Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Classic Corn Bread

Hey Y'all.

July hit me like a ton of bricks. You didn't think I forgot about you, did you? 

Working two jobs, taking 11 credits at school and throwing the occasional trip into the mix has kept me incredibly busy. I have been cooking, I just haven't had time to sit down at the computer and type it up.

This next week I'll be on vacation as well, visiting the fam on the east coast, so unfortunately I'll probably have sparse posting until the end of the month, when school starts up again. Just fair warning!

Speaking of the East Coast...

Because I grew up on the East Coast, with family ranging from Georgia to Pennsylvania, I have a very interesting frame of reference for food. There are many things that I love that are regional foods, but I don’t associate them with regional foods – I just associate them with growing up. Foods such as hominy and liver pudding, or puddin’ as I like to say, shrimp and grits, biscuits and sausage gravy, scrapple and whoopie pies are still some of my favorites, but trying to find versions reminiscent of home out in the Midwest can be difficult.

Cornbread is also very regional – most places have it, but how it’s prepared and eaten is very location-specific. I like my cornbread ‘southern-style” sweet and cakey. It can have jalapeƱo, cheese and/or bits of corn in it, but the sweeter, the better.

I’ve made a few recipes from scratch, blindly following the recipe with no real idea of the expected end result. Typically the cornbread was too dry, and not sweet enough. I figured this time I would try the recipe on the back of the corn meal carton, who knows cornbread better than the people that make the main ingredient for it? I upped the amount of sugar in the recipe, of course, but kept the rest the same.

And it was delicious.

I’ve made the recipe a few times now, occasionally adding cheese, corn and jalepenos to it, and also making it in mini loaf pans, as shown in this post, muffin tins and, my all time favorite – my cast iron corn stick pan.

Sweet Southern Corn Bread

Adapted from the Back of the Quaker Cornmeal Canister

Yield one 8x8 Pan
You will need:
1-¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup Quaker Corn Meal
6 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 egg whites beaten or 1 whole egg

Mix the dry ingredients. Beat the egg. Add the wet ingredients to dry. Pour into a buttered 8x8 or 9x9 casserole dish. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Patriotic Cupcakes

Happy Independence Day!!

If I know anything about myself, it’s that history and geography are not my strong suits. It took me forever to learn the 50 states and their locations and, to this day, I still get Wyoming and Colorado confused – they are both sort of rectangle-ish! I am also very lacking when it come to any history predating the New Kids on the Block, A.L.F., Fraggle Rock and the Goonies. I could tell you how many toothpicks Dustin Hoffman counted in Rain Man (246 and 4 left in the box), but I can’t remember pretty basic United States history such as when and where the civil war ended (1865 at the Appomattox courthouse – sadly, I did a report on Appomattox and visited the very courthouse in middle school and still couldn’t recall this without the help of Google).

Even so, I can appreciate Independence Day and the hard work and sacrifice from our armed forces to keep our freedoms alive! In honor of our Independence and our flag, I whipped up a batch of “Old Glory” Cupcakes. These were very pretty and delicious to eat, but there was an unintended side effect – to get the colors this rich, a lot of food coloring was used, that food coloring ended up dyeing tongues blue. As weird as that was to discover, it was kind of fun feeling like a kid again with one of those blue raspberry popsicles.

Hope everyone has a safe and Happy Independence Day, and many thanks to all of our soldiers, international and domestic, fighting for our freedoms every day.

Vanilla Cupcakes The Girl Tastes

Yields: 6 cupcakes
2/3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cream
2 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 tbsp. butter, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
Prepare your ingredients: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, mix together the cream, milk, and vanilla. 

Make the batter: Using a hand-mixer, whip the butter for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar, and cream until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, just until incorporated. Now, switch to a whisk to add the dry ingredients in three installments, alternating with the wet ingredients. (Add in this order: dry-wet-dry-wet-dry.) After each installment, stir just until combined. Batter will be thick. 

Use batter as is, or you can separate into different bowls and color as I did.

Bake: Line a muffin tin with six liners. Distribute batter evenly between the liners; it should fill them about 3/4 of the way. Bake in a preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Cool on wire rack before frosting.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Surf n' Turf Tacos

Every once in a while, I'll pull out all my old cooking magazines I've bought and start perusing to see if there are any recipes that I remember sounding interesting, but never got around to making.

The hubby and I were trying to plan out meals for the week, and were eternally stuck on what we should do, other than our 'Pasta Wednesday.'  Thankfully, I have a pretty good arsenal of cooking magazines, spanning each of the four seasons, so I pulled out a few of my summer-themed magazines to see if anything sounded tasty.

Leave it to Rachel Ray to have a delicious recipe in her magazine. I hate to say that I find her a little over-the-top on her two cooking shows (I don't watch her talk show), but whenever I come across her recipes, I usually find something quick, easy and delicious. Thank goodness for magazines and! I can search her recipes without actually having to watch a whole episode!

These tacos are light, yet filling, and very flavorful, even with the seemingly few spices. We even had some leftovers, which I then made into a breakfast burrito the next morning. Ah-mazing!

Whip up a batch of these for summer, and you won't be disappointed. You might even feel like you took a little trip to somewhere a little more tropical than your backyard or dining room table!

Surf 'n' Turf Tacos

Adapted Slightly From Rachel Ray Magazine
Serves 8

1 small head napa cabbage, chopped
Juice of 6 limes (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups sour cream
Sixteen 6-inch flour tortillas
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound trimmed flank steak, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound red snapper fillets, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips (I used Cod)
1 cup store-bought guacamole, plus more for serving
One 16-ounce jar salsa, for serving

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with half of the lime juice. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and remaining lime juice. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 250°. Spread the tortillas on a baking sheet, cover with foil and warm in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the garlic powder, paprika, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons salt. Add the steak, tossing to coat.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat until rippling. Add the steak, lower the heat to medium and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper (Note: I also added a little cayenne pepper and cumin). Cook, in the skillet, turning once, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1 tablespoon guacamole on each, then top with some of the cabbage. Divide the meat among 8 tortillas and the fish among 8 tortillas. Fold to form tacos. Serve with more guacamole and cabbage, the lime-sour cream and the salsa.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Happy Father's Day!

I know it's a little late in the day, but I wanted to wish a very Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! I would like to send a special wish to my very own dad, who has been a constant source of strength, encouragement and inspiration to me throughout the years.

I am also very blessed to have a wonderful father-in-law, too, who has been there for me and helped out when we've needed an extra hand around the house during our whole renovation period.

My dad has always been a huge fan of camping and all things outdoors, so cast iron skillets are always high on his list of 'favorite kitchen items.' Recently, my parents renovated their kitchen, and that renovation included a new, glass-top stove. Imagine my dad's dismay when he realized that every movement of his beloved cast-iron skillet risked scratching their brand new stovetop. He knew that he would not be able to use his cast-iron skillet for everyday cooking anymore.

While planning thier last trip to Chicago, my parents asked if I would want them to bring the skillet. As much as I'm sure he hated to say goodbye to his skillet, I was giddy at the thought of finally having my first piece of cast iron! And what better way to celebrate a well-seasoned cast iron skillet than to make a super-sticky, super caramelly pineapple upside down cake.

Using fresh pineapple and making it in a cast iron skillet gives this cake a taste far superior than the others I have made in the past. The best part is that this skillet is so well-seasoned that even the stickest of sugar refused to stick. Cleanup was a breeze!

Even though I didn't have cardamom as called for in the original recipe, the allspice/cinnamon combination I substituted with was delicious. It was a bit like a spice cake with a sweet, fruity, caramel topping.

Only after I baked the cake did I realize that I baked mine in an 11 1/4" cast iron skillet, not 10 inches like it calls for in the recipe. Thankfully, I checked my cake early, and I'm glad I did, because it finished 15 minutes or so earlier than the recipe called for since the batter spread thinner in the larger skillet.

It was absolutely delicious! I can't wait to make this again, and even the hubby said this was my best pineapple upside down cake, yet!


Hope all the daddies out there had a fabulous Father's Day!! You deserve it!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Adapted Slightly From

For topping:
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum for sprinkling over cake

Special equipment:
a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make topping:
Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in skillet. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.

Make batter:
Sift together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet 5 minutes. Sprinkle rum over the cake and let it absorb. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet.

Serve cake just warm or at room temperature. (With a scoop of vanilla ice cream!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Citrus-glazed salmon with spinach

Summer is in full-swing now, and the hubby and I are constantly trying to find meals that require very little oven time. Our house is quirky, in that the downstairs is usually always comfortable in the summer, but the upstairs can have major temperature swings, especially when the oven and/or stove are on for long periods of time.

Of course, our thermostat is right outside the kitchen, so when I'm baking or cooking a lot on the stove, even if it isn't that hot outside, our A/C turns on in full force.

This salad was perfect for one of these days. It requires near-minimal time on the stovetop/under the broiler, and you could even just use the grill outside to make the salmon. 

The other incentive for this recipe was the sheer amount of spinach we always seem to have around. When I make a recipe that calls for spinach, the only thing we can find are 4 pound bags of the stuff. Four pounds of spinach for four people is a lot! So I make spinach salads, throw spinach in pretty much anything I can (mac and cheese, pasta, chicken dishes) and I try to find recipes that use it as a main ingredient. The fates aligned when I saw this recipe in that week's issue of the Tribune.

This meal was light and refreshing, and the grapefruit provided a nice zing that cut through the sturdy flavor of the salmon. 

This is one dinner you won't have to sweat over!

Citrus-Glazed Salmon with Spinach

1 large ruby red grapefruit
12 to 16 ounces fresh spinach
3/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, or white wine vinegar with a touch of honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 salmon fillets or steaks, about 4 ounces each
1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1. Peel and section grapefruit over a bowl, catching the juice; you'll need about 1/4 cup. Dice grapefruit segments; place segments and spinach in a large bowl.

2. Combine 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Arrange salmon on a plate; pour 1/2 cup vinaigrette over salmon (reserving remaining vinaigrette). Let stand 15-20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat broiler. Line a broiler pan or shallow baking pan with foil; brush with oil. Remove salmon from marinade, discarding marinade; place salmon in pan. Broil 8 to 10 minutes.

4. To dress spinach, put reserved vinaigrette in a heavy saucepan; reduce slightly over medium-high heat. Mix remaining 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl with the shallots and reduced vinaigrette. Pour over spinach; toss to coat. Divide spinach among four dinner plates; top with salmon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Orzo Salad

Summer school has been such a refreshing experience. Not easy, though. I'm taking 11 credits this summer, aka 3 classes. One is a 4-week intense class, and the other two are 8-week classes. I'm doing well (thankfully), but that means there is a lot of classwork (lecture and online stuff), lots of homework and LOTS of studying. It's been a long time since I've had to study. Right now it's about rough endoplasmic reticulum, eukaryotes and meiosis/mitosis.

And yesterday (pardon if it's tmi) but we had an explosively sick puppy yesterday. I had my biology class, and came home after about an hour of studying so I could get lunch and let the puppy out (I had a bio midterm this morning). I was sitting down upstairs, and all of a sudden I hear our puppy getting sick on the chair upstairs. Then on the floor, and the rug. I quick rushed him outside, but of course he was done. I put him in his crate to keep him from getting too worked up, and then had the glorious job of cleaning all of the mess up. (I'm pretty sure the chair is beyond salvage. Darn.) I had to leave again for another class in the afternoon, the whole time feeling so sorry that I had to leave a sick puppy behind. Thankfully he was ok in the two hours I was gone. We kept him off food for the last 24 hours, and tonight just reintroduced him to a small portion of his food. So far, so good. And I think I did well on my test (thank goodness I studied the past few days as well and didn't save it until the last minute!) So, if you have any spare vibes for the puppy, we could sure use them!

So if you have happened to notice slight downward trend of posting, that's why. (And also tuition/books really tends to cut into the 'baking for fun' budget!) I haven't stopped baking or cooking, don't get me wrong, but most of the time when I would be posting, I am studying or doing homework. These classes go so fast that it's near-impossible to catch back up after getting behind. My bio class ends in two weeks, so hopefully I'll have a little bit more free time with only two classes to manage!

I also now have a part time job in retail to start bringing in some extra bucks, so, while that has been fun, it's also one more thing to consider! Whew!

Anyway, there are days I don't really feel like making anything too complicated - I think you can see why now. This orzo salad is delicious and cool, perfect for these days where it is still 95 degrees at 7:30 pm. Like tonight. Craziness. If you notice, I went a little crazy with the feta - that's how much I love cheese. You don't have to put that much on!

Long gone are the days of heavy, mayonnaise-laden pasta salad made with elbow noodles, sitting on the picnic table under the sweltering sun. It seems that now, pasta salads are more and more taking advantage of the abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients available in the summer with only the lightest of oil and balsamic dressings serving only to enhance the natural flavors. This orzo salad has wonderfully fresh and light flavors, the basil adds a bright punch of flavor and the mint plays wonderfully off the sweetness of the tomatoes and the acidity of the balsamic. Even the textures in the salad were interesting. The red onion provided a slight crunch, the garbanzo beans were firm yet buttery little nuggets contrasting the softness of the tomatoes and orzo. I kept the salt at a minimum in the salad because the feta itself has a decent saltiness to it.

Summer Orzo Salad

4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a few tbsp crumbled feta
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
a few pinches freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Drain then transfer to a large bowl and cool completely.

Add the onion, beans, tomato, mint, and basil, toss well, and season with a pinch or two of salt and pepper.

Mix in dressing. Serve with a little feta sprinkled over the top.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lemon Meringue Pie

I am a huge, like HUUUUGE, fan of chocolate. If you want me to try anything, just dip  it in some chocolate. Seriously.

But, as much as I love chocolate, I am realizing that there is more to the world of desserts than just white, semi-sweet, and dark.

Citrus has been slowly making its way into my dessert cravings. First, it was a bit of orange zest into a recipe. Then it was the addition of the zest and juice. Citrus really has a way of waking up flavors. But, the beauty of it is that it can also stand up perfectly well by itself.

Case and point - the lemon meringue pie. A wonderfully lemony dessert that can hold its own on the plate (not to mention, it doesn't leave me in a food coma after a slice - or two.) I didn't have to adjust this recipe at all, and the filling was so lemony - but not in an overpowering way. Light, fresh and amazing.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I will say that i probably need to try making meringue again, as mine wept after a few hours. Oh well, I could just eat it with my eyes closed, and I would be none-the-wiser. :) Maybe you'll have better luck with the meringue than I did!


1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 lemons, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons butter
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
4 egg whites
6 tablespoons white sugar


    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

    To Make Lemon Filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest. 
    Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in butter. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of hot sugar mixture. 
    Whisk egg yolk mixture back into remaining sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and continue to cook while stirring constantly until thick. Remove from heat. 
    Pour filling into baked pastry shell.
    To Make Meringue: In a large glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie, sealing the edges at the crust.
    Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown.

      Tuesday, May 24, 2011

      Black Bottom Cupcakes

      School has been an interesting transition. I wake up more than an hour later, I feel rested and alert, I have time to make coffee and actually eat a well-balanced breakfast. By the time I get home, I have the time to clean the house, do laundry, unload the dishwasher and play with the puppy more than I ever got to before. 

      If there was ever a time before where I was not sure if this was the right decision, I'm absolutely certain now. I feel like a whole different person - happier, and much more content (maybe that's the extra sleep talking).

      The house has started looking so much nicer, as I'm slowly, but surely, checking things off my mile-long to-do list. Even the puppy seems happier to be getting twice-daily walks - when he used to get maybe five a week. 

      Once the house is taken care of, I can't wait to start sharing more recipes than I have been in the more recent past! Yay!

      Here is the other recipe I made for the National Food Blogger's Bake sale. I love these cupcakes. And the best part is, if you omit the cheesecake filling, you have a dairy-free, egg-free cake, sometimes known as Wacky Cake or Crazy Cake.

      Black bottoms are such a throwback to being a kid - perfect birthday party fare - both easy to transport and very little mess since there is no frosting. 

      Sometime I'll have to make the bundt cake version and share that here, it is absolutely delicious! But these will have to suffice for now. I hope you enjoy!

      Black Bottom Cupcakes
      From My Recipe Box


      1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened
      1 egg
      1/3 cup white sugar
      1/8 tsp salt
      1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
      1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
      1 cup white sugar
      1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
      1 teaspoon baking soda
      1/2 teaspoon salt

      1 cup water
      1/3 cup vegetable oil
      1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
      1 tsp Vanilla extract


        Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin tins with paper cups or lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray.

        In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, egg, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt until light and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

        In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 1 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make a well in the center and add the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir together until well blended. Fill muffin tins 1/3 full with the batter and top with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture.

        Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

        Friday, May 20, 2011

        Kentucky Derby Pie

        Today is a big day for me.

        Today is my last day at my current job. A job I've been with for nearly four years. My first job out of college. My first taste of the real world.

        While I am happy that I am embarking on a new journey on Monday, I can't help but feel a little sad that I am leaving a job and coworkers who have been a huge part of the last four years.

        I am so thrilled that I got to work here while I did, and I am very thankful for the opportunities that this job has provided me. But, I am ready to take a leap of faith, and pave myself new path in a different direction. I am going to enjoy the journey, and I look forward to see where this decision will eventually take me.

        And thank you, too, to all of you who have shown your support during this time. The decision-making process has not been an easy one, but sticking with my guns and following through with this has been so much easier knowing I have my friends and family backing me up.

        You all are the best. The cat's meow. The bee's knees.

        So how about we focus now on something sweet, tasty, and delicious?

        There are quite a few people who have yet heard of the wonderful dessert called the Kentucky Derby Pie. I liken it would be similar to the love-child of a pecan pie and a chocolate chip cookie (though some people think the pie should have walnuts, I grew up with pecans, so I'm sticking with my guns here).

        When I made desserts for the National Food Blogger's Bake sale, I wanted to make things that traveled easily, and tasted delicious. The fact that these mini-pies were absolutely cheek-pinchingly adorable was just an added bonus.

        The only thing missing from the mini pies that I wish I could have found a way to package was the bourbon whipped cream that my family makes to serve the pie with. Essentially you whip up one cup of heaving whipping cream with one tablespoon of powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons (or one tablespoon if you're feeling rather daring!) of bourbon.

        Nothing like a little bit of bourbon to cure what ails ya.

        Kentucky Derby Pie
        From our Family Recipe Box
        Makes 1 - 9-inch pie or about 30 mini pies


        1/2 cup butter, melted
        1 cup sugar
        1/2 cup flour
        2 eggs, slightly beaten
        1 teaspoon vanilla
        3/4 cup chocolate chips
        3/4 cup pecans or 3/4 cup walnuts
        9 inch unbaked pie crust


        Line pie plate with pie crust.

        Combine all remaining ingredients and mix with fork, whisk or hand mixer until well blended..

        Bake in pie crust at 350 for 45 minutes, or until brown on top! (the mini pies baked in about 25 minutes)

        Monday, May 16, 2011

        Funfetti Cupcakes (and some news!)

        I have been a terrible blogger. My apologies for that. I have been baking, I promise, and I have news to share (and hopefully it's a halfway decent excuse for my absence this past week!) First of all, this past weekend was the National Food Blogger Bake Sale. On Saturday, May 14, we sold baked goods at The Poison Cup (1128 W. Armitage Avenue) in Lincoln Park. The proceeds from the bake sale will be donated to Share Our Strength’s Great American Bake Sale!  We had a great time, despite the crummy weather, and I'm confident that we brought in a respectable amount of money for a great organization!

        I ended up make black-bottom cupcakes and mini Kentucky Derby pies recipes which I will definitely be sharing soon! But the amount of baked goods (and people) that showed up to support this cause was amazing. Look at the tables upon tables of baked goods!

        Kudos to Maris Callahan at In Good Taste for organizing such a great event!

        The other part of the equation is that, aside from getting ready from the bake sale, we also said goodbye to two dear friends this weekend who are moving back to the DC area from Chicago. We had a great day with them, and we will miss them immensely, but I am so excited for them. They have two great opportunities ahead of them, and I see nothing but success in the future!

        If that isn't enough, things have been really up in the air with me for a while now (like since February), but now that my plans are concrete, I am comfortable sharing! This is somewhat surreal to say, but this is my last week working as an engineer. Starting Monday, I am going back to school full time to earn my Master's Degree in Secondary Education so that I can become a high school math teacher. It's a gigantic change, but one I am 100% ready for and excited about. Last month, I had to take a 5-hour exam, similar to the SAT or ACT on steroids. There was a reading comprehension, language arts, math and essay section. I got a perfect score on the language arts section (woohoo!) but ended up missing one question on the math section. Of course, I'm the math person that always performs better on the English/language arts stuff. If I didn't pass this test (who average pass rate is 25% of the total test-takers) I would have had to take it again ASAP, as I couldn't register for classes at my school without a passing grade. Needless to say, this past month has been super-stressful waiting for results of this test and, essentially, my future.

        Once I found out I passed, I paid my admission deposit and will now be registering for my classes this fall (I'm already set on my summer classes).

        I am excited, anxious, nervous and ecstatic at the same time. I really hope to keep up with the blog and the posting, but I hope you can forgive if there is a lapse or two in postings as I'm transitioning to this new phase.

        Today is my last Monday at work, so it is somewhat bittersweet. I've been here for nearly four years, and it was my first full-time job out of school. My mood has been happy, sad, elated and depressed, sometimes all at the same time. Call it a rut, a “mood” (complete with air-quotes) or a case of the “Mondays.” (props if you know that reference!)

        No matter what the day brings, I don’t seem to be able to get past the fact that my alarm went off and I had to get out of bed. Did I mention my alarm goes off at 5:20 in the morning? The sun is not even awake at that hour, which begs the question…”Why am I?”

        Days like these, I need to bring out the big guns to pull myself out of the weeknight doldrums. Those ‘big guns’ come in the form of itty-bitty sprinkles inside nothing other than a funfetti cupcake. I did not eat funfetti a lot as a kid, but the few times I did have it, I was in heaven. Light-as-air cake contains a rainbow of color throughout. How can you not be happy eating a rainbow?

        I do not buy cake mix all that much, so I did not have a box of Funfetti on hand. But, I did have everything in my pantry, including the rainbow sprinkles, to bring them to life from scratch.

        This recipe did not disappoint. The light almond flavoring gives this cake a little something special, which elevates it above your traditional vanilla cake. The cake itself is a little more dense than it’s boxed counterpart, but I’ll trade that any day for a homemade treat sans preservatives and other ingredients I cannot pronounce. The frosting is my first attempt at a cooked frosting, and I was so pleased with how it turned out.

        Smoother and lighter than its eggless-uncooked buttercream sister, this frosting was reminiscent of marshmallow fluff, and a perfect counterpart to the nostalgic cake. A few sprinkles on top and, ta-da, the “Mondays” have all but vanished.

        Bake yourself up a smile today.

        You deserve it.

        Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes
        Makes one dozen cupcakes

        1 1/4 cups AP flour
        2 teaspoons baking powder
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
        1 cup sugar
        3 large egg whites (room temperature)
        1 teaspoon vanilla extract
        1/4 teaspoon almond extract
        1/2 cup milk
        1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles

        Preheat your oven to 350C. In a small bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

        In a large bowl with an electric mixer, whip together your butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg whites, one at a time, until thick and white. Add your extracts and mix again.

        With a spoon, slowly mix in your dry ingredients and milk/yogurt mix, alternating between the two. When everything comes together (taking care not to over mix), add the sprinkles and lightly fold in a couple times. Again, do not over mix.

        Spoon in the batter to liners and bake for about 20 minutes or until your tester comes out clean. Set out to cool before icing.

        Vanilla Swiss Buttercream
        From CCakery

        3/4 cup sugar
        3 large egg white
        18 tablespoons butter, softened
        3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        Extra sprinkles

        Over a double boiler, whisk together the egg whites and sugar until the granules have a disintegrated. Pour the whites into a mixing bowl, careful not to get any condensation or water into it.

        With an electric mixer, whip the whites until it forms soft peaks. Continue mixing and slowly add the butter, about 4 Tablespoons at a time and mix until completely incorporated. Mix well - after adding your butter, your buttercream will reach the "curdled stage". Don't worry, just keep mixing and it'll smooth out.

        After everything has smoothed, add the extracts. When everything is incorporated, use buttercream to pipe over your cooled funfetti cupcakes. Add extra sprinkles on top. Enjoy!

        Don't forget to stop by my Facebook site if you like what you see!

        Thursday, May 5, 2011

        Maryland Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

        Happy Cinco De Mayo! Obviously, I'm a terrible blogger and totally forgot about it, so I don't have a Mexican fiesta planned for you today. I'll go sit in blogger time-out for a few minutes.

        In the meantime, if you're still with me, you can read about something else totally delicious, if you're ok with it not being fiesta-themed!

        In my previous post, I recounted our recent crab feast and what I did with a portion of the crab meat collected from our leftover crabs. While the soup used the claw meat and some of the smaller pieces of crab I collected, I saved a half pound of the best, largest chunks of meat for this next dish. I also mentioned before how I’m a crabcake snob, so I had thought about making my own with the meat I had set aside. My husband, however, doesn’t enjoy them, so I wanted to find something that we could both appreciate and eat. How about stuffing what is essentially a mini-crabcake into a baby bella mushroom? Score.

        The recipe itself is straightforward enough and, again, it’s off the Cantler’s website. I soon found out, however that mushrooms are tricky little devils to balance. After realizing that no amount of steady-handedness would keep my mushrooms from tipping over onto my baking sheet, I devised a little plan to make ‘holders’ for each musroom using tinfoil. Smart, right? Well, yes and no. On some of the mushrooms, it worked fabulously. On others, they were still teetering dangerously, threatening to fall off the sheet at any moment. I pressed those down a little harder onto the foil, thinking that would solve my problems, opened the oven door and proceeded to tranfer the baking sheet from my countertop to the oven. I saw one mushroom on the corner of my pan begin to wobble. Which meant, instinctively, I cocked my wrist the opposite direction in an attempt to steady the dancing mushroom. While I successfully kept that mushroom on it’s stand, I watched, as if in slow motion, another mushroom on the other side tilt off it’s holder, roll off the baking pan and fall, splat, right onto the oven door. Crab stuffing side down.

        You could hear the sizzle as soon as it made contact. So I did what any sane person would do, I scooped it all back up and shoved it back into the mushroom and put it on the pan again to bake. (And I made sure I ate that mushroom when it came time to serve!) It took everything I had not to lick up the few pieces stuck to the oven door, it was heartbreaking to have to wipe it up and toss those pieces out.

        A few other mushrooms did tip over as well, but at least they stayed on the baking sheet. They tasted fantastic, but they sure weren’t the prettiest things to come out of my kitchen. That’s ok, I’ll eat them blindfolded if I have to, the taste was out of this world, and the gigantic pieces of crabmeat were so delicious, it made me forget about the pieces still stuck to my kitchen towel from cleaning up my oven.

        As a note on this recipe, I didn’t make the topping because I didn’t want that much mayonnaise on my crabmeat, but I have included it in case that appeals to you. I did sprinkle with the paprika and Old Bay once they came out of the oven, though.

        Maryland Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
        Adapted from Cantler's (again!)

        Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
        1/2 pound Maryland backfin crab meat
        3 Tbsp mayonnaise (i used Miracle Whip)
        1 egg white
        1 tablespoons milk
        1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
        1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
        1/4 teaspoon celery salt
        1/4 teaspoon pepper
        1/8 teaspoon paprika
        pinch ginger
        1 tablespoons cracker meal
        12 fresh mushrooms (about 2-3 inches in diameter)
        For the Topping:
        1/2 cup mayonnaise
        1 egg white
        1/8 teaspoon seafood seasoning (aka old bay)
        2 dashes liquid hot pepper
        paprika, for sprinkling

        Remove cartilage from crab meat, being careful not to break crab lumps. Place crab meat in large bowl and set aside.

        In small bowl mix mayonnaise, egg white, milk, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, celery salt, pepper, paprika and ginger.

        Pour sauce over crab meat and mix gently, but thoroughly. Carefully mix in cracker meal.

        Wash and remove stems from mushrooms.

        Place mushrooms in a baking pan stem side up and fill each mushroom with about 2 tablespoons crab mixture.

        Place in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until crab meat mixture begins to brown.

        If you choose to make the topping:
        Mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, egg white, seafood seasoning and liquid hot pepper sauce.

        Spread a generous amount of topping over each mushroom.
        Sprinkle with paprika and bake in 375 degree oven until the topping becomes a light brown color, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

        Monday, May 2, 2011

        Maryland Crab Soup

        As many of your know, I am a Baltimore transplant to the Midwest. And while there are lots of regional specialties here that have stolen my heart (Garret’s Popcorn, anyone?) nothing can compare to the true summer glory that is the crab feast. There is nothing like picking crab meat, eating corn and potatoes and drinking a cold beer on a hot summer day. Another couple around here shares our love for crab feasts, and we decided we would order a half bushel of crabs from a retailer in Baltimore and have them shipped to us in Illinois. While we did a fair amount of damage to our half bushel (approximately 3 1/2 dozen crabs), we still had a fair amount of leftovers. Crab meat spoils fairly quickly, so I wanted to make the best of the leftovers by making some other Baltimore favorites I usually wouldn’t get otherwise. I guess, if I’m being honest, I could buy crab meat from Whole Foods or something, but I have a hard time paying 30 bucks for jumbo lump meat (which I believe it imperative to creating an outstanding crab dish). So while this is not a thrifty meal if you have to go out and buy the crab meat, I was lucky enough to be ‘forced’ to make these meals with my leftovers. What a pity ;)

        The first step for me, because I wasn’t buying my crabmeat, was picking all the leftover crabs. I stood over my sink for over two hours picking nearly two dozen crabs clean. I ended up with almost two full pounds of crab meat by the time I was finished and a ton of cuts on my hands and fingers from the shells. If you’ve ever picked a crab, you know what I’m talking about. As tedious as picking crab meat can be, I still find it amazingly relaxing.

        Maybe it’s a Baltimore thing.

        If I had to rank crab dishes in an order of favorites, I’d have to say number one is steamed crabs, number two is a a *good* crabcake (which I am super picky about), and then you have Maryland Crab Soup. I am willing to admit I’m a snob when it comes to crabcakes. The good ones are going to almost always be expensive in comparison to the other foods on the menus because they will be made with jumbo lump crab meat. And I refuse to order a crab cake at a restaurant unless I know what I’m getting. Anytime we go to a seafood restaurant in Baltimore, someone will almost always order a crabcake. If it comes out and I find myself envious of their meal and jealous that I didn’t order it instead of my meal, then I know that my next trip there I will be ordering a crabcake. Few places make crabcakes that good. Almost all crab meat, with minimal fillers and breadcrumbs mixed in. And heaven forbid I get one little bit of shell in my crabcake. Something about biting into something smooth and luxe like crabmeat, only to be greeted with a chalky crunch of shell or cartilege between my teeth all but kills my appetite for the rest of the crabcake. Some places are a lot more careful than others about picking through their crabmeat before using it.

        The first recipe I want to share is one of Maryland’s staples. Regardless of my snobbiness towards crabcakes, one thing I always order, pretty much regarless of location, is a cup of Maryland Crab Soup. It’s light and delicious and the soup highlights the sweet flavor of the crabmeat without overpowering it. I found this recipe off of the website of one of my favorite restaurants back home, Cantlers. The recipe seemed almost too easy to be true, but the taste was spot-on. I felt like I was dockside on the Chesapeake Bay. Crab soup is also the perfect vehicle for your less expensive crab meats – claw meat and lump crab. If you’re willing to splurge on the crabmeat, or happen to have leftover crabs from your last feast, give this a try, you won’t be sorry. But please, please, do not use the imitation crab meat. This is one of the few times that only the real deal will do.

        Maryland Crab Soup
        From Cantler's Website  (if you are ever near this restaurant, go there!)
         Makes 8 servings.

        4 c low sodium chicken broth
        3 pounds canned tomatoes, quartered (I used a 28 oz can and a 14.5 oz can)
        1 cup frozen corn, thawed
        1 cup frozen peas, thawed
        1 large baking potato, diced
        1 cup celery, chopped
        1 cup onion, diced
        1 tablespoon seafood seasoning (I used more like 3 Tbsp – and my seasoning of choice was, of course, Old Bay)
        1 teaspoon salt
        1 teaspoon lemon pepper
        1 pound Maryland crabmeat, fresh or pasteurized, cartilage removed (regular or claw)

        Place broth in a 6 quart soup pot and bring to simmer.

        Add vegetables and seasonings and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes, or until vegetables are almost done.

        Add crabmeat, cover, and simmer for 15 more minutes or until hot. (If a milder soup is desired, decrease amount of seafood seasoning to 1/4 -1/2 teaspoons.)

        Tuesday, April 26, 2011

        7 random facts!

        I feel very honored to receive this "One Lovely Blog' award recently, thanks to Happy Home Baking. I have loved every minute of blogging and really enjoy getting to share stories and recipes with all of you!

        There are some rules to abide in order to accept this award and they are:

        1. Post linking back to the person that gave you the award
        2. Share 7 random things about yourself
        3. Award 15 recently discovered blogs
        4. Drop them a note and tell them about it.

        So, I would like to dedicate this award to the following blogs:
        1. Baking Ribbons
        2. Mixed Tape
        3. Buttercream Barbie
        5. First Look, Then Cook
        6. La Prochaine Fois
        7. Smitten with my Kitchen
        8. The Honey Nut
        9. The Saturday Evening Pot
        10. Snacking Squirrel
        11. Healthnut Foodie
         12. Easily Good Eats

        13. Dining and Dishing
        14. Clutzy Cooking
        15. Cook and Be Merry

        7 Random Facts About Me

        1. My left bicep is bigger than my right. I played softball for 13 years, and for seven of those, I pitched fast pitch. I played club in the summer, for my high school team or travel team in the spring, and went to a pitching camp in the fall/winter.  All that pitching really built up the muscle in my left arm, making it noticeably larger than my right. Thankfully, 7 years after 'retiring' from the super-competitive softball, my arms are now much closer to the same size!

        2. I have the biggest pet peeve when, instead of saying Pacific Ocean, people say 'Specific' Ocean. Ugh, makes me cringe just typing it, haha.

        3. I wish I could have hair like Jennifer Love Hewitt (aka Ghost Wisperer) or the redhead from "Better With You." Yes, I have hair envy.

        4. I typically have to 'guilt' myself into working out. I don't enjoy it, but I love how accomplished I feel after I've done my run/exercising. I'll usually lay my workout clothes out in the morning, and change the minute I walk through the door - since I'm already in the clothes, it would be kind of pointless to skip working out then!

        5. I still own rollerblades. And one day, I'm hoping to use Cody as my 'sled dog' and have him lead me down the street while I'm wearing my rollerblades. I can just picture the face-plant now.

        6. In high school, I played the clarinet, bass clarinet, and contra-bass clarinet (for which I had to play Tuba music because we had no sheet music for the contra-bass clarinet). I also was the Marching Band Drum Major(ette) my junior year of high school, conducting the band during competitions, parades and halftime shows - complete with go-go boots.

        7. We used to have a cabin in central Pennsylvania where I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns. We did target practice with baloons for the rifles, and skeet/trap over the front lawn with the shotgun. I was also on the clay target team for one semester while at school, but it was too expensive!

        Hope you enjoyed a little peek into what makes me tick!
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