Wednesday, July 30, 2008

a-nit-another cupcake, please

My good friend, Anita, is probably my dessert-eating hero, and she is easily one of my favorite people to eat dessert with. :) A ginormus slab of chocolate cake from the shady Fleetwood Diner? Anita's there. A large brownie sundae topped with Stucchi's ice cream and obscenely dripping with hot fudge? Count her in. And what about one of those giant caramel apples rolled in Snicker's bars from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory? Yes...I can always count on Anita to eat dessert with me any time, any day. And HECK no, we do not care about those things called calories...at least to an extent, we don't. :) Because as my friend Leah would say, "These are the hottest days of our lives!" So if we can eat apple crisp for dinner, consume a 16 oz. Colliderz at midnight, and still be able to fit into our jeans, why not indulge? I'm a strong advocate of fully appreciating my 20-something metabolism while it's still here. Because I know when I'm 40, I'll be missing it desperately.

So these cupcakes are a tribute to Anita, since she was the first to create them. Naturally, she love loves to bake, too, and especially things that are chocolate. I remember visiting her the day she had baked these cupcakes and, of course, being the dessert-fanatic that I am, I just had to try one. And when I bit into its chocolate-y goodness, my taste buds hit a surprise. BEHOLD! Cookie dough in my cupcake! Whoa...that was some good stuff. And I just had to have another one. That's the plus about cupcakes. It's an unwritten rule that two cupcakes equal one serving and are the equivalence of your average cake slice. Well, maybe this is my own unwritten rule, but I feel that it should apply to all cupcake-eaters of the world. :)

I recreated the Anita Cupcake for a Saturday outing to a state park with some friends. The simplicity of this recipe plus my laziness tonight are the reasons behind the vague recipe that follows at the end of this entry. Sure, you could make your own chocolate cupcake batter and frosting from scratch. Sure, you could whip up a batch of creamy dreamy chocolate chip cookie dough. But sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures, so I recommend using the boxed Chemical Stuff (brought to you by your local Meijer) when you want these cupcakes and you want them now.

However you make these little cakes of deliciousness, I can guarantee you'll A-nit-another one. :)


Anita Cupcakes

1 box chocolate cake mix
chocolate chip cookie dough
1 can chocolate frosting
sprinkles

Prepare cake according to package instructions, and pour batter into cupcake pan. Before baking, push a teaspoon-sized ball of cookie dough into the center of each cupcake well. Place in oven, and bake for time indicated on cake package instructions. Remove from oven, and cool.

Frost cupcakes with chocolate frosting. Generously sprinkle with sprinkles.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

a tribute to paula deen, shakespeare, and the king of rock n' roll

Oh my. So the other day, I was getting my daily dose of Food Network and who was on but Paula Deen, Butter Queen. And what was she concocting this time? Desserts with bananas! Being the huge banana fan that I am, I was sucked into her show. And when I thought it couldn't get better...low and behold, it did.

Yes, my friends, she brought out the peanut butter. And the bread. And the cinnamon. And the honey. And the butter. Because, you know, peanut butter just isn't enough. :)


So during high school, peanut butter and bananas were a Miracle Food for me. I ran a lot a lot back in the day, and a banana dipped in creamy peanut butter just settled oh-so-well on race day. I was even a tad superstitious, in fact, with my delicious treat. Yes, if I did not eat a banana, dry Go Lean Crunch cereal, and dollops of peanut butter the day of a race, I would become slightly paranoid that I wouldn't run well.


In fact, as I write this, I can now recall a poem I wrote about peanut butter in my English class during freshman year of high school. Assignment? Write about something you love in iambic pentameter. Hey, it was the Shakespeare unit, okay? And it might've went a little like this:

Peanut butter is my favorite treat.
In sandwiches, my treat I like to eat.
When dipped with apples and on graham crackers,

With peanut butter, my lips will smacker.
Grape jelly is good, but bananas, best.
At lunch, my friends would all stare in detest.
They think I am odd, but I couldn't care!
I am in love with my peanutty treat.

Funny we are with our obsessions, hmm?

But don't worry if your love of peanut butter is not enough to drive yourself to compose love poems in iambic pentameter. However, what else is magical about a peanut butter and banana sandwich, you ask? Well...it's a complete protein with fruit! So basically, you get two nutritional bangs for your buck, right there. Also, because it has a lot of fat, it tastes great. But the fat it's loaded with is the good fat...that monounsaturated stuff, which helps to clean out those arteries and prevent heart disease. Always a good thing, right? So do your bod a favor, and eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich today!

Because I've always had a soft spot for this dynamic duo, I knew I just had to try these fried peanut butter and banana dessert-like sandwiches that Paula was making. She, though, was making these sandwiches in honor of Elvis. For those of you who were not aware, peanut butter and banana sandwiches were the King's fav. However, Paula kicked these sandwiches up by mixing in honey and cinnamon into the peanut butter before spreading it on the bread. Basically, WOW, this stuff tasted good. While I could've eaten all of it straight from the bowl, I restrained, thank God. And then, when you thought that was all, the hot grilled sandwiches were doused with a cinnamon-sugar shower. Yes, folks...hang on to your hats. These things are good.

These sandwiches are really easy, too. You make the special peanut butter, shmear on bread. Slice bananas, arrange over special peanut butter. Slap on bread, butter bread (though I used spray butter instead of the real thing...sorry, Paula.), and flip onto hot skillet. Easy, easy. And delicious, oh my...delicious. Wow...as in wow-wee.

All I can say, is that I want a platter of these as my last meal before I die. And then hopefully there will be another platter waiting for me when I get to heaven. Be careful, though, all this peanut butter could make you mighty thirsty. So have some milk, water, lemonade, pop, what have you at hand. Just in case. :)


Paula's Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
Taken from Paula's Home Cooking, "Gone Bananas"...foodnetwork.com

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
3 tbsp. honey
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 ripe bananas
6 slices white bread

1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

In frying pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Make sure the butter does not burn. In a small bowl, mix together the peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon. Slice the bananas into 1/4-inch thick slices. Spread the peanut butter mixture on 3 slices of bread. Spread the remaining butter on both sides of the sandwiches. Grill the sandwiches in the frying pan until each side is golden brown.

For topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon in shallow plate. Coat the grilled sandwiches with the mixture. Cut diagonally and serve hot.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

badass no-bakes

These no-bakes are dedicated to my good friend from high school, Namira. She thinks that baking at 1am is so so badass. Which it is, of course. :) However, all I can say is...thank God I work at 10am tomorrow, and not 8am like the rest of the working world.

Anyway, once upon a time when we were dorky 7th graders with ginormus glasses, Namira and I would keep each other company on those starry morning bus rides to school. While most of the bus was dead silent with sleepy eyed teens, Namira and I would chat the ride away. Who would think that we would both end up at the University of Michigan and still be in touch 10 years later? Friends like that are hard to find. :)

While Namira was the inspiration for the chocolate part of these delish treats, the random contents of my kitchen cupboards always help baking-ideas to swarm into my head. So what did I discover in the depths of my cupboard tonight? Stale Cookie Crisp! Only the best... :) Not feeling like baking a la oven tonight, I decided to whip up a batch of non-traditional no-bake cookies.

Now my mom really doesn't enjoy my baking experiments. And I promise you that when I wake up in the morning, I will get the same lectures I get time and time again:

Ingredients are expensive, and you're wasting my money!
I know, mom, but it's fun. And don't you want me to explore my creative impulses?

Who's going to eat these things?! I'm on Weight Watchers!!!
Yes, but don't worry, David will gobble them down. (David is my mom's boyfriend, who will eat anything that is edible. I like David, he's a good guy. He eats all of my baking creations. :)

Did you notice the kitchen before you started baking? It was clean!
Yes, it was very clean. But now it is so so happier with cookies in it.

The hilarious part of this, is that my mom reads my blog. Hi mom. Love ya. ;)

So off I went baking into the wee hours of the morning. I have to admit, that I was so excited to make these no-bakes, that I accidentally used a recipe than I hadn't intended to use! No worries, though, it all worked out quite fine in the end. No-bake cookies are actually pretty hard to mess up. Sure, the recipe says that you need to boil the butter/sugar/milk mixture for a minute and a half, but seriously...you really can get away with shortcuts here.

Oh, and say hi to my fish, Lance, in the picture above! He's going to be 2 this September...what a trooper! Lance likes it when I bake late at night, even though he's not quite the talker...hehe. He enjoys the company, though. :)

So these no-bakes came out pretty darn good. I mixed in Cookie Crisp along with the oatmeal to shake things up a bit. And, of course, what is a cookie without some sprinkles sprinkled on top?! Sorry, all you anti-sprinklers out there, they just had to be added. :)


Badass No-Bakes

1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup peanut butter
3 cups Cookie Crisp
2 1/2 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter in a medium-sized bowl. Mix in sugar and milk, and stir until combined. Let boil for one minute and 30 seconds. Remove from heat, and stir in peanut butter, Cookie Crisp, oatmeal, cocoa, and vanilla.

Line baking sheets with waxed paper. Drop heaping teaspoons of batter onto sheet. Refrigerate until firm.

Monday, July 21, 2008

oh, the woes of baking in the UP...

Welcome to Nahma, MI. Home of 404 households and a population of 909. It's the middle-of-nowhere, or God's Country, if you're Roman Craig from "The Great Outdoors". Whatever you call it, it's the perfect place to get away from the internet, lay out in a ridiculously comfy hammock, and devour a good Robin Cook book. And it is the explanation for my long hiatus from blogging. :)

By now, my family is well aware of my baking obsession. So naturally, they expect me to whip up a delicious dessert to top off each of our dinners. 10 desserts for 10 days? No problem. :)

The only problem is the unpredictable baking conditions of our humble log cabin. For one, there is a limited variety of bake ware. Sure, there are a few cookie sheets. And yes, the cabin does come with both 8x8-inch and 13x9-inch baking pans. Three 13x9's, in fact. But let's just say that quantity doesn't necessarily dictate quality. Also, there's always an issue with ingredients. This year, I found myself without a single sprinkle of baking soda, nor a splash of vanilla extract, nor a lone drop of vegetable oil. So what's a baker to do? Use substitutions, of course! Very very creative substitutions. And lastly, the stove. Getting to know a stove is like fostering a new friendship: I get to know you, you get to know me. We share some stories and go on outings together. We have some mishaps, and then we learn how to steer clear of these mishaps for the future. Well, I feel that 10 days is not long enough for real friendship to grow, so basically, the oven and I are simply acquaintances; we know each other, but not really. Which means that circle cookies tend to come out flat and cakes take longer to bake than usual. ::sigh:: If only our friendship could grow... :)

To steer clear of any potential baking problems, I conveniently baked two cakes (from boxes...eeep :X) the night before our trip. BEHOLD: cake number one! Inside was chocolate cake with strawberry preserves sandwiched between the two layers. Smothered on top was, yes, I am ashamed to admit, canned chocolate frosting. Now let's set something straight. In no way am I against baked goods that come from boxes and cans. But believe me, once you've tasted a dessert from scratch, you will realize that you've wasted years of your life eating those chemicals. Remember that.

Day three of our vaca, I developed a wicked craving for chocolate chip cookies, in bar-form, of course. :) Thankfully, I've made the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe an embarrassing number of times and could recall it by heart: 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt, 2 sticks of butter (1 stick if you want cake-like cookies), 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 2 generous cups chocolate chips. Whew. :)

Like I often do, I set off to make these cookies without making sure I had all the ingredients. Whoops...no baking soda or vanilla in this casa! I decided to leave them out, hoped they would rise, and planned to not tell my fam that two crucial ingredients were missing. And lo and behold, they were AMAZING! Yes, they were paler than usual, but my cousin, Frank, personally told me that these were the best chocolate chip cookies ever...and he is a tough critic. There was something about these cookies...I think the butter flavor stood out so much more without the vanilla there, so they were richer than your average cookie. And who needs baking soda?! These puppies rose all on their own.

Boxed cake number two! This time, a four-layer white cake with strawberry preserves. But then I was in a jam. There was not a can of frosting to be found, and no powdered sugar to make my own frosting. Suddenly remembering that my aunt had mentioned whipped cream the other day, I ran over to her cabin to retrieve some. It ended up being Reddi-Whip, which I'd never used to top a cake with before. So I dolloped away, stood back to admire my beautiful dolloped design, and placed the cake in the fridge until dinnertime.

An hour before dinner, I discovered the dollops had deflated. Majorly deflated. As in dripping sadly down the sides. Which made me sad, too. So what did I do? Make ganache, of course! Or.....tried to. The limited ingredient problem got to me, and I ended up with a really thick chocolate peanut butter-y glob. Delicious, but disgusting-looking, without a doubt. I tried to think of so many ways to save this cake, that I honestly don't even remember how I ended up making it presentable for my fam...haha. But they ate it, so it must've been alright!

So a trip to Nahma is not complete without a fruit-of-the-year in tow. This tradition started when my grandpa went to his favorite fruit and veggie market a few years back and bought a HUGE crate of overripe peaches for only 2 dollars. My task? To create as many desserts as possible with our peach-surplus. :) Over the years, we've had crates of peaches, apples, nectarines, and bananas grace the kitchen of our cabin. It's always fun to dream up creative uses for our fruit-excess, and it becomes an almost laid back "Iron Chef" challenge, if you will.

So this year's fruit-of-the-year? Bananas! I love baking with bananas because they are easy to peel and mash up. No chopping required! And did you know that bananas, like applesauce, can be substituted for oil in recipes? Which was perfect since I was forced to bake oil-less for 10 days! The day before we left for civilization, I realized that we had one lone banana left from our huge stash. Craving cookies (again), I created this Peanut Butter Banana bar cookie, which came out decently delicious! They looked a little boring, but a handful of honey roasted peanuts sprinkled over the batter could fix that. Or better yet, chocolate ganache! Or mini chocolate chips mixed into the batter. Really, the possibilities are endless. The banana flavor isn't strong at all in these cookies, but basically helps to make the cookie moist. Oh, and I didn't use vanilla when baking these, but I'm adding it in the recipe since I feel it needs it. :)

Also, other desserts were successfully baked and devoured during the week, like Bananas Foster, Banana Cream Pie, and Mocha Cookies...among others which sadly failed to be documented on camera. Oh well, there's always next year. :)

Peanut Butter Banana Bars

2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 overripe banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In small bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, and salt. Set aside. In large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in mashed banana. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Spread dough into prepared pan.


Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until cookie is golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares, and serve.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

blondies for my blondie boss

So as some of you might know, I am applying to the dietetics graduate program at the University of Michigan this fall. I know, I know...a dietitian with an obnoxious baking obsession is probably not the most desirable fit. But oh well, my clients will love me, right? :) So anyway, I am slowly beginning the application process which, of course, involves obtaining three letters of recommendation. One of which, I am receiving from my hilarious former-boss, Colleen, and I am heading out to campus tomorrow to graciously pick up her letter. And what better way to thank someone than with a batch of buttery blondies?

I am pleased to report that these blondies have very little flour in them. Very little flour makes for very buttery baked goods...never a bad thing. :) Also, I ended up mixing chopped walnuts into the batter and drizzled chocolate, white chocolate, and peanut butter-white chocolate on top to make them all pretty and happy.

Basically, these blondies tasted absolutely amazing. They were soft and moist, and the walnuts were so so good in them. This is a great recipe to alter to your own liking, if you're in a creative state of mind. Some more ideas for delicious mix-ins? Try dried berries, chocolate chips, chocolate-covered raisins, sprinkles, jelly beans...okay, so maybe not jelly beans. :) But basically, anything that is delicious would make these blondies even more amazing than they already are.


Brilliantly Buttery Blondies
Adapted from "How to Cook Everything"

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
2 tbsp. peanut butter
2 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix melted butter with brown sugar, and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt, and stir in flour. Mix in walnuts, and pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. Remember...gooey blondies are better than rock-hard blondies. So don't bake these too long!

When blondies are completely cooled, prepare chocolate drizzles. Place white chocolate chips and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave chips and peanut butter on high, stopping to stir at 20 second increments until smooth. Repeat, using semi-sweet chocolate chips/ 1 tbsp. butter and white chocolate chips/1 tbsp. butter. Spoon each chocolate drizzle into a small ziploc bag. Cut the tip off of each bag, and decorate the blondies with the chocolate drizzles.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

oh, say can you see blue jell-o in me?

Everyone loves cake, and who couldn't get a kick out of blue jell-o? So put them together, and you've got jell-o poke cake! To me, jell-o poke cake is the epitome of summer. It's refreshing, and it makes me want to go on a picnic at a park with a really sweet playground.


Jello-o poke cakes are so so much fun for the holidays. Imagine the rainbow of possibilities! Anyway, I decided to make a July 4th-inspired cake for a BBQ with my friends. After dreaming up a slew of overly gaudy cake combinations, I decided on this prettier version, using blue jell-o, strawberry preserves, whipped cream, strawberries, and blueberries.

So nowadays, I seek every opportunity I can to practice my layering skills, and I felt that this cake was just screaming to be cut into layers. All was going well...layers were lovely. But, the moral of the story is, always, always slice your cake into layers using a very long knife. Or else you may end up with a hole in your cake. Eep. But whipped cream was made to fix holes, so no worries. And basically, the hole in this cake did not stop us from consuming it all before midnight. :)


Fabulous Fourth Cake
Adapted from "Simple White Cake"...allrecipes.com

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
4 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup boiling water
1 (3 oz.) package blue gelatin

1 (12 oz.) jar strawberry preserves
1 (8 oz.) container whipped cream
strawberries, sliced
blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Cut pieces of wax paper to fit onto bottom of the pans. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Dust bottom and sides of pans with flour.

In mixer bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla extract. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in milk until batter is smooth. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until top is browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


When cakes are completely cool, slice each layer into two, creating four layers total. Place one layer on serving dish, and spread a third of preserves over the cake. Top with second layer, and spread with half of remaining preserves. Top with third layer, and spread remaining preserves over the cake. Place fourth layers on cake-pile, and mountain-on whipped cream (you might not use the whole container). Top cake with strawberries and blueberries. Serve, and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" while consuming. :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

fava-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Deck the halls with boughs of holly!
Fava-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
Tis the summer to be jolly!
Fava-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

The odd-ball vegetable of the week is...yes, the humble fava bean. My mom has become aware of my love for strange veggies, so she so kindly picked up some fava beans for me to play with when she was grocery shopping. To me, they look like lupini beans, a favorite snack among my Italian family. Who knows...maybe the lupini and fava bean are cousins? One thing we do know about the fava bean, however, is that it pairs extremely well with some liver and a nice Chianti. Just kidding, just kidding. :)

One thing I realized while cooking up my fava beans is that a "shell" of beans does not go a long way. I had about six shells, and I barely got a cup of beans out of them. As for some funner fava facts, some people are actually allergic to these puppies! No worries, though. Favism, as it's called, is extremely rare, and it only can affect those of African, Mediterranean, or Southeast Asian descent. Additionally, fava beans might help treat Parkinson's disease, and they may even be a natural alternative to Viagra. Who would think?!

So the recipe that I decided to tackle tonight happened to come from Martha Stewart. I respect this woman, I really do. Despite the minor fact that she is an ex-convict, she's a strong woman, in my eyes. Let's just leave it at that...and you'll thank me for not diving into my Martha-Stewart-was-sent-to-jail-because-she's-a-powerful-woman rampage. :)

In addition to fava beans and the yummy walnut vinaigrette that drenched them, this recipe called for corn, cucumber, parsley, and feta cheese...
all delicious ingredients. And in the words of my Great-Grandma Pasqualina, "If there's all good things in it, how could it be bad?" Basically, that is my mantra when I am unsure as to how a new recipe will turn out. Wise woman, that Pasqualina. And is that not the sweetest name ever?!

So everything went very smoothly during this cooking adventure. The cucumber was finely chopped and quartered as Martha requested, the parsley was freshly picked from my mom's herb garden, and the corn...the corn was newly extracted a la can opener from its can. I had successfully boiled my favas and blanched them in their ice-water bath. But then, after the salad had been mixed and dressed, I discovered...

RED FAVA WATER! Yes, my friends, the water that I had boiled the favas in had turned red. Why why why? My Google-ing attempts have failed me, and I am unable to answer this burning question. Simply put, I was slightly creeped out by this red water.

Nevertheless, the favas were successfully hulled from their shell after being extracted from their red water bath. And isn't that a great color of green?


Feta Fava Salad
Adapted from Fava Bean Salad with Roasted-Garlic Vinaigrette...marthastewart.com

For vinaigrette:
1/2 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

For salad:
1 1/2 cups shucked fava beans
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 medium cucumber, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Prepare vinaigrette: whisk together garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, and walnuts. Set aside.

Prepare salad: cook beans in a large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beans to ice-water bath. Let cool completely, and remove with slotted spoon. Peel thin shells off beans.

Toss beans, corn, cucumber, parsley, and feta with the vinaigrette.