon and Cheddar Potatoes

  • This recipe is more of a guideline.  We have made twice baked potatoes before we so kind of eyeballed it as we normally do.  This was the first time we froze these.  We made the mistake of making them all as if we were going to eat them that day/night.  So we did two things wrong: first, we cooked them completely; second, we cooked them with the green onions.  Some of the freezer prep recipes I’ve found since then (when I was trying to find reheat instructions for my brother- and sister-in-law) have recommended not adding the green onions until ready to eat.  I was informed that they were very good as we did them but in the future I will probably try freezing the proper way.

Blanched asparagus

  • Add asparagus to a pot of boiling water.  Cook for approximately 1 minute.  Remove from boiling water and submerge immediately in ice water to stop cooking process.  Remove from ice water and put on cookie sheet or roasting pan to cool completely.  Place in freezer bag and freeze.  To reheat, thaw the asparagus and reheat in pan with oil/butter and desired spices.

To have on hand:

Italian Roast Pork with Broccoli Rabe

  • For the broccoli rabe, submerge in boiling water for approximately 2 minutes (or until soft with a little bit of crunch).  Remove from boiling water and immediately submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. In a medium size pan, saute 2-3 cloves of garlic with a generous amount of olive oil.  Add blanched broccoli rabe and cook for approximately 5 minutes more over medium heat.  Serve roast pork and broccoli rabe with sharp provolone cheese and/or roasted red peppers on a hoagie sandwich roll.
  • My brother- and sister-in-law also repurposed the pork (since I ended up using an 8 lb shoulder and made 3 Chinese food take out containers worth.  Each container was 8 sandwiches).  They added some BBQ sauce and adobe sauce to use in roasted pork tacos.  We also discussed how the pork could be repurposed into BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

Chocolate cupcakes with Salted Cannoli Cream Frosting

  • Recipe forthcoming

 

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(Insert picture I should’ve taken but I’m a bad food recipe blogger so I forgot to do so)

This was adapted from Annie’s Eats recipe.  I originally intended to bring these over to my brother- and sister-in-law as part of the food package we were sending to help them out/ celebrate the birth of my nephew.  Unfortunately, these cupcakes didn’t quite come out the way that I had hoped.  The cake was a little dry and I really struggled with the caramel filling.  The caramel ended up being too runny and instead of providing a nice caramel center to the cupcakes it ended up getting absorbed into the cupcake.  Since B pointed out, with his usual wit, “So you’re telling me caramel is absorbed into a chocolate cupcake?  That sounds terrible.”, I decided to send them with him to work.  I’ve baked a number of items for his lab and each has gone over fairly well.  I’ve been informed that these went more quickly than any other baked good I sent and had an overwhelming positive response.   So perhaps I’m my own worst critic.  This is definitely one of the more difficult cupcakes I have attempted because it was the first time I tried to make caramel from scratch.  If you have any tricks/suggestions please leave them in the comments!

Salted Caramel Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing and Caramel Drizzle

Chocolate Cupcakes (taken from Annie’s Eats)
Makes approximately 24 cupcakes

½ C plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
½ C plus 1 tbsp hot water
2¼ C all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup sour cream
Caramel (Taken from Annie’s Eats)

2½ C sugar*
2/3 C water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
¾ C heavy cream, warmed**
2¼ tsp. sea salt

Icing (Taken from Savory Sweet Life)

1 C unsalted softened butter
3-4 C confectioners  sugar, SIFTED
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions

Cupcakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth.
  3. In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a medium saucepan combine the butter and sugar. Cook at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted.
  5. Transfer the butter/sugar mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-low speed until the butter/sugar mixture is cool (about 4-5 minutes).
  6. Add each of the eggs one at a time.  Make sure to mix well after each egg and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa/hot water mixture until smooth.
  8. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake about 18-20 minutes (mine were done in 18) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean rotating the pans halfway through baking (I forgot to do this, maybe that’s why they were dry).  Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Caramel Filling (NEED CANDY THERMOMETER!)

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.  Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has melted into a syrup.
  2. Stop stirring and gently swirl the pan, using a pastry brush dipped in water to wipe down any bits of sugar stuck to the sides of the pan.
  3. Continue to boil, swirling occasionally, until the mixture is a deep amber color (but not burned!) and it registers 340˚ F on the candy thermometer.
  4. Very slowly pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream down the inside edge of the pan, stirring constantly until smooth.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt.
  6. Let the caramel filling mixture cool just until very slightly thickened and cool enough to handle.
  7. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and inject about 1 large tbsp of filling directly into the center of each cupcake.  (This is when my caramel absorbed to the inside of the cupcake.)

Icing

  1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
  2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar (1 cup at a time) on the lowest speed of the mixer until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes.
  4. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar 1/2 C at a time. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tbsp at a time.
  5. Allow to cool slightly in the refrigerator so it is easier to handle.
  6. Transfer to piping bag.  Careful pipe the icing on to each of the cupcakes.
  7. Drizzle the top of each cupcake with remaining caramel and some sea salt (In Annie’s Eat’s recipe she tops with a homemade piece of salted caramel candy)

 

*I ran out of sugar and since it was around 10pm I just decided to work with what I had.  Perhaps that’s why my caramel was too runny.
**To further add to my trouble with the caramel, I was tired and impatient so I didn’t warm the cream.  Another reason why the caramel was too runny, maybe?

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Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcake

I was asked by my mother-in-law to make cupcakes as a favor for my sister-in-law’s baby shower.  My first response was “OF COURSE!”.  Then came the excruciating decision-making process to find the perfect cupcake flavor.

Most of the cupcakes I have made for friends/family that have been hits have involved alcohol.  As these were for a baby shower, alcohol based cupcakes seemed to be a quick toss to the “No” pile.  My sister-in-law loves chocolate, so I was looking to incorporate chocolate without making it the main player (especially since we made chocolates for a favor for her bridal shower last year).  My first stop was to Annie’s Eats, which is where I usually start for inspiration on cakes, pies, and other sweets.  I instantly was a fan of the cookies and cream cupcakes (especially with the little surprise on the bottom) but I was really hoping to make something that had green/yellow frosting to fit with the baby shower theme (my brother and sister-in-law are being surprised on the gender).   Then I remembered my absolute favorite ice cream flavor from college: mint cookies and cream.  If you’re from the Trenton/Princeton, NJ area you’re familiar with Halo Farms ice cream.  My friends and I would make a trip to one of the locations to pick up a pint.  I frequently picked mint cookies and cream since I was never able to find it anywhere else.  I was then inspired to replicate this ice cream in cupcake form.  Overall, the attendees at the shower (as well as B and B’s co-workers who benefited from the test batches) were very happy with the end result (and were pleasantly surprised by the cookie at the bottom).

Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Yield: 24 cupcakes
Cupcakes
40 Oreos (These are used in cupcakes and icing, you might need more in icing based on taste preference)
2 1/4 cups  all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
1 2/3 c sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5-2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c milk

Icing
8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
approx 1 tsp peppermint extract
3.5-4 c confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream*
12 Oreos, cut in half (optional for garnish)

Directions

Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line the wells of two cupcake pans with 24 paper liners.
  2. Take 24 of the Oreos and carefully split in half to make sure all the cream is on one half.  If you are a skilled twister, go for it.  I used the twist method in combination with a paring knife
  3. Place an Oreo half in the bottom of each liner, cream side up.
  4. Roughly chop 12 of the remaining Oreo tops and the remaining 12 full Oreos, set aside
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir together with a fork to blend and set aside.
  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
  7. Blend in the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition (I cracked each egg in a separate bowl to separate and then added to mixture.  This allowed each egg time to be well incorporated).
  8. Blend in the peppermint and vanilla extract.
  9. With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
  10. Add the milk and beat just until combined, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.
  11. Gently fold in the reserved chopped Oreos with a rubber spatula until evenly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
  12. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners.
  13. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  14. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:

  1. In a food processor, chop 12 Oreo tops remaining from the cupcakes and the 4 full Oreos left (I used more than this because I wanted to the cookie crumbs to be very prominent.  You can add cookies based on taste/texture preference).
  2. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Blend in the vanilla and peppermint extract.
  4. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time until incorporated and smooth.
  5. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed just until incorporated
  6. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip for approximately 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Fold in reserved cookie crumbs.
  8. Frost the cooled cupcakes as desired. Garnish with Oreo halves, if desired.

*Some comments from the source recipe commented that the icing was a little runny.  I did not have this problem but be aware that this may be an issue.

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**So I’ve been very busy the past few months and realized I haven’t updated in a loooong time.  This is evidence of that.  I found a draft I never finished.  Instead of posting the recipes (since they’re not at all healthy) I’m just going to post it as a brag about how awesome B is.  If you’re interested in any of the specific recipes let me know and I’ll post them.**

B has always been very lucky in terms of Valentine’s Day obligations: he only has to say “Happy Valentine’s Day.”  This is because my birthday is only two days prior so we usually have a nice dinner out, etc. that day.  This is also because the first year we were dating, we decided to celebrate this holiday with a dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant in Chambersburg (a neighborhood in Trenton, NJ).  Reservations for 2 at 7:30pm, check.  We arrived and the place was wall to wall people.  It was like being in a hot bar at midnight (I am not an anchovy in a can!).  We also didn’t get seated until 8:30pm.  This was the beginning of the end of our Valentine’s Day celebrations.  Six years later, B decides that he wants to make me a feast for Valentine’s Day.  Let me tell you, he puts me to shame.  What follows are  the meals and pictures associated with said feast.   This is definitely not a diet friendly meal but worked for me since I’m in maintenance now.  Adjustments could be made for the sake of making the dish healthier (reduce butter, replace with something else) but I would be you would really lose something in terms of taste.  As the main reviewer of this meal, I can say that it made me think B needs a new career as a stay at home husband/personal chef.

Course 1: Arugula Salad with Broiled Goat Cheese and Crostini

Course 2: Seared Sea Scallops and Brown Butter Lobster Risotto

Course 3: Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce and Whipped Mascarpone Cream

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Holiday Biscotti!

For Christmas this year I decided to try my hand again at biscotti.  I had tried to make pumpkin pie and anise ones for Thanksgiving but they did not turn out as well as I would have hoped.  This time around they were much more biscotti-like (which was good because I was giving them as gifts).  I made two different types: anise biscotti adapted from this recipe and a holiday biscotti adapted from a Giada de Laurentis recipe.  The one big problem I found was that the holiday biscotti recipe was simply too wet to form into good logs.  As a result, I used a combination of methods: I added more flour and kneaded by hand and also refrigerated the dough to try to get it to be more malleable. Also, B suggested that the anise biscotti could be more “anisey” so if you like that flavor increase the anise seed/extract in the recipe.

Holiday Biscotti
This recipe made around 60 biscotti cookies (I can’t remember the exact number)

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cup dried Craisin cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer (I used my stand mixer), beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in cherries.

Form the dough  into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Anise Biscotti
This recipe made around 60 biscotti cookies (I can’t remember the exact number)

12 oz (3 sticks) butter
1 3/4 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp anise extract
2 tsp anise seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F ( 165 degrees C ).

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time; beat until fluffy. Stir in the anise seed, anise extract, and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; Add them to the egg mixture. Stir with a spoon and as the dough comes together, Knead by hand.

Divide the dough into 4 parts. Roll each piece into a log about 15 inches long. Place logs onto cookie sheets, 2 to a sheet, the long way. Flatten the logs out until they are about 3 inches wide with a slight hump going down the middle. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, loaves should be firm. Cut the loaves into diagonal slices 1/2 inch wide, place the slices onto the cookie sheets and return to the oven. Toast on one side, then turn them over to do the other side. This will take about 5 to 15 minutes on each side depending on how crisp you want the biscotti.

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I made these cupcakes over a month ago.  As my last post pointed out, I’m terrible at being a blogger.

These cupcakes were made for B’s large family reunion that involved cousins and relatives from B’s Italian side.  We wanted to make a cupcake that represented this Italian heritage.  After tossing around a number of different ideas, we decided we wanted to try to make a cupcake that was reminiscent of a pizzelle cookie.  This is how we came up with the idea to have a cupcake that featured both anise extract and anise seeds.  During our test trials, we tried the cupcakes with a chocolate ganache (to be reminiscent of a pizzelle filled with chocolate), but that was unsuccessful.  The ganache flavor was just too strong and overpowered the anise to the point where you couldn’t really taste it.  This is why we decided to go with an anise flavored chocolate whipped cream icing.  This provided both the chocolate and anise flavors we were looking for without one overpowering the other.

Enjoy!

Pizzelle Cupcakes (Adapted from a recipe on the Food Network website and this recipe)
Made 31 cupcakes (supposed to make 24).

1 1/2 C unsalted butter, (3 sticks), at room temperature
2 C sugar
3 C cake flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
1 C milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp anise seeds
1 tsp anise extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

Icing

2/3 cup powdered sugar
5  tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp anise extract

For the cupcakes:

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line the muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Raise the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula.)

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and anise extract, and also set aside.

Add the egg yolks to the creamed butter one at time, waiting for each one to be fully incorporated before adding the next.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Alternately, add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before adding the next (scrape the bowl down occasionally). Raise the speed to medium and mix briefly until a smooth batter is formed. Transfer the batter to a large bowl.

Thoroughly clean the bowl of the mixer and put the egg whites inside. Whip the egg whites on high speed, using the whisk attachment, until stiff peaks are formed.

Working in 3 batches, using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter, until just incorporated. Divide the batter evenly among the cups in the muffin pan. Bake, rotating the pan once, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool completely.

For the icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar and cocoa in small bowl. Add cream and anise extract; beat until stiff.  We were without a piping bag so we put the whipped cream icing into a plastic Ziploc bag and cut one of the corners.  I would recommend the piping bag; the final result comes out looking much nicer and cleaner.

Top cupcakes with a piece of pizzelle cookie.

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I’ve been craving smoothies.  Its spring and its (rarely) sunny and warm here in beautiful Steelers Nation.  Most places I know that sell smoothies make them incredibly unhealthy with lots of sugar, ice cream, or full fat yogurt.  I decided I’d satisfy my craving by making a similar one at home.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie with Greek Yogurt
1 serving, 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus per serving

5-6 ice cubes (or crushed ice)
6 large strawberries quartered
1 large banana
1/2 C Fage 0% Greek Yogurt
2 tsp Splenda (or another no calorie sweetener)

In a blender (or in a Cuisinart, since my blender is non-functional) add ice.  Run until ice is transformed into a slushy mixture.  Add strawberries and bananas.  Run until fruit is smooth.  Add yogurt and Splenda.  Again, run until smooth.  Serve immediately.

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So like I had mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve been under the weather for the past few weeks.  One of the things that has been plaguing me was a persistent case of hives.  By this week it had spread to dangerous levels and I ended up in the hospital for a few days.  So to continue with my “bad blogger” phenomenon I haven’t cooked a new or interesting meal in a long time (side note, B did make fake bacon wrapped scallops the night before I was admitted and they were flippin’ fantastic).

Since I usually work from home and B works 8-10 hours in the lab, our dog Margot was very kindly looked after by our neighbors.  As a thank you we wanted to make them something that fit our dog and theirs (Nola) since they had non-stop playtime for almost 48 hrs (with the exception of the few hours B was not with me and was at home).  In honor of the two dogs and to thank our neighbors, we decided to make Margot-rita and Nola Chocolate Cherry Cola Cupcakes.  The decorative aspect of these..is.uh..well…lacking.  I do not attest to being anywhere close to a decorator and this proves it.  I didn’t calculate the points values since they were a gift but I’m sure they’re not Weight Watchers friendly.

(Pardon our filthy stove in this picture, there was a lot of baking done)

Margot-rita Cupcakes (adapted from Recipe Girl and Annie’s Eats)
(makes about 10 cupcakes)

Cupcakes
3 oz liquid Margarita mix
1 oz tequila
1/4 oz Triple Sec
1/2 box white cake mix (I used Pillsbury Extra Moist)
1 1/2 large egg whites
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp lime zest

Icing
1 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 cup), at room temperature
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2-4 tsp tequila (this is approximate because we did this to taste)
1/8 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp grated lime zest
green food coloring, if desired
small lime slices for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake tin with liners.

Whisk together margarita mix, tequila and Triple Sec in a small bowl. The combination should measure a bit more than 1/2 cup.  In a large bowl, blend cake mix, egg whites, vegetable oil, lime zest and the margarita mix. Blend on low for about 30 seconds and then increase speed to medium and blend for two additional minutes. Batter will be slightly lumpy.  Spoon the batter into cupcake liners (about ¾ full). Bake for 20-25 min, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then remove them to a rack to cool completely.

Once cupcakes are completely cooled, prepare the icing. Place butter in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until butter is fluffy. Add powdered sugar, salt, lime juce, tequila, and lime zest. Mix until thick and creamy. Add more powdered sugar until the frosting is of a good spreading (or piping) consistency. (You can mix in a tiny amount of green food coloring or gel paste if you’d like the frosting to have a green tint but I was looking for a buttery color). Ice cupcakes in whatever manner you prefer either by spreading or piping the frosting. Use small lime slices and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt as garnish.

For the specific decoration of these cupcakes, I piped on the frosting and then tried to build up a snout.  Unfortunately the buttercream ended up getting a little warm in my hands and melted a bit so the snout doesn’t look as good as the cola ones (see below how I did that one).  The night before I made up some dark brown and pink royal icing and piped that into eyes, noses, and tongues.  To get the texture on the tongue and noses I let the royal icing dry to a certain extent then used a toothpick.  For the tongue I just drew a simple line.  When I was applying, I cut the tongues to the appropriate length.  For the noses, I used a toothpick and just made little holes and played with it a little to give it some texture.  For the eyes and noses, the piping attachment I used made them look a little like chocolate morsels since I had to pull up.  I also used the toothpicks to even that out so they looked flatter.  The royal icing recipe I used came from Annie’s Eats.

The ears for Margot were made out of tuile cookies.  I did not make them right so we kind of winged it.  She has ridiculous ears so we were ok with it.  Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to roll a cookie and in the future I can make a cupcake that has terrier like dog ears.

Nola Chocolate Cherry Cola Cupcakes (Adapted from Annie’s Eats, Food Network, and Cooks.com )

Cupcakes

1½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup sugar
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk
approx 2 cups Coca-Cola
¼ tsp. maraschino cherry juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Maraschino cherries, stemless

Glaze

3-5 tsp cherry cola (I used about 5 tsp and it ended up being too gooey.  I’d stick with around 3 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Icing
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

For cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line  a muffin pan with foil or paper liners.  In a small pot, add about 1 1/2 cups of coca-cola (or another comparable cola).  Turn up heat and allow the cola to reduce down to more of a syrup (This was done to intensify the coke flavor in the cupcakes).  Once this is reduced down measure into a liquid measuring cup and add coke, as needed, to get 3/4 cup of coke (I ended up with about 1/2 cup of reduced coke syrup from the 1 1/2 I started with and then topped it off with more coke).  Set aside to cool.In a medium bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir together and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter.  Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.   Mix in the egg until incorporated.   In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, Coke, maraschino cherry juice, and vanilla extract; stir to combine.  (This mixture may look disgusting and/or curdled – it’s okay!) Mix the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture on low speed, alternately with the liquid ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners.  Drop a stemless maraschino cherries into each cupcake well and push them down into the batter.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For glaze: Add the cherry cola, 1 teaspoon at a time, to the powdered sugar until it has a good consistency to drizzle on cupcakes. Once cupcakes are cool drizzle the glaze onto them (make sure there is a baking sheet or something under them! It got messy for me).
For icing:Combine confectioners’ sugar and cocoa in small bowl. Add cream and vanilla; beat until stiff.Using a piping bag and one of the fancier attachments (I have no idea how to describe these) I piped the the whipped cream icing on in little dollops.  When the cupcake was completely covered, I cut maraschino cherries in half and placed on in the lower  center of each cupcake.  Using the remainder of the icing, I covered the cherry to create a snout.

For Nola’s ears, I melted some chocolate in the microwave and laid it out on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Using a toothpick, I created a swirly pattern in the chocolate since she is a curly dog.  We allowed the chocolate to cool in the fridge and then cut out ears using an exacto-knife. (See above for description of eyes, nose, and tongue for the dog face)

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Haystacks

This is part 2 of the Christmas cookie collection.  These are always a favorite among my family, my in-laws, and friends.  These are incredibly easy to make so even the least skillful baker could make them for a cookie exchange.  The biggest hitch is you need a large clear space for the wax paper to lay out the cookies to have the chocolate/butterscotch mixture set.

Haystacks

2 regular sized packages or semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 regular sized package of butterscotch morsels
2 large bags of chow mein noodles (they also come in tin size.  This is the only ingredient that varies based on kitchen temperature – which will determine how well the chocolate/butterscotch hardens – and preference)

  1. Melt 2 regular sized packages of semi-sweet  chocolate morsels and 1 package of butterscotch morsels,
    stir the melted  chocolate and butterscotch together.
  2. Break up the chow mein noodles into smaller pieces.
  3. Then pour  into a bowl of  chow mein noodles (I usually use two large cans of LaChoy chow mein noodles.)  Slowly add the chow mein noodles into the mixture until the noodles are well coated and there is little remaining of the melted chocolate/butterscotch mixture that is not on the noodles.
  4. Stir  together. Continue breaking up the noodles with  hands or a spoon to make them into  smaller chunks.
  5. Line a large space with a few sheets of waxed paper.
  6. Drop the bite-sized cookies on waxed paper and let cookies cool to allow chocolate/butterscotch mixture to harden
  7. When you put cookies  in tins, put a layer of waxed paper between each layer.

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Pecan Balls

This is part 1 of my Christmas cookie collection.  These are a Christmas cookie tradition dating back to when I was a wee little one.  Enjoy!

Pecan Balls

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup soft butter
1 cup finely chopped pecans*
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Confectioners sugar for coating

  1. In large bowl, combine all ingredients except confectioners’ sugar.  With hands or on a low setting with a mixer, mix until thoroughly blended.  Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F.  Using hands, roll dough into balls,1 ¼ inch in diameter.  Place 1 inch apart on un-greased cookie sheet.
  3. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until cookies are set, but not brown.  Let stand 1 minute before removing from cookie sheet.  Remove to wire rack to cool slightly.
  4. Roll in confectioners’ sugar while still warm; cool completely.
  5. Just before serving, re-roll in powdered sugar.

*To chop the pecans I usually throw the bag of pecans into a food processor or blender.

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