Saturday, October 31, 2009

MSCC Bonus Round

Create a Halloween Cupcake was the assigned task. Perfect timing, our church was having a fall carnival, I volunteered to bake 2 dozen cupcakes for the cakewalk. Time was short (isn't it always) so I decided to make Marthas One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes on page 152. I had all the necessary ingredients and the batter came together quickly. The sweet scent of homemade goodness soon filled my kitchen.....things went south from there! Do I blame it on my altitude (I'm baking at 4300 feet), a bad recipe?  I'm sure it's not me; I've been cooking for almost half a century. The cupcakes had 'sinkholes and soft spots', a coarse texture and didn't taste good. I will have to give that recipe a very generous one star.

My deadline was fast approaching so I went to my Hello, Cupcake! cookbook. "Our cupcakes made from doctored store-bought mix stand up to homemade versions in taste test after taste test", was their claim. I had nothing to lose. Simply add 1 cup buttermilk, 4 large eggs and the amount of oil called for on the box to a box of vanilla cakemix (one without added pudding) and beat for 3 minutes. The cupcakes looked great had no sink holes or soft spots, they had a great texture and were easy to frost, and they tasted good.
What's the verdict? I really think my altitude plays a big role in cupcakes but there are so many 'fixes', more flour, less sugar and butter, alter baking times. What is an amateur baker to do other than move to sea level? I will keep trying, maybe find a cookbook from bakers in Denver, any ideas from high-altitude bakers?

But I will keep a couple of cake mixes on hand! Thanks MSCC for another fun challenge.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun With Food

It all started with the Taste of Home Halloween magazine. 
The 'Ghouls are in Town' stated the shower invite; please bring 'finger food'. We ran with it.

The witches fingers were delicious, I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe found at Our Best Bites. I made the dough several days before the party. Forming the cookies was fun, kids might get discouraged but the eight women (age 24-81) at my house enjoyed the activity!

Sugar Cookies

1 C real butter (no substitutions!)
1 C sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t almond extract (I only used pure almond extract, I tried imitation once and it was not as good)
3 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. Add egg and extract, mix to incorporate.
In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined.

Shape the dough into 2 flat disks and wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for 1-2 hours. Or let it chill for several days. In my perfect life I will always have chilled sugar cookie dough at my disposal!

 Form a small ball of dough into a finger shape, keep it on the thin side as these will expand a little. Make knuckle marks with a butter knife. Press a whole blanched almond for a fingernail. Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes. While cooling pop off 'fingernail', when cool attach nail with red gel. Looks spooky! Check out Recipegirl for the finished cookie. They were devoured quickly, we didn't get a shot of the finished digits.

We created Witches Fingers, Mummy Dogs, Bones and Blood, NutterButter Ghosts and Cheesenstine. Thanks to Our Best Bites and  Recipegirl for inspiration and recipes. Our spooky creations were tasty too!
The Mummy Dogs were good (for hot dogs), we cut hot dogs in half and wrapped them with thin strips of thawed puff pastry. The were baked in a hot oven 400 degrees till just beginning to brown. They had mustard eyes and were served with dipping sauces.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Girls Weekend

I have lived long enough to realize that life often does not go as planned. But...I also know that things that are not planned do not happen! With that in mind I decided to plan a 'Girls Weekend'. I started early, eight months ago to be exact. My girls live in 5 different states and have 9 children ages six and under. But plan we did. Flights were purchased, daddies arranged to take time off work, laundry was done, pantry stocked, lists made and my 5 girls were on their way.

We had wonderful weekend that included shopping, cooking, visiting, eating, laughing, sharing and more visiting. We enjoyed a shopping excursion at Orson Gygi's, it is a chefs paradise! It was a beautiful fall day, perfect for wandering at Gardners Village.
 The witches were out! Lunch was at Archibalds, we had a 45 minute wait but no one minded because Pine Needles is close by.

We had fresh Alaskan salmon and shrimp for dinner, Greg was more than happy to provide this meal! The Grandmas spent the evening; we made white chocolate ghosts, witches fingers, bones and mummies. It is amazing what can be accomplished when there are no 'little helpers'!

Saturday was sharing time. My girls are talented and knowledgeable. We learned how to budget better, write our personal history, make laundry detergent for pennies, craft, embrodiery and make marshmellow fondant. What a fun day we had.

Next was a triple shower. Kaytie and Anna are having babies soon and Jen is getting married I would say we had reason to party! Lynne was kind enough to host the party; we had a Halloween party complete with 'finger food'.

It is always fun for cousins and aunts to reconnect and catch up with each other.

Sunday came too soon, the party was winding down, real life was calling. We said goodbye with plans to meet again soon! Thank you girls for a wonderful weekend.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Tomatoes

My sweet husband introduced me to artichokes shortly after we were married. I'm not sure they exsisted before 1975, they certainly weren't in my world! So artichokes are a special treat at our home, when the price is right we indulge. Our children learned to love them and so do many of our grandchildren. Now you know our artichoke histroy I will continue.

I was scrolling thru Pioneer Woman and saw the words creamy, tomato, artichoke, easy and pasta all in the same post. I knew I must take a closer look. This is a 30-minute meal full of yummy flavors, it is so easy; chop an onion and open a can, boil water and you have dinner! This meatless main dish is very satisfying a crusty piece of french bread would complete the meal for me. Hubby had some grilled chicken with his pasta, 'delicious' was his comment. We had leftovers for lunch, I am happy to say this dish improved with age. Now that is a good thing.

Check out Pioneer Woman Cooks for detailed recipe. It really is a keeper.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Simple Pleasures!

Candise and Eliza Jane surprised us with a quick visit this week. We did a few of our favorite activites which included making cookies, putting on make-up and reading a magazine in Nana's special chair. Got to love lifes simple pleasures!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MSCC Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes

Well, we have another winner, these pumpkin cupcakes will get 5 stars. The taste of fall wrapped up in one spicy bite. Pumpkin, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cream cheese frosting combine to make 'the best cupcake you have ever made' according to hubby. This recipe can be found in the Martha Stewart Cupcake cookbook. Check the blogroll at MSC club to see what other bakers created.

Basically Delicious Tomato Sauce

I returned from Florida and was excited to see my basil plant still had a bit of life in it. Fresh basil and tomatoes make this sauce fantastic but don't be afraid to use dried basil and canned tomatoes it is still delicious!
This basic sauce can be dressed up with meat balls, sausage or lightly steamed summer squash; top it with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Simply Recipes was my source, the 1 teaspoon of tomato paste seemed odd--but I am obedient so I added it. I think it gives more depth to the sauce. This is delicious!

Basically Delicious Tomato Sauce
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, include the green tops, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium heat add chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat, reduce heat to low, cover skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through. Add garlic, increase heat to medium high cook for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, break if using canned whole tomatoes. Add tomato paste and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. Serve over pasta, top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. With a little planning this could be a 30 minute meal! Add some crusty bread, a simple salad and you have a filling, meatless meal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hanging on to summer!

We spent the last week in sunny Florida, Greg worked while I lounged in a beautiful condo. We ate good food, met interesting people and enjoyed DisneyWorld. After a few painful hours at Epcot I accepted reality and rode in style as Greg pushed my wheelchair. Greg is a great driver, we covered a lot of territory and had a wonderful time. The weather was hot and humid, we were able to have a great 'Florida' experience.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bumper Crop of Basil

I know it is October--officially fall. But I am not ready to say goodbye to my basil plant. I'm not much of a gardener but this was my year for basil!! My basil plant is right outside my front door in my flower bed. Proximity, proximity. I used basil in dressings, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta and pesto. It was so convenient, fresh and flavorful.

Fresh Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves gralic, pressed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano Cheese
salt and pepper
This requires a food processor (I know, I tried a batch in my blender--it failed).
Combine basil with pine nuts, pulse a few times. Add garlic, pulse. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor is on. Season lightly with salt and pepper. At this point it can be frozen. Line ice cube tray with plastic wrap put a spoonful in each cube. Freeze, pop out and put in freezer container. Add to soup, pasta etc. The cheese doesn't freeze well so add it when serving.
This recipe was adapted from Simply Recipes--I love that site.