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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bananas Foster Cupcakes, fit for a Royal Joust

Jenn, The Leftover Queen. The Foodie Blogroll. The Royal Foodie Joust. This cupcake recipe.

These four things are all connected. Jenn is not only The Leftover Queen, she's also the Queen of the Foodie Blogroll. And every month on the blogroll forums, we have the Royal Foodie Joust. For each joust, three ingredients are chosen, and members that want to participate come up with dishes using them. This month's joust has a Caribbean theme, and the prize up for grabs is a Caribbean cookbook! If you haven't joined the Foodie Blogroll, yet, what are you waiting for?

The three ingredients for this month are rice, coconut, and bananas. I had quite a few ideas knocking around my head, but this is the one that came to be. Banana cupcakes are great, but what about Bananas Foster Cupcakes? With mashed up Bananas Foster instead of plain old bananas? And oooh, buttercream frosting topped with toasted coconut? Yeah... And the rice shows up in the form of brown rice flour.

Yep! I made Bananas Foster--first time ever. It was extremely easy, and so delicious. And yes, we took a couple of bites, then I mashed it all up for the cupcakes! Well, I did save the sauce. I wasn't sure what for, until I was making the buttercream. It was meant to be. Caramelized brown sugar, rum and spices--poured into the icing, along with a nice dose of salt. Perfect!

I'll get to the recipes, because there are three--but they're all very simple! The cupcake recipe is adapted from a recipe passed along to me by one of my best friends, Shaye. Here it is, with my changes:

Bananas Foster Cupcakes
makes about 17 cupcakes

To print this recipe, click here!

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 recipe for Bananas Foster, bananas mashed, sauce set aside
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat together butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
3. Beat in bananas, then eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition.
4. Add vanilla.
5. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt and add alternately with buttermilk to mixture.
6. Beat just until blended.
7. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.
8. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
9. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Bananas Foster
recipe adapted from Alton Brown

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tbsp water
4 under ripe bananas, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup light rum

Isn't that cool? This was done under the supervision of Fire Marshall Bill, aka my husband.

Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over low heat.
Add brown sugar, allspice and nutmeg and stir

until sugar dissolves.
Add water and bring sauce to simmer.

Add bananas and cook for 1 minute on each side, carefully spooning sauce over bananas as they are cooking.
Remove bananas from pan to a serving dish.
Bring sauce to a simmer and carefully add the rum.
If the sauce is very hot, the alcohol will flame on its own.
If not, using stick flame, carefully ignite and continue cooking until flame dies out, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
If sauce is too thin, cook for 1 to 2 minutes until it is syrupy in consistency.
Immediately spoon the sauce over bananas and serve. Or smash up to make cupcakes!

Bananas Foster Buttercream
adapted from Gale Gand

The added salt in this really adds a nice touch and cuts the sweetness.

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
sauce from Bananas Foster

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter.
Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and sauce and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more.

Make your Bananas Foster, bake your cupcakes, make the frosting, toast some coconut, and you're all set! These are really delicious. If you don't want to use the rice flour, go ahead and use whatever you prefer. The cupcakes themselves aren't sweet at all, so the big old heaping pile of icing is very nice, not to mention the toasted coconut!

And that's my entry for this month's Royal Foodie Joust. Check out my past winning recipe--it was my first joust ever, too!

Bananas Foster on Foodista

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frozen herb giveaway & the book that changed everything about bread baking

I have a lot to cover in this post, so please grab a mug or tall glass of something and join me!

First up--the herb giveaway. I was contacted a little while ago by Matt From Daregal Fresh Frozen Herbs. He wanted to know if I'd like to try a sample. Heck, yeah! Trying to find reasonably priced and super-fresh herbs in the cold months isn't always easy. Not to mention that if you only need a little bit, and you have to buy a whole bunch, then you've got to come up with ways to use the rest up before they go bad, which is always sooner than later.

So here comes Daregal, with the perfect solution! Their herbs are 100% natural, salt free, and processed within three hours of being picked. They're not sitting around on store shelves losing flavor and freshness like the ones we've seen up until now. The herbs are washed, chopped (no stems included!) and ready to use in your favorite dishes--no thawing required, not even for salads. And you might think they'd be all stuck together, but the herbs get a very light misting of natural vegetable oils so they flow freely out of the container.


Original Blend: Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme and Onion

We've been testing some of them this weekend and I have to say, I think I'm in love. The basil, right out of the container, tastes like I just picked it from my garden in August. Same goes for the Italian and Original Blends--nothing but delicious herbs in there, tasting as fresh as you'd expect from your own herb garden. And they're already minced for you, so less work. Now, everyone would love to have a year-round herb garden, but for most of us, that's not happening. So these are the next best thing. I've tried the little frozen teaspoon sized cubes of herbs, and while they taste alright, they're not convenient if you're making an uncooked dish. The Daregal Herbs are like sprinkling your own fresh minced herbs into anything you're making. So far we've made Bruschetta with the basil, and a focaccia-loafy-type bread with the Italian Blend. Also, the Grilling Blend sprinkled into some olive oil made a perfect blend to dip our bread in.

Bruschetta, soon to be topped with fresh mozz and popped under the broiler.

See the pretty minced basil?

So Matt and I talked for a little while and came up with a great giveaway! They're going to send out two packages of an assortment of herbs to two random winners. What will you get?

Package #1: One of each--

Original Blend





Package #2: One of each--

Italian Blend




These will be shipped to your door packed in dry ice, and ready to be popped in your freezer to start using right away. And let's not underestimate the fun factor of dry, not that I'd know. Just be careful if you decide to make a cauldron of spooky smoke, and read the precautions first, ok? Ok. So the herb giveaway starts today, and two winners (US only on this one, sorry.) will be chosen on Wednesday, January 14th. In the meantime, check out the Daregal site, and maybe you'll find a store in your area that carries them so you can get a sneak preview. And a huge thanks to Matt and Daregal!

And now, the book that changed everything about bread baking. For me, anyway, and countless others that have bought this book. What book is this? Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking .

My bread baking has gone from "pretty good" to "knock your socks off!" And all with very little effort. Seriously! There's no kneading, only about 5 minutes of mixing time. The dough rests at least 2 hours, then you can use it or pop it in the fridge. Want some bread? (I feel almost silly calling it "bread," when it's more like food of the gods.) Pull out some of the dough, shape it and let it sit for 40 minutes (or 20 if you haven't put it in the fridge yet), then bake it. The high moisture content in the dough is what makes it rise, right in the oven. And then? Prepare to BE AMAZED. Be prepared for your family and friends to start begging you to make more bread. Which you'll be happy to do because of the little bit of effort involved.

We've been experimenting with the book and haven't been disappointed yet--just the opposite, we've been thrilled! For Christmas Day, I made the Vermont Cheddar Bread from the book, but using half the dough, made 12 dinner rolls. They were so damn good, and even the fussy kids loved them. The rest of the dough went back in the fridge overnight and this afternoon, we shaped 2 flat-ish focaccia type breads. We brushed them with a little olive oil and gave them a sprinkle of good sea salt. Then--how easy--we sprinkled some Daregal Italian Blend over the dough, then let them rest for 40 minutes. When it was time for them to bake, we added sliced Campari tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Instant lunch! We got 2 delicious pizza-focaccia-bread type loaves with about 10 minutes total work.

We've also tried the Boule and the Pizza Crust from the book. Both are fantastic! And with bread this easy, there's no more excuse to not have your own fresh baked bread. No more being afraid of yeast. And no more fear of kneading. You CAN do it with this book.

And I'm so thrilled with the book, that I'm giving a copy away to one lucky reader! Same as the herb giveaway, but this one is open to US and international readers. The contest starts today, and on Wednesday, January 14th, I'll choose a winner.

SO! You have a chance to win three prizes--the book, or one of two packages of frozen herbs. (Herbs-US only, book-US and international.)

Just leave a comment here to enter. And if you want a BONUS ENTRY, just Twitter or Facebook with a link to this giveaway, and come back to comment again with your link from that included in your comment. That will give you two chances to win.

Good luck! I hope you all had happy holidays, and here's to a happy and healthy new year!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Chocolate Minty Cookies and Holiday Wishes

Mmmmm, mint and chocolate. As good as, maybe even a little better than peanut butter and chocolate? I don't know, that's a tough one. Given a choice with chocolate--I'll almost always go with mint.

I was grocery shopping and saw that they had Andes Mints on sale. Pass those up? No way. I knew I wanted to bake something with them. It was either that, or be faced with eating all of them. Cookies immediately came to mind. I did a search and found that there was pretty much one Andes cookie recipe. The one where you place a whole candy over the hot cookies and let it melt there, which looks good. Then there's this one, from Erin. That looks great too, right?

But I wanted to do something different. I started with a basic chocolate cookie, but instead of chocolate chips, I chopped up the mints, coarsely, so you get chunks, and added those to the batter. The result? Delicious cookies! You can immediately taste the mint in them, which is good. Some of the chocolate melted directly into the cookies. They are a cakey cookie, which isn't my first choice, but still, they're very good--almost like little brownie bites. Everyone still loves them--I can see right now that our supply of them is almost gone, so that's a good indication of yummy cookies.

Next Time:

I'd definitely leave larger chunks of the mints. I cut each one into roughly three pieces, so maybe just cut them in half next time.

I'll probably search out a chocolate cookie base that'll be chewier, since that's my favorite kind of cookie.

All in all, I'd make these again for sure, just tweaking the cookie part. But if you like soft, cake-like cookies, you'll love these!

To print this recipe, click here!

makes approx 60 cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

2 (28 piece) boxes Andes Mints, coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 375.

Beat the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in mixing bowl until fluffy.

Combine the flour, cocoa, soda and salt, then add alternately with the milk--blend well.

Stir in the mints.

Drop by teaspoons on parchment covered baking sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes--don't over bake!

Cool for a minute on the sheets and remove to cooling racks.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Baking, Week 5: The EASIEST Chocolate Truffles you'll ever make

I know, it's not really week 5, more like 8 or 9, but...stuff happens. Hopefully, this easy--but incredibly delicious recipe will make up for it!

I've made chocolate truffles before, and I wouldn't say they're hard to make, but messy. These are simple, but not messy at all. They're even easier than making fudge, I swear! And anyone lucky enough to be gifted with some of these will love you forever. But don't let them know how easy it is--let them think you're a chocolate making genius. Let them offer to do something for you, in return for some of your amazing truffles, lol!

This one is from Donna Hay's Christmas book. If you don't know Donna Hay, you should! Her recipes are simple, but fantastic. I dare you to look through one of her books and not find 30 recipes that you want to try immediately.

This has two ingredients. Well, three if you count cocoa for dusting the truffles. Ok, four if you add Raspberry Chambord, like I did. Not in the original recipe, but I couldn't resist! But still, that's only four ingredients for decadent chocolates that you can use to bribe your friends.

Are you ready for this extremely complicated recipe? Let's go!

Chocolate Truffles
by Donna Hay

To print this recipe, click here!

1/2 cup heavy cream
10 1/2 oz dark chocolate, chopped
cocoa powder for dusting
if you're adding another flavoring, like the Chambord--about 3 TBSP

Isn't that pretty chocolate?

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to almost a boil.
Add the chopped chocolate and stir for one minute.
Remove from heat and stir until completely smooth.
Stir in the Chambord, or your choice of liqueur. This is optional, but so, so good in the finished truffles!
Pour into a square pan (her recipe says 6", but I only had and 8" pan, and it was fine) that you've greased and lined with parchment paper. Don't grease the paper. I cut two sheets of parchment to fit, one sheet going one way, the other going the opposite way, so there were "handles" for lifting on each side.
Refrigerate for two hours or until firm.
To serve, lift the truffles out with the paper, cut into squares, and dust with cocoa powder.

Let them come to room temp for about 20 minutes before you serve.
Will keep in fridge for 10 days.

Now how easy is that? And just wait till you taste them! And yeah, they're not round, but then again, you didn't have to get messy rolling them, did you? ;)

Stay tuned for another giveaway, coming very, very soon! It's something that'll make cooking during the colder months a little more convenient...and a lot tastier, too.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Leftover Cranberry Sauce? Yogurt Cranberry Coffeecake!

So, I had all of these good intentions for making cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. I even looked around and found a recipe I was going to mess around with and change up. Made my T-Day grocery list, and headed off to Trader Joes...

Wouldn't you know, they had their own cranberry sauce in the refrigerated section--regular and cranberry-orange. So yeah, good intentions and recipes went right out the window, and I picked up a container of each. Ingredients? Water, cranberries, sugar, orange--pretty much it. And one less thing to make on T-Day. Woo!

We opened the plain one first, and dear Lord, it was perfect! It didn't need spices, or alcohol, or nuts--it was amazing in it's simplicity. I could have eaten that entire thing myself! We didn't get around to the orange one, though, so back in the fridge it went.

I knew I wanted to make something with the sauce, and a quick search brought me to this recipe from King Arthur Flour: Yogurt Cranberry Coffeecake. You know me, I love using yogurt in baked stuff! I read the reviews, and it seemed the consensus was to add more cranberries, so of course I did. More fruit filling? Um, yeah, I'm all over that one! I used about 1 1/2 cups, which completely covered the bottom layer. So now you get fruit in every single bite, like it should be, right? That's a no-brainer. The streusel topping is fantastic--cinnamony and not too sweet. The cranberries add their signature tart/sweet flavors, and the bottom cake layer is moist and just right on the sweetness. Don't forget, there's yogurt in there, so it's anything but dry.

This is my dream coffeecake. Fruity, tender and moist, and not too sweet. It doesn't need a glaze over the top to cover up dry cake on the bottom. AND, it makes a lot. A whole 13x9 pan. So you can share--or not, lol. I don't know how it freezes, but I don't see why you couldn't cut the recipe in half. And I also think this would make amazing muffins, which I'm definitely trying soon!

Click here for the recipe
, and after you get that, have a look around and try not to add $200 of stuff to your shopping cart. But the best part--it's all useful stuff, so you can totally justify it. ;)

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

100th Post Cookbook Winner

The Random Number Generator has spoken and the random winner is comment #70, Dawn from Vanilla Sugar.

Dawn said... 70

Oh my gosh my dumb computer crashed 2 years ago and I lost all my settings, bookmarks, addresses, etc.... Thankfully I did back up and didn't lose any work. I really think computers are only meant to last 3-5 years as so many people lose their computer after this about of time.
Congrats on 100th post. Wild huh? And I do remember those skillet smashed taters, vividly...I fell in love with them.

Dawn will be receiving a copy of Ina Garten's brand-spankin' new book Back to Basics.

Congratulations, Dawn! All I need is your address so I can get the book out to you. :)

Stay tuned for more giveaways, because there are more coming!

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chocolate Cake, Marry Me!

Yes, I'll be Mrs. Chocolate Cake, ok? Think my husband will mind? He can be Mr.- Mrs. Chocolate Cake.

This cake. This cake....oh my goodness. Anyone that knows me, knows that my favorite kind of cake is chocolate.
So for my son's birthday, I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. Is it wrong that I totally steered him toward chocolate cake with chocolate frosting? (Don't worry. He loved. This. Cake.) We had the idea of making a giant sort of Ring Ding cake. I know, some of you might not know what a Ring Ding is. Poor souls, hehe.

Anyway, I had the killer cake recipe, and I had the killer frosting recipe, but I needed a filling recipe. I was in a hurry, and looking back, wish I took more time to find a good recipe for that, too. Don't get me wrong, the one I used is delicious, but not great for layering between two big cake layers. I used a whoopie pie filling that I'd used before...for whoopie pies, of course. It didn't hold up well to the cake layers, and before I knew it, I had a cake slide going on. Damn.

But I kept on. I poked a couple of chopsticks through the top and stuck it in the fridge to try and set it more. After 20 minutes or so, I frosted the sides with the chocolate frosting and set it back in the fridge. When I frosted the top a little later, it was still sliding, so the chopsticks went back into the top.

And you know? When it was time to serve it, it was a little lopsided, but it was for family, and they don't really care. Thank goodness, right? lol!

The cake recipe is from Epicurious. I can't even say enough good things about the cake. It's easy to make, it's dense and chocolaty, it's moist, and most important, the taste is out of this world! It's my new official chocolate cake recipe. It's my new best friend.

The filling is also from Epicurious.
I've made these whoopie pies before and they're another great recipe. Unfortunately, the filling just doesn't hold up to heavy cake layers. Whoopie pies? Yes! Cake filling? No!

And you can't have cake without frosting, can you? I don't make frosting very often, but when we do have frosting, it's this one. It's perfect, like the recipe title says. I got this recipe from a friend a few years ago, and haven't made another one since. It's incredibly simple, but homemade--so it tastes great. It's dark and chocolaty, and nice and creamy--good for spreading on cake. Please don't skip the sifting the sugar step--you don't want to have lumpy frosting, do you?

Perfect Chocolate Frosting

6 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup butter, cut into tablespoon sizes

2-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Place a large bowl, filled halfway with ice, in the sink (a bowl that is large enough to hold the pot that you will cook the frosting in).
In a medium size pot over med low heat; melt chocolate, cream, and butter.
Stirring constantly, cook the mixture until all of the butter and chocolate melts and thickens, about 5-6 minutes.
Do not boil.
Remove pot from heat.

Whisk in the sifted confectioners' sugar until mixture becomes smooth (approximately 1 minute).
Put the pot on top of the bowl of ice. (Be careful to not allow any ice from the larger bowl to get into pot with the chocolate mixture.)
Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 4-5 minutes until frosting becomes smooth, thick, and fudgy.
Remove from ice.
Spread onto cooled cake layers.
The frosting will thicken as it sets up.
If the frosting gets too hard to spread, put back on low heat and stir constantly until you get the spreading consistency desired.

So even with the leaky filling, this cake was awesome. My son kept thanking me for making him such a great cake for his birthday, and my other son has requested the same one for his birthday. Hopefully I'll find a sturdier filling by then!

That's it. No more talking. I'll show you how good this cake was.

**Warning! The following images may not be suitable for those of you with good table manners. Notice that one kid isn't even bothering with the formality of a utensil.

I think if I'd tried to get a bite of that slice, I'd have lost a limb. That was the last slice of cake, by the way. I had a flock of vultures hounding me the entire time I was taking photos, one even had a fork at the ready! That last series of pictures happened over a period of about 45 seconds. Piggies.

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