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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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If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I always keep bananas in our freezer.  It is B’s absolutely favorite thing.  I can tell since every time he opens the freezer, they fall out (our freezer is terrible, blame it on the fact we’re renters), and he yells something in joy.  I’m not going to say what he yells, seeing that this is polite company.

Regardless of B’s feelings towards the freezer bananas, I decided to make a banana bread to bring along for our trip to the Poconos.  I’ve previously made bananas foster cupcakes and I came across this recipe on Pintrest, which lead me to want to try this  recipe.  I made a few adjustments since I prefer a bit more banana flavor.  I also went with the fat-free greek yogurt instead of the fat-free regular yogurt because I’m a big fan of greek yogurt and its been awhile since I’ve used it.

Bananas Foster Bread
Serves 16, 5 Weight Watchers PP per serving

5-6 mashed ripe bananas
1 cup packed brown sugar, divided
5 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/3 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt (I used Fage)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups ounces all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside. (I ended up using 2 – 4.5 x 8.5 pans)
  2. Combine bananas, 1/2 cup brown sugar, butter, and rum in a nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool.
  3. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Add yogurt, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and eggs. Beat with a stand or hand mixer at medium speed.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
  5. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended.
  6. Pour batter into your prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; place on wire rack.

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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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This came about from exposure to the Philly Pretzel Factory, a persistent urge to make it from scratch, and a weekend away with good friends.  B and I decided we wanted to make these pretzel bites to bring to our weekend away in the Poconos for all to snack on.  They were a real hit and were gone within the hour.  I made these two days before we ate them. I stored them in containers and briefly reheated them before serving.  Enjoy!

Soft Pretzels Bites
(Pretzels adapted from Annie’s Eats and Cinnamon Sugar topping from Sophisticated Gourmet)

Ingredients:
For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel, Kosher, or Sea Salt

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

Divide the dough to make it easier to work with.  Take pieces of each section of the dough and roll into approximately 1 inch balls.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

If using the cinnamon sugar topping:  Skip the step where you sprinkle lightly with salt.  Combine sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.  Brush melted butter over pretzels.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over pretzels.

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S’mores Cupcakes

This presented a little bit of a challenge because, first, I don’t eat gelatin (and as a result, don’t eat marshmallows) and, second, none of these recipes we found actually struck either my or B’s fancy.   These were made for a weekend away with a bunch of friends in a house in the Poconos.  We decided we wanted to make a cupcake that was reminiscent of the outdoor experience (even though we were inside in the warmth).  This recipe is a combination of a number of different ones:  I got the graham cracker cupcake recipe from here, the recipe for the chocolate cupcakes from here, and the chocolate marshmallow frosting from here.  We decided we wanted to replicate the “s’mores experience’ by making a triple layer cupcake filled with marshmallow creme. One thing I learned by making another multi-layer cupcake (the dark and stormy cupcakes) is that its very, very easy to add too much and cause the cupcakes to overflow.  Be VERY CAREFUL about how much batter you add into the tins.  This was a little bit of trial and error for me as I did these s’mores cupcakes to make sure that I had the right amount to add into the cupcake tins.

S’mores Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Graham Cracker Batter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 whole crackers ground in processor)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup skim milk

Chocolate Batter

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick ) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup reduced fat sour cream

Frosting and Filling

2 – 7 oz jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, or to taste
3 oz Hersey’s chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tbsp butter flavored shortening
1/4 cup half-and-half, or as needed

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.   First, prepare the graham cracker cupcakes:

  1. Whisk graham crumbs, flour, baking powder, and pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in vanilla. Add graham-cracker mixture in 3 parts alternating with the milk (in 2 parts), beginning and ending with graham-cracker mixture. Divide batter into two parts.

Next, we will work on the chocolate cupcake component:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture into the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream, mixing until just combined. Repeat, alternating the remaining flour in 2 more additions with the remaining sour cream in one more addition (ending on flour).

In lined cupcake pan, first add a layer of the graham cracker cupcake batter (approximately 1-2 tbsps) using one part of the batter you have divided.

Next, put the chocolate cupcake batter (approx 1-2 tbsp) on top of this. Make sure to spread out the chocolate batter so it bakes evenly.

Finally, use the second part of the graham cracker batter and add the top layer of graham cracker (approx 1-2 tbsp). Bake approximately 20 minutes or until the tester comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before icing.

Once cupcakes are cooled, use an apple corer or similar instrument (I actually used a grapefruit spoon. Work with what you’ve got, right?).  Reserve the top of the piece of cupcake you have removed (so what would have been on the top of the cupcake).  Fill the hole in the cupcake with Fluff.  Repeat for each cupcake.

For icing:

Combine 1-7 oz container of Fluff, two-thirds of the confectioners’ sugar, melted chocolate, shortening, and half of the half-and-half in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Alternately add remaining confectioners’ sugar and half-and-half until desired level of sweetness and consistency is attained. (Note: We ended up making the icing too liquid-y but did not want to make it any sweeter.  B used cornstarch to thicken the icing and it did not influence the taste).

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